For this new year I have set the intention to write regularly, not only doing work on my so-called novel, but accompanying this daily fictional composition with blog entries, as if to give perspective to the world of the novel that inhabits my head. These entries serve as an entry point for me, a way to wake my brain and fingers, before I sit to work on my larger manuscript.
Today is Sunday, and what that means for me is a reprieve from the normal tedium; I will drink a latte, relax on my reading chair, and read the Sunday New York Times. This is my cherished Sunday ritual. My home delivery has been getting stolen from the lobby of my apartment building, so after recent cancellation, I must now make the trek down to the Tattered Cover to pick up a copy. I always read the “Book Review” section first, of course, before working through the rest of the paper. Today’s highlight is the review of Ben Marcus’s new collection of stories, Leaving the Sea. Jim Krusoe nails it with his statement that Marcus achieves his effect through “the Three D’s of contemporary fiction: Defamiliarization, Dystopia and Dysfunction, all of which pull us into the narration even as they reject our own lives.”
After reading the Benjamin Sher translation of Viktor Shklovsky’s Theory of Prose (1990, Introduction by Gerald L. Bruns), currently published by Dalkey Archive Press, I did some research and decided to read three earlier works on Russian Formalism that were originally published further back in the mid-twentieth century:
- Russian Formalism: History – Doctrine, Third Edition by Victor Erlich (1955, 1965, 1981)
- Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, Second Edition Translated and Introduction by Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis, Introduction by Gary Saul Morson (1965, 2012)
- Readings in Russian Poetics: Formalist and Structuralist Views Edited and Prefaced by Ladislav Matejka and Krystyna Pomorska, Introduction by Gerald L. Bruns (1971, 2002)
- The Prison-House of Language: A Critical Account of Structuralism and Russian Formalism by Fredric Jameson (1972) – This one is critical of Russian Formalism, for perspective.
Benjamin Sher argues for the use of the term “estrangement” rather than the term “defamiliarization” in the translator’s introduction to Theory of Prose. His translation of Theory of Prose was pleasant enough to read, but upon going back and reading one of the essays in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays translated by Lemon and Reis — “Art as Technique” — which is actually the first chapter of Theory of Prose, I would have to say that I prefer their rendering of the Russian word ostraniene as “defamiliarization.” I feel that sometimes in academia scholars want to make a contribution, a name, a controversy, something like this, and propose some change or revision which is perhaps is just trying to push a boundary, but might not be completely valid; I guess it’s just the dynamics of polemics, and to find perspective the whole dialogue or discourse must be viewed, thus my research. After studying this theory of Shklovsky’s, I relate most strongly to this earlier translation of the word, which is the one used by Jim Krusoe in today’s review of Ben Marcus’s new book: Defamiliarization.
Now I have to say that I somewhat, more-or-less enjoyed The Age of Wire and String and Notable American Women. I have a copy of but have not yet read The Flame Alphabet. I will probably end up buying Leaving the Sea at some point and eventually reading these last two books when I am in the proper mood. These are books that are only suitable for a particular mood, I would say. I don’t know that I really liked his first two books all that much–what I mean is that liked is not the right word, but I feel compelled to continue following him as an author for reasons larger than liked or didn’t like. The writing is intelligent and innovative and that is something I respect, and I respect him as an author, as well. The popularity of The Flame Alphabet gives me hope for the future of “innovative” or “experimental” writing. Ben Marcus published an essay, “Why experimental fiction threatens to destroy publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and life as we know it: A correction” in Harper’s Magazine, October 2005. This essay is partially a response to Jonathan Franzen’s essay, “Mr. Difficult: William Gaddis and the Problem of Hard-to-Read Books” which was published in the September 30, 2002 issue of The New Yorker. At this point there are a whole plethora of essays responding to this dialogue, so I am not going to address the issues brought up in these two essays just now. I think enough has been said for the moment, though I may craft a sequent sometime in the future. We’ll see.
Ben Marcus also published this cool little illustrated chapbook, The Father Costume, which, after having it on my AbeBooks saved search parameters of wants for a while, I finally found at a reasonable price. It is out of print and usually overpriced if you can find it. Worth it if you don’t have to pay too much; I recommend filling out a want with a maximum price under Abe and waiting for an email.
Ben Marcus edited The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories which is a decent anthology. I’ve seen it assigned in contemporary fiction type college classes. A good one for that.
The small/medium-press publisher Fiction Collective 2, or FC2, has held innovative fiction contests and they had Ben Marcus as the judge one year for the Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize. He chose Joanna Ruocco’s Another Governess / The Least Blacksmith: A Diptych and wrote the forward to it. It’s a wonderful little book worth reading.
The other section of this week’s NYT Book Review section I enjoyed was the “By the Book” with Chang-rae Lee. I always appreciate this section, for some reason, even if I don’t know or care for the author being interviewed. The questions are usually reasonably the same week to week and have mostly to do with books and authors the interviewee is into in one way or another. If the featured author is someone I like, as today, I will get out my computer, open a browser tab to Amazon, and add all relevant titles mentioned in the interview to my prodigious wish list. Today’s additions were Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross and Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins. One day I will read these. Maybe.
Perhaps I should title this blog “Confessions of a Bibliophile.” Cheers.