reading like a loser

a review of Malcolm Bull’s Anti-Nietzsche

Nietzsche plays on our narcissism. His writing wants us, as Bull puts it, to “read for victory”. Nietzsche always admired the Homeric hero, set on a circular journey of self-discovery. Yet the readeris the real hero of Nietzsche’s narratives, enticed into seeing him or herself as uniquely receptive to their radical arguments. We want to be just like Nietzsche, and Nietzsche knows this, which is why he encourages us to join him in enjoying fictional forms of strength, superiority, and self-expression. Faced with a choice between man and Superman, we naturally want to relate to the latter, even if Nietzsche’s Übermensch is as unreal as any literary character. But if that’s the case, how can readers resist the temptation to take Nietzsche’s bait?

read the full essay at The New Inquiry

the far side of fiction

reflections on Gerald Murnane’s Barley Patch

This ontology, in which the ‘origin’ of the work evades any vanishing point, is figured within Barley Patch by means of a memorised image. The image in question is Claude Lorrain’s Landscape with Samuel Anointing David, the ‘painted backdrop’ to the stage at the Capitol Theatre, where a young Murnane and his schoolmates once took part in a concert. As when Murnane says of his early reading habits that he ‘moved among the characters,’ so, as a child, he dreamt of inhabiting the place that this painting depicted. But Lorrain’s landscape doesn’t merely manifest a set of fictional entities. Instead the painting’s pattern of light implies what Wittgenstein would call a ‘change of aspect.’ As Murnane makes out, it isn’t the scene’s foreground but its background that has somehow become ‘the most brightly lit of the visible zones,’ suggesting that what lies beyond may be ‘more richly illumined still’ (…)

Wherever art appears to end it begins again; every horizon it reaches reveals a new one. On this level, then, Lorrain’s landscape discloses a diagram of an open, ongoing origin. In the same way, Murnane claims, even when literature seems to lead back to ‘life,’ it can’t help but lead to a literature beyond literature. Indeed, every text written or read implies another that lies in the distance, and whatever setting a writer describes suggests to the reader ‘a further region never yet written about.’ Behind the book, a place made of blank pages: ‘a country on the far side of fiction.’

read the rest of the essay at ReadySteadyBook

modernism then and now

a conversation about literary history with Anthony of Time’s Flow Stemmed

How then might writing return to the problems that modernism presents? Or rather, how will writing refuse to delude itself that it’s rid of those problems? And can it still do so while ‘making it new,’ that is, without lapsing into pastiche, or fetishising a ‘period’ that’s part of the past?

For the record, one literary form I do think is ‘dead’ is the novel of ideas. I’m a cultural pessimist insofar as I can’t see our future producing another Mann, a Goethe, a Sartre. But nor would I want it to. I’d say the days of the great, stately ‘philosophical’ novel are gone, and they’re gone for a reason. Put bluntly, I think it’s no longer enough for writing to thematise its conjuncture. Today, treating modernity as a theme has become one more way of turning away from it.

read the rest at 3:AM Magazine