Appreciation #7

“Gene Wolfe” by Robin Wyatt Dunn

Gene_Wolfe,_2005

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

“Cry Wolfe”

Gene Wolfe, the old fat man, we’ll sing for him—though it be wrong.

How many men will write the etymology of their own name and admit what it makes them? (Wolfe did in his story “Wolfer”).

Gene Wolfe fought in the Korean War, helping the pedophiles who run the United States Government get little children to eat, and all it taught him was “you need to keep shooting.”

Still, he is one of our best writers. Like the Russian writers, who all come out of the Caucasus, feasting on human flesh, and ready to spill blood onto the page.

Though he is a conservative, honored by some of the most conservative bodies here in North America, the golden fascists of the Science Fiction Writers of America—shouldn’t he be honored more greatly, and given the same laurels as Barry Obama?

I love Gene Wolfe; I’ve written about my love for him before, in a piece for Black Heart Magazine, which they later deleted, without comment. I only said I wanted to kiss him on the mouth.

Our Wolfe is howling, and we cannot know why.

Though he began on territory similar to the alt-right “Sad Puppies,” his first novel (he admits himself) prenticework attacking liberals in government, he matured in his work to be one of the few American writers, as David Lynch is one of the few American filmmakers, to use surrealism in his mainstream narrative work, without a second thought, without irony, without compunction, to find the truth.

In his search for the truth, like Kurosawa, he was forced to use dreams. Unlike Kurosawa, there is a bloody spirit in Wolfe, always hunting fresh meat, wherever he may find it.

Today it strikes me that honoring writers is a very tedious business, but this is only because I am a writer longing for honor. Perhaps I should have been killing more children in Asia.

What does it mean that we have Wolfe? Grand Master of Science Fiction: ensconced! Ennobled! Beloved. And we do love him. So much.

Wolfe is not prepared for the end of America; he is sentimental. He shoveled the corpses into its maw, and in his fiction, like all great American writers, he examined the psyche of the psychopath, in Severian from The Urth of the New Sun, in Patera Silk (another child eater) of The Book of the Long Sun, and he also sought and found the little psychopath lurking inside all of us, only awaiting the right circumstances to bring it out.

Like Asimov, Wolfe is a humanist. Unlike Asimov, Wolfe understands how monstrous a thing that is.
*******
Robin Dunn’s last story for us was “Travelogue.” Find his books here.

Advertisements

The Novelists

Catch22

When creating a tournament like this, one has to deal with a critical consensus that has decided which are the great works and great authors. Look at their selections, and you’ll see that while a few undeniable masterpieces are included, the overall judgement is arbitrary. The resulting lists are badly skewed, and have more to do with academic and media trends and biases in place when the works were written than with excellence. Once on the “list,” the work never gets off.

Lolita, for instance, may have been daring in its time. Today it reads like an embarrassment. Catch-22 takes one joke and runs it into the ground. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is an interesting but minor work. Compare these to the best of the French and Russians– Hugo, Dumas, Gogol, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky– and they’re not in the same ballpark.

John O’Hara remains highly placed on the lists. I’m actually a fan of his– but does anyone today read or cherish John O’Hara? His many novels and stories never rise above the competent.

What do we do with three American Nobel Prize winners: Sinclair Lewis, Saul Bellow, and Pearl Buck?

Main Street and Lewis’s other novels are stodgy and dated. Model T vintage literature, pseudo-intellectual, smirky and sarcastic with no depth, as narrow and provincial as his subjects, nothing about the characters and language which any longer lives. Bellow’s reputation and relevance dates and declines by the year. “Seize the Day” is a great short work. The rest of his oeuvre is noise. Pearl Buck?

The question isn’t just whether or not the authors are still read, but how good they are. I was going to leave one of my faves, James Gould Cozzens, out of the brackets because he’s largely forgotten. Yet his novels are better, as novels, than the bulk of American works on a “Modern Library” list. The Last Adam, The Just and the Unjust, Guard of Honor— adult, intelligent novels written by an observer who understood America and its workings, and used the architecture of the novel to depict this complex country.

There are a lot of competent American novelists to consider. Over a hundred who could potentially be chosen. Our attitude with the rest of the seeding is this: A few good novels isn’t good enough. The novelist should’ve written at least one great or dynamic novel. We aim to punish mediocrity and reward artistic ambition, striking talent and exciting accomplishment .

Battle of the Divas

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

-Barra-sontag

Camille Paglia

WE PLAN to include at least one “public intellectual” (emphasis on the public) in the Tournament. In one of the next two (7th or 8th) brackets. That is, a writer known primarily for opinions about literature and culture. A critic– but more.

The two leading candidates for the spot are both women– Susan Sontag and Camille Paglia. Which one belongs?

Or should someone else take that slot?

*******

#6 Seeds!

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Kurt_Vonnegut_1972

 

 

 

 

 
(Kurt Vonnegut.)

THESE SELECTIONS are a mixed bag of qualities and achievements. Perhaps all they have in common is that each attained, at some point– while alive or afterward– an enormous critical or popular reputation. Are the reputations larger than the actual work?
*******

A.)  Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet_Beecher_Stowe_by_Francis_Holl

(Etching by Francis Holl.)

Author of the most influential novel in American history. (Abe Lincoln himself half-in-jest credited Uncle Tom’s Cabin with starting the Civil War.) No American novel so keyed into its moment of time– the zeitgeist of the day. Or so provoked the emotions of its readers.
*******

B.)  James Baldwin

James_Baldwin_35AllanWarren

 

Like other writers of his era– Gore Vidal; Mary McCarthy– Baldwin was a better essayist than novelist. An excellent essayist, during a golden age of American essays. But he was also a superb short story writer, penning several which retain their power and relevance; “Sonny’s Blues” and “Going to Meet the Man” among them.

(Photo by Allan Warren.)

 

*******

C.)  Kurt Vonnegut

One cannot ignore the Cult of Vonnegut! He took the serious American novel out of strictly realistic bounds into new worlds. The novels Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions were imaginative and wildly popular– especially among college students. (Would that a novelist could be so now!) In his later works Vonnegut was trying too hard to be original while simultaneously repeating himself. His best novel might be his first, Player Piano.
*******

D.)  Henry James

A critical darling, reputation courtesy of Harvard and Oxford. Producer of a collection of plodding, word-clotted novels, James makes the Tournament based on three of his shorter works. The pop story “Daisy Miller.” The creepy gothic pop tale Turn of the Screw. And the weirdly effective novella, Altar of the Dead.

Jacques-Emile_Blanche_-_Henry_James

(Portrait of Henry James by Jacques Emile Blanche.)

 

The Mary Gaitskill Problem

THE ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Mary_Gaitskill_by_David_Shankbone

(Photo by David Shankbone.)

IT’S A PROBLEM many esteemed contemporary writers seem to have– the lack of a philosophical foundation, a metaphysical perspective on life and the universe, which for all their talent prevents their work from having greater depth and meaning.

FOR a literary writer Mary Gaitskill is supremely talented. At her best, with a story such as “Girl on a Plane,” she reaches a level of strong emotion. Like a punch to the gut. After reading more of her fiction one realizes they’re all of a piece– the characters intelligent but superficial animals whose primary motivation is sex.

An accurate depiction of today’s society. There are no happy endings. Men and women exist in dysfunctional hate-love relationships with scarcely the possibility of getting along. Captives of their drives. The sexually liberated society; which comes across as an unending sadomasochistic nightmare. No escape. No hope of redemption or salvation. At the end of the tale one of the characters is humiliated. Or both of them. Destroyed. Shattered. Lost animals without souls to tarnish. No heroes or even anti-heroes. It’s a problem not of the writer so much as society– particularly, their urban New York City or San Francisco milieu. A typical tale is “Kiss and Tell,” in which a struggling male screenwriter is in love with a struggling actress. The sex is briefly very good, but friendship is the only way they can ultimately connect– then even that collapses. The friendship ends in betrayal and bitterness.

The writing, like the sex, is very good. But is it enough?

Has Mary Gaitskill done enough to enter the Tournament?

Latest Tournament Selections

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

frost(Photo of a young Robert Frost.)

Have the Tournament judges had it with novelists? This seems to be the case with the latest selections, the #5 seeds, all poets.

A.)  T.S. Eliot

Once THE biggest name in the poetry game– “The Wasteland” remains, perhaps, the most famous of all American poems.

B.)  Robert Frost

Talk about famous poems by famous poets. The title “The Road Not Taken” has become part of the national conversation. For decades Robert Frost was the widely-known face of poetry in America.

C.)  Maya Angelou

mayapensive

For a couple decades until her death in 2014 Maya Angelou was the face of American poetry– aided by her performances at Presidential inaugurals. Who’ll rise to the forefront to replace her?

D.)  Allen Ginsberg

This beat poet’s entry into the “Most Famous American Poem” sweepstakes is “Howl.” An audacious bid for greatness. Allen Ginsberg never came close to writing another poem with similar impact.

ginsbergasshowman

Letter from an Activist

ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT

Unacceptable-Public-Domain

(Editor’s Note: We’ve received this poem in reaction to our choice of Ezra Pound as one of the writers to appear in the tournament.)

“Ode to Dead White Male Poets” by Cherry Bomb

NO fossilized memories lapsed
No comfortable trust fund hangers-on
who jumped on the change bandwagon
when the key founders were corrupted, co-opted, or gone.

NO designated set-aside protest areas,
regulated dissident zones
of tenured professors
defanged and neutered,
leashes brought from home.

NO inert fake po-biz foes barking bravely on computers
in their bedrooms,
bunny rabbit slippers.
By 2040 they’ll be ready to move;
(Make that 2047, if all goes well.)

NO Nazis, no fascists
No dead white male assholes,
No waiting for revolution
Meanwhile being jailed,
or jelloed into quivering dessert.

NO past, no tomorrow,
no what-might-have-been sorrow
Only resistance
Upturn the System
Overthrow the pig patriarchal pet poets past or present,
NOW!

-Signed, Cherry Bomb, Assistant Director, OPA!
(Outraged Protestors Against!)
@outragedprotest

 

stop