Weekendnotes, October 6-7

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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In home news this week, Dana Diehl has a new story online at Ghost Parachute. It’s called ‘Chew’ and it’s… well, what can we say? It’s very Dana Diehl:

When my dog finds a bone, she carries it home. She plops down on the couch with a sigh, holds it between her paws. Gnaws until her mouth foams. Gnaws until her gums bleed. Every bone is a little different. Some are wheels. Others are tiny, shaped like the spine of a feather. Once, she finds a bone that looks so much like a human clavicle that I worry one day she’ll realize I am a body containing a skeleton.

If you don’t yet have a copy of Dana Diehl’s Our Dreams Might Align, published by Splice, then what are you waiting for? You can order it here.

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And while we’re on the topic of new fiction, Europe Now has an exclusive excerpt from Wolfgang Hilbig’s forthcoming novel, The Females, translated by Isabel Fargo Cole:

It was hot, a damp hot hell, sweat emerged from all my pores. I began excreting smells, how strange, as though something within me were starting to mold, an extraordinary fromage, as though I smelled of my eyeballs, which bulged and welled with what seemed a sort of slime, a turbidity likely rising up from my loins, a twinge from the groin that brushed my heart, stinging; it dug slowly into my brain, but I hadn’t felt its onset. I’d become unfit for the tool shop, and was sent down to the basement to arrange steel casting molds and cutting tools on the shelves, neatly and cleanly, as I was told. Cleanly — but wherever my moist hands touched the molds, rust appeared a few days later.

Yep: there’s no mistaking the fact that those are the words of Wolfgang Hilbig.

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Closer to home, there’s a lot of movement from the two literary prizes that reliably reward unconventional and experimental books. The Goldsmiths Prize announced its shortlist last week, and this week the powers that be have been tweeting out their critical assessments of the six shortlisted titles. Here they are; click on any of the images to read the full text:

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And the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses has started a monthly podcast. The first episode, hosted by prize founder Neil Griffiths, features Catherine Taylor and Jonathan McAloon discussing the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist. It will be followed by mini-episodes offering reviews of new small press books, and Splice will have a presence on there in a few weeks…

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Sticking with the subject of the Goldsmiths Prize, it’s traditional for one of the judges to deliver a lecture on the state of the contemporary novel in the weeks before the winner is announced. This year, Elif Shafak (pictured above) used the platform to argue in favour of the political power of literary fiction in an “age of anger”:

The novel matters because it connects us with the experiences of people we have never met, times we have never seen, places we have never visited. The novel matters not only because of the stories it brings alive, but also the silences it dares to explore. As novelists we keep our ears pricked all the time, attentive to the rhythm of the language, the usage of words, the stories and legends swirling in the air — but we must also listen carefully to the silences. Here we find the things that cannot be openly talked about in a society; the political, cultural, sexual taboos.

A writer’s job is not to try to provide the answers. It is neither to preach nor to teach; just the opposite. A writer must be a student of life, and not the best student either, since we must never graduate from this school, but keep asking the most simple, the most fundamental and the most difficult questions. In the end, we leave the answers to the readers. Every reader’s experience is unique, and each will come up with their own answers — this the writer must respect. But the novel needs to be a free, egalitarian space where a diversity of voices can be heard, nuances celebrated and the unsayable can be said.

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Finally, a return to a book from the beginning of the year: Marilynne Robinson’s essay collection What Are We Doing Here? Writing for the Sydney Review of Books, the incomparable James Ley looks at the book admiringly, but also closely enough to zero in on Robinson’s blind spots:

‘At a certain point,’ she writes, ‘I decided that everything I took from reading anthropology, psychology, economics, cultural history, and so on did not square with my sense of things, and that the tendency of much of it was to posit a human simplicity with a simple reality and to marginalize the sense of the sacred, the beautiful, everything in any way lofty.’ … [N]ote the two ‘everythings’ in the previous quote. Robinson may be the moderate face of American religiosity, but she takes some pretty wild swings. The more you read her essays, the more it becomes apparent that she is positing a few simplicities of her own. Whatever manifestation of modern thought she happens to be criticising, her argument is basically the same: she proposes, in essence, that such thinking is too narrow, that it ignores or denies aspects of lived experience, and that its understanding of human nature must therefore be considered inadequate. She returns again and again to the core claim that modern thought is, as she puts it in Absence of Mind (2012), a ‘closed circle’ — by which she means, quite specifically, that its assumptions do not and indeed cannot account for her personal experience of religious belief, her intuition that the universe is a place of wonder and abundant meaning.

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And that’s all for this week! See you back here on Monday…