Saturday, July 17, 2004

I just ate an order of fried dumplings which I dipped and redipped until they were totally saturated with it, with soy sauce. Fried salty foods are so intoxicating, the taste, all that cholesterol producing a great high without many parallels in this world. Rebecca is coming to sleep at my house sometime soon. I am happy to see an old friend, particularly Rebecca.

There is a review of Dale Peck's Hatchet Jobs in today's NY Times, which pissed me off so much with its facile asserstions about what literary criticism should be, how it should be gentle. I am going to fashion a response to this review which you will see soon. But this is the kicker right here:

It's the relish on this hotdog that turns the stomach. He promises never to do it again, but the very title ''Hatchet Jobs'' reeks of market niche, an underground service like fumigation or garbage recycling. His alibi for being unfair is that he's a novelist, and they lie a lot. But his reputation would have long since earned him the right at his various pillboxes and lemonade stands to review any book he chose, out of hundreds of good ones needing discovery among tens of thousands cynically published, and yet he almost always seems to pick a punching bag, or draw his own bull's-eye on the passing chump. This is lazy, churlish and even demagogic.

I was going to suggest some hard-won guidelines for responsible reviewing. For instance: First, as in Hippocrates, do no harm. Second, never stoop to score a point or bite an ankle. Third, always understand that in this symbiosis, you are the parasite. Fourth, look with an open heart and mind at every different kind of book with every change of emotional weather because we are reading for our lives and that could be love gone out the window or a horseman on the roof. Fifth, use theory only as a periscope or a trampoline, never a panopticon, a crib sheet or a license to kill. Sixth, let a hundred Harolds Bloom. But instead I'll tell a story.

I am so tired of the strong reaction people have to Dale Peck, the desire to silence him. I am really wondering if John Leonard read all of the essays in the book because he instead just quotes from the ones which are already heavily known, the Moody piece, the Pynchon piece. Peck's rhetoric is harsh and abrasive, but always insightful. Leonard does not talk about Peck's spot-on critique of gay and black woman genre fiction. Peck does a nice job of examining Phillip Roth's misogyny, and in his closing essay, he talks about why he does these "hatchet jobs." I don't have the book to quote from, but he responds to the charge that he does not enumerate the good aspects of these writers because that that has already been done, that that is all that is done. That these writers have been nothing but praised, and that he, Peck, is trying to be a counter-discursive voice, pointing and showing us the Emperor's nakedness. Peck is one of the few voices that is both willing and intelligent enough to piss on these sacred cows (David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, etc.) And so, I get very annoyed when I read stuff like this crappy review that wag their finger at Peck for being critical, for not writing fluff, for being a good critic. John Leonard is no better than Stanley Crouch, who physically tried to silence Peck. And an interesting tidbit I learned last week during the gossip about the Crouch-Peck scuffle is that Dale Peck shares an apartment with Choire Sicha, the writer of Gawker.

Today, I just started reading the other big lit crit book of recent, James Wood's The Irresponsible Self. My feet are itching. That is nothing new. I have a new friend crush, of course straight, and of course, a co-worker, but I want to make him my friend. He seems so cool. And Rebecca is now on her way here. Good night.

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