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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Monday, June 22, 2015

Whitman, Sebald, Lerner - the anxiety of influence

Good book group discussion last night on Ben Lerner's 10:04, a novel that is truly meant for discussion (and for book groups) as there's so much in it, the structure is so elusive, the mode so original, and the style so challenging. I was probably most in the rear guard, noting that although I loved some of the passages in the book and some of the passing observations I ultimately felt it was a very cold book, that I could not or at least did not know the characters, even the narrator, and that the novel was mostly about playing narrative tricks, evincing cleverness of "the author," and that the narrator was somewhat contemptuous of his readers - indicating on the one hand that he is a grand Whitmanesque force and that we are all of one consciousness, even across time and space, but on the other that this novel was a piece of work done because he got a big advance and needed the $ but didn't really care deeply about (I know this is half-true only). On the other extreme, BR absolutely loved 10:04 for its writerly beauty; RR loved it as well, found it virtually unique in style except for a possible comparison with Sebald. I picked up on Sebald as well, one of the great 20th century writers for sure, and note that Lerner pays him tribute even to the point of interpolated illustrations and photos: but think how Sebald would have handled this material differently. Sebald always looks at the present and sees history, usually lost history - no doubt he would have found the house where Whitman lived and note how it's been lost to time and urbanization, he would have stood beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and thought about what factories or shipyards used to be there 200 years ago, and so on. Not that Lerner is wrong to pursue his own course rather than another's, far from it. MK noted how 10:04 is imbued with death - fear of death, and actual death. A very dark novel to be sure - but with a lot of humor and much beauty, a novel not for everyone but a near-unique work of fiction.

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