Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Books Read - 2008

This is the final list of books I completed reading in 2008, in chronological order of completion (links are to posts in which I've either written about the book or the author, or posted excerpts), with comments and observations, not to mention statistical breakdown, to follow:

1. Swann's Way, Marcel Proust (C.K. Moncrieff & Terence Kilmartin, trans.; D.J. Enright revised) (re-read)
2. Within a Budding Grove, Marcel Proust (trans. as above)
3. The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx & Frederick Engels (Samuel Moore, trans.) (re-read?)
4. The German Ideology, Marx & Engels (C.Dutt, C.P.Magill, W.Lough trans.; C.J. Arthur, editor)
5. Moscow Diary, Walter Benjamin (Richard Sieburth, trans.; Gary Smith, editor)
6. God is not Great, Christopher Hitchens
7. The Guermantes Way, Marcel Proust (Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright, trans.)
8. Sodom and Gomorrah, Marcel Proust (trans. as above)
9. Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, Carl Wilson
10. To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings, T.S. Eliot
11. Taming Democracy: "The People," the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution, Terry Bouton
12. Human Smoke, Nicholson Baker
13. The Singer on the Shore, Gabriel Josipovici
14. Molloy, Samuel Beckett
15. Malone Dies, Samuel Beckett
16. Mythologies, Roland Barthes (Annette Lavers, trans.)
17. Heroes, John Pilger
18. Master of Reality, John Darnielle
19. Love and Living, Thomas Merton
20. Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot
21. The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett
22. The Captive, Marcel Proust (Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright, trans.)
23. The Fugitive, Marcel Proust (trans. as above)
24. Letter to His Father, Franz Kafka (Ernst Kaiser & Eithne Wilkins, trans.)
25. The Mirror of Criticism: Selected Reviews 1977-1982, Gabriel Josipovici
26. Time Regained, Marcel Proust (Andreas Mayor & Terance Kilmartin, trans.; D.J. Enright revised)
27. Bartleby & Co., Enrique Vila-Matas (Jonathan Dunne, trans.)
28. Montano's Malady, Enrique Vila-Matas (Jonathan Dunne, trans.)
29. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
30. The Inferno, Dante (Robert & Jean Hollander, trans.)
31. Orlando, Virginia Woolf
32. The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, Peter Handke (Michael Roloff, trans.)
33. Now, Gabriel Josipovici
34. Gargoyles, Thomas Bernhard (Richard & Clara Winston, trans.)
35. Adventures in Marxism, Marshall Berman
36. To the Finland Station, Edmund Wilson
37. The Spire, William Golding
38. Moo Pak, Gabriel Josipovici
39. Gathering Evidence, Thomas Bernhard (David McLintock, trans.)
40. Endgame, Volume I: The Problem of Civilization, Derrick Jensen
41. The Pleasure of the Text, Roland Barthes (Richard Miller, trans.)
42. Diary of a Bad Year, J.M. Coetzee
43. The World We Wish to See: Revolutionary Objectives in the Twenty-First Century, Samir Amin (James Membrez, trans.)
44. The Immortal Bartfuss, Aharon Appelfeld (Jeffrey M. Green, trans.)
45. War Without End: The Iraq War in Context, Michael Schwartz
46. Correction, Thomas Bernhard (Sophie Wilkins, trans.)
47. Home, Marilynne Robinson
48. Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said
49. The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolaño (Natasha Wimmer, trans.)
50. Touch, Gabriel Josipovici
51. A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett, Hugh Kenner
52. Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, Dahr Jamail
53. Reflections, Walter Benjamin (Edmund Jephcott, trans.)
54. Blindness, José Saramago (Giovanni Pontiero, trans.)
55. Endgame, Volume II: Resistance, Derrick Jensen
56. Spleen, Olive Moore
57. Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, Myla & Jon Kabat-Zinn
58. Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, Slavoj Žižek
59. The New Imperialism, David Harvey
60. The Actual, Saul Bellow
61. The Aspern Papers, Henry James

Some statistics
Number of books written by men: 56.5
Number of books written by women: 4.5 (!!)
Number of books which were acquired via the Big Dalkey Get: 0
Number of other Dalkey books: 1

Fiction or Poetry:
Number of books of fiction or Poetry: 30
Number of authors represented: 17
Number of books by female authors: 4
Number of female authors: 3
Number of books by American authors: 4 (including T.S. Eliot)
Number of American authors: 4
Number of books by African-American authors: 0
Number of African-American authors: 0
Number of books by non-American, English-language authors: 7
Number of non-American, English-language authors: 5
Number of books in translation: 19 (including all 3 by Beckett)
Number of authors of books in translation: 9
Number of translated books by female authors: 0
Number of foreign languages represented: 6 (German, French, Italian, Portugese, Hebrew, Spanish)
Most represented foreign language: French (10 total: Proust and Beckett)
Number of Nobel Prize-winners: 6 (Beckett, Bellow, Coetzee, Eliot, Golding, Saramago)
Number of books from before 1800: 1 (Dante)
Number of books from 1800 to 1899: 1 (James)
Number of books from 1900 to 1949: 11
Number of books from 1950 to 1989: 8
Number of books from 1990 to 1999: 5
Number of books from 2000 to 2007: 3
Number of books from 2008: 1 (Robinson)

Number of non-fiction books: 31
Number of books by female authors: .5
Number of books in translation: 9
Number that are memoirs of sorts or letters: 2 (Kafka, Bernhard)
Number that are philosophy or about philosophy: 0
Number that are books of criticism: 10
Number that are about politics or economics or history: 17
Number about pop music: 2
Number about science: 0
Number about parenting: 1

Comment & Observations:
Brief pointless note on the numbers: this is the first time, probably since I started reading fiction seriously more than a decade ago, when I read more non-fiction titles than fiction. (Though, with the late addition of The Aspern Papers, it's tighter, and may flip in fiction's favor, since I'm sort of ambivalent on what to call Darnielle's Master of Reality. Strictly speaking it's fiction, I guess, but for some reason it doesn't feel right to call it that.) Anyway, works are listed if I felt they could be justifiably called a "book". Certainly, single novels count, but then In Search of Lost Time is divided into seven parts, the fifth and sixth of which are contained in one volume (in the Moncrieff et al. translation, that is). So I count them as one each, contributing seven to the whole. I have the Grove 100-year anniversary edition of Beckett's works, which is everything packed into four volumes. If they were published individually originally (as books), I count them as such. But, while I counted Waiting for Godot last year, given its length (and would count any of Shakespeare's plays), I don't count the other short plays (no Krapp's Last Tape or Not I, for example).

Back to possibly less pointless observations: As noted earlier, see the Books of the Year Symposium at Mark Thwaite's Ready Steady Book for some of my thoughts on my reading year. For the most part, I won't discuss the books I mentioned over there. However, one book I forgot to mention and neglected to mention at all on this blog this year, was Carl Wilson's excellent entry in the 33 1/3 series, Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. It's putatively about Celine Dion, from the perspective of a decided non-fan perplexed by her popularity, but it's really a fascinating enquiry into the nature of taste and politics and democracy. I expected to write extensively about this book, but my apparent wholesale abandonment of music as a writing subject, plus my general busy-ness, meant it got left out.

Other thoughts: My main reading goal this year, as articulated in passing here, was pretty much limited to reading the whole of In Search of Lost Time, as well as Beckett's prose trilogy, both of which I did in fact read, even finishing them with plenty of time to spare before the birth of our daughter (which had seemed important to me, since I expected to see a drastic reduction in my available reading time). I expect them to be reading companions for some time (though I know I'll be re-reading the considerably shorter Beckett works much sooner!). I read a lot of works in translation, but other than Vila-Matas and Bolaño (and, well, Dante), this did not mean I was reading authors new to me (Bernhard, Handke, Saramago, Appelfeld, and of course Proust and Beckett were the familiar names).

I read more literary criticism, as I'd hoped; this amounted to seven full books, the three by Josipovici, two by Barthes, and books by Eliot and Kenner. (It doesn't seem to me that Benjamin's Reflections quite qualifies). I read a fairly large chunk of A.D. Nuttall's (so far very good) Shakespeare the Thinker, and of course struggled with Blanchot's The Space of Literature and Heidegger's Poetry, Language, Thought. And I read a substantial portion of part one of Kierkegaard's Either/Or. Obviously the last two are philosophy.

Other books I read portions of: I read the first three stories in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice collection, including the title story, or novella. So far I still struggle with Mann (in particular, here, there were some things about the Lowe-Porter translation that bugged me), but I hope to finish the collection, and possibly move on to Dr. Faustus in the new year (maybe even another attempt at scaling The Magic Mountain??). I dipped into Kafka's collected stories, reading primarily the very short pieces, having previously read most of the longer ones. I read about one quarter of Peter Brown's fascinating history, The Rise of Western Christendom. And of course I read bits and pieces of various books about pregnancy, childbirth, babies, parenting, breastfeeding, and, crucially, baby-related sleep issues.

Poetry! I've always had difficulty with poetry and have long felt this to be one of my great shortcomings as a reader (in that I sense that it limits my engagement with non-poetry as much as poetry itself). With Josipovici's guidance (via his beautiful essay collected in The Singer on the Shore), I decided to try Eliot's The Four Quartets, reading various parts of it several times. I found I could read it, with some limited understanding and appreciation. I also tried my hand at some of Wallace Stevens' poetry (we have a beat-up Vintage Collected Poems; unaccountably, I already covet the expensive Library of America edition), with limited success so far. And of course, I read The Inferno, my first real pass at Dante, in the Hollander & Hollander translation. I had a good time with it, though I confess I read it more like narrative (for the account being narrated), than like a reader of poetry, but I hope to be able to approach it differently in the future.

Finally, I took the plunge this year and began reading more seriously in and around Marx and political economy. Marshall Berman's fine essay collection, Adventures in Marxism, made me want to read Capital more than ever (though it also inspired me to read Edmund Wilson's interesting but rather bloated To the Finland Station, which, if I'd read it first, might have soured me on taking on Capital; happily, I was forewarned, both by Berman and by Louis Menand's imperfect introduction; also, Wilson's text comes more alive when he quotes Marx, so that's another indicator). So, I'm excited to actually read Capital itself next year (with as much guidance from David Harvey as I can manage to view), as well as Harvey's own The Limits to Capital. Finishing the year with Harvey's excellent The New Imperialism, which lucidly explains the crisis of capital overaccumulation (which I gather he lays out in the earlier Limits), I hope to be on much better footing than I would have been if I'd tackled Marx's mammoth work any earlier. Oh, and I re-started Ellen Meiksins Wood's Democracy Against Capitalism, again reading the first 60 pages or so; I should read the balance of it in the first part of the year, which should also help.

And so ends another fine year for reading. Here's to a great 2009. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The chocolate laxative

From Žižek's Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle (ellipses and italics in original):
The structure of the 'chocolate laxative', of a product containing the agent of its own containment, can be discerned throughout today's ideological landscape. There are two topics which determine today's tolerant liberal attitude towards others: respect for otherness, openness towards it, and obsessive fear of harassment--in short, the other is all right in so far as its presence is not intrusive, in so far as the other is not really other. . . . In strict analogy with the paradoxical structure of the chocolate laxative, tolerance thus coincides with its opposite: my duty to be tolerant towards the other effectively means that I should not get too close to her, or intrude into her space--in short, that I should respect her intolerance towards my overproximity. This is what is increasingly emerging as the central 'human right' in late-capitalist society: the right not to be 'harassed', that is, to be kept at safe distance from others. A similar structure is clearly present in the way we relate to capitalist profiteering: it is acceptable if it is counteracted with charitable activities--first you amass billions, then you return (part of) them to the needy. The same goes for war, for the emergent logic of humanitarian or pacifist militarism: war is permissible in so far as it really serves to bring about peace and democracy, or to create conditions for distributing humanitarian help. The same holds increasingly even for democracy and human rights: human rights are to be defended if they are 'rethought' in order to include torture and a permanent state of emergency; democracy is a good thing if it is cleansed of its populist 'excesses' and limited to those who are 'mature' enough to practise it.

This same structure of the chocolate laxative is also what makes a figure like George Soros ethically so repulsive: does he not stand for the most ruthless financial speculative exploitation combined with its counter-agent, humanitarian concern about the catastrophic social consequences of the unbridled market economy? Soros's very daily routine is an embodied lie: half of his working time is devoted to financial speculation, and the other half to 'humanitarian' activities (providing finance for cultural and democratic activities in post-Communist countries, writing essays and books) which ultimately combat the effects of his own speculation. Figures such as Soros are ideologically much more dangerous than crude direct market profiteers--this is where one should be truly Leninist, that is, react like Lenin when he heard a fellow Bolshevik praising a good priest who sincerely sympathized with the plight of the poor. Lenin retorted that what the Bolsheviks needed were priests who got drunk, robbed the peasants of the last remnants of their meagre resources, and raped their wives--for they made the peasants clearly aware of what priests in fact were, while the 'good' priests only confused this insight. (pp.151-153)

RSB Books of the Year Symposium

Things have been quiet around here, as my prediction that I'd be rather short of blogging time has finally come true. I have a few posts backlogged here, plus I should have my obligatory end-of-the-year reading round-up tomorrow, but in the meantime, please take a look at Ready Steady Book's Books of the Year 2008 Symposium, which again includes a contribution from me, as well as from numerous other bloggers and various non-blogging writers and critics.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Reading The Space of Literature (iv)

This series of posts came to an abrupt halt in the middle of my engagement with the opening essay, in part because of the very struggle I was having with it, which in part took me to Heidegger's Poetry, Language, Thought. And it needed quieter time than I have had, in which to both read the book and to think and take notes. But I had some moments more recently, and I return here, then, to "The Essential Solitude" after a lengthy absence. Turning the pages, I noticed that I had already marked off a passage that has direct bearing on the issues being discussed in the wake of Zadie Smith's recent essay (well, really the whole project has direct bearing, but this passage speaks to it in some of the same terms). Here is Blanchot:
The writer we call classic--at least in France--sacrifices within himself the idiom which is proper to him, but he does so in order to give voice to the universal. The calm of a regular form, the certainty of a language free from idiosyncrasy, where impersonal generality speaks, secures him a relation with truth--with truth which is beyond the person and purports to be beyond time. Then literature has the glorious solitude of reason, that rarefied life at the heart of the whole which would require resolution and courage if this reason were not in fact the stability of an ordered aristocratic society; that is, the noble satisfaction of a part of society which concentrates the whole within itself by isolating itself well above what sustains it.

When to write is to discover the interminable, the writer who enters this region does not leave himself behind in order to approach the universal. He does not move toward a surer world, a finer or better justified world where everything would be ordered according to the clarity of the impartial light of day. He does not discover the admirable language which speaks honorably for all.
The bourgeois novel, the "classic" novel, presents an ordered world, an ordered world where a universal Truth is accessible. But the writer who writes in his proper idiom does not have access to this, "does not discover the admirable language which speaks honorably for all".

I'm going to deal very loosely with the rest of this essay. I promise nothing. Quoted passages are, as always, from the translation by Ann Smock.

Blanchot writes about the writer's journal: not a confession, not the writer's story, but an act through which the writer remembers himself. Does this mean this is how the writer grounds himself? That route by which he staves off getting lost in the dangerous solitude? Lost in the fascination?

". . .fascination is solitude's gaze. It is the gaze of the incessant and interminable."

some (dictionary) definitions:
incessant: ceaseless, ongoing, without interruption
interminable: without end; connotes "endless", tedious even; dictionary includes "monotonously or annoyingly protracted or continued; unceasing"...

So, then, there is something potentially negative about it? About this gaze, this solitude? Or is negative not quite the right word? (Meanwhile, the section under the heading The Interminable, the Incessant I return to again and again, because I don't understand it, though it includes the clarity of the excerpt presented at the top of this entry. And again I am struck by how elusive much of Blanchot can be. I struggle to retain his meaning in my head, over time. Just as I've managed, I think, to nail down a phrase, or a term, he moves on to something that seems to rely on that term or phrase, and my understanding dissipates. But then, as I have described before, in relation to Benjamin, there are those wide open spaces, like the passage above, where I find myself breathing easier. Even the elusive passages keep me coming back. Not just because I'm trying to understand it, but because something just under the surface, or rather just beyond my ken, seems real in what he is saying. I struggle the same way with Poetry, Language, Thought, in which I also sense something just around the corner, coming into view, aided, this sense, by those observations that feel so right, that tell me that it must be worth struggling with.)

Working through the rest of this opening essay, words take on new meanings. No, not new meanings, that's not right. Words used with a greater precision than usual, words taken seriously, in all their weight. (When I wrote about my problems with certain writers, I skirted this point. We are used to a lazier writing. This is perhaps the hallmark of utilitarian writing, of everyday journalistic writing--use whatever seems to work, to get the general point across, then move on--not that journalism can't be more precise than it often is. But if the general point isn't enough?) On the one hand, then, words are used with greater precision; on the other, some of these words appear to serve technical functions, are part of a technical language distinct from everyday usage (perhaps the technical language of philosophy--part of the importance of Hegel and Heidegger here, I have no doubt) (though, perhaps even some of these are instances of a precision, becoming technical in our specific encounter with them). One such word here is "fascination" or "fascinating". I use the word a lot, casually, but when I do, it rarely quite means what I mean for it to mean. I employ it as a substitute, an elegant variation, when I don't want to say interesting or brilliant or engrossing or affecting or whatever. Of course the same is largely true of those words (not that I use them exactly interchangeably).

"Seeing pre-supposes distance, decisiveness which separates . . . Seeing means that this separation has nevertheless become an encounter." The gaze: one doesn't touch but is held by the gaze, this holding is a contact.

"What is given us by this contact at a distance is the image, and fascination is passion for the image." I catch myself lost in a gaze, fascinated by something, time seems to stop. Better: I watch my daughter, staring, the absorbed look in her eyes, but it's less a stare than a gaze (they talk of mother and nursing baby gazing into each others' eyes); she is fascinated, and though she may smile, it's usually not in the moment--not as she gazes--the smile interrupts the gaze, punctuates it. Interestingly, Blanchot calls childhood "the moment of fascination":
Perhaps the force of the maternal figure receives its intensity from the very force of fascination, and one might say then, that if the mother exerts this fascinating attraction it is because, appearing when the child lives altogether in fascination's gaze, she concentrates in herself all the powers of enchantment. It is because the child is fascinated that the mother is fascinating, and that is also why all the impressions of early childhood have a kind of fixity which comes from fascination.
Ok, time to finish up this round. I've taken some incoherent stabs at different parts of this essay. And clearly this essay leads into the next ("Approaching Literature's Space"), and so on. (And as Blanchot remarks in a note in the front of the book, the whole thing revolves around the center that is the essay "Orpheus' Gaze".) So it's perhaps a mistake to draw any conclusions from just the one essay. I note for now some recurring words: interminable, incessant, fascination, gaze, time's absence, solitude (of course). "To write is to enter into the affirmation of the solitude in which fascination threatens. It is to surrender to the risk of time's absence, where eternal starting over reigns." Why? He leaves the question open, at least for now . . . but what does this mean? Threatens? This sounds as though fascination is dangerous for the would-be writer. Again a negative connotation. No peaceful process, writing. Perhaps it starts to come together here: Writing is a risk. For the writer to write what is properly his or her to write, without an eye on so-called universal truths, the writer must be willing to take risks, willing to risk being lost in fascination. In the space where this fascination looms, this is where the writer enters, surrenders. . .

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Writing that is an event

From an interview with Carole Maso by David F. Hoenigman (link via Ron Silliman):
DH: Do you consider yourself an experimental writer?

CM: I do consider myself a writer of experiment in that the available models for writing novels for instance do not approximate the ways I perceive and experience story and so I am put into the position of continually trying to find resonant shapes to approximate the world I move through, and the ways in which I live in language. Because my forms are not borrowed or inherited or already decided every day is a day of great excitement and surprise and joy. I feel content is wed to form and so with each project the shape has to be reinvented to some degree—and this requires the willingness to experiment, to risk appearing ridiculous, to fail if necessary. I am much more interested in producing a flawed, mortal document, than something that is just a nod to a certain set of conventions. I also tend to favor writing that is an event in some way, and not just the record of an event; it creates a more vulnerable, fluid space, where the unforeseen, or the errant, or something a a little wild is allowed to enter. It's quite thrilling.

The haiku is not for me

This n+1 essay, about Roberto Bolaño and his reception by American readers and critics, includes this passage (italics in original):
American critics and regular readers alike usually don't care for sweeping literary-historical arguments. And yet in recent years we have been celebrating Sebald and Bolaño as if we really do believe in some big metanarrative about the novel—one that proclaims that, even post postmodernism, the form remains in crisis. Sure, Sebald and Bolaño deal with fascism, and both died at the height of their powers. More decisive is that neither fiction writer writes as if he believes in fiction. Our canonization of these writers implies a sense, even a conviction, that you can't be a really important novelist anymore unless you can't really write novels.
In a post responding to this essay, Scott Esposito addresses this passage thus:
Of course, when the unsigned editorialist says "can't really write novels," he/she is referring to novels in the 19th century (and maybe early 20th century) sense. Sebald's and Bolano's works are certainly novels, just not in the sense that some critics would like novels to only be viewed as."
I've wondered why we insist on having the word "novel" encompass so much. Why must it be asserted that the books written by Sebald and Bolaño "are certainly" novels? Are they? What is a novel? A novel is, presumably, everything, the genre-less genre, as I've said previously. Those critics, such as perhaps James Wood, who appear to be seeking to "limit" the novel, must then emerge as the enemy. (Though even for Wood, the novel is so flexible as to be just about anything, so long as it is "real".)

I was recently reading through the archives at zunguzungu, the excellent blog written by Aaron Bady that has too late come to my attention, and I came across this post from March, about a talk given at Berkeley by Franco Moretti. Moretti made the "provocative point that the high aesthetic novel is more of an epiphenomena of a mass commodity culture than the transcendence of it", and the "major question . . . was why the Chinese novel didn't develop like the novel did in Europe" . . . there are all sorts of obvious historical factors Moretti addresses: capitalism, imperialism, China's pre-industrial development, and so on. For Bady, these sorts of questions normally bother him, because "Why shouldn't [the Chinese novel] be different?" The question for him is "why the Chinese novel even gets called a novel in the first place, why a term of art derived from the French word for 'new' under a very historically contingent set of circumstances, in Europe, would be considered appropriate (to anyone) for reference to the classic long fictive prose narratives in China." He goes on (italics his):
the intractable problem at its roots, which is whether a novel is a novel because of historical or formal characteristics. One narrative of the rise of the novel points to the historical circumstances, the social factors that produce a particular kind of textual object and invest it with particular meanings and significance. Another narrative derives it from a structural form: the novel is a fictional narrative which is long and written in prose. That these "objective" features are historically defined (what it means to be fictional, for example, requires a secular consciousness) needs to be suppressed, as does the fact that giving history a legible form requires treating unreliably contingent objective forms as if they really were objective. But while history and form define each other, and are really separable, neither do the narratives collapse into each other. Is Robinson Crusoe a novel because that's what it was called at a certain point in history, or because it achieved some essentially novelistic form? If the former, a historical paradigm, then there can be no Chinese novel at all, just something that looks superficially similar from a distance. Yet if its the latter, a formalist definition, then how can a Chinese novel be Chinese?
I remember I used to think it was strange that there were Japanese novels. In part, I'm sure this had something to do with the logographic form of writing: I had a hard time imagining such works reading as novels. (Are Japanese prose works even written logographically?) I generally dismissed this puzzlement as my own problem, but the question nagged at me on occasion, though usually it remained just out of focus. Anyway, pondering the Japanese novel, I would think about those forms we're taught in grade school that belong to this or that national culture. We would write imitations for class assigments--haiku being the example that comes most readily to mind. But clearly haiku is not a form truly available to the writer writing in English. Later I would think of older European forms--the sonnet, say--and think to myself that the sonnet is not available to the contemporary writer. I could set out to compose a sonnet, yes, but it would be at best pastiche; however well done, however beautiful (or, more likely, ugly), it would stand awkwardly in relation to literary history, imitative, inappropriate, suspect, wrong. Its form is not for me, just as I understood intuitively that the haiku is not for me.

I was never really sure what precisely to think about my problem with the Japanese novel, but Bady's post zeroes in on some of what was troubling me. What is a novel? It seems to me that it's become defined down as simply "prose narrative of a certain length". Gabriel Josipovici has argued that the narrative mode of the 19th century novel became so dominant (not least because of England's--and to lesser extent France's--role as imperial power, I would add), that we expect it to hold true for very different sorts of narratives. The Bible, for example, we approach as if it should yield the same sorts of effects as would a George Eliot novel. When it does not yield these effects, we find it wanting, incomprehensible; or, we read effects into it that are not there, and could not be, an approach with numerous interpretative and affective pitfalls of its own. Why should the effects be similar? Why should we read a Japanese prose narrative as if it followed the same rules, created the same effects, as a Dickens novel? Why should contemporary prose works necessarily be treated as novels? Why do we insist that of course a given work is a novel, just not the kind of novel some readers expect? Why, indeed, should adventurous or exploratory or so-called experimental prose writing be subject to the same expectations as a novel? Why called a novel at all? (As always, I am ignoring the needs of the publishing industry.) Are Thomas Bernhard's works novels? Or might it be better to call them, simply, "prose works"? What about Blanchot's récit? Is Josipovici's Everything Passes a novel? David Markson's This Is Not A Novel was titled, so I understand, in response to what one reviewer reportedly actually wrote in dismissing Reader's Block, his previous work. But what if we just saw the title as simply accurate and then worked from there?