Credit: Grant Snider
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Excerpt from an interview with Lewis H. Lapham, editor emeritus of Harper’s Magazine and founding editor of Lapham’s Quarterly. Courtesy of The Millions
Trouble is that writers have been discounted in the American scheme of things over the last 50 years now. I’m old enough to remember — I’m at Yale in 1952 to 1956, and to be a writer was an important thing. There was the belief that writers could change the world. And the heroes were people like Camus, Yeats, even Auden, and Hemingway, Mailer. The notion that literature was going to come up with important answers. Solzhenitsyn — the novel as heroic. And again, that’s an idea that comes out of the 19th century. That’s Victor Hugo in exile from the Second Empire in France. That’s what Flaubert was trying to do. Balzac was trying to do the same thing. Dickens. William Dean Howells in this country, Twain — the writer was a heroic kind of figure, or at least had that possibility. That’s what Mailer was trying to be.
And in the 1960s, they actually had writers on the cover of Time magazine. I can remember that really, before 1962, Time magazine had on the cover Mailer, Roth, Bellow, not Vonnegut yet, and maybe not Heller. And then it was all over — No, Updike. And then I don’t think they had another writer, then they had Solzhenitsyn on the cover somewhere in the ‘80s. And then for Christ’s sake, they come up with Jonathan Franzen, and compare him to Tolstoy. I mean, that’s farcical.
And part of that I think is the atomic bomb. Once you get the atomic bomb, then man now has it in his power to destroy the Earth. Oppenheimer, quoting Shiva: I am the destroyer of the worlds. That’s what he said looking at the nuclear explosion. And so the heroes of our age are essentially money guys or politicians with their hand on the button or cosmetic surgeons and scientists who are going to discover the way for us to live to 150 years, and the Silicon Valley people, you know, the magicians.
And so the writer seems to have less — Nader explained this to me once. Nader said that when he, in the ‘60s, published Unsafe at Any Speed, within a year, there were hearings, rules got changed, safety belts got put on cars. And this was genuinely true in the ‘60s. Protest the Vietnam War. The Civil Rights Movement — civil rights legislation goes in with Johnson. It had an effect. Now, it doesn’t have an effect. We all know that we’re being governed by crooks, but we make a joke out of it. That’s Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart.
Read the rest from The Millions
Philosophy tends to be arid, more related to mathematics or dispatches from the courtroom than art, but some philosophy exhibits playfulness or poetic sensibility in relation to language or narrative form and some has even been speculative in a literary or imaginative sense. Jean Baudrillard, for one, coined the term “theory fiction” and speculated on scenarios for future real worlds that were more wild and improbable than science fiction. In his case, it was part of a quest to exacerbate the groundlessness of signs and meaning.
But postmodern suspicion is not the only way in which philosophers have used the strategies of fiction to further their projects. Hegel’s great work Phenomenology of Spirit can be read as a vast novel in which the characters, avatars of the spirit, move progressively through the world and through history.
Read the rest from The Guardian
“A writer should be able to express himself easily, naturally, copiously in a form that frees his mind, his energies. Why should he hobble himself with formalities? With a borrowed sensibility? With the desire to be “correct”? Why should I force myself to write like an Englishman…?” —Saul Bellow
Read the rest at Paris Review
My interests in hybrid literature, culture and race meant that I was always instinctively searching for a Black avant garde, and while I found many authors, there was never a single banner that united all these writers in the same way that “avant garde” encompassed an entire history of innovative writing by white people. Black experimental writers weren’t acknowledged in the same way as their white counterparts—both within the mainstream, and on their own terms. They were there, and yet they weren’t.
Read the rest from Literary Hub
There’s a very funny photograph taken by Brassaï of Pablo Picasso posing in his Paris studio. Picasso had acquired a giant oil painting of a nude woman from an antique shop, and he strikes an affected pose before it, his brush poised and his little finger extended, as though he’s preparing to make the finishing touch on a masterwork. The actor Jean Marais is stretched out on the floor beside him, pretending to serve as the model despite being fully dressed. The target of the joke is clear: Picasso was ridiculing the pretensions and conventions of the professional painter. “I am not a professional artist,” Brassaï recounts him repeating, “as if he were claiming innocence of a slander.”
The same question vexes literature, too: Is writing an art or a career, or can it be both? The Unprofessionals, the title of a new anthology of American writing from The Paris Review, defines itself against the emergence of a hyper-professionalized breed of fiction writer. In his preface to the anthology, editor Lorin Stein laments that a familiarity with social media has made young authors almost unthinkingly proficient as publicists for themselves and their friends. Even in M.F.A. programs, he argues, the tricks of self-promotion have been woven into the craft of writing, resulting in “less close reading, less real criticism, lower standards, and less regard for artistic, as opposed to commercial, success. … Young writers, in other words, were encouraged to think of themselves as professionals: to write long and network hard.”
Read the rest from New Republic
Because of this expectation, many critics, authors, and readers are quick to dismiss short forms like flash, micro, and short-short fiction as superficial, i.e. lacking depth in plot, character, and setting. Others see these forms as a symptom of our increasingly shortening attention spans, our desire to consume quickly and without much reflection. One consistent argument is that flash fiction, despite its ongoing popularity, simply doesn’t have that quintessential “staying power” of longer stories or novels. They don’t, in other words, linger.
Rooted in the oral tradition, fairy tales have survived for thousands of years precisely because they employ techniques like brevity, repetition, flatness, abstraction, and shock—mechanisms designed to aid the brain with retention and recall. And these stories have not only lingered, but lasted for thousands of years. They did so not because of their specificity or depth, but because they emulate cultural patterns, build community, provide comfort, and offer up new ways to see and interact with the world.
Read the rest from Literary Hub
As readers and writers, we’re intimately familiar with the dots, strokes and dashes that punctuate the written word. The comma, colon, semicolon and their siblings are integral parts of writing, pointing out grammatical structures and helping us transform letters into spoken words or mental images. We would be lost without them (or, at the very least, extremely confused), and yet the earliest readers and writers managed without it for thousands of years. What changed their minds?
Read the rest from BBC
I am not alone in my intense relationship to the tools of the writing trade, so I thought I’d ask some writers I deeply admire about their favorite pens and pencils. The first person who came to mind was Mary Norris, author of Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen and a copy editor for The New Yorker.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”
“Are you a poet? Then do not pursue a university degree.” —Umberto Eco
Derided by scholars, biographers, critics of all stripes, if J.D. Salinger was such a bad writer, why does his work leap off the page?
Here for The Salinger Reader via Public Books
Some characters, like “@” and the pilcrow, thrive, while others, like the interrobang, go kaput. Why?