28 June 2007

Rechy, John. City of Night. New York: Grove, 1963.

When I first picked this book up, I thought its first sentence was incredible:
Later I would think of America as one vast City of Night stretching gaudily from Times Square to Hollywood Boulevard — jukebox-winking, rock-n-roll-moaning: America at night fusing its darkcities into the unmistakeable shape of loneliness.
It's a bit mannered, isn't it? Doesn't read so hot after 380 pages of such stuff, and can a man get away with pronouncing his novel's title in caps in the novel's opening sentence?

This isn't a very good book, despite what people such as James Baldwin and Christopher Isherwood had to say about it. Picture On the Road as if it were written by a male hustler about the world of hustling, and imagine that this hustler narrator thought of reciprocal male-male sex as a threat to masculinity, and that masculinity as defined by, like, the 19th-century frontier was something that had to be held onto at all costs.

It, like most things, would be less tedious if it were much shorter. I think in 1963 there was something compelling by the creatures of the gay underworld that Rechy portrayed, but these days, if people want to read about a man who likes to dress up as a Nazi and get pissed on and kicked in the balls, all they have to do is watch some CBS one-hour drama.

Boswell, Marshall. Understanding David Foster Wallace. Columbia, S.C.: U of South Carolina P, 2003.

I like to read David Foster Wallace because he makes me feel smart. He uses big long words and his sentences and paragraphs are constructed in ways that keep my mind working and reward that work at the end.

Of course, I could get this sort of experience from any old boring postmodernist, and this leads me to the second, better reason that I like to read DFW, which is that he makes me feel emotionally inadequate. Or like, not up to snuff. Beyond all the po-mo hoo-hah, his fiction always seems to bring me face-to-face with hard and difficult emotion-based urgencies. His fiction is so often about the importance of intra-personal connections at a time when such a thing is seen as little more than an icky pop-psychology term, rather than a genuine something to be worked toward.

So I've known this about DFW for a while, and I've felt for a while that he's the most important person writing books today, and so fortunately for me Marshall Boswell is around to assure me that my own beliefs have a critical basis and then to put my hazy vague feelings down in smart insightful language. In other words, his book is criticism at its best.

Boswell's thesis is that the idea at the core of every major fictional work of DFW is that cynicism and naïveté aren't mutually exclusive. Turns out this exact phrase appears in his major works, which, for the DFW-heads out there (all one of you), is probably worth citing. Quoting Boswell:
"Culture-wise," he writes in "E Unibus Pluram," "shall I spend much of your time pointing out the degree to which televisual values influence the contemporary mood of jaded weltschmerz, self-mocking materialism, blank indifference, and the delusion that cynicism and naïveté are mutually exclusive? Similarly in "Westward [the Course of Empire Takes Its Way]," the narrator remarks that D.L., the novella's resident postmodern metafictionalist suffers from the delusion "that cynicism and naïveté are mutually exclusive." Finally, in Infinite Jest, amid a long digression told from the point of view of Wallace's autobiographical doppelgänger Hal Incandenza on the most recent "Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world weariness or hip ennui," the narrator speaks about "that queerly persistent U.S. myth that cynicism and naïveté are mutually exclusive." (16)
So: in the way that the postmodernists (Barth, I'm looking in your direction) used irony to expose the hypocrisies behind myth and the singular perception that the modernists championed so much, DFW uses irony to expose the emptiness and self-aggrandizement behind postmodernists' hip irony. He ironizes irony and what's left is heartfelt emotion.

Don't believe me? Read the book. Or, actually, read DFW's books. But don't read Oblivion, which I've been revisiting since finishing Boswell's book and I'm not sure he's actually doing anything with those stories....

15 June 2007

Myers, Dusty. The Contemporary Novel: 1961 to the Present. Lincoln: Unpublished, 2007.

The field list is meant to be more general than the focus. There was, I think, some consternation that this field was actually a focus, and that I should have chosen "Twentieth Century Fiction."

I say "Bollocks." The 20th century is one-third as interesting as the 21st:

  • Allison, Dorothy. Bastard Out of Carolina. New York: Plume, 1993.
  • Atwood, Margaret. The Blind Assassin. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2000.
  • Bellow, Saul. Herzog. 1964. New York: Penguin, 2003.
  • Calvino, Italo. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. 1979. New York: Knopf, 1993.
  • Cisneros, Sandra. Caramelo. New York: Knopf, 2003.
  • Coetzee, J.M. The Life and Times of Michael K. New York: Penguin, 1985.
  • Danticat, Edwidge. The Farming of Bones. New York: Penguin, 1999.
  • DeLillo, Don. White Noise. 1985. New York: Penguin: 1999.
  • Didion, Joan. Democracy. 1984. New York: Vintage, 1995.
  • Erdrich, Louise. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. New York: Perennial, 2002.
  • Foer, Jonathan Safran. Everything is Illuminated. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Artist of the Floating World. New York: Knopf, 1989.
  • Jin, Ha. Waiting. New York: Knopf , 2000.
  • Jones, Edward P. The Known World. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.
  • Kundera, Milan. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. 1979. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
  • Lessing, Doris. The Golden Notebook. 1961. New York: HarperCollins, 1999.
  • Márquez, Gabriel García. One Hundred Years of Solitude. 1967. New York: Perennial Classics, 1998.
  • McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian. 1985. New York: Knopf, 1992.
  • McEwan, Ian. Atonement. New York: Nan A. Talese, 2001.
  • Mitchell, David. The Cloud Atlas. New York: Random House, 2004.
  • Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Plume, 1987.
  • Murakami, Haruki. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. New York: Knopf, 1998.
  • Nabokov, Vladimir. Pale Fire. 1962. New York: Knopf, 1989.
  • Naipaul, V.S. A Bend in the River. 1979. New York: Knopf, 1989.
  • Oates, Joyce Carol. Wonderland. 1971. New York: Random House, 2006.
  • Ondaatje, Michael. Anil's Ghost. New York: Vintage International, 2000.
  • Pynchon, Thomas. V. 1966. New York: Perennial Library, 1990.
  • Roth, Philip. American Pastoral. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
  • Rushdie, Salman. Midnight's Children. 1981. New York: Random House, 2006.
  • Sebald, W.G. The Emigrants. 1993. New York: New Directions, 1997.
  • Smith, Zadie. White Teeth. New York: Vintage International, 2000.
  • Soyinka, Wole. The Interpreters. 1963. New York: Heinemann, 1984.
  • Wallace, David Foster. Infinite Jest. Boston: Back Bay Books, 1996.
  • Greaney, Michael. Contemporary Fiction and the Uses of Theory. New York: Palgrave, 2006.
  • Hardt, Michael and Negri, Antonio. Empire. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000.
  • Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1988.
  • Hume, Kathryn. American Dream, American Nightmare. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2000.
  • Su, John J. Ethics and Nostalgia in the Contemporary Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2005.
  • Eco, Umberto. Six Walks in the Fictional Woods. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1994.
  • Franzen, Jonathan. “Perchance to Dream: In the Age of Images, a Reason to Write Novels.” Harper’s Magazine Apr. 1996: 35-53.
  • Kundera, Milan. The Art of the Novel. 1986. New York: Perennial Classics, 2003.
  • Marcus, Ben. “Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life as We Know It.” Harper’s Magazine Oct. 2005: 39-52.
  • Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York: Vintage, 1992.
  • Smiley, Jane. Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. New York: Knopf, 2005.
  • Wallace, David Foster. "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction." (I don't have the full citation on hand.)
  • Wolfe, Tom. “Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast: A Literary Manifesto for the New Social Novel.” Harper’s Magazine Nov. 1989: 45-56.

Myers, Dusty. The Post-Gay Novel. Lincoln: Unpublished, 2007.

I'm not reading these days. I mean: I'm not reading much these days. At nights, when I don't want to just fall into bed, I'm picking up and reading Understanding David Foster Wallace, which I'll Finish! in a couple weeks' time. Remember the semester? It was all zoom! read!

At any rate, as a means of keeping this page from getting too stale while also giving the devoted reader a forecast of what's probably to come, I've decided to post my comprehensive-exam booklists. Many of these have been read before, by me, while employing inexplicably the passive voice, but many have not, so prepare yourselves.

This is the focus list. Specialized:

  • Arenas, Reinaldo. "The Brightest Star." Old Rosa. 1984. New York: Grove, 1994.
  • Baldwin, James. Giovanni's Room. 1956. New York: Dell, 1964.
  • Chabon, Michael. Wonder Boys. 1995. New York: St. Martin’s P, 2000.
  • Cheever, John. Falconer. New York: Ballantine, 1977.
  • Cooper, Dennis. Closer. 1989. New York: Grove, 1994.
  • Cunningham, Michael. The Hours. New York: Picador, 2000.
  • Delany, Samuel R. Hogg. 1973. Tallahassee: Fiction Collective 2, 2004.
  • Firbank, Ronald. “Valmouth.” 1919. Five Novels of Ronald Firbank. New York: New Directions, 1969.
  • Forster, E.M. Maurice. New York: Signet, 1973.
  • Genet, Jean. Our Lady of the Flowers. 1944. New York: Grove, 1987.
  • Gide, André. The Counterfeiters. 1926. New York: Vintage, 1973.
  • Gurganus, Allen. Plays Well with Others. New York: Knopf, 1997.
  • Holleran, Andrew. Dancer from the Dance. New York: William Morrow, 1978.
  • Hollinghurst, Alan. The Line of Beauty. New York: Bloomsbury, 2004.
  • Isherwood, Christopher. A Single Man. 1964. New York: Bard, 1978.
  • Kramer, Larry. Faggots. New York: Plume, 1978.
  • Kushner, Tony. Angels in America. 1993. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2003.
  • Leavitt, David. The Lost Language of Cranes. 1986. New York: Bloomsbury, 2005.
  • Mann, Thomas. Death in Venice. 1912. New York: Vintage, 1954.
  • McNally, Terrence. Corpus Christi. New York: Grove, 1999.
  • Mishima, Yukio. Forbidden Colors. 1953. New York: Knopf, 1999.
  • Monette, Paul. Afterlife. New York: Avon, 1991.
  • Peck, Dale. Martin and John. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993.
  • Proust, Marcel. Sodom & Gomorrah. 1922. New York: Penguin, 2005.
  • Rechy, John. City of Night. 1963. New York: Grove, 1988.
  • Self, Will. Dorian: An Imitation. New York: Grove, 2002.
  • Selvadurai, Shyam. Funny Boy. 1995. New York: Harcourt, 1997.
  • White, Edmund. The Farewell Symphony. New York: Vintage, 1998.
  • Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray. 1890. New York: Modern Library, 2004.
  • Williams, Tennessee. The Glass Menagerie. 1944. New York: New Directions, 1999.
  • Adams, Stephen. The Homosexual as Hero in Contemporary Fiction. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1980.
  • Alderson, David and Anderson, Linda. Territories of Desire in Queer Culture. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000.
  • Bergman, David. Gaiety Transfigured: Gay Self-Representation in American Literature. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1991.
  • Butler, Judith. Bodies that Matter. New York: Routledge, 1993.
  • Fiedler, Leslie. Love and Death in the American Novel. 1960. Normal: Dalkey Archive, 1997.
  • Foucault, Michel. A History of Sexuality: An Introduction. 1977. New York: Knopf, 1990.
  • Harris, Richard. The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture. New York: Hyperion, 1997.
  • Lilly, Mark. Gay Men’s Literature in the Twentieth Century. New York: New York UP, 1993.
  • Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: U of California P, 1990.
  • Tóibín, Colm. Love in a Dark Time and Other Explorations of Gay Lives and Literature. New York: Scribner, 2001.