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The quaint phenomenon of the novel

At The Brooklyn Rail, English philosopher Simon Critchley takes on the subject of contemporary art in an article entitled “Absolutely-Too-Much.” It’s a fascinating article, but what struck me was his outright dismissal of the novel’s cultural import: “It is simply a fact that contemporary art has become the central placeholder for the articulation of cultural […]

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The Darker Side of Reading

Does literature, and specifically reading novels, lead to a more tolerant and non-violent world? This seems to be the argument implied in Elaine Scarry’s unfortunately titled “Poetry Changed the World” in The Boston Review. Scarry writes about “literature’s capacity to reduce harm,” extrapolating her points from Steven Pinker’s much-publicized recent work of scholarly wishful thinking, […]

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The Immortal Gombrowicz

Ruth Franklin has an excellent article on Gombrowicz at The New Yorker (subscription required), placing the new translation of his diaries in a context that provides the requisite history without weighing the reader down (as most critics seem to) with the obligatory yet incomprehensible need to go on and on about his Polishness the way […]

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Publishing Perspectives: EU Lit Prize Winners Dish on Tyranny of Big Languages

Unless a writer is translated into one of the big languages – English, French, German, Spanish – then it becomes very hard to get translated into the smaller languages. Three EU Literary Prize winners – the Czech Republic’s Tomáš Zmeškal, Bulgaria’s Kalin Terziiski and Romania’s Răzvan Rădulescu, talk about the challenges facing writers from smaller languages […]

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Literary confinement: Part III – On rock’n writing and the three-minute song

Part I of literary confinement dealt with the conformist aspect of needing to put translated literature into “the conversation” and what is lost when everyone reads virtually the same books. In Part II a couple critical takes on these issues from the world of theater were added to the mix, along with similarly conformist impulse […]

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Literary confinement: Part II – canon fodder and writing in the default mode

In a recent article on revivals of plays by Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty uses the occasion to identify some shortcomings in contemporary theater that apply equally, if not even more closely, to contemporary fiction. He distinguishes the work of these two modern greats not only in degree […]

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Playing the instruments of thought

On the BBC’s “A Point of View” writer Will Self takes on readers and critics who oppose the use of difficult words, and by extension, of difficult art altogether. The main thrust of his critique is that educators, critics and the reading public are demanding that the bar be lowered from a level of reading […]

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Literary confinement: Part I – on restricted reading and the production of factory fiction

When I was 17 years old and deciding where to go to college I went on a visit to the University of Miami because I was considering studying at their music school. The sight of white cork-lined practice rooms that looked like jail cells made me a bit uneasy from the outset, but it was […]

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The American compulsion to write autobiographical novels is a literary dead end Almost exactly a year ago, with the PEN World Voices Festival of international literature taking place I used the occasion of reviewing Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction 2011 to prop up the Berlin Wall I thought of as separating European and American fiction. […]

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The lackluster marriage of philosophy and the novel

In the Financial Times novelist Jennie Erdal poses the question of whether it’s still possible to write philosophical novels the way Dostoevsky and Tolstoy once did. While it is quite easy to disagree with her premise and point out any number of philosophical novels being written today, the article is indicative of a much deeper […]

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