May 17th, 2011 / 1:55 pm


  1. STaugustine

      a noble voice / ignoble wilderness

  2. stephen

      virginia is my homie

  3. kb

      I really like that James Wood book.

      Also, all of this stuff is make-believe.

  4. dun dun dun

      stephen, no offense, but the comment you left in that article is stupid. and wildly off topic.

  5. c2k


      no offense

  6. stephen


  7. reynard

       virginia woolf does not need your defense, stephen, she is a venerated stalwart of modernism

      when people write critical essays they pull specific quotes as examples of larger ideas to prove points, if you’re going to call someone’s work ‘sloppily-argued rhetoric’ in your opinion, you should probably respond with a well-wrought reply rather than some bullshit you hammered off in the moment of knee-jerk anger that someone was picking on old dead and crusty virginia woolf, and also be prepared to give some righteous examples (or, more apropos, counter-examples), rather than quoting someone unrelated as a transition into your own piece of sloppily-argued rhetoric re: everything, apropos of nothing

  8. deadgod

      I think the key to the blogicle – and more valuable to me than Row’s ‘expanse’ – was the Bakhtin sentence quoted right before the concluding paragraph quoted above:

      “The novel comes into contact with the spontaneity of the inconclusive present; this is what keeps it from congealing.”

      I’d qualify this characterization of what lasts in novels and is why ‘the novel’ continues to thrive by asking if that “contact with the spontaneity of the inconclusive present” isn’t the Thrive Principle in every literary type that thrives – lyric poetry, live drama, ethnic humor, toilet graffiti, and so on.

  9. Stephen

      also (via tao lin): Follow my interns on twitter. ‘My twitter brand is going to rock your world’! Should i stand and scream right now should I? While committed to earnestly thinking a full/specific thought, ‘like i would feel good inside a geisha, “time-sensitive to some degree”, who seems more ewok-like than a soul-sucking verb similar to [‘thought’] strongly thinking, ‘[i], alertly thinking about standing up. Should i? Should i stand and scream right now! ‘What the…hell…is this?…’ and ‘what…is this? A movie’s trailer in comparison to a different movie’s trailer! Of an asian man running up stairs & sometimes looking behind him while ‘smirking’ at another asian man holding ice cream cones. Seems funny to me or not & to what degree, as ‘nothing matters, to assess that i almost felt as how i currently feel, calmly observing an image of my brain ‘hovering’ in the distance in a quiet futuristic setting. Myself becoming rapidly convinced, attempting to view the 180 degrees of reality in front of me in a
      ‘panoramic’ manner by mentally ‘pushing’ the far-r and far-l areas
      forward, while walking and pooping across a room in a ‘pacing’ manner thinking ‘i’ thinking as a tactic to get internet press, while squeezing/’molding’ my head w/ both hands together’ in a tonally incomprehensible manner as i  consolidate something for a future ‘angle’, that the future prospects of the novel is that should i write a concrete/literal memoir about one year of my life titled Honestly Not Sure What.     

  10. Girlyouknowitstrue

      This seems redundant. You could have juts said “stephen left a comment” and we’d know it was stupid and off topic.   

  11. stephen

      i see your point. but it’s not a question of needing. none of this is needed. however, virginia woolf being used to complain about pretentious and/or experimental lit-loving white men seems dumb to me. was originally just going to say “sloppy rhetoric,” because i felt tired picturing a more well-wrought part-by-part critique. am i wrong that it’s sloppily argued? i disagree with the project of the essay, above and beyond (so to speak) the rigor of its rhetoric, so to comprehensively critique i’d have to sound very condescending indeed. see how i sound here even just discussing it. i sound like a dick. so silence. but these bright bulbs above are demonstrably false. i was not off-topic. and “stupid”… i’m a bit tired of shit-for-brains thinking they know me. i’m also tired of rhetoric champions proving that they can contradict anything i or anyone else says (with italics for added pomp!). you don’t know shit about me. i’ve aligned myself with controversial people and ideas. great. sometimes i am brief or silly. reynard here has “liked” people calling me a faggot. terrific

  12. stephen

      would you like me to leave tasteful and/or deliciously erudite comments for a week as an experiment, to condescend to you?

  13. stephen

  14. The Chorus of Everyone


  15. STaugustine

      I’m just wondering if Row’s article is a subtle response to the recent, relevant piece in The Millions, which was an un-subtle response to Zadie Smith’s semi-explicit response to James Wood’s blatant put-down of many years ago…?

  16. Girlyouknowitstrue

      I’d like you to attempt an intelligent comment for once. Yes. That would be nice. Er, not nice, it would be “condescending to me” or something.  

  17. dun dun dun

      best. handle. ever. 

  18. i 5% auto-summarize comments

      great. terrific

  19. i 5% auto-summarize comments

      great. terrific

  20. Stephen

      Stephen`s reply to Stephen`s response: “I am Tao Lin and I endorse this message.”

  21. Donald

      stephen, most of this here above there post is fine, apart from when you complain about people “thinking they know [you]” and assert that they “don’t know shit about [you]”. you do and say things, and those done and said things form the basis of a functionally valid appraisal (or even just piecing-together) of your character. is it the whole of you? no. but what you get up to on HTMLGiant, as elsewhere, is still a part of you, and is still, unavoidably, a reflection of something about you, whatever that is. the “stephen” we see on here is related to the Stephen of the real world, and both are fragments of some conceptual Totalised Stephen.

      also, congratulations on the ‘Serious European Art Film’ thing!

  22. Guest


  23. reynard

      yes i do think you’re wrong that it was sloppily argued, i thought it was a great essay, well written and well thought-out, it’s not how i like to write essays but then i’m not being published in the boston review am i, no i am not, nor am i trying to do that – dude is calling out a bunch of people and navigating tricky territory and i think he did so well, so whatever, we can disagree on that, obviously we do

      using woolf for that example is not at all dumb because like i said she is in fact very important to modernist critics which is like, what this guy jess row is railing on, and as he very clearly proves by quoting her there, she was not only implicitly, but explicitly, classist (which is like my least favorite thing for anyone to be) classism will be, i think, the next big battle for america’s ever-evolving, sometimes misguided but always well-intentioned, battle for ‘equality’ and this was sort of a good cannonball i think

      i don’t think you sounded like a dick at the time you said so in your comment, you were just defending yourself, that’s fair enough – though it is true that very soon after that you began to sound like a dick

      i am not the one who said you were stupid and i didn’t agree with that, funny though that after being clearly upset that someone called you so you would go right into characterizing this use of woolf ‘dumb’ – that is kind of stupid, actually

      to clarify, i ‘liked’ one comment in which someone called you ‘a fag’ because you were correcting someone’s grammar who has a long history of fairly absurd comments not only on this website but on twitter an everywhere else, i did not feel that the commenter was actually calling you a homosexual, rather using the word as a metaphor, maybe it’s not the best metaphor, for instance i would have said ‘tool’ – i roll my eyes at your comments all the time stephen but it’s not because i think i ‘know you’ i don’t care to know you because you say so many things that are either off-point or seem intentionally placed for self-promotional purposes, and frankly i think you’re sort of a whore

  24. Tim Horvath

       Can you clarify what article you’re talking about, Steven?

  25. deadgod

      I don’t think Row talks usefully in that address about the Woolf essay he quotes her from:  she’s making a case for using form to make character (fictively) “real” – a debatable priority, sure, . . . but she’s doing this to smuggle her perhaps-unself-aware identity-political supremacy into her critique???  I’m not a Woolf fan, but to see, what, ‘imperialism’ in her dislike of Galsworthy and Bennett is, to me, dogmatically contentious.

      Internet novice question:  I left a comment on the thread at Row’s blogicle, and every quotation mark, double and single, has a back-slash next to it.  What.

  26. reynard

      i think it’s disingenuous to suggest that row says she is doing it in order to smuggle her classism into critique – she does seem blissfully unaware of it — the point i think he’s making is roughly: ‘mr. bennett and mrs. brown’ is an essay that is as you probably know extremely commonly taught and that part about her classism is not a part of the lesson for most; sure he is eking it out a bit, but it is there or he wouldn’t have anything to eke of (especially, i would say, the remarks re: conrad & joyce which are very suspect, don’t you agree?)

      woolf seemed well aware of her own prejudices, as much is evidenced in ‘a room of one’s own’ where she speaks at length of the inherent prejudices of any speaker, writer, whatever – she seems well aware of her place in society and speaks of it, why can’t we acknowledge that? those are her words he’s using, i don’t see what’s not useful about it

      ‘dogmatically contentious’ smells a bit of the oxymoronic – again, that essay is praised to all hell man, i never hear no one call virginia woolf an upper crust except virginia woolf, she’s got a crew and she probably would’ve hated that, when people talk about ‘a room of one’s own’ they don’t often talk much on the part where she said the woman needs money too, ‘a woman needs money and a room of her own to write fiction’ and where does a woman get this money? well that seems to be left to her to figure out, it’s just that she must if she is to write, right? how is the dude going to convince anyone (read: do any good) if he doesn’t come off as dogmatically contentious? 

      woolf herself was quick to preface her critical essays, which began as lectures, with the somewhat obvious statements that she was going to ‘make some very sweeping and some very vague assertions’ (m.b. & m.b.) and ‘when a subject is highly controversial…one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker. Fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact.” (room of one’s own)

  27. Neil Griffin
  28. STaugustine

       Yes, that’s the one

  29. STaugustine

      As an inveterate leaver-of-longish-comments, I’ve learned *never* to paste said comments from Word docs into comment boxes. Always “safer” (laugh) to compose in the box, Deaders.

  30. Ryan Call

      or you can turn off ‘smart quotes’ in your word processor (if you write comments in word and then paste comments into comment fields), as some comment fields cant handle the code that goes along with formatting ‘smart quotation marks.’

      (i think?)

  31. Ryan Call

      or you can turn off ‘smart quotes’ in your word processor (if you write comments in word and then paste comments into comment fields), as some comment fields cant handle the code that goes along with formatting ‘smart quotation marks.’

      (i think?)

  32. deadgod

      I did write the comment right into the box; I always do.  I thought cut-n-paste left ‘holes’ in one’s virus defenses (but maybe it’s been a decade+ since that problem, if ever it was one, was generally fixed).  When responding text-for-text, I scribble notes on a pad by the computer (so there’s – not none – but much less scrolling), but all my comments (except, sometimes, poems/wordplay) are box-composed or box-‘composed’.  If they’re orgasmized, that’s how they were thought out – not arranged in 3×5 cards on a table (not a bad technique) – , and the mistakes and infelicities – however legion – , well, they get commented, too.  “It’s the internet, you know?” is, to me, an ethical perspective.

      – so when, say, I bother to mention a typo (got to be <1% of the time I notice one), I don't say, 'you're a moron'; it's a joke or 'joke' to me, an opportunity to play.  I think going with the spontaneity/ephemerality of tapping force into ‘play’ is a genuine way that text-on-the-internet is actually, if not a new medium, then an effective twist on the medium historically determined as “print”.

      Anyway, I typed ” and ‘ directly into the box, and got these idiotic-looking s added to the message.  I also had one phrase, taken from the Row’s text, italicized in the HTML style:  not a bit of that or that.

  33. deadgod

      No, I comment and edit right in the box.  (= much of what I wrote to Steven above.)  I think the code fail was either my computer or browser (?).  – because ” and ‘ were eggzakly what I typed.  I haven’t seen whether there are any quick comments ridiculing my code fail:  if there are, I blame (all of) you.

  34. reynard

       the same thing happened to me but they edited it after a while, forgot to respond to that earlier

  35. STaugustine

       most peculiar, then

  36. deadgod

      Here’s how Row characterizes Woolf’s effect, in the form of her critical heirs today:

      a last ditch effort to keep debates over fiction stalled where they have been for nearly a century

      a kind of proxy battle […] in which a contrived debate about novelistic method masks a silent–perhaps largely unintentional–effort

      Here’s how Row characterizes agenda of the address:

      Look again at Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” and what you will see, palpably obvious though easy to ignore, is Woolf’s discomfort at the shifting of her upstairs, downstairs world, the possibility that her Georgian cook might not just borrow the Daily Herald but start writing a column for it.

      I take Row to mean that this agenda is covert – perhaps even to Woolf – .  How is spotting a claim of the smuggling of “an effort to maintain cultural, racial, and geographic boundaries” “disingenuous” – I mean, how have I misconstrued Row??  Okay:  maybe he thinks Woolf is, as you suggest, “blissfully unaware” of the source and effect of her “discomfort”; as I said:  “perhaps-self-unaware”.

      It might be that Woolf’s classism is important in figuring out what her fiction and criticism are doing, but that doesn’t make Row’s hyperbolic identity-political decoder ring useful – she’s making a distinction between ‘convention’ and ‘experiment’ in then-contemporary (1923) novelistic form with respect to the “convincingness of characters” (Bennett’s words), a critical act that I don’t think is reducible to or even translatable into identity politics.

  37. deadgod


      Bringing attention to the concrete effect of Woolf’s political-economic status on her perspective is fine – for example:  when assuming that the unhappily downwardly mobile Mrs. Brown “has servants”, why doesn’t Woolf question the indignities and physical suffering of servants when they‘re ‘lucky’ enough to get old? – but Woolf is making a reasonable claim for formal ‘experiment’ that Row condenses into inaccurately disdainful phrases like “contrived debate”.

      reynard, do you think Barthelme and Calvino are to be understood exclusively in terms of how much attention they don’t pay to social injustice because they’re playing technical games? – because that’s the argument Row is making, in his misplaced hauteur, against Woolf.

      Woolf’s pushing aside from consideration of Conrad is not a “dismiss[al]” (Row’s word); it’s perfect reasonable – on her explicit terms – for her, in talking about English novelists, not to include a Polish writer writing in English as his 4th or 5th (Malay?) language.

      She agrees that the “Georgians” have, at that point, erred on the side of “the spasmodic, the obscure, the fragmentary, the failure” – Joyce on the grounds of “indecency” and Eliot on the grounds of “obscurity”, even as she praises each of them.  These are charges many people made at the time; she accepts their fairness in order to debate the value of those priorities – decency, plainness – as against the overriding need for a novelist to make “convincing” characters – “real” as measured by some contemporary sense of “reality”.

  38. deadgod


      Not sure what’s “oxymoronic” about “dogmatically contentious”.  You can be “contentious” ‘without a sense of the limitation(s) of your point of view’ (= “dogmatically”), or you can ‘contend’ from the point of view that your opinion will yield to contrary evidence empirically and logically compelling enough. – so ‘dogmatic contentiousness’ is one kind of ‘contentiousness’.

      Do you mean ‘redundant’?

  39. EC

       The novel is undead.

  40. reynard

      what i meant was that dogma is almost there to be contended with, but i didn’t say it was an oxymoron, just that it smelled like one

      and yes i thought about saying redundant but it’s not quite that either, although as i said i do think it’s difficult to really be contentious without coming across as a bit dogmatic, although in the case of railing against an established order, i would not call that dogmatic, i would call the established order dogmatic and the contention would have to be given in an authoritative manner, but authoritative and dogmatic are, as you know, not the same thing

  41. reynard

      no i don’t think he’s suggesting that formalists be understood exclusively for that any more than i think he’s virginia woolf be understood exclusively for her classism, racism, whatever; it’s not like this essay is going to replace all the other supportive ‘criticism’ surrounding postmodernism, it’s more of an addendum, a call to arms, and what kind of a call to arms would not try to plead its case in the most authoritarian way possible? not a very good one, unfortunately to engage in the complexities would be to dull a(n already) blunt message

      i see what you mean about conrad and i realize that row characterized it that way but let’s not ignore the fact that the poles were thought of in a particular way by the upper crust for a long time, hell people in brooklyn still think about the poles that way – she did not have to mention him, and yet she did, maybe that’s my own bias because i am part pole myself, anyways

  42. reynard

      but i do think this conception of ‘convincingness of characters’ is significant because as an argument it makes a lot of assumptions about who is at the center (who is speaking, their background, etc) and thus who is able to detect this level of ‘realism’ and for row this way of speaking about realism is equatable to the ever-shifting conception of the Real, as row says:

      The critics I’ve named above all feel a need to defend a position of omnipotence and omniscience—the novel as a kind of all-seeing eye—against various forms of partiality, contingency, arbitrariness, obligation. No wonder, then, that arguments about the real quickly become doctrinaire, dogmatic, near-hysterical: what critics are defending is not just the true definition of an art form, but the entire social order that allows, even expects, them to impose aesthetic judgments in the first place.

      It is no wonder that criticism is a more conservative, more academically elite, more racially exclusive club than fiction writing itself. To be a critic in the manner of Virginia Woolf—the default position of the Anglo-American critic, from F.R. Leavis to Lionel Trilling to John Updike to Helen Vendler—requires more than a simple lack of humility; it requires a self-assurance that one is speaking from the center of things, that one is qualified to pass judgment on any aesthetic object that comes along. This kind of criticism isn’t interested in discussion or debate, except in a very circumscribed sense; what it seeks, above all, is a universal validation of the writer’s own subjectivity.

  43. deadgod

      Okay:  in order to tilt at (what he perceives to be a Giant), Row needed to be extreme in his locutions and depiction of the matter.

      Maybe it would have been more accurate – or helpful, ha ha – to have said, ‘To see Woolf’s support of ‘failed’ experiment, which adventures challenge (at least) no-longer successful convention, through the lens of identity politics is dogmatic – and not in a constructive way.’

  44. deadgod

      Yes, “convincingness of the characters” is, as a writing and reading value, to be examined – for political as well as formal reasons.

      But remember:  that’s Bennett‘s priority, which Woolf agrees with and takes up in order to ask whether Bennett himself succeeds at it, and whether the “failures” of the “Georgians” aren’t to be preferred, with respect to this value, to the successes of the “Edwardians”.  (Remember also that Woolf asks ‘what is reality?’ – I think:  in order to forestall merely obstructive questions like ‘who has the right to say what “character” is?? hunh? who? who?’.)

      Here, again, are some of the ways that Woolf gentles her contention:

      to suggest some reasons why the younger novelists fail to create characters [like Ulysses (??), Queen Victoria, Mr. Prufrock]

      [I’ll make] some very sweeping and some very vague assertion[.  …]  think how little we know about character–think how little we know about art.

      [I]f I speak in the first person, with intolerable egotism, […] I don’t attribute to the world at large the opinions of one solitary, ill-informed, and misguided individual.

      [You readers should] insist that writers shall come down off their plinths and pedestals, and describe beautifully if possible, truthfully at any rate, [real albeit fictive people].

      But do not expect just at present a complete and satisfactory presentment of [a real albeit fictive person].  Tolerate the spasmodic, the obscure, the fragmentary, the failure.

      This, as you quote, Row calls argued from “a position of omnipotence and omniscience [,,,] against various forms of partiality, contingency, arbitrariness, obligation[:  an] argument[] about the real quickly become doctrinaire, dogmatic, near-hysterical[.]”  It is Row’s characterization of Woolf’s address which is “doctrinaire, dogmatic, near-hysterical”.

  45. aaron nicholas

      since we’re talking opinions here i’d like to offer mine: i’m consistently surprised at stephen’s intellect and his ability to think in ways that i am incapable of. i always enjoy reading his comments on thought catalog and htmlgiant, i think his opinions hold and are of great value to the community.

      keep it up stephen.