Why Ben Marcus for Summer2015? Two Old Answers
So today is June 1st, and so today our four intrepid readers (and anyone else interested –welcome aboard, Guido!) officially dive into the swift currents and oddly toxic water of Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet. Why Ben Marcus? Well, two possible answers come to mind.
One: Our experimental fiction guru Misha Hoekstra, who put his literary ambitions on hold for many years while working and living in Denmark but who is now a literary translator whose work recently appeared in The New Yorker, handed a bunch of us Ben Marcus’s first book The Age of Wire and String (1995) way back when, and I for one found it thrillingly unintelligible. Two: A decade later Ben Marcus became the champion for difficult fiction in an excellent takedown of Jonathan Franzen (not qua writer but qua theorist and defender of literary realism) in Harper’s Magazine, in October 2005.
The essay is titled, “Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life As We Know It: A Correction,” and you can (re-)read it at the web address below. (Hmm, I may need to re-learn how to do links etc. on this blog.)
The reviews of The Flame Alphabet led me to believe that it was not quite as thrillingly unintelligible –or at any rate, not quite as unintelligible– as The Age of Wire and String, and a preliminary attempt to get through it in April 2014 (about ninety pages of it, and then I hosted a friend, and went to Argentina, and all the rest) reassured me that I could recommend the book without embarrassing myself, and that it is really creepy fun.
BTW, what do I think of Marcus’s argument in the essay? Well, he’s a professor of creative writing at Columbia now, and his books were recommended to us by someone with an MFA from Brown who was hired to teach creative writing, and Big Josh has an MFA too; so it would be interesting to compare his defense (or if you prefer, to compare Franzen’s attack) with the recent (2014) argument by the n+1 people MFA vs. NYC.
(The short story that Misha translated, by Danish writer Dorthe Nors, appeared earlier this month. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/25/the-freezer-chest Hey, guess whose fiction is in this week’s issue?)
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