Joining the Chorus: A Rant
January 29, 2009, 12:49 pm
Filed under: Blogs, Books, Ideas, Literature, Writing | Tags: , , ,


Sound Taste’s latest entry, A Universal History of Infamy, sparked the motors this morning. A fantastic post. Not only does she point out a lacuna in American literary criticism (a patent “…lack of imagination”), she ties it to the poor habit that can’t seem to think of Latin American literature as anything other than magical realism.

It is a point well-worth reiterating.

Maybe it’s that Jose Saldivar’s”The Dialectics of Our America” is current subway reading and that precious spare time has become consumed with the meaning of identity in current ponderings, but this question of ‘realness’ as a cipher for a personal identity has been bothersome.

Does the drive for ‘realness’ through appropriating the experience of ‘the other’ (well-intended or not) serve to fostering identity in the face of groundlessness? Another question: what are editors and marketers at the big (sinking) houses (and the critics they give free shit to) thinking when they promote crappy reading? It points to a market-driven logic that’s simply dizzying.  Just a few paragraphs in, and we already find ourselves in a thicket of ethical issues regarding identity, commodity, and the production of meaning.

But maybe the dirty secret is that personal dirt sells books. The kookier the habit, the deeper the suffering, the better to move units under the guise of real criticism, the thought seems to go. Why not vindicate one’s moral superiority as a reader-observer in the manner we seem to enjoy watching train wrecks unfold nightly on reality television shows ginned up to produce such marvelous human drama?

Besides, why should I care if Bolaño shoveled smack? This 19th-century way of thinking that writing, even fiction, is a mode of self-disclosure is so bankrupt. It lends itself to the pseudo-profound thoughts that writing and language are simple reproductions or reflections of reality. What a cruel and depressing way to treat the gift of language.


2 Comments so far
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Right on, Richard. I’m going to have to mull all this over a bit. I didn’t really get to my (sorry) REAL problems with this, why it irks me so. But I guess one of my responses is that the lit I like grapples with how we contain multitudes, and how impossible it is to get to the objective, the scientifically repeatable experiment, through the weak (and complex) tool that is the ego/id/superego self. The paradox is that the writer remains the god-like mistress of perspectives within the text, but no narrator, or collective thereof, ever covers everything, or gets to the “truth.” Junot Diaz talked a lot about this regarding the narrator Yunior in Oscar Wao, how he has to be asshole to highlight that his word is not gospel, that he is a self-deluded liar like all narrators ultimately are. Thanks for the push, mano.

Comment by Caro

No hay de que, camarada.

I’ve been having to contend with questions of personality and impersonality in this paper I’ve been slogging away at, hence the rant. A lot of the secondary literature I’ve been reading on Herman Melville keeps along the same lines of personal history as tied to narrative, supported by very careful biographical study. Something about it, while interesting, doesn’t get any closer to literature’s truth: it’s ability to create and mediate multitudes and open sympathetic space for feeling and thinking more amply about our humanity. Just a guess.

That’s a pretty deft move on Junot’s part to undermine the narrarator’s authority. Pues Yunior in la novela si es un charlatan. Eso si es claro.

Two things come to mind, from your comment, though I’m unsure of how they seem to fit: the Crack Manifesto from 1996 (a classic Mexican revolt against the ‘boom’, calling, in part, for a polyphonic narrative) and Alain Badiou’s insistence on art as a truth procedure (it reminds me of the repeatable experiment, except in a linguistic manner). Another guess: perhaps literature is that very procedure that exposes the truth of humanity’s experience of language.

Comment by tirado

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