Monday, January 30, 2012

Books and Car Shows


I think of the creation of my new novel as I would the creation of a new model of automobile. I want to present a new type, a brand new model the like of which people have never seen. I want to do this and still make it driveable, er, readable.

The book will be readable, but it will also be complex, filled with ideas and meaning. Tightly organized. There will be strong characters-- how readers react to the characters is unknown. I include much strong dialogue and fiery rhetoric. I play to my strengths. No preaching, however, and no solitary viewpoint. I give all sides. There will be a few set pieces: a press conference, a protest, a football game.

What's a set piece? Tolstoy was a master of set pieces. In Anna Karenina, the horse race, the peasant work scene, and the birth scene are set pieces. I don't pretend to approach Tolstoy in ability, or in anything. He remains a model to consider all the same. One learns from the greats-- then synthesizes what you learn according to your own needs.

I'm not building a big and slow luxury model vehicle. "Novel of Manners." Those are out-of-date, despite the fact the bigs like publishing them. You can buy a Franzen novel if that's the kind of car you like. My offering aims to be fast and sporty, but also powerful. I'll be squeezing in a big engine. Much horsepower. The question is how far I achieve all or any of this.

Features: A Question

What do you want in a novel? What features do you as a reader most like? Dialogue? Action? What? What would your ideal novel look like? (I'm attempting to create the perfect novel.) What novelist in your opinion has approached the ideal? In what way?

Just asking.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Another Blitz Review

Two more reviews actually, of two very different books, one by esteemed British literary writer Edna O'Brien, the other by Christian author Joel C. Rosenberg, whose books and violent viewpoint don't strike this commentator as very Christian. But what do I know?

Read the book reviews at

See how they rate.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Different Kind of French Writer

To cleanse my palate from Gilles Deleuze I'm reading a novel by a very different kind of French author, The Conquerors by Andre Malraux. A novel about revolution. Malroux lived an amazing life. He wrote two novels about the Chinese revolution-- had lived in Southeast Asia as a young man. In the 1930's he was heavily involved on the Republican/Popular Front side during the Spanish Civil War. In the 1940's, a heroic member of the French Resistance. The genuine article. After the war Malraux was a Gaullist, later Minister of Culture. No knee-jerk ideologue, obviously.

Malraux believed that literature was an integral part of a nation's-- and the world's-- culture. Everything about Malraux's life and writings screamed out about the RELEVANCE of literature and writers.

The question: Why do American universities teach courses on French writers who are charlatans and quacks, the Deleuzes and Robbe-Grillets of French literature whose every ridiculous word is about making literature irrelevant to the world? The alternative of relevance , in the person of Andre Malraux, is easily found.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Nietzsche or Jesus?

I've been in a discussion of sorts with a friend about the ideas of Nietzsche, which I see as regrettably postmodern, the cause of great misery last century. This friend loaned me a book by Gilles Deleuze (Deleuze? isn't that an energy drink?) containing an essay which attempts to explain Nietzsche to the lay reader. My reaction to the essay follows.

There are two layers to Deleuze's essay, what he says, and what he's really saying.

What Deleuze is really saying is that Nietzschean philosophy is a room in a broken house. The room has large fissures in it. Deleuze, the landlord, is trying to plaster over those fissures.

To do so he has to try, in typical postmodern fashion, to redefine terms. In postmodern land, words never mean what they seem to mean, but something else. "The strong," "the weak," "master," "slave"-- the words when used by Nietzsche don't mean what you think. In some cases they might mean the opposite. It's a convolution necessary to explain Nietzsche to the wary reader. "Will to power," then, doesn't mean "will to power." Or it does, but not exactly. Any relation of "Triumph of the Will" to "will to power" is accidental. A misinterpretation.

What Deleuze is saying is that Nietzsche's ideas, at best, are subject to a lot of misinterpretation.

Nietzsche was famously hostile to God and Christianity. It seems to me that he (or Deleuze) gets the concept wrong when he calls Christianity a religion of death. Talk about misinterpretation! What made Christianity remarkable was that it burst on the scene as a religion of life. It's two biggest holidays celebrate birth, and rebirth. Easter was the starting point of, and reason for, Christianity. Resurrection was the crux of its appeal.

The idea of resurrection went back far into ancient times. The fact of resurrection is fundamental to nature.

The pagan religions which Christianity displaced were more like cultures of death. There was little value placed on human life. Murder, infanticide, war, blood in the arena-- trivial things to the Roman Empire, whose prevailing ethos, in practice, was power, raw power, the unceasing glorification and promotion of power.

The crucifixion of a revolutionary named Jesus was a simple demonstration of that imperial power.

It's been said that the quick face-to-face encounter between Pontius Pilate and Jesus was a cosmic event. Representative of Caesar, personification of the mightiest and most ruthless empire known, meets insignificant peasant. "What is truth?" Pilate asks, as a true postmodernist for whom truth is relative and conditional. Truth to him is a manifestation of power.

Can we say that Pilate was "the strong" and Jesus "the weak"? I don't know. It might be a reach. (Have more energy drink.)

The encounter was cosmic because Jesus-- if only historically- transcended the bounds of time and space. The ultimate yin-yang; flipping strength and weakness. The unknown's tiny and powerless movement of the poor, the sick, the weak, would overturn Rome itself. An unbelievable happening. Inexplicable to this day.

Some of Nietzsche's ideas, like the "Last Pope," seem borrowed from, or influenced by, Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov.

Remember the debate between the two brothers? Just as Jesus "loses" to Pontius Pilate, Alyosha Karamazov doesn't prevail in the intellectual discussion against the pitiless atheistic logic of Ivan's tale. The Inquisitor represents power. Alyosha is a representative of Christ. He's not meant to win. He represents something other than intellect. His argument is on another level, from another realm. It's not even an argument. He just is. He represents humanity and what's best in humanity.

It's the genius of Dostoevsky that he not only presents the opposing side to his theme, but makes it overpowering.

One who enjoys the harsh poetry of Nietzsche shouldn't read Dostoevsky. There's no room in Nietzsche for pity and charity. Pity runs throughout The Brothers Karamazov, the author crying out on every other page for the powerless, the weak.

When I think about pity, about the strong and the weak, I think of another literary work, one that rivals Karamazov in emotional power and transcendent meaning, Shakespeare's King Lear.

Recall the plot: A clash of generational viewpoints. Lear is opposed by two of his daughters and their strong-willed husbands, who parallel in too-many ways the conscienceless postmodern yuppies of today. Disciplined, monied, ambitious-- outraged by Lear's drunken irresponsible merrymaking.

One of the son-in-laws-- Cornwall, the embodiment of casual evil-- fearing that an old friend of Lear's, Gloucester, has been in contact with the exiled king, gouges the man's eyes out. A truly horrific moment. One cannot but have pity while experiencing this scene. Do you recall what happens? One of Cornwall's nameless men, a servant, a nobody, in outrage and pity, stands up to the important nobleman and attempts to stop what he's doing. He's run through by Cornwall, but mortally wounds Cornwall in return. Most important is that he stands up, for the weak, for humanity, for the good, against pure conscienceless power. It's a great moment, because it's unexpected. It reveals selfless hope in a world of egoistic hopelessness. It shows that conscience-- pity, charity, goodness-- is never dead, even when the universe appears most brutal, most inhuman. It's a Christian moment. I don't believe Nietzsche would like it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Great Novelists Today?


It's an important question. There need to be exemplars, recognized masterpieces of art, that the artist strives to equal. It's in that striving that we become better writers. This involves understanding what the "best" or "greatest" means.

What do we mean by a great writer?

In my view, two aspects feed off each other.

1.) That the novelist be artistically great-- which means, large, innovative, important.

2.) The novelist have enough widespread popularity and appeal to be a national cultural figure. Or: a large persona. A compelling personality or story or intellect.

For the Czech Republic, poet and playwright Vaclav Havel was a great writer. In some ways for the entire world.

My example of a great American novelist is Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway wrote important novels beginning with The Sun Also Rises. He revolutionized the art with his style, a follow-through of the innovations of modernists like Stein, Pound, and Anderson. He was taken seriously as a thinker and an artist.

Hemingway bestrode American culture like a colossus. He was America, the American ethos and personality, in the flesh. The Hemingway persona was outsized-- instantly recognizable everyplace. He was a bigger cultural figure than any singer of his day (Jolson, Crosby, Sinatra); bigger than movie stars. Top movie actors like Gary Cooper and Ava Gardner were eager to meet him, hang with him, and star in movies based on his novels. When he wrote a series of magazine articles about bullfighting, it was a national cultural event.

Hemingway's standing shows that as big as literature may be, it can be much bigger, with the addition of exciting writers who are also dynamic thinkers and compelling personalities.

Where are they?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Is Realism Dead?

The question needs to be asked, as all we see in the literary field from high to low is a retreat from reality. From metafiction and magical realism to hobbits, wizards, zombies, and vampires, writers seem determined to run away from the world as it is. Once, literature confronted, explained, and tried to correct that world.

I have to give props then, to some extent, to Franzen for still writing traditional novels. He also partially escapes the utter mediocrity of most of those plying the narrow realism trade. He stands above them, in that he has a second-rate intelligence, while other writers are third-rate thinkers-- when they're able to think at all. Just my own opinion, of course.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Denise Darcel

A quick mention is in store about the passing of actress Denise Darcel, who may have been the sexiest actress ever. Her best film, "Westward the Women," is one of the most underrated movies ever made. Take a look at it some time and see what you think.

The Creation of Modernism

When you read the details of the publication of Eliot's "The Wasteland," you realize that the literary modernists were outsiders. They defined themselves as outsiders. The mainstream publishing world, and the literary establishment of the day, were something apart from them. The modernists were a genuine avant-garde.

That the movement was long ago coopted and embraced by the literary establishment doesn't alter this. The leading figures of modernism-- Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Stein, Hemingway-- came from outside. The REJECTION of their art was proof that what they were creating was different, a new road away from the accepted.

Literary modernism was the creation of one man, a visionary, Ezra Pound, who had the vision to see the writers he knew and liked as a movement. Within the larger movement were smaller movements, failed attempts. The creation of the overall vision progressed in fits and starts.

Who has the vision to see beyond the now? It's necessary for an art to renew itself.

The progress of a new avant-garde is hindered by the existence of a fake avant-garde. How do you know it's fake? Because it represents power.

A revolutionary art movement isn't recognized until the recognition of landmarks; artistically radical signposts that turn the art on its head. Once the movement is recognized, it's over.

To young writers: Writing programs, almost by definition, accept only the now. But the true task of the new writer is to destroy the now.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Golden Age Now?


The study of literary history imparts a bias toward the idea of golden ages, the thought that literature was once better than it is today. This idea expresses a cyclical conception of history, or wave theory, which states that an art like everything travels through highs and lows.

To this bias, there's an opposing bias toward the present which is at least as strong, because it conforms to our built-in viewpoint. We grow up in the myth of unbroken progress. We assume everything's better today. We can read about, but can't really know past greatness, because we weren't there. It's impossible to completely understand previous phenomena. The past is unfamilar, and so, inferior.

For instance, how "big" the Beatles were in their heyday. One can try to quantify it-- say, that one out of four records bought on the planet was a Beatles record, or whatever it was. But that doesn't adequately describe what Beatlemania was like. Only those who lived through it know. For others, it requires a leap of the imagination.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Writing a Novel

My chief focus over coming weeks, here and at my other blogs, will be thinking about and discussing the art of the novel. I'm writing a novel-- resuming one I began a year ago. I've written many "mini-novels" (see Crime City USA). I have a good sense of form. Now I intend to achieve the genuine article. I've studied the failings of literary and popular novels both, and hope to overcome them. My task is to write something good.

For this topic, I'm reopening Comments. I'll ask first, if anyone's interested-- and has done some thinking about the matter, "What makes a great novel?"

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Novel Criticism


Expecting my p.o. box to be swamped with review copies, my original plan with Blitz Book Review ( was to write very many quick but entertaining reviews. Since the expected apocalyptic deluge of books hasn't occurred, I'm modifying my strategy.

Expect me to mix brief reviews with larger think pieces, in which the overarching question will be, "What makes a novel great?"

First up in that direction, if not it's realization, is a look at the genre novel via a review of Steve Martini's Trader of Secrets.

I've oft been accused of attacking highly-praised "literary" writers, while ignoring the best sellers. This review rectifies that without in any way changing my ideas.

I also plan to revisit Jonathan Franzen, though my role will not be as a polemicist or literary activist. Different blogs, different viewpoints. I'll give what will try to be a dispassionate analysis of his Freedom, noting its strengths as well as its failings.

Can I write good criticism? We'll see.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Great Novelists

One wonders if great novelists of the past like Tolstoy, Zola, Dostoevsky would ever be published were they around today, given their unshakeable independence and iconoclastic personalities. These great men bowed to nobody. Today's literary and publishing worlds require strict conformity, jumping through hoops in obedience every step of the way, from the academy through dealing with editors and agents. The writer-- the artist; the creator-- is treated like an underling, required to come meekly hat-in-hand, with subservient mien-- the supplicant-- and say in a pleading voice, "Please publish me."

Ernest Hemingway for one, arguably America's last great literary personality, wasn't published that way. He was part of the underground lit scene of his day, publishing fiction in small publications, then allowing his friend Robert McAlmon to publish the first version of in our time. Big publishers then came to him, became the supplicants. 

Why do we see from those who are supposed to be our great novelists, Chad Harbach or Jonathan Franzen, the opposite of a larger-than-life personality? These two men anyway represent a kind of anti-charisma with meek personas generating no recognizable energy, not a speck, as if their personalities were long past broken on the wheel.

Where Are Today's Great Writers?

If the previous post sounds extreme, then it's because it's a response to the domination of the serious literary scene by a flawed philosophy, namely postmodernism.

One characteristic of a great writer, one would think, would be having a first-rate mind. First-rate novelists of the past like Tolstoy used their expansive intelligence to look outward, at the things of this world-- war, birth, death, the land, marriage-- and beyond the things of the world. It's not that today's writers are less intelligent than in the past-- it's what use they make of that intelligence. I'll concede that David Foster Wallace was highly intelligent. Yet because of his flawed philosophy, he used that intelligence to gaze inward, ever inward, fixed solipsistically on his own thoughts and feelings, and the minute sense impressions of life.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Reinventing Literature

When one looks at what passes today for the literary world, one sees archaic aesthetic ideas like postmodernism, convoluted and lifeless, wrapped in a shroud of stuffiness. There are a handful of competent writers but no one who's truly exciting, bolstered by not a single striking literary critic. It's why I've suggested knocking the entire decrepit structure down, picking out what to save from the rubble, and starting over.