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On making unconventional art

“There’s this idea that at some point you master how to tell basic stories, and then you can tell masterful stories. But that’s not true. You never master how to tell a basic story. In fact, you never master any part of writing. Mastering something implies that you can do it again and again, without flaws. […]

“Nathalie Sarraute never wrote a ‘standard’ novel with regular rising tension and beginnings and ends and all of that regular stuff, and I don’t believe there’s any evidence that she was capable of that. I don’t think that a person improves as an artist by producing work that they don’t care about ‘just for practice.’ I believe that you always, from the beginning, have to be aiming at doing something that interests you. And some people just aren’t ever going to be able to interest themselves in the standard forms and models for fiction.”

—Rahul Kanakia (x)

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Short story: “Reading”

“Reading,” by David Hayden

Found in Granta 140: State of Mind | The Online Edition, August 29th, 2017

A mere 1795 words

I wish I had something to say about this besides “This is so cool,” but I haven’t had much to say about stories lately. I just read them and like them.

Actually I do have one thing to say, which is that while I was naturally reminded of The Unconsoled, I notice the dialogue is completely different from the dialogue in that book—more genuinely dreamlike, that is, more like the voice of a single person talking to themself.

Novella: “Sell Out”

“Sell Out,” by Simon Rich

Appeared in the New Yorker under Shouts and Murmurs, January 28th, 2013 (online here)

18,683 words

A delight.

As simple as that

“So I made a deal with myself: whenever I thought of an idea for this untitled story, I’d write it down. And if I ever got the point at which the world was built well enough to make it into a story, I’d go for it.”

—Jon Bois on his story “17776” (x)

On the inarticulacy of art

“Criticism can talk, and all the arts are dumb. In painting, sculpture, or music it is easy enough to see that the art shows forth, but cannot say anything. And, whatever it sounds like to call the poet inarticulate or speechless, there is a most important sense in which poems are as silent as statues. Poetry is a disinterested use of words: it does not address a reader directly. […] It is not only tradition that impels a poet to invoke a Muse and protest that his utterance is involuntary. Nor is it strained wit that causes Mr. MacLeish, in his famous ‘Ars Poetica,’ to apply the words ‘mute,’ ‘dumb,’ and ‘wordless’ to a poem. The artist, as John Stuart Mill saw in a wonderful flash of critical insight, is not heard but overheard.”

Anatomy of Criticism, by Northrop Frye (found via this)

On the other hand, to the extent that criticism is an art in itself, criticism too is dumb.

On the purpose of a first draft

Shitty first draft” is a misnomer

A rough draft isn’t just a shitty story, any more than a painter’s preparatory sketch is just a shitty painting. Like a sketch, a draft is its own kind of thing: not a lesser version of the finished story, but a guide for making the finished story.

Once I started thinking of my rough drafts as preparatory sketches, I stopped fretting over how “bad” they were.

—Wrex (x)

On the audacity of art

“Some part of art, certainly of Barthelme’s art, involves the simple pleasure of watching someone be audacious.”

—George Saunders in his essay “Rise, Baby, Rise!” (PDF hosted by Paul Saxton in this post)

Short story: “For Danny, Twelve Years Old”

“For Danny, Twelve Years Old,” by Lucas Loredo

Appeared in The Masters Review (undated, but appears to be recent)

2104 words

A good story.

Short story: “George and Elizabeth”

“George and Elizabeth,” by Ben Marcus

Appeared in Granta 133: What Have We Done (online here, behind a paywall), November 18th, 2015

8273 words

The relentless cynicism (detachment? deflection? cruel superficiality?) of the narration is all worth it for that last line.

Short story or rather, novelette: “The Burrow”

“The Burrow” (“Der Bau”), by Franz Kafka

First published posthumously in 1931, with the first English translation coming out in 1933; the Muirs’ translation is online here

15,133 words

Maybe it’s because I was in a bad mood, but earlier today, reading Michael Hofmann’s translation, I felt as though the narrator of “The Burrow” were my only friend.