21 April 2008

A Monday Melange

Looking for an excuse to read a really good book? Look no further: The New York Times Reading Room blog is reading Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping. Pounce! (Tip of the Hat to Maud for putting us onto it.)

Uh, oh! Lookout! Those bad bad French theorists are coming back. (Don't you just hiss when you say that word?) It began with a Stanley Fish blog at nytimes.com when I was on Spring Break. Now, there's a part deux. The Reading Experience got in on the act early. And Scott McLemee did too. As did, apparently, over 600 commenters at Fish's blog. DFH's all. [I jest]. Our take is that Deconstruction is merely another flavor of analysis, not too distant from what Wittgenstein was up to in Philosophical Investigations or, even Kurt Godel. Yet, because it was too European, it threatened too many in the Anglo-American analytical philosophy camp. Still, one issue I might raise with Ghoti: Isn't taking a relativist position necessarily a political move? Fact is, Sartre and the existentialists declared that every act is a political act. Isn't Deconstruction, on Fish's appreciation, then, merely the antithesis of this move rather than a challenge to the 'truth' police?

There's never a bad time to check out The Valve or 3Quarks.

I'll end this post with a quote from my favorite crank, William Gass:
What the public wants, as the Pulitzer sees it...is an exciting story with a timely theme, although it may have a historical setting. The material should be handled simply and delivered in terms of sharp contrasts in order that the problems the novel raises can be decisively resolved. Ideally, it should be written in a style that is as invisible as Ralph Ellison's invisible man, so that the reader can let go of the words and grasp the situation the way one might the wheel of the family car. And since most of the consumers of fiction are women (or they were until women went in for the professions and other public works and now return home as tired and weary and in need of the screen's passive amusement as men), it won't hurt to fulfill a few of their longings, to grant, now and then, unconsciously an unconscious wish. Because we have a large, affluent, mildly educated middle class that has fundamentally the same tastes as the popular culture it grew up with, yet with pretensions to something more, something higher, something better suited to its half-opened eyes and spongy mind, there is a large industry of artists, academics, critics, and publicists eager to serve it—lean cuisine, if that's the thing—and the Pulitzer is ready with its rewards.
No, this prize for fiction is not disgraced by its banal and hokey choices. It is the critics and customers who have chosen and acclaimed them, who have bought the books and thought about them and called them literature and tried to stick them like gum on the pillars of our culture. It is they who have earned the opprobrium of this honor. Wm. H. Gass, "Pulitzer: The People's Prize," in Finding a Form, pp. 12-13.


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