James Joyce Dies

James Joyce Dies; Wrote ‘Ulysses’

ZURICH, Switzerland, Monday, Jan 13- James Joyce, Irish author whose “Ulysses” was the center of one of the most bitter literary controversies of modern times, died in a hospital here early today despite the efforts of doctors to save him by blood transfusions. He would have been 59 years old Feb. 2.

Joyce underwent an intestinal operation Saturday afternoon at the Schwesternhaus von Rotenkreuz Hospital. For a time he appeared to be recovering. Only yesterday his son reported him to have been cheerful and apparently out of danger.

During the afternoon, however, the writer suffered a sudden relapse and sank rapidly. He died at 2:15 A.M. (8:15 P.M., Eastern standard time).

His wife and son were at the hospital when he died.

Hailed and Belittled by Critics

The status of James Joyce as a writer never could be determined in his lifetime. In the opinion of some critics, notably Edmund Wilson, he deserved to rank with the great innovators of literature as one whose influence upon other writers of his time was incalculable. On the other hand, there were critics like Max Eastman who gave him a place with Gertrude Stein and T.S. Eliot among the “Unintelligibles” and there was Professor Irving Babbitt of Harvard who dismissed his most widely read novel, “Ulysses,” as one which only could have been written “in an advanced stage of psychic disintegration.”

Originally published in 1922, “Ulysses” was not legally available in the United States until eleven years later, when United States Judge John Monro Woolsey handed down his famous decision to the effect that the book was not obscene. Hitherto the book had been smuggled in and sold at high prices by “bookleggers” and a violent critical battle had raged around it.

From James Joyce’s obituary in The New York Times (January 13, 1941). Read the rest.

RIP Harry Crews — A Rambling Riff on a Southern Great

Harry Crews died today at 76 in Gainesville, FL, where he lived and worked for years.

This isn’t an obituary—I’m sure  you can find them elsewhere (I haven’t looked yet, but they’ll be out there)—it’s more a riff about me than Crews. Solipsistic, narcissistic, sure. Let’s say I feel a sense of unearned pride for the man, a geographical kinship, as if some of his bloody bravura might splatter on me, anoint me, confer on me a glimpse of his strange powers. (And although I would feel this way in any case, I’ll point out that Crews and I shared the same birthday). Maybe I should wait to write, put together a detailed overview of his work, delineate a chronological progression of his life and work . . . But it’s a warm spring day in Florida, I’m three beers down, a small buzz behind my eyes, the whir of the cheap electric fans on my backporch goading me into dim golden memory . . .

I graduated high school in 1997 and went to the University of Florida in Gainesville that fall—just in time to learn that Crews had retired his position in the Creative Writing department (he was also a graduate of the university) that spring. It was disappointing for me.

I’d read a few of Crews’s blistering, blustering novels, dark comic rants about the dirty malfeasance backwood Cracker folk get into after dark, and he’d come to occupy a fabled place in my impressionable mind—a Southern answer to the Bukowski and Henry Miller books I devoured in kind.

I was 18 and dramatically naïve. I honestly thought that I was going to write a Really Great Novel, and I honestly thought that Crews was going to teach me how. In that first semester of college, the poor underpaid graduate student who led the Creative Writing class I took—a class that all but killed a desire to write creatively for years (I write “all but” because I took a second fiction writing class that was the metaphorical nail in the coffin) informed  me that Crews was no longer writer-in-residence (!), that some guy named Padgett Powell had taken up that mantle. This news dispirited me, took some of the wind out of my romantic illusions (without, y’know, properly killing them off). Maybe I’d have stuck it through the program if I thought it might end in a seminar with Crews, it’s hard to say. (I’ll also point out that it took me years to give Padgett Powell a fair read).

I won’t pretend to be sad at the death of Harry Crews: 76 is pretty old if you drank and fought and lived like that man did, and he’s already given more literature to the world than most of us could ever hope to. I was more sad at 18 to learn that I wouldn’t learn from him (not realizing at that age that reading is a way of learning). These statements seem in bad taste as I write them, but I assure you they’re not. You’re being too sensitive. But I do want to connote some reverence for the man, for his work at least, for his tales of rage and poverty, for the truth he sussed out of the swampy south.

Here’s a shift: Barry Hannah, another Southern boy whose work I’ve come to love, was not on my radar until his death in 2010. This isn’t to say I wouldn’t have found his stuff if he hadn’t died then, but I think that we all know what I’m pointing to here, the grand appraisals and reappraisals that we focus on our late writers, whose deaths might entail a second life, a life again in new readers. And Crews deserves readers: His writing is raw and jagged and ugly. It’s hard to imagine someone producing something like A Feast of Snakes or The Gypsy’s Curse today—I mean it would just be too politically incorrect I suppose. Crews is the kind of cult writer whose cult will likely grow a little now, after his death.

Starting places: The anthology Classic Crews collects Crews’s memoir Childhood, the novels Car and The  Gypsy’s Curse, as well as some essays. There’s also Florida Frenzy, an essay collection larded with sex and violence and animals. You can’t go wrong with his novel A Feast of Snakes. Well, maybe you can. It’s actually entirely possible that Crews isn’t for your faint heart or delicate sensibilities—and that’s fine. But for those intrigued, come and get the grit.

(An Incomplete) List of Writers Who Died in 2011

Vaclav Havel

Christopher Hitchens

Russell Hoban

Ken Russell

Joe Simon

Stetson Kennedy

Sidney Lumet

George Whitman

Lilian Jackson Braun

Edwin Honig

Michael S. Hart

Gil Scott-Heron

Bill Keane

Jerry Leiber

Diana Wynne Jones

Bert Jansch

Leonora Carrington

Brian Jacques

Barbara Grier

Edouard Glissant

Dwayne McDuffie

Hisaye Yamamoto

Phoebe Snow

Anne McCaffrey

Leonard B. Stern

Vincent Cronin

Tony Geiss

MK Binodini

Kenneth Grant

Joe Gores

Maria Elena Walsh

Del Reisman

Christopher Trumbo

Loreen Rice Lucas

Diana Norman

Reynolds Price

John Ross

David Hart

B.H. Friedman

Dick King-Smith

Susana Chavez

Park Wun-suh

Wilfrid Sheed

Jean Dutord

Sun Axelsson

Ruth Cavin

Max Wilk

Hans Joachim Alpers

Donald S. Sanford

Peter J. Gomes

Ion Hobana

Rudi Bass

Anson Rainey

Perry Moore

Sean Boru

Bo Carpelan

Elaine Crowley

Martin Quigley Jr.

Charles E. Silberman

Andree Chedid

Iakovos Kambanelis

Sara Ruddick

Doris Burn

Steven Kroll

May Cutler

Thor Vilhjálmsson

H.R.F. Keating

Joe Bageant

Jean Liedloff

Bill Blackbeard

Alberto Granado

Hazel Rowley

Al Morgan

Raymond Garlick

John Haines

Ernesto Sabato

Abdul Hameed

Rafael Menjívar Ochoa

John Sullivan

Sidney Michaels

Madelyn Pugh

Sol Saks

Arthur Marx

Bill Brill

L.J. Davis

Ulli Beier

Kevin Jarre

Joanna Russ

David Wilkerson

Beverly Barton

Craig Thomas

Ira Cohen

W.J. Gruffydd

Anne Blonstein

Paul Violi

Johanna Fiedler

Dick Wimmer

Oniroku Dan

Hans Keilson

Martin Woodhouse

Newton Thornburg

Patrick Galvin

Wallace Clark

Carlos Trillo

Kate Swift

Arthur Laurents

Frans Sammut

William Kloefkorn

Thierry Martens

E.M. Broner

Tom Hungerford

Kathryn Tucker Windham

Harry Bernstein

Joel Rosenberg

Simon Heere Heeresma

David Rayfiel

Oscar Sambrano Urdaneta

Robert Kroetsch

Josephine Hart

Gloria Sawai

Anne LaBastille

Blaize Clement

Sissel Solbjørg Bjugn

Francis King

Agota Kristof

Henry Carlisle

Iain Blair

Hideo Tanaka

Michael Legat

Ruth Thomas

Colin Harvey

David Holbrook

Simona Monyová

William Sleator

Samuel Menashe

Selwyn Griffith

Sara Douglass

Ida Fink

Sergio Bonelli

Arthur Evans

Hella Haasse

David Croft

David Zelag Goodman

Emanuel Litvinoff

José Miguel Varas

Jo Carson

Cengiz Dağcı

Frank Parkin

Hugh Fox

Herbert Lomas

Florence Parry Heide

Stanley Mitchell

Uno Röndahl

Mildred Savage

Mick Anglo (LINK)

Alvin Schwartz

Sri Lal Sukla

Piri Thomas

Gerald Shapiro

Vittorio Curtoni

Morio Kita

Andrea Zonzotto

Taha Muhammad Ali

Georg Kreisler

Daniel Sada

H.G. Francis

Helen Forrester

Čestmír Vejdělek

Hal Kanter

Les Daniels

Leonid Borodin

Franz Josef Degenhardt

Morris Philipson

Ana Daniel

Ruth Stone

Peter Reading

Ruslan Akhtakhanov

Ivan Martin Jirous

Tomás Segovia

Kabir Chowdhury

Hans Heinz Holz

Ke Yan

Mario Miranda

Jean Baucus

Gilbert Adair

Jerry Robinson

Ambika Charan Choudhury

Matti Yrjänä Joensuu

Louky Bersianik

Christopher Logue

Christa Wolf

Elisabeth Young-Bruehl

J.G. Ballard Remembered


Author J.G. Ballard died of prostate cancer yesterday, at the age of 78. Ballard wrote over a dozen novels and hundreds of short stories. Ballard is probably most famous for his 1984 epic Empire of the Sun, which draws heavily on his childhood experiences during WWII Japanese-occupied Shanghai, but here at the Biblioklept we love his dystopian visions the most. Ballard’s early books like The Drowned World and short-story collection The Terminal Beach extend traditional adventure novels into strange dystopias and bizarre thought experiments. From the get-go, Ballard’s “sci-fi” (if you want to call it that) was less concerned with alien intelligences than it was with our internal and collective psychologies, and how we react to an increasingly mediated world. Hence novels like Crash, where human sexuality melds into technological fetishism, or The Atrocity Exhibition, a fragmented novel exploring the intersection of celebrity and Armageddon. Later novels like Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes respond to an increasingly paranoid and disconnected world, with a sardonic humor that is ultimately more frightening than soothing. Ballard never sought to alleviate or mock or answer to an increasingly complex and increasingly absurd world–he just dissected it and extrapolated it beyond most of our dim imaginations.

Ballard belongs to a select counter-tradition of writers and artists, fitting neatly between William Burroughs and William Gibson. Like his strange brothers Philip K. Dick and Thomas Disch, Ballard will always have a place in the avant-garde sci-fi cannon, and it’s likely that that place will only grow. Ballard was still writing up to his death, and his last novel Kingdom Come, a book that detailed the descent of consumerism into a type of fascism was as relevant as ever. Indeed, Ballard was far ahead of his time; as our world catches up to his visions, we will surely find an increasing relevancy in his body of work. He will be missed.

John Leonard, 1939-2008


American critic John Leonard died of lung cancer last Wednesday. From The New York Times obituary:

John Leonard, a widely influential and enduringly visible cultural critic known for the breadth of his knowledge, the depth of his inquiries and the lavish passion of his prose, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 69 and lived in Manhattan. . . .

As a critic, Mr. Leonard was far less interested in saying yea or nay about a work of art than he was in scrutinizing the who, the what and the why of it. His writing opened a window onto the contemporary American scene, examining a book or film or television show as it was shaped by the cultural winds of the day.

Amid the thicket of book galleys he received each week, Mr. Leonard often spied glimmers that other critics had not yet noticed. He was known as an early champion of a string of writers who are now household names, among them Mary Gordon, Maxine Hong Kingston and the Nobel Prize winners Toni Morrison and Gabriel García Márquez.

Mr. Leonard’s prose was known not only for its erudition, but also for its sheer revelry in the sounds and sentences of English. Stylistic hallmarks included wit, wordplay, a carefully constructed acerbity and a syntax so unabashedly baroque that some readers found it overwhelming. The comma seemed to have been invented expressly for him.

I’ve subscribed to Harper’s for about a decade now, and in that time John Leonard’s “New Books” column has been not only one of my favorite features of the magazine, but also an inspirational guide on how to review a book. Leonard knew how to show why a book mattered; he also knew how to capture the essence of not just the plot but the author’s style in just a few short lines–something that’s really, really tough to do. I read one of Leonard’s last reviews, a write up of Toni Morrison’s latest A Mercy in this month’s Harper’s, just last Monday to a group of my high school students who were interested in Morrison’s work. The review made one of them say: “I want to read that book.” I think there is no higher compliment for any critic. John Leonard will be missed.

An Intellectual Seed Crystal Dropped into the Supersaturated Solution of American Motorsports

Of all the David Foster Wallace obituaries and appreciations floating around the internet–many of them moving and insightful–today’s feature at The Onion, “NASCAR Cancels Remainder Of Season Following David Foster Wallace’s Death” strikes me as the strangest. The conceit of the piece, that NASCAR drivers are keenly attuned, even motivated by the literary world, is frankly some of the basest, dumbest, most obvious irony ever, and possibly the kind of contrived situation at which Wallace might’ve cringed. Yet there’s something sweet in The Onion elegy’s clumsiness. Consider this analysis of Infinite Jest they attribute to Greg Biffle:

I first read Infinite Jest in 1998 when my gas-can man gave me a copy when I was a rookie in the Craftsman Truck Series, and I was immediately struck dumb by the combination of effortlessness and earnestness of his prose. Here was a writer who loved great, sprawling, brilliantly punctuated sentences that spread in a kind of textual kudzu across the page, yet in every phrase you got a sense of his yearning to relate and convey the importance of every least little thing.

Well said. Or Jimmie Johnson‘s beautiful critique of DFW’s style:

David Foster Wallace could comprehend and articulate the sadness in a luxury cruise, a state fair, a presidential campaign, anything. But empathy, humanity, and compassion so strong as to be almost incoherent ran through that same sadness like connective tissue through muscle, affirming the value of the everyday, championing the banal yet true, acknowledging the ironic as it refused to give in to irony.

And so well here we are then–an ironic piece acknowledging Wallace’s ability to acknowledge and yet resist irony in his own work. The Onion simply can’t unpack the thoroughly Wallacian conundrum that results. But what I think they do is better–they eulogize a writer I think they love in the only way the mission of their site allows. And unlike their previous jibes at Wallace, “Girlfriend Stops Reading David Foster Wallace Breakup Letter at Page 20,” and the Weekender edition pictured above, it seems that The Onion staffers are too sad to make the piece funny–which, I think, is appropriate.