Weekendnotes, May 12-13

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?

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It’s been a while since O/R Books published The Digital Critic: Literary Culture Online, but this impressive collection of essays (featuring Splice masthead contributor Thea Hawlin) received a well-considered review this week from Barnaby Smith in The Lifted Brow:

Among the most fascinating ways in which The Digital Critic illuminates the consequences of literature and criticism moving online comes in its exploration of how isolation is now absent from the literary experience. In a networked culture the text itself, the author who creates it and the reader who reads it cannot function without endless context, the whole spectrum of social and political interpretation and our increasingly pathological need for more and more information. …  As readers, our response to a text is no longer formed by things like our accumulated personal experiences, previous reading and political and aesthetic inclinations. As a result of an over-reliance on and overabundance of networks, we now respond with a kind of ever-expanding hive mind, an “unrelenting background noise…crowded with meanings” as [Roberto] Calasso writes. The reader cannot find his or her own, let’s say, ‘authentic’ response amid this dense fug of interpretations.

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It’s been an even longer while since David Markson published his groundbreaking novel Wittgenstein’s Mistress: thirty years, to be exact. At 3am Magazine, Brad Baronner has taken the opportunity to re-evaluate the book while also trying (and failing) to bring it out of the shadow of David Foster Wallace:

Still, Wallace’s essay about WM is possibly one of the more personal essays he wrote.

Similar but more different, the way WM and IJ draw attention to themselves as texts, as written.

Seems silly now, reading that and being a person in 2018, to imagine as David Foster Wallace did, that one would need endnotes to flip to to be reminded that they are reading an 1,100-page book.

More accurately, a more confident person might say, it is a reminder that one is reading a book by someone who wanted to remind you that you were reading a book, even though the heft of it, both physically and stylistically, would hardly allow you to forget.

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And it’s been even longer still since Zora Neale Hurston wrote Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’, an account of the final episode in the transatlantic slave trade, which she composed in the late 1920s but was never able to publish. But the book has now been released by HarperCollins and, at the New Yorker, Casey N. Cep has delved into the convoluted story it tells and the convoluted story behind it:

Hurston spent four years turning what Kossola shared with her into a longer work of nonfiction, but no publisher wanted the resulting book — not then, not when the publication of Jonah’s Gourd Vine, in 1934, made her a celebrated novelist, and not even posthumously, after Their Eyes Were Watching God had sold more than a million copies. Hurston’s manuscript languished for nearly nine decades. Now HarperCollins has published Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’. Why it was rejected in Hurston’s lifetime, and how the residents of Africatown faded from her history and our own, is a story almost as plaintive as the one the book itself records.

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Finally, while we’re all still recovering from the loss of Denis Johnson (pictured above) almost exactly a year ago, his posthumously published collection of stories, The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, has been garnering attention and burnishing his reputation as a master of the short form. One of the best reviews of the book appeared this week at VQR Online, courtesy of the incomparable David L. Ulin:

The living line again, writing not as an art of conclusion but one of asking questions, and narrative a device not so much designed to tell a story as to immerse us in a moment, a succession of moments, bubbles of breath less preserved than never quite exhaled.

The point is that, for Johnson, no story is ever really finished, or at least not quite resolved. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t, which is part of the pleasure, and the challenge, of reading him.

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And away you go! See you back here on Monday…