Read “Beliefs Reasonable, Unreasonable Beliefs,” Maxims by Gilbert Sorrentino

Reading Gilbert Sorrentino’s riff/story/essay “Beliefs Reasonable, Unreasonable Beliefs,” I couldn’t help but think of his correspondent, David Markson, whose 1996 novel Reader’s Block is anticipated in the structure of Sorrentino’s piece. Obviously Markson’s project and Sorrentino’s riff have literary roots that go way way back—maxims and riffs are hardly novel. Still, there’s something about the tone, rhythm, and content of the piece that reminds me of Markson’s tetralogy. A few samples below; read the whole thing in the Fall ’93 issue of Conjunctions.

I have never read a review of a play by Samuel Beckett in which the reviewer’s ignorance of Beckett’s fiction was not made clear.

All popular culture is essentially the same, i.e., it cannot transcend its audience-attentive whatness, nor can it escape the universe of camp toward which it is pointed at the moment of its birth. Lawrence Welk really is the same as Mick Jagger and “Saturday Night Live” the “Ed Sullivan Show”‘s other face.

No fatal disease is privileged, and all disease is as natural as health. To believe otherwise is to believe that we are “supposed to” die in a certain, “reasonable” way, sans pain and sadness. This attitude toward mortality makes for a lot of misery.

That Charles Olson made indisputably great poetry does not obviate the fact that he was also the Wizard of Oz.

There are few things more disgusting than a superior, mocking, self-important review of a trashy book by a hack writer.

Abstract love and generalized compassion increase in direct proportion to organized social viciousness.

Frank O’Hara is the saddest of all postwar American poets.

My father didn’t speak English until he was eleven, at which time he left school and went to work on the Brooklyn waterfront. His letters, despite an occasional spelling error or grammatical gaffe, are written in a better prose than can be managed by most of the university undergraduates I’ve taught. He was far from unique.

If, as Goethe’s Mephistopheles says, all theory is gray, theory concerning theory is Joycean brown.

Artists who pretend that they are no more than workers in the arts are neither artists nor workers.

To say that most book reviewers are lazy, illread and addicted to the banal is like saying “war is hell” or “greed is the root of evil.” These remarks hide their truths behind the deadening familiarity of their verbal representations; but they are truths nevertheless.

Popular art reflects and flatters popular culture, or, if you prefer, the Zeitgeist. In retrospect, it sometimes seems as if it leads and influences the true culture, or the innate wisdom of a people, but this isn’t so.

Novels That Will Be Considered the Most Important Literary Works of the Twentieth Century in the Year 2100 (According to Dalkey Archive)

Novels That Will Be Considered the Most Important Literary Works of the Twentieth Century in the Year 2100

Nightwood, Djuna Barnes
Malone Dies, Samuel Beckett
Molloy, Samuel Beckett
The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett
The Lime Works, Thomas Bernhard
Nostromo, Joseph Conrad
JR, William Gaddis
The Recognitions, William Gaddis
Ulysses, James Joyce
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O’Brien
The Inquisitory, Robert Pinget
Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust
Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
Mulligan Stew, Gilbert Sorrentino

Speculative list from the Dalkey Archive (from an issue of their journal Context; compiled from responses  of “advisors at universities and bookstores”). I’m sure the fact that they publish several of these titles has nothing to do with these books’ inclusion. I’ve read all of seven of these, some of five of these, and none of three of these.

Fletcher Hanks/Gilbert Sorrentino (Books Acquired, 7.12.2012)

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I’ve been wanting to get my mitts on this Fletcher Hanks collection since I first read about it in The Believer five years ago. Finally came across a used copy in pristine shape.

It’s really, really fucking weird. Sample page; full write-up forthcoming:

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I’ve been itching to read Gilbert Sorrentino’s Mulligan Stew for a while. This copy may or may not be a first edition paperback—the rejection letters in the front are on a different type of paper than the rest of the novel (color/stock). It’s a big book—I’m finishing up a rereading of 2666, so maybe this one will jump in front of Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual. Thoughts?

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“Never Give an Inch” — Gerald Howard on Social Class and the American Novel

Tin House #45, out in September, focuses on “Class in America.” You can read Gerald Howard’s essay from that issue, “Never Give an Inch,” in full now. The essay discusses shifting ideas of the social class of the American novelist, with an emphasis on “working class” writers. Howard discusses Raymond Carver and Russell Banks at some length, as well as Richard Price and Dorothy Allison (he also mentions Gilbert Sorrentino, whose work seems to be enjoying a late reappraisal). From the essay–

I don’t suppose anyone has ever done an in-depth study of that interesting form of literary ephemera, the author dust jacket biography. But if they did, I’m sure they would notice a distinct sociological shift over the past decades. Back in the forties and fifties, the bios, for novelists at least, leaned very heavily on the tough and colorful professions and pursuits that the author had had experience in before taking to the typewriter. Popular jobs, as I recall, were circus roustabout, oil field roughneck, engine wiper, short-order cook, fire lookout, railroad brakeman, cowpuncher, gold prospector, crop duster, and long-haul trucker. Military experiences in America’s recent wars, preferably combat-related, were also often mentioned. The message being conveyed was that the guy (and they were, of course, guys) who had written the book in your hand had really been around the block and seen the rougher side of life, so you could look forward to vivid reading that delivered the authentic experiential goods.

It’s been a long time since an author has been identified as a one-time circus roustabout. These days such occupations have become so exotic to the average desk-bound American that they serve as fodder for cable television reality shows—viz., The Deadliest Catch, Dirty Jobs, and Ice Road Truckers. Contemporary dust jacket biographies tend to document the author’s long march through the elite institutions, garnering undergraduate and postgraduate and MFA degrees, with various prizes and publications in prestigious literary magazines all duly noted. Vocational experiences generally get mentioned only when pertinent to the subject of the novel at hand—e.g., assistant DA or clerk for a Federal judge if the book deals with crime or the intricacies of the law. Work—especially the sort of work that gets your hands dirty and that brands you as a member of the working class—no longer seems germane to our novelists’ apprenticeships and, not coincidentally, is no longer easy to find in the fiction they produce. Whether one finds this scarcity something to worry about or simply a fact to be noted probably says a lot about one’s class origins and prejudices.