If you're in New York (and right about now, I wish I were), you might be interested to know that my esteemed colleagues in the English Department at the CUNY Graduate Center have organized a two-day conference (entitled, believe it or not, "Spanking and Poetry") to pay tribute to the late Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who was a beloved member of the faculty. More information here.
Ruth Franklin says in her New Republic review of the new Dalkey Archive anthology Best European Fiction 2010 what I wanted to say in mine, but didn't, as I just don't have the chops when it comes to contemporary American literature:
"I was surprised to find Smith (a British writer of Caribbean descent who lives partly in the United States) pronouncing a strangely antiquated definition of American writing in her introduction to Best European Fiction 2010, a new anthology edited by Aleksandar Hemon and published by Dalkey Archive Press. “It seems old-fashioned to speak of a ‘Continental’ or specifically ‘European’ style,” Smith (correctly) begins, but she continues: “If the title of this book were to be removed and switched with that of an anthology of the American short story, isn’t it true that only a fool would be confused as to which was truly which?” The differences, she argues, go beyond the “obvious matter of foreign names and places.” European fiction shows “a strong tendency towards the metafictional”; an interest in magic realism (one writer enjoys a fantasy breakfast with Murakami; another imagines that Gustav Klimt has 14 illegitimate sons all named Gustav); and an “epigraphic, disjointed structure” featuring abrupt endings. These stories, she concludes, “seem to come from a different family than those long anecdotes ending in epiphany, popularized by O. Henry.” And these writers’ models are not O. Henry or Hemingway, but Barth, Barthelme, Beckett, Kafka, Sebald.
O. Henry! When was the last time you saw a reference to him in a contemporary American short story—or anywhere else? What struck me about Smith’s description of this supposedly European style was how well it applies to new American writing. Today, the greatest remaining practitioners of the traditional, linear short story Smith seems to be invoking are Alice Munro and William Trevor—neither of whom is American. (She’s Canadian, he’s Irish.) Meanwhile, in American fiction, the kind of fragmentary, fantastic writing that was once experimental has now become common, thanks to the influence of literary journals such as McSweeney’s (as I once argued in Slate). Barth and Barthelme—both of whom are American—are most definitely among the progenitors of this work, but Murakami and Houellebecq are its current patron saints. Kafka’s influence, of course, is a given everywhere, but Sebald was far more popular in England and the United States than among his compatriots on the Continent."
Any observations I might personally make about American literature would be based on instinct and a partial reading history, but by no means do I feel well-versed enough in contemporary American writing to make this kind of claim.
However. I did ardently disagree with Smith's claim that only a fool would think he was holding a collection of American short stories in his hand. Call me a fool, but I don't care:
1) The influence of American writers like David Foster Wallace, Donald Barthelme, John Barth, et al, on these European writers is inarguable
2) The influences fuelling this European writing are exactly those that fuel American writers (as Franklin points out)
3) The only difference, then, is of cultural, social, political context. And *that* is what I focus on in my review. Which you'll get to see any day now. Right Scott?
Just got my copy of the latest issue of the Paris-based literary journal Upstairs at Duroc. I have a piece in this issue! It's number 11. (I was born on the 11th. 11 is a great number.) The issue includes work by Michelle Naka Pierce, Susana Sulic, & George Vance, among others, and translations by Jennifer K. Dick, Rufo Quintavalle, and Barbara Beck. You know, the kinds of writers whose work I'm usually admiring from the audience at IVY Paris. It's quite an honor.
You'll want to order your copy from WICE. They'll take care of you.
The new translation of Simone de Beauvoir's foundational feminist work The Second Sex was published in the UK in late 2009 (I wrote about it here). It took some time for Beauvoir scholars to work their way through it, and one critic in particular–feminist scholar and Duke professor Toril Moi– found the re-translation to be mostly a failure, tearing it apart in a recent essay in the London Review of Books.
Moi's essay has made such waves that Margaret Simons, philosopher professor and Beauvoir expert (and author of the original essay alerting everyone to the fact that the Parshley translation was incomplete and inaccurate), sent out a call on a philosophy list-serv for corrections to the UK edition, "which
the translators have another day or two to correct in the US edition." It's a relief, then, to know that although this translation may not be ideal, the howlers which Moi identified can at least be put right for the US edition (and future UK editions). I tend to think Moi will consider the flaws to be more than simply cosmetic; Simons, on the other hand, calls it a" tremendous advance over the Parshley translation in accuracy and completeness."
I guess we'll all have to stay tuned for la suite.