Friday, October 14, 2005

Ben Marcus = Genius

In the October issue of Harper's there's an extraordinary essay by Ben Marcus in which he presents a lengthy and convincing case for experimental fiction. It's mostly enjoyable for his perfect debunking of everything Jonathan Franzen has ever said in opposition to experimental fiction or in defense of "realist" fiction, a frantically nebulous idea of a genre. Now, don't get me wrong. I love the realists. And sometimes I'm puzzled - and even bored - by the experimentalists. And I've been accused of being both. And neither. But I've never read a more passionate, hilarious, and (non-defensively) well-presented defense of experimental fiction - why it's important and why it shouldn't be universally derided by those prickly realist snobs. Only a small excerpt of the massive essay is available online but you should read the entire thing for the full effect. Harper's may cost $4.95, but in addition to the essay you'll get a lot of context-free irony and centered statistics.

The article also highlights the essential Jonathan Franzen problem. He's a very fine writer. I really liked The Corrections; this can be confirmed by the fact that I finished it, more than can be said of other realist (or not) novels of the past 10 years, like Middlesex (got to about page 100), White Teeth (p. 175), Atonement (p. 45), or The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (p. 2). But, despite his skills at writing fiction, Franzen is staggeringly wrongheaded in everything else he presents to the world - his deranged essays, his pompous screeds about the literary "industry," his fame-and-sales-obsessed book reviews, his limp non-fiction, and his author photos. And I haven't even mentioned Oprah (neither did Ben Marcus - that would be another 6 small-fonted pages and Harper's needs the space to present unintentionally funny in-house e-mails sent to employees of corporate offices with name recognition).

So, Ben Marcus, you've got my vote. I'll go read your book now.

3 comments:

Jason B. said...

Is Ben Marcus the source of the new blog title?

Excellent blogging by the way.

Ali said...

The source of the new blog title can be found here:
http://imdb.com/title/tt0096466/

It's from a non-sequitur line uttered by a pre-craggy Richard Lewis.

And thanks.

Danyel said...

novels of the past 10 years, like Middlesex (got to about page 100), White Teeth (p. 175), Atonement (p. 45), or The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (p. 2).

funny!