October 18, 2019

"Not so long ago, the big, ambitious social novel, the novel that wanted to tell us about 'the way we live now' or 'the state of the nation'..."

"... enjoyed a prestige and cultural centrality that, in recent years, have come to seem distinctly suspect. Looking increasingly through the lens of identity, some critics have begun to see the universalizing impulse behind such books — their belief in their ability to write across differences of race and class and gender — as presumptuous if not outright aggressive, a kind of epistemological gate-crashing (especially when the author is a well-off white man). One result of this development is that readers have become skeptical when a novel about, say, a white Midwestern family bills itself, and is celebrated as, a novel about America at large. Another result is a spike in books of radical imaginative humility, in which a first-person narrator — usually a more or less transparent proxy for the author — disavows altogether the power to represent the wider world or inhabit the hearts and minds of others. Instead, these novels... center on a richly turbulent subjectivity, a welcome corrective to manly bloat and overreach."

From "To Decode White Male Rage, First He Had to Write in His Mother’s Voice/How Ben Lerner reinvented the social novel for a hyper-self-obsessed age" a book review by Giles Harvey (NYT).

The top-rated comment over there is this, from someone named Craig:
Reading this, I thought I might learn something about white male rage in the era of Trump. Instead, we get a blathering biographical narrative that wanders all around like an unguided missile, starting with a boy who wraps his genitals in chewing gum. Clearly an emotionally disturbed child, who becomes an emotionally disturbed adult, but - how does this weirdly tortured individual saga elucidate the rise of white male rage? What did I miss?
Hmm. He sounds angry.

The novel under review is "The Topeka School," and there's your Amazon link.

23 comments:

rhhardin said...

White males now bemused by more than women.

rhhardin said...

Bemusement is why you get explicitly disinvited to mandatory annual consciousness raising seminars.

Kevin said...

Hmm. He sounds angry.

This is America 2019.

Everyone sounds angry.

Lincolntf said...

Ah, yes, the "I sat in gum" school of philosophy.

Laslo Spatula said...

Novels written for critics and the people who faithfully read the critics.

The Rusty Trombone of Important Writing.

I am Laslo.

Fernandistein said...

"To Decode White Male Rage, First He Had to Write in His Mother’s Voice/How Ben Lerner reinvented the social novel for a hyper-self-obsessed age"

The perfect example of the kind of headline I don't click on and never have.

Everyone sounds angry.

It's noise. Actual violence ("rage"), at least among white people in the US, continues to decrease. Which is one reason why that headline is a perfect example: it's just nonsense.

The Minnow Wrangler said...

What if I just want to read a good story and not a "big, ambitious social novel"? There must be something wrong with me.

Laslo Spatula said...

Imagine the Woke tics that would be hung on Gatsby today.

Although the "underwear... climbing like a damp snake around my legs" would probably still work.

I am Laslo.

John henry said...


"Not so long ago, the big, ambitious social novel, the novel that wanted to tell us about 'the way we live now'

Way too late. Anthony Trollope did that 140 years ago and I can't imagine anyone topping him.

Great novel, great audiobook (librivox.org) and absolutely perfect BBC miniseries (available on Prime)

Currently listening to the book and rewatched the miniseries a few weeks ago. I've got it on DVD, along with He knew he was right and The Barchester Chronicles.I reqatch them all frequently.

140 years old and, except for some of the technologies, could have been written last week.

The American Senator, about an American Senator who goes to England and involves himself into a dispute about fox hunting. Hilarity, mostly at the senator's expense, follows.

Trollope is vastly underrated. He is a fantastic author.

Amazon Prime did a production of Doctor Thorne, starring Ian McShane a couple years ago that is marvelous.

John Henry

CWJ said...

"these novels... center on a richly turbulent subjectivity, a welcome corrective to manly bloat and overreach."

Catcher in the Rye? What's old is new again.

Craig said...

That comment was NOT written by me.

Shouting Thomas said...

Let’s see... Here’s the daily outpouring from the left:

1. White man are racist and sexist
2. White men should shut up and keep their opinions to themselves because racism and sexism
3. White men should be at the bottom of the quota rackets
4. White men need to learn to be fags

And on and on.

And then: “Why are you fucking white men so damned angry all the time?”

Wince said...

...starting with a boy who wraps his genitals in chewing gum... but - how does this weirdly tortured individual saga elucidate the rise of white male rage?

I'm guessing with the advice that the best way to remove that chewing gum from his genitals is to rip it off like a band-aide?

Ironclad said...

Obviously the protagonist was an early adherent/innovator of the Brazilian. Wax is a step up from chewing gum.

Probably best he didn’t corner the market because then the “area wax” would be white male oppression.

Skeptical Voter said...

No doubt the gum that the young boy used for genital wrapping was Juicy Fruit.

John henry said...

Just to be clear, the name of the Trollope novel is "The Way We Live Now"

John Henry

Iman said...

Not braggin’, but that would’ve taken a lotta packs of baseball cards for me in my yute

Ken B said...

Another review that isn’t about the thing reviewed.

mockturtle said...

Atlas Shrugged was truly the best of this genre but few of these critics would even see it as such.

RNB said...

A Facebook 'friend' (and fairly close acquaintance in real life) put up a long posting yesterday foreswearing his 'toxic masculinity,' confessing his sins against emotional openness, and begging his family and friends to help him 'do better.' This came completely out of the blue.

I wanted to leave a comment asking why he didn't just get his balls cut off, but thought better of it.

Expat(ish) said...

@John_Henry - I am a huge Trollope fan (bought one of the modern romances once by accident) and recently found that gutenberg had the "complete" in Kindle format.

Have been re-discovering "the way we live now" recently.

-XC

mccullough said...

It’s good to deflate the pretensions of Literature.

All of it. People who extol Toni Morrison and want it to be required reading are no different than the people they criticized who think Shakespeare speaks to The Human Condition. They are Harold Bloom pushing their own Canon.

The idea that people should try and understand others different from them is a White Man’s Idea. It’s a Categorical Imperative. A Universal Precept.

If they don’t exist, then no reason for The White Man to read The Black Woman.



narciso said...

well it has all the sjw hallmarks, now a book like bonfire, couldn't be written today,