Thursday, August 11, 2011

"Great books" that aren't. (Haters gonna hate; sometimes they're right to.)

Tom Perrotta, Francine Prose, and others on "great books" that aren't great. - By Juliet Lapidos - Slate Magazine:

Joyce via I Just Read About That

Honestly I've never been persuaded by Ulysses. To my mind, Joyce's best and most genuine work is the wonderful Dubliners; everything afterwards smacks of striving to write a "great" work, rather than simply striving to write—it's all too voulu. Although there are, of course, beautiful and breathtakingly authentic things in the novel (who could not love that tang of urine in the breakfast kidneys?), what spoils Ulysses for me, each time, is the oppressive allusiveness, the wearyingly overdetermined referentiality, the heavy constructedness of it all. Reading the book, for me, is never a rich and wonderful journey, filled with marvels and (no matter how many times you may read a book) surprises—the experience I want from a large and important novel; it's more like being on one of those Easter egg hunts you went on as a child—you constantly feel yourself being managed, being carefully steered in the direction of effortfully planted treats. Which, of course, makes them not feel very much like treats at all.
The tip-off, for me, are the Gilbert and Linati Schemas, now included in most editions: the road-maps to the books that Joyce concocted for friends, minutely indicating the novel's themes, its labored structures, the Homeric analogies, etc.—it's as if Joyce were both the author of his book and the future comp lit grad student who's trying to decipher it. Indeed, it's small wonder that Ulysses has become the bible of academic lit departments; it seems to have been practically written for literary theorists. (Dubliners, by contrast, is a book for "ordinary readers"—a term I use admiringly.)
The two books that take the most lambasting in this article, Ulysses and Gravity's Rainbow, deserve it.


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