This month's Bookforum has two--count'em, two--Serious Novelists sneering at the French for liking "bad" American writers. John Banville looks down at "enfant terrible" Michel Houllebecq's infatuation with H. P. Lovecraft and Gary Indiana can't believe a writer as great as Emmanuele Carrere (accent grave over the first e rejected by my browser) likes Philip K. Dick. This is in two different articles, mind you. Well, get over it, you losers. Much as it disgusts you, those unsavory recluses had what the first George Bush called the "vision thing," which (respectively posthumously and belatedly) caught the popular imagination (especially filmmakers'), while few outside of the editorial offices of Bookforum, where the flame of genteel writing is perpetually kept burning, know who John Banville and Gary Indiana are. I swear, sometimes I think the literary clique exists only to bash H. P. Lovecraft and Philip K. Dick. They've clearly run out of other things to write about.

(Lovecraft is on the cover, by the way--he sucks but sells magazines. "Enfant terrible" is the headline writer's phrase; I don't think Banville actually uses it.)

- tom moody 3-30-2005 11:59 pm

your browser is just being patriotic. diacritical marks are so decadent, like the rest of old europe.
- dave 3-31-2005 12:23 am

i cut and paste them from the original text.
- bill 3-31-2005 12:24 am

I do that too, and Firefox often substitutes a ?, which is worse than no accent. Cut and pasted characters frequently screw up RSS feeds, also. I've even used the official HTML specs for special characters and gotten ?s.
- tom moody 3-31-2005 12:27 am

PKD's writing could bog down sometimes, especially in his older books, but "A Scanner Darkly" is very well written and hilarious, trippy, and depressing. VALIS is pretty great too. Even when the writing sucks the ideas are awesome.
- Abraham Kalashnikov (guest) 3-31-2005 4:56 pm

Slightly off topic: have American radio stations been running ads for Tom Grisham's new novel, with him describing the plot in what seems to be an attempt at a hard-boiled accent? It's hilarious. Also, it's the first time I've ever heard of a book being advertised anywhere other than print media.
- sally mckay 3-31-2005 6:43 pm

You mean John Grisham? If it's a southern accent it's real--he's a Tennessean, I think. I haven't read any of his books but not because I hate "popular" writing. I prefer so-called genre stuff to say, Gary Indiana, although I have to confess I've only read his art criticism, which is bitchy, gossipy, "sociological," kind of makes me sick and doesn't make me want to crack one of his novels.

As for PKD I like the "middle period"--the books written on deadline from about '62 to '66. (Martian Time Slip, The Simulacra, Palmer Eldritch, The Penultimate Truth, Now Wait For Last Year, plus Androids and Ubik, which are bit later) "A Scanner Darkly" is later, but an amazingly coherent, sharp portrait of countercultural paranoia that turns out to be completely true--the government is trying to kill you. Kind of dreading the Richard Linklater digital rotoscoped version coming out soon--the book deserves better than that redundant style of animation (which Sally has already heard me gripe about).

- tom moody 3-31-2005 7:03 pm

oops, yeah. I always get John Grisham and Tom Clancy mixed up. The accent is definitely southern, but its more than that...he seems to be acting, as if he is a character in his own seedy thriller, a bit like a Humprhey Bogart private eye, but non-specific. It would be very entertaining (and stupid) if all authors had to promote their books by emoting the atmosphere through voice and phrasing. You can hear the spot here.
- sally mckay 3-31-2005 7:47 pm

That's awesome, but as a transplanted Southerner I have to say--that's how people talk there! He does add a touch of (ironic?) melodrama in the intonation of the last few phrases, but I don't think he's trying to be southern-exotic, just talking like people talk south of the Mason-Dixon. I guess Random House decided it was sexy.
- tom moody 3-31-2005 8:02 pm

funny. I wonder how its affecting sales.
- sally mckay 3-31-2005 8:09 pm

Funny, I just gave a lecture to some grad students (a painting seminar) on Lovecraft last night, not having seen the bookforum yet. A few of them claimed that the reading (Pickman's Model) was more relevant than most of the other, more 'canonical' ones I'd thrown at them (Lyotard, Alain-Bois among others, to be a little specific).

When academic folks bash sci-fi and the like I always see the remarks coming from the same fear-of-indertiminate-other that Lovecraft so explicitly maps in his work. Need I point out that sci-fi and horror (or speculative fiction as some prefer) are often described as 'literary ghettos'? I know I've got enough post-modern criticism under my belt to see a real problem here...

The fear incidentally goes both ways I've seen, with folks on the 'inside' of a genre complaining bitterly when one of their members 'breaks out' into more traditional generes (there's actually been rumblings about Dick's posthumous celebrity in this regard, but more to the point someone like China Mieville who's work is genre bending anyway).

Seems to me these people need to look at what they are rallying against and why, especially if the pavlovian reaction is a component of what they are lambasting...
- jesse bransford (guest) 3-31-2005 9:18 pm

I concur with our moderator, emphatically. Sniffing down at Lovecraft and PKD is not just merely snobby, but in the 21st century it seems like a real case of missing the boat.

Okay, here is a bit more in a similar vein. I found some interesting essays about Fritz Lieber and Jack Vance by Michel Basiličres on, but he does a grumpy little hatchet job on PKD, dwelling on his admittedly obvious structural weaknesses, but virtually ignoring the dazzling conceptual strengths which made his reputation.

If you scroll down, dozens of outraged PKD fans respond with outrage, sometimes not very eloquently.

- Von Bark (guest) 3-31-2005 10:17 pm

Indiana doesn't condescend to talk about Dick's novels, structurally or otherwise. Because Carrere's book is a biography, that gives Indiana permission to talk about Dick as a person, his habits and grooming, you know, the really important stuff. As for Banville, he talks about Lovecraft's racism, which is somewhere in the middle-to-bottom range of interesting things you could discuss about that writer. Hey, Banville, he was writing in the '30s, dude! Everyone was a racist back then. I think Jesse nails it that it's Banville/Indiana who have a problem with a loathsome Other--the nameless, howling emptiness that lies putrescent within their ordinary middle class souls, dripping ichor and squamous tissue which hits the tops of their shoes with an effluvial plop (or whatever)--which explains their striving to write Fine Literature, an art form that is lovely but increasingly irrelevant.

- tom moody 3-31-2005 11:36 pm

I got the impression that PKD "as a person" was, like his writing, flawed but compelling, and in some ways admirable. He was somewhat neurotic, but also charming and compassionate when he was relaxing with his friends and discussing arcane bits of history, philosophy and theology, which comes out in much of his writing. I could try to paraphrase a comment from a Linda Hartinian interview: "Was he crazy? No. I worked at a clinic in downtown New York, and I have seen crazy people. Sure, he could be difficult at times, but who isn't difficult at times..."

Hartinian was an aquaintance of PKD who adapted 'Flow my Tears...' into a stage play. She was hired to write the libretto for the opera version of 'Valis', but she had a falling out with the composer, a devout atheist who insisted that she edit out any reference to "God".
- Von Bark (guest) 4-01-2005 3:20 am

I strongly recommend not reading Indiana's review, because he does a real hatchet job on Dick as a man, creating images of slimy loser-dom that I wish hadn't been planted in my brain. I realize he's just recycling Carrere's bio material but that was meant to be read in the context of someone who admired the author's writing. Indiana keeps picking and picking at Dick's faults and concludes by vomiting out this outrageous insult:

Carrere's portrait has no hint of malice, but it's doubtful that any honest biography of Dick could conceal his repellent qualities, since they manifested themselves in most of the noteworthy moments of his life. The mitigating circumstance that Dick was clinically insane, enough so to require periodic confinement, is registered throughout [the bio], but it's hard to finish the book without feeling fortunate never to have known him.
I am very glad Indiana isn't writing about art anymore. He's the Grima Wormtongue of haute fiction.

- tom moody 4-01-2005 3:54 am

bleh. That Indiana quote is, uh, lame. I mostly base my perspective of PKD "As a person" on Lawrence Sutin's biography of him. He may not be the most perfetc human being ever born, but he might be "in some ways admirable" at least for his contributions to our culture.

This line of discourse leads to that ongoing and open-ended argument about the judging an artist's work by the conduct of their personal lives. This is both a fascinating and totally stupid question. I ain't no autograph hunter who feels compelled to cosy up to artists whom I admire, because we know they ain't perfect and often disappoint our expectations, but as human beings we ourselves might sometimes disappoint our own expectations.

On the other hand, it seems a bit presumptuous to completely disavow any interest in the gossip of a sucessful artist's personal life. We are curious about the psychological factors which contribute to the artifacts which we admire.

Perhaps human beings are both separate, and part of, the thingys which they create.
- Von Bark (guest) 4-01-2005 5:57 am

Oi, yr original note may have people thinking Banville is beating up on Houllebeccq, when he really is just teasing Mr H's enthusiasm for Lovecraft. On Houllebeccq himself, He's quite upbeat, and Houllebeccq is the riskier flavor:

"Houellebecq, if we are to take him at his word and not think ourselves mocked by his fanciful flights, achieves a profound insight into the nature of our collective death wish, as well as our wistful hope for something to survive, even if that something is not ourselves".
- adhdghjdgk (guest) 4-05-2005 11:53 am

That doesn't sound risky, that sounds averagely earnest. I haven't read Houllebecq and can't debate him, though.
- tom moody 4-05-2005 6:11 pm

I’m reminded of another of Jeremy Gilbert-Rolf’s lines about how “unpleasant people may make good art out of unpleasant material.” I think he was talking about Bloomsbury, but if the screw fits…
- alex 4-06-2005 4:48 am

I honestly cannot believe that you consider Emmanuel Carrrere in the same category of literature as Philip Dick. "The vision thing" is a load of crap. Every hack writer on the planet has "the vision thing" as a surrogate for literary value. If it makes you happy, I guess, it can't that bad. If it makes you happy, then why the hell are you so sad?
- Gary Indiana (guest) 5-08-2005 2:17 pm