Category Archives: Contemporary Fiction

Too many books, too little time

Both Susan Gibb and Daniel Green are remarking on the state of the book publishing industry. Daniel Green writes

I don’t say that too many people want to be writers or that readers should have to make do with whatever books a selected number of book publishers wants to give them. I only say that if you’re relying on the “book business” to make your career as a writer you’ll be sorely disappointed. (For additional evidence of how the oversupply of books makes it difficult for lesser-known books to even get stocked on bookstore shelves, see this post by Maud Newton.) The “book business” described in M.J. Rose’s post is not your friend. As long as you continue seeking entrance to the “book business,” as opposed to simply doing good work and perhaps looking for alternate modes of publication, you’ll be contributing to the mess the publishers have made of literary production and ensuring that not so many years from now there won’t even be a book business to kick around anymore.(links in original)

Susan writes,

So to just about everyone except some celebrity with a sizzling sex life, the old advice stands firmly: Don’t give up your day job.

It’s an important conversation to have–as book publishing is one thread in the narrative of readers, writers, and the culture of reading. The sense of this “overloaded” or stuffed market has been germinating for a while. I’ve had the experience, and this was years ago, of walking into the book store and staring at the stacks of novels for sale and the whole daunting hump looked like a mound of hay. The fact of the matter is I haven’t read a lot of new books in a while, yet I keep coming back to the stories and poems in the lit mags, and really only read what I’m interested in reading, hypertext fiction, comics, and the old standbys. I have to say that I no longer have the patience to “look” for interesting novels unless someone points one out to me and I’ll read it, well, at least some of it, as Neha will remind me. (Then I’ll keep the book in my office and keep forgetting to give it back.) I must say though that it’s a great era for blurb writers, who all claim that the novels they’re commenting on are “tours de force.” Nevertheless, a good novel is always something to be shared.

I agree that the saturation of the market diminishes all of the work and opens the novel and the act of writing the novel to a strange obscurity. But reading persists and the work persists and, importantly, the alternatives to Knopf and Norton persist. The novel in whatever form, I would argue, needs to be written even more so these days despite the market. I recall a saying from Carlos Fuentes in his novel The Campaign that went something like: people need god more than they need the church. The same may be said of the mainstream industry of books. Anyway, the above links are worth further reading.

terminology matters

So it’s been eval eval eval for the past three weeks and more coming. Anyway, as I read through my short responses to Adam Cadre’s Photopia, I’m coming across interesting views: positive, negative, analytical, and confused. I wonder what it’s like for a student who encounters computer mediated story for the first time, entering the fiction course with little thought given to the forms that we will be covering in the course: from Cheever to Cadre. Then there’s always Los Pasos Perdidos. And why should they think about it, given that fiction and story are associated with “the text” and “the book” and the “Big Screen.” There are more complex issues too: background, education history, and habit.

Nevertheless, as a result of the new encounter, students typically rise to the task and their writing reflects the jolt and the interest. If a person encounters ET in the woods, I’d assume that his or her ability to tell the story would all the sudden be tested. Even so, here’s where the words that we use to describe concepts begin to matter. For example, in Fiction we’ve hammered at definitions, both denotative, connotative, and technical of story, point of view, narrative, event, state, conflict, space, plot, world, structure, history, and with various matters related to modernism and postmodernism, where applicable. It’s these mutiples that help a student grip that rubbery thing not quite recognized, it seems to me. What is its material, its shape, its end, its maker? just to grab from Aristotle. The flexibility to apply them to the work at hand brings some measure of control, some measure of grounding, some measure of analytical sight.

I’m looking forward to the Watchmen work. And the Anywhere work in this regard, too.

who watches?

Since we’re on the subject of Watchmen at the moment in CF, I thought this frought with symmetry and continuity:

In the summer of 2002, after I [Ron Suskind] had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Sounds like it’s straight out of The Book of Villainy.

panel reading

The idea of recollection is written into Watchmen. As in connections made to what has come before. The big ideas have to do with mirrors, which play with both hidden and revealed structures. We’ve talked a little in class about “reflection” in the text, Laurie reflected in coffee, Jon reflected in the mirror as he dresses for the press conference. Chapter 5 is a major section in the story. 5.12/8 plays with this mirroring (symmetry) again, this reflection of multiple narratives. The carry over dialogue of the newsvendor reads, “See, news-vendors understand. They get to see the whole picture.” Like Osterman?

In the panel, the seaman is staring at his reflection in the mirror. He says, “Lightheaded, I gazed into the inverted world beneath, where drowned gulls circled. A madman with blood-caked lips gazes back at me.” Panel nine, he says, “His eyes, his nose, his cheeks seemed individual familiar, but mercifully I could not piece them together. Not into a face I knew [Rorschach’s face is recalled here too].” Bernie says, continuing his own thought, “It’s our curse, we see every damned connection. Every damned link.” Bernie’s claim is similar to Osterman’s stitching in chapter 4 and corresponds to the larger narrative of Watchmen, Rorschach trying to connect all the links and solve the Commedian’s murder. Osterman is also cursed with the “whole picture,” but in a different sense. This also relates to the reader’s ability to “make the connections” between visual congruity and symmetry and narrative.

Veidt in panel 7 of page 13 brings up “spiritual discovery” in his conversation with the aide, again, recalling the dialogue of the former panels. Page 14 and 15, the symmetry just explodes from the panels.

The man holding the sign in the backgrounds of the panels featuring Bernie and the reading-kid on page 12 is Rorschach. In succeding pages, he wanders back and forth, checking the trash.

Simultaneity/symmetry of narrative. Amazing.

reading Watchmen

As with all excellent art, multiple readings change the experience. Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen fits this paradigm. I’m into the second round of teaching with the graphic and continue to marvel at the subtleties of the work: clock faces I don’t remember, dialogue that I ran over, mirror juxtapositions and the complicated intercutting and dynamic panels.

“The light is taking me to pieces,” Jon says.

The idea of simultaneity (unrelated to the simultaneity of Einstein’s relativity) is powerful in the story, even though the paradox is almost impossible to picture beyond Gibbons’ art work (3 light cones for Jon?). Jon is a being who reads the world from multiple times and spaces, as said before, in god-like fashion, or a manifestation of a hyperhuman existence. He is beyond human, outside of human contact, nolonger able to “think” in human terms because he no longer experiences the world the way Lori or Dan experience it, surely not as the moral Rorschach. Jon experiences sequences differently. Simultaneous sequence. Bounded timelessness. Events for him have happened, will happened, and are happening. This, of course, reminds me of the problem of ethics and morality in the world of The Garden of Forking Paths. In Borges’ story, the question of morality is made impotent because of the notion of simultaneity. When faced with a choice, a woman chooses all the otpions at once. Pullulation and infinity. On one path, a man chooses pause; in another, he pulls the trigger. If the paths are manifest, what does it matter that Yu Tsun kills on one path if he chooses ethically in a another?

For normal people, who are fixed in the present tense, where the past and the future have to be remembered or imagined, limitations are a defining feature of existence: limited knowledge, limited reach, limited control. Janey’s responses to Jon over time, as she looses control over Jon, love, her body are directly juxtaposed to Jon. Yet, this would seem to lead to an irony: who has more control: Janey or Jon Osterman? His ability to control and assemble physical structures is one thing, but is he able to assemble anything else?

distance, peripheries, and penetration

Calvino writes,

from the terrace of the Swiss chalet, Silas Flannery is looking through a spyglass mounted on a tripod at a young woman in a deck chair, intently reading a book on another terrace, two hundred meters below in the valley.

Does this sentence “convey” distance in the writing? A sense of slow, divided descent? How does “in the valley” contribute to the “perspective” telephotoing?

“She’s there every day,” the writer says. “Every time I’m about to sit down at my desk I feel the need to look at her. Who knows what she’s reading? I know it isn’t a book of mine, and instinctively I suffer at the thought, I feel the jealousy of my books, which would like to be read the way she reads. I never tire of watching her: she seems to live in a sphere suspended in another time and another space. I sit down at the desk, but no story I write corresponds to what I would like to convey.” Marana asks him if this is why he is no longer able to work. Oh, no, I write,” he asnwered; “it’s now, only now that I write, since I have been watching her. I do nothing but follow the reading of that woman, seen from here, day by day, hour by hour. I read in her face what she desires to read, and I write it faithfully.” (italics mine)

Is this a transition of a sorts, from one spatial perspective to another? External to internal. Raymond Queneau could write this 99 different ways, but in Calvino this is the way it lays on the page. Flannery is evoking a fantasy, a dream of audience/muse by the writer, yet also imagining “obsession,” the “embedded” Flannery himself character-bound, perhaps real , perhaps not, while the observer, “The reader-protagonist.” the “you” of Calvino’s novel is gleening the story from letters, trying to uncover answers, yet finding only deeper mysteries.

Calvino and the reader

Back to grading grading grading, but the tasks have been interesting reading composition and contemporary ficion papers. It’s an interesting range of subjects: composition, fiction, and new media analyses.

We’ll be hitting Calvino on Tuesday, and I’ll be letting the student take over the discussion, have them struggle to deal with the complexities of If on a winter’s night a traveler. It will be interesting to see how the students in the class react to meta fiction elements and the twist of the second person address.

You, reader–what is the nature of a fiction? Can we be immersed in a story which constantly calls attention to itself? Of course. It’s a maze the reader must find their way through; but what if the novel you’re reading is “broken”?

real world vs fictional world

In the film “Tenth” an extraordinary thing happens. A real event acts as a sort of climactic smack on an otherwise calm and interesting situation, the event being the 9/11 attack.

Is this short film, therefore, a fiction, a true story, or working with the techniques of Cortazar in A Continuity of Parks and Woody Allen in Kugelmass? This would seem to be a diegetic dilemma.

what ersinghaus is up to

For those interested, my lull follows to two plans, really three.

1. Preping for the Spring semester is involving the intro of a new conferencing system for online Intro to Lit so I’m taking time to familiarize myself with this program.

2. The break gives me quality time with my two kids and my wife, so I’m trying to get in as much play and fun as possible. My son enjoys watching me play PS2’s Spy Hunter, so we’re doing lots of driving.

3. I’m currently editing and rewriting a hypertext novel in Storyspace, which I need to get done because the summer, where much of my writing get’s done, isn’t going to permit much of this work. This is a daunting, detailed project, but loads of interesting fun. Storyspace is a simple, elegant, but massively powerful, and often too delicate, program. This novel is taking me into strange, scary, and multidimensional worlds.

on college and lobs

Spinning writes about the importance of sharing ideas in a group. The richness of the experience of story is indeed made that much more powerful by sharing ideas and testing them. This is foundational to college which, in my mind, is an action. My friend Lawrence Johnson always argued that college was a place where people read and speak together.

Like a tennis match the ball of ideas flew back and forth, and with each lob a point was made.

We also made some great lobs today in British Literature, talking about some of the subtle shifts we’re seeing in Pope and Locke. We’re talking Tories and Whigs. We’re talking Locke’s emphasis on the reasoning individual. There’s so much to do. I was asked about Pope and his Catholicism by Robin and Mike and, in a sense, and feeling a little bad for doing so, evading the question.

In a way we need to get into the guts of Locke and Pope to set up the next transition, the Romantics.