On Saturday mornings, Splice rounds up the previous week’s best literary criticism and serves it up to you in a single dish. You didn’t have any plans for the weekend, did you?
In home news, Splice masthead contributor Thea Hawlin has an article on an exhibition of the work of Sirio Luginbühl, the Veronese avant-garde filmmaker, currently open in Padua:
After his death in 2014, a retrospective of Luginbühl’s work has finally been digitised and archived, with the help of his wife and daughter. The collection at Padua’s Palazzo Pretorio presents the unique opportunity to view Luginbuhl’s shorts which for too long have been kept out of the public eye; with looped projections in a series of rooms, the brief but intense scenes that made Luginbühl’s name are played out on repeat.
And, following on from his equivocal review of Jesse Ball’s Census, masthead contributor Daniel Davis Wood published a similarly equivocal review of J.M. Coetzee’s Late Essays in the Glasgow Review of Books:
On the one hand, Coetzee’s greatest gifts as a critic are his eye for narrative structure and his ability to elucidate why, under pressure from both the intrinsic demands of the artworks they sought to compose and the cultures in which they lived and laboured, classic writers decided to give their work this or that scope, tone, momentum, and design. On the other hand, Coetzee’s view of these writers is never less than enamoured, sometimes almost envious, and it is this view above all that hints at his anxieties. Often he seeks to pinpoint the lodestones of these writers’ legacies, to determine what technical innovations their achievements and their reputations rest on, and when he does this it’s hard to shake the feeling that he’s wondering what his own work looks like in the shadows cast by theirs.
Elsewhere, even with this year’s London Book Fair in full swing, it was a busy week for online literary criticism. One of the week’s standout pieces was Daniel Felsenthal’s glowing review of Christine Schutt’s Pure Hollywood in 3am Magazine:
In this book, perhaps the best of her career, [Schutt] has drawn together her various talents and methodologies into something singular.
Schutt reconciles her knack for conventional narrative structure with the fixations that have bred in her stranger fiction the need for experimental methods — incest, absentee parents, the spectre of violence, and the randomness of death.
Sticking with the theme of the literary treatment of unsavoury “fixations”, Jessica Sequeira took issue with some of the events that unfold in Transit Comet Eclipse by Muharem Bazdulj, translated by Natasa Milas, in a review at Full Stop:
That the coincidences are forced, however, leads one to question even further the ethical consequences of these texts, especially the second in which a girl kills herself. The novel does not have to kill her, and while it is true that the author was ‘coincidentally’ introduced to the sex trade while writing, the abrupt and violent death occurs because the Writer wants to surprise the reader — because he wants her to die. Is this move self-gratifying? Are these characters mere wood for the burning furnance of an Auster-enamored author? Or is Bazdulj attempting to demonstrate that another kind of determinism exists alongside coincidence — namely, death and the cruelty of fate — and that it exists, furthermore, in fiction? In any case, the results are disturbing.
Disturbing, too, was the piece that made the most buzz online this week: “The Silence” by Junot Díaz (pictured above). It’s a raw, confronting account of childhood abuse and trauma — not a work of literary criticism, though certainly a work of consummate style and a painstaking attempt to dismantle a carefully constructed narrative:
That violación. Not enough pages in the world to describe what it did to me. The whole planet could be my inkstand and it still wouldn’t be enough. That shit cracked the planet of me in half, threw me completely out of orbit, into the lightless regions of space where life is not possible. I can say, truly, que casi me destruyó. Not only the rapes but all the sequelae: the agony, the bitterness, the self-recrimination, the asco, the desperate need to keep it hidden and silent. It fucked up my childhood. It fucked up my adolescence. It fucked up my whole life. More than being Dominican, more than being an immigrant, more, even, than being of African descent, my rape defined me. I spent more energy running from it than I did living.
Writing in a more hopeful register, Christopher Margeson took to the latest issue of The Critical Flame to consider the achievement of Mark Z. Danielewski’s gargantuan novel The Familiar. Looking at it against the backdrop of the “death of the novel” discourse recently reignited by Will Self, Margeson finds The Familiar formally invigorating:
At around 800 pages of heavy, glossed paper per volume, The Familiar is tough to recommend for morning commutes. The opaque and mysterious story revolves around a young girl with epilepsy named Xanther and the strange series of events set into motion after she saves a cat. The deceptively flimsy plot is another cryptic element of Danielewski’s latest narrative rabbit-hole, though: Xanther’s story is interwoven with the stories of eight other narrators — each with their own font, color-coded tab, and distinctive voice — of varying degrees of (obvious) relevance to the main plot.
The Familiar demands faith that this will all make sense in the end, and it’s in the “making sense” of it all that the novel brings new life to the form. The reader is asked to pay careful attention to things like font changes, smudges in the margins, as well as clues that show themselves only when you turn the book upside down or sideways.
And on that note, for another work of literature that invites visual play, Maria Popova recently stumbled upon the “rare, spectacular 1913 edition” of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass “featuring twenty-four colour plates by the English artist Margaret C. Cook”:
Cook’s stunning illustrations, shockingly sensual against the backdrop of Puritanism against which Whitman staged his rebellion in verse, bear something of William Blake… [and] something of Maurice Sendak…
Finally, if you haven’t got enough reading to get through, you’ll want to tune into two podcasts with new episodes this week. On Unsound Methods, Alex Pheby talks all things technique and madness ahead of the publication of his new novel Lucia; and on Scots Whay Hae!, Helen McClory talks short stories and the difficulties of appealing to a readership on both sides of the Atlantic.
And away you go! See you back here on Monday…