Thursday, 27 October 2005

A Highly Selective List of Novels; or One Day Late Hate Nothing surprises "the plebes"—I'm a snob, see—more than the idea that those who teach literature haven't read every book anyone's ever heard of. ("...of which anyone has ever heard.") Reading over Time's list of Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo's "best English-language novels from 1923 to the present," I'm at least comforted by the fact that I need not explain why an Americanist hasn't read every single page of Clarissa. (I am amused the list starts in 1923 ... as if the thought of having to include the works of 1921 inspires inklings most vomitous.) In most respects, this list is a far better one than anyone could have reasonably expected. ("Committees smear shit evenly.") Certainly, it has its share terrible novels. Something by Cormac McCarthy? The Corrections? Gone With the Wind? But the list contains enough idiosyncratically brilliant picks to keep my complaints down. Watchmen. Play It As It Lays. The Day of the Locust. Under the Volcano. Ubik. White Teeth. To include important but terrible novels like White Noise and On the Road encourages curt dismissals by anyone with a brain bigger than DeLillo's. (I'm looking at you, Mad Rooster.) And yes, I should explain the reasons I think DeLillo a trite, superficial hack of the Baudrillard school of "thought" or Cormac McCarthy a banal bore of Faulknerian proportions (as opposed to Morrison, whose debts to the Bard of Oxford, Mississippi are acknowledged and interesting). But I'm too busy hyperventilating to do anything other than scream my untutored judgments at a world which wants explanations. You see, there's a chance my department will break-up with me next year. ("It's not you," it'll insist, "it's me.") And if it does, that means no more group health insurance. "Not a big deal," I already hear you saying. "Just put your privies to the grindstone and pay for it!" Well, I would ... only insurance companies don't consider one's cancer "cured" so much as in a state of permanent limbo they call "remission." And they absolutely, positively cannot insure someone with remiss but horny cells. Who knows what my mitochondria will get into next? Who even knows what my mitochondria are? Certainly not the idiot on the other end of the line informing me that my "profile" precludes me from coverage. Is this reason 54,391,470,102 to move Canada? Perhaps. (I think I even know somewhere I can crash.) Anyhow, I realize that you don't come here for the nightly panic attacks—the witherings and waverings of a stranger who lured you here with content but now bombards you with trifles—and so I promise I'll post more amusing conversation-starters in the near future. This post takes the award for lamest post of the year. Once upon a time I entertained people. Now I'm just another pseudo-celebrity foisting my drama upon an unwitting audience. Unfortunately, my drama lunches on the buffet of my mind like a beast from below with a love of all things slathered in Ranch ... and so other subjects fall to...
On Third Rate Readers of Wolfe; or, "Stupid Cretinous Cancer Boy!" The folks on the Gene Wolfe discussion list continue to berate Rich and I for daring to speak ill of their beloved Wolfe. Granted, I don't want to discount the obvious differences between casual readers of Wolfe and those who would subscribe to a listserv devoted to his work, but I still think there's a whiff of excessive fanboyism to some of their criticisms: The beauty of the langauge alone in many of the scenes screams out for admiration. I was constantly amazed at the classification of Wolfe as a second rate, one trick pony writer on that blog. Second rate? [emoticon excised] Only to third rate readers. Long Sun, Short Sun, and New Sun are completely distinct in voice. Both of these complaints come from Marc Aramini, about whom I know nothing and therefore will refrain from speculating as to his motivations. That said, I think the manner in which these claims are pressed without evidentiary support points to the difference between the sorts of debates devout fans wish to have about authors versus the sorts of debates which yoke casual readers. Because I agreed with the first statement from the beginning—I noted that Wolfe "refines [his prose] further with everything he writes"—and did not call Wolfe a "one trick pony" but a "brilliant-one-trick-pony." Intense fandom seems to suffocate nuance. Now I admit that I did not, myself, present evidence from the entirety of Wolfe's corpus to back my claim, so I leave myself open to being beat down by pot/kettle/black. But I've done what I should've done for Wolfe to the works of DeLillo. (Given my respective feelings for those two, I much rather would've done this for Wolfe.) Two last interesting notes on that exchange: First, Rich mentioned Yves Meynard's The Book of Knights as a possible source for some of Wolfe's The Wizard Knight. Yves Meynard disagrees. Second, the first list member to respond to Adam Stephanides' original linkage said I can barely stand to read half of these posts. And the most cretinous ones (if that is a word, and if I am using it correctly) don't seem worth responding to, because they reflect opinions held by people so certain of their own infallible faculty of interpretation that they are impervious to correction. I find this amusing on a number of counts—foremost among them that I suffer delusions of omniscience and believe myself impervious to correction—but the most entertaining one is that he calls me "cretinous." Meynard responded to the parenthetical questions thus: It's a real word, but you're only technically correct if their authors suffer from severe thyroid defiency. I'm 100% certain that isn't intended as the insult it could be construed as ("Thyroid Cancer Boy! Thyroid Cancer Boy! Stupid Cretinous Cancer Boy!"), but it amuses nonetheless.

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