Sentimental and Manipulative: On Jonathan Safran Foer’s ‘Here I Am’

January 30, 2017 | 6 books mentioned 45 5 min read

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Over the last few years, I’ve developed a certain pattern for whenever Jonathan Safran Foer or his writing come up in conversation. First, I admit that I’ve read all of his books and liked them. Second, I provide the caveat that I was a teenager when read them and haven’t looked at them since. Third, I say that I still stand by Eating Animals and find it to be an interesting piece of literary journalism, but that, of course, I no longer have a high opinion of his fiction. Much of the literary community seems to feel the same way, if they were ever on his side in the first place.

covercoverCursory research indicates that even at the beginning of his career he was a polarizing figure, winning awards and making end-of-the-years lists alongside middling reviews in The New Yorker and The New York Times. This time around, it seems a little more universal. Here I Am received negative reviews from The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The New Republic, and many other prominent outlets. Is the book that much worse than his others? Or are we just different?

My first encounter with Foer’s work was in an English class my junior year of high school. After reading many of the canonical American works — Catcher in the Rye, Beloved, etc. — we closed out the year with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

The book is about a nine-year-old boy, Oskar Schell, whose father passed away in the September 11th terrorist attacks. I was around that age in 2001 and had similar youthful difficulty making sense of what happened. Unlike much of the other work that I had read in English classes up to that point, I felt like I really understood what it was trying to do. The novel was also built on a series of formal techniques that I had not seen before. He dispersed letters from grandparents throughout the narrative and used photographs in contexts that seemed unconventional. These elements created the illusion of complexity, which dazzled me at the time.

coverThe summer after this class, I read Everything Is Illuminated. In it, a character named Jonathan Safran Foer sets out to Ukraine to learn about a woman who saved his grandfather’s life during the Holocaust. Just like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, it switches between two storylines, and just like Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, it resonated with me deeply. I had never read anything else like it.

In the years since this, I have come to think about these novels as sentimental and emotionally manipulative works. It does not take a particularly good writer to make the story of Oskar Schell an emotionally resonant one. The same goes for the story of (the fictional) Jonathan Safran Foer in his first novel. Centering books around flashpoints of international trauma is a quick way to the heart of a reader, and there is something about the way he does it that does not feel earned.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, for example, uses 9/11 as a prop to make its narrative heavier and more believable. His father could have died any other way, and he still could have found the envelope with the word “Black” on the front, and he still could have gone on his adventure. Perhaps, outside the specter of international trauma, it would be unbelievable that all these strangers are willing to speak with this child, but it is unbelievable within the specter of international trauma, anyway. In fact, the collective trauma has nothing to do with why people are so open to him, because in the end the reader learns that it was his mother pulling strings for him the whole time that made it possible.

Similarly, Everything is Illuminated relies heavily on the fictionalized history of the real town of Trochenbord, an exclusively Jewish shtetl located in Poland before the Nazis and the Soviets invaded during World War II. Almost all of the residents were murdered before the Holocaust ended. But replacing the real history with an imagined one turns a town that experienced tragedy into a device that coerces sympathy from the reader. The book takes the name and weight but leaves the substance behind, repurposing real-world suffering into a gimmick.

Still, I couldn’t deny that I found his books deeply moving, and if art is deeply moving, is it possible that it failed? If the impact is there, does it matter whether the writer “earned it” or not? They were gimmicks and tricks and manipulative, yes, but does it matter that they work?

It has been six years since I read his fiction, and it has been 11 years since he has published any. I was curious to see how his writing has changed over the years, as my perception of his work also changed. To bridge the gap between perception and reality, I read his new book.

Here I Am is a much more straightforward family novel than his prior two. The three central conflicts are also basically familial: Jacob and Julia, middle-aged parents of three, are spiraling toward divorce. Sam, their eldest, is 13 but does not want to have his bar mitzvah. Isaac, the great-grandfather, is deciding whether he wants to kill himself or be moved to a nursing home. These three conflicts are done well, or at least well enough.

Foer’s dialogue is also strong, crackling with energy reminiscent of gatherings with my own Jewish family. He proves especially proficient in busy scenes with more than two speaking characters.

However, there are long stretches of time when nobody is speaking, and interiority is not his strong suit by any means. Julia’s inner life is constructed particularly poorly. The writing is overwrought and leans on lists of superficial opinions to create the illusion of character depth, and sometimes it borders on unreadable. When he is willing to allow actions to characterize her, they are bizarre and unbelievable. Once, she asks Jacob to stare at her vagina in order to bring her to orgasm, which works. Another time, she masturbates with a doorknob she got from a hardware store. These moments are predictably unconvincing. As if to prove that his sexual misunderstanding is not sexist, he also devotes an enormous amount of page space to men thinking about their penises and talking about them with other men. These also fail to appear believably on the page.

The major events of the book are similarly hard to believe. About 275 pages into the book, there is a major earthquake in the Middle East, causing devastation in Israel, Jordan, and other surrounding countries. This leads to a series of events that make sense if you squint and are maybe a little drunk, including a total and unconditional withdrawal of Israeli soldiers and citizens from occupied territories and the unification of Jordan and Saudi Arabia into Transarabia. All of this leads to pretty much every country in the region declaring war on Israel.

The point of this, of almost starting World War III, is not to highlight the instability in the Middle East or the danger citizens of the region face or to even add to the conversation about Israel and its relationship with those around it. Instead, the point of this is to highlight the dissonance involved in being an American Jew, and specifically being Jacob, an American Jew who feels like a feckless wimp because he is a feckless wimp and struggling to bear the weight of how “manlier” men see him.

And all of that is very bad. It feels wrong in the moment, and the more one thinks about it, the worse it gets. It is, in a lot of ways, exactly the issue I started to see in his work as I grew up a little and read a lot more. The tragedy that is supposed to give the book its power is a shortcut, a way of giving the book emotional muscle without doing any weightlifting.

Still, I can’t avoid the way I felt at the end. Once the utter bullshit of the “war” falls away, once we are back with the family, the ending works. It is sad, and it made me feel sad. In spite of Foer’s issues, in spite of the flaws wounding Here I Am, in spite of the fact that it’s at least 100 pages longer than it needs to be, when I closed the book for the last time, I was genuinely moved. It ends quietly with a scene that is inevitable, but no less excruciating for it.

Foer is the writer I thought he was. I have a hard time saying the book failed. Maybe Foer’s project is bad, or too sentimental. But if he was trying to get me to feel something, I’d be lying if I said it didn’t work.

is the a fiction writer, critic, and the editor-in-chief of Redivider. His work has been published by Electric Literature, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. He lives in Boston, where he's an MFA candidate in fiction at Emerson College.

45 comments:

  1. Wow. You’ve recreated my ambivalence about Foer to a tee. As soon I admit I might like him, I find myself picking at all the loose threads in his talent. It’s this weird antinomy where I hear both sides of the argument and nod.

    I think part of the tension comes from what you and other critics call “gimmicks and tricks.” On the one hand, I agree with it. I agree that he coopts historical events and cultural hobbyhorses to scaffold otherwise paltry plots. This feels cheap.

    But then there’s another part of me crying out, Isn’t that just the constructedness of fiction? Isn’t that just putting a story together instead of letting it *mystically* ooze out of him in care of: muse? Perhaps he uses literary devices more visibly than other writers (if no less successfully), but these things work in spite of themselves.

    Anyway, I found all of the book’s geopolitical stuff a bit boring. The dialogue carried me through.

  2. Here’s a fun game. Name the context of this Foer quote:

    “[W]hat interested me is 800,000 Americans of extremely diverse backgrounds having access to good writing. A lot of those people don’t have access to libraries, or bookstores. Something felt very democratic and good about this.”

    A. A new grant intended to increase literacy among the poor
    B. A Little Free Library he constructed in his neighborhood
    C. A partnership with NEA to distribute more books in schools
    D. A paid marketing campaign for a fast causal restaurant

  3. I’m receptive to the argument he’s no good. What I’m not receptive to is the fame envy (and anti-semitism?) emerging in the comments. Yikes.

  4. @Fred

    “Well Steve-o that was meant to be my D) but close enough. Well done!”

    Yeah, I know, I should have labelled it “D.5” because that guy’s rant went above and beyond merely answering your question, though it did answer it! Laugh

  5. Ahinoam,

    Is part of knowing “the facts” comparing him to one of the most famously anti-semitic caricatures in literary history? Why not describe his horns while you’re at it? It is entirely possible, and more convincing, to talk about Foer’s horribleness and even his ostensible exploitation of Jewishness without going there.

  6. Jesus, angry much? Also, it’s almost as if we’re on the internet, where people use made up names (for example, I’m actually not of Ambivalent-Face descent), so when someone compares a Jewish writer to the most famous anti-semitic character in history, that might tend to carry more weight than a Jewish username.

  7. @Ed

    “Why not describe his horns while you’re at it?”

    Speaking of which, you may appreciate this revelatory factoid:

    “The Hebrew in Exodus 34:29-30 translates literally to say that after Moses came down from Sinai for the second time, the skin on his face sent forth beams, meaning it shone.
    “A mistranslation in the Latin Vulgate said he was horned.
    Ergo Michelangelo. And cetera.”

    —David Markson

    @Whosiwatsis

    “BTW, do any of you morons realize that Ahinoam is a distinctly Jewish-Israeli name?”

    I had no idea that “Jewish-Israeli names 101” was a required course at Uni! All these years! All these years *not knowing*…!

    (gnashes teeth/ beats breast/ performs auto-wedgie)

  8. Steven Augustine wants us to believe that he’s happily married with a child, but the fact is he lives on this blog and has nothing in his life besides it. Try him: post a comment to him at 3:00 AM local time, regardless of where you are, and within eleven seconds he’ll respond. Poor wretch. probably a 45 y/o virgin.

  9. @ (the wonderfully-named) Steven Augustine Fan:

    Hey, if I get my own stalker, does that mean I’ve really made it? Fabulous!

    Here’s a clip of our Imaginary Daughter… she seems adorably pretentious in this clip but she was SEVEN, when this was filmed, so give her a break (I know: what’s MY excuse?):

    https://vimeo.com/76262335

    Now, how about YOU, “Steven Augustine Fan”? Tell us about YOUR Life.
    How interesting must it be when you take time away from it to obsess over mine?

    PS It’s c. 3 pm in Berlin as I post this. And, oh, if only I could get my Virginity back yet keep my Wife, our Daughter, my Experiences…!

  10. Let the torrents of irrational hate from the semi-literate begin! (or continue, I mean).

    But… have any comments, regarding Literature, to add to that…? Or anything intelligent or informative at all…?

    Nah, didn’t think so.

    Back to yer seething, then!

    [posted at 9:56 am, Berlin time]

  11. Ah, the Millions comment section, aka the Steven Augustine show.

    If you’re posting videos of your child in the comment section of a website, it might be time to step away from the computer.

  12. What is up with The Millions’ comment sections lately? Is it Trump malaise? It’s always been somewhat contentious, but lately it just seems vicious. Can we all go a little easy on one another and realize that there are real people behind the screen names, as well as real people writing the articles? I’m not talking about the rape apologists, antisemites, and MRA trolls who seem to have escaped their quarantine at 4chan and Reddit, but can the real people here try to behave decently to one another?

  13. “What is up with The Millions’ comment sections lately?”

    Not much of a mystery: people who couldn’t get a real argument together to respond to me (without ad hominems), in threads where it might have been appropriate, days or weeks or months back, are busy throwing spitballs now. It’s like junior high school… but more like watching it on TV than being there. In fact, It’s a little like having a private TV channel: I turn it on and there’s *random stuff about me* again! Amazing.

    I’d prefer a better class of attacks (I dearly miss The Valve) but oh well. They’ll lose interest when it dawns on them (finally?) that, as a mildly (?) egocentric person, I find them mildly entertaining!

    Laugh.

    PS I admit, though, I LOVE the day-glow schizophrenia of this from Ms. Jackie C:

    “Bullied by an online troll to prove the existence of his daughter… loser…”

    That was almost an M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end of that one! (cue: Psycho strings)

  14. “You’re kind of living up to your billing here.”

    Well that’s a totally neutral response, isn’t it? No passive-aggressive flaming there.

    Unpronounceable Character Name, please. You posted that particular comment in this particular thread, no? Now look at this thread. The “viciousness” (or attempts at it) that you refer to is abundant in this thread and it is aimed at me … or don’t you see it? I wasn’t talking about ME either… I was talking about the Psycho Brigade. Are Teedle, Jackie C, or “Steven Augustine Fan” making appearances in this thread to comment on the article….?

    If you want the “viciousness” you lament to end, why not start with yourself by resisting the urge to attack a commenter who wasn’t attacking *you*?

  15. While I’m not a fan of Foer or his aesthetics, I do find the central idea of having a changing relationship to the work of an author you constantly engage in is an interesting by itself. I mean, who didn’t reread Salinger years later without feeling underwhelmed?

  16. Steven,

    I was talking about the site in general, referencing a pervasive hostility that has been popping up in other comment threads. And I wasn’t trying to be mean, but you do have a way of making comment fields about you and your hobbyhorses, for instance the personal rape essay that you turned into a referendum on Bill Clinton’s war crimes. I also think you contribute a lot of interesting stuff to threads, for instance your back and forth with Il’ja a while back about jazz and black writers. Basically saying people could generally be less assholish, and you could tone it down a little, but obviously just my two cents.

  17. “And I wasn’t trying to be mean, but you do have a way of making comment fields about you and your hobbyhorses…”

    Whether or not you were trying to be mean, that response was a flamewar tactic.

    Only when the comment fields become anti-SA troll fests do they become about me or my “hobbyhorses”, since personal attacks on me are, by definition, about me. The point of the comment fields should be free and open debate. How about I leave a comment and people either agree or disagree with (or ignore) the comment… without stooping, automatically, to personal attacks? The contentious threads would be shortened dramatically. But to limit the expression of contentiousness to facts/ideas/logic would require more facts/ideas/logic, which is harder work than mud slinging. How many people *have* ideas (of their own)? That question gets at the heart of it.

    “for instance the personal rape essay that you turned into a referendum on Bill Clinton’s war crimes.”

    Well, see, you’ve just indulged in another bit of false rhetoric there: in a comment thread appended to an article about the article’s writer being a survivor of rape, who feels triggered by the Trump Presidency, I mentioned the fact that Bill Clinton is famously accused of rape, so why wasn’t Clinton a trigger? This is a valid question… but valid questions that go against the political ambiance of The Millions are demonized very quickly and without end.

    For more on that, see H.L. Mencken on Boobism.

    ” I also think you contribute a lot of interesting stuff to threads…”

    People only seem interested in the contributions they can attack. The Markson quote I dropped in this thread, for example, is pretty interesting. Any responses to it? Of course not. But things took off when a total idiot I’ve never heard of “barged in” the comment thread and accused me of lying about being happily married and having a daughter! Hilarious.

    “pervasive hostility”

    Tell me about it. The hostility is against Thinking. People who express strong opinions against articles or books/writers they don’t care for, in these threads, shouldn’t be lumped in with the reactionary mass of Lurking Trolls… who are, in aggregate, nothing more than an Online Neurosis.

  18. “Can we all go a little easy on one another and realize that there are real people behind the screen names, as well as real people writing the articles?”

    It’s precisely this realization that makes me wanna rip into them. Why bother if they were bots?

    Oh, and keep feeding that thing. I’m sure it will get satiated eventually.

  19. :\

    You see, Steve has a truly original mind. He has “ideas”. He is a “Thinker”. Everyone else is a Lurking Troll because they can’t admit that Hillary Clinton is a War Criminal. Steve’s Truth is THE Truth. He welcomes “free and open debate” unless you freely and openly disagree with him, at which point you become a mud slinger/Lurking Troll/Online Neurotic (don’t ask him about the capitalization, it only makes sense to a mind as brilliant as Steve’s).

    Steve, let’s test the waters about your “free and open” mantra. Now that your “harmless buffoon” Donny Trump is officially a War Criminal, are you willing to admit the election was a little more nuanced than “HRC = War Criminal so Vote for Trump (or Joke-Vote for Stein)?” By your definition (maybe mine too) every postwar President is a War Criminal – being one is a prerequisite for the job – so perhaps we need to go deeper in evaluating candidates? I freely and openly await your response.

  20. @Fred:

    Just to remind you: I’m not the one who brought the HRC/Trump debate to this thread. I responded to your comment on Foer… that was my first comment in this thread. And look where we are now….

    Bonding over the Trolls!

    So…

    Where did I refer to Trump as harmless? I said he was a psychopath who didn’t have a bloody track record (yet) to match the Clintons’/ Bushes’/ BHO’s. Does he?

    Are you claiming Trump has already secretly been running a drone program and invading defenseless nations all these years? Are you? If not, what’s your point?

    Can you (with a straight face) claim Trump has killed more people than HRC? And since when is killing lots of people (for any reason other than self-defense) not considered mass murder? Will you answer THAT one, Fred? See, I think you’ve been brainwashed into being so… uh… Post Moral… that the deaths I keep referring to just don’t really mean shit to you. You think Trump’s Chauvinism (and probable rapes) outweigh HRC’s killings *and* her husband’s rapes.

    Can you explain that?

    My point was: why was everyone over here swooning with a mad case of the “Oh, What Might Have Beens!” when the losing candidate was a War Criminal with thousands of deaths on her soul, not to mention the dog-whistling Racism she and Bill have freely indulged in over the years, not to mention the multiple instances of high-level corruption she always managed to skirt indictments over by a hair’s breadth. I didn’t have any problem with anyone who voted for Clinton, I just questioned the grasp-on-Reality on those (and there are many here at The Millions) who saw HRC as, in any way, “Good”. And I put that bizarre misperception down to the power of brainwashing…

    …which you’ve got me explaining here, Fred, for the Nth time. And over which some Trumplandian Troll is bound to accuse me of making the thread all about me, again. Which accusation I will risk for the Nth time because I hate it went people lie; hate it even more when they lie about ME…. for the Nth time.

    “He welcomes “free and open debate” unless you freely and openly disagree with him, at which point you become a mud slinger/Lurking Troll/Online Neurotic”

    Nah, Fred, you Endearingly Disingenuous Kid, I only claim THAT when these twitter-standard Lurkers snipe from the virtual manholes with personal attacks on me… envy-fueled, passive-aggressive tripe like,

    “Oh, and keep feeding that thing. I’m sure it will get satiated eventually.”

    or

    “Bullied by an online troll to prove the existence of his daughter… loser…”

    Are those “disagreements” with me, Fred?

    I think you can do a bit better than that.

    Come on now. Think. And try to be honest. Separate yourself from the Online Neurosis (maybe it’s a Fungus) and engage with my points in good faith, directly. Leave out the teen tactics and the Trumplandian Boobism.

    Refute my points.

    (But, first: hasn’t America really been Trumplandia since the Reagan years, at least…? Wasn’t Reagan just John the Baptist to Trump’s Christ?)

    PS “– so perhaps we need to go deeper in evaluating candidates?”

    My experience this year was that most of the people who screamed and WEPT (I got Transatlantic phone calls from such people) about HRC’s loss didn’t
    know one single thing about her or her record. Zilch. They liked her speeches (texts in which she said good things about herself) and they liked the idea of a President with a Vagina (capitalized that for you, Fred). That was it.

    Democracy in action.

  21. @Charleston Green

    Loved your comment! Would be curious if you or other commenters can think of other authors who have inspired this reaction, I remember feeling that way reading Ray Bradbury. I loved, loved, loved him at 15, and reread his story collection (“Dandelion Wine”) 10 years later. Still enjoyed, but the luster was a bit faded.

    Anyone else? (On THIS topic, please)

    Moe Murph

  22. @Moe
    Thanks. And I guess I’ve had a somewhat similar relationship to Albert Camus. I’ve reread The Stranger well into the double-digits when I was in high school. I still consider The Fall a masterpiece though.

  23. Hey Moe. Respect. I am finding part of the problem of this website is the scorn of the reviewers, begetting, or at least giving permission to commenters to go crazy. Foer is a good to excellent novelist, at least highly skilled and of great intellect, regardless of whether his book appeals. It seems fun for some to trash writers. I don’t get it. Move on already. But re Ray Bradbury, I will never forget as an adolescent watching the movie “The Screaming Woman”. My dad then said “hey, you liked that? Read the original”. Of course, by Ray Bradbury.

  24. If I may be so bold as to disagree wit the Rt. Hon H. A., I think the problem with this site is the lack of critical assessment by reviewers, not their non-existing scorn. The sentence “Foer is a good to excellent novelist” has zero content or meaning, as does the sentence “Foer is a bad to mediocre novelist”. Any reviewer (and commenter) who wishes to be taken seriously must provide actual examples from the book(s) under discussion, something very few reviewers do. James Wood tries, but he buries textual analysis under a torrent of glib and florid quasi-gibberish. Reviewers here don’t even try; they just give us their subjective impressions and present them as some sort of obvious literary truth.

    Consider this nonsense: “Still, I couldn’t deny that I found his books deeply moving, and if art is deeply moving, is it possible that it failed?”

    This solipsistic stupidity reduces all literary criticism to mere sentimental stimulation. “I was moved by the latest slasher movie, therefore it’s great.” If we use Babebdir’s (love the name!) criteria, then I don’t see how we can distinguish War and Peace from the latest video from Evil Angel.

  25. Ian, interesting comment, but you see commenters are not James Wood, oh but I had 1 percent of his intellect. So my comment “good to excellent” is of course subjective and a very mediocre defense of Foer, naturally. Critical thinking is poor, on my part, my main objective was to reach out to Moe Murphy.

  26. P.s., I am frankly bored of comments on this site, yet weirdly I can’t stop looking. A bizarre waste of time when I could be reading. BTW, speaking of reading, I am adoring Auster’s 4321. From a girl who usually loves the U.K. writers, Bainbridge, P. Fitzgerald, Auster has me completely immersed.

  27. “commenters are not James Wood, oh but I had 1 percent of his intellect”

    That’s a very sad statement, and one that betrays a misunderstanding of what literary scholarship is. Great literary minds do one of two things: they write fiction, or they become literary scholars, i.e. university professors who publish their research in academic journals. The third type, the newspaper/magazine critic, is a sugary substitute for the masses–commercialized, watered-down, very subjective and overall worthless. If you want to read serious literary commentary written by serious scholars, I recommend something like ELH or Nineteenth-Century Literature or something along those lines. Here’s a quick-and-dirty test: if a commentary appears next to an ad for a hat or a cruise, it should not be taken seriously.

  28. @Garrett

    If you think the best (or top-tier) writers are literary scholars in academia, you’re unfortunately about 50 years out of date. Check out some of that ideological blather that passes for “scholarship” now and it’ll melt your retinas.

  29. @H.A. I read your comment, and thought it might be a good spinoff towards creating something anew in the comment section. I’ve always thought Millions, at its best, was an ideal place to touch base with your “tribe” of fellow readers and share what you love.

    How about proposing (with a hashtag) a reader query and inviting others to respond? Can be silly, goofy, sober, whatnot. For example:

    a.) Who do you find the most #MostBritish of American writers? The #MostAmerican of British writers?

    Cheers, Dahling,

    “Moe Murph”

  30. Gargoyle:

    When’s the last time you leafed through an issue of ELH or American Literary Realism? I didn’t think so.

    Yes, there’s a lot of garbage coming from academia, particularly from “schools of resentment”, but that’s a small fraction. The maligned professors of academia are still doing an excellent job. It doesn’t get discussed on Fox News, so you probably don’t know about it, but if you really want to understand great writers, you go to JSTOR, not to The New Yorker.

    In general, it’s true for many fields that the most famous are the least accomplished. Most Americans, if they can name a living scientist at all, will name N. D. Tyson or Bill Nye, but Nye is hardly a scientist and no one in science cares about Tyson. It’s the same in literature: Everybody knows about Wood and Bloom, but when’s the last time any serious literary scholar cited their work?

  31. @Garrett Jones

    Along those lines: Ellmann’s scholarly treatment of Joyce has become such a popular presence in Lit Chat (though not necessarily widely read) that Ellmann is rarely thought of as an academic; ditto Brian Boyd. Not sure why either have populist credentials but both were above-average in the style department; alongside their analytical powers they were great writers. Not every academic critic is strong in that department.

    The only “problem” with academic Lit Crit being that it can end up skewing a little too far in the direction of analysis without the spark of inspired expression (compare, say, John Burt Foster, on Nabokov, to Boyd on Nabokov: Boyd’s wit and empathy win the race). The “lighter” critic, James Wood, goes so far in the direction of “inspired expression” that he’s often just writing a form of postmodern fiction (with the texts of others as his starting point) disguised as analysis… but sometimes that’s appropriate.

    To even have this “conversation” in a thread appended to an article about *J.S. Foer* highlights the fact that there are lots of subcultures in Lit Chat… lots of levels… some of which are mutually antagonistic. Sometimes the “sugary substitute for the masses” is the most suited for the task at hand.

  32. Steven,

    Good comment. It’s equally ignorant to say only academic or only popular criticism are good. There’s plenty of dreck in both directions and plenty of excellence, as well. James Wood takes a lot of guff, but his How Fiction Works is a pretty great popular explication of many basic narratological concepts like free indirect discourse, etc. On the other side of the coin, Gerard Genette is a wonderful writer, but probably too dense for non-academics. We shouldn’t, and don’t, have to choose.

  33. Ian – right honorable? Wtf?
    Garrett – literary elitism, don’t read or opine unless you are a scholar?
    Did you miss the “don’t be a jerk” advice from the moderators?
    I will try not to let your PHD’s hit me on the ass on my way out. Egads, much good they have served you flouting your arrogance on a here, on this website when you should be busy writing your own articles or novels.
    Jerks.

  34. @ :/

    Actually, if you’d like to read a really exquisite book on “the art of the novel”, you can’t do much better than finding yourself a copy of Kundera’s “The Curtain”, a subtle and very precise meditation on the history and metaphysics of the form… by an accomplished practitioner.

  35. omg lol Garett Jones I missed your comment.

    “Most Americans, if they can name a living scientist at all, will name N. D. Tyson or Bill Nye, but Nye is hardly a scientist and no one in science cares about Tyson. It’s the same in literature: Everybody knows about Wood and Bloom, but when’s the last time any serious literary scholar cited their work?”

    You are in a deep confusion. Science is about *specialization*. So generalists, like Tyson and Nye, don’t specialize, which means they don’t actually do any real science. On the other hand, if only 100 people understand what you’re doing as a scientist, you’re on the cutting edge. You’re doing it *right*. If only 100 people understand what you’re doing as a writer, you’re a failure.

    Books are meant to be read by a popular audience (define that however you will, but obviously no writer aims for a tiny readership of 100 specialists). Science papers are not. Thus the irrelevance of anything about literature in JSTOR.

    Try to keep up bro

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