Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Rick Moody Misses the Obvious

I'm glad to see the excitement over the reissue of Joy Williams's The Changeling. But it's frustrating for a cultural historian to see Rick Moody's explanation of the hostility that initially greeted the novel:

The Changeling, which is rich with the arresting improbabilities of magic realism of the folkloric revival (Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber was published about the same time), and with the modernist foreboding of Under the Volcano, would have seemed perfectly legible in 1973 when Gravity’s Rainbow was published, or Gaddis’s JR. But the late 70s, with their punk rock nihilism and their Studio 54 fatuousness, were perhaps not properly situated to understand the variety of challenge. To their shame.

Joy Williams's innovations were regarded as incompetence, unlike the innovations of Gaddis, Pynchon, and Lowry; and Rick Moody blames The Ramones? Hmmm . . . what other cutting-edge Seventies authors were slammed or underappreciated . . . how about Carol Hill? Joanna Russ? Gayl Jones? What in Heaven's name could be responsible for reviewers' uncharitable responses or insufficient attention to such authors? Nihilism and Studio 54 fatuousness? [Image of Dana Carvey in drag, looking smug and saying: "Could it be . . . MISOGYNY?"]


Anonymous said...

You make a good point that misogyny was, without a doubt, a huge and ugly factor in the evisceration of Williams's novel, and, until now (with her joining the men at the American Academy of Arts & Letters) in the underestimation of her entire, intellectual body of work along with many other intellectual women writers. We've got a big boys club here. Recent Pulitzers case in point. That said, it seems pointless to attack Rick Moody's celebration of The Changeling; a foreword to an anniversary edition is meant to reinstate a book on the scene. Also, you cite only an excerpt of the foreword; do you know that there is no mention of her womanhood in the rest of it (1), and (2), just because he offers some cultural context for the rejection of the book doesn't mean he is making a totalizing argument about it. That is, there's room for all the explanations for Williams's book being overlooked. Like you I blame the man's club (look at how quickly a low-brow book like All the Sad Young LIterary Men by a young guy is being embraced as Intellectual---and how our country's intellectual women writers like Deborah Eisenberg, Joy Williams, and others are ignored by places like the NY Book Review). I just don't see a reason to attck Rick Moody here, just because he says something also insightful, if less searingly political (that's his choice). He loves The Changeling, it's obvious, and Joy Williams. Isn't that good too?

Timmi Duchamp said...

How curious, anonymous, that you characterize Josh's expression of frustration as an "attack."

I, on the other hand, find it appropriate that he called attention to an issue that concerns the regular denizens of this blog.

Josh said...

Thanks, Timmi. Rick Moody has been subjected to some nasty attacks (memorably Dale Peck's); I like to think my suggestion that his explanation misses an important point is, however sarcastically phrased, not one of them: if there's actual hostility in my post, I hope it appears to be directed toward Broyard and the misogynist milieu he operated in. If Moody addresses that in the longer piece, groovy!

Ide Cyan said...

There's a HTML tag in this post that wasn't closed properly, and it's affecting the formatting of all the entries below, FWI.