Showing posts with label Writng. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Writng. Show all posts

Sunday, May 27, 2012

You can say that again, but louder

David Vann, Wes Anderson, Philip Glass: In defense of artists who always return to the same themes. - Slate Magazine:

There has been something suspect and cheap shot about critics who dismiss a new work by an established novelist/poet/film maker/playwright as merely a product of an imagination of someone who was "starting to repeat themselves." The gripe, understand, wasn't that the artist's work wasn't , to some degree, repetitive--any artist worth paying attention , I think, will repeat themselves in theme, technique, flourishes, psychological texture--but rather that the naysayers assumed the charge alone sufficed as criticism.

Well, it  doesn't suffice at all, not hardly. It seemed the reasonable and obvious thing for the would be critic to discuss how a particular work falls short of  the best art the supposed artist can make--usually a reviewer, in this regard, would begin a review with praise for earlier novels, poems, plays, films, et al--and proceed through a discussion of what the artist has done with the standards he or she  has established for themselves:  has the fictional universe expanded or contracted to effective or defective degrees, has any trope been reworked or modified or needlessly included in such a way that it adds only noise and clutter to the work, is the work under consideration not varied enough from previous novels, poems, plays, films et al to not seem like anything more than an exercise?

 All these are matters of discussion and all these require a bit of digging through the text and investigating the metaphors , similes and associated language constructions for what's coming undone structurally and what contained therein is putting the consumer to sleep. Joyce Carol Oates and Paul Auster, two writers who are maddeningly repetitive in their themes as they are prolific in their issuing of new novels , have both established respective clusters of author habits, narrative schematics and verbal habits--Oates loose limned, italicized and frantic in a series of meditations on how violence becomes an ingrained element in complex emotional dynamics , Auster terse, enigmatic, sparing with qualifiers, calm in tone amid an ongoing dissolution of a main character's metaphysical surety--and each has produced more than a few books that ought to have been remained in the drawer of their writing desks, in my view. Yet each also publish, with some frequency, books of particular brilliance, expressions of a peculiar genius that comes only through an obsessive working and reworking of a set of narrative devices, tones and voices .

 One could say, of course, that worthy publishers and good editors of days gone by could have spared us the mediocre work and provided with us only with the masterpieces, such as they are, that we needn't have had to withstand those novels that seemed more like warm up exercises.Perhaps. But the responsibility of criticism,  at least the criticism that appears in newspapers, magazines and on popular internet books and arts sites, is to interrogate the style, substance and argument of a particular book and to judge it against other work, both by the author and his  contemporaries. Review the book, in other words, and be thankful that we have writers who have things interesting enough to read and debate.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why Finish Books? by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books

Why Finish Books? by Tim Parks | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books:

'via Blog this'

The problem  of finishing novels, I think, comes from the simple fact that one has read so many of them over time that what one ends up recognizing are not conflicts, emotional complications and dramatic consequences but rather plot formulas.  Sad was the day when I had to admit that I could predict more often than not where a novel was going once I crossed the threshold of a novel's middle chapters;  a number of things were set in such a way, in such an arrangement of social types and temperament that there were only a thin selection of things the author could do with his resolutions. 

He would other wise risk ruining the  comforting elegance of the template he  selected; although most readers protest that they do not want to know how novels end before they read them, they have, none the less, that the mainstream novels they read conclude in a particular way. Not getting the ending they  expect amounts  to a betrayal in their view.  

I had for years worked as a bookseller with a speciality in literary fiction and maintained a regimen of read 4-6 books a week in order to be able to make informed recommendations to customers;  after awhile I found myself power skimming, allowing my eyes to skip or elide over whole chunks of  thick expository prose in order to finish the book. 

I  stopped reading so many books at once and these days I finish only two of every five books I start; I consider the ones I lay down forever as  not having passed the audition. The dilemma, I think, comes from writers who have all learned craft and techniques from the classroom. The writers I happen to like, love, admire were outside the academy, perfecting  their art in the small hours between the hackwork needed to make rent and  have regular meals.  Everyone learns irony and tragedy from the same set of course notes. That stops being true novel writing . It is instead a species  of   examples illustrating a principle. I  have no real desire to attend the same lesson plan again and again. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

This sentence has no period, is therefore timeless

There is  a well argued rationale for the lack of editing in Infinite Jest, that David Foster Wallace was in the tradition of testing the limits of a what a sentence, a paragraph, a page can contain before the onset of the concluding period, the test being that a sentence can drift, digress, take long turns and circuitous routes to the finish a series of ideas,but even digressions have to be pared down to the ones that will have an effect, even a diffuse one that. Wallace really isn't in control of his digressions. Every so-called postmodern writer has to decide , and finally know what effect and point, or drift, they are getting at. 

Even in an style whose hall marks are pastiche, parody and high-minded satire, craft still counts for something, and a sense of the form a book is taking, it's architecture, has to come under control, or else the eventual point of the writing, to study, in an imaginative terrain, some aspects of the human experience, lost entirely. Any working novelist, whether a genre-hack , a royalist, avant-gardes of most any hue, ought to be in control of their materials, where Wallace, with IJ, clearly isn't. 

That control is more instinctual than mechanical, and the ability to know when to stop and allow the fictional incidents resonate in all their overlapping parts. Wallace doesn't trust his instincts, or his readers powers to interpret his material, I guess. There is always one more paragraph, one more digression, one more bit of undigested research for him to add. It's like watching a guy empty his pockets into a plastic tray at an airport metal detector. 

White Noise is written, of course, in a spare and professorial style that some might find maybe too much so. I didn't have that problem, and thought the style perfect for the comedy he wrote. It's a college satire, and was a remarkable choice on his part to convey the distorted elements of the storyline, from the lush descriptions of the sun sets , et al. 

It's a prose style that is brilliant and alive to idea and incident: DeLillo has the rare genius to combine the abstract elements of a philosophical debate with imagery - rich writing that manages several narrative movements at once. His digressions meet and merge with his descriptions, and the result is a true and brooding fiction that aligns the comic with the horrific in a series of novels where the pure chase for meaning within systems of absolute certainty are chipped away at, eroded with many layers of a dead metaphor , slamming up against an unknowable reality that these systems , including literature itself, have claimed entree into. Heady, compulsively readable, vibrantly poetic.Mao ll, Underworld are among the best American novels written in the 20th century.