Episode vs. Narrative and the false choice of Huck or Ames

The Wall St. Journal has attempted to cause a minor literary ruckus with an opinion piece by Lee Siegel titled “The End of the Episode.”Siegel, borrowing his intellectual argument from British philosopher Galen Strawson, argues that the narrative — “straightforward storytelling style connects events together in one continuous thruline whose fundamental purpose is to reveal the Big Fated Meaning of life” — personality of our current fiction says bad or deficient things about our personalities. That narrative “is an insult to the endless possibilities of existence” and that there’s too much of a focus in narrative on the narrative way of seeing things as the only way for there to be good in life.

By contrast:

Episodics do seem to have a firmer grasp of reality’s fluid nature. Rather than experiencing life as a continuous thread of related experiences, Episodics consider their “self” to be in a state of continuous flux. What happened to them a year ago happened to a different person than the person they are now–the past has no bearing on present experience. (“I actually said that? I couldn’t have!”) In this view, Episodics are sober, disenchanted beings, alive to the principle of ceaseless change that drives human existence.

Let’s set aside for a moment the fact that the episodic has not left American life, but simply relocated from the novel to films, television series, manga/comics, fan fiction and roleplaying games. Let’s also set aside for a moment the snarky response that it is precisely the episodic approach to life, the misadventures of picaresque-esque bankers, traders, politicians, etc. that got us in to the current financial mess. There are several problems with setting up this dichotomy and even more so with the literary criticism that is sloppily used to bolster it. The few that I see right away: Continue reading “Episode vs. Narrative and the false choice of Huck or Ames”

Literary critics (who write fiction) and pride

Pride was the theme of my ward’s sacrament meeting last Sunday. As you might expect Pres. Ezra Taft Benson’s landmark talk on pride was quoted by all four speakers. The talks were quite good and there there was a nice flow to the meeting. In particular, the two adult speakers did a good job of referring to the previous speakers and adapting their talks to what was said before. As a result, the residual effects of the meeting have stuck with me and I have found myself thinking about literary critics/reviewers — especially those who write fiction themselves — and pride. (Or in other words, I’ve been thinking about myself.)

This line of thinking also comes out of some of the high profile author meltdowns of late (one of note is detailed at Gawker) over bad (or even simply mixed) reviews. Look. Writing fiction is a tough business. It’s a lonely often emotionally wrenching and exhausting enterprise; the sweat equity is rarely worth it; the criticism generally outweighs the acclaim and the acclaim is, in the end, fleeting and not very emotionally satisfying long term.  Which means that healthy egos and thin skins are not all that unusual. And the thing gets messier when fiction authors write criticism (or literary critics try their hand at fiction) because envy — the companion of pride — often comes in to play. And even if the critic/author isn’t reviewing out of a place of envy, that’s often what the perception is and when that is how the review/piece of criticism is responded to (and it’s remarkable how many ways writers can hint that a bad review is because its author is just jealous) then pride gets wounded on both sides and the rhetoric often escalates. Continue reading “Literary critics (who write fiction) and pride”

Apropos of nothing

For the record: If AMV doesn’t post about some work or author or event or interWebs kerfluffle related to Mormon arts and culture, it’s probably for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. We’re totally snubbing you/it/him/her/them.
  2. All of us our way too busy to turn our precious attention to The Thing (whatever it may be at the moment).
  3. We’re working on something — may even have it written — but we’re waiting to post it so that we can have the final word.
  4. The rest of the Bloggernacle and entire interWebs have hashed the thing to death and even our amazing mastery of discourse(s) has no power to resuscitate.
  5. We’re not only snubbing, we’re making a pointed, utterly devestating statement with our silence. Of course, there is a slim possibility that we just aren’t aware of you/it/him/her/them/whatever/The Thing/The Big Deal/Crazy Stuff so you’ll just have to use your best judgment about what’s going on. Of course, whatever you decide is probably wrong. Just so you know.
  6. Each of us co-bloggers is waiting for the other co-blogger to post something. It’s like a game of chicken. Shawn lost the last round.
  7. We just totally, utterly, with every fiber of our being and beyond a shadow of a doubt couldn’t care less.

Please note that I’m speaking fully for myself here and not for any of my co-bloggers with whom I haven’t discussed this post nor anything else that this may or may not be apropos of. Somehow we never got the big AMV back channel going where we have heated discussions about all this stuff. Usually it’s just — “Hey, I’m going to be at the AML conference — anyone else going to be there?” or “Hey, I’m going to do some poetry month posts — anybody else in?” or “Hey, what’s the latest on the planning for the coup d’ état of William?” etc. etc.

Edited 3/16/09: Fixed a couple of grammar mistakes and changed “without” to “beyond.”