Saturday, January 2, 2010

Don DeLillo and Post Modern Theory: The Sphere of Magical Thinking:

The debate is already in the air, when it comes to such touchy subjects as criticism and scholarship, whether the academic blog will ever gain acceptance alongside the literary journal as a legitimate forum for academic discussion, as noted by Daniel Green in his blog, The Reading Experience; (http://noggs.typepad.com/the_reading_experience/2007/11/index.html); November 20, 2007; “Responding to Other Scholars”. Green argues that while the blog might not provide room for the 20 page critical essay that “still stands as the paradigm of academic publishing” it can provide a venue for a potentially longer literary discussion over the course of many blogs and a format that promises to cut out the formulaic filler and “mindless repetition of academic conventions” that pads the essay in literary journals. That may or may not happen depending on whether you can generate enough disagreement to keep a substantive on-line thread going for more than one or two exchanges, or avoid the other extreme of pedantic overkill.

Acephalous, another academic blog, had a tedious 32 post discussion (33 including mine) about how to explain the difference to students between a perceived lack of African Americans in Sophocles (http://acephalous.typepad.com/acephalous/2007/11/perceived-lack.html#comments) versus a meaningful absence and whether the example of differences in two versions of a Springsteen song was sufficient to explain the distinction. Needless to say the discussion was often difficult to follow, the result of brevity combined with abstraction, tangents, and having to listen to two Springsteen tracks to understand the blogger’s point (I couldn’t get my sound player to work) which made getting to the heart of the question far more difficult than it should have been. Reason enough for Acephalous to receive a nomination for Most Pretentious Blawg from the Cultural Parody Center (CPC) in its “Parody Oscar Nominations” (http://parodycentrum.wordpress.com/2007/12/31/the-final-parody-oscar-nominations/). Then again pretentiousness is quite a brick to throw for the CPC, whose subtitle “challenging the status quo of global culture” and the crypto-Marxist rants in its blogs and comments present tempting glass houses themselves, and whose Oscar parody includes an Adumbration of the Year award that is not only pretentious, but lazy parody, ignoring the “Best_____” structure of Oscar categories.

If the CPC is a Never Never Land of liberation from the status quo, then its on-line counterpart is the Orwellian etiquette of agreement on mainstream communities like Gather.com and sometimes even highly literate and professionally oriented sites like the litblog co-op. The academic celebrity blog (if academic credentials can bear that appellation)--where a published writer or professor holds court and usually gets the last word (as in a teacher/student relationship)--may be potentially less liberating than what you find on either populist sites where almost everybody’s a nobody, or the classroom the academic blog has a tendency to model. In other words, despite Daniel Green’s surmise that “it's really this disinclination to entertain ‘queries or dissenting views’ that accounts for the blogophobia among certain critics and scholars”, academic blogs may be encumbered already with more academic baggage than Green would like to think, including readership leanings toward celebrity suck-up. On the one hand the academic blog can be refreshingly informal and surprisingly inviting, giving the non-academic reading public unprecedented access to the academic world and in turn giving academics a wider reading audience than ever before. Good things to be sure. On the other hand, even though the most erudite academic blogs are treated like stepchildren of letters by the academy, they are pretty much the professional's domain, an extra-curricular on the curriculum vitae, making them just as likely transmitters of the same abuses and obfuscations of critical theory that are walling literary fiction behind the dull mortar and brick of ivory towers and keeping the reader (academic or not) at a worshipful distance from its lofty silos.

Aspiring writers, who may legitimately find in the literary blog an extra-academic, back door entrance to the literary and publishing worlds, may be especially vulnerable to the magical realism of post-modern critiques. Advanced degrees and publication credits confer an authority that usually prevails in disagreements not involving peers. The evidence of that authority shows when the supporters of a challenged blogger rise up in his or her defense and smother the opposition in a barrage of vitriolic and sometimes personal attacks, or when the on-line dissident’s contribution to a discussion may simply be ignored in a way that it would not be in a classroom setting. To the degree this dissent is dismissed or squashed, it ominously mirrors the restrictive quality of the current discourse found in American electoral politics, where the candidates who are the most outspoken critics of mainstream policies are iced out of the debate. Even when the outsiders’ ideas reflect the change voters say they want, maddeningly the public refuses to rebel against the mainstream candidates who pander, flip-flop and outright fabricate for votes. In other words, the blog reader may be every bit as pragmatic as the American voter—less concerned with truth than with backing a winner or with the possibility of becoming an insider.

It doesn't seem to matter where on the Internet I post my dissatisfaction with the literary establishment (the academy) or the publishing industry, raining on the parade of some new literary darling's magnum opus, I seem to run into space restrictions, an aversion to close analysis, and the more ominous etiquette of agreement. Given that I almost always find myself in disagreement with the majority of opinions expressed in the media, on-line or anywhere else, I'm quite used to being shouted down or ignored. Yet, this doesn't make me optimistic about the ways in which the Internet is evolving, or, rather, the way it's being co-opted to make unpopular opinions go away by the politics of unity, the self-imposed circumscription of ideas called the “center” and by celebrity power. Because dissent with an authority figure is overwhelmingly cast in terms of negativity, the dissenter is a sour note, a shrill voice, a grammar flogging pedant, or, you name it, whatever ugly appellation the critic of popular notions may foolishly label his or herself by speaking out. You only need to read books reviews on Amazon.com, the archetypal populist website, to notice that those with the most “helpful” votes reflect the most positive attitudes toward the work reviewed, and because helpful votes determine reviewer ranking and positive reviews sell books, it is easy to see why positive responses toward a work, especially as product, are rewarded and help reinforce the institution's goal of selling books rather than honestly reflecting objective literary appraisal.

Sadly this may differ little from the pattern of critical review within the Academy. No matter how free-thinking academics may believe themselves to be, they still hold the keys to the kingdom and as such are gatekeepers for institutions and their entrenched ideas. For better or worse, we live in the age of literary professionalism where writers and their critics are housed in the same academic institutions and thus have an economic and professional incentive to cooperate. To the degree that academic and literary blogs retain some independence from theory and the academy, they will likely remain on the fringe of academic acceptance. The question is whether these blogs (and I do not pretend to make a survey) are really dancing on the edge, or are tethered to the academy and merely miming an edgy dance. The blog certainly has subversive roots, emerging as a journalistic alternative to the stranglehold of corporate publishing and media giants. No doubt the yearning for a wider audience and the more relaxed let-your–hair-down breeziness of the blog, not to mention its potential grassroots power, drew many academics and writers to this new form to find a possible best of both worlds, somewhere between the obscurity of the academic scholar and the media personality, between the isolation of the literary novelist and the celebrity of the best-selling author, or a place where they could maintain academic ties and develop a non-academic audience. It is the tether of professionalism, however, that keeps the literary blog from fully embracing the outlaw independence of truly alternative media. Instead of riding the blog clear out of the academy’s orbit, academic bloggers like Daniel Green want to dock the blog safely at the academy.

While blog shopping some time ago I stumbled onto the litblog co-op I mentioned above, (yes, the masthead is in all lower case script). I smelled the false-modesty of hipsters. Naturally, being drawn to what I oppose, my eye immediately rested on a piece by guest blogger Matthew Sharpe titled “DeLillo and Things that Become other Things”; http://lbc.typepad.com/blog/2007/08/delillo-and-thi.html#comment-90453122); August 22, 2007, about DeLillo’s novel, Falling Man, a meditation of sorts on the various collisions and convergences of 9/11 and its aftermath.

Sharpe’s own novel, the recent Jamestown, is advertised on the litblog co-op and was selected as the site's Read This! pick that summer. His worshipful advocacy for DeLillo, a response that is mirrored overall by his readers both toward DeLillo and toward him, provides a perfect example of academic professionalism and its chain of received authority passed down intact from academia to the blog.

For Sharpe, DeLillo's distinction as a novelist is asserted in terms of his lyricism and his innovative use of language, that is, his post-modernity (albeit in relationship to modernism via Stein's verbal Cubism or by Faulkner's stylized dialogue). Sharpe also indirectly identifies DeLillo with the Beat Generation and the Pop Art movement by describing White Noise as “doing a kind of poetic ethnography of campus life, small town life, American life; how he was attempting to figure out the meaning of TV, of supermarkets, of tourism”. On DeLillo's importance Sharpe significantly quotes DeLillo himself:

"We have a rich literature. But sometimes it's a literature too ready to be neutralized, to be incorporated into the ambient noise. This is why we need the writer in opposition, the novelist who writes against power, who writes against the corporation or the state or the whole apparatus of assimilation. We're all one beat away from becoming elevator music."

It is not surprising then that Sharpe appeals to post-modern theory and corresponding modes of criticism to justify the “verbal nonsense” and “violations of grammar” as DeLillo’s stand against “entrenched power”, yet many of the claims he makes for DeLillo's stylistic virtuosity and the technical mastery he uses to “bore into the texture and meaning of contemporary life” depend on traditional textual analysis for their comprehension and rest on the assumption that such an analysis has been made.

In this latter vein, Sharpe begins by asserting his longstanding admiration for DeLillo's analytic rigor. It's amazing how long Stepford Critics have been reciting that blandishment without thought or pause. B.R. Myers acknowledged that already mythic attribute verbatim in his 2001 bombshell critique A Readers Manifesto, just before he skillfully exploded it. Sharpe apparently wasn't within earshot. Either that or he was deafened by the report.

In any case, examples of derivative theoretical buzz like 'analytic rigor' and 'verbal Cubism' litter Sharpe's critique with now stock approaches to writers like DeLillo—a sure sign he has nothing new to add to our understanding of his work. Far from injecting life into the inner world of DeLillo's prose, his over-the-top gushing, awash in academic jargon, only serves to further anesthetize the senses to any close scrutiny at all.

Sharpe apparently has a Jones for DeLillo's use of appositions, “one of the grammatical constructions he uses repeatedly as a vehicle for his insights…” In full professorial mode, he even gives us a straight-from-the-dictionary definition of an apposition, assuming we wouldn't know one if it hit us on the head. Here he extols the practice: “Apposition allows a writer two or more passes in a row at coming up with a verbal equivalent for a given phenomenon, wherein each pass amplifies the others. The result can be a kind of verbal Cubism, a grammatical form of hopefulness in which each periphrastic utterance brings you closer to the truth of the subject under discussion.” Most readers know this grammatical structure in practice as saying the same thing in a different way, but Sharpe invests it through theoretical jargon with the sophisticated sound of “semantic doubling”. He quotes from DeLillo’s Falling Man and then expounds upon it for our delight and edification:

“He began to think into the day, into the minute. It was being here, alone in time, that made this happen, being away from routine stimulus, all the streaming forms of office discourse.” There are several felicitous turns of phrase and modifications here—DeLillo is one of my favorite wielders of a comma among contemporary writers—but I will limit myself to suggesting that not only is the first appositive phrase “routine stimulus,” given specific embodiment in the second, “all the streaming forms of office discourse,” but the repetitions of vowels and consonants that constitute the sentence's melody serve as acoustical underscore to the semantic doubling of the apposition. In other words, part of what makes DeLillo good is that his sentences sound good, and that the sound reinforces the meaning by giving it a physical dimension, as in music or poetry."

To what felicitous turns of phrase can Sharpe be referring, “being away from routine stimulus”? This is not felicitous in either sense of the word. For one thing “routine stimulus” is jargon and abstract to the point of meaninglessness. DeLillo has often used this kind of jargon in his fiction to mock corporate culture. Here I think he's caught filling in a moment of supposedly soulful introspection with habitual parodies of corporate abstractions that couldn't be less appropriate, less emotionally resonant and less pleasing to the ear. Sharpe makes another claim that vanishes into thin air. In the midst of rhapsodizing about felicities, he begins a digression about why DeLillo is one of his favorite wielders of the comma in contemporary literature, then so overcome with the literary riches of this passage, he forcibly limits himself to the apposition at hand. (A sensible and rare use of restraint, given how conventionally the commas are used in this sentence.) Yet, barring any grounds in the quotation for such a claim and lacking an explanation of what it means to “wield a comma”, Sharpe creates an unproven if unwarranted impression of DeLillo's prowess with punctuation. In the absence of proof, I suspect he's merely repeating something he's heard someone say about DeLillo before.

As Sharpe gets rolling, the more extravagant and absurd his claims become. He asserts next that “the first appositive phrase 'routine stimulus'” is “given specific embodiment in the second, 'all the streaming forms of office discourse'”. I can't let this pass without noting that “routine stimulus” is so vague and abstract that almost any concrete description could be said to embody it. Here the second phrase does contextualize the first, but embodiment is certainly the wrong word to describe the correspondence between these two phrases. Sharpe invokes it, however, implying a precision that results in a magical embodiment right before our eyes, willing us to accept his claim and forget what embodiment means—namely giving something a body or concreteness, even capturing its spirit. Upon examination, the second phrase is merely a lengthier abstraction itself that doesn't embody much of anything. DeLillo gives us nonsensical non-images like streaming forms, which is the equivalent of describing flowing solids, while “office discourse”, borne as it is upon those undifferentiated streaming forms, is more vague corporate jargon that barely embodies its own essence let alone that of the nebulous “routine stimulus”.

Of course, Sharpe is only suggesting this embodiment, as if DeLillo's feat and his claim are so bold he's going out on a limb to do so. In an ironic way he is. For while certain structures and phrases are identified in the text, claims about them are made without regard for their specific content or meaning--a slight of hand (textual analysis implied but not undertaken) that transubstantiates a very elementary technique (apposition), even an imprecise and possibly juvenile habit of exposition, into a significant literary feat. Yet, expose the rhetoric and the passage to close analysis and the boast Sharpe makes for DeLillo's rigorous pursuit of “the texture of contemporary life” through apposition is like claiming the apposition as a significant thing in itself, as if a writer stringing two phrases together meaning roughly the same thing with a slight shift or expansion demands our awe, in effect claiming that what I've just done twice (now thrice by self-reference) in this sentence took extraordinary thought. Sharpe bids us marvel, with proverbial dropped jaws, at the fact that repetition repeats and variation varies. Yet, even in that elementary groping after meaning, DeLillo fails to deliver not only the specific embodiment and felicity Sharpe claims for him, but also the insight that is the author's supposed quarry.

And small wonder. Look at the tired and generic language DeLillo uses in this passage: 'He began to think into the day, into the minute. It was being here, alone in time, that made this happen.' Surely Sharpe has picked a poor example of DeLillo’s prowess; for it never gets below the surface generalities of day, minute and time. Of course, these iconic divisions of time are recited for rhetorical effect to signal some weighty utterance, but their generality is an absolute barrier to thought and emotion. For example, what exactly does DeLillo mean by 'alone in time'? People experience aloneness socially, spatially and existentially, but not temporally. Is he intending to say something about how aloneness changes our perception of time? We don't know because he doesn't articulate it. Time, I suspect, is there because DeLillo thinks it sounds profound and therefore bestows an importance on what his character feels without his having to articulate or even discover what that is. Far from boring into the texture of contemporary life, this passage, which Sharpe extols as rich in insight, is totally committed to its surface—a pop lyric truism.

The only crumb we can take from it is this: being alone in time (whatever that means), being away from streaming forms of office discourse (whatever they are) is making him think into the day and even into the minute (whatever that constitutes). This crumb is even smaller than the pea H.G. Wells' hippopotamus hunts down in his metaphor for the sum and substance of a Henry James novel. Only DeLillo’s hippo needs a telescope, because--alone in time, lost there in analytic rigor, searching into the day, into the minute, the second and the millisecond too, away from normal conditions (concrete thought)--that streaming form of insight, the apposition, a grammatical form of hopefulness, may, with more periphrastic utterances, eventually, with further correspondences and equivalencies, result in a kind of verbal Cubism, and, in time, materialize, become visible, resembling the subject under discussion.

The truly interesting possibility this sentence presented—of exploring some transformation in the character's consciousness of time and possibly of himself and how it feels to be utterly alone for perhaps the first time is walled up behind bland rhetorical bricks painted over with abstract appositional graffiti. Instead of feeling the deepest anxiety for this character, we feel nothing. For there is not even a single solid image to arouse our fear and no contrasting image from that former comfort zone of “routine stimulus” by which we come to understand this strange, new awareness.

The last claim Sharpe makes about the quoted passage is indeed going out on a limb:

"...the repetitions of vowels and consonants that constitute the sentences melody serve as acoustical underscore to the semantic doubling of the apposition. In other words, part of what makes DeLillo good is that his sentences sound good, and that the sound reinforces the meaning by giving it a physical dimension, as in music or poetry."

First of all we have ample grounds for disputing that DeLillo's sentence, filled with jargon and bland generalities, sounds good. Certainly 'being away from routine stimulus' and 'all the streaming forms of office discourse' are not phrases rich in music or poetry. The first phrase uses passive voice and both are as dull as an interoffice memo. Moreover, given the evasion of deep communication and concrete imagery in this passage, and the substitution of empty rhetoric in their stead, how indeed does Sharpe expect consonants and vowel sounds to shore up the meaning? It's like trying to plug a burst dam with all the exploded debris.

It is imagery, if anything, that lends physical dimension to the meaning of a sentence, and it is imagery that is totally absent from this passage. Sharpe tries to make his case for the semantic weight of sounds through a comparison with music and poetry—two forms of communication wherein sound no more achieves physical dimension than in the prose he's recommending. It is well to ask, then, how might a repeating ā or ē sound reinforce DeLillo’s insight about being alone in time? Even in a sentence with concrete imagery to support meaning, such as--The steely-eyed boa unreeled and serpentined toward the peacefully sleeping baby--it is easy to hear the repeating e sounds (the s’s also) and how they are spaced to make a rhythm, but it is more difficult to explain how those sounds lend physical dimension or reinforce the meaning any more than if we had written a sentence emphasizing long a's--The slate-eyed snake uncoiled and wound sideways toward the napping babe. Ultimately what makes the threatening quality of either sentence clear is the concrete image of a deadly snake approaching a sleeping infant, while the recurrent vowel sounds, apparently any one will do, don’t precisely carry meaning, though their use in a rhythm within the structure of the sentence could be said optimistically to echo the hypnotic movement of the snake. This may indeed enhance the physical dimension of the image of the snake, but is that the same as giving physical dimension to the meaning of the sentence? In any case, if this “semantic” effect of sounds depends on sentence rhythm, than it is more a function of structure than sound. In my example sentences, at least the S’s, both in appearance and in sound, resonate with the image of a snake. It would be quite a feat indeed to show how sounds can bring physical dimension to the meaning of a sentence as devoid of images as DeLillo’s. As it is, Sharpe fails to identify specific sound repetitions, if indeed they are present, and how they either constitute a melody or reinforce meaning. We are supposed to take this on faith. At least in one sense, not the one Sharpe had in mind, the vowel and consonant sounds succeed in their reinforcing effect--they are every bit as undistinguished as the thought behind DeLillo’s sentence.

Sharpe, like DeLillo apparently, can make things become other things, but only by passing off high-flown nonsense as close reading. Much like the senseless lyricism B. R. Myers has pointed out in Proulx, Guterson and even Cormac McCarthy meant to be swallowed in a breathless gulp for sonorous effect, analysis of this kind is like a magic-carpet-ride offered to you on a shabby living room rug on condition that you close your eyes. All the while your literary genie sits behind you shouting, “Up we go, uh, don't look now, wait, we're going over the moon—keep ‘em closed. I've just touched it! Hey, how great is this?” A child could see the patent pretense in such a game. But then its fitting that co-opted criticism should use the same literary techniques to fool the reader as the literature that co-opts it, and vice versa. Not that Sharpe has set out to defraud his readers. He makes these claims and provides no support for them because in his studies and reading he’s received, and now imitates, a certain way of talking about DeLillo on good authority—a seductive use of sophisticated theory as defacto proof of a sophisticated literature; and by conferring greatness on an author by virtue of that theory in the absence of close reading, theory inserts itself like a metatext into the fabric of the novel. All criticism does this in a sense, but at least criticism that is deeply committed to examining the text has earned the right to influence the way we think about it. Sharpe's analysis does not. He has accepted and internalized his advocacy without close examination, and in turn he passes it on to those next in the academic chain of authority--blog readers--offering no evidence for his claims, yet with the expectation that he’ll be believed as an authority. And who’s to stop him? He has at his command a theoretical vocabulary that may have a seductive, if not coercive, power over undergrads and academic groupies.

Perhaps the most insidious part of Sharpe’s blog is the way he preemptively manufactures dissent by anticipating potential arguments and then dismissing them without the presence of a dissenter in the mix, who might actually argue back. He is as schooled in the complaints of what he calls DeLillo’s “grassroots detractors” as he is in the conventional modes of praise for him. Here he quotes a passage and begins to analyze the “grammatical infelicities” and the nonsensical elements much the way I analyzed the previously quoted passage--one that possessed similar deficits--though ironically there the same kind of infelicities were praised by Sharpe for their insight and to show analytic rigor. Here Sharpe proposes masterly intent in DeLillo’s grammar and sense lapses:

"So DeLillo the rigorous analyst of the texture of contemporary life is also a guy who regularly makes stuff be other stuff that it shouldn't logically be: 'The rented beach house was sex, entering at night after the long stiff drive, her body feeling welded at the joints, and she'd hear the soft heave of the surf on the other side of the dunes, the thud and run, and this was the line of separation, the sound out there that marked an earthly pulse in the blood.'

Well, “entering” is a dangling participle, among other grammatical infelicities, and while “thud and run” and “the sound out there” are clearly two phrases describing the same thing, how is either of them a “line of separation”? But DeLillo throughout his work has lavished attention on uses of language that aren't correct or don't quite make sense. His people make a hash of grammar-“Which, by the way, did you get my postcard?”-while he investigates everyday vernacular's routine betrayals of its own presumed sense-making efficacy-“Light-skinned black woman,” for example, or, in reference to the physical therapy Keith does for his injury from the tower, “He used the uninvolved hand to apply pressure to the involved hand.” DeLillo's people struggle valiantly with or against language as a way to get a foothold in their own chaotic lives…Moments of verbal nonsense and misapprehension are DeLillo's way of representing the mind's-even the intact mind's-logic-transcending representation of the world.

The question is, regarding the quoted passage, whether DeLillo has really made something become something it logically shouldn’t be, that is, whether some genuine, meaningful transcendence has occurred or whether he is guilty of carelessness—the grammatical infelicities that are just as easy to find in embarrassing juvenilia—and has merely parodied his own style in a way that invites more of the rather baroque critical praise dished up by Sharpe, a reception DeLillo has no doubt helped orchestrate himself in his numerous interviews (so many a whole volume has been published) with quotes like the one I prefaced at the outset, offered by Sharpe as a justification of DeLillo’s grammatical and sense transgressions as acts of defiance against entrenched power.

Sharpe never explains, given the inarticulate mess he openly acknowledges, how this sentence can challenge anything except grammatical rules themselves, what if any value there is in this particular grammatical hash, and, finally, why this meaningless imprecision “excites” him. Instead he turns our attention to other more sensible examples of DeLillo showing how languages supposed sense making betrays sense. He has to turn away from the example at hand because it tends to justify DeLillo’s critics. The appositional phrases do little to support or illumine the clunky trope “The rented beach house was sex…”, not being particularly sexy.  It’s just a bit of vague philosophizing that doesn’t add up to a coherent thought. The closest the rest of the passage ever comes to approaching the subject of sex is the vague “earthly pulse in the blood”.

It is clear that what is important to Sharpe is DeLillo’s ideological aim to “challenge entrenched power”, and his agreement with DeLillo’s ideology is the basis of his critical favor. We noted earlier how Sharpe attempted to exalt DeLillo’s standing as writer on an assumption of textual analysis that was never made. Here we see that Sharpe uses approval of DeLillo’s ideological intentions as a justification for discarding textual analysis when he so chooses. The end result is the same: an appearance of rigorous analysis, whereby sophisticated theoretical claims are a means of transmitting complexity to the supposedly examined text, when in reality no deep textual analysis is made and the text in question is actually exalted on the basis of its favored ideology not literary value.

All of those who commented on Sharpe’s blog are believers too. Even those who found fault with some aspect of DeLillo’s style, did not argue on the points made by Sharpe in his piece. One comment in particular shows the closed critical circle that this blog represented:

"A fine analysis on the transformative power of apposition in Delillo's (sic) prose."

"Defenders of book grammar in fiction remind me of the armed guards in those little outhouses by the driveways at the borders of Gated Communities. They stand posted to serve the interests of literature as the guards stand to serve the interests of greater humanity."

"In the attacks on Delillo's prose, I perceive a deeply conservative and parochial fear of contingency, of the conditioned and relative nature of authority. His sentences tear down the hedgerows and fences that protect us from an open and unguarded encounter with the world; by freeing us from _comprehention (sic)_ they expose us to _apprehension_, which the conservative mind experiences as intolerable anxiety."

Sharpe’s reply presents some contrast to the commenter’s view about what kind of reader dislikes DeLillo and why, but ultimately the awareness of dissident opinions is manufactured and presented second hand, not as a means of considering dissent but as a means of generally defining those who would offer alternative critiques without actually allowing them into the discussion.

"…though DeLillo does indeed seem to be reviled by conservative readers, I have writer friends whom I admire and respect who actively dislike DeLillo, and these are people who are themselves deeply thoughtful and adventurous writers, not at all conservative, so go figure. But I like your point about DeLillo's relation to authority. I am also inspired by him as someone resistant to accepted ways of thinking and seeing, and resistant to entrenched power."

If indeed Daniel Green is justified in his aspiration for the academic blog as a place where “critical discussions…can really turn into discussions across and between blogs, discussions that actually advance the consideration of writers and texts rather than personal agendas and careers” and a place that entertains “queries or dissenting views”, why were there no dissenters among those who were part of the discussion on Sharpe’s blog?

The answer is self-evident—the litblog co-op is ideologically aligned with the academy and mirrors the dominant modes of instruction and student response there. Although you wouldn’t know it from the David versus Goliath rhetoric of Sharpe, the kinds of literary theories he espouses and writer’s of DeLillo’s ilk, who are taught in universities, now represent entrenched power in the academic world not its overthrow.

Be assured, if the literary blog ever finds its way into academic good graces it will be at the further expense of the liberating aspects of the blog as alternative media source and as a place where orthodoxies may be challenged, not only in discussions of literature, but in all matters of academic freedom. Like so many other forms of dissent, it will have been completely co-opted.

2 comments:

  1. Allow me a brief comment on the examples just above. DeLillo is concerned with language and words with an obsession that borders on insanity. Obviously it matters very greatly where the quotation marks go. In all his work DeLillo tries as hard as any writer can to put the ineffable into words. In paragraph 4.1212 of theTractatus Logico Philosophicus Ludwig Wittegenstein wrote "What can be shown, cannot be said." DeLillo is manifestly concerned with this idea in all his work; the most lighthearted, obvious treatment of it occurs in End Zone where Billy Mast is actually taking a course in "the untellable."
    http://postmoderndeconstructionmadhouse.blogspot.com/2013/09/remarks-on-don-delillo-at-ala.html#.UyN3Gz9dXxA

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    1. Thank you, Mr. Stone, for your comment. As writers we confront the challenge of expressing in words what is only an approximation of experience every time we sit down to write. Admittedly, some things are more "untellable" than other things, but language is the only means writers have to express them. If we believed Wittgenstein we would cease writing fiction, I guess, because nothing in fiction can be shown unless it be said. One can see, by these examples even, how a common thing can be made to appear as if it were ineffable (untellable) by vagueness and lack of clarity. Being purposely unclear has a limited value, but as a matter of course (or by way of obsession) it is a bit like botching a difficult culinary technique just to make the point of how difficult it is.

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