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On Hysterical Realism

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message 1: by Martyn (new)

Martyn | 299 comments I've never heard of something called "the New York novel"...isn't this article lambasting post-modernism in literature...and this term "hysterical realism"...has it taken off and in usage? I'm not so sure about that.

Zadie Smith (also an old uni friend of my sister) is quite right in her response regarding "hysterical times"...especially as it lead into something so Baudrillardian as the media war on terror...and I also agree with her assessment that literature should be a "broad church"...calling for the end of a trend in literature Wood sees as vacuous...it seems a little narrow-minded to me...let them hang themselves...let their literature disappear over time...will they achieve immortality like Dante, Shakespeare, Chaucer and Homer? The answer is no.

It does annoy me sometimes when writers pose as intellectuals and cultural theorists...it is obviously something akin to modernism and the fact of a university education getting in the way. Sometimes, it is egomania.

However, literature doesn't have to be one thing or another...and using a political and social catylst such as 9/11 seems self-important on Wood's part...it wasn't a wake up call...more a war cry.





message 2: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (last edited Aug 20, 2009 04:52AM) (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
i read these yesterday morning, and i found the experience a little disturbing. i should have read the date of the essay before i started reading the text.

there were probably a lot of passionate responses because it was published about a month after 9/11. talk about hysteria... but as for "hysterical realism" he doesn't really explain what he means by it. i agree with Martyn, it really amounts to the fact that he doesn't care for postmodernism in fiction.








message 3: by Keith (new)

Keith Dixon (keithwdixon) | 44 comments patty, what he's talking about is the fact that there are novels upon novels out there that feature wheelchair-riding ambidextrous bean farmers from south tonga who have twelve identical daughters all named 'Sue' and are building rocket ships out of toilet rolls while whistling the 'star spangled banner' backwards...because they were born upside down. or something. wood is talking about writers who rely on a sort of sustained zaniness in place of what should be solid characterization and plotting.


message 4: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (last edited Aug 20, 2009 04:57PM) (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
Keith wrote: "...wood is talking about writers who rely on a sort of sustained zaniness in place of what should be solid characterization and plotting.

well thank goodness sustained zaniness and characterization/plot aren't mutually exclusive, or i would have absolutely nothing to read.



message 5: by Ben, uneasy in a position of power; a yorkshire pudding (new)

Ben Loory | 241 comments Mod
keith, you should totally write that book! except maybe without that "born upside down" part... that part seemed a little tacked on.


message 6: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
I had a writing teacher once who kept telling us to "up the ante" in every scene. Ramp up the conflict! Add in unexpected twists!

So how many of those does a writer add, with no attendant contemplation or exploration, before the story makes no sense at all?

You can only imagine what kind of stuff was read aloud, that shouldn't have been, in that class.


message 7: by Jonathan, the skipper (new)

Jonathan | 609 comments Mod
Keith wrote: "patty, what he's talking about is the fact that there are novels upon novels out there that feature wheelchair-riding ambidextrous bean farmers from south tonga who have twelve identical daughters ..."

. . .interesting, because i've been complaining lately about the overabundance of authors hiding behind realism and post-modern apathy. . . existentially disaffected, slacker protagonists complaining of boredom and lack of meaning in life . . . not that i'd prefer cat-juggling siamese twins with tourettes, or anything . . .


message 8: by Martyn (new)

Martyn | 299 comments Jonathan wrote: "Keith wrote: "patty, what he's talking about is the fact that there are novels upon novels out there that feature wheelchair-riding ambidextrous bean farmers from south tonga who have twelve identi..."

I think existentialism has done a lot of damage in the arts...especially literature...there are some classic texts for sure...but I think a lot of writers seem to assume that existentialism means being miserable, aloof and selfish...it has lead down a path of intense subjectivity and over-developed senses of self-importance...not really individuality...just self-importance. This is a generalisation, sure...but I feel it contains a grain of truth. Anyway, post-modernism is dead...it's now alter-modernism...apparently.


message 9: by Michael, the Olddad (new)

Michael (olddad) | 255 comments Mod
Keith wrote: "patty, what he's talking about is the fact that there are novels upon novels out there that feature wheelchair-riding ambidextrous bean farmers from south tonga who have twelve identical daughters ..."

The book I’m reading now has as part of its cast a band of paraplegic Canadian assassins in wheelchairs aiming to capture a DVD which renders viewers comatose and incontinent, a guru who floats 6" over the top of the towel rack in a boy’s locker room and survives off licking the sweat of others, gigantic feral human infants attacking New England, and a President of these United States who is a cross between Elvis and Howard Hughes. Is this what you are talking about?

Damn good book, by the way.

mm


message 10: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
Michael, the perfect mix of sustained zaniness and great characterization and plot, no? I love it, too. A very good read.


message 11: by Patrick, The Special School Bus Rider (new)

Patrick (horrorshow) | 269 comments Mod
What's the name of that book?


message 12: by Michael, the Olddad (new)

Michael (olddad) | 255 comments Mod
Infinite Jest A Novel by David Foster Wallace. Shel - are you on the Infinite Summer site this summer? A lot of good commentary from the people reading this book this summer.


message 13: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
I am. I love it. SO much more food for thought. I would miss so much if I didn't use that site as I went. I am behind, of course, but life is starting to settle down, so now I have more focused time to dedicate.

I was just sending a couple of excerpts to a friend today. The most recent post on DFW's influence on the YA world was good, but did you catch that one where the guy used the book for drug rehab? (Unsuccessfully, but still.) The one about really letting the book in.

The one word that I keep seeing in relation to DFW and everything he created is heartbreaking.


message 14: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (last edited Aug 22, 2009 04:42AM) (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
I like your thoughts here.

I was thinking as I was reading the second to last paragraph that it seems like what you're talking about would fall into the category of attempting to imitate David Foster Wallace.

I know, I know. I'm kind of stumping for the guy now.

But no, really.

When I am reading IJ, it is just like reading Ulysses (haven't tried Finnegan's Wake yet). I read a passage. Catch my breath. Go back. Read it again.

There are so many levels. First, the popular culture level. Then, the academic or intellectual one. Then, the DFW Gaze - the one he levels at the world seems to see everything so clearly, so that the other levels slip away. And finally, the heart of it.

There is a lot to untangle, and some of it appears to be a "look how good I am at tennis and math" kind of thing - a demonstration of his brilliance - but in a book that might be an imitation, there would be no more than just that demonstration. Or maybe a little bit more, but not much.

With him - there is a beating, golden, suffering, black, aching heart in everything. There is contradiction. There is so much pain. There is so much love. Even in the details, he is building and building you to the point where you either decide to let the book in, in which case it changes your life, or not, in which case you hold it at arm's length.

He is all about letting the book in.



message 15: by Jonathan, the skipper (new)

Jonathan | 609 comments Mod
. . . but isn't DFW just aspiring to be kurt vonnegut jr., in many ways? broom of the system is like a long self-conscious vonnegut novel to me . . . and isn't KVjr just aspiring to be voltaire on some level? . . .
. . .hi-ho and so it goes, in this, the most beautiful of all possible worlds . . .i view literature as a dialectic not unlike philosophy . . . a sort of call-and response through the ages . . . and btw, great post above, kris . . .


message 16: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
Of course, because it is a dialectic, an omphalitic conversation throughout time and history.


message 17: by Martyn (new)

Martyn | 299 comments Can't we all just say modern American literature is too parochial?


message 18: by João (new)

João Camilo (jcamilo) | 259 comments And I thought James Woods was an actor, then I remembered I was the only one that would do such typo...
Who this guy Wood want to be anyways? I remember Poe used to attack Wordsworth for his excessive meditation, selfness and importance instead of simplicity... or maybe Borges tirades against Neruda for him thinking that every text must had a political position...
Is there really a point complaning about what people should write instead of how good or bad.


message 19: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
Martyn wrote: "Can't we all just say modern American literature is too parochial?"

I dunno... parochial is a copout the same way "patriarchal" is a copout.


message 20: by Martyn (new)

Martyn | 299 comments Shel wrote: "Martyn wrote: "Can't we all just say modern American literature is too parochial?"

I dunno... parochial is a copout the same way "patriarchal" is a copout."


Yeah I was joking...I remember the Nobel Prize for Literature dude said it...of course, it is a lot of nonsense.


message 21: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
I agree with you Kris, when it comes to just about everything I've read... except Infinite Jest.

I don't know... popular culture vs. culture. Is there really a difference? I mean, people who go to operas drink Diet Coke in the lobby during intermission. And culture ... seems like such a catchall word as to be almost meaningless.

If I were to differentiate in art... popular culture, to me, is both expressed, even defined, mostly by movies. Or the crap pushed at my kids by Disney.

It's discussed in Infinite Summer - how the pop culture aspect of what he does will limit the lifespan of the book, make the work not survive past my generation.

That may be true, but I am not so sure he cared.

But there's this other guy who wrote with a lot of cultural references... whatshisname... oh yeah. That Joyce guy. Among the tools needed to really penetrate Ulysses: a map of Dublin from the early 20th century with the names of chapters overlaid so you know where they took place. And even when you have it, they don't make sense if you haven't been to Dublin (and Dublin when I was there in the 80s is vastly different from Dublin now), which is a different place than it was then anyway... so what's the point?

The point is that Joyce didn't ignore that who he was and where he was in history had an undeniable influence on his work. And, to try to deny it - to write something so timeless it had no cultural reference points - well, would have defied the point of having the book connect to The Odyssey - the theme of exploring the known world, and touching the unknown, too.

Heck, I'd even argue that The Odyssey has pop culture references. To roasting pigs.



message 22: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
"Yeah I was joking...I remember the Nobel Prize for Literature dude said it...of course, it is a lot of nonsense. "

Martyn, you need to get into the fine art of using emoticons. Like those little heart symbols and stuff.

(That was also a joke. I hate emoticons. Parens, semicolons and colons are punctuation. I stand by my old-fashioned, anachronistic opinion.)

Hey Kris, how do you feel about emoticons being used in books these days? ::duck::



message 23: by Patty, free birdeaucrat (new)

Patty | 896 comments Mod
Jcamilo wrote: "Is there really a point complaning about what people should write instead of how good or bad."

You've hit the nail on the head, Oro. If it's well written, if it's subject matter is of interest to me, if it accomplishes what it sets out to do in an interesting way, that's what really matters.

To suggest limits on what writers should write about is just stupid. If you don't like contemporary fiction, don't read it. If you don't like popular culture, don't consume it.

If we were to dismiss all of the novels that include pop cultural references, we'd have to get rid of almost everything from The Tale of Genji to The Trial and on forward. And how are novelists to grapple with the problems associated, in our contemporary times, with consumer culture if they aren't allowed to make reference to it? And how will readers 100 years from now be able to picture our period in history if our novelists don't discuss things that are actually monopolizing our citizenry? (For example, I've only ever come across two novels that even attempt to address the effects of television on our daily lives.)

It just all seems very snobbish and silly to me.

And by the by, what do you all mean by navel gazing? Are we talking about that habit of self-absorption so accuratly depicted in the charater of Raskolnikov?



message 24: by Patrick, The Special School Bus Rider (last edited Aug 23, 2009 08:26AM) (new)

Patrick (horrorshow) | 269 comments Mod
Can pop culture be referred as ancient history if you were writing about a futuristic or current society or would that writer be a douchebag and is only showing off? I do recall Gravity's Rainbow using a comic as a reference: 'He was the Batman to his Robin.'

Maybe if 'Mr. Roberto' was used as a nursey rhyme in some character's memory of childhood? Would that be cool with the hardcore readers among us?


message 25: by João (new)

João Camilo (jcamilo) | 259 comments Patty wrote: "Jcamilo wrote: "Is there really a point complaning about what people should write instead of how good or bad."

You've hit the nail on the head, Oro. If it's well written, if it's subject matter ..."


Navel Gazing? Wait, still have to write something about Navel gazing?
I remember Poe attacking the School of Lake, of course, who among the Lake guys would poe most like? Coleridge. So, Coleridge is a genius, Wordsworth is a poetic guy who is lost trying to transform in metaphysics what is a simple matter of language.
I can not even use pop culture. The king of Pop died and I had to remember Pop was actually some short of underground anarchist movement by a bunch of wharholics...
Anyways, if American Novelists are hysterical is just because they still crazy about the quest for the american novel. Doctor Poe should have cured them long ago, but hey, he was just a jiggle maker...




message 26: by Martyn (new)

Martyn | 299 comments I don't mind culture references...and this idea of "dated material", well it just becomes history, doesn't it?


message 27: by Patrick, photographic eye (new)

Patrick | 133 comments Mod
kris, your post was interesting to me. a lot in there to unpack.
i don't think i agree with most of it, or at least, i don't share your distaste for the post-modern, or post-post-modern or whatever we want to call things now.

i guess i question, or take issue with, the idea that to seriously enjoy or engage with pop culture or to use "hysterical realism" as a means to tell a story is somehow a clear signal of "arrested" development, but yet a, sort of, puritanical reverence and nostalgia for "serious" literature (or the serious arts), that's just what?? high minded? sophisticated?? clearly, less "arrested"?

if i'm missing or misreading the crux of your argument i apologize but, i think Zadie had me at "broad church".






message 28: by Patrick, photographic eye (last edited Aug 23, 2009 10:08PM) (new)

Patrick | 133 comments Mod
and forgive me, if this is veering things off course... this may speak more to rampant commercialization than it does specifically to any given stylistic choices ("hysterical realism") but, i grabbed this from david milch (creator of deadwood and john from cincinnati)

"... even soulless materialism, if willing to submit itself to the possibilities of the present moment, without distortion, can be an instrument of salvation. art can help materialism transcend that self."


message 29: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
Patrick, that quote immediately made me think of American Psycho.


message 30: by Ben, uneasy in a position of power; a yorkshire pudding (new)

Ben Loory | 241 comments Mod
that's what i immediately thought of, shel; american psycho. that book uses the endless listing of brand names and pop culture bits to great effect. but in general i'm with kris on the rest of it. i don't look for verisimilitude in literature, and i am generally irritated when i encounter it. that's part of the reason i don't read contemporary lit: i don't care to see the "real" world; i want a vision. a pure vision. something stripped of the surfaces, recast as something else, something new, something strange and better and true.

unless it's satire, in which case: bring it on.


message 31: by Shel, ad astra per aspera (new)

Shel (shelbybower) | 946 comments Mod
I'm with you Ben. I don't read as much contemporary for just that reason... Something new, strange, better and true. I want a story that isn't my story, a writer a gazillion times smarter than me, someone who sees further, deeper, better.

I've even tried. I've read two Jodi Picoult books and one Bohjalian book and heaven help me, a Dan Brown "novel." When my kids were babies because that's about all I could manage to stay literate.

I know it's out there, but a majority of what is pumped out of houses today just... doesn't do it. I suppose I'm waiting for time to sort out the ones that approach having a vision, at which point I'll read them. Heck, Infinite Jest was published how long ago, and I'm just now getting around to it.

I struggle with that all the time in my writing. Escaping my own "bubble" and finding something more.


message 32: by Martyn (new)

Martyn | 299 comments Austerlitz is one of the best books ever written. Period - as you Americans say.


message 33: by Michael, the Olddad (new)

Michael (olddad) | 255 comments Mod
Martyn wrote: "Austerlitz is one of the best books ever written. Period - as you Americans say."

I think that would be "quote period unquote", and we would wiggle our fingers in mimical quotation marks. Just to be clear on Yankee usage. ;)

Lastly,.
mm




message 34: by Brian, just a child's imagination (new)

Brian (banoo) | 346 comments Mod
Michael wrote: "Lastly,."

that is such a classic...


message 35: by Jonathan, the skipper (new)

Jonathan | 609 comments Mod
. . .kris, you're gonna' love barabbas . . . i'm diggin' this dialogue . . .


message 36: by Brian, just a child's imagination (new)

Brian (banoo) | 346 comments Mod
I've just got around to reading both articles and this thread. Shit... There's some great thoughts being tossed around. I just went over to my bookshelf and took inventory. Looks like I'm not too much into American modern lit. Most of my books are foriegn written. World lit appeals to me for the different perspectives and cultural references presented. My church is broad. It's a big friggin' cathedral and sometimes there are crazy Japanese writers in there running amok, modern Japanese. I lean toward the classics too, whatever classic means. I think it's silly to say what should be or should not be written. I'll decide for myself what to read. I've made some bad decisions. I don't blame the writers. If all writers hit the mark perfectly there'd be too much shit for me to read.


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