Bright present and future of the novel = Bolano? Not so much

Adapted from comments at The Valve:

Have you read 2666? Compare your thoughts and feelings about it to an equally long novel. First, you may see more the mishmash of 2666. Second you may see what a wheel spinner it also is. That’s what I see. What Bolano has going for him is that he was not a total sellout to the nefarious conventions and mores of his time, and he goes his own way. In fact, he had a good bit of the thoughtful rebel in him. What he has going against him, is that it’s fine to be against this and that, but he is not for very much, is he? In his fiction. The game (his own way) doesn’t seem to me to be much worth the candle (our time and expense). The tedium, the tedium! And the trivia. That that is true of much of praised contemporary fiction makes it no less troublesome. Bolano is a sometimes jaunty explorer of deserts but even then it’s still the desert. The vital wider world goes wanting, a few stabs at larger life aside.

One can see why his work would become so celebrated in established circles. The vacuities don’t hurt him there.

Commenter: ” ‘The vital wider world goes wanting’?  I’m not so sure.  It’s been several months since I read the novel, but I found the fourth section a crucial material and historical frame of reference for the entire work.  I think it makes the book.”

The fourth section consists entirely of retail violence. As horrific and significant as it is, it’s virtually off the map when one looks at the wholesale violence of the world, say that carried out by, for example, the major state in the world, the US.

Obviously Bolano especially in that section is in the relevance to the world, journalistic and crime line of the novel. But that’s what I mean by “a stab” at larger life. Sure, the stabs are there, even bulked in like excess fiber, but in both a marginal and a marginalized way, leading essentially nowhere. Like I said, very establishment.

Compare to the off the radar big novels Wizard of the Crow (2006) by Ngugi, or to Les Miserables (1862) by Hugo.

I’ll add that the problem with creating great novels as with creating great (or even survivable) culture is that the right is bankrupt and the left is broke. (And the middle is middlin’.) I think only as part of the rebuilding and the establishing of the left can the needed novels be written, that is the far greater novels than the celebrated pap that dominates.

No blueprint for this but I think there’s a knowing where to to look, or at least a recognition of where the light is that helps, that is the only chance.

While it may appear that the novel collapsed in the “West” of its own weight around the turn of the century, a century ago, very roughly, I think it’s more accurate to note that it collapsed, or was warped, due to sociopolitical throttling.

The novel was partially revived in the twentieth century by the international and multicultural forces of the left – from where it seems to me the most exciting and promising developments continue to appear.

Much of this history and creativity is explored in our recently released Liberation Literature anthology.

Michael Denning has done some interesting work in this regard: Continue reading Bright present and future of the novel = Bolano? Not so much

Why the Oscars Are a Con by John Pilger

Via Znet:

Why are so many films so bad? This year’s Oscar nominations are a parade of propaganda, stereotypes and downright dishonesty. The dominant theme is as old as Hollywood: America’s divine right to invade other societies, steal their history and occupy our memory. When will directors and writers behave like artists and not pimps for a world view devoted to control and destruction?

I grew up on the movie myth of the Wild West, which was harmless enough unless you happened to be a native American. The formula is unchanged. Self-regarding distortions present the nobility of the American colonial aggressor as a cover for massacre, from the Philippines to Iraq. I only fully understood the power of the con when I was sent to Vietnam as a war reporter. The Vietnamese were “gooks” and “Indians” whose industrial murder was preordained in John Wayne movies and sent back to Hollywood to glamourise or redeem.

I use the word murder advisedly, because what Hollywood does brilliantly is suppress the truth about America’s assaults. These are not wars, but the export of a gun-addicted, homicidal “culture”. And when the notion of psychopaths as heroes wears thin, the bloodbath becomes an “American tragedy” with a soundtrack of pure angst.

Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is in this tradition. A favourite for multiple Oscars, her film is “better than any documentary I’ve seen on the Iraq war. It’s so real it’s scary” (Paul Chambers CNN). Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian reckons it has “unpretentious clarity” and is “about the long and painful endgame in Iraq” that “says more about the agony and wrong and tragedy of war than all those earnest well-meaning movies”.

What nonsense.  Her film offers a vicarious thrill via yet another standard-issue psychopath high on violence in somebody else’s country where the deaths of a million people are consigned to cinematic oblivion. The hype around Bigelow is that she may be the first female director to win an Oscar. How insulting that a woman is celebrated for a typically violent all-male war movie. …

fiction and human rights

Keith Oatley at OnFiction:

In a scathing article, Jerome Stolnitz (1991) argued that art has only short term effects. Greek drama is regarded as powerful but, says Stolnitz: “There is no evidence that Aristophanes shortened the Peloponnesian War by so much as a day” (p. 200). Stolnitz asserts that effects of art simply do not appear in history.

Except that—as Frank Hakemulder has pointed out to me—they do. They appear in the history of human rights. As historian Lynn Hunt (2007) has shown, the establishment of human rights has been strongly affected by literary art. …

Lit Industry Limits

Where ‘Literature’ Comes From” by Edmond Caldwell:

In the larger literary venues (and on the more sycophantic lit-blogs) this phenomenon of corporate pre-determination of the “literary field” goes almost entirely unremarked. It amounts to “the repressed” of mainstream book-reviewing, as that which must remain unspoken in order for a certain type of utterance to exist at all. Reviews are written as if the titles swim into the reviewer’s ken on their own little spiritual wings or somehow magically materialize in the critic’s inbox; as if literature were somehow self-generating and “immediate” rather than constructed and subject to considerable mediation. There is in James Wood’s work not the least institutional self-consciousness or self-questioning, not a moment of institutional critique. “Literature” and “fiction,” when he speaks of them, are mystified categories.

For one antidote to corporate publishing, see Liberation Lit.

David Simon interviewed by Jesse Pearson

excerpts via Vice:

Between seasons of a lot of hit shows, adjustments will be made that are clearly based on network notes about what’s perceived to be most popular with viewers.
We never had that dynamic in our heads. What we were asking was, “What should we spend 12 hours of television saying?” And that’s a journalistic impulse. That was coming from the  Wire writers who were journalists and, to an extent, the novelists who wrote for the show who write in a realistic framework, like researched fiction. People like Pelecanos, Price, and Lehane.

Those three guys seemed to have the perfect backgrounds to bring a lot of valuable stuff to The Wire.
It wasn’t like we were putting Isaac Bashevis Singer on staff. I love his stuff, but we were looking for novelists who were doing researched fiction, and particularly in an urban environment. I’m also not mistaking The Wire for journalism. I have too much respect for journalism to make such a statement. But the impulse, the initial impulse behind doing the show? It was the same reason somebody sits down to write an editorial or an op-ed. Continue reading David Simon interviewed by Jesse Pearson

“Law & Order in Pennsylvania” by Walter M. Brasch

via Counterpunch:

Dick Wolf, who created “Law & Order” and its two successful spin-offs, “Law & Order: SVU” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” should probably consider establishing a branch office in Pennsylvania.

It seems that whenever any of the New York City cops take a road trip to find a fugitive or track down a witness, they go to Pennsylvania. Apparently, New Jersey is only a buffer zone.

Part of the reason why Pennsylvania routinely figures into the hour-long dramas may be because Wolf, a New Yorker, is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Another possibility, although much more remote, may be because his first of three wives was named Susan Scranton.

Nevertheless, Pennsylvania has been the site of sufficient plots the past couple of years as the three TV series have increased their levels of social consciousness.