The 2012 Realist Sex Novel Kerfuffle (a response to Blake and Stephen, involving also cowboys, Atlas Shrugged, and the Franzen/Marcus debate)
Blake has stated, over at Vice, that he doesn’t want to read any more books about straight white people having sex. Stephen has stated, right here, that he is prepared to read many more novels about people fucking. There are substantial differences in these claims that we could pause to examine (“don’t want to read” vs. “am prepared to read”; “straight white people” vs. “people”; “sex” vs. “fucking”), but forgive me if I let those subtleties drop. Because I would rather observe that, if this is the scope of the debate, then it’s akin to one person saying, “I am tired of books about dogs, and no longer want to read more novels about them,” to which someone else replies, “I’m still willing to read some canine fiction.”
Recast in that light, it’s easy to see that neither person is right or wrong. How could they be? It is simply a matter of taste. One man has gotten tired of all those dog books. The other man is not yet so tired. The literary market, no doubt, will cater to them both. And perhaps, over time, demand for dog-free writing will grow, and drown out the pro-dog side, and the market will shift and, for some time, it will be hard to come by a copy of Marley and Me. (Here it might be helpful to replace “dogs” with some other thing, like vampires, or zombies, or alt-lit.) But through it all, one’s preference is perfectly free to steadfastly remain one’s preference. What’s not at stake, in other words, is the right to like whatever you like. The books you read say something about the person you are, and you should be proud of whoever you are! Display your chosen book(s) on the train to signal your affiliation with one of this nation’s many vibrant subcultures. Who knows? Another member of that subculture may spot you, in which case you can exchange nods, smiles, kisses! What’s more, today, thanks to the Internet, you can even make a list of the books that you like, then talk with fellow fans! (There are even web-sites devoted to this!)
Let’s try thinking instead about this argument in terms of genre. A new cowboy movie has comes out, and you and all of your friends go see it. Afterward, you’re wondering whether it’s any good or not …
Eustace Chisholm and the Works, a novel by Purdy published in 1967, is, according to Franzen, “so good that almost any novel you read immediately after it will seem at least a little posturing, or dishonest, or self-admiring, in comparison.” Franzen goes on to say that Eustace Chisholm is better than the sentimental and rhetorically manipulative Catcher in the Rye, superior to the works of Richard Yates, which are haunted by self-pity, and more legit than Saul Bellow, who seems “wordy and academic and show-offy if you read him directly after Eustace Chisholm.” While dissing Purdy’s contemporaries might be fun, it doesn’t tell us much about Eustace Chisholm, nor does it let the novel succeed on its own merits.
September 14th, 2012 / 12:00 pm
This follows Roxane’s Tuesday post, and Jami Attenberg’s initial observation/criticism of something she heard Franzen say. Their defense of Twitter/Facebook/etc. is of course right: small press writers and publishers need those tools to promote themselves and their works. But I’m less convinced that Franzen has “lost perspective,” as Attenberg puts it, or “doesn’t understand what Twitter is for,” as Roxane claims. Instead, I think Franzen is making a deeper, more disturbing criticism—the latest salvo in a decade-long attack on certain writers, certain kinds of fiction, and ultimately, a certain construction of art itself.
To grasp all of that, let’s look more closely at a different part of his complaint:
[Twitter is] like writing a novel without the letter ‘P’…It’s the ultimate irresponsible medium.
Um—huh? What do lipograms have to do with social networking? And how are they irresponsible?
In some ways, we’ve brought this on ourselves; it is a slippery slope. First you wonder what Angelina Jolie had for breakfast because she was so great in that one movie or whatever and then you’re buying cereal and thinking, “Does Oprah eat Raisin Bran?” Eventually, you even start to give a damn about what famous writers think about the weather or, say, social networking, and someone like Jonathan Franzen revels in his dislike of Twitter and other means of social networking from his Important Writer perch and we respond because if Franzen hates Twitter does he hate us too? The angst is unbearable and yet it’s all sort of inevitable.
Franzen’s A Great American Writer and all but I don’t give a much of a damn about his opinions on anything (see: Edith Wharton obvi). Or I do. Is it really surprising that Franzen doesn’t care for Facebook or Twitter? His overall comportment does not suggest an affinity for the levity of social networking. I can’t really say I love Facebook, myself. It has become increasingly hard to make sense of the interface and I keep getting invited to parties and readings in Bali and Temecula and I don’t live in those places so the experience is, at best, fragmented. At the same time, I don’t need to proselytize my dislike unless I’m on Twitter. Who cares? My opinion doesn’t matter nor does Franzen’s, though he is Very Fancy so in the calculus of mattering, his irrelevant opinion is less irrelevant than mine. Math.
J. Franz talking smack about Twitter, though, thems fighting words.
Adam: Last weekend, playing a stray note on my recorder summoned a cyclone that whirled me away to the swamps of Tallahassee. There I impinged on Christopher Higgs and his wife, who lodged me in their spacious Rococo flat (refurbished from a gator-packing warehouse). Over dinner, Chris and I had numerous opportunities to discuss—and to disagree about—the nature of experimental fiction…
A D JAMESON [leaning back from his seventh helping of tiramisu]: At the risk of spoiling such a fine meal, perhaps you and I can finally figure out why we’ve butted been butting heads regarding the nature of experimental fiction.
CHRISTOPHER HIGGS: OK.
ADJ: Let’s start by each defining what we think experimental fiction is!
[Matchup #16 in Tournament of Bookshit]
You meet a woman and wake up to her bookshelf:
• 30-50 copies of Elle
• [something by Chuck Klosterman]
• Everything Is Illuminated
You say, “Okay,” to her while she sleeps. READ MORE >
I like dogs. I’m what you might call a “dog person.” My dog, who my parents purchased somewhere in central Indiana in November 1999, is not only a great friend, but an important influence on my writing and art. Today, she sits approximately fifteen feet behind me staring out the window at the cold, gray earth. Did I mention she likes HTMLGIANT.
When I was growing up, a strong percentage of my favorite books were centered around dogs. There was Go, Dog. Go!—the second book I ever read. Then there were Marjorie Flack’s Angus books about a mischievous Scottish Terrier, not unlike the more popular The Poky Little Puppy, which as of 2001, was the single all-time best-selling hardcover children’s book in the country, selling nearly 15 million copies since its publication in 1942, according to Publishers Weekly. As I grew older still, I read Shiloh and, my favorite childhood novel, Where the Red Fern Grows. There was even a book narrated by a Pointer, read aloud in some public school setting, which has left an undying impression on me, years later. Needless to say, the dog books were a big part of my childhood.
Somewhere along the line, though, a shift occurred.
“To me, the point of a novel is to take you to a still place. You can multitask with a lot of things, but you can’t really multitask reading a book. You’re either reading a book or you’re not.” – Jonathan Franzen, “Jonathan Franzen on Author Videos & the Novel”
In August of last year, a publicist at Macmillan sent a 19-disc audiobook of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen to the newspaper office where I work. She included a handwritten note on Macmillan stationary, “I hope you’ll consider revisiting the pleasures of audiobook with FREEDOM.”
“Audiobooks are great when surfing the internet. You can surf; play games, chat, Skype … There are lots of other ways you can multitask with Audiobooks.” – Jia Hunter, “Multitask Away With Audiobooks”
“The review will be, like, about folding laundry while listening to Freedom, or taking a shit while listening to Freedom, or being on Facebook while listening to Freedom,” I said to my editor. He nodded, mumbled, “Clever,” and made a note in his daily planner.
My wife rolled her eyes when I told her about the review. “Always with this clever shit,” she said.
“And how are you going to take notes when you’re wiping your ass? And how are you going to quote from an audiobook if you’re not taking any notes?”
no quotes is fine i guess
you’re going to slam him right?
me: that’s the idea
February 22nd, 2011 / 1:17 pm
Yeah, I read some books in 2010. I wish I had read more. These are my favorite 2010 releases I didn’t read.
I’ve written quite a few times about how lamentations and garment rending over the death of literature, the literary, publishing, and the written word have been premature. No one can dispute that the publishing industry is changing, that our culture is evolving, that we are facing certain challenges when it comes to encouraging the general public to read when, it would seem, people would rather watch television or stare at the Internet, or do anything but read. A difficult path, however, is not an impassable one.
Publishing is dying! Publishing is dying! Publishing is dying! Go ahead, say it three times. You’ll feel better but chanting those words will not nor cannot make them true.
We have a fetish for sifting through the proverbial ashes of publishing, the age of letters, a culture of intellect, as if all hope is lost, as if all we have left is the faint memory of a time when we sat in parlors on velvet lined couches and discussed literature while smoking tightly rolled French cigarettes. We sniff with disdain when confronted with mass market paperbacks or pablum like Jersey Shore and big budget films that inexplicably gross $50 million (ahem, Jackass 3D). These “cultural abominations” (which are, in fact, not abominations at all) are more than some of us can bear. We begrudge their existence as if they are taking the place, in our hearts and minds, of the next staggering work of literary genius. We blame these distractions for the demise of all things literary and intellectual as if we must choose between the charms of The Situation and Snooki or Johnny Knoxville and the charms of, say, Adam Levin or Jonathan Franzen or Marcy Dermansky or Grace Krilanovich. I’ve said it before, but I will say it again—I choose both.
I have qualms about contributing to the current hype around Franzen’s Freedom, the endless pop-noise which ironically is confronted in the book’s lakeside allegory; but I feel compelled to, having been so moved by the book, and apologize for attaching my name to this review.
Soon after a quick intro written in omniscient third person, the reader encounters a longish part (broken into 3 chapters, labeled as such) written by one of its characters Patty — and yet, this doesn’t feel like “meta-fiction,” or even the show off flourishes of an adroit author; it seems, while not essential, strangely relevant. The reader’s context, for those who know Franzen, is that he is weary of “difficult” fiction for its preoccupation with language and fragmented narrative/consciousness (he wrote a Harper’s article critical of William Gaddis’ infuriating/challenging techniques, yet strangely aligns himself with D.F. Wallace, also an instigator). So one asks, why the difficult-ish structure?
September 17th, 2010 / 2:34 pm
Bear with me. People have opinions about Jonathan Franzen. These opinions are rarely mild. There’s something about his personality and the way he negotiates his public image that invites discussion. I thought I had an opinion about Jonathan Franzen but the more I think about it, the more I realize he is not part of my literary vocabulary. If I never read another book of his again, my life would not come to an end. I loved The Corrections. That seems like a contradiction. I thought The Corrections was a great story, meandering and sweeping and engaging. But I’ve only read it once. I loved it but have never felt compelled to pick the book up again so maybe I don’t love The Corrections. Maybe I just really like it. I am excited to read Franzen’s forthcoming novel, Freedom, which I will be enjoying with The Rumpus Book Club. On Facebook, I think, I saw someone (Kyle Minor?) observe that people seem to enjoy taking down successful, ambitious people in reference to a lot of the recent commentary in various outlets about the VQR “situation.” I do not necessarily disagree. Successful, ambitious people are easy targets because we see them plainly and we have opinions about what they do and how we would do what they do and whether or not they deserve to those things they do and the privileges they enjoy because of how well or the public perception of how well they do the things they do.
September 2nd, 2010 / 3:19 pm
Ben Marcus Rhett Faber Gabe Durham on Jonathan Safran Foer Franzen the other Mary James Robison:
Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom will be the next Oprah Book Club selection. Between the two of them, nice will be made.
And remember: future events such as this will affect you in the future.
Say what you will about cookie-cutter culture, IKEA offers affordable furniture that doesn’t smell like the 1970′s. When enjoying your favorite book, it’s important to be seated properly — or at least in a way that compliments your reading experience. Here is a guide to what to read, and in what chairs.
This is a really expensive leather couch, ideal for books which reflect the opulent lifestyle, like American Psycho and The Great Gatsby. We learn in literature that money is not good, like all the bad people are rich and all the good people are poor. I don’t think this is a healthy attitude — now there’s some artistic nobility to being unemployed. I know I’m not your dad, but “get a job.” If I were the guy in American Psycho, I would not “freak out” (murder, crying into voicemail, etc.) and just keep my kick-ass job and eat good filet mignon at lunch and have sex with a lot of models.