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« Quotas, Preferences, Scores, Admissions | Main | AIDS and Immune Systems »

January 31, 2007

Busted

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Sean Sakamoto catches author T.C. Boyle giving a primo demonstration of lit-person snobbery and lit-person ignorance.

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at January 31, 2007




Comments

Nice piece -- really makes Boyle sound like a pompous ass, though he didn't need a lot of help in that department.

Posted by: missgrundy on January 31, 2007 9:40 PM



I realize the author was upset and trying to respond carefully to what Mr. Boyle said, but--on calm reflection--does anyone believe that T.C. Boyle never read a thriller? I certainly don't. What an insecure horse's rear end Mr. Boyle must be.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on February 1, 2007 2:24 PM



Well, look -- I don't know anything about Boyle personally, but I've read fair amount of his stuff and as an author he strikes me as pretty much an ideal Michael Blowhard writer. Very productive, terrific plotting, always responsive to the readers desire for good pacing and a solid story, stylistically somewhat literary but not pompous, ingrown, or dense. Really a good combination of the strengths of genre and literary writing. I've often found myself reading his stuff and thinking to myself: wow has this guy learned a lot from genre writing, he really knows how to tell a story. He may not be willing to *admit* he's learned a lot from genre, but he has.

Posted by: MQ on February 1, 2007 3:56 PM



I guess I'm a bit more surprised by Michael's "gotcha" delight than I am by Boyle's aggressive insecurity. Pompous self-regard is what Literary writers spread on their morning toast.

From the beginning of his career writing for small lit zines in the 70s, Boyle has declared himself a Literary Writer (capital "L" lit, that is); having done so, he has every right to remind the world that he is not a genre writer. I don't want to put words into Boyle's mouth (who could?) but he might explain that genre writers work with a safety net and literary writers don't; he wants the distinction to be made known. [about Boyle's claim to literature I have some doubts; he lays a lot on the alter of politics for one thing - but that's another thread]

The question comes back to you, Michael: is there such a thing as Literature? Can writers make art out of a collaboration of words and imagination? If you answer "yes" then there are reasons why genre writing disqualifies itself from the status of art.

Posted by: Doug Anderson on February 1, 2007 5:08 PM



Missgrundy - I wonder if he'll learn better in the future. Somehow I doubt it...

FvB -- Actually you'd be surprised by the number of lit-types who genuinely haven't read any popular fiction, or at least not since they were teenagers. Which is OK, of course, tastes being tastes. What isn't so ok is their eagerness to look down on and make generalizations about a field they know nothing about.

MQ -- I've only read a few of his short stories, which struck me as fine and dandy. My beef isn't with his writing, it's with his attitude, at least as caught in that one piece.

Doug -- I think you and I are 98% on the same page. And I certainly have nothing against Lit-Fict writers being who and what they are. I do think you may be making a lot of assumptions about non-Lit-Fict fiction, though. You seem convinced that non-Lit-fict fiction must inevitably succumb to formula, for instance. But what if 1) fulfilling formal demands is perfectly OK? That's another name for classicism, or the classical approach. And what if genre and formula -- storytelling forms -- are to narrative what rhyme and rhythm patterns are to poetry? In other words, what if fiction that adheres to external formal demands is the narrative equivalent of poetry in traditional forms? Nothing wrong with that, is there? Anyway, as a practical matter I think you're just wrong. I'm going through Joseph Wambaugh's new novel, for example, and midway through it I have no idea whatsoever where it's headed. It's as wild and rowdy as any pinwheeling po-mo lit extravaganza, if in a different way. There are entire genre forms that are by nature pretty loose and open-ended: psychological suspense, police procedurals ... Anyway, I'll be posting something soon on Literary Fiction and Literature. Eager to hear what you have to say!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on February 1, 2007 5:53 PM



Michael Blowhard wrote:
"... Anyway, I'll be posting something soon on Literary Fiction and Literature. Eager to hear what you have to say!"

OK Michael - looking forward to your post. Meantime thanks for so many cool postings and links - DA

Posted by: Doug Anderson on February 2, 2007 1:10 AM



Boyle certainly sounds like an insufferable ass here. And yet he has a website (new media vs mainstream media) and even fansites. I’ve never read any of his works, and the closest thing I have come to anything he has done was hating the movie version of his “The Road to Wellville.”

But in checking out stuff about him on the web, some of his statements in interviews make him sound like a potential Blowhard. Note also that in the last excerpt, Boyle gives a fuller (but still snobbish) take on genres:

RB: You leapfrogged across the continent. You went from upstate New York, to Iowa City and then directly to southern California where you have been for twenty-five years.

TCB: Absolutely. What's hilarious about it is when I got to LA, the first year or so, the New York Times Book Review was asking me to review books by western writers. (Laughs) Hey, I'm a western guy, "Sure, give me a cowboy hat, I'll do it." I didn't wind up doing it. I didn't feel very qualified. I don't know anything about Western writers….

RB: That would seem to be a benchmark of success and certainly spurs book sales.

TCB: I don't know anything about that. I don't know how the industry works or whatever happens. I don't know about it. I'm a cottage industry sort of guy. I do my thing, and I am very pleased if people respond to it. What I have seen over the years of my career is that the audience is constantly growing and becoming more and more aware. Again, the web page, there are constantly students contacting it for help on papers on my work, and on all sorts of my writings, not just the recent work. Every journalist I talk to, anywhere now has gone to the web page first and gone through and gotten material. There is an allied web page from one of the fans called TCBoyle.net, which is infinite….

RB: You seem to be one of those writers that journalists use to bridge high and low art?

TCB: I operate on the highest level of art. I always have. That's what I want to do. But, I made many enemies in this way. And I am a professor, a Ph.D. I believe in all of this. I've made enemies because I have tried to demystify the whole process. I am also a regular guy. I am also a showman. I love to be on stage. I give readings that people enjoy. There is some kind of mystique with being a writer where you are an intellectual, need a bunch of critics in the university to be intermediaries between you and the audience, I think that's just crap. No matter what we want to make of it. Art is for entertainment. You can put it in the university but it is for entertainment. And if a book doesn't entertain it's useless. Everything else must derive from that. And so I am an entertainer. And yet I am often misunderstood or maybe willfully misunderstood by my legions of enemies, who say, "He wants to dumb it down." Of course they haven't read my books. Not at all. I am doing exactly what I am doing for the very highest audience possible. But I also want anybody who knows how to read to be able to enjoy this as a story. They may not get all the subtleties; they may not know all my work. They may not know all of literature. But they can read this and get a charge out of it. That's what it's about. It's entertainment….

RB: I always think of LA as a crime-writer central.

TCB: There are a lot.

RB: Besides you, I can't think of a literary fiction writer in LA.

TCB: There are a lot. I'm not going to mention them. I agree with you as far as genre writers.

RB: Why not? You may forget some? (Laughs)

TCB: That's exactly right. Where I live now in Santa Barbara it's mainly genre writers. Almost all, because no one else can afford to live there. I'm just lucky that I am the literary writer who can afford it. (Laughs) They sell a hundred books for every one I sell. I have something that they don't have, which they crave. Which is respect. But on the other hand, they never get reviewed or rarely, and they never get attacked. So they can just make their millions and be happy.

RB: You don't think that's changing?

TCB: No, it's not.

RB: People still try to break the walls down. Every year there is one other guy who writes in a genre but is supposed to be more than that.

TCB: Well that's good. Hallelujah. I don't want to diss any writers, we are all in it together, but I'm a not a genre fiction guy. I don't read it, don't like it, don't think about it. I have never read any science fiction, never read any detective novels, thrillers. I am just not interested in them because they are conventional. That's why people like them. They want the same thing, the same characters. Great writing to me is, you open the book and you are surprised each time out. That's what I want to do. That's literature. Genre writing is limited not only by the fact that it is a genre and so that are certain expectations that have to be fulfilled. Like filling in the blanks. But also, the writing isn't usually as good as it is in literary fiction. And I need to read something that is as good or better than I can do or it doesn't interest me.

The full interview can be found here: http://www.identitytheory.com/interviews/birnbaum94.html

Posted by: Alec on February 2, 2007 3:36 PM



That's what I mean. TC Boyle is the real thing. His attitude toward genre writing is perhaps driven by the fact that he's out there busting his ass to try to do it (writing entertaining, rich, deep, fiction) better, and doesn't want to be confused with people he thinks are doing it worse. And by and large he's right, they are doing it worse. (Although I bet you'd be surprised by what he might say about the genuinely great genre writers out there).

People who are genuinely high achievers are often arrogant, but they've also earned their arrogance in a way. It takes a lot of ego to produce really good work consistently. I have much more of a problem with arrogant people who aren't making a real contribution.

Posted by: MQ on February 2, 2007 4:05 PM



MvB makes a great point here: "You seem convinced that non-Lit-fict fiction must inevitably succumb to formula, for instance. But what if... fulfilling formal demands is perfectly OK?"

Creating works of art in any genre is incredibly difficult. Formulas and standard patterns make the act of creation easier and allow artists to concentrate on aspects of the work while relying on formulas to make other parts of the creative process easier.

Example: Mozart was one of the most talented people ever to walk the earth. But the consistency and quantity of his output was not just a result of free-floating talent but helped by a very firm and comprehensive set of musical conventions, which Mozart exploited perfectly. This same set of conventions has also doomed an unusually large number of Mozart's contemporaries -- often pretty talented in their own right -- to create indifferent musical results (from our perspective). So conventions are a double-edged sword but are in no way contemptible or useless.

Posted by: jult52 on February 2, 2007 4:59 PM






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