Literary Criticism

Reading a Book About Roland Barthes

Barthes refers to what he calls the 'Flaubertization' of writing, by which he means a move to a notion of writing as 'hard work', a laborious craft. Writers such as Flaubert, in other words, attempted to cure their increasing sense of alienation from bourgeois Literature by figuring themselves as workers, craftsmen and craftswomen. It is obvious, however, how easily such a strategy can be absorbed by dominant culture and transformed into bourgeois cultural values which have always in themselves emphasized hard work and perseverance.

Thus, MFA programs, writer's workshops and James Wood.

...An even more important and far-reaching example follows the discussion of Flaubert's strategy of hard work, that being the emergence in the nineteenth century of the realist novel. Realism and Naturalism (nowadays a less commonly used term) set out to cure the alienation of literary writing by producing an accurate and artless form. One definition of realism in the novel which is still employed in university courses today is as follows: 'Realism, a form of writing which does not bring attention to its own artifice, its own constructedness'. Barthes's thesis is, however, confirmed in that very definition, since the realist novel, so dominant from the mid-nineteenth century to the present, is by definition an alienated form of writing, hiding its literariness at the same time as establishing this more as the standard of 'good writing', of 'literary' writing. Barthes refers to the fact that the realist novel is at one and the same time the kind of novel still privileged in bourgeois schools and the kind of novel officially sanctioned by Soviet Communism and its interenational off-shoots, such as the PCF (Writing Degree Zero: pg 58-61). The realist novel, far from creating an unalienated mode of writing, has become the 'sign of Literature' for both bourgeois and anti-bourgeois culture. ... Thus, a mode of writing that was created initially in an attempt to move beyond literary conventions towards an accurate representation of the social world, ends by establishing tenacious codes and conventions for the creation of the illusion of reality.

Roland Barthes, Graham Allen

Happy, In Fact: Amy King's Slaves to Do These Things

Time is a funny thing. It's only really there when you aren't paying any attention to it. Take notice of the passage of time, and it freezes in place, neither future nor past but rather the oppressive weight of a nowness that is paradoxically both never ending and impossibly fragile. There is a sense of this troubling temporality that shoots through all of Amy King's Slaves to Do These Things, which obsesses about temporal passage and what it does to us in a continual iteration of images. This "caughtness" by time is captured in lines like:

Buried by Midnight
I am a warm
fly in amber.

from "Miracle on the Hudson"


Usually no one goes
close enough to notice
the noise of biding time,
a vastly off-white habit
from patience.

from "Anarchy's Tiptoe"

What matters in these images, and others, recurring throughout the poems in this book, is that they establish time as a framework within which the entirety of the poet's concerns are found. This temporality is compounded by the sectioning of the book into the usual five acts of stage drama, forcing the rhythm and expectation of a linear dramatic narrative onto the inherently nonlinear scraps of theater contained within each Act. Here then, are the slaves, the characters and persons collected within King's poems bearing under the weight of the master time, and also the master of the poet who is never far from the page. Because these poems are in no way about time, but they are within time and the concerns of lust and love, sex and death, growth and evolution are all made heavy by the burden of time's whip upon them.

Atlas Shrugged?

Just a quick note to let people know that I do plan to eventually return to the Atlas Shrugged project. The problem is that I have moved and I can't find my copy of the book. At some point I'll break down and buy another one. But spending money on that trash weighs heavy on my heart and there are so many good books to read...

that having been said, to the jackasses on the Dune forum who were talking about me behind my back? Frank Herbert still couldn't write his way out of a paper bag. Dune is bad because the story stripped of the admittedly wonderful sci fi setting is predictable and boring, the quality of the prose is extremely poor, and the characters are wooden and one dimensional. there's much better space opera out there. Or at least there ought to be because really, there isn't.

Oh Amber...

Thank god for google alerts. Without it, I never would have learned that my name, and my real name at that and not the initials I use when I publish, is like ash on Amber Tamblyn's tongue.

She is apparently unaware of the various six degrees connections between us that make me something more to her than just some random dude on the internet.

Some background: because I'm a poet that means I'm generally tapped into the poetry world at large. Dear reader, you may be shocked to discover that the poetry world at large is actually extremely small.

I first became aware of Amber Tamblyn qua poet when my friend Rachel McKibbens pointed me to a pretty ridiculous interview of Amber Tamblyn by Sage Francis. Sage Francis is most famous as a backpack rapper, and by most accounts is quite the gifted MC. Unbeknownst to many people who are vaguely aware of his records, he first made his name as a Slam poet in Massachusetts before he got "sick of waiting tables" and went into the music biz. It's this fact that made the interview particularly ridiculous. Tamblyn, who was dating Sage at the time, was represented as an authority on poetry slam in the interview in which Sage Francis fronted complete ignorance of the form. This of course presented a sort of cognitive dissonance to those of us who know that Sage Francis has been a member of slam teams representing his local slam at nationals, and that Tamblyn traded in her B list celebrity for D list poetry fame by first embarking on a career as a poetry slam dilettante.

"I lit a cigarette and walked free/beyond the red light of the exit."

The title of this brief essay quotes from Louis Zukofsky's poem "A". It is the couplet early in the poem that hooked me.

I was moved to make this quotation as a means of using the quotation within the fair use doctrine. I found that I had this particular motivation after discovering that Paul Zukofsky had posted a cranky letter of "copyright notice" on the website he runs dedicated to "making money" off his parents' copyrights.

Initially I found the tenor and attitude of the notice to be extremely annoying. First because Paul Zukofsky clearly doesn't understand what copyright is or how it works and that this lack of understanding seems to persist in the face of the extreme simplicity of learning more about the subject. I find such willful ignorance a sort of personal affront as it is contrary to the requirements of a free and open society, a form of civilization that I am very much in favor of and in which I would like to continue to live.

From that point, however, I came to the conclusion that such extreme crankiness must in fact be evidence of something else and I was instead moved to pity for Paul Zukofsky. The tenor of his notice, found here, sounds to me in the voice of someone deeply alienated from humanity, a condition that, were it my own, I would find extremely painful. In the end, "I lit a cigarette and walked free beyond the red light of the exit."

Mr. Zukofsky, if you can find an attorney that is willing file a valid suit against me for this use, which I fully admit is a use contrary to your wishes as expressed in the copyright notice, I will remove the quotation. I do not expect that I shall have to live up to this comment.

I suggest you lighten up a touch and consult with an attorney familiar with US copyright law about what your rights as a copyright owner actually are. Also, your father is an obscure objectivist poet mostly remembered because he was seen as a major influence by the Language poets. I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for the royalty checks.

Atlas Shrugged Part 1, Pages 3-12: Who is John Galt?

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand is the worst book ever published. The characters are poorly drawn, the story is ridiculous, the philosophical underpinnings are incoherent and morally repugnant, and the writing is incompetent. Quite frankly and put as simply as I possibly can, there is no value to this book, it should not be read by anyone for any reason. And yet it is. By millions. It has sold a bajillion copies and is a touchstone of political thought for a wide swath of the American public who for some reason have come to the conclusion that it has something to offer. I offer in return the thesis that these people are fucking idiots. As a public service in order that no one else should ever have to read this garbage, I am undertaking the following analysis, in detail, of the book in its entirety, page by excruciatingly awful page. If you're interested in following along, it will be useful to know that all page references and quotations are from the 1999 Plume Paperback edition with a new introduction by Leonard Peikoff. But I discourage anyone from following along. It's my hope that this summary and close reading will be more entertaining than the actual text, and that one can read this instead of ever having to suffer through the actual book.