Posts tagged ‘literature’
Over on The Rumpus, I got embroiled in a debate over a review of Kevin Sampsell’s A Common Pornography. The question seemed to be whether this thing could even be called a book review at all, concerning as it mostly did the reviewer’s own experiences and life story as it related (perhaps only tangentially) to the book. Some people said this was solipsistic bullshit. I said it was one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read recently.
People who’ve been with me a while (or with me in classes) know by now my opinions about literature, and criticism: I think the best response to (receiving a) story is to tell, in turn, another story. This is, I think, the essence of conversation, and to enter into such a relationship with a book is to be in conversation with literature (as opposed to about it). In opposition to the sort of “meta” position that criticism usually attempts to hold –commenting from a lofty, ahistorical, “objective” position about the “subjective” workings of literature and language– this approach makes the writer-as-reader a subject of/in language. Call it (to steal from Spivak) a form of critical intimacy.
All of which is a long build-up to the fact that I want to tell you a story.
Why is it that we have the easiest time talking about the most trivial, mundane things, but when it comes to those things that matter, that move us, that shake us to the core –love, death– words always fail? A year ago I tried blogging about a TV show (RuPaul’s Drag Race) and although –or rather, precisely because– it was so unabashedly vacuous, I found the words pouring out of me: sharp, funny, piquant. To this day I think (and regret) that it was probably one of the best pieces I ever wrote.
Meanwhile when I want to speak about things of substance and sublimity I find myself grasping at chaff as the living grain slips through my fingers. (But, if the grain which falls to the earth does not die, it stays alone; while if it dies, it brings forth fruit.) Which is why I am struggling as I sit here trying to write something about Roberto Bolaño.
I first encountered Bolaño in the Strand Bookstore a bit over a year ago. Not in the flesh, of course (he died in 2003) but in the form of a tall, teetering stack of his (at the time) most recently translated book, The Savage Detectives. I think I had read something about him somewhere (he would soon become omnipresent) and so I idly picked up a copy and flipped to the first pages:
I’ve been cordially invited to join the visceral realists. I accepted, of course. There was no initiation ceremony. It was better that way.
I’m not really sure what visceral realism is.
And from there on out I was pretty much hooked. (more…)
So, I got this idea (in an effort to ignore those looming paper deadlines) to post a list of the top ten trends which I hope will not continue into 2010 – trends like those “my year in the life of” things in which some previously unknown blogger (someone just like us!) rises to pop culture fame through their willingness to cook all of Julia Child’s recipes, follow all of Oprah’s dicta, or try every position in the karma sutra. I figured I could get in a couple pithy zingers about how, in this stage of late capitalism, the only remaining form of stardom resides in a parasitic appropriation of past images and icons, recycled remnants of a culture which we revive at the very moment of its final evisceration. A.k.a. your usual quasi-Marxist cultural commentary with a splash of snark, a few sly asides, and enough pop references to show that I’m still (despite it all!) culturally au courant.
And then I realized: that to engage in such snarky commentary would be, in fact, to embody the very trend(s) I set out to criticize. (more…)