January 2007 Archives
Steven G. Kellman is the winner of the latest award for excellence in reviewing from the National Book Critics Circle. As indicated in my column today, we have crossed paths before.
The piece opens with a section on Wilfrid Sheed's novel Max Jamison, which I'm now rereading. Sheed seems to be much on my mind of late. Evidently most of his books are out of print, which is insane.
There is a reference in this week's column to the work of Leslie Fiedler, another NBCC honoree. I first read Fiedler in high school (like any serious part of my education, not as part of the curriculum) so it felt like a prvilege to be able to interview him a couple of times.
This was not long before he died, as it turned out. Here's what I published out of it.
Somewhere around page 60 of The Castle in the Forest, the new novel by Norman Mailer, my heart sank. Progress through the next three hundred pages or so demanded a steady effort to hoist it back into place, somehow, through sheer force of will and imagination -- to conceive some sense in which the "revelation" by the narrator about his identity could be justified, hence redeemed.
And so I tried, really I did. No reader could have been more willing to give Mailer the benefit of the doubt. A couple of times it almost seemed possible.
But by the final hours, the battle was lost. Each time we revisted the domain of Mailero-Manichean cosmological meandering, the sinking feeling would return, redoubled. (My review of the book ran this weekend in Newsday.)
I've been publishing pieces of nonfiction prose, of one sort or another, for just over twenty years now - at first in small political or scholarly journals, eventually in some of the larger American magazines and newspapers, and from time to time between the covers of a book.
There must be hundreds of them by now. And yet I find it difficult to speak of having a "career." It has never seemed a particularly useful concept, at least for defining my own experience, and in any case, its presuppositions seem not to apply. For the notion of a "career" is always cumulative, progressive, relentlessly forward-looking. In that regard, you are now in the company of someone who is seriously out of his depth.
As a writer (hell, as somebody trying to live from day to day) I have for a long time been guided by various models from the past, even the somewhat distant past. That probably explains this recurrent experience of feeling totally out of touch with the contemporary world in general and my colleagues in particular. (To have a much greater interest in the past than in the present is no real advantage to someone writing for magazines and newspapers.)
Anyway, I'm telling you all this in lieu of preparing the manifesto that Doug McLennan, editor of Arts Journal, asked me to write for the launch of Quick Study. The invitation to blog here is extremely welcome. This a really good neighborhood. But explaining what I'm going to try to do isn't so easy.
Probably the best I can manage is to sketch, instead, where Quick Study is coming from: The baffled and anachronistic outlook of someone constantly zigzagging between deadline and archive, writing "pieces" but never quite able to assemble a whole from them.