Sunday, October 30, 2011

How could I possibly take this personally???

"A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star." So begins Glen Duncan's New York Times review of Colson Whitehead's Zone One.

Until I read that sentence, I'd thought myself immune to the vitriol that warriors in the stultified Genre War routinely fling at one another. But this opening struck me like a shower of acid in the face. And now I'm a little surprised at myself, for actually having taken it personally-- and surprised that my surprise isn't enough to make me go on reading the rest of the review.

9 comments:

brandon h bell said...

Glen Duncan's review reminds me of the Bob Saget Character in Half Baked, talking about sucking **** because he's addicted to pot. It's funny because of the absurdity, but wholly unnecessary. Like the recent vampire equivalent, The Passage, we have someone respected in lit circled writing a decent entry in a given subgenre, and then lit crit folks like Duncan make pronouncements of its apotheosis within the given trope. It displays what one would first expect to be a willful ignorance, but which is more likely a pandering for page views.

Josh said...

Although one does still sometimes (but ever more infrequently) encounter genre prejudices among scholars, Duncan is far from a "lit crit folk." He's just another hipster novelist himself, one who occasionally gets to spout drivel in the NYT.

mouseworks said...

Josh, Chip can out lit theory anyone else at Temple so I suspect the problem tends to get sat on there, but Drexel had "It's SF and fantasy; it must be of the poor uneducated masses and Rowling couldn't possibly have studied classes, but it's worth studying to escape elitism" on one hand and "The Evils of Not Imitating Good Literature" on the other, with me wishing a plague on both houses. I think the worse an English Department is, the more they're defensive against "that popular genre stuff."

The tighter the economic condition, the nastier the competition gets -- several thousand MFAs going for 3 tenure track positions a year aren't going to want to share

Martin said...

It is a shame you didn't read the rest of the review. Duncan himself is a literary novelist who has written genre novels, such writers are becoming increasingly common and that is obviously the perspective he is coming from. He concludes the review by saying: "If this is the intellectual and the porn star, they look pretty good together. For my money, they have a long and happy life ahead of them." So I wouldn't describe the opening paragraph as vitriol.

Ray Davis said...

I'm impressed by how wide a range of stupidity he fit into those first two sentences. If he'd mentioned his unfair tax burden, it would be close to a perfect score.

Josh said...

Rebecca, I think your idea that the weaker-worse-more insecure a dept is, the more they stigmatize the genre stuff is broadly true. I just read a fb comment thanking a friend for posting Delany's Public Radio International interview; the commenter had just given a talk on studying SF to her skeptical colleagues at a Texas community college, none of whom knew who PKD or OEB were. And yet over the past dozen years, one could find several thoughtful articles on both those authors' work as well as Delany, Russ, Gibson, and a few others in some big critical journals.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

The whole idea is absurd, given that he's reviewing Colson Whitehead. Whitehead's work always has an element of the fantastical in it. He's considered "literary" rather than "genre" because of who publishes him, not what he writes.

It appears Duncan likes Whitehead's work; his snarky comments seem to be aimed at the great unwashed genre fans, who are not sophisticated enough to get what Whitehead's doing.

I'm glad to know Whitehead has a new book out and shall get it. Based on this review, I will not bother with Duncan's fiction.

I wish the NY Times would ditch its nasty, arrogant reviewing staff and hire Michael Dirda and the other fine reviewers from the Washington Post, which has pretty much abandoned Book World. Back in the day, book reviews were the one place where the Post completely outdid the Times. Come to think of it, even though the Post isn't producing a real book review section anymore, it still outdoes the Times on book reviews just on the strength of publishing reviews by Dirda. (Otherwise, the Post is not worth reading free online, much less paying for.)

Timmi Duchamp said...

Check out Charlie Jane Anders on "Why Science Fiction Writers Are Like Porn Stars" at i09: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCcQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fio9.com%2F5856158%2Fwhy-science-fiction-writers-are-like-porn-stars&ei=mzmzTpHcG7HZiQKgs_Fc&usg=AFQjCNFhbAqnPILp_stupLBq0p8UT4ZpkQ

Timmi Duchamp said...

Hmm. That didn't go well. Let me try giving you the link to Charlie's post again: here.