Monday, January 12, 2009

"Hysterical realism" and Tolstoy

Still on a break from writing. I'm reading War and Peace for the first time, through steady daily effort since Christmas when I got the new Pevear translation as a gift from my sister-in-law. I'm "almost done" in percentage terms, which is to say, I have about the equivalent of a regular novel to go.

I can't get off my James Wood kick. Now, I'm really aggravated at his poke at the Young Turks for the quality that he calls "hysterical realism." There may be some categorical flaw in the kind of literature they are producing--in fact I don't like a lot of it myself--but the quality that he defines as "hysterical realism" isn't it, and it's not new. There is nothing in his description of that quality that doesn't apply perfectly to War and Peace, and in that case it works. The long passages where he quotes and argues with historians, departing from the narrative of his characters . . . it's exactly the same thing that Wallace, Zadie Smith, etc. do that Wood takes issue with. Again, I can't help reading Wood's analysis as a resentful middle-age crank trying to take the next generation down a peg simply because they are the next generation.


Stephanie said...

Break? What's that? And why don't I take one? (Sigh.) I get so excited about my next project that I jump right in. It's probably wise to do what you do. Decompress between work. I love the picture of your manuscript below, though. Is there anything more beautiful than a completed manuscript all printed out? I can't think of a thing!

RW said...

My biggest fear is not finishing, so I've had to almost rap my knuckles to keep from taking notes on the next idea. I'm afraid I'll let myself get carried away by another project and not buckle down on this one.