Curtis White will be reading in Chicago this Thursday

The Science Delusion @ City Lit

At City Lit in Logan Square, at 6:30pm. Curt will be reading from his new book, The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers, which just came out through Melville House.

I did my Master’s degree with Curt at Illinois State University, and he’s one of the smartest and best writers I know. (He’s one of the two profs who first got me reading Viktor Shklovsky.) In the 1980s, he and Ron Sukenick transformed Fiction Collective into FC2, and I learned about FC2 (and ISU) partly through the two “sampler collections” they put out (something I wish more presses did). Curt’s also written seven works of fiction, including The Idea of Home and Memories of My Father Watching TV, and now five works of nonfiction, including his infamous attack on Terry Gross (among other things), The Middle Mind. (He may not have made Gross cry, but he sure pissed off a lot of her fans.)

I’m only halfway through this new book (and will be writing more about it later), but so far I’d describe it as an attack on the idea, currently very en vogue, that scientific knowledge is the only or most superior form of knowledge, and thus the only means of accounting for what it means to be human. Right from the start Curt shows how much of science’s own knowledge is shoddy and unexamined. For example, it’s not uncommon to hear scientists like Stephen Hawking claim that the universe is beautiful, but how do they understand beauty? Not very well, Curt argues. Like in The Spirit of Disobedience, Curt demonstrates how other intellectual traditions—specifically Romanticism, which he traces through the Beats and punk—offer a way around and past some of the more inane debates consuming so many today, such as “science vs. religion.” Plus he’s funny, too.

If you’re in Chicago this Thursday, come by and hear Curt! Discussion will follow during which you can ask him embarrassing questions.

What we talk about when we talk about the New Sincerity, part 2

"Hi, How Are You?" cover art by Daniel Johnston (1983); "financially desperate tree doing a 'quadruple kickflip' off a cliff into a 5000+ foot gorge to retain its nike, fritos, and redbull sponsorships " by Tao Lin (2010)

It made me very happy to read the various responses to Part 1, posted last Monday. Today I want to continue this brief digression into asking what, if anything, the New Sincerity was, as well as what, if anything, it currently is. (Next Monday I’ll return to reading Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose and applying it to contemporary writing.)

Last time I talked about 2005–8, but what was the New Sincerity before Massey/Robinson/Mister? (And does that matter?) Others have pointed out that something much like the movement can be traced back to David Foster Wallace’s 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction essay “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction” (here’s a PDF copy). I can recall conversations, 2000–3, with classmates at ISU (where DFW taught and a number of us worked for RCF/Dalkey) about “the death of irony” and “the death of Postmodernism” and a possible “return to sincerity.” Today, even the Wikipedia article on the NS also makes that connection:

Continue reading “What we talk about when we talk about the New Sincerity, part 2”