Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Not the New Yorker (link fixed)

Mithridates has pointed out that the link in the sidebar to Samizdat doesn't work, because .com got left out after helendewitt. It now works. This is the link to a page with two mp3 files of Roland Barthes' 1975 Radioscopie interview with Jacques Chancel (as far as I know unavailable anywhere else on the web), as well as two stories (unavailable anywhere else in the world).

A reader who liked the stories and can't hack the fiction in the New Yorker commented on the latter:

But the short stories are terrible. I keep trying to read them, and every time my heart starts sinking after a page or so, and I then flick through the next couple of pages rapidly to see if I can see anything more interesting coming, and I never can, so I move onto a proper article (some of their proper articles are quite interesting...). I never read Harper's, so I don't know if they are any better, but I suspect not.

Link in sidebar and also here.


Mithridates said...

I'm also depressed by New Yorker fiction. I usually chalk it up to featureless prose, but there's something about the content that nauseates me as well. The stories are never about events or people that interest me. Starved consciousnesses bobbing around in the plenitudinous torpor of everyday American life: this is what I get in story after story in The New Yorker. And they're often not even stories but slices of life really. A John Updike persona goes to the dentist and some lush self-indulgent comparisons are made between probing in the mouth and fingering a woman. He starts to feel "what it must be like to be a woman." Reference is made to the enervating effects of Muzak. The burning of drills is meticulously registered. He notes that the metal in his mouth is the same metal that's used to make his new golf clubs. The war in Iraq is alluded to, and the TV show "Lost." Then a gray wash of reflection takes place in the sore throb on the way home, something having to do with the narrator's wife and a cheerleader who laid herself out naked on the hood of his Edsel when he was a teenager, long long ago. Throbbing mouth, sore mouth, throbbing penis, sore penis, throbbing vulva, sore vulva, throbbing mouth, sore mouth--the image has come full circle. The End.

Why doesn't someone take this man's typewriter away? (In all fairness, JU didn't write a story corresponding to the scenario I concocted above. That I know of. Though it sound plausible enough to me.)

The other frustrating thing about The New Yorker is that they are continually publishing dead people. Truman Capote had something not long a ago. Elizabeth Bishop, too. Give The Living a break.

My limited experience with Harper's, on the other hand, would have led me to think that they have more interesting stuff, but if they're turning Ithaca's stuff away then they too must've finally entered into senescence. I like Evan S. Connell and have enjoyed some of the stories he's published in Harper's. I've also read two stories by Daniel Mason that are quite good. "Death of a Pugilist" and "A Registry of My Passage On Earth" were very enjoyable. I can't imagine either, especially "A Registry" (because it's a fragmentary narrative told by Brazilian "outsider" artist Arthur Bispo do Rosario), appearing in The New Yorker.

SD said...

I do think that the New Yorker's fiction editor, Deborah Treisman, really does try to introduce newer voices. I see a lot more new names now than before, although I must admit the quality of the stories haven't gone up. But that may have more to do with the state of American fiction writing than anything else? One thing that I am sick of is these publishers using the New Yorker as a springboard to launch some forthcoming novel by a well-established writer. Barf. I know that's common practice that's been in place for a looong time, but I automatically don't read those. (Except for the excerpt from Chang Rae Lee's "A Gesture Life" that was published years ago, which worked as an exquisite short story. But it was the emotional climax of the novel, too... and having read it ruined much of the novel's effect. Yet another reason not to read a novel-excerpt-in-a-short-story's-drag)

I'd say Harper's is even more status quo than the New Yorker; I recognize almost every name on each issue. But I've seen stories by Stuart Dybek & David Bezmozgis published recently in Harper's - two short story writers I like very much (although I haven't read these recently published stories.)

Been reading this site a lot, thanks.

Ithaca said...

SD, what can I say? Mithridates makes me laugh. The New Yorker does publish fiction by writers other than John Updike, but the fact is, if you like John Updike you can trust the New Yorker to find new writers whose work you will also enjoy.

Harper's is a bit different; as a monthly they can publish only 12 stories a year. A couple of years ago they had an issue with an essay by Ben Marcus on experimental fiction, taking on Franzen; an extremely conventional review of Zadie Smith's On Beauty by Wyatt Mason; and Margaret Atwood's reworking of the children's story "The Sky is Falling." Marcus is a wonderful writer, too little known; if they wanted to make a point about experimental writing, why not publish a piece of his fiction, which does things no one else does anywhere? Or the essay and a story? What they seemed to be showing instead was that it's one thing to commission an essay on the importance of innovative fiction, and quite another to publish it in their very own magazine.

SD said...

I remember that Marcus essay. I, too, had felt queasy when I read Franzen bisect the novel into two broad categories, the "contract" novel and the "status." What was more weird was the Cynthia Ozick essay that was published by Harper's a few months back, in which Ozick started to admonish both Marcus and Franzen. And strangely enough, by the end, the essay had turned into a paean to James Wood. What the hell? The clear message here seems to be that everyone involved in this feud is weird.

Thanks for linking the readers to my site, Ithaca. On a side note, I'd love to read your thoughts on Coetzee's discussion of Kurosawa in the NYRB excerpt from his upcoming novel.

Mithridates said...

My August 24th Resolution is to be less flippant. I AM glad I make Ithaca laugh though.

No doubt things have probably changed lately at The John Updiker; I cancelled my subscription a year ago after it got demoted from my coffee table to my bathroom. BUT. Let me just quote you something:

"Of these twenty-two stories, seventeen were first published in The New Yorker."

That sounds like something I made up, but it's on the copyright page of The Afterlife and Other Stories from 1994. OK, so this is 13 years ago. But The New Yorker still needs to atone. That's 77 percent of the stories. Let's say these stories were published over a three-year period. That's just about 1 John Updike story every other month for 3 years in a row. If you want to say 5 years, which seems outlandish to me, but OK: that's 3.5 per year, or about 1 every 3 to 4 months. And this, of course, does not include his reviews and essays.

Ith: The observation about Marcus is just superb: why DIDN'T they include a story? Marcus is not allowed to be mentioned in my household - he's been mean to JB on 2 occasions - but I keep my stash of his books under my bed and secretly envy every single thing he writes. I particularly enjoyed his close-reading and defense of Gaddis in the Harper's thing.

SD: James Wood seems to me an excellent prose artist - we have to grant him his command over metaphor and simile (he calls Thomas Mann's mustache a bourgeois underlining, his slow-burning cigar the very symbol of gradualism) - though his defense of realism and his embargo on writers who choose to write in other forms and draw on other resources than the ones he's comfortable with (e.g., caricature, improbable coincidence, fantasy/magic, information, etc.) make him seem very limited as a critic of the novel, which is the stomach of genres, the most hospitible of all literary forms. As with anybody else, I trust him most when he's writing in praise of another writer. I know this isn't true but I'll say it anyway: Lovers are never wrong.