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A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

Franzen Fanzo II

Jonathan Franzen, 1996 Harper’s essay.

“Perchance to dream: in the age of images, a reason to write novels”

This is basically a bunch of quotes with sparse comments, maybe not that interesting, but it is behind a paywall usually so could be useful for others; hoping these little extracts don’t piss off Harper’s. Oh wait it’s in “How to be Alone” too, except it’s a 48-hour book in the British Library and I didn’t think I wanted it in time to order it.

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Filed under: reading

Franzen Fanzo

Trying to give myself a crash course in Jonathan Franzen having ignored him forever as probably a bit boring. Now realise that was a bit unfair and he seems like a smart guy so trying to find out what he’s about. (Vaguely conflate Franzen/David Mitchell in my head; similarly arbitrary dislike of latter confused recently by the unexpected plus Eggers pimping Mitchell as a ‘fearless’ writer and the expected neg of flicking through the book and seeing some language that bugged me (innumerable “The [odd occupation, e.g. concubine, herbalist, spice-wrangler] [kooky-foreign-name, e.g. Aibagawa, Kawasemi, Arishiyama] [verb] [adverb] combinations), with the result being I’m not sure what to think about him but probably still won’t be reading his stuff.)

Also I have to write about Franzen’s views on American lit for this chapter I’m writing.

So I read ‘Mr Difficult’ yesterday. Thought there’d be more chatting shit on the writers he didn’t like tbh. He seems to genuinely have wanted to like Gaddis, and obviously loves The Recognitions. Hype around the article made me think he was ripping it apart. One thing he is really good at is concisely and persuasively explaining why he thinks a book is good (or not).

Lean and economical? JR suffers from the madness it attempts to resist. The first ten pages and the last ten pages and every ten pages in between bring the ‘news’ that American life is shallow, fraudulent, venal, and hostile to artists. But there never has been and never will be a reader who is unpersuaded of this ‘news’ on page 10 but persuaded on page 726. The novel becomes as chilly, mechanistic, and exhausting as the System it describes. Its world is ruled by corporate white men who pursue their work with pleasureless zeal, casually sideline women and minorities, and invent difficult insider languages to discourage newcomers: how oddly like the book itself!

Then I read his short story ‘The Failure’ last night in a Wonderful Town New Yorker collection I have. Aging New York hipster hosts his parents for a brief stopover in Manhattan. Clash of cultures. Sexual dysfunction. Thwarted ambitions. Some kind of a ‘postmodern’ collage thing going on where he integrates a concordance of all the breast references in the guy’s screenplay, but mostly pretty ‘straight’. Overall thing going on is the guy being basically a total dick and resenting his parents, exes, sister — anyone who isn’t himself. American solipsism.

‘Mr Difficult’ published in the New Yorker in 2002. ‘The Failure’ also in the New Yorker, in 1999.

That sentence above has no implied meaning.

Now I’m about to read ‘Perchance to Dream’ from Harper’s in 1996. Subtitle: ‘In the age of images, a reason to write novels’.

Filed under: reading


Been rejecting the blog pretty majorly. Most of my internet exists on Tumblr now.

The Paris Review has been rejecting, too. New poetry editor de-accepts (new term inaugurated by this scandal) a bunch of poets/poems previously accepted for print publication. Some people are really angry about this. One of the poor poets, Joshua Corey, has some smart things to say:

It seems to me that they could have been more creative about this. They’ve got a website – the poems could have been placed in a web-only feature. I’d still be disappointed about not being in the print journal, but it wouldn’t be as galling as having one’s acceptance rescinded.


Not too long ago on my blog, I wrote that young writers shouldn’t put too much faith in institutions; that goes for this not-so-young writer as well. This experience will move me even further in the direction I was already headed, toward placing my trust in peers and comrades in the field of innovative writing to create forums for the circulation of exciting work – with new magazines, Web zines, reading series, etc.

Blake Butler has a good response, as usual.

Seems like it would be pretty shitty to think you were getting published in the Paris Review and maybe like tell your friends and be excited about the prestige and the free copy or two of the issue you’d get and think about maybe framing one of them or even sealing one in plastic and keeping it in a bank lockbox to show your kids someday if you don’t have kids already and maybe even happy about the money though that’s not what you’d tell yourself you’re happy about because it’s really the company your poetry would be keeping that’s the main thing and then it’s like BOOM there go your dreams.

The Paris Review blog hasn’t mentioned this yet — think they might be sort of internet-blackmailed into putting the poems in question online? Would feel ‘cheap’ and perfunctory maybe. Seems like a good chapbook could come out of this. Paris Deview? Partus Review? Paris Rereview?

Filed under: reading

About Me:

My name is Kevin O'Neill and I am in the fifth year of a part-time PhD in the English Department of Goldsmiths, London, UK. I used to teach undergrad classes there (now: not, because there are other PhD students who need teaching experience). I work (most of the time) in the Oxfam shop in Dalston because few people get paid to do humanities PhDs.

My research centres around the literary journal McSweeney's. My interest is developing into what McSweeney's tells us about two separate (but I guess related) fields: 1) literary institutions 2) American cultural production, more broadly. This blog was initially about my PhD but is now a more general thinking space.

See right for my flickr/twitter/delicious feeds, then below for other versions of me.

Email is looceefir on gmail.


July 2010
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