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Blog entries on '02 August 2006'

Wednesday 02 August 2006

Fight!

A recent spat on This-Space, concerning Steve's judgement of Ian Holding's Dylan Thomas Prize longlisted novel Unfeeling, has again highlighted how differently different readers read from one another. Steve was accused by one of those commenting on his post of being "out of touch with general critic's views" (something Steve rightly saw as an accolade!) "Prof. J. Williams, Kent" asked, "Don't you know that the book was widely hailed and got rave reviews when published?" And "Jane, Surrey" wrote, "The novel DID get rave reviews and HAS been highly praised for its literary qualities."


So, bang to rights, Steve is caught out: praised by other book reviewers, shortlisted for a prize, Holding's novel must be "BRILLIANT!" (Prof. J. Williams's word).


When reviewing books -- and I mean reviewing in the widest sense, for instance proselytizing about what you've just read to a bunch of mates in the pub -- the temptation (and one I'm certainly not immune to) is always to hyperbole. A book is often hailed as either "shit" or "great". This is why we turn to the best critics: for argument; for nuance. Sadly, we rarely get it. The most cliche-ridden novels, with the tritest of plots, are regularly hailed as "classics". Each week a "must read" book gets over-praised and the genre of literary fiction continues to spew forth mediocrity. In truth, a "must read" novel comes along very, very rarely. And whilst we wait for the next, we get work that exists along an arc of the undistinguished and prosaic.


What confuses the matter further is that the separation between fine writing and art (what I'd like to dignify as Literature), which seems to me to be Steve's central concern, is lost on many readers. Steve seems to have been condemned by his commenters (who really could have saved their energy by reading the very careful arguments about writing that This-Space has articulated over very many months) for not swooning, as they do, over a polished paragraph or a nicely-turned phrase.


Paradoxical though it may seem, fine writing is not synonymous with Literature. Indeed, it might be better to think that what is synonymous with Literature is paradox itself.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 02 August 2006

Spurious interview

I received the Bloggasm interview treatment t'other day. And now it it is the turn of Spurious:


What matters is to allow criticism, or a writing on literature to partake of literature, to embody the same risks. The question of style is paramount; the experimentalism of literature (its modernity), must also be carried over to literary criticism.

Great criticism – Blanchot’s, for example – is part of literature. But it always has its eye, too, on philosophy (and couldn’t the same be claimed of literature itself?). Without philosophy – scepticism about everything received, including what comes by way of the column and other kinds of journalism, which prop up a particular image of the world – nothing. And isn’t there a kind of philosophizing, or at least a kind of research, implicit to literature?

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 02 August 2006

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Culture Space discusses Luis Buñuel's 1972 film The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) (as part of the Avant-Garde Film Blog-a-Thon.)


The friends' attempts to sit down and enjoy a meal are continually interrupted by one absurdist occurrence after another, by the arrival of troops, by the realization that they sitting on a theater stage in front of a live audience, by the intervention of armed gunmen. These all might be the material of individual dreams, which themselves might be parts of a larger dream, but Buñuel deliberately confuses us by interrupting these sequences with scenes that clearly are dreams ... Yet it is the film's rupturing of the symbol of the meal that is most powerful. For the meal, the tea ceremony, the weekend lunch are the central, accepted social rituals of the bourgeoisie, and with their rituals distended, the characters are cast adrift with little sense of purpose or duty. This is why, despite its humorous moments and its status as a comedy, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, ultimately, is as disturbing as it is hilarious.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Serendipoetry

Omens, after Alexander Pushkin

I rode to meet you: dreams
like living beings swarmed around me
and the moon on my right side
followed me, burning.

I rode back: everything changed.
My soul in love was sad
and the moon on my left side
trailed me without hope.

To such endless impressions
we poets give ourselves absolutely,
making, in silence, omen of mere event,
until the world reflects the deepest needs of the soul.

-- Louise Gluck
Averno (Carcanet Press)

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The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or two

Pre-order Anu Garg's new book: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words (ISBN 9780452288614), published by Penguin more …

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