Friday, August 07, 2009 4:51 PM
A literary hoax is raising uncomfortable questions about the state of academic journals.
Back in 2004, the literary-studies journal Modernism/Modernity printed an article by Jay Murray Siskind of Blacksmith College. The problem is that there is no Jay Murray Siskind, outside Don DeLillo’s classic modernist novel White Noise, and Blacksmith College doesn’t exist at all.
The literary hoax was not revealed until this year, when Mark Sample broke the story on his blog, Sample Reality. According to Sample, this long lag raises the question: “Did any regular readers of the journal ever even read, really read, the review?” Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Monaghan takes the argument a step further, asking, “does anyone read any literary-studies articles?”
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education
Monday, June 15, 2009 1:56 PM
Increasingly, we are a global community of migrants. In this era of unprecedented mobility, boundaries seem more permeable, and indeed arbitrary, than ever.
Enter the hybrid. Not the car, the literary genre. Are genre categories like poetry and prose just so 20th Century? The spring issue of Dislocate magazine seems to say, yes. The editors have put together a collection of prose poems, lyric essays, and flash fiction that address the theme of migration through either form or content. By resisting proscribed boundaries, the writing opens up new possibilities in form and content.
Take Gregg Willard’s “Pop”, which gleefully straddles the line between poetry and prose. It begins:
When I was a boy my father told me, “If you go to any more movies, you’re going to turn into a movie.” I kept going to movies. When I turned into a movie it turned out to be a Japanese science-fiction movie. The dubbing was very bad...
“We are interested in work that addresses form but also breaks away from it,” says Editor-in-chief Shantha Susman. “What does it mean to dislocate, to take it away from its natural place?”
The issue features poetry by Peter Johnson, Nin Andrews, and Todd Boss, an interview with author Ethan Canin, a never-before-published English translation of Haitian poet Jacqueline Beaugé-Rosier by Gabrielle Civil, and gorgeous photos by Kyle Rand.
Also featured is work by women of Chicago’s Grace House, a transitional facility for women recently released from prison. For this collaborative project between The Field Museum and Northwestern University, Grace House residents wrote responses to painter Jacob Lawrence’s “The Great Migration” series, which portrays the mass migration of African Americans from the South to the North in the early 20th Century. Their powerful, spare prose speaks to the unstable nature of migration.
As resident Racheal M. Harris writes, “Don’t ever be afraid of change—ain’t nothing constant but change.”
Source: Dislocate (full text not available online)
Images courtesy of Dislocate and Kyle Rand
Thursday, April 30, 2009 4:30 PM
In Australia dwells a nearly extinct creature called the boodie, an omnivorous and nocturnal burrowing animal “like a kangaroo no bigger than a modest teddy bear” with “a particular appetite for underground fungi,” writes Tim Winton in “Repatriation: Travels Through a Recovering Landscape” in the beefy environmental lit journal Ecotone (Vol. 4, No. 1&2; article not online). Traveling the desert lands of northwestern Australia in the boodie’s former range, Winton also traverses the puzzles and paradoxes of Australian conservation in this engaging and decription-rich essay. Naturally “leery of wealthy do-gooders,” he nonetheless comes to see promise in privately funded efforts to preserve prime boodie habitat. Part of the fun of the essay, I’ll admit, is the Australian animal names. Winton writes about one researcher, Alexander Baynes, who has
“produced a roll call of troubled species that includes not just the boodie and the woylie, but the elusive wambenger, the chuditch, the short-beaked echidna, and several species of dunnarts, bandicoots, bats, wallabies, and mice.
“Creatures with names like these would be at home in a satire by Jonathan Swift, so it should be no surprise to discover that … coordinates put Gulliver hereabouts. At the time Swift was writing, there was indeed an austral island teeming with creatures more strange and marvelous than even he could imagine, but so quickly have they disappeared from view or from existence altogether that they can sometimes seem a product of mere fancy.”
Winton's article was previously published as "Silent Country" in the Australian magazine The Monthly. Read it in full (pdf) on the website of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
Sources: Ecotone, Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Shark Bay World Heritage Area
Image courtesy of DEC / Babs and Bert Wells.
Friday, October 17, 2008 12:55 PM
Houghton Mifflin recently published its 2008 edition of The Best American Essays with Adam Gopnik serving as guest editor. The Best American series is always a good showcase of the year’s finest offerings in a genre, and a reliable gauge of each form’s contemporary direction.
While this collection is led, as usual, by standout pieces from the New Yorker and Harper’s, it also culls some brilliant offerings from smaller magazines and literary journals, providing a modest cross-section of the essay-writing talent in the independent press. Pieces from PMS (Poem Memoir Story), Transition, Pinch, Swink, and Open City have all made the cut.
Part of the fun of these collections for essay-geeks like me is to see which luminary they’ve invited to guest edit. David Foster Wallace presided over last year’s collection, and the essays he chose had an immediacy that previous editions lacked; several of them addressed pressing issues like war, class, and politics, contradicting the frequent charge that personal essays are too solipsistic.
Gopnik’s introduction is similar to previous editions’ in that it makes a compelling case for the importance of good nonfiction in today’s literary world, and continues to defend the form—especially the subgenre of memoir—against the too-frequent charge of self-indulgence. But Gopnik provides a solid argument about the universal urgency of even the most personal essay:
Certainly people attack the memoir, and the memoir essay, in exactly the way people once attacked the novel. . . as vulgar and above all self-indulgent. But “self-indulgent,” fairly offered, means that expression is in too great an ascendance over communication. . . .In truth, the impulse to argument that is part of the essay’s inheritance. . . makes the memoir essay, even of the mushiest sort, the least self-indulgent of forms, the one where the smallest display of self for self’s sake is practical. A novelist can muse motionlessly for pages on the ebb and flow of life, but if an essayist hasn’t arrived at the point by the top of page three. . . if the leap into a higher general case, from the specific “I” to the almost universal “you” doesn’t take place quickly, the essay won’t work. . . . Memoir essays move us not because they are self-indulgent, but because they are other-indulgent, and the other they indulge is us, with our own parallel inner stories of loss and confusion and mixed emotions.
Gopnik and the series editor, Robert Atwan, have chosen big names like David Sedaris, Lauren Slater, and Jonathan Lethem to sit alongside relatively obscure writers: Joe Wenderoth, Patricia Brieschke, and the British-Sudanese novelist Jamal Mahjoub.
I’m personally hoping John O’Connor’s “The Boil” makes it into next year’s collection—but I won’t hold my breath.
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