This is a milieu that, for every Don Delillo (whose apocalypse-mastery is undeniable), produces several Jonathan Franzens or Chad Harbachs – conservative stylists whose technical gifts are harnessed to a kind of domestic realism, which eschews metaphysical or existential flights in favour of pragmatic, reader-friendly observation. It is a kind of triangulation between the demands of the critics and the market that feels, to many, less ambitious and confrontational than the work being made elsewhere in the world.
This is why, every so often, the city’s twentysomething literary crowd falls in love with a foreign writer, who for a period becomes a sort of talisman, a sign that their aspirations go higher than the current domestic-realist model will allow.
“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”—George Orwell (via politicalprof)
Peter took the audience’s breath away, but not in a good way, and his story demonstrated why it can be hard to pull off the-worst-thing-that-ever-happened-to-me kinds of stories.
The first pitfall of these kinds of stories is this: The more sensational the content of the story, the less attention, I’ve noticed, storytellers pay to the actual craft of storytelling. If you’re telling a story about walking your dog it’s plainly obvious that you’re going to need to spin it well in order to keep anyone’s interest. But when the content of your story is on its face interesting, it’s tempting to think that all you have to do is “lay it out there” and people will be gripped, which isn’t true at all.
“Hysterical realism treats the world as an infinite network, but we already have an infinite network, the Internet, and our nose is rubbed in it on an hourly basis. We don’t need more of that—more hysteria. We need novels that help us manage hysteria instead. If the hysterical realist novel is a synecdoche, the unrealist novel is a metaphor: it tries to represent the world as (i.e. it substitutes for it) a shape, a pattern, a dramatic arc, that reveals the simplicity that underlies the complexity. The Mandelbrot set is infinitely complex, its borders ramify without end, but it still has a shape, an outline that’s instantly recognizable. That’s the shape of the Unrealist novel.”—Lev Grossman offers some first thoughts on Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, the David Foster Wallace biography written by D.T. Max due out in September, and, more interesting, wonders whether “hysterical realism” is dead.
Researchers who have scanned books published over the past 50 years report an increasing use of words and phrases that reflect an ethos of self-absorption and self-satisfaction.
“Language in American books has become increasingly focused on the self and uniqueness in the decades since 1960,” a research team led by San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge writes in the online journal PLoS One. “We believe these data provide further evidence that American culture has become increasingly focused on individualistic concerns.”
“New Jersey’s lack of defining character traits – its facelessness, its rootlessness, its lukewarmness – make it an ideal portal to get inside the soul of a nation that becomes more faceless, rootless and generic – more soulless – by the day, a nation where regional signifiers have been sanded smooth by interstate highways, franchise restaurants, big box stores, shopping malls, subdivisions, all the strangling, interchangeable links of the corporate chains. In contemporary America, anomie is a moveable feast, and its template was exported from New Jersey.”—Bill Morris on the great novels of the garden state.
“Following one reading, the author Philipp Weiss ate his manuscript. During his presentation, young author Rainald Goetz cut open his forehead with a razorblade, and continued to read while covered in blood. And the Swiss author Urs Allemann ventured to read a text entitled “Baby Fucker.”— Marlis Schaum and Dirk Ulrich Kaufmann on the grotesque history of the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, a prestigious German literary award
No. 1, “The Grand Epiphany Ending”: “Gatsby believed in the green light, but sitting out among the quiet whisperings of the shore I had a different sort of revelation: Sometimes life is easy, but sometimes it is hard.”
No. 2, “The Bourgeois Hardship Ending”: “Out there in the dark with the moon rising high over the Sound I thought about Gatsby and his big, rambling house. It turned out to be true what they said—you never really get what you expect. I shrugged and left.”
No. 3, “The Ending Ending”: “Ferryboats stirred across the Sound and disappeared toward the horizon. Gatsby had seen something strange and new in this untrammeled land, but contemplating it now I could only think one sad, unvarnished thought. We are born, we eat a lot of lunches, and then we die.”
“Dreams are the Sea-Monkeys of consciousness; in the back pages of sleep they promise us teeming submarine palaces but leave us, on waking, with a hermetic residue of freeze-dried dust. At the breakfast table in my house, an inflexible law compels all recountings of dreams to be compressed into a sentence or, better still, half a sentence, like the paraphrasing of epic films listed in TV Guide: ‘Rogue samurai saves peasant village.’”—Michael Chabon’sstellar essay on Finnegans Wake is worth a read or five.