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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Modern literature is bad writing

Speaking of bad writing, this 2001 Atlantic essay on the form and purpose of modern literature is magnificent. The author, BR Myers, rightly crucifies several doyennes of modern literature, including one, Cormac McCarthy, whose popular appeal I have never understood in the slightest. Read the whole thing. It's long, but it's well worth it.
Parallelisms and pseudo-archaic formulations abound: "They caught up and set out each day in the dark before the day yet was and they ate cold meat and biscuit and made no fire"; "and they would always be so and never be otherwise"; "the captain wrote on nor did he look up"; "there rode no soul save he," and so forth.

The reader is meant to be carried along on the stream of language. In the New York Times review of The Crossing, Robert Hass praised the effect: "It is a matter of straight-on writing, a veering accumulation of compound sentences, stinginess with commas, and a witching repetition of words ... Once this style is established, firm, faintly hypnotic, the crispness and sinuousness of the sentences ... gather to a magic." The key word here is "accumulation." Like Proulx and so many others today, McCarthy relies more on barrages of hit-and-miss verbiage than on careful use of just the right words.

While inside the vaulting of the ribs between his knees the darkly meated heart pumped of who's will and the blood pulsed and the bowels shifted in their massive blue convolutions of who's will and the stout thighbones and knee and cannon and the tendons like flaxen hawsers that drew and flexed and drew and flexed at their articulations of who's will all sheathed and muffled in the flesh and the hooves that stove wells in the morning groundmist and the head turning side to side and the great slavering keyboard of his teeth and the hot globes of his eyes where the world burned. 
(All the Pretty Horses, 1992)

This may get Hass's darkly meated heart pumping, but it's really just bad poetry formatted to exploit the lenient standards of modern prose. The obscurity of who's will, which has an unfortunate Dr. Seussian ring to it, is meant to bully readers into thinking that the author's mind operates on a plane higher than their own—a plane where it isn't ridiculous to eulogize the shifts in a horse's bowels.

As a fan of movie westerns, I refuse to quibble with the myth that a wild landscape can bestow epic significance on the lives of its inhabitants. But novels tolerate epic language only in moderation. To record with the same somber majesty every aspect of a cowboy's life, from a knife fight to his lunchtime burrito, is to create what can only be described as kitsch. Here we learn that out west even a hangover is something special.

[They] walked off in separate directions through the chaparral to stand spraddlelegged clutching their knees and vomiting. The browsing horses jerked their heads up. It was no sound they'd ever heard before. In the gray twilight those retchings seemed to echo like the calls of some rude provisional species loosed upon that waste. Something imperfect and malformed lodged in the heart of being. A thing smirking deep in the eyes of grace itself like a gorgon in an autumn pool. 
(All the Pretty Horses)

It is a rare passage that can make you look up, wherever you may be, and wonder if you are being subjected to a diabolically thorough Candid Camera prank. I can just go along with the idea that horses might mistake human retching for the call of wild animals. But "wild animals" isn't epic enough: McCarthy must blow smoke about some rude provisional species, as if your average quadruped had impeccable table manners and a pension plan. Then he switches from the horses' perspective to the narrator's, though just what something imperfect and malformed refers to is unclear. The last half sentence only deepens the confusion. Is the thing smirking deep in the eyes of grace the same thing that is lodged in the heart of being? And what is a gorgon doing in a pool? Or is it peering into it? And why an autumn pool? I doubt if McCarthy can explain any of this; he probably just likes the way it sounds.

No novelist with a sense of the ridiculous would write such nonsense. Although his characters sometimes rib one another, McCarthy is among the most humorless writers in American history. In this excerpt the subject is horses.

He said that the souls of horses mirror the souls of men more closely than men suppose and that horses also love war. Men say they only learn this but he said that no creature can learn that which his heart has no shape to hold ... Lastly he said that he had seen the souls of horses and that it was a terrible thing to see. He said that it could be seen under certain circumstances attending the death of a horse because the horse shares a common soul and its separate life only forms it out of all horses and makes it mortal ... Finally John Grady asked him if it were not true that should all horses vanish from the face of the earth the soul of the horse would not also perish for there would be nothing out of which to replenish it but the old man only said that it was pointless to speak of there being no horses in the world for God would not permit such a thing.
(All the Pretty Horses)

The further we get from our cowboy past, the loonier becomes the hippophilia we attribute to it. More to the point, especially considering The New York Times's praise of All the Pretty Horses for its "realistic dialogue," is the stiltedness with which the conversation is reproduced. The cowboys are supposed to be talking to a Mexican in Spanish, which is a stretch to begin with, but from the tone in which the conversation is set down you'd think it was ancient Hebrew. And shouldn't Grady satisfy our curiosity by finding out what a horse's soul looks like, instead of pursuing a hypothetical point of equine theology? You half expect him to ask how many horses' souls can fit on the head of a pin.

All the Pretty Horses received the National Book Award in 1992. "Not until now," the judges wrote in their fatuous citation, "has the unhuman world been given its own holy canon." What a difference a pseudo-biblical style makes; this so-called canon has little more to offer than the conventional belief that horses, like dogs, serve us well enough to merit exemption from an otherwise sweeping disregard for animal life. (No one ever sees a cow's soul.) McCarthy's fiction may be less fun than the "genre" western, but its world view is much the same. So is the cast of characters: the quiet cowboys, the women who "like to see a man eat," the howling savages. (In fairness to the western: McCarthy's depiction of Native Americans in Blood Meridian [1985] is far more offensive than anything in Louis L' Amour.) The critics, however, are too much impressed by the muscles of his prose to care about the heart underneath. Even The Village Voice has called McCarthy "a master stylist, perhaps without equal in American letters." Robert Hass wrote much of his review of The Crossing in an earnest imitation of McCarthy's style:

The boys travel through this world, tipping their hats, saying "yessir" and "nosir" and "si" and "es verdad" and "claro" to all its potential malice, its half-mad philosophers, as the world washes over and around them, and the brothers themselves come to be as much arrested by the gesture of the quest as the old are by their stores of bitter wisdom and the other travelers, in the middle of life, in various stages of the arc between innocence and experience, by whatever impulses have placed them on the road.

The vagueness of that encomium must annoy McCarthy, who prides himself on the way he tackles "issues of life and death" head on. In interviews he presents himself as a man's man with no time for pansified intellectuals—a literary version, if you will, of Dave Thomas, the smugly parochial old-timer in the Wendy's commercials. It would be both unfair and a little too charitable to suggest that this is just a pose. When McCarthy says of Marcel Proust and Henry James, "I don't understand them. To me, that's not literature," I have a sinking feeling he's telling the truth.
The essay finally made it clear to me what these modern literaturists - one hesitates to call them actual writers - are doing, and it's not dissimilar to what the gammas are doing with their terrible, narcissistic metaphors. Their words are not meant to be read as words as such, but are meant to be lightly scanned, so that an impression is formed by that superficial contact.

That's why there is so often no meaning to be found in their works, that there is neither action nor character to be found in the texts. No one actually reads these books! They are, instead, scanned, with no more comprehension of the empty contents surveyed than the whole language reader grasps the phonetics of the words he is reading.

139 comments:

  1. " but it's really just bad poetry formatted to exploit the lenient standards of modern prose. "

    hammer... meet nail.

    And this is why JCW's writing is so refreshing. He doesn't do this crap.

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  2. Vox do good copywriters make good writers?

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  3. Besides, the unhuman world was given its own holy canon by Richard Adams in 1972 with Watership Down. A much better book than all these modern literary frauds combined.

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  4. Vox do good copywriters make good writers?

    I haven't a clue. I don't know any copywriters.

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  5. Brings to mind this hilarious review of Fenimoore Cooper by Mark Twain: http://twain.lib.virginia.edu/projects/rissetto/offense.html

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  6. THE ROAD is one of my favourite books. It's a story every father can relate to because it's not ultimately about post-apocalyptic cannibals or postmodern proseplay. It's about love. Not the awkward, sentimental kind of love. But the kind of love where you'd fight the whole world and sacrifice everything for your son.

    My job is to take care you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?

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  7. I'll admit I have never pisked up a Cormac McWhatever book. After this I never will. I am just not heavily medicated enough to deal with his sloppy prose.

    I do think the author of the piece does Dave Thomas a disservice by comparing him to Cormac. At least Dave Thomas created something I would consider consuming.

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  8. "Besides, the unhuman world was given its own holy canon by Richard Adams in 1972 with Watership Down."

    Preach Preacher.

    its like in 1990 we started turning into literary Vogons.

    " Something imperfect and malformed lodged in the heart of being. A thing smirking deep in the eyes of grace itself like a gorgon in an autumn pool."

    Its like something Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz would have written

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  9. ". . .a literary version, if you will, of Dave Thomas. . . ."


    I have seen plenty of Dave Thomas in commercials and an interview or two, and I have no idea what the critic is suggesting here.

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  10. Aside, but barely, my first wife ordered all of the Newbery Award books from 1940 to 1970 (Newbery is an award for children's books). From 1962 backward, every winner was an enjoyable read for adults as well as children, and challenged the kids. Starting in 1963, they went to crap, and have stayed crap.

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  11. Now, the pared-down to the point of almost-ridiculousness style of McCarthy is an acquired taste, like pitch-black coffee served in a rusty tin cup.

    The only value it adds is in convincing the pseuds and the strivers that it must be srs litrachur. I would have preferred him to use quotation marks and whatnot like a normal person.

    But THE ROAD is still a great book, with an unaffected emotional appeal which hit me like a cheetah.

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  12. I only like Blood Meridian.

    Faulkner sucks, btw.

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  13. I always felt like I was drowning in a lake of bullshit when I was forced to read modern "literature" at the university. One of my degrees was English Literature, so I had to read a lot of it.

    The classics always offered clarity, while the new stuff about fags or failed sexual encounters always seemed self-serving to the writer. Why lit professors or others of that brand keep tagging themselves to that pointless charade will always bewilder me. It's one of the most flaccid things to take an interest in, and their literature preference can probably serve as a beacon warning others of their sodomitical lifestyle.

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  14. There are two films that Cormac McCarthy wrote the screenplays for which are worth seeing. First is The Sunset Limited with Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel Jackson. The Jones character is basically a portrait of white paralysis in the modern world. The second film is The Counselor, which is about post-Christian America, with Mexican drug cartels as the barbarians at the gate. I've never read any of McCarthy's books, but I thought these films were good.

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  15. "Faulkner sucks, btw."

    YOU GO TO HELL AND YOU DIE

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    Replies
    1. @Nate

      If he hadn't ruined his beautiful prose with parenthesis and run on sentences, I would agree.

      I do like "The Bear", and "Absalom! Absalom!", but complaints about McCarthy can be sent right to Faulkners inbox.

      Delete
    2. Cannot confirm. Faulkner is merely a regional writer.

      Delete
  16. Vox do good copywriters make good writers?

    I haven't a clue. I don't know any copywriters.

    I have an answer to that. I know a copywriter. He was basically my mentor through college. He writes (and edits) damn well. He wrote a book about the rodeo lifestyle not too long ago, and I recommend it to y'all heartily. Any male with a working set of testicles who likes to read should check this one out.

    It's called Ride On, by Michael Hearing

    https://www.amazon.com/Ride-On-A-Rodeo-Novel-ebook/dp/B019VO8246

    You should probably have some classic country playing in the background while you read it. (Waylon, Nelson, Hank Jr., etc.)

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  17. I detest McCarthy. The prose is unreadable, and the stories are morbidly depressing.

    It's not quite the same, but it's mildly reminiscent of Ayn Rand's skewering of modern literature in The Fountainhead.

    ...toothbrush in the jaw toothbrush brush brush tooth jaw foam dome in the foam Roman dome come home home in the jaw Rome dome tooth toothbrush toothpick pickpocket socket rocket...

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  18. PS: Vox, I've recommended that Hearing check out Castalia House to publish his book and to market it. But he's a stubborn and curmudgeonly old bastard. You'd like him.

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  19. These books mean nothing and thus can mean anything. Brainfood for narcissist and gammas that need huge echo chambers.

    They are not created to entertain, or to instruct, or to demonstrate or to brighten.

    They are created to validate the readers ego.

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  20. I had two friends from my early 20's (everyone has many "friends" at that age), who went psychotic, with extremely narcissistic Prophet and god complexes. Some of their early symptoms was writing in run on sentences, using odd punctuation, insane twists in metaphors and similes, and sometimes no capitalization.

    One of them loved Cormac McCarthy, and thought his form of nihilism represented the stark reality of life (he was the one with the god complex).

    I call Cormac McCarthy's narcissistic absurd nihilism just the fanatics mind cancer.

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  21. "They are created to validate the readers ego."

    exactly. they are created to so yankees can buy them, then lie to each other about having read them... all so they can feel smugly intellectual without actually having to put the work in.

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  22. Starting in 1963, they went to crap, and have stayed crap.

    Lloyd Alexander won in 1969 for THE HIGH KING and Susan Cooper in 1976 for THE GREY KING, both great books, but otherwise, that's fairly true.

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  23. Steve McCarthyJuly 25, 2017 9:36 AM

    The cheetah watched his critic with cool glinting eyes and stood in the muscular rippling crouch of a predator as the sun burned down on a savannah that was there before man learned how to walk and talk and lie and kill and laugh his careless laugh as if all the blood and tears and death he sowed were mere jests offered in mockery of a universe that was itself a grinning corpse of cosmic violence and would still be there after the two legged beast fell into his tomb that would be bleached by the uncaring sun and encrusted in brilliant green moss and pissed on by a thousand cheetahs with faces like tornadoes.

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  24. 23. Nate

    Naw, they just wait until the movie comes out.

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  25. In my dad's younger days, famous literature would be submitted under another title to publishers for publication. Sometimes they'd send it to the same publisher that had originally published the same book half a century before.

    The book was invariably rejected. My dad and his friends did this as a prank. I think they did this with The Yearling, among others.

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  26. This sounds like a civil rights issue.
    Whitesplaining literature.
    This will also be fixed.

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  27. Am I doing it Wright?July 25, 2017 9:55 AM

    People think I’m an ignorant bastard who doesn’t know the ten-dollar words. I know the ten-dollar words. There are older and better words which if you arrange then in the proper combination you make it stick.

    Hemingway was such a cuck and a gamma. Nobody should ever read his trash.

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  28. "Faulkner sucks, btw."

    Heh. Retards, the deaf, and deaf retards. You can't live with 'em, and you can't hand 'em over to Ramsey Bolton.

    Just read the short story 'Was'. It's very short, and may help you to escape the clutches of the pretender to the Warden of the North.



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  29. All the Pretty Horses received the National Book Award in 1992. "Not until now," the judges wrote in their fatuous citation, "has the unhuman world been given its own holy canon."

    Whoever wrote the quoted part obviously never read Jack London's "Call of the Wild."
    Perhaps London's direct and economical style is beneath these high minded "judges."

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  30. As the guys at TRS say: book burning is right wing yoga.

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  31. I would take the essay more seriously if the author didn't praise the previous generation's crap writers (Mervyn Peake, Faulkner, Joyce, Proust) that are just as bad.

    Older doesn't mean good, and the world went to shit much earlier than 1965.

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  32. Turgidly veined purple prose.

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  33. Airquote SarctagJuly 25, 2017 10:27 AM

    Not sure about this. McCarthy can definitely get on your nerves and like a lot of writers, he tends to have his "go to" style that he goes to again and again because that's his style. Not everyone can be (or should be) Hemingwayesque and not every book should read like a hard-boiled detective thriller.

    A lot of McCarthy's style is informed by Biblical phrasing and syntax, fwiw. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

    Myers' closing comment is perplexing: 'When McCarthy says of Marcel Proust and Henry James, "I don't understand them. To me, that's not literature," I have a sinking feeling he's telling the truth.' Proust and James aren't exactly known for their straightforward, bare-bones style either (Proust is notoriously difficult for a lot of readers, the translations not always helping) so it is funny to contrast them with McCarthy, and also funny that McCarthy claims not to understand them. Maybe I read to read Proust and James some more and see what it is in their prose that McCarthy finds un-literary.

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  34. "Hemingway was such a cuck and a gamma. Nobody should ever read his trash."

    Dude... I know you read Hemingway in highschool when you were to young and hadn't lived enough to understand it... but its probably time to grow up a bit.

    Hemingway is hated today because Hemingway was masculine and wrote masculinity.

    Go read Death in the Afternoon.

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  35. It's all just referential anyway. Art is exhausted, so the po-mo crowd lament to each other, and there is no meaning beyond virtue signaling. This is not art for beauty or joy, because those things don't exist.
    So literature is self-centered signaling that refers rather than creates. It's like bad Roman copies of Greek sculpture.

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  36. It really is. I rather liked The Road, and Blood Meridian. McCarthy's stylistic lack of punctuation at times irritated me, but I did recognize how the stream dneveloped. A story like The Road is better lent this style than All The Pretty Horses, or No Country For Old Men.

    Stream of consciousness, unpunctuated free form, fluid POV, they're novel and fun, perhaps even disruptive from time to time, at least as its judged by the gatekeepers. David Foster Wallace fell into this trap. I enjoy his essays, not so much his fiction. The constant use of footnotes stopped being cute after Brief Interviews With Hideous Men.

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  37. Hemingway is hated today because Hemingway was masculine and wrote masculinity.

    Go read Death in the Afternoon.


    Hemingway killed himself because he was a gamma. Utter trash.

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  38. Is the hypnotic effect an attempt to make the written word into something like video as a tool for subconscious, hypnotic programming? The Michael Moores of the world love video because the bandwidth usage is so high, the brain can't filter it for nuance. I assume the hypnotic effect and the urging that one isn't supposed to wrestle with the words, but to just go with the flow, is an attempt to shove ideas into the reader's head without him putting up a fight.

    This is quite the development from the postmodernist declaration that authorial intent doesn't matter. Was that just a con job to try to make their propaganda pieces more effective?

    I gave up on several of those paragraphs. Imposing structure on them was pointless. Whenever I have had to read something written in this modern style, I just hope everybody dies, quickly. I had somebody tell me once how great it was that everything was a stream of consciousness, to which I responded that it just showed they had no point but to meander unseriously. I don't think the lower ranks of English majors and MFA single-book writers understand anything that they do, but they just hope their random words might be considered profound by sheer luck and happenstance.

    Now, I liked e e cummings, but his poetry had more structure than those paragraphs. He knew what he was doing and why; the writer you excerpted just hopes that nobody discovers he's naked before the checks clear.

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  39. Re: Hemingway. Any of the Nick Adams stories. Cat In The Rain. He understood women, wouldn't kowtow to them. He understood War. He lived it. His contemporaries might have lacked certain qualities we'd hope to associate with the producers of our literature, but when has that ever been a puritan pursuit?

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  40. All i know is that I've read both McCarthy & Proust, and the Road deeply affected me. The remembrance of things past, not so much. I would've been better off not wasting my time in my opinion.

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  41. "Hemingway killed himself because he was a gamma. Utter trash."

    you're a blithering idiot of a moron. Hemingway wrote masculinity. He is hated for writing masculinity. Women and faggy lit professors don't understand it so they belittle it.

    Attacking the man, rather than his work, is both a logical fallacy, and a pathetic cowardly tactic.

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  42. @36

    This is true, Nate.

    Although, overall, I regard Hemingway as a coward for his suicide.

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  43. Hemingway is hated today because Hemingway was masculine and wrote masculinity.

    This.

    e.g. The Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber

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  44. "Although, overall, I regard Hemingway as a coward for his suicide."

    I really couldn't care less. The fact that he offed himself has absolutely no bearing on the work he produced.

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  45. "Hemingway is hated today"

    Hemingway is hated today? Didn't get the memo.

    Plus, all you naysayers to modernism, dig: Hemingway learned much about his style from (gulp!) Gertrude Stein. He wasn't all fishing rods and war, babies.


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  46. This is so abysmal as to pass beyond amusing into the realm of "please make it stop, oh please, oh I beg you, oh gorgon in the pool please sever my head right now."

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  47. Don't be such a gammaJuly 25, 2017 10:50 AM

    Attacking the man, rather than his work, is both a logical fallacy, and a pathetic cowardly tactic.

    Cuck literature is for cucks.

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  48. Laramie Hirsch wrote:@36

    This is true, Nate.

    Although, overall, I regard Hemingway as a coward for his suicide.


    It's sinful and stupid, sure, but killing oneself generally doesn't strike me as a cowardly act.

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  49. He offed himself, like a giraffe chasing a kettle of goat-cheese.

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  50. @47

    I really couldn't care less. The fact that he offed himself has absolutely no bearing on the work he produced.

    I'll grant that.

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  51. 'Cuck literature is for cucks.'

    it must be very frustrating... continually banging that helmet every time you try to lick the window of your short little yellow bus.

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    Replies
    1. If Vox were to completely stop writing about things I care about, I'd still come here, if only for the new and wonderful ways to call someone a retard.

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  52. I did read "The Road". The only thing I found more depressing was the thought of sleeping with Joyce Carol Oates

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  53. Airquote SarctagJuly 25, 2017 10:56 AM

    Some parts of McCarthy's style I actually find refreshing, like abandoning quotation marks around his dialogue and in fact almost any kind of dialogue qualifiers, except for the occasional "he said." Initially I found this off-putting and worried (as anyone would) that I would lose track of who was saying what, but in practice, it all made sense and I almost never lost the thread of who was saying what to whom. It also made the books read (scan) a lot faster.

    Quoting (from Blood Meridian):

    The barman turned and looked behind him at his wares. He seemed uncertain whether anything there would answer their requirements.

    Mescal?
    Suit everybody?
    Trot it out, said Bathcat.

    The barman poured the measures from a clay jar into three dented tin cups and pushed them forward with care like counters on a board.

    Cuanto, said Toadvine.
    The barman looked fearful. Seis? he said.
    Seis what?
    The barman held up six fingers.
    Centavos, said Bathcat.

    Toadvine doled the coppers onto the bar and drained his cup and paid again.

    (End quotation)

    BTW I've got an additional pair of (to me) pretty impressive from Blood Meridian which I will post shortly. They are quite lengthy but the length contributes to the effect. Whether anyone here finds that a feature or a bug we will see!

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  54. @51 Life/existence is a gift and a challenge. Old age is a particular challenge. If only people these days knew how to age well. I'm afraid the Boomers shall disgust us in this regard.

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  55. Don't be such a gamma wrote:Attacking the man, rather than his work, is both a logical fallacy, and a pathetic cowardly tactic.

    Cuck literature is for cucks.


    Pot. Kettle.

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  56. Cuck-lit is like chick-lit, only cuckierJuly 25, 2017 10:59 AM

    "Short" and "little" are redundant. You should read more Hemingway

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  57. "I do like "The Bear", and "Absalom! Absalom!", but complaints about McCarthy can be sent right to Faulkners inbox"

    You can blame Nickleback on Creed... but that doesn't make "My Own Prison" a bad song.

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    Replies
    1. @Nate

      No, just saying Faulkner was guilty of making many of the same poor writing decisions.

      My Own Prison is a beautiful song. Great album. Ahh to be 12 again

      Delete
  58. Some parts of McCarthy's style I actually find refreshing, like abandoning quotation marks around his dialogue

    Thanks for the warning. I freaking hate that. I'm a big fan of Derb, but I bailed out of his fiction book on the first page because of it. I'll never understand why it's a good idea to leave out something that helps the text scan. While we're at it, let's go back to Roman times and drop lowercase letters, punctuation, and spaces between words. ROMANESEUNTDOMUS looks so literary, and it's hard to read, so I must be smart!

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  59. Airquote SarctagJuly 25, 2017 11:10 AM

    Here's a lengthy excerpt from Blood Meridian, near the end of Chapter IV, section "Herdsmen on the Plain." Our intrepid party of filibusters (McCarthy's term) first catches sight of a vast army of Comanche warriors bearing down on them from a distance.

    (Begin excerpt)

    Blood Meridian, Chapter IV, section “Herdsmen on the Plain”

    Already you could see through the dust on the ponies' hides the painted chevrons and the hands and rising suns and birds and fish of every device like the shade of old work through sizing on a canvas and now too you could hear above the pounding of the unshod hooves the piping of the quena, flutes made from human bones, and some among the company had begun to saw back on their mounts and some to mill in confusion when up from the offside of those ponies there rose a fabled horde of mounted lancers and archers bearing shields bedight with bits of broken mirrorglass that cast a thousand unpieced suns against the eyes of their enemies.

    A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or clad in costumes attic or biblical or wardrobed out of a fevered dream with the skins of animals and silk finery and pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of prior owners, coats of slain dragoons, frogged and braided cavalry jackets, one in a stovepipe hat and one with an umbrella and one in white stockings and a bloodstained wedding veil and some in headgear of cranefeathers or rawhide helmets that bore the horns of bull or buffalo and one in a pigeontailed coat worn backwards and otherwise naked and one in the armor of a Spanish conquistador, the breastplate and pauldrons deeply dented with old blows of mace or sabre done in another country by men whose very bones were dust and many with their braids spliced up with the hair of other beasts until they trailed upon the ground and their horse's ears and tails worked with bits of brightly colored cloth and one whose horse's whole head was painted crimson red and all the horsemen's faces gaudy and grotesque with daubings like a company of mounted clowns, death hilarious, all howling in a barbarous tongue and riding down upon them like a horde from a hell more horrible yet than the brimstone land of christian reckoning, screeching and yammering and clothed in smoke like those vaporous beings in regions beyond right knowing where the eye wanders and the lip jerks and drools.

    Oh my god, said the sergeant.

    (End excerpt)

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  60. Hemingway's suicide doesn't make him a coward. His father killed himself too. There was clearly a genetic predisposition to suicide. Reducing that to cowardice sounds a hell of a lot like someone who doesn't want to believe reality can really be that unfair would cook up, out of cowardice ironically. The world really is that screwed up, some people are just born more screwed up for no good reason.

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  61. Airquote SarctagJuly 25, 2017 11:16 AM

    Finally, following the sighting of the Indians, the attack itself which closes out chapter 4 of "Blood Meridian." (Not for the squeamish)

    (Begin excerpt)

    “Attacked by the Comanches.”

    The company was now come to a halt and the first shots were fired and the gray riflesmoke rolled through the dust as the lancers breached their ranks. The kid's horse sank beneath him with a long pneumatic sigh. He had already fired his rifle and now he sat on the ground and fumbled with his shotpouch. A man near him sat with an arrow hanging out of his neck. He was bent slightly as if in prayer. The kid would have reached for the bloody hoop-iron point but then he saw that the man wore another arrow in his breast to the fletching and he was dead.

    Everywhere there were horses down and men scrambling and he saw a man who sat charging his rifle while blood ran from his ears and he saw men with their revolvers disassembled trying to fit the spare loaded cylinders they carried and he saw men kneeling who tilted and clasped their shadows on the ground and he saw men lanced and caught up by the hair and scalped standing and he saw the horses of war trample down the fallen and a little whitefaced pony with one clouded eye leaned out of the murk and snapped at him like a dog and was gone.

    Among the wounded some seemed dumb and without understanding and some were pale through the masks of dust and some had fouled themselves or tottered brokenly onto the spears of the savages. Now driving in a wild frieze of headlong horses with eyes walled and teeth cropped and naked riders with clusters of arrows clenched in their jaws and their shields winking in the dust and up the far side of the ruined ranks in a piping of bone flutes and dropping down off the sides of their mounts with one heel hung in the withers strap and their short bows flexing beneath the outstretched necks of the ponies until they had circled the company and cut their ranks in two and then rising up again like funhouse figures, some with nightmare faces painted on their breasts, riding down the unhorsed Saxons and spearing and clubbing them and leaping from their mounts with knives and running about on the ground with a peculiar bandy-legged trot like creatures driven to alien forms of locomotion and stripping the clothes from the dead and seizing them up by the hair and passing their blades about the skulls of the living and the dead alike and snatching aloft the bloody wigs and hacking and chopping at the naked bodies, ripping off limbs, heads, gutting the strange white torsos and holding up great handfuls of viscera, genitals, some of the savages so slathered up with gore they might have rolled in it like dogs and some who fell upon the dying and sodomized them with loud cries to their fellows.

    And now the horses of the dead came pounding out of the smoke and dust and circled with flapping leather and wild manes and eyes whited with fear like the eyes of the blind and some were feathered with arrows and some lanced through and stumbling and vomiting blood as they wheeled across the killing ground and clattered from sight again. Dust stanched the wet and naked heads of the scalped who with the fringe of hair below their wounds and tonsured to the bone lay like maimed and naked monks in the bloodslaked dust and everywhere the dying groaned and gibbered and the horses lay screaming.

    (End excerpt)

    The compound words and dearth of punctuation is McCarthy's. In fact, in the book the entire excerpt is one paragraph -- I broke it up a bit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. https://youtu.be/hQNjDo2_bEY

      The audiobook is excellent. Great narrator.

      https://youtu.be/8WZGK2kziPM

      That passage has always reminded.me od Faulkners description of Sutpen, a force of sheer will.

      Blood Meridian, though self indulgent and guilty of some od the criticisms in the article, is the only book of McCarthys I like.

      Delete
  62. @Airquote Sarctag

    According to a review of his original papers that were released to some library/museum, he wrote that scene all in one shot.

    ReplyDelete
  63. " 51. Blogger David The Good July 25, 2017 10:51 AM
    ...
    It's sinful and stupid, sure, but killing oneself generally doesn't strike me as a cowardly act.
    "


    It's selfish. Like the kid that doesn't like the game so he takes his ball and goes home.

    Or you could look at it from a sentimental point of view. The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long. Which for some of you will dredge up memories of Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana and their lyrical PR agent Elton John. Others will inevitably think of Roy Baty.

    ReplyDelete
  64. "You can blame Nickleback on Creed"

    I prefer to just blame both.

    ReplyDelete
  65. "Now driving in a wild frieze of headlong horses with eyes walled and teeth cropped and naked riders with clusters of arrows clenched in their jaws and their shields winking in the dust and up the far side of the ruined ranks in a piping of bone flutes and dropping down off the sides of their mounts with one heel hung in the withers strap and their short bows flexing beneath the outstretched necks of the ponies until they had circled the company and cut their ranks in two and then rising up again like funhouse figures, some with nightmare faces painted on their breasts, riding down the unhorsed Saxons and spearing and clubbing them and leaping from their mounts with knives and running about on the ground with a peculiar bandy-legged trot like creatures driven to alien forms of locomotion and stripping the clothes from the dead and seizing them up by the hair and passing their blades about the skulls of the living and the dead alike and snatching aloft the bloody wigs and hacking and chopping at the naked bodies, ripping off limbs, heads, gutting the strange white torsos and holding up great handfuls of viscera, genitals, some of the savages so slathered up with gore they might have rolled in it like dogs and some who fell upon the dying and sodomized them with loud cries to their fellows."

    That's a sentence.

    The man should be executed for that.

    ReplyDelete
  66. If you liked the essay, you should get the book, which has a funny appendix called "10 Rules for Serious Writers."

    https://www.amazon.com/Readers-Manifesto-Pretentiousness-American-Literary/dp/0971865906

    ReplyDelete
  67. "The man should be executed for that."

    I prefer to execute Nickleback and Creed.

    I can sympathize re: contra Cormac. Still, the sentence conveys the intended effect: fog of war and all that. I got was he was doing. Watch the opening battle scene of Welles' "Chimes at Midnight". That's this.

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  68. Prose should be clear.

    I have no idea what to call that...dreck.

    ReplyDelete
  69. Hemingway suffered from hemachromatosis. Inability to absorb and apportion iron. Celtic curse. Drove him to insanity. Certainly the repeated electroshock treatments didn't help his mental health. Not in the mid-late 50s of the last century.

    I'll grant Hemingway a pass on the suicide.

    ReplyDelete
  70. When asked for advice to aspiring young authors
    on how to not write and still get contract offers,

    "Opportunity's door must be grasped by the knob
    So thank all your pals with 'I owe you a blowjob.'"

    No one loves ballzies as much as John Scalzi
    So suck to success if your novels are palsied!

    (pic of Scalzi spazzing for the camera with BJ-suggestive mouth agape)

    ReplyDelete
  71. " Still, the sentence conveys the intended effect: fog of war and all that. I got was he was doing. Watch the opening battle scene of Welles' "Chimes at Midnight". That's this."

    I know. And Faulkner did it too. For example when Faulkner wrote from the perspective of a character that was going insane... he didn't just describe the insanity... the writing itself got crazy. He used sentence fragments and abandoned grammar. He even got to the point where he would scribble nonsense.

    But here's the same. Two football teams can run the same offensive system. One of them can be really good at it... and the other can really suck at it.

    Faulkner had the horsepower to pull it off.

    Not sure anyone else has since.

    ReplyDelete
  72. "No, just saying Faulkner was guilty of making many of the same poor writing decisions."

    Its not a poor decisions when Faulkner makes it.

    ReplyDelete
  73. "TL;DR"

    this is what mercy looks like.

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  74. Sombody mentioned Sutpen. So I looked it up. It's a family name in a Faulkner novel. The novel being Absalom! Absalom!.

    At the very end of the Infogalactic page describing the novel I found the following paragraph.

    "The 1983 Guinness Book of World Records claims the "Longest Sentence in Literature" is a sentence from Absalom, Absalom! containing 1,288 words. (Note: The actual word count, as appearing in the Random House, Inc. 1951 edition, is 1,292 words; 1,301, if hyphenated words are included.) The sentence can be found in Chapter 6; it begins with the words "Just exactly like father", and ends with "the eye could not see from any point". The passage is entirely italicized and incomplete. Some claim that the Guinness Book of World Records is wrong about the longest sentence. The Molly Bloom soliloquy at the end of James Joyce's "Ulysses," is 4,391 words, not to mention dozens of stream of consciousness novels such as Bohumil Hrabal's Dancing Lessons for the Advanced Age which is an entire novel written in one 13000 word sentence. However, it should be understood that Absalom, Absalom! has the longest grammatically correct sentence in literature, whereas a sentence like Molly Bloom's soliloquy is really just many sentences with no punctuation."


    I smiled.

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  75. Airquote SarctagJuly 25, 2017 11:43 AM

    @66 "According to a review of his original papers that were released to some library/museum, he wrote that scene all in one shot."

    Makes sense as it's a single movement ... like watching or imagining a movie scene. Only thing is he maybe could've gone back in on a 2nd draft and stuck in some punctuation and paragraph breaks. He must have a very indulgent editor.

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  76. Sometime during puberty I became anxious with the notion that I should worry how the reader is impressed by my writing, rather than made to feel by the story. My style bifurcated from servicing the reader like an obstreperous melon.

    ReplyDelete
  77. Tried All the Pretty Horses a few years ago and had to put it down after a few pages, it was so poorly written. In competition with the Game of Thrones guy for worst published prose I've ever read. Glad to know it wasn't just me. Thought maybe I was missing something.

    ReplyDelete
  78. In interviews he presents himself as a man's man with no time for pansified intellectuals—a literary version, if you will, of Dave Thomas



    uh, this is the same game Hemingway played. that's why he demanded that everyone call him Poppy. because he was supposed to be the Alphiest Alpha west of the Pecos. or in all of Africa. or south of Key West ... or wherever he happened to be.

    ReplyDelete
  79. Oh yeah, that Atlantic article has been a particular favorite of mine ever since a friend linked me to it a few years ago.

    I also don't understand Cormac McCarthy's appeal; when I first read a portion of The Crossing, my thought was 'This is someone doing a very bad John Steinbeck impression'.

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  80. The trick is to be drunk enough to write like that, but not so drunk that you end up a thing smirking deep in the eyes of grace itself like a gorgon in an autumn pool. Whatever that means.

    ReplyDelete
  81. Well...duh. Schools have been teaching for quite some time that art, including literature, is not about comprehension or communication but the emotion the viewer experiences. Literature teachers don't ask "What happened and why?" but rather "How does it make you feel?" The whole point of the post-modernist system is exactly this type of art.

    And the point of *that* is to make good and bad subjective, which allows the Powers That Be to decide what's good and what's bad.

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  82. If he's writing where the money is at, that's one thing, but if he's selling out for bucks but going along with accolades that he's a literary icon, that's another thing entirely.

    ReplyDelete
  83. Haha, I had to read White Noise in college, assigned by none other than the Cornel Bonca quoted in that piece.

    It's irritating for all the reasons the author states, but at least it was memorably colorful. The airborne toxic event was a good touch. The Hitler Studies obsession was a nice way of illustrating the main character's academic wimpiness.

    I really like this line from the piece: "White Noise also continues a long intellectual tradition of exaggerating the effects of advertising."

    Could not agree more. I've been circling this conclusion after reading a pair of books by Rod Dreher and James K.A. Smith and that nails it. Too much college and too many intellectual friends and these guys all start ascribing magical power to spam. James K.A. Smith even makes the same comparison as DeLillo, writing at length about the mall as a cathedral.

    ReplyDelete
  84. "grammatically correct sentence in literature"

    the first two words matter a lot.

    ReplyDelete
  85. This thread can be summed up as such:

    I HATE CHARLES DICKENS THEREFORE HE IS SHIT IT'S ALL ABOUT MEEEEEEEEEEE

    ReplyDelete
  86. Another writer I'm not keen on is Nobel Prize winner Saramago. He writes run on sentences. He also sometimes goes meta-fictional, e.g. breaking the Fourth Wall. His fiction has some interesting ideas though.

    ReplyDelete
  87. "I HATE CHARLES DICKENS THEREFORE HE IS SHIT IT'S ALL ABOUT MEEEEEEEEEEE"

    well I don't know about you but I fucking hate charles dickens...

    ReplyDelete
  88. Midnight Avenue J wrote:Hemingway suffered from hemachromatosis. Inability to absorb and apportion iron. Celtic curse. Drove him to insanity. Certainly the repeated electroshock treatments didn't help his mental health. Not in the mid-late 50s of the last century.

    I'll grant Hemingway a pass on the suicide.

    He was on blood pressure medication that caused depression, and the depression was treated in turn with numerous ECT sessions. ECT causes severe and permanent memory loss. For a writer, it's devastating.

    ReplyDelete
  89. @94

    The beginning of Oliver Twist is almost as bad as Harry Potter. Tale of Two Cities pretty bad too.

    But Great Expectations is great melodrama. I liked Bleak House too.

    ReplyDelete
  90. 22. tuberman July 25, 2017 9:20 AM
    using odd punctuation, insane twists in metaphors and similes, and sometimes no capitalization



    ruh roh.


    36. Nate July 25, 2017 10:28 AM
    Hemingway is hated today because Hemingway was masculine and wrote masculinity.



    a - Hemingway is hated today?

    b - Hemingway wasn't the only author to make pretensions to hyper manliness. Norman Mailer was a NYC Jew who was so manly he was a cook in WW2.
    have you seen / read 'The Naked and the Dead'?


    https://www.pressreader.com/uk/daily-mail/20170520/282291025170104



    43. Nate July 25, 2017 10:41 AM
    Attacking the man, rather than his work, is both a logical fallacy, and a pathetic cowardly tactic.



    attacking the Work on the basis of the Man is a fallacy.

    but what you just said is that we aren't permitted to critique the Man ... at the same time that you laud the Work because of how much the Man impresses you.

    that's the exact same sin you're getting pissed about, only inverted to a positive outcome.


    and while lauding the Work of a Man because of how much the Man impresses you may not be cowardly, i certainly don't consider it becoming.



    64. Solaire Of Astora July 25, 2017 11:13 AM
    Reducing that to cowardice sounds a hell of a lot like someone who doesn't want to believe reality can really be that unfair



    how in the hell is Reality supposed to have been "unfair" to Ernest Hemingway? the man spent a large portion of WW2 sport fishing the Caribbean ... with your tax dollars paying to fuel his boat. and he also got rationing exemptions at the same time that landlubbers couldn't hardly get fuel for their vehicles so they could drive to work.

    considering that it wasn't really that hard to figure out where U-boats were operating ( hint: nowhere near the Caribb )... that does seem like he was being pretty cowardly there.



    76. Koanic July 25, 2017 11:30 AM
    (pic of Scalzi spazzing for the camera with BJ-suggestive mouth agape



    you are an evil little man.

    ReplyDelete
  91. Nate,

    I hate Ernest Hemmingway. I read one short story of his that was good, and one novel in high school. That novel made me swear I would never read him again.

    That novel was "The Sun Also Rises."

    Good luck defending that piece of dreck, it actually has a worse protagonist than the Wheel of Time!

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  92. I just finished "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy. Lord above knows it was a boring, sad, 300 something page nothing burger. The entire time I felt like he sounded like a gamma due to the massive blurbs of bull like the one's above and it feels good to read such a startlingly accurate article and post about him/modern writing.

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  93. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  94. A) everyone has at least one story to tell
    B) as a reader, you're not going to be interested in everyone else's story no matter how well or poorly it's written
    C) ultimately what you write, you write for yourself, not your audience
    D) if you write trying to satisfy an audience, see B)
    E) pushing for uniformity of quality and style is a SJW thing, which leads to a lowest common denominator outcome
    F) there will always be a lowest common denominator whether it's in writing, music or any other art, whether there are standards in play or not

    ReplyDelete
  95. Another opinion on Hemingway:

    Behind Ernest Hemingway’s suicide, nine concussions that incapacitated his brain, forensic psychiatrist concludes

    http://nationalpost.com/entertainment/hemingways-depression-was-spurred-on-by-cte-blows-to-the-head-new-book-argues/wcm/5f061dfe-1dc2-45b5-971c-fbae7181c746

    Same problem as Junior Seau et al.

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  96. It's pretentious B.S., like so much of academia these days (particularly the social (pseudo) sciences.

    And good grief, talk about the king of run-on sentences. Sheesh.

    ReplyDelete
  97. for those of you bagging on Faulkner, how can you be down on the man who coined the term 'womanshenegro' in THE SOUND AND THE FURY?

    ReplyDelete
  98. WHARINDAHELLAMIJuly 25, 2017 2:25 PM

    In a intro to one of his recent short story collections, Stephen King wrote of Cormac McCarty, ``Yes, the man was a drunk...``

    ReplyDelete
  99. All the Pretty Horses is one of the worst books I've ever tried to read.

    ReplyDelete
  100. "I hate Ernest Hemmingway. I read one short story of his that was good, and one novel in high school. That novel made me swear I would never read him again."

    Yes. Like so many others you read Hemmingway when you were way to young and hadn't lived enough to understand what you were reading.

    So you didn't get it. And your teacher also didn't get it. Because none of them do... and now you think you know enough to disregard him because you think you're the same person you where in high school.

    Which you aren't. you at least you shouldn't be.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've been a big fan of Hemingway for years, and I'm unapologetic about it. He's direct. That's what I like about his writing. But direct doesn't mean simplistic. His stories are complex. My favorite, I think, is Farewell to Arms for both directness and complexity.

      Delete
  101. the reason we read the same book many times in our life is not because the book changes.

    We change.

    Thus what we get out of the book changes. This is why studying the Word is a life long endeavor.

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  102. "Their words are not meant to be read as words as such, but are meant to be lightly scanned, so that an impression is formed by that superficial contact."

    I've long thought that was the appeal of Joyce, in his novels at least. That, and he needed a technique to hide the naughty parts (Which apparently didn't work too well.)

    A lot of smarter people than I find value in his works, so I assume there's something worthwhile underneath. But most readers will feel, rightly, as though they're confronted with gobbledygook taking him word by word. If they rather don't bother about meaning and skip around Ulysses like a stone on the surface of a pond, the experience can be exhilarating.

    Contrast this with proto-moderns, like say Wagner, who while busy about the task of destroying the form of opera gave his audience pleasing and diverting music. Or pleasant musical passages hidden within hours of boring musical gobbledygook. Much like with moderns, if you dig in, structure is there. Deep, deep structure, where all the harmony and melody (such as it is) is supposed to have dramatic meaning. Most of it the ear and the brain of the lay and educated audience alike won't be able to catch. So what's the point? Well, what's the point of the almost infinitely deep meaning in a line of Shakespeare? To give people the sense that art means more than it probably can, for one thing. For another, Shakespeare and Wagner alike provided moving and meaningful works on many levels, including the superficial. Joyce for 99% of his audience has only the superficial (unless you count "I can't believe he's getting away with it" as another level.)

    With moderns, the superficial is really the only level most people besides literature professors manage to enjoy. In that, he's different from the Wagners of the world. The form has already been destroyed, and meaning doesn't matter anymore. Now we're just playing with what's leftover, and even postmodernism can't get more modern than that.

    Others after Joyce who follow the skim the surface game don't have his big excuse, which is that he was seeing what he could get away with. We already know you can get away with everything. Duchamps already happened. Anything goes, if you're picked by the cool kids to be in fashion.

    Going back to writing novels that are supposed to resemble novels, you can make use of the "words don't matter as words" method. Publishers and critics will not only allow it; they're used to it. And in order to be considered serious they sort of expect it. But they're degenerate, so what do you expect?

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  103. Nate wrote:the reason we read the same book many times in our life is not because the book changes.

    We change.

    Perhaps we have perspective that changes our appreciation for a particular book, but experience doesn't make unreadable bilge readable. I can't imagine getting through even a paragraph of McCarty, if the samples posted are representative. Short of serious brain damage, that is.
    No matter how old I get, James Joyce is still a barely literate pretentious twat, who should have been beaten within an inch of his life and turned out to starve, rather than celebrated.

    I haven't drunk enough to like Faulkner yet. Not sure there's enough alcohol.

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  104. tublecane wrote:A lot of smarter people than I find value in his works, so I assume there's something worthwhile underneath.
    No, there's not.
    A lot of people are susceptible to fashion and intellectual fads, and nothing makes for an intellectual fad like a foreigner gibbering unintelligibly like a hobo in an alleyway going through DTs.
    "You just don't appreciate his use of language." "You're too dumb to understand it." "You're not sophisticated enough to see the emperor's new suit."
    It's an ancient scam.

    ReplyDelete
  105. @60-I despised the Bear, and literally threw the book at the wall. Sound and Fury was equally annoying.

    On the other hand, I loved the Unvanquished and stories like A Rose for Emily are good. So Faulkner is a mixed bag.

    I just wish he were more old-fashioned. Most of my favourite 20th century authors (Waugh, Maugham, Cozzens, O'Hara, Marquand, Warren, Bellow, Amis, Rand), with a little tweaking, could've written in the 19th.

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  106. @111-I wasn't thinking solely of fadsters and slaves to fashion, but people like Nabokov, who wasn't afraid to have unfashionable opinions. But maybe he was just lying or positioning himself.

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  107. Every McCarthy book is a highly stylized account of horrible people doing horrific things to other people. His stories are morally empty. If you can tolerate that, you might enjoy his work.

    I love Blood Meridian, like Outer Dark and No Country For Old Men, and think most of the rest is crap. Suttree might be the most pointless book ever written, The Road was weak and suffered from the "apocalyptic only in some ways" setting, and All The Pretty Horses (indeed, the entire Border Trilogy) just sucked.

    Someone mentioned the Sunset Limited, which is essentially high school sophomore's pontificating about why he's a despairing atheist. It's representative of most of McCarthy's later output: his "genius" now publicly certified, he puts out half-arsed crap and watches suckers lap it up.

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  108. My problem with Faulkner is not that he can't write. He can, quite well, although he is susceptible to "pretentious literarian" disease.
    It's that I hate each and every single person he writes about, and I don't want to spend any time in their company.

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  109. @78-"he didn't just describe the insanity...the writing itself got crazy."

    I consider that a cardinal sin of art. Can't remember the exact term I once heard for it, but let's call it dramatizing form. Doing so is destructive of form, which should be an art's most cherished tradition.

    If you want to see craziness acted out, you may go see drama. Prose can be dramatic, or a vehicle for drama, but in the best of circumstances it remains bound within a restrictive, undramatic form. That's for its own good, because people--especially form-destroyers like Faulkner--have a tendency to sabotage their own art by trying forcibly to make it express more than it oughtta. It's like rape, in a way.

    Third person omniscient narrative isn't the only form of novel prose, but let's consider it primarily. It can express craziness. It can express anything, really. You don't need anything more. If you really must be dramatic and show craziness in the words as well as what the words convey, you can do so in dialogue or in short bursts of action. You need not inject meaning into the intermediary between the words and the effect on your readers so as to increase the effect, get phony realism, or whatever else you have in mind. Because it's unnecessary. At best it's like injecting heroin in your vein instead of earning happiness by being virtuous, putting in a hard day's work, and surrounding yourself with loved ones.

    Prose's greatest attribute is its clarity. Lose that, and you lose the whole point, in my opinion. The point isn't to give people the experience of craziness; it's to tell a damn story. You can tell a story through craziness, maybe. (Doubtful.) But you can always, always tell stories through the conventional forms of novel writing, including ones about insanity.

    Faulkner can get away with it, if it's just him. Same as our civilization can sustain a Hugh Heffner. But should we all start acting like him, watch out.

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  110. tublecane wrote:I wasn't thinking solely of fadsters and slaves to fashion, but people like Nabokov,
    Maybe the translator was a better writer than Joyce.

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  111. @92-Dickens in particular was trouble not for these guys but for the original modernist generation, which suffered from what David Stove termed "horror victorianorum" (which lives on in horror movies and literature today, which remains oddly Victorian). Previous generations frightened them. Even relatively reactionary ones like Waugh, who couldn't think of anything more horrifying in A Handful of Dust to consign his main character to a life of reading the collected works of Charles Dickens to his captor in the middle of the Amazon. No doubt some of this feeling lives on in modernists to this day.

    That being said, the degeneracy of the arts since the late 19th century has to have bigger explanations, one of which I think is an inferiority complex. They are conscious of how they'd come out in comparison to Shakespeare, Beethoven, and Michelangelo. Or Dickens, if you like. So they don't try. "Woo-hoo, over here! We're playing this game now; nevermind a that other stuff."

    They can't, and won't, deny people's continued attachment to old masters. Although particular old masters, like Dickens maybe, they will attempt to kick out of the pantheon. (Racism is handy for such purposes.) The rest, they'll pretend their value comes with whatever qualities it is modernism/postmodernism is patting itself on the back for that day. Usually it's novelty or "relevance."

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  112. @35-"A lot of McCarthy's style is informed by Biblical phrasing and syntax"

    Yes, that's the "pseudo-archaic" formulation referred to above.

    "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."

    Sometimes parodies work when you take them straight, too. I don't consider the Sometimes Test as a particularly high bar. You know what can work all the time? Regular, unpretentious prose.

    I respect Moby Dick, but it has a,fatal flaw in that a novel is not an epic poem. You shouldn't try to write a novel like you'd write an epic poem, even if Melville was talented or fortunate enough to produce what people consider a masterpiece.

    As much as people trace writers like McCarthy back to Hemingway and Steinbeck, I think there's an Melville connection. Not necessarily in actual style, but in terms of expanding (/destroying) the form and being vaguely mythological, with Big, Existential Issues and grappling with the basic nature of God and Man, or whatever.

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  113. "That's a sentence.

    The man should be executed for that."

    How did he get out of grammar skrewell? McGuffeys 3rd grade reader surpasses that by a factor of 10x.

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  114. @110
    "No matter how old I get, James Joyce is still a barely literate pretentious twat"

    Why is he "barely literate"?

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  115. Because he had to read some small portions of what he wrote, and it damaged the reading centers in his brain.

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  116. @123

    I don't understand what you mean. He studied at the university and was quite erudite (although he confused quidditas with haecceitas :)). You are probably being facetious/sarcastic, but I am not getting your humor. His short stories and Portrait of the Artist are coherent and don't have any tortuous syntax or overdone or pretentious metaphors. They are relatively straightforward, for the most part, as far as stylistics and writing are concerned and not overly pretentious. I don't see any evidence of brain damage. I am responding seriously to your comment made in jest, but I am puzzled by what you might mean.

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  117. Sorry if my flippancy is annoying. Literacy of a work refers to its quality of being comprehensible. Joyce is intentionally incomprehensible, which is to say, illiterate. It's not a judgement on the man's education. It's a judgement on his work.
    He may have been mocking his peers, as I did when I turned in a "poem" to an English instructor that consisted of 28 8-syllable couplets and every line ending in a gerund. It was intended as mockery. Unfortunately for that thesis, I have seen no indication that Joyce thought Ulysses was anything other than the greatest literary work ever written.

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  118. Great read, I will have to check out the books he recommends at the end.

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  119. "Third person omniscient narrative isn't the only form of novel prose, but let's consider it primarily. "

    it wasn't third person. it was first person. and the first person perspective it was coming from... was going insane.

    its easy to look back and say "I don't like that." That's fine. You don't have to like. To say it is crap, when well executed, is simply poor form.

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  120. "Perhaps we have perspective that changes our appreciation for a particular book, but experience doesn't make unreadable bilge readable. I can't imagine getting through even a paragraph of McCarty, if the samples posted are representative."

    I was referring specifically to Hemingway in that case... because most of the problem people have with Hemingway is completely different than these others. Its not style...its the fact that they simply have no idea what he's talking about. They don't get it.

    Because they have no idea what masculinity actually is.

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  121. Nate wrote:

    I was referring specifically to Hemingway in that case

    I'm not a fan of Hemmingway, but I wouldn't ever call him a bad writer. I will say that he was a bit to fond of artificial literary devices.

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  122. Hemingway's short stories are fine. But "Old Man and the Sea" is awful. It could have BEEN a short story, but no, it's a damn novella. Hell, I think it might have originally been defined as a novel. Regardless, about 80 pages longer than it needed to be.

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  123. 1. Hemingway is an american treasure.
    2. Cormac mcarthy is unbearable.
    3. Faulkner is also an american treasure.
    4. Fitzgerald is an american treasure. But also a literal cuck.
    5. Ezra pound is the fucking bomb

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  124. @40
    While you may be on the right track with the idea of using the high bandwidth of video to overwhelm the senses and logical faculties of the brain, there is obviously far more to it than that.

    Moore's use of video is crude and resembles someone swinging a mallet at your head; you can certainly duck and avoid the blow with a bit of effort. True masters of cinematic art for propaganda, like Sergei Eisenstein or Leni Riefenstahl come into your mind much more subtly, and leave lasting impressions. Other artists like Stanley Kubrick or Christopher Nolan use the art to tell truly compelling stories (one can only wonder what Kubrick's "Napoleon" would have been like to watch). There are other masterful cinematic story tellers (Ari Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki come to mind).

    Most film makers don't approach that level of mastery of the genre, and being pulled out of suspension of disbelief due to glaring plot holes, overly clever use of cinematography or camera effects or other offences is a common enough occurrence when sitting down to watch a movie. Sadly, the formulaic "comic book" movies which dominate cinema these days hardly use up much of your bandwidth at all (especially since much of the on screen time and effort is no longer in the story or acting, but the elaborate CGI).

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  125. One of my favourite authors is Nevil Shute precisely because his writing is the opposite of what the Atlantic article is decrying.

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  127. Myers is right, but unfair, but understandably unfair, when attacking authors who have been praised for their bad style.

    Modernist critics will only praise style. To praise content would go against everything they preach. So when they find a book they like, they convince themselves that they like it because of its style, and praise that--even if, like McCormac or Faulkner, its style gets in the way of its content.

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  128. I have recommended Hemingway to some young friends. They love him. I only recommended death in the afternoon, but they kept on reading. They love him because they they are not use to such a masculine writer. I not sure if Hemingway is a poser. However, he comes from a time when eve Gammas smoked cigars, drank straight whiskey and went deep sea fishing. I did tell him that For Whom The Bells Toll is commie propaganda as it should be written. It also made for a great D&D campaign. (Stop the orcs from crossing the Bridge!)
    I tried to read Cormac once. After a couple of pages, I started writing in the punctuation. I stopped at a couple of pages because I was doing what the editor should have done.

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