Literary Links: More Shriver Fallout — and Henry James, Postmodernist?


Here at Flavorwire, we pride ourselves on not only writing some of the best content on the internet, but keeping an eye on all of the great writing that other folks on the ‘net are doing, too. And since our audience (and we) love books in particular, we thought we would share a weekly roundup of some our favorite bookish writing from around the web. This week: more on Shriver-gate, Henry James, and literary dreams.

I agree entirely with this op-ed by Kaitlyn Greenridge in the New York Times that feels like the last word on the Shriver debacle.

It must feel like a reversal of fate to those who have not been paying attention. The other, who has been relegated to the background character, wise outcast, dash of magic, or terror or cool or symbolism, or more simply emotional or physical whore, is expected to be the main event, and some writers suspect that they may not be up for that challenge. A writer has the right to inhabit any character she pleases — she’s always had it and will continue to have it. The complaint seems to be less that some people ask writers to think about cultural appropriation, and more that a writer wishes her work not to be critiqued for doing so, that instead she get a gold star for trying.

Of course, it’s never the last word. In The New Republic, Jess Row (who wrote for Flavorwire about his novel tackling race) writes about how whiteness plays into all of this. The most salient point here is this: “We still live in a culture in which white people are very seldom stopped from doing anything they want to do, and when they are stopped or challenged, get extraordinarily upset about it. I’m one of them. I inherited this attitude and have inhabited it all my life. My term for it is ‘white dreamtime.’ And waking up in the middle of a dream, as we all know, is an unpleasant experience.”

Speaking of dreams, Alexandra Kleeman talks to Bookforum about literature and dreams, among other topics:

I think there’s a deep connection between literature and dreams. When you open up a book, you’re opening yourself to the fictive environment of that book. As a writer, you can place yourself in a similarly open, observant state, waiting to receive the rules that make up the world that you’re trying to create. For me, this raises the stakes and makes the process of writing more surprising.

Having recently tackled late-period Henry James tomes The Wings of the Dove and The Ambassadors (pats self on back smugly) I can say that reading late James was very effective at tackling my insomnia and also, very rewarding and stuff. But by making his books so opaque, was Henry James a secret proto-postmodernist? One of my favorite literary writers Paula Marantz Cohen talks about the “dangerous” qualities of opaque late-stage James (whose style I once parodied here).

But what seems most postmodern about James’s writing is conceptual rather than thematic. There is an indeterminacy with respect to truth that his later work supports in such an aggressive way that it becomes a worldview. Words, normally meant to communicate, are deployed more as obstacles to communication than as facilitators to it. The fragmented nature of his dialogue leaves meaning unresolved between characters (he describes them as continually “hanging fire”). As for the narrative aspect of his writing, it often requires several readings before the reader knows what’s going on.

Caroline Leavitt’s new novel Cruel, Beautiful World is another fictional exploration of the Manson cult women. She writes a personal essay about a different kind of abusive relationship at The Millions:

So I stayed. One year, and then two. My mother came up and, stunned at how skinny I was, begged me to leave. My friend Marlise made a point of bringing me Cinnabons when we were working together; I ate every crumb and then felt guilty and wondered if he could tell I had stuffed myself when he saw me…