- Which weaves a splendid tale for me
- Which wrings the finest honey out of the language employed
- Which leaves me unlike myself when I started reading the piece, and
- Which makes me want to rush to write myself
When I was young (that was a couple of decades ago), I read Shakespeare and wondered why everyone spoke so highly of a man who wrote phrases like "saucy fellow" (Julius Ceaser). Only recently (and may I brag of owning the complete works of Shakespeare in wonderful print?) did I gain the required faculties to appreciate the works of the Bard. So much so that I was quick to proclaim him as one of the only 2 writers whom I consider truly great (the other being Nabokov; Gogol seems to be pulling this club to gain inclusion, but it wouldn't be a wrong if he succeeded). Shakespeare's sonnets drove me to a tizzy and made me drop everything I was doing at that moment and pick up a pen to give vent to what he had stoked in me. I thought that he heightened my sense and I was thoroughly glad when I read this article about an experiment conducted to correlate Shakespearen writing with brain activity. I totally agree with what the author says:
In that case Shakespeare's art would be no more and no less than the supreme
example of a mobile, creative and adaptive human capacity, in deep relation
between brain and language. It makes new combinations, creates new networks,
with changed circuitry and added levels, layers and overlaps. And all the time
it works like the cry of "action" on a film-set, by sudden peaks of activity and
excitement dramatically breaking through into consciousness.
And as abrupt as this turn might seem, I must hurry into discussing the other articles I read. All of them are from http://www.theatlantic.com/. The first I read was a review by B.R.Myers of a book called Tree of Smoke and about how "It’s the most critically acclaimed novel of the fall. And it’s astonishingly bad." I couldn't stop nodding my head when I read this:
It’s just that once we Americans have ushered a writer into the contemporary pantheon, we will lie to ourselves to keep him there.I would definitely agree with him when I think about Updike, Oates and Lahiri. The article talks a lot about pretentious writers and how the entire literary community feeds on and into this farce. Here is another excerpt from that article:
An amputee with a phantom limb, fancy that. Lewis’s aside that Tree of Smoke
“doesn’t feel like a Denis Johnson novel” lends weight to the assumption that a
writer cannot become famous by writing like this, at least not yet. But with no
way to prove insincerity on the reviewers’ part, I have to pretend to believe
that they really do consider Tree of Smoke to be “something like a masterpiece”
(Lewis) and “bound to become one of the classic works of literature” (Kakutani)
about the Vietnam War. (The novel, a New York Times best seller, has been
nominated for a National Book Award.)
So here I am wondering who this Myers guy is and simultaneously feeling glad that there are others out there who are ready to grab the "literary writers" by their collars (post-modern collars) and give then a good shake. I stumbled upon his "A Reader's Manifesto" and liked him even more. From there I hopped my way to A Reader's Revenge where I loved this at the end:
But if they were to say the prose is good or bad, and explain why on the basis
of lengthy excerpts, then we could judge for ourselves
When Don DeLillo describes a man's walk as "a sort of explanatory shuffle, a
comment on the literature of shuffles," I feel nothing; the wordplay is just too
insincere, too patently meaningless. But when Nabokov talks of midges
"continuously darning the air in one spot," or the "square echo" of a car door
slamming, I feel what Philip Larkin hoped readers of his poetry would feel:
"Yes, I've never thought of it that way, but that's how it is."
"Don't set out to raze all shrines — you'll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity —
and the shrines are razed . . . Kill by laughter. Laughter is an instrument of
human joy. Learn to use it as a weapon of destruction. Turn it into a sneer.
It's simple. Tell them to laugh at virtue. Don't let anything remain sacred in a
man's soul — and his soul won't be sacred to him. Kill reverence and you've
killed the hero in man"
Well, imagine what would happen if the Big Three were allowed to review each
other's cars in Consumer Reports. You might think they'd just try to run each
other down. But they wouldn't; they'd realize that it's in the industry's
interests to screw the consumers, to lower their expectations. They'd say, "The
brakes don't work, but that's what real driving is all about," and so on. They'd
save the bad reviews for outsiders like the Japanese. The same principle is
behind the insincerity with which novelist-critics review each other's books.
And even the full-time reviewers like Michiko Kakutani don't seem to represent
the consumer's interests to the extent that a movie critic like Roger Ebert
does. The best way to reform things is to force reviewers to concentrate on
prose. As it is now, they say things about the plot and the characters that we
have to take on trust.