Friday, May 29, 2009

Farther down ...

... Part Two - Revisiting Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD.

Here's my post linking to Part I (many comments): Literary discussion ...

Also, Dave Lull alerts me that R.T. has been noticed by the Washington Post: The Speed Read.


  1. Goodness! To have been noticed by the Washington Post is indeed flattering and surprising. Who knew a simple blog written by a curmudgeonly teacher of literature could get noticed by a national newspaper. Well, it seems as though I had better continue the WISE BLOOD postings. So, with another ten to twelve installments already outlined and drafted, I had better get to work.


    Tremendous and deserved, R. T. My heartfeltingly heartiest kudos to yudos. WOW! Wonderful. You must be feeling like a million Buicks; and, FTR, I don't blame you one iota. Standing O!

    Way to glow :) . . .

    p.s. You ain't a curmudgeonly teacher of literature; you're a very wise guy and a heckuva big-brained thinker, at least, IMO

  3. Thanks, Judith, I am really humbled by your kind words. Don' stop!!!! :-)

  4. Well, then, one final comment in response to R.T., posted here, as part of the continuity here, for no other reason:

    Who said anything about Lit Theory? That's not at all what I was referring to in terms of being more objective as a reviewer. I have no interest in theory, ideology, or any of that. I have only an interest in good writing, wherever encountered, in whatever "genre."

    I could care less about the New Criticism or post-structuralism, or any of that crap. I've never paid any attention to any of it, not even in college. If I happen to agree with a basic idea about writing that some one of those lit crit philosophers put forward, trust me, it's purely coincidental.

    So Lit Theory is not at all what I was talking about. It's just a case of, I remain unconvinced by the arguments in favor of The Road, primarily on the grounds of the writing quality, and its derivative and unoriginal nature.

    I think one can say, more or less objectively, that there are better, and better-written, post-apocalyptic novels. Lists have been presented, and not just by me. I think one can also say, more or less objectively, that the reviewers who praised the so-called ground-breaking originality of this novel are flatly wrong: it's not that original. Again, lists have been presented.

    Those assessments have nothing to do with whether or not it is a reader's favorite novel. Even some who have said they liked the novel admitted to its problems and faults.

    It's clear to me at this time that no one is really interested in Frank's point about the pornography of despair; or anything I might have to say from that angle; or about the differences between apocalypse and apokatastasis, in literature as well as in worldview. No one really wants to hear things that could change their viewpoints—to have their assessments contradicted or questioned.

    Fair enough. That's not a problem. I shan't waste any more evidential time, hereafter. But at this point, I deeply believe that this is not book reviewing, not any more. Or discussion or dialogue.

    Fair enough. Let's just not pretend to call things something they're not.


  5. [continued from previous]

    Let's just be clear: we are dealing with a fan response, not a literary-critical response. Let's stop pretending otherwise. "Critical" does not, despite what anyone might think, and so many seem in fact to think, mean critique, as in automatically negative review. It means assessment, evaluation, overview. It means examination on all levels: not excluding emotional response; but also, placement in historical context; writing quality; etc. "Critical" is not inherently negative reviewing: it strives to be honest reviewing, pointing out both strengths and flaws.

    it's a choice. I respect the positive review's writer's choice, even as I disagree about the literary quality of The Road. No one is convincing anyone of anything—which was predictable. I hoped for more mutual listening—no, to be more accurate, while I do listen to others' viewpoints, and consider them carefully, I don't feel that is either mutual or reciprocal. So be it. No more need be said about that.

    So, in terms of book reviewing: As long as one states clearly that. for example, one is writing a fan appreciation of a novel (or whatever) one loves, that's fine. But that is a subjective review. Again, that's a choice, a valid choice, and it's fine as far as it goes.

    But here's the thing: while it's impossible to remove subjective assessments from lit crit, and it's debatable whether or not one ought to try to, since emotional response is a valid mode of response, it's absolutely necessary to label these as primarily subjective assessments. If not so labeled, a reader who ends up reading the novel on one's advice, and who ends up hating it, is done no service—especially if a review is not marked as being a personal take, but is presented as The Voice Of Authority.

    And writers wonder thereafter why readers become cynical about reviews! Why has reviewing become so solipsistic? Simply because far too many reviewers present their personal takes as The Voice Of Authority. People need to question authority a lot more often than they do; especially readers. But they don't, so reviewers do wield a lot of authority, willy nilly.

    I certainly respect everyone's personal take, and personal taste. I just want to be very clear: that's what it is, personal taste.

    But a well-known reviewer such as James Woods' review was no less subjective than many others—plus he got some facts just plain wrong, since he obviously hasn't read much in the post-apocalyptic genre.

    Therein lies the problem.

  6. Art: To the extent that anything I have written has annoyed, offended, or disappointed you or anyone else, I apologize. Moreover, to the extent that anything I have written fails to satisfy or goes against the tone of the discussion, I also apologize. I would say this, however, as a point of clarification. I had not intended to offer anything that was in opposition to anyone else's reading strategies but simply as discussion with the goal of clarifying my reading strategies that were specifically limited to THE ROAD. My participation in the discussion was prompted by Frank Wilson's suggestions, and I was merely joining him in figuring out how and why we came about our very different reactions to THE ROAD. Building upon that premise, I am certainly open to having my "assessments contradicted or questioned," and that openness is at the heart of the exchange. If I wrote anything that suggests otherwise, then I wrote in error.

  7. R. T. I meant what I wrote; I always read your comments; and, although sometimes we don't agree, I am always deeply impressed by your willingness to enter into any kind of cyber-interaction and to explore things you both do and don't know.

    There's a largesse in your responses and comments that I find both attractively reassuring in terms of civilisation as well as extraordinarily admirable because you always make sense and work to communicate your ideas as well as to accommodate others' thoughts and perceptions. That's wisdom.

    It don't come easily to any of us and I am proud that you've received such high praise outside of this blog or your own. You've earned it. You have every right to be proud and humbled and aw-shucks left-handed, too (since I'm a south-paw, I can say that with a straight grace). Go for it!

    Art? Wrong thread, no?

    This is a red-lettered day for R. T. and we're big enough . . . well, even five-feet shorties like you know who . . . we're big enough to drool and rejoice when one of us gets this admirable kind of world-class recognition?

    It's a really lovely acknowledgement; and, you know I respect you in the morning, aft, and, evening (and, I have referred to you in my Blog in The Globe and Mail, too); but, nobody said anything about "Lit Theory" in this thread till you asked:

    "Who said anything about Lit Theory?"

    R. T. called himself a "curmudgeonly teacher of literature" which, from my own years as an anguish, er, English prof, I "get"; I do know a little about the type; and, I was just explaining he ain't one such. Is all. (I thought I already strangled all of 'em, anyway?)

    Your comments following your question don't belong here, IMO; but, if you are taking R. T. to task on what you perceive to be a lack of critical rigour, that ought to continue in the discussion of The Road.

    I am just thinking of all the people who will have a peek at this link; and, then, you know, scratch their heads wondering what you're describing or discussing.

    Yeah, I guess I feel a little responsible for this which explains why I am saying anything; but, I did say, in the thread on C. M.'s novel, I felt R. T. could've provided more concrete textual examples and I meant it in the spirit I had hoped he would take it; you know I'm very careful not to attack the person; rather, I stick to the text. I think I had a valid observation; and, R. T. generously took yours to heart, too, that the review was more fan-like than you preferred. Is all.

    No offense; your comment doesn't belong here. This is a good good thing that's happened to R. T.'s work on another writer in another exegesis he's undertaken and is still creating. Let us enjoy our co-commentarians achievements. I know you, a little, and I think this is just a simple misunderstanding; we are all passionate (look no further than the dame who's telling you this); but, this ain't the place and R. T. ain't the guy to tell you that; I am.


    Unfortunately, I'm a dame; but, I am saying straight up, the way you'd appreciate it: You're in the wrong thread, Hon.

    Lard knows, we've got so many snipers and vipers willing to get down 'n' dirty at the drop of an ad hom / ad fem shot, let's rise to the occasion.

    YOu do know I care deeply for and about you. And, that's why I'm wondering what you read here that produced your response; further, if you reread what's here, I know you'll see it does belong in the other thread, the one where you guys were talking The Road.

    Myself? I'm with Empson, Richards, Eliot, Tate,; so, you'd get no arghs from me concerning post-post-least-ghost gone-long pre-meno-past-blast-post-stricturalism or whatevs, yeesh :).

    p.s. I haven't been able to go and read R. T.'s revisions because I am working on all the work I need to do for the next three-four days since I'm going to hosp for a bit tomorrow; no biggee, not like Rus, just the usual meows :) . . .

  8. Again, Judith, you are wonderfully kind and encouraging. And again, to anyone else involved (or offended) in this discussion about THE ROAD, I intend no animus and remain open to any and all responsive responses. I do not pretend to having any special insights or wisdom, I just have a humble passion for reading, writing, and talking about literature, and I leave the heavy-lifting to those who have read, written, and talked with more authority that I.

  9. P.S. And please excuse the typographical errors in the previous post. As the current colloquial expression goes, "My bad." (I rather wish that expression would disappear from everyone's lexicon.)

  10. You know, R. T., I don't like it, either?

    I vote we start saying, My BadAssitude, K?

    K . . .


  11. Since I sort of started this, maybe - now that I've popped back in after enjoying life for a couple of days - I can sort things out a bit.
    I think that Art and I remain on the same page about The Road. I also think we are the same page regarding post-apocalyptic fiction. It seems to me that when one uses the term "apocalyptic" one is referring to the book of Revelation (though that is just the most famous and influential apocalyptic book). That being the case, it seems to me that to stop with the destruction and forget about the renewal is to falsify the genre.
    Regrettably, I don't have a copy of The Road nearby. If I still have a copy, it is buried among the books stored in the basement and I'm too lazy to go find it. But I think two things can be safely said about the writing. It is stylistically different from McCarthy's other writing - and the difference is not to the book's advantage. It is an odd mix of the plain and simple and the self-consciously arty, a combination I don't think works. I also think - and I made mention of it in this discussion - that the book has serious plausibility problems. Finally, I think McCarthy was pandering to a mood that has become fashionable, something like the phony angst you could encounter among pseudo-Beats when I was young.
    That said, the book clearly strikes a chord with some very smart and sensitive readers. C.S. Lewis was a fan of David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus. It was a major influence on his work, as he frequently pointed out.
    Nevertheless, technically, A Voyage to Arcturus is a bad book, oafishly written, advancing a repellent view of the world and life. In spite of which, it works. It is a compelling read. Books are like people, not all of a piece, often inconsistent and contradictory. And since they present something in potentia, which can only be activated by the reader's imagination, it often happens that the reader takes second-rate stuff and transmutes it in to gold - in the case of The Road, black gold but gold nonetheless.

  12. Well, you've given me even more to think about, Frank, Art, Judith, et al. I have enjoyed the exchange, and I hope others will follow. For now, though, I am on to other projects, including my re-reading of the O'Connor canon. My recent adventure with WISE BLOOD persuades me that now is the time to look at the whole by looking at the pieces of the canon. I'll keep you posted over at my blog about what I'm up to. Of course, now and then, I intend to pop in here, there, and everywhere, offering tidbits whenever appropriate. And--as if that weren't enough to keep me busy--life's daily challenges are stacking up, including preparing for the summer term during which I am scheduled to teach but have not yet done a bit of planning. So, back to the books!

  13. Well, sorry to offend in return. (It IS Mercury Retrograde right now, which always creates mass miscommunications.)

    I posted here for two reasons: because Frank brought me into the thread with his links, so it seemed appropriate to continue the discussion here; if not, I guess I plead to not living up to everyone's expectations of my ability to read their minds about what I "should" have done.

    That and I tried to post my comments over at R.T.'s place, and I wasn't able to for unknown technical reasons. So don't ask me to apologize for what ain't my fault. :)

  14. R.T. I appreciate your clarifications here. If I was snarky it was in part that I was responding to your tone, over on your "final post" which seemed to me to bit a of "take my marbles and go home" tone. If that wasn't your intended tone, and I misread it, I can only apologize. I did pick up a bit of hostility, when your comments bringing in Lit Theory seemed very out of left field in that they seemed to respond to nothing I recall saying. Like I said, I didn't bring up Lit Theory; nor did I ever intend to.

    At the same time, I don't feel I need to apologize for anything I wrote here before, as I meant what I said, and I backed up my arguments. If my tone was a frustrated one, it's for exactly the reasons I said: I felt like I wasn't being heard, and that Frank wasn't either, and the Lit Theory seemed so left-field to me that it really came across as a defensive tactic of deflection and not a response to anything I actually said.

    And as I also said: I think your reading is perfectly valid, in the ways I already said.

    I really do feel like I keep having to repeat myself. Which is why I'm going to stop now.

    Except just to say that I do agree with Frank's most recent comments in almost every way. Well said, sir.

  15. Frank, I think the problem with this situation could be corrected to everyone's satisfaction (since no one's at fault) if you'd given R. T.'s WP shout-out in its own thread.

    I don't think Art's at fault for commenting on The Road in the Wise Blood thing; but, perhaps the Wise Blood thing ought to be in its own thread, not attached to The Road at all? I was trying to practise discretion and NOT criticise you for lumping all of them together and I thought Art would be sensitive enough to understand that's what I was saying.

    Hope this — that they ought to have been split in the first place — clarifies what I was trying to communicate with some small degree of delicacy. And, I thought when you said you came late to the thread and could repair it, that's what you would say. I thought wrong.

    Art, I owe you an apology: I am sorry.

  16. Also hoping to avoid being snarky, perhaps all of this has been good simply because it has been invigorating. We could borrow titles for the process from Shakespeare:
    The Tempest?
    Much Ado About Nothing?
    All Well That Ends Well?
    (I think I prefer the last.)
    Regards to all.

  17. Correction:
    All's Well That Ends Well.
    (Perhaps I need typing lessons again.)