Monday, February 23, 2009

Literary fueding, James Wood and my ongoing fence sitting

Re: my previous blogs about the nagging but undefined resistance I have to James Wood, despite having found his book How Fiction Works very helpful to my own writing.

I've discovered that a good old-fashioned critic's feud is raging out there about just some of the issues I've been mulling over. Prospect Magazine has an excellent summary of the parties and positions. Readers responses to that here.

One of those responses is from a blogger who is specifically CONTRA James Wood. He argues with a lot more conviction than myself something similar to what I have been exploring--his rejection of a younger generation of writers is apparently a categorical rejection, aesthetically limited and inconsistent at that.

The Prospect article references a question I had about Zadie Smith--why she seemed to agree with James Wood's criticism of her first book. I and others may have misunderstood what she was getting at back then, but it's clear now she doesn't agree anymore, shooting Wood dagger eyes throughout her review of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland.

Right now, I'm leaning toward the position of the young Turks. For one, my own reading of Netherland was very similar to Smith's.

However, like I say, I'm feeling awfully ambiguous about that. Wood's ideas in How Fiction Works were overall really helpful to me, and while I'm annoyed with his categorical rejection of so-called "hysterical realism," overall I agree that the books he's referring to were failures.

1 comment:

HumanProject said...

Hi ya "WoN". You wrote "Wood's ideas in How Fiction Works were overall really helpful to me."

But they're not his ideas.

He gathered up, "popularized" long standing ideas about fiction.

it's as if you wrote "Malcolm Gladwell's ideas were really helpful to me." Gladwell (a sciencewriter, also writes for the New Yorker) is a smart guy, well read, and writes in an engaging, easy-to-understand manner. That's all. Gladwell does cite the scientists who originated the ideas, but for people who don't know those scientists, who didn't learn those ideas in psych grad school, at conferences or from journals, the line between Gladwell and the scientists who originated those ideas can become blurred.

I bought How Fiction Works and felt some light bulbs going on in my head and started chatting to my husband, a literature PhD. H patiently said, "That's an insight that Harold Bloom developed in The Invention of the Human. " (see also the wikipedia entry for Wood, which mentions his aesthetic similar to Bloom).