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Criticism

Recent Issue

<em>Paraliterary: The Making of Bad Readers In Postwar America</em>. By Merve Emre. Chicago, 2017. 304p. PB, $27.50.</p>

A Literature Worth Loathing

In his newly translated book, The Hatred of Literature, critic William Marx argues that celebrated minds like Heraclitus and Rousseau became utter lightweights when reading literature. Their insults, like all insults against the art form, were largely unoriginal and wouldn’t change much. “Real innovation is rare in anti-literature,” Marx writes. Presumably, this is why Marx was able to structure his investigation by four categories that sweep across Western history. These are the great “trials” of literature: authority; truth; morality; society. Hatred reads like an overblown victimology of literature in that its assailants have never presented a lethal threat. Belied, banned, or burned, stories and poems find a way of transcending their plight. For Marx, the true annihilator of literature is simply “indifference.” Against the coming wave of mass indifference, we can do nothing but join him in a helpless prayer: “May the gods prevent that day from ever arriving.”


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<i>Risk</i>Directed by Laura Poitras Neon, 2017 86 minutes.

The Journalist and the Masturbator

Autumn stalled, the heat lingered, and an interim season began. In lieu of leaves, the sky rained with tales of sexual predation. More curiously, the world took notice: On the ground there occurred a clamor for stories of harassment and assault, which were gathered with an altogether new sense of industry, indignation, and consequence. A bonfire subsisted on the shredded reputations of high-profile men; communal nests of solace and of recourse were fashioned from the feathered remnants of their careers.


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<i>The Book Of Joan: A Novel</i><br>by Lidia Yuknavitch<br>288 pp. HB<br />HaperCollins, 2017

Cli-Fi

December 20, 2017

“Cli-Fi,” the latest portmanteau construction with which critics try to corral runaway culture (“postmodern,” e.g.), first turned up in a 2007 tweet. The coinage puts together fiction and climate, implying “climate change,” and it rhymes closely with “sci-fi.” Science fiction, after all, provides earmarks for any narrative that draws on threats like global warming. Such a story must peek into the future and raise questions of humanity’s purpose, its place in the biosphere. Thus a winner of science fiction’s Hugo and Nebula, Paolo Bacigalupi, is the first of the cli-fi authors named in a 2015 Atlantic article. Others mentioned, however, include Margaret Atwood, whose novels are sometimes speculative, sometimes straightforward—and in The Blind Assassin, both at once. The flag-bearer for the movement may be Jeff VanderMeer, whose Southern Reach Trilogy enjoyed success all over the planet while imagining a planet stripped of technology. VanderMeer wrote the ars poetica for cli-fi, “The Slow Apocalypse and Fiction,” a 2015 piece which worried that, when it comes to the endangered ecosystem, “fiction is languishing behind other disciplines.”

VQR Online

Making Sausages: Images of Governance

March 14, 2014

During recent snowbound days, I indulged in a bout of binging the second season of House of Cards, the celebrated political drama starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and a brilliantly cast supporting ensemble. Actually, I did the same binge with the [...]

A Gun and a Girl: The Case for Hard Case Crime

October 4, 2013

Any scan of the bestseller lists shows a national book culture awash in pulp. But all those hungry zombies, vengeful angels, vampire lovers, scrappy postapocalyptic teens, and fairy princess-warriors with wicked blades and toned physiques bear litt [...]

An Open Letter to Jonathan Franzen

September 20, 2013

  Jonathan Franzen at the 2011 Time 100 gala / by David Shankbone   Hi, Jonathan, I read your essay in the Guardian, and, I have to say, I’m worried about your professional legacy. I agree with some of what you had to say, disagre [...]