After the break

March 20, 2010 at 12:56 am 3 comments

As someone somewhere recently said, everyone should have a blog which they have been meaning to get back to. (Actually I just checked and it was Paul Ford, former web editor at Harper’s, in an interview with The Awl, which you should check out if you’re into that sort of thing.) I agree, and simultaneously apologize to my loyal readers (all 12 of them) for the long absence– unless of course you’ve been enjoying the break, in which case, fuck you.

Anyway, picking up the pieces after this long blogging-break leaves me with a lot of scattered thoughts and sundry minutiae that I’d been really meaning to blog about, so this first (re)startup entry will mostly contain notes towards future and potentially more substantial posts, recommended reading links, and totally inapposite details from my personal life – a.k.a. all the things you associate with quality online media. Here goes:

  • Stumbled across a link to Replacement Press, a brand-spanking-new literary press with their first book out and a commitment to “new, culturally-relevant fiction for (and by) the next generation.” What’s more, they have a blog (like all the cool kids these days) and it’s filled with insightful thoughts on lots of my favorite topics like cultural engagement and online media and Roberto Bolaño. Anyhow, my point is not so much to send you towards your new publisher (though hey, if you’re sitting on that dog-eared manuscript, by all means send it in) but just that, in the midst of all the apocalyptic talk about the death of literature and publishing, I find it encouraging to see people with an obvious passion for and commitment to good literature, from fresh writers, who are doing something really cool and potentially transformative. Gives me hope, you know? And you should (again) check out their blog.
  • Speaking of new literary/cultural things (well, sort of), they’re bringing back the baffler! For those of you who are as baffled by that statement as I was, The Baffler was apparently a big (as these things go) left-wing magazine of cultural and political criticism from the late ‘80s to the early ‘00s, when their offices were destroyed by fire. At that time (2001) I was sixteen and just making my way into radical leftist politics, so I sort of missed them the first time around, but I’ve been checking out their revamped site and holy shit there’s some good, thought-provoking, in-depth stuff. Especially this article which (while I disagree with some of it) is one of the best serious analyses of contemporary American literature –and its problematic relationship with socio-political praxis– that I’ve ever read. Only some of their content is available online (and rightfully so), and they don’t seem to be offering subscriptions outside the States, so if someone wants to order and then forward me a copy I would be ridiculously and eternally grateful. Maybe we could organize an exchange wherein I send you some hard-to-find European avante-garde ‘zines? Either way I really seriously recommend you go check them out and/or order a copy
  • Speaking of political things, the situation here in Holland is not looking so good: the old, shitty, center-right cabinet fell, but polls for the new elections suggest they’ll be replaced by something even shittier. Particularly troubling is the enormous popularity of Geert Wilders who (for my non-Dutch readers) is sort of like the Dutch equivalent of Le Pen – i.e. a fascist, racist, islamophobic bastard. Anyway his party’s polling particularly well and there’s a decent chance that he’ll be in the next governing coalition, even possibly the Prime Minister. I can’t even tell you how insane/terrifying that prospect is and I’ve been meaning to blog about it but thus far can’t write anything which isn’t reduced to an incoherent screaming rant. But once I do (write it), I will (post), and in the meantime you should read up elsewhere, as it’s a potential sign of a broader and deeper problem in Europe as a whole (as is the recent Swiss ban on the construction of minarets, etc).
  • As to the aforementioned inapposite personal details, life and graduate school continue to proceed apace. I am struggling with, and will hopefully soon write about, my lack of coherent faith in the study of literature (thought not in literature itself), and this semester’s courses haven’t been doing a lot to alter that. It seems to me like there is an underlying crisis in literary studies as a whole, like no one really knows what we are doing or why we’re doing it and, unlike virtually all other disciplines, there doesn’t seem to be any core body of knowledge. Instead the strategy seems to be to throw a whole lot of diverse (and superficially-analyzed) concepts and theories at us and hope that something sticks: a bit of anthropology here, a dash of (neo)marxist criticism there, throw in some sociology and some (totally decontextualized) linguistics and philosophy, and voilà. The result is a discipline with no coherent boundaries or definitions and a seemingly constant appropriation of tools from other areas without the appropriate background, training, and knowledge. At the same time, I would like to believe that literary studies (like literature itself) has something serious, even vital, to contribute – I’m just not sure what that is.
  • In the meantime all my serious/satisfying reading has occurred (ironically) in my spare time. For those keeping tabs at home here’s an updated list: finished my re-read of Bolaño’s 2666 and then a re-reread of Savage Detectives, got 300-odd pages into William Gaddis’ The Recognitions and found it incredibly depressing, so turned back to Middlemarch for a reminder of what great, heteroglossic and psychologically complex literature can be. (A lot of rereads this month.) On the non-fic front I’ve been delighting in Marcuse (fairly familiar with the Frankfurt School but had never read anything of his – weirdly, as he’s probably the most well-known in an American context): first his short but spot-on Aesthetic Dimension and now working my way through One-Dimensional Man, with an eye towards Eros and Civilization after. Anyhow, heartily recommend all of the above with the possible exception of the Gaddis which, despite its beautifully strange style (like the twisted lovechild of Henry James & James Joyce), conveys a sadly solipsistic, isolated and deeply pessimistic world…
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Truth is Stranger than Fiction Hello World

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. panita  |  March 22, 2010 at 11:39 pm

    Maybe count me in as your faithful reader? 😉 I should have been more sensitive to the political environment right around me, while I’ve been in fact joyously busy with learning the Dutch language… As for the “study of literature”, oh…I feel EXACTLY the same!! especially after I came here joining this programme..The lightness I felt (i’ve blamed myself for the feeling) in literary studies (& maybe also a bit disheartenment? ’cause it brings too much of the “Not”) has successfully made me decide not to go further in academia (but instead do something I dare/will not claim that I would do..)

    Anita

    Reply
  • 2. bennettabroad  |  April 14, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Hey Anita! I had no idea you were reading my blog! And sorry it’s taken me so long to respond… as usual, academic busy-ness means I neglect to look at what’s going on over here…

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one to feel that way about literary studies – and yes, it is disheartening. At the same time, I feel like there may just be something worthwhile –and, as I said, even vital– within the discipline. Unfortunately, I’m not sure anyone knows what it is, and I think academic researchers and professors are as much responsible for the decline of the humanities as any “outside” social forces…

    Am very curious, meanwhile, about this “something” else which you dared not claim to do… care to share?

    bennett

    Reply
    • 3. panita  |  May 13, 2010 at 10:04 pm

      I’m glad that you haven’t updated for a while, since I owe you a reply to that “something”. (i cannot pretend i didn’t see your reply due to my thesis busy-ness or to my being an unfaithful reader… :P) Well, it’s actually nothing special about that sth., maybe that’s why i thought it would be better not to say it so as to keep it from vapidity or sounding too serious… I believe every literary freak wishes to play with his pen. and i surely know i am def. not a competent scholar, because i’m not good at peeling off myths; rather, i seem to prefer wrapping the plain with twists and turns only to confuse ppl. …
      I do think that there must be sth. vital in literay studies. But to chase that sth. dedicatedly seems to me not a good idea. I think only in saying sth. Else that one may possibly come across the very thing one looks for…and academia appears to a slug like me too serious and intentional…

      I have a strange feeling that ppl nowadays are inclined to deconstruct something (some system or whatever) under the very restriction of it… how to speak freely in the real sense, not only to have free speech, but to be able to mean what one says. I have an increasing distrust in language, for what one can say with language one can understand in the mind, while what is not sayable is not thinkable, either. The only solution i could uncertainly think of is to create imagined worlds which are all related to this world yet which are just Not…

      well…that’s it. oh did i really mention that i want to write? i hope mentioning it would not make it (or me) dead…

      p.s. I got to know your blog from facebook, and then i followed, since I used to be a regular blogger myself 🙂

      anita

      Reply

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About

Bennett Carpenter
Leiden, Netherlands

Random musings about literature, art, politics and (occasionally) my life as a graduate student in sunny Holland. Click on the pic for more about me.

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