Critical Reads August 24, 2012: The Gunslingers EditionBy Tracy O’Neill
"When in doubt, impregnate or kill."
This week, the talk of the literary town was William Giraldi's target-practice excoriations of Alix Ohlin's Inside and Signs and Wonders. The spirit of gunslinging was continued on Twitter (finally, people tweeting about stuff besides their artisanal food intake!), where users took sides in the Ohlin-Giraldi showdown. Other writers kept themselves out of the intra-literary fighting to fight a reactionary Arizona censorship law. Meanwhile, Maria Bustillos remembered the rock critic Lester Bangs, a writer who went to bat for intellectual honesty and writing like a person who wasn't kneeling down to kiss the academy's feet. Then finally, fan fiction writers imagined a different type of guns -- whatever appendages Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan might share.
The Strange World of Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan Fan Fiction (The Atlantic)
I wasn't shocked to read that Romney-Ryan fan fiction has emerged; there is, after all, fan fiction dedicated to Star Wars characters, vampires and werewolves, and pretty much any otherworldly being inhabiting the fantasies of middle America. However the Romney-Ryan variations are myriad, and they don't stop with ass spanking either. In my favorite storyline elaborated in this article, Paul Ryan is a woman having an affair with Mitt -- and now carrying the Romney baby: "Mitt, now panicking over the news he just recieved, turns to Paul and says, ‘I was homeschooled by Godfearing Christians. I never learned that stuff, or the ethical treatment of animals in cars.' ‘So are we going to keep it or what? You've pretty much gotten rid of any options.' says Paul, or Paulette as the thickened plot now reveals." One can only imagine the Todd Akin fan fiction that might ensue.
Writers Condemn Arizona's Censorship Law (Freeword Online)
Arizona's House Bill 2281 forbids the use of literature "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group." Ignoring any kind of author's intent critical debate, the proposed bill makes little sense to the needs of Arizona students or the creation of art itself. As such, the bill has been opposed in a petition signed by a number of authors such as Yiyun Li. I'm not sure that the authors of the bill know who these writers are, but perhaps a glance through the New Yorker "20 Under 40" article will suffice.
How Lester Bangs Taught Me to Read (New Yorker)
Lester Bangs wasn't exactly a household name, but to many of his readers, Bangs occupied a formative time of their lives and became father to their critical tendencies. Bold in opinion and style, Bangs seemed never to fear the backlash so many mealy-mouthed writers seem to write around. I read a Bangs paragraph -- think:
"Number one, everybody should realize that all this 'art' and 'bop' and 'rock-'n'-roll' and whatever is all just a joke and a mistake, just a hunka foolishness so stop treating it with any seriousness or respect at all and just recognize the fact that it's nothing but a Wham-O toy to bash around as you please in the nursery, it's nothing but a goddam Bonusburger so just gobble the stupid thing and burp and go for the next one tomorrow; and don't worry about the fact that it's a joke and a mistake and a bunch of foolishness as if that's gonna cause people to disregard it and do it in or let it dry up and die, because it's the strongest, most resilient, most invincible Superjoke in history, nothing could possibly destroy it ever, and the reason for that is precisely that it is a joke, mistake, foolishness."
I challenge those who think arts criticism is for those who can't create art themselves.
Here If You Need Me (NY Times)
William Giraldi has been getting a lot of crap this week. Last Friday he published this review of Alix Ohlin's novel Inside and her collection Signs and Wonders. Flaying nearly her every move from title choice to character motifs, Giraldi set himself up as the passionately critical man of letters to Ohlin's mediocre letdown of a writer to all of womankind who wants to believe that women can frequently write literature to be regarded as more than "women's fiction." If one's tone might be considered heartily dismissive, this is exactly the tone Giraldi takes, most notably when he observes Ohlin's narrative technique to be nothing more than "when in doubt, impregnate or kill." If this sounds oddly akin to some kind of conservative talk show host's explanation of the abortion debate, you're not alone. There were many in the literary community, I believe, who wished that Giraldi had had the foresight to wrap it up or abstain.
Harsh Book Review Sparks Strong Twitter Reaction (Wall Street Journal)
The Twitter tussling following William Giraldi's review of Alix Ohlin's Inside and Signs and Wonders has been immense. Here, the Wall Street Journal rounds up some of the reactions. One from Team Ohlin tweets, "Dear William Giraldi, that's not a review, but a jealous tantrum. For shame." Meanwhile, one on Team Giraldi writes "Stunned as I watch William Giraldi's NYT review of Alex Ohlin draw so many complaints. Scathing review, but seemed to deserve every word."
Check back every Friday for the next installment of our Critical Reads series.
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