Ten years ago my dear friend Stephen Mitchelmore started his superb book blog This Space. It remains a vital inspiration, and the most essential book blog out there.
This "beautiful essay on language and the work of Peter Handke was presented two days ago by Karl Ove Knausgaard at the Skien International Ibsen Conference. The Austrian novelist and playwright Peter Handke is the winner of the the 2014 International Ibsen Award, the world’s most prestigious theater prize." It really is a stunning essay and one, I think, that shows that those who read Knausgaard as some kind of uber-realist are missing his supreme literary artistry...
There has never been a better year to look at the work of Kazimir Malevich, a pioneer of abstract art often seen as the greatest Russian painter of the twentieth century. “Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art,” first shown in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and now at London’s Tate Modern, is the most comprehensive exhibition of his work ever.
Malevich is known above all for his Black Square (1915)—a black square surrounded by a margin of white—the most prominent of the abstract, geometric paintings he called Suprematist, first shown at the now famous “0.10” exhibition in Petrograd in 1915. With Suprematism, Malevich hoped to create “a world in which man experiences totality with nature,” though using forms “which have nothing in common with nature.” He declared the Black Square to be the “zero of form,” claiming that it eclipsed all previous art. This iconoclastic icon was first shown hanging diagonally across the corner of a room, the traditional place for the most sacred icon of all.
Just out from Bloomsbury, Michel Henry's From Communism to Capitalism: Theory of a Catastrophe (translated by Scott Davidson):
Both a unique witness of transformative events in the late 20th century, and a prescient analysis of our present economic crises from a major French philosopher, Michel Henry's From Communism to Capitalism adds an important economic dimension to his earlier social critique. It begins by tracing the collapse of communist regimes back to their failure to implement Marx's original insights into the irreplaceable value of the living individual. Henry goes on to apply this same criticism to the surviving capitalist economic systems, portending their eventual and inevitable collapse.
The influence of Michel Henry's radical revision of phenomenological thought is only now beginning to be felt in full force, and this edition is the first English translation of his major engagement with socio-economic questions. From Communism to Capitalism reinterprets politics and economics in light of the failure of socialism and the pervasiveness of global capitalism, and Henry subjects both to critique on the basis of his own philosophy of life. His notion of the individual is one that, as subjective affect, subtends both Marxist collectivism and liberalism simultaneously. In addition to providing a crucial economic elaboration of Henry's influential social critiques, this work provides a context for understanding the 2008 financial shock and offers important insights into the political motivations behind the 'Arab spring'.
As I tried to make very clear in my post on Sunday, the small and contained argument that I'm advancing is not that serious and interesting writing about books is not happening online. Categorically, it is. I listed five blogs and bloggers in my original Guardian post – This Space, David Winters, 3:AM, Flowerville, Time's Flow Stemmed – and in my follow up blog, I listed several more – John Self, Berfrois, LARB and Dan Green. Very many more wonderful book-related spaces and places could be mentioned – The Quarterly Conversation and HTMLGiant both deserve a shout, as do Marooned Off Vesta, Infinite Patience and in lieu of a field guide. Without all this fine online work, the cultural landscape would be very much more bleak. Thank god for websites!
I'm really not sure how more clearly I can say this: I'm not saying interesting work is not going on; I'm not saying you can't find great writing about writing online; I'm simply pointing out the observable, and to me rather odd, fact that in very many other fields (all kinds of genre writing, political blogs, philosophy blogs, food writing etc, etc) a named individual of real skill has emerged from the blogosphere to change the debate in their respective fields. Richard Seymour fundamentally changed, and often set, the debate in his part of the Left. Graham Harman has changed the debate in Continental Philosophy regarding realism for good.
Or lets take the offline example of James Wood – via his 'criticism'/reviewing he has changed the conversation by banging on about e.g. Hysterical Realism or bringing our attention to Free Indirect Discourse. Sadly and strangely, nothing remotely like this has come out of the online conversation about books. Take also e.g. Blanchot's NRF monthly essays from back in the day – quietly and insistently his interventions changed the conversation, altered perceptions, re-routed thinking. The Blanchot example could perhaps be seen as being a little arcane, but I think it might be the best example. Blanchot's monthly essays – no requirement here whatsoever that the blogging should be daily or even weekly – slowly, via their form, percolated into the consciousness of literary France, and changed literary critical discourse for good.
Blogging has added more critical voices to the general clamour. Great. Good to have more voices, excellent to have more views. But neither in content or form has it substantively affected the wider book conversation. These days we just have lots more reviewers mimicking newspaper reviews. Plainly, noting this does not equate with suggesting in any way that blogging is dead, or that online writing is not a considerable cultural boon.
The question remains, however, why have no serious literary critics emerged, maintaining a blog, doing innovative work and gaining a following for that work and changing the wider conversation, as we have seen in plenty of other fields? Where are the lit-critical Jack Monroes, Graham Harmans, Paul Slaines, Richard Seymours, Ian Bogosts? I don't see them. And I regret the lack.
In the UK, one blogger, John Self, has become a talisman. John is a superb book reviewer. Everyone should read him. He writes straight up and down reviews in the broadsheet style, penetrating and amusing, incisive and witty, and he has rightly been embraced by the Guardian, and thousands of eager readers. He is a tremendously good writer. He is not, however, a literary critic, and his writing, on the blog, echoes the form and style of response we see every week in the newspapers. That is not a value judgment, it is a fact. And it echoes another fact: no literary critic has yet emerged from the blogosphere; no writer has yet emerged from the large and informed online writing community and changed the wider conversation about writing on writing.
You may well think that the world doesn't need literary critics. Fine response! You may well think that book reviewing suffices. It's an entirely valid point. You may well want to ignore my actual argument and tell me that great writing is happening online here, there and somewhere else. And, as I've stressed, I can only agree that it absolutely is. Wikipedia tells me the "term 'weblog' was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997." So blogging has been around for a long time. And blogging is just part of the wider online writing revolution, the vibrancy, breadth and depth of which can only be applauded; it astounds and amazes. But in very many other fields, writers have emerged from online and changed their respective fields for good. Particularly noteworthy, as I've said, is the rise and rise of speculative realism which has fundamentally changed the debate raging in modern European Philosophy and is setting the agenda for exciting work ahead. It's a wonder to behold. Has this happened in the field of literary criticism? No, it has not.
I was honoured to be invited to speak at The Literary Consultancy's Writing in a Digital Age conference yesterday. (A particular personal pleasure because I got to see Lynne Hatwell and Sam Leith again, and it had been far too long in both cases.) Huge thanks to the organisers for inviting me. Seemed to be a very vibrant and well run affair, and I enjoyed the discussion immensely.
The conference was the occasion for writing this piece (What became of literary blogging?) for the Guardian last Monday. It was the subs at the Guardian who framed the piece thus: I hoped that blogs could provide an outlet for the serious criticism missing from the mainstream media. I didn't reckon on Twitter but it doesn't give a terrible sense of my thinking.
Principally, I wanted to make the observation that whilst the book blogosphere had thrown up some fine writers (those I mention at the foot of the piece, but several others could be cited - and, indeed, the comments thread, whilst occasionally inane and dyspeptic as per Guardian comments threads, throws up some fine examples) it had not thrown many good literary critics. This is simply a fact.
Blogging has been around a good decade now, and the online writing revolution has touched every sort of genre and created well-known writers of many stripes. We've had the rise of fan-fiction (E.L. James), paranormal fiction (Amanda Hocking), women's fiction (Anna Bell) and erotica (James, and H.M. Ward); we've had food writers (Jack Monroe), political blogs (from Paul Slaine / Guido Fawkes to Richard Seymour / Lenin's Tomb) and philosophers (the rise of and rise of speculative realism and all its countless blogs and forums) all hugely affecting their respective fields; we've had wonderful book bloggers (like John Self) arrive on the scene and add sparkle and insight to the book review pages of the MSM; and we've had exciting Multi-Author Blogs (like 3:AM, Berfrois, LARB) arriving to show how broad-based, intelligent and informative online writing can be. All this shows the wonderful diversity and energy of online writing. Most all examples are to be welcomed. But despite the fine work of a few (and I should mention Dan Green here because Dan has worked hard over the years to use blogging as a means to write seriously about books and literature) good literary critical writers have not turned up in droves. I wish I was wrong about this. But it's a fact.
I'm deliberately not defining literary criticism above because by not defining it I'm hoping to keep the category as wide open as possible; I'm not being prescriptive here: if you think it's literary criticism, that's good enough for me. I think most would agree that book reviewing and literary criticism are very different (even if they can be on a continuum). And we all know the difference between a Guardian review and an essay in the LRB and a book by Gérard Genette. Many fine book reviewers have emerged from the blogosphere, but I don't think we can hide from the fact that no serious literary critics have emerged, maintaining a blog, doing innovative work and gaining a following for that work as we have seen in plenty of other fields.
Two music-related books to get me through Sunday...
Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine (she of The Slits; if you don't know, you probably won't care, but maybe you should – she writes well about "art school, squatting, hanging out in Sex with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, spending a day chained to Sid Vicious, on tour with The Clash, and being part of a brilliant, pioneering group of women making musical history").
And Emily Petermann's The Musical Novel: Imitation of Musical Structure, Performance, and Reception in Contemporary Fiction:
The Musical Novel builds upon theories of intermediality and semiotics to analyze the musical structures, forms, and techniques in two groups of musical novels, which serve as case studies. The first group imitates an entire musical genre and consists of jazz novels by Toni Morrison, Albert Murray, Xam Wilson Cartiér, Stanley Crouch, Jack Fuller, Michael Ondaatje, and Christian Gailly. The second group of novels, by Richard Powers, Gabriel Josipovici, Rachel Cusk, Nancy Huston, and Thomas Bernhard, imitates a single piece of music, J. S. Bach's Goldberg Variations.
I’ve suffered from depression intermittently since I was a teenager. Some of these episodes have been highly debilitating – resulting in self-harm, withdrawal (where I would spend months on end in my own room, only venturing out to sign-on or to buy the minimal amounts of food I was consuming), and time spent on psychiatric wards. I wouldn’t say I’ve recovered from the condition, but I’m pleased to say that both the incidences and the severity of depressive episodes have greatly lessened in recent years. Partly, that is a consequence of changes in my life situation, but it’s also to do with coming to a different understanding of my depression and what caused it. I offer up my own experiences of mental distress not because I think there’s anything special or unique about them, but in support of the claim that many forms of depression are best understood – and best combatted – through frames that are impersonal and political rather than individual and ‘psychological’. (More...)
These guys popped up on Twitter the other day (@FitzcarraldoEds): "a London-based publisher, will be publishing long-form essays and novels." They start publishing "[i]n August, a novel: ZONE by Mathias Enard (originally published by @open_letter in the US and @ActesSud in France)... In September, an essay: MEMORY THEATRE by Simon Critchley, with images by Liam Gillick."
Great books to start with. (ZONE was reviewed by Steve at This Space here: "Everything is coursed into a recital, a unique poetic ritual of mourning to reach the destination that is itself. Zone is indeed soaked in trauma yet, in Mathias Énard's hands and Charlotte Mandell's fluid translation, it is exhilarating, and has to be read."
Carcanet Press "are delighted to announce that the Carcanet poets Louise Glück, Kei Miller and Jeffrey Wainwright have been shortlisted for the 2014 Forward Prize for Best First Collection and Best Single Poem category!"
William Sieghart, who founded the Forward prizes in 1991, said the writers on the shortlists 'bring news that stays news, in fresh and startling language', and that their voices 'remind readers that, in an age of shortened attention spans, good poetry can communicate insights and visions with a power other art forms can only envy'. This year the Forward panel is led by Jeremy Paxman, alongside the musician Cerys Matthews and three poets: Dannie Abse, Helen Mort and Vahni Capildeo. The winners will be announced on 30 September.
Faithful and Virtuous Night
SHORTLISTED FOR BEST COLLECTION
"One of the purest and most accomplished lyric poets now writing" - Robert Hass
The Cartographer Tries to Map His Way to Zion
SHORTLISTED FOR BEST COLLECTION
"Raise high the roofbeams, here comes a strong new presence in poetry" - Lorna Goodison
‘The Empty Road’ from PN Review
SHORTLISTED FOR BEST SINGLE POEM