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March 29th, 2012 / 4:43 pm
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Literature Flowchart

The four main writers merely act as barriers between which a lot of exciting stuff happened and do not serve to preclude, only maintain, discourse — though rather auspiciously placed, as both pairings represent their respective vastly different approaches in writing, however within the same social contexts and under similar preoccupations. Much of the chart, hopefully, is self-explanatory; I will only mention how Faulkner brought Joyce’s “high modernism” from Europe to the States (as Pollock did, or was delegated to do, with painting), and to the South, of all places. I’ve always found this moment very important in literary history. One wonders what would have happened without that. It was also difficult to link Joyce as coming from anything, other than loosely to Flaubert, due to the latter’s incipient play and self-consciousness with language. Hemingway also does this odd straddling thing: he wrote existential novels in the context of American social realism, and much of it war. As simple as his books — or at least sentences — were, he was a very complicated writer. Most of the others fit somewhat easily among their contemporaries.

Addendum in Response to Commentary Concerning the Canon, and Other Qualms

This is being written the day after this post was first published, in a way that is both emotionally petty i.e. defensive, but more so, verily, out of a sense of responsibility, as my hand has been again led into the fervent political waters which many of our more dissenting readership, perhaps in need of a jacuzzi, like going. When I made the graph, I knew it only represented the mainly White Male canon, and that our more educated (though a quick wikipedia search will explain it perfectly well) would undoubtedly mention it in a kind of impulse which sustains — but never attempts or wants to resolve — the ongoing grad school-y argument over [whatever the current word for bad is e.g. "power," "patriarchy," "canonical"] vs. [whatever the current word for good is e.g. "the other," "minority," "queer," "post-{something}"], and no matter what disclaimers, caveats, or preemptive apologies this contributor would propose in this post’s very explicit text, pale angry people with most likely more than one cat and degree would serve me with: (1) a list of authors they felt were unfairly omitted, with implications of my being coerced; (2) an open, or at least implied, call for an apology for not having a more inclusive chart, or having a literary orientation different from them; and (3) an attack on the very medium with which this post is conveyed, namely, a blog on the internet, with allusions to a collective truncated attention span or learning. I will now address each concern.

1. I think we all commodify the very authors we ostensibly herald or even defend by naming, and thus consuming, them in the same manner one would name a band, or restaurant, or movie, or city, or any pairing of letters which embody cultural merit or experience, because, really, we are collecting marbles. This is an issue of class, of who is entitled to what names. Those who shun the canon are in socioeconomic collusion with them; that is, to name “the other,” regardless if one is, points to a precedent of educational privilege. This is an imperialist impulse, so I understand. Still, the romantic part of me thinks it’s endearing how we honor our love for someone by naming them, by placing them in our hearts, as I do Joyce, or you Didion, or you [some name I never heard of and can't pronounce]. I feel better now.

2. I will not apologize for my non-inclusive list. This website’s width is 600 pixels, and I wanted the font to be legible, so you can imagine my constraints. I’m sorry I did not name every author in existence, a list exhaustive enough to exhaust some exhausting people. I will admit, however, that there is something counter-intuitive about naming off the canon on a website which offers itself as subversive — but more than that, this website is about not giving a fuck, so in honoring that, I don’t give a fuck. There are many, many socially more responsible and pensive literary websites you can go to and be politically, socially, and aesthetically well-adjusted with. If you come here, you will find me being incorrect in some way. Always. That is my loyalty to this place, and myself.

3. When a person with austere taste goes online and contributes to the very noise he seems so somberly subdued by, he is legitimizing that medium’s power. I made someone in a cabin sans wifi/wife embalmed by a fireplace put a bookmark inside War and Peace, walk 4 miles along the thawing snow to the public library, and type in a comment which included European last names. Come over more often, we are insane.

I first thought Noam Chomsky was a woman, maybe because of the soft vowels in his first name, or because I found, and still do, his linguistic approach to be gentle, considerate, and receptive. These are great qualities in writing, which I generally attribute to women, who often make better writers, but historically were not given an equal chance to write and publish due to a complex set of institutional matters. See? That wasn’t so hard. During college, in a damp seminar room which exuded patience, I kept referred to him as “she,” and the (this was some political theory class, in UC Santa Cruz) feministy T.A. sort of looked at me with huge grateful eyes, like I single-handedly had done what her Ph.D. was trying to do. They were almost watery, verging on the warm version of the cold mindless rain tapping from above. My ignorance was both endearing and politically convenient. Race and Gender are rent-a-cops at the mall dressed in authority. They are unreal, like you and me. I want to go back to that seminar room, of half-empty water bottles occasionally chugged out of pure boredom in front of a tearful grad student and tuitions being burnt after some prior weed. “If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion,” she said. One day someone will write a great nasty book again. “Okay,” I replied.