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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Archives | Experimental Fiction

Saturday, July 25, 2009

National Humanities Blog

Posted by Bill Benzon on 07/25/09 at 05:14 PM

I’ve previous noted that the National Humanities Center has created a website for interrogating the limits and extensions of the human. That website has a blog (simply called the Forum) that has is conducting a wide range of discussions and is currently scheduled with contributors through the summer of 2010 (see calendar at uppler left here). At the moment Joseph Tabbi is discussing “On Reading 300 Works of Electronic Literature: Preliminary Reflections." You might want to drop by and listen-in or even comment.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How awful have these past few months been for contemporary letters?

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 04/19/09 at 08:20 PM

Here’s a paragraph from the late David Foster Wallace’s review of the late, as of today, J.G. Ballard’s 1991 collection War Fever:

J.G. Ballard is not a great fiction writer, but he is an important one.  If that seems like an inconsistent judgment, be advised that American readers who know Ballard only via his moving, Spielbergable memoir Empire of the Sun do not know the real J. G. Ballard.  The real Ballard has since the early ‘60s been a pioneer of a certain sort of literary science fiction I like to call Psy-Fi.  Psy-Fi, often parodic, surreal and grotesque, and almost always set in some near and recognizable future, seeks to explore the psychopathology of post-atomic life, stuff like high technology, mass-media, advertising, PR, totalitarianism, etc.

When he wrote this in 1991, Wallace himself had just started writing an “often parodic, surreal and grotesque” novel “set in [the] near and recognizable future” that sought “to explore the psychopathology of post-atomic life, stuff like high technology, mass-media, advertising, PR, totalitarianism,” and more than a little et cetera.  I’d never considered my passion for both novelists related until I stumbled across this review a few months back.  The coldness Wallace speaks of in Ballard’s prose is utterly unlike anything you find in Wallace’s own work.  Even when his narrators speak, as he claimed Ballard’s do, in a “flat, scholarly narrative voice, [with] an air of lab technicians looking at stuff under glass,” the result never resembles the clipped, clinical speech of which Ballard was a master—for in Wallace, such disinterested precision is always affected.  But without Ballard, there would have been no Wallace; in fact, without Ballard, contemporary literature would look very different. 

A British friend once told me that Ballard was “Our [meaning English-speaking] Borges.” I’m not sure he was right, but I’m not about to argue that he was wrong.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The rubble of a prolonged catharsis.

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 02/08/09 at 09:55 PM

Checking up that “proud cock” is two words, not one, so that I might strut it out, I came across the entry for “beast language“ in the Dictionary of Poetic Terms.  The diction of the entry is either unconscionably vague or deliciously derisive:

Theoretically, it seems the language of the poem moves backward from conceptual words to an intelligence of pure sound utterance that calls attention to the form, meaning, and derivation of the word.  The form is probably meant to be experienced more than intellectually understood, an experience that presumably links the reader with his own senses and the animal origins of language.

Since my knowledge of post-1940 American literature amounts to what I’ve read for pleasure and the Lord set Sunday aside for whimsical researches, I decided to find out whether the entry ought to be applauded or condemned.  First up, according to Google Book Search, was a work I inadvertantly committed to the memory hole: William Gass’s The World Within the Word.  In “Food and Beast Language,” Gass talks about something else entirely; namely, the forced materiality of Henry Miller’s prose.  Of its effect on Miller’s signature subject, Gass concludes:

Continue reading "The rubble of a prolonged catharsis."

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Reader and the Page

Posted by Daniel Green on 12/22/08 at 06:00 AM

John Lingan’s essay on William Gaddis in the latest Quarterly Converstation is very good, one of the best analyses of Gaddis’s work I’ve read recently. I particularly like this description of The Recognitions and JR:

Gaddis anticipated postmodern American literature’s obsessions with entropy and the “death of the author,” but he shared the high modernists’ attention to form. Like Joyce peppering Ulysses’s newsroom scene with capitalized headlines, Gaddis constructed The Recognitions and JR as mimetic of their subjects—the former is as bulging and ornate as the Flemish paintings that protagonist Wyatt Gwyon is paid to forge, and the latter is one continuous flood of voices, frequently unidentified, that recall either a stock ticker’s relentlessness or an overlapping teleconference. . . .

I also mostly agree with this characterization of Gaddis’s work:

Just as his novels JR and A Frolic of His Own announce their subjects (”Money . . . ?” and “Justice?” respectively) in their opening sentences, William Gaddis’s career could have started with the question, “Work?” No single word better encapsulates the concerns and organizing metaphor for Gaddis’s artistic project, in which he chronicles the myriad ways that postwar industrial American culture devalues and drowns out individual expression in an endless barrage of information. His concerns were weighty—nothing less than the erosion of western culture and society—but Gaddis’s novels are ultimately saved from grim systemic coldness by his emphasis on work, which he defined strictly and defended with religious zeal. To Gaddis, work equaled an individual effort (best exemplified by the sympathetic and underappreciated artists of his first novels, The Recognitions and JR) to sort through the swarming cultural ephemera and create, with monastic persistence, something that no machine or business could adequately reproduce. Since Gaddis believed the two to be tantamount, his emphasis on the value of work was nothing less than a defense of the artistic impulse itself.

I don’t think that Gaddis avoids “grim systemic coldness” simply through his depiction of work (a point on which I elaborate below), but that the “work” of art holds special value for him is clearly enough illustrated in his novels.

Continue reading "The Reader and the Page"

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Platonic Philosophical Ascent for Dummies

Posted by Bill Benzon on 10/21/07 at 12:14 PM


Continue reading "Platonic Philosophical Ascent for Dummies"

Deconstruction, Street Style

Posted by Bill Benzon on 10/21/07 at 11:40 AM

i'm leavin i'm leavin.jpg

too late!

Continue reading "Deconstruction, Street Style"

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Posted by Bill Benzon on 09/23/07 at 08:50 AM

Just found this place, this UbuWeb, this morning when I was looking for Barthes’ essay on the death of the author. It was originally published in a multi-media magazine-in-a-box called Aspen, which is archived here. Lots of other stuff here as well, e.g. a tribute to Mary Ellen Solt (1920-2007) with a collection of her concrete poems, e.g. Marigolds:

Continue reading "UbuWeb"

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A Retroactive Historical Trajectory

Posted by Daniel Green on 06/19/07 at 07:26 PM

It’s good that Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss print at the end of the book an interview with themselves about Interfictions, an “anthology of interstitial writing” they’ve edited and published through the Interstitial Arts Foundation. Otherwise I, for one, would have finished the book, including its nominal “Introduction,” without having much of an idea what either “interfiction” or “interstitial” are supposed to mean.

Heinz Insu Fenkl’s intoduction tells us that a book of his was published as a novel, even though it was really a memoir. Later, a publisher wanted to “repackage” the book as a memoir. Presumably, then, the book is neither a novel nor a memoir, but something “in-between,” even though Fenkl’s account makes it perfectly clear that it is a memoir, its “tropes, its collaging of time and character” notwithstanding. Using what Fenk thinks of as “novelistic” devices not make the book a novel. Not wishing to have it understood as a memoir does not make it other than a memoir.

Continue reading "A Retroactive Historical Trajectory"

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A World Apart: “Contemporary Literature” and the Academy"--Part IV (and Last)

Posted by Daniel Green on 11/22/06 at 04:27 PM

Parts I, II, and III.

By 1980 “contemporary literature” had indeed been established as a subject of academic inquiry and criticism—in many ways it was increasingly identified with the avant-garde in academic scholarship, and would continue to be associated with the subsequent rise to prominence of critical theory—perhaps more quickly and readily than Ihab Hassan or Marcus Klein (or Jerome Klinkowitz) would have been able to anticipate. In turn, the study of contemporary literature as a regular part of the curriculum was firmly established in most universities and would soon enough be so pervasive in all colleges and universities as to seem thoroughly unexceptional. Many such courses would develop into ordinary survey courses in which efforts to “cover” as representative a sample of postwar fiction would be made, but the published scholarly and critical coverage of contemporary fiction at least in 1980 and for many of the years following was focused intensely if not exclusively on the postmodern. (In retrospect, very little academic criticism of “minimalism” and neorealism was published until much later—and, comparatively, really very little at all—even though these challenges to postmodern practice began appearing as early as the mid 1970s.) Although this will likely turn out to have been the most significant movement in American fiction of the second half of the century, its central place in the newly respectable academic study of the subject ultimately worked to in effect push aside the criticism of contemporary writing as such in favor of a more concentrated consideration of the effects of the postmodern approach, at least as this was understood by individual critics operating under their own particular assumptions.

Continue reading "A World Apart: “Contemporary Literature” and the Academy"--Part IV (and Last)"

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Ubiquity of Metafiction

Posted by John Holbo on 11/12/06 at 01:39 AM

We need more fiction posts around the place, or at least stuff for those who are tired of talking about the Bérubé book. (I need a break from grading.)

A couple days ago I followed a link from Political Theory Daily, a link I am now unable to locate, to a piece on Stephen King, by James Grainger, that I am now only able to locate here. Well, that will do:

Stephen King’s esteemed place in the hierarchy of genre fiction authors is undisputed, but a more contentious question has arisen in the decade or so: Can King’s work be considered literature?

Fans, and even a few brave academics, have argued that King’s novels and stories, taken together, provide a composite portrait of late-20th-century American masculinity in crisis. They also point to his undeniable storytelling skills, his vast if somewhat lurid imagination and his gift for capturing American speech as proof of, if not literary greatness, then something more than mere hack work.

This question hit the media in a big way when King won the 2003 National Book Award for distinguished contribution to American letters. King’s supporters, many of them such “literary” authors as Michael Chabon, said that it was about time that a writer of King’s calibre was recognized by the literary establishment; many traditionalists saw the bestowing of the award on a mere horror writer as another example of the dumbing down of American culture.

There was nothing new in any of this. The literary value of genre fiction, broadly defined as work that eschews moral ambiguity, narrative experimentation, verbal nuance and depth of characterization for such “lowbrow” considerations as story, suspense and obvious readability, has vexed critics and academics of the English-speaking world since at least the late 19th century.

The author suggests that King’s new book, Lisey’s Story [amazon] is a good test of his merits. You can read the review to get a plot summary. It’s a story about the widow of a dead author ... who sounds a lot like Stephen King. So it’s sort of metafictive, but it sounds like it’s verging on fanfictive. Self-insertion problems, maybe. What do you think of King? When I was a teenager I read everything and he has profoundly shaped my literary sensiblity, for better or worse. But I haven’t read a thing by him for nigh on 15 years, I’ll wager.  So obviously I’m not going to talk about that. What do you think about genre fiction as “work that eschews moral ambiguity, narrative experimentation, verbal nuance and depth of characterization for such “lowbrow” considerations as story, suspense and obvious readability.” It’s not really a proper definition because it actually doesn’t say anything about - well, genre, which really ought to be shoehorned in somewhere. But never mind that. Even a proper definition of ‘genre fiction’ will tend to include ‘metafiction’ as a subvariety. Because metafiction addresses itself to the devices of fiction. So those must be on display. And that means we’ve got genre, plus play. But then it’s obviously inappropriate to define metafiction as even tending to eschew moral ambiguity, experimentation, verbal nuance, character, and so forth. What metafiction does is precisely attempt to realize these virtues by means of genre. The only question is whether it will be willing to leave behind the ‘lowbrow’ stuff to achieve these ends. Anyway, it strikes me that the only things I really read these days are metafictional attempts to realize the sophisticated stuff without losing the ‘lowbrow’ stuff. All my comic books are comic books about comic books. I’m bored by comic books that aren’t about comic books. I like Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem because it’s all metafiction about genre fiction. I really liked Dave Moles Twenty Epics [amazon] - because it’s metafictional and fun.  It’s metafictional in that it was - its editor informs us - inspired by a piece entitled ‘how to write an epic fantasy’ that somehow did a good ‘bigger on the inside than the outside’ trick by producing the flavor of epic at only short story length. Sort of affectionate-ironic, as Moles goes on to explain: “Because we used to like epics. We used to invest untold hours in those big fat fantasy series, those brick-thick novels full of unpronounceable naming schemes, gender-segregated magic systems, color-coded conceptions of absolute good and absolute evil. But somewhere along the way they lost their charm ... “ Hence Twenty Epics. I was bored by the ones that played it straight, amused by the straight parodies, but liked best the ones that were appreciatively playful with genre constraints without bursting forth into full parody. Those seem to have a nice ‘innocence and experience’ balance. This is what you once liked, this is how you are now. Somehow you see that the child is the father of the man. That sort of thing.  Anyway, it’s what I like about Susanna Clarke, whose wonderful Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories [amazon] I just finished. It’s metafiction, because it mashes up Jane Austen and fairy tales and fantasy conventions generally. It’s hilarious but serious and sharply observant and rather sentimental. The title story - first published in 1996, before she wrote Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell - gives us Strange and Norrell, their first appearance. The master and his pupil (the first and second Phenomena of the Age) engage in pedantic, mannered debate about the non-existence of the Raven King in the pages of the Edinburgh Review. Three ladies show Jonathan there might be a bit more to the Romantic side of it (which, being basically J.S. Mill plus the ability to do magic, he already knows, but feels obliged not to publish, out of deference to his Master.) Then there’s the tremendous sentimentality of a story within the story about the Raven King, when he was only a Raven Child. Lovely.

Are you, like me, exclusively addicted to genre metafiction? Do you, like me, find it satisfyingly easy to satisfy this taste with lots of pretty ok stuff? (Yes, I know. Irony is everywhere these days, the kids are all into this newfangled mood. But my point is a bit more specific than just that.)

And while I’m on the subject. Do you like those ‘series of unfortunate events’ books. I got bored with them after a while. I see the last one [amazon] just came out. Hmmm, what would be a really depressing mash-up for a children’s story. How about: Heather Has Two Wire-Mommies. (I can see the heroine as a sort of irritated teen, with these strange metallic figures trying hard to raise her within what turns out to be a laboratory. But eventually Heather gets her revenge.)

Yeah yeah, I’ve sort of written this post about twice before. So sue me. The stuff interests me. Speaking of repeating myself, this post reminds me of some other good metafiction I perpetrated long ago, in this old CT thread. Good games. Mash-ups of classic fiction. I’ll just polish up the better bits and put them under the fold. Feel free to add your own.

Continue reading "The Ubiquity of Metafiction"

Monday, September 11, 2006

Extra! Extra! YouTube Celeb exposed! (NOT)

Posted by Bill Benzon on 09/11/06 at 12:35 PM

Things get curiouser and curiouser at YouTube. I woke up in the middle of the night—as I often do—and decided to see what’s happening on YouTube—which I do only rarely. I found out that bigcountry64 had posted a video exposing Paul Robinett, aka renetto. But, half an hour ago, when I decided to follow up on that, I discovered that the exposé had disappeared, along with the response that Robinett had posted.

What gives? I surely don’t know. But . . . 

Continue reading "Extra! Extra! YouTube Celeb exposed! (NOT)"

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

“I Don’t Want to Lose What I Called to Say”

Posted by Daniel Green on 01/31/06 at 01:00 AM

The fiction of Stephen Dixon starkly illustrates the difference between realism as a literary effect and “story” as a structural device, a distinction that is often enough blurred in discussions of conventional storytelling. “Realism” is the attempt to convince readers that the characters and events depicted in a given work are “like life” as most of us experience it, but, as Dixon’s stories and novels demonstrate, story or plot conceived as the orderly--or even not so orderly--arrangement of incidents and events for explicitly dramatic purposes need not be present for such an attempt to succeed. Few readers are likely to finish his latest novel, Phone Rings (Melville House Publishing) thinking it does not provide a comprehensive and intensely realistic account of its characters and their circumstances, and of the family relationships the novel chronicles, but many if not most will have concluded that fidelity to the stages in Freytag’s Triangle has very little to do with its realism.

Which is not to day that Phone Rings has no story to impart, only that it is one that emerges in the narrative long run, through the accumulation of episodes and interchanges (in this case, as in Dixon’s previous novel, Old Friends, interchanges over the telephone), although the episodes themselves retain a kind of narrative autonomy separate from their placement as points on a narrative arc. Ultimately, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, but the relationship between the parts is lateral, not linear, the story an aftereffect of Dixon’s relentless layering of these episodic elements. (In some Dixon novels, such as, for example, Interstate or Gould, the repetitions, reversals, and transformations he effects through such layering become the story, or at least what makes the story memorable and gives these novels their aesthetically distinctive shape.) One could say that Dixon’s commitment to realism precludes imposing “story” when doing so would only be a way of distorting reality by imputing to it more order and more direction than it in fact has.

Continue reading "“I Don’t Want to Lose What I Called to Say”"

Friday, December 30, 2005

Whiplash (literary texts cited at the MLA)

Posted by Amardeep Singh on 12/30/05 at 12:28 PM

MLA was fun this year; it was great to finally meet many Valve people in the flesh, as well as Clancy Ratliff, Charlie Bertsch (check out his pictures of Dupont Circle), Scott McLemee, and Michael Berube.

The following comments are full of non-sequiturs, digressions, and random bits. But that is the nature of MLA, a great whirlwind of schmoozing intermixed with seriousness.

(Incidentally, the following shouldn’t be taken as representative. I was only there for two of the four days, and made it to about eight panels—about 1 percent of the total panels occurring at the convention.)

Continue reading "Whiplash (literary texts cited at the MLA)"

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Book and Volume

Posted by Jonathan Goodwin on 12/21/05 at 10:19 AM

Nick Montfort, who wrote the (or at least “a") book on interactive fiction, has recently released Book and Volume, which is set in nTopia, has allusions ranging from Pynchon to Gygax, and feels very PKD--I mean that neutrally. My discussion is going to include some mild spoilers.

Continue reading "Book and Volume"

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

On Fathers & Sons; or, “He’d Already Rather Be Bow-Hunting”

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 11/09/05 at 10:10 PM

[Warning: This post may not appeal to everyone.  Just saying, you know, ‘cause I’m polite and all.  Also, I hope (but believe I’ve failed) to’ve communicated the complexity of the fictional interplay I identify below.  In other words, let the suggestiveness of the situation guide your criticism . . . because it is complex.  I may have oversimplified it in the telling.]

Sons only learn about their fathers obliquely.  The rituals of father and son relations dictate an insurmountable formality which compels them to seek other avenues of understanding.  For most of the 20th Century, those other avenues terminated in weekly sessions with other sons’ fathers (and infrequently mothers) who would tell them about Oedipus’ father (and unfortunate mother) and ask for payment in cash.  For reasons which have more to do with the culture of analysis captured by Woody Allen than anything else, I associate this obsession with Freudian psychotherapy and unkempt beards with the 1970s.  All of which I offer as introduction to the idea that Noah Baumbach, writer of the recently released The Squid and the Whale (2005) and the brilliant Kicking & Screaming (1995), learned about his father through the fiction of his father, the novelist and short story writer Jonathan Baumbach

Why do I find this interesting?  If Jonathan Baumbach’s fiction is staunchly personal but ultimately fictional, then Noah Baumbach’s depictions of the fathers of his characters don’t refer to his father so much as the narrators of his father’s fictions.  In other words, the narrator of Jonathan’s The Life & Times of Major Fiction appears as the father in all of Noah’s films.  I originally thought I would land somewhere in the vicinity of "Jonathan’s narrators are autobiographical in an uncomplex fashion," at which point I could dismiss the artistry of Jonathan’s novels and claim that Noah’s depiction of Jonathan (played by ‘70s icon Elliot Gould) nailed him.  But as I re-read The Life & Times today I realized that argument would be facile in the extreme. 

Continue reading "On Fathers & Sons; or, “He’d Already Rather Be Bow-Hunting”"
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