The Books of My Numberless Dreams

A link

Posted on: September 1, 2007

Good lord, look what’s happened here, a new Quarterly Conversation issue. I wonder why I’ve linked to it so quickly with no accompanying overview? I also wonder why I cannot spell. Is my brain already sub par at age 23?

2 Responses to "A link"

Hey — very cool! Nice review.

Well-written, and deeply just about the magnitude of DeLillo’s accomplishment.

Two quibbles….first one, minor: Garth writes, “The retired teacher Albert Bronzini reflects on the Challenger disaster and finds that ‘he could never completely dismiss the suspicions of the paranoid elite . . . that the whole thing had been staged on a ranch outside Las Vegas.'” The “suspicions” Bronzini reflects on have to do with the moon walk, not the Challenger disaster. Pedantic, I know, but nothing is “too anal” if you’re up against James Wood.

Second quibble: in a way, though, Hallberg falls into Wood’s trap, defending “Underworld” not as an artwork of such aesthetic accomplishment that it dictates the terms by which we properly engage it (see “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” ), but with a functionalist prejudice, justifying the work in terms of how it works for us.

Hallberg writes, “To summarize: our avant-garde strategies (and others, like the “starved aestheticism of the sentence” or the blurring of fiction and nonfiction) have ceased to signify a critical position toward the culture.”

I’d say we are loosing the facility to *perceive* the avant-garde, as we are stuck with an essentially 19th century notion of it, leading us to a point in the cycle very much like the point at which the term was first introduced. It’s no longer about eyeballs meeting straight-razors, or twelve-tone tone poems…and DeLillo, in largely plain language, via mainstream publishing, dropped an avant-garde depth charge near the end of the 20th century that cultural conservatives like Wood (shades of the visceral reaction to The Rite of Spring) took great exception to, quite clearly angry about it before they’d even had much time to think.

Follow the anger…it will lead you to the heart of a contemporary avant-garde.

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