Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Reading the section of the latest N+1 devoted to the state of writing in America today, I found myself, once again, encountering the same constellation of names (Eggers, Wallace, Moore, Oates, Updike, Krauss, Foer, Franzen, Roth and several others), that one is obliged to have to consider whenever reading someone's appraisal of what matters in contemporary fiction (if we open it up to Canada and the UK then you've got to, of course, have Munro, Z. Smith, etc.). Fine, you say, the discussion is clearly about mainstream fiction, and those (plus those several others) are the names that must be checked or alluded to if one is to make some dreary fucking point about how it's all going. And I say, surely, even in the mainstream, there are some others... no?

This happens, of course, when one discusses slant fiction too -- it's just that one doesn't, all that much (though there are some exceptions, like Now What), and certainly not much at all in large, wide-circulation fora.

Not such a big deal, really, but it is tedious, after a time. Reading the articles, which were generally pretty interesting, and made some useful points, I kept being reminded of a journalist talking about running around LA with Sesshu Foster (Atomik Aztek), who asked, rhetorically, as they whizzed past the dreadful, even horrible banality of some section of LA, "Is this all there is???"


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of those double edged swords though isn't it Laird?

Say one wrote such an essay and discussed Hunt, Link, Olsen, Franklin, Woodrell, Benedict, Everett, T. Jones, Reinhorn, Allio and Wells. All are top notch writers in my book -haven't read a bad story or novel or slant fiction between the entire lot.

One would be blasted for not discussing any of the stalwarts.

What is one to do?

Dan Wickett - EWN

6:16 PM  
Blogger Laird Hunt said...

You're exactly right, Dan -- it's an odd, maybe triple or quadruple thing. And strangely fatiguing. I suppose part of the fatigue this time around came from my high hopes at seeing some broad discussion of ways to think about contemporary American fiction. As I said, the articles were very well written, just in the main pretty narrow (I do note that David Markson and Kelly Link came up along the way -- which was nice to see). This is part of why it was so great to see Garner and Television (among others) taken up so seriously by the LBC, whose members are perhaps better than any collective at championing good work rather than good types of work (ie mainstream vs experimental and so forth). You'll get your Eggers and Vollman talk, but also your Murphy, Banville, Toussaint and Ford. I think the EWN is particularly good at this -- thanks to you, Mr. Wickett.

8:49 PM  
Blogger Adam Siegel said...

It's a function of the literary culture: certain names get repeated because they always get repeated. Older writers--monuments--who still publish (yearly), middle-aged writers who serve as models for MFA students, younger writers who have been the beneficiaries (?) of hype and cash. Most surveyors--even the most critically astute--can't help but focus on the most prominent features of the landscape, and the main determinant of such prominence can be reduced to "quality fiction by people you've heard of." Maybe these "lay of the land" pieces are fundamentally incapable of being anything different.

5:09 PM  
Blogger Andrew Ervin said...

What interests me here, Laird, is the cult-building that derives from the tendency to treat authors as brands. Updike and Roth novels roll out every year like Civics or Camrys; fine. But when someone interesting like AM Homes or Richard Powers writes a novel that doesn't conform to the public/critical pigeonhole of what an "AM Homes Novel" or "Richard Powers Novel" should be, they get dogpiled. Make it new...but not too new!

Instead of talking about the texts, we've become obsessed with creating competing pantheons.

What to do? That's easy: Remember that reading is a joy, not a competition. So too is writing, even when it's difficult (because it's difficult), even for us vilified MFA students.

8:15 AM  
Blogger Laird Hunt said...

Ah yes, MFAs are the real culprits -- we've screwed it all up, cranking out our generic workshop pieces. Everytime I see that kind of commentary, which comes from all directions (with the new spin that people who teach in writing programs are even bigger losers and jerks than the students because we're generally not national names (ie not worth reading, bien sur!) and we're milking the cow of the system), I think of my MFA from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics and laugh.

As if all MFAs (programs, students, teachers) were the same banana...

1:00 PM  

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