Friday, 12 December 2008

Safran Foer-Phobia

What's with it, asks the 'Manchester' Guardian in a predictably anti-academic blog post.

As I've said, time and time and time again on here, to the point where the blog probably makes me unemployable in the non-academic literary world, the Zadie Smith - Dave Eggers - 'mini Delillo (Frantzen, Safran Foer, Foster Wallace (RIP)' axis of post-postmodernist fiction effectively admits that the novel must be nothing more than a teabag of tried and tested 'experimental devices' - unreliable narrators, self-conscious authorial interjections - dipped, ever so briefly, into the soft water of nineteenth-century realism.

The problem is, however, that the likes of Smith have also colonised contemporary critical discourse about the experimental novel. The first lady of 'Young British Forsterian Humanism' has just published a piece in - I think, don't shoot me - the New York Review of Books in which her lineage of 'experimental' goes, well, Joyce - Beckett - Robbe-Grillet. Sideways could have told me as much. Not even a tokenistic reference to a 'being-rediscovered' figure like Green or Ann Quin. Here, Zadie manages a sideswipe against 'professors and critics' whilst co-opting Roland Barthes - Roland Barthes! - to her cause, because he was a 'practitioner' who understood the writerly agon. Who all these 'professors and critics' who don't write are is a moot point: it reminds me of Don Paterson's paranoid ranting about the 'postmodern' poets who are throttling his craft with their trendy anti-verse (I'll seek this reference out soon). Or not, as the case may be.

On that note, just to bang one more nail in about my frustration regarding the anti-thinking tendency in British literary culture, I'd never before known the frankly weird remarks (see start of article) made by Hugo Williams about John Ashbery and J.H. Prynne before I came upon this review of the (utterly excellent, page-turning) Don't start me talking - Interviews with contemporary poets, edited by the inspiring Tim Allen and Andrew Duncan. On what possible plane is it acceptable to consider Prynne, or Denise Riley, poets who do what they do as a result of exhaustive aesthetic and political deliberation, a 'hipster', while at the same time soliciting applause for young London-based writers whose work is a mottle of pop-cultural reference and unstudied (and Safran Foer-esque) emotional and social generalisation? I say this while laying myself open to allegations of hypocrisy, of course, but still...I find the notion of Prynne endlessly striving (and always failing, but aesthetically) for new forms which might slough off the sullying of language in the third machine age more inspiring, and less 'hip', than the likes of certain poets whose work manifests no formal progression from Four Quartets but invokes modernity via what (I think are) rather desperate references to their time spent as a punk. The difference is, I think, that the likes of Out to Lunch or Sean Bonney keep to their guns, un-hipsterishly, whilst the figure I have in mind dines out on h** ability to view those heady times with a measure of unearned sagacity seemingly inherited from the likes of the (hateful) Larkin. 'I was a punk, now I'm not, now I write blithe landscape poetry'. Etcetera.

Fucking hell. It really does make me mad.

Been reading a biog of Mass Observation founder and all-round oddball Tom Harrisson today, picked up in the Red Bus bookshop for 1000 forints. Inspiring and frightening.

Viva less than a week...

No comments: