I read about this on EV this morning. He makes some decent points, but I’m not sure if his criticism is so much about American literature or just Americans in general:
We are isolated and we don’t translate enough. However, it seems like this comment falls under the same stereotypes I was warned about when I prepared to spend six months abroad my junior year in college. Americans are stuck up, we only worry about ourselves, we have no clue what is going on in the rest of the world, etc. While I think that these stereotypes have some kernel of truth, I also think that that insularity may have something to do with why American literature works. I keep think of Whitman, and how many scholars consider him cocky and far too celebratory of his own genius, but isn’t that part of what made and makes Whitman remarkable? Are we full of it? Probably. I think the real question is have we earned the right to be, and in some instances I would say yes.
John Ashbery has a poem in this weeks issue of The New Yorker:
The Virgin King
They know so much more, and so much less,
“innocent details” and other. It was time to
put up or shut up. Claymation is so over,
the king thought. The watercolor virus
Something tells me you’ll be reading this on a train
stumbling through rural Georgia, wiping sleep
from your eyes as the conductor passes through
carrying a bun. We’re moving today,
today on the couch.
I have a hard time with Ashbery. In grad school I really struggled but I was intrigued. Lately, spurred on by his collages and new poem, I’ve considered giving him another look. I know it was my failing that caused me to back away from him. That being said, I can’t honestly say I know what the hell this poem is about, but I like it and that’s a good place to start.
I mentioned EV above and on a similar note, I finished reading Harry Revised the other night. I loved it. I loved everything about it. I started to notice that the last third of the book (when everything begins to unravel for Harry) that the humor became scarce, but I wasn’t bothered by it. It seemed just a natural progression through the lives of these characters and at the end of the book I was profoundly sad but hopeful for Harry. Hopeful that in forgiving his wife, he could begin to forgive himself.