:: Criticism archive ( click for articles pre-2006)

Got Anything to Say? published 28/07/2014

A decline in society starts with a decline of language. This aphorism, used so often it is hard to attribute, has often been illustrated in fiction, particularly by those who train their sights on America. Using different methods and addressing different subjects, these writers focus on language – as something taken for granted yet sensitive to any societal changes – sometimes to a great effect. David Foster Wallace achieves it by launching his verbal fireworks, so brilliant that anything you read after they have gone off can be seen as a sign of degradation.

Anna Aslanyan reviews Eli Horowitz‘s The Silent History.

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Art you don’t have to see to get published

Satire, rather, is a “painted grape,” to take from the book’s subtitle, which references a Greek myth about a grape so perfectly rendered on canvas that, when it was unveiled, birds flew to peck at it. This is an artist we can imagine—even in the excesses of the Great Day of Art, a violent frenzy of Randall Yellow where the plummy declaration that “It’s just paint! It’s just paint!” cannot assuage the people present—and he fits perfectly in the nebulous milieu that we call contemporary art.

Jeffrey Zuckerman reviews Jonathan Gibbs‘s Randall.

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Through the Dark Glass: A Review of SJ Bradley’s Brick Mother published 23/07/2014

Brick Mother is a cautionary tale and a portrait of institutional life, but it is also an examination of how closely we can become involved in other people’s lives. There is a fine difference between people who are high functioning and not, and some of us hide beneath the radar, and there is like a wall of glass between the many many people whose lives have collapsed and the rest of us who can still walk and talk and put on a front: the distinction is fine, evasive and mysterious, but the barrier is transparent and we see through this glass, darkly.

Max Dunbar on SJ Bradley‘s Brick Mother.

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Literary Citizenship Depletes Crystal Count and Other Controversial Claims published 21/07/2014

No one wants to be a dick or a wuss—that’s the dilemma. If I don’t support Shane Jones, I’m a dick. If I don’t uphold my standards, I’m a wuss. What’s in my best interest after all? If I wuss out and write a generous review, maybe the author will write a generous review of the novel I have coming out in August. Maybe some of his fans will check out my book, too. The publisher of Crystal Eaters produces beautiful paperbacks. If I rave about Crystal Eaters, or even write something thoughtful, encouraging, and strong, maybe down the line Two Dollar Radio will remember me and enthusiastically consider one of my novel manuscripts. But I doubt they’ll publish anything I write since I’m pretty sure what I write isn’t right for them.

Lee Klein on, among other things, Shane Jones’s Crystal Eaters.

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“The Dead Voices of her Ancestors Shudder, Whimper, Well Up”: A Review of Daša Drndić’s Trieste published 17/07/2014

Daša Drndić’s Trieste tells the story of Trieste and the surrounding region during the Nazi occupation. The narrative loops from the present to the past and back again – like memory, like history – being weaved into the lives of the Tedeschis… In the place of answers which have never come, Drndić attempts to fill the continuing silence, piling layer of history upon layer in the hope that it will become immovable.

Tristan Foster on Daša Drndić’s Trieste.

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Speaking the Unspeakable: Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher as a Response to Trauma published 14/07/2014

This essay considers that the only “proper” address to trauma is literature—and specifically: the novel. Operating as both an explication and a wound—performing an exploratory examination/incision on the practice and production of the text—this metatext and the narrative it describes (against itself) must respond idiomatically to the disorder of the text because it is itself wounded and wounding.

Heidi James on trauma and Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher.

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certified copies: notes toward a theory of the knockoff published 07/07/2014

To see the original as no less conditional than the copy may just be more workable than the opposite, in which beauty is an ontological question. If any beauty I encounter is, by virtue of its being a copy, a mediated experience – and potentially degraded as a result – the world in which the work of art is created, or copied for that matter, becomes a secondary one on a hierarchy of being.

Erik Anderson on IKEA, knockoffs, and copies—certified or otherwise.

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Long Pause, Romantic Music, Silence published 01/07/2014

The goal of subtitles is clear: to cross linguistic and auditory barriers. And to achieve this objective the subtitler must not only translate between languages, but she must convert between entirely separate media… In common with poetry, subtitles at their best show the union of the physical properties of language and its ideal potential… These subtitles are to say, I’m still here. The machine has not broken. Please don’t walk away.

Laura Legge on subtitles, poetics, and silence.

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Mysterium on Paper: Scriabin Scores published 27/06/2014

My method was derived explicitly from Scriabin’s unfinished monstrosity: the Mysterium. It’s a week-long rite, an apocalyptic liturgy of “omni-art” that absorbs and dissolves the entire sensorium: not just the visual, but auditory, tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and even the famous “sixth sense” of the Buddhists, comprising manas and dharma. My particular art form, literary, can be said to engage the sixth sense most directly.

Writer Tom Bradley reflects on his practices of ekphrasis whilst paying homage to the influence of Alexander Scriabin on his titles Family Romance and We’ll See Who Seduces Whom.

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Return of the Why: A review of Sophie Hannah’s The Telling Error published 26/06/2014

There is an endless audience for this kind of murder. There is even a crime subgenre, ‘cosy crime’, defined by Waterstone’s as ‘exactly as it sounds, cosy, relatively gentle and always satisfying.’ No other genre puts as much emphasis on the experience of the reader. George Orwell described the ideal condition: ‘Your pipe is drawing sweetly, the sofa cushions are soft underneath you, the fire is well alight, the air is warm and stagnant. In these blissful circumstances, what is it that you want to read about? Naturally, about a murder.’ Are you sleeping comfortably? Let us peruse the shattering of other lives.

Max Dunbar reviews Sophie Hannah’s The Telling Error.

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