:: Nonfiction archive ( 2000-2005, click for articles pre-2006)

The Prophetic Silence of Bolaño’s ‘2666’ published 02/03/2014

A proper understanding of existence is that we are not its purpose. Bolaño writes to that impressive fact. His esotericism is a matter of asserting this anti-providentialism. It results in a change of consciousness. Yet as an author there is a lingering requirement to order and structure that rejects happenstance. Bolaño’s writing knows that there is a creative imagination ordering and processing. But the new consciousness it springs out of is one that withdraws from saying what purpose it has, or if there is any.

Richard Marshall on Bolaño’s ‘2666’.

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Reports from Latin America published 01/03/2014

The first thing I did when I learned I was coming to Latin America was to draw up battle plans for my political novel set between there and the UK. I researched the writers I wanted to read and learn about (Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, Chile’s two Nobel Prize winners foremost amongst them, but especially the master of wild late 20th and early 21st century fiction, Roberto Bolaño), listed places of interest (the Andes, Casa Rosada, Terra del Fuego, the Atamacama desert), and researched the museums and archives (Biblioteca Nacional de Chile, Neruda’s museum in Valparaiso, Gabriela Mistral’s hometown in the Elqui Valley). I had a title, Once a Great Leader, and a concept. I even had a beginning. All of which, my quote reminded me, might not last to the end of the flight across the Atlantic. Which is fine, as long as you breathe deeply, don’t expect a pregnancy to last three weeks, and learn to make plans as you go.

Rodge Glass‘ reports from Chile for 3:AM, as he researches his novel-in-progress, Once a Great Leader.

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why fight poverty etc published 23/02/2014

We need a much better understanding of how we support each other, and how money – and other support – is passed around and within families before we can think about reducing poverty. We need to understand the very different experiences of poverty, and how gender, disability and ill health all influence someone’s chances of becoming poor. We need to know more about the role of culture, attitude and behaviour in shaping people’s experience of poverty.

Richard Marshall reviews the new Perspectives series.

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Cover Letter published 22/02/2014

Vagueness like this serves programs in creative writing that are built around the development and exploitation of cults of personality in “popular” professors and in “star” students (the ones who have “it” when they walk in the door). In such programs students sign up for courses “with Professor (name),” not courses “in (technique).” Such programs consider it inappropriate to require Professor (name) to address any particular subject matter; they also typically abstain from requiring students to acquire any particular skill or fluency. Might such policies stem from the lack of criticality suggested by the wording above, where at a relatively early stage of their coursework (e.g. “intermediate”), students are expected to be producing “poetry”? A more realistic view of writing must allow that the very best literary artists mainly fail to write anything remotely so good as “poetry.”

By Daniel Bosch.

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ZOMBIES ‘R’ US published 12/02/2014

Increasingly the zombie has come to figure as a fateful symbol for the mass of subjectiveless techno-humans under capitalism, lumpen, nightmarish non-beings whose otherness has been completely internalised, then smoothed out and returned minus interest as soulless entertainment; not so much undead as hypermediated and alive under severe globalised constraint; couch potatoes sorely afflicted by ‘breathing corpse syndrome’ or ‘partially deceased syndrome’. Hypocrite voyeur do you recognise yourself?

Michael Hampton ponders Zombies.

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Post-National Me published 07/02/2014

I had no idea this had been said about Bolaño, and the article didn’t say who’d first used the phrase ‘post-national fiction’. But immediately my ears pricked up. I had that experience so many of us do when we find that particular book, or story, or writer, who touches a nerve so strong that it feels as if it covers us completely. Like our whole bodies have morphed into a funny bone and the world has briefly come, even just for a second, sharp into focus. I read this line about Bolaño and thought: that’s me! I’m post-national! Or at least, I desperately want to be! I’d not thought it through yet but the sentence hit me in the gut, and it did so because like every other writer, everywhere, ever, I’m obsessed with myself.

By Rodge Glass.

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William Burroughs and the Dreamscapes of the Dalai Lama published 05/02/2014

The dark satires of William S. Burroughs deal, above all, with overcoming the limits of ordinary consciousness through word-as-virus, drugs, magic, sex, telepathy, writing, and, of course, dream. Back in 1962, Burroughs was famously praised by Norman Mailer as ‘The only American novelist living today who may conceivably be possessed by genius.’ Neither Mailer nor Burroughs is alive today. If Burroughs were alive, he would be a centenarian. He was born on February 5th, 1914. His writing intersected with my life in 1970, when I was sixteen: Naked Lunch was like a depth charge in the mind-stream.

An essay by Des Barry, to mark William Burroughs‘ 100th birthday.

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Neither Scylla nor Charybdis: Gauging Crisis published 27/01/2014

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While Alex Rosenberg suggests that literary scholars have overextended their expertise by trying to read literature into science (or science into literature) without a real understanding of what science is, William Deresiewicz’s scathing article decries the reductionist reading (and what historians would refer to as ‘upstreaming’ or a whiggish interpretation of history) performed by a political scientist and science writer seen as not possessing a sufficient understanding of literature—nor, probably, of history. The problem with Rosenberg and Deresiewicz is the way in which they rush to pass judgment, using a few straw man examples (and an effort at disciplinary gate-keeping in the case of Rosenberg) to condemn entire areas of scholarship.

By Clarissa Lee.

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What Does Literature Know? published 24/01/2014

Alex Rosenberg’s diagnosis of the ills of the humanities is in fact aimed at literature departments, which he describes as suffering from “self-inflicted wounds.” But his confident attack on literary studies reveals a basic ignorance of the field. The one book he refers to as exemplary of the failures of literary research — Proust Was a Neuroscientist — was written not by a literature professor, but by a journalist subsequently discredited for plagiarism. Rosenberg’s claim that women and minority authors have shoved out the classics in English curricula is untrue in every department with which I am familiar. (We teach Phyllis Wheatly alongside Walt Whitman; Shakespeare’s stock has never been higher.) Finally, Rosenberg’s suggestion that humanities majors are in sharp and recent decline is misleading. While there was a big drop in the mid-seventies, for the past three decades the percentage of B.A.’s who receive English degrees has been stable.

Michael W. Clune responds to Alex Rosenberg.

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Ich bin ein Dandy published 22/01/2014

So, what is a dandy? In some respects, dandyism is a form of magic, or at least it requires a certain amount of magical thinking. Many dandyish affectations (smoking a pipe, drinking absinthe, wearing a cravat) involve a ritualistic set of activities, performed largely in private, with the aim of altering the consciousness of the participant. A well-tailored suit, the right pair of shoes or accessory, can confer a profound feeling of calm, confidence or wellbeing in the wearer as much as any concoction of herbs brewed up in a cauldron. Perhaps it is easier to identify dandyism than it is to define it. Sartorial elegance is clearly a requirement; the dandy must dress with a unique twist, develop a trademark, whether it be Oscar Wilde’s green carnation or Gerard de Nerval’s pet lobster, which he would walk on a lead through the Palais Royal gardens in Paris.

By Thom Cuell.

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