New York’s Literary Cubs

From the New York Times, an article about some bright young people with a website, The New Inquiry

that functions as an Intellectuals Anonymous of sorts for desperate members of the city’s literary underclass barred from the publishing establishment. Fueled by B.Y.O.B. bourbon, impressive degrees and the angst that comes with being young and unmoored, members spend their hours filling the air with talk of Edmund Wilson and poststructuralism.

Lately, they have been catching the eye of the literary elite, earning praise that sounds as extravagantly brainy as the thesis-like articles that The New Inquiry uploads every few days.

But here is an article that suggests an alternative view—Everything Old Is New Again, from Commentary magazine, taking the Times to task for its pretentiousness. (Hat Tip: Frank Wilson)

What is happening now is the revenge of the market. A high literary culture, utterly divorced from economic realities, was artificially propped up for fifty years. In rather more technical terms, American literary culture is an inefficient market; its products are overpriced, and there aren’t many buyers for them at any rate. As the air goes out of the higher education bubble, the literary life as fantasized by the New York Times’s attractive young literary cubs is deflating along with it.

Which is not to say that literature will disappear. Young writers’ expectations of a good-paying job (with benefits) fiddling all day on overwritten and unsaleable manuscripts — that will disappear. Most everything else will remain the same. Toil, envy, and want will still be the writer’s lot in life. The old economic conditions will be new again. And writers (and maybe even critics) will have to pay attention to them. That’s the only real change. Deal with it, clubbers.

While I like bright young people—I even know a few—I think Commentary has the more realistic perspective.

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What Killed American Literature?

I didn’t know it was dead…see The Wall Street Journal.

The Editors of “The Cambridge History of the American Novel” decided to consider their subject—as history is considered increasingly in universities these days—from the bottom up. In 71 chapters, the book’s contributors consider the traditional novel in its many sub-forms, among them: science fiction, eco-fiction, crime and mystery novels, Jewish novels, Asian-American novels, African-American novels, war novels, postmodern novels, feminist novels, suburban novels, children’s novels, non-fiction novels, graphic novels and novels of disability (“We cannot truly know a culture until we ask its disabled citizens to describe, analyze, and interpret it,” write the authors of a chapter titled “Disability and the American Novel”). Other chapters are about subjects played out in novels—for instance, ethnic and immigrant themes—and still others about publishers, book clubs, discussion groups and a good deal else. “The Cambridge History of the Novel,” in short, provides full-court-press coverage.

“In short,” though, is perhaps the least apt phase for a tome that runs to 1,244 pages and requires a forklift to hoist onto one’s lap. All that the book’s editors left out is why it is important or even pleasurable to read novels and how it is that some novels turn out to be vastly better than others…. (Emphasis mine)

Perhaps literature dies with too much analysis.




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Alfred Kazin’s Journals

Philip Horne, in the Telegraph, “finds Alfred Kazin’s Journals edited by Richard M Cook a fascinating, if not lovable, slice of 20th-century life.”

I’ve only read Kazin’s Writing Was Everything, a book I loved back in the late ’90s. As one reviewer of that book wrote, “Kazin mourns the current state of literary academia, in which it seems that criticism can exist only as a political philosophy or as an elitist game of celebrity-making.” I’ll have to reread it one of these days.

(Hat tip: Arts & Letters Daily)

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More on Raymond Chandler

Raymond Chandler on classic detective fiction begins with his criticism of Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle:

Raymond Chandler didn’t just write some of the best American detective fiction. He also wrote about the genre and in much the same hard-boiled style of his own Philip Marlowe. He takes no captives, whether he is writing about authors or readers. “Show me a man or woman who cannot stand mysteries,” wrote Chandler in 1949, “and I will show you a fool, a clever fool—perhaps—but a fool just the same.”As for the authors, he seems particularly to have disliked Agatha Christie, writing of one of her novels that “the whole setup for the crime requires such a fluky set of happenings that it could never seem real.” Chandler thought that “Conan Doyle showed no knowledge whatever of the organization of Scotland Yard’s men” and added that “Christie commits the same stupidities in our time.” “You do not fool the reader,” he added, “by hiding clues or faking character à la Christie.”

And he has an interesting view on detectives—that they shouldn’t get married.

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A Mathematical Approach to Hamlet

When the Algorithm Read Hamlet tells the story of English professor Franco Moretti who “fed a digitized text of Hamlet into a database in order to create and examine the play’s character-network.” Joe Carter asks:

I’m intrigued by the possibilities of what could be called “algorithm-enhanced close reading” and interested in seeing the effect of such quantitative analysis on literary studies.

What do you think? Will this prove to be a useful approach to literary analysis or is it just another English department fad?

I think that some people don’t have enough to do.

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Interview With Harold Bloom

From Boston Review, an interview with literary critic Harold Bloom, which opens with this description of the man:

“For more than 50 years Harold Bloom’s name has been synonymous with the study of literature, from his groundbreaking book The Anxiety of Influence (1973) and its sequel A Map of Misreading (1975), to definitive studies on Shelley (Shelley’s Mythmaking, 1959), William Butler Yeats (Yeats, 1970), and Wallace Stevens (Wallace Stevens: The Poems of Our Climate, 1977) among others. His collections of essays, critical introductions, articles, anthologies, and editions have been as voluminous as they have been widely influential—establishing Bloom as not only a major authority on literary studies, theory, poetics, American and English poetry, but also as perhaps the most recognized and productive critic writing today.”

(Hat tip: Frank Wilson)

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Review: “The Use and Abuse of Literature”

This book review of The Use and Abuse of Literature, by Marjorie Garber (Hat tip Fred Lapides) opens with:

Why read? You’d think that with the e-book and the Internet, with Google searching and channel surfing, the experience of curling up with a good book is as archaic as a buggy ride. You’d think, too, that with graphic novels and celebrity memoirs, and with Wikipedia offering their entries in “simple English,” the very idea of literature itself had disappeared and, along with it, the language of craft and cadence that made memorable all writers from Shakespeare to Shaw.

Not so, argues Marjorie Garber, in “The Use and Abuse of Literature,” an immensely readable yet vastly erudite reflection on the history of literary writing, literary criticism and the social value of both. Garber, a renowned Harvard professor, offers us a lesson in community and common sense in her book. Less a polemic than a meditation, she poses all the central questions of a literate person’s life: What do we mean by literature today? Why study it? Is there a form of writing that is not literary?


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