Literary Levittowns

“Having spent some time lately reading American journals, I would say that much of the writing is of a high caliber, there is plenty of fantastic thinking in fiction out there, but one also notices in too many places something like a common house style. A style learned, pruned from the lectern. Too many writers keep building a clearly programmatic, indoctrinated structure, peopled with programmatic, indoctrinated gestures toward the heart. The prevalence of rhetorical pathos through fiction, a cornucopia of sincerity. Sincerity is prolix. And once that first novel is contemplated, the forests rustle in terror. Here’s another ‘sweating, free-dreaming maniac with another thousand-pager,’ as [Martin] Amis put it.

“Sincerity is inelegant, it doesn’t know condensed articulation. It always ranges exclusively horizontally and settles flat around its subject. It does not and cannot penetrate, though it may try. It may be adequate, polished, but one is tempted to ask: is it necessary? Is it urgent?

“Authentic fiction is not sincere; it transmogrifies fantasy into truth. But truth and sincerity are not synonyms. Fiction wants to leap into the space of meaning and self, even when the setting is panoramic, horizontal. W.G. Sebald, whose books really mostly consist of short prose fictions, is always relentlessly arcing inward this way, and a page of, say, The Emigrants yields more in the way of cerebral stimulation (the heart too is pinched, but not cheaply, not feebly) than a thousand of those other, earnest, sincere ones. The sincere artist itemizes easy facts and turns them into easy truths. Or rather, does not turn them into anything: they stand there naked, never having been dressed.

“And all these educated writers: there is something vulgar about all that competence. Although I’m not sure authentic writing can be taught, it is certainly possible to teach all the right-sounding, writerly, artisanal gestures. Curiously, the preoccupation with Voice produces an amazing amount of very similar narrative voices: all those cute first-person narrators.” — Elvis Bego, “Dr. Aira: In Defense of Short Books”

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