Day 118: Some Thoughts on Recent Novels

 

Ok, I have a weak wireless signal, so I will make use of it before the thunderstorm gets closer and I will lose connectivity.

1. Just got home from my neighborhood dive-bar. Had a cheap PBR and could sit at the bar without yuppies or frat boys. How refreshing! Downside of the short excursion: the lock of the door to my building was broken when I got home, so I had to wait on the sidewalk until someone got home whose cell is already connected to the buzzer. May have to ask my super to connect mine as soon as possible.

Note: my wireless connection went out last night (to a neighborhood bar, I assume) and so the things that follow are a recreation of the long post I lost last night (damn!).

2. We had the final organizational meeting for the Marxist Literary Group Institute on Culture and Society that will begin at UIC on June 20th (see previous posts for the conference program). Now all that is left for us to do before the actual work begins (i.e. the day before the conference when people will get here) is to go shopping for essentials such as coffee, cream cheese and hummus at Costco. What a wonderful day of super-sized consumption that will be!

3. Some quick final thoughts on recent novels: I read Palahniuk’s Rant a few weeks ago and I would just like to make sure that everyone knows that it is truly a remarkable piece of shite. Do not read it. In fact, run into the opposite direction of you encounter a copy in the wild. What used to be Palahniuk’s signature move in his earlier works, i.e. troubling the idea of counter- and subcultures through deeply ironic stories infused with biting social critique, has turned into the contained spectacle (as defined by Debord) of subculture narratives in Rant. In fact, having read his recent works makes me increasingly believe that Fight Club and Diary may have been accidents. Very sad. If you want to read a recently published novel by someone who can write, read Geraldine Brooks’ March (see previous posts). Finally, I do in fact recommend DeLillo’s Falling Man. It is by no means the novel you might have expected when looking at DeLillo’s previous musings on 9/11 and it does break with his previous novels in interesting ways but it is still worth reading. What I mean by breaking with his previous works is the following: DeLillo is known for composing what may be considered examples of the contemporary (postmodern, if you must call it a name) epic, examining the sociopolitical underbelly of the US in narratives of great complexity, spanning a quite vast canvas of representation. However, Falling Man, despite the fact that 9/11 is truly an event that must be represented in all its (global) complexity, i.e. on a broad canvas, DeLillo (as so many others before) can only represent this event within the confines of a small-scope narrative, limited to the structure of a family (which does lend itself to an expansion of its allegorical level but that is still a far cry from the desirable rigor in respect to the true complexity of the event). This, however, is less a sign of a bad novel than a symptom of a problem regarding all literary approaches to 9/11 up to this point (which hints at deep-seated, unresolved residual ideological issues within the US). Within this paradigm DeLillo is definitely worth reading and stands out among spectacular failures such as those produced by Art Spiegelman and Safran-Foer (especially Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers was absolutely terrible). There are serious problems regarding 9/11 and literary representation that I should expand upon at some point but let me just say this: if you want to read a literary account of 9/11 go for the first one (which is still by far the best one) and the most recent one: Gibson’s Pattern Recognition and DeLillo’s Falling Man.

Ok–now I have to continue doing some research for my dissertation director while trying to remember what the already completed half of my present dissertation chapter was about. Moving is just so incredibly disruptive!

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4 Comments

  1. interesting comments on palahniuk–i just had a very similar conversation about him. i would add lullaby to the fight club and diary list, i found it really intriguing and darkly beautiful. his problem, though, seems to stem form a reliance on a formula that at first read is gripping but becomes stale, like stephen king for example. there is no doubt that both palahniuk and king can write, and they have their brilliant moments, but i would love to seem them each come out with something completely out of their comfort zone, maybe a harlequin-esque romance from king, or a chick lit montage of lust and betrayal from palahniuk. that would be entertainment.

  2. I tend to agree with your description on _Lullaby_. That one wasn’t all bad–even thought I would certainly not consider it a great work of literature. At least it justified some serious conversation about it (well, not all THAT serious, but it wa a least worth devoting some critical attention to it). Given his downward trend that began with the publication of the second novel my suggestion for him at this point would be to stop writing novels (which he apparently cannot do any more) and go straight to writing Hollywood screenplays, which is the actual horizing of intention for most popular novelists anyway (such as Crichton, Grishham, et al.).
    Too bad. I really think _Fight Club_ has something very interesting to offer on the level of ideology critique. Palahniuk himself seems to be getting increasingly confused on a ideological level, however, which e.g. manifested itself in his desperate struggle to keep his homosexuality a secret for the longest time. Quite sad–also retroactively makes the discussion of atavistic masculinity in _Fight Club_ less poignant (if you assign any weight to authorial intention in the definition of literary meaning, that is–which I generally do not–however, I also do not side with Wimsatt and Beardsley, just to make that clear–both sides to me are completely misguided when it comes to formulating a theory of the significance and function of cultural production).

  3. oooh–bad spelling!

  4. Nice insights into DeLillo’s Falling Man and 9-11 novels generally. I agree that, overall, it is a vexed literary undertaking with disastrous results. A few days ago I read some of Windows on the World by French writer, Beigbeder, but gave up out of sheer disinterest. Maybe I’ll revisit it later though.

    One thing, while DeLillo certainly “made” his name with Underworld, the “contemporary… epic, examining the sociopolitical underbelly of the US in narratives of great complexity, spanning a quite vast canvas of representation,” you seem to be referring to, he hasn’t really written in that mode since. Cosmopolis and The Body Artist are both lyrical, slender works, especially the latter. It is my theory that in the wake of David Foster Wallace and all the other pomo Pynchonesque wankery that surfaced in the late nineties, he’s abandoned it as a literary style. This isn’t as drastic as it might at first seem. Many of his early novels work on large canvases, The Names is my favorite, but several are smaller without being the sort of warmed-over Cheever DeLillo has publicly derided.

    That said, I think you are basically right that Falling Man, like many 9-11 novels, suffers from the inexplicable and limiting need to personalize , especially, as you say, within the confines of the nuclear family. I am curious, though, about the “deep-seated, unresolved residual ideological issues within the US,” you think this hints at. I have been groping along with the same intuition for months now, but haven’t articulated it to my satisfaction. It is likely a confluence of factors; the divorce between the suburban culture that dominates the public imagination of American identity in the U.S. versus the imperial identity it projects abroad; the tendency to map a variety of disparate events onto comforting television models in recent literature (James Frey on Oprah a few years ago was like the Oroboros eating its own tail); to name a few possible aspects. It is nice to see others are thinking about these things.


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