Friday, November 13, 2009

Male writers and the critics' agenda

Over at the Valve, Andrew Seal considers recent novels by men that have won critical acclaim in light of Nina Baym's "Melodramas of Beset Manhood." He emphasizes Baym's focus on the critics' obsession with this theme. He concludes:
it seems to me that the literary critical project of reading American fiction according to this American myth still sets the table for what we will be served as the “best American fiction.
The novels he considers are The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, The Human Stain by Philip Roth, Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, The Lazarus Project by Aleksander Hemon, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel, and All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen. About the last two, he remarks,
while not exactly considered by anyone as the greatest novels of the past decade, they were produced by two men who have basically revived the project of Trilling-like (or Partisan Review-like) criticism in America and who have received significant amounts of attention for doing so. At any rate, there may be no two books of the past ten years more intentionally constructed to fit into the American myth than these two; reading them, I often had the feeling that the point of writing them seemed to be to create a literature which would support a rebirth of Trillingian criticism.
After reading Seal's post, I can't help but conclude that many male writers, consciously or unconsciously, seem to be driven by the implied demands of the critics, along the lines of "If this is quality, then obviously that's what I need to be writing."


nicola said...

books by girls about girls = cooties
books by girls about boys = good
books by boys about girls = better
books by boys about boys = genius literature of our time

Josh said...

Whoa, Seal gets The Human Stain pretty well. Cheap and conservative melodrama has its place, I think (YMMV); but it's depressing to realize how many people regarded it as Momentous Literature.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

Nicola: You've nailed it, except that I think your second item should read:

books by girls about boys: Isn't that cute?

nicola said...

Nancy, :)

X. Trapnel said...

A thread about "the best fantasy novels of all time" on Crooked Timber ( reminded me to check up on this blog--I was distressed by how little women-authored fantasy was coming to mind, not to mention how little was mentioned--and what a great takedown. I wish I'd read this before I attempted to explain what bothered me about 'those kinds of books.'

(Incidentally, if anyone Aqueduct folks feel like enlightening the clueless over at that CT thread, it would doubtless be a mitzvah!)