Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

The 15 Most Overrated Contemporary American Writers

Anis Shivani

Anis Shivani writes:

Are the writers receiving the major awards and official recognition really the best writers today? Or are they overrated mediocrities with little claim to recognition by posterity? The question is harder than ever to answer today, yet it is a worthwhile exercise to attempt (along with identifying underrated writers not favored by bureaucracy).

It’s difficult to know today because we no longer have major critics with wide reach who take vocal stands. There are no Malcolm Cowleys, Edmund Wilsons, and Alfred Kazins to separate the gold from the sand. Since the onset of poststructuralist theory, humanist critics have been put to pasture. The academy is ruled by “theorists” who consider their work superior to the literature they deconstruct, and moreover they have no interest in contemporary literature. As for the reviewing establishment, it is no more than the blurbing arm for conglomerate publishing, offering unanalytical “reviews” announcing that the emperor is wearing clothes (hence my inclusion of Michiko Kakutani).

The ascent of creative writing programs means that few with critical ability have any incentive to rock the boat—awards and jobs may be held back in retaliation. The writing programs embody a philosophy of neutered multiculturalism/political correctness; as long as writers play by the rules (no threatening history or politics), there’s no incentive to call them out. (A politically fecund multiculturalism—very desirable in this time of xenophobia—is the farthest thing from the minds of the official arbiters: such writing would be deemed “dangerous,” and never have a chance against the mediocrities.)

The MFA writing system, with its mechanisms of circulating popularity and fashionableness, leans heavily on the easily imitable. Cloying writers like Denis Johnson, Amy Hempel, Lydia Davis, Aimee Bender, and Charles D’Ambrosio are held up as models of good writing, because they’re easy enough to copy. And copied they are, in tens of thousands of stories manufactured in workshops. Others hide behind a smokescreen of unreadable inimitability—Marilynne Robinson, for example—to maintain a necessary barrier between the masses and the overlords. Since grants, awards, and residencies are controlled by the same inbreeding group, it’s difficult to see how the designated heavies can be displaced.


“Un país se conoce en quince minutos por su pornografía”

Paul Theroux

Catalina Guerrero escribe:

Si alguien quiere conocer un país en ‘tan solo quince minutos’ lo único que tiene que hacer es mirar su pornografía. Lo dice toda una autoridad de la literatura de viajes, el estadounidense Paul Theroux, quien participó ayer en Madrid en unas jornadas sobre Literatura y Automóvil.

Y advierte que ‘no es broma’. Cada país, asegura, tiene su propia pornografía y si la analizas puedes saber ‘rápidamente, en quince minutos, cuál es la vida interior de los hombres y qué piensan de las mujeres’.

‘Si un marciano aterrizase en la Tierra solo tendría que buscar pornografía en internet para saber cómo somos’, mantiene Theroux, quien ha vivido 50 de sus 71 años como trotamundos.

Un aniversario que ha celebrado con la publicación este año de El Tao del viajero (Alfaguara), una compilación de lo mejor de su obra y de los pasajes más memorables de aquellos autores que lo han formado como lector y como viajero. Eterno aspirante al Premio Nobel de Literatura, al que se refiere como ‘la lotería sueca’, Paul Theroux cuenta con una prolífica obra entre la que destaca, entre otros libros, el primero: El gran bazar del ferrocarril (1972), que lo catapultó a la fama y constituye un clásico del género de viajes.

Escribió La costa de los mosquitos, adaptada al cine por Peter Weir, El viejo expreso de la Patagonia, En el Gallo de Hierro, Las columnas de Hércules, El safari de la estrella negra, La calle de la media luna, Millroy, el mago, Mi historia secreta, Kowlloon tong, Hotel Honolulu, Elefanta Suite, Tren fantasma a la Estrella de Oriente y Un crimen en Calcuta.

También publicó la crónica de su truncada amistad de tres décadas con el Premio Nobel V.S. Naipaul (La sombra de Naipaul) y en junio de 2013 Alfaguara tiene previsto publicar en español The lower river, una novela sobre el espejismo de la felicidad. Libros que gustan a Barack Obama, según le dijo a Theroux el propio presidente estadounidense cuando se conocieron en 2006 en un restaurante en Hawai, donde nació el inquilino de la Casa Blanca y donde el escritor, cuya mujer es de estas islas, pasa temporadas.

‘El mundo está mejor y más seguro con Obama que con Romney’, afirma Theroux, quien espera que sus conciudadanos renueven en la Presidencia del país al candidato demócrata frente al republicano.

“…I was drawn to Pizarnik”: Suzanne Jill Levine

Suzanne Jill Levine

In an interview with “Words Without Borders”, Suzanne Jill Levine, a Consulting Editor for Interlitq, states:

“Also, very early on I was drawn to Pizarnik, I thought her prose poems were so powerful. And knowing that she was a lesbian, from a Jewish background, that she was marginal, that she had struggled intensely, I thought it was very important to make her known. But most importantly, I was at the time in love with her writing and wanted to somehow make that writing into my own language, I wanted to hear it in my English. So, to this day, the main reason that brings me to any book is that I want to possess in some way the writing. The best translations I did or the most important ones were translations of writing I could be enthusiastic about.”

Read Suzanne Jill Levine’s translation of Alejandra Pizarnik’s “Para Janis Joplin”.

“There is an agnostic gospel even a nonbeliever can take away from Pym…”: Matthew Schneier

Barbara Pym

Matthew Schneier writes in The New York Times:

That could be because, despite what some of her characters think, marriage is not the ultimate Pymian gratification. Her heroines are not all spinsters; Wilmet Forsyth in “A Glass of Blessings” (1958) is married, contentedly enough. But marriage is not her happy ending; her husband flirts with an affair, a friend’s husband flirts with her, and she in turn flirts with a man who turns out to be gay. Ianthe Broome, who forms the unsuitable attachment of “An Unsuitable Attachment” (written in the early 1960s, but published posthumously in 1982), does eventually get the marriage no one expects of her, described in terms so chill and flat they banish any thought of romance in favor of doldrum domesticity. Are the lovers “imparadised in one another’s arms, as Milton put it,” as one guest suggests? No, he corrects himself: “Encasseroled, perhaps.”

That’s a typical Pym puncturing. She is a comedian of manners, and a fastidious chronicler of her chosen country, whose map stretches from Anglican suburbia to country parishes and metropolitan London. The church and its ritual provide endless fodder; it gives structure to Pym’s novels, as it gave structure to her life. But it is a misapprehension to think her work speaks only to the devout. There is an agnostic gospel even a nonbeliever can take away from Pym, and it goes like this: Life is full of mild, durable disappointments. It can even be funny.

Her nominal purview may be narrow but her insight into the drowsy roil of human society extends to the devout and the lax. Her gift is to find the venality that afflicts the holy and the profane alike, and to present it without malice or spite. (Larkin called Pym’s an “innocent irony.”) And her charm is to forgive even the most glib, vulgar, dull or boorish, which is to say, all of her characters, and all of us in our turn. It is nearly a banality to say she is an astute social anthropologist, given the preponderance of anthropologists in her novels. (Pym, who completed her first novel at 16, kept a day job her whole writing life, at the International African Institute in London.) “Haven’t the novelist and the anthropologist more in common than some people think?” Everard wonders. An excellent woman might not feel the need for such an obvious statement.

Wallace Stevens as an American Poet: Lecture by Helen Vendler

Wallace Stevens

January 17, 2012 – Helen Vendler, one of the leading American poetry critics, as well as a distinguished professor in Harvard University’s Department of English, discusses Wallace Stevens, the poet. She dives into some of his work in order to show why he is one of the finest American poets to set ink to paper. Wallace Stevens was born in 1879 and died in 1955 and was awarded a Pulitzer prize that same year.
Stanford University:

Stanford Humanities Center: