November 18, 2008



Perhaps your own personal stake in the battle has prevented you from seeing the truth, Mr. Sarvas. Keith Gessen is clearly The Other, with your own existence in print (The Real) and online (The Symbolic) caught in a Lacanian dilemma. As Rimbaud wrote presciently of the incident (before blogs were around), "They were the slaves of their baptism. Bloggers, they have caused our misfortune, and you have caused my own." Analyzing the situation further in an economic policy journal, Professor Harriet Stopcite has pondered why a doctoral student would dwell so heavily on a "literary economy" when there are more significant economic questions to be concerned with.


Hooray for Laila, interesting Updike, and, yikes, a high-academic analysis of this literary scuffle? (Intriguing details there nonetheless.)


from the "War Between" article:

"Mark Sarvas, a self-described 'contented defiler of prose' and published writer, is the author of The Elegant Variation, a litblog in existence since about 2003. (The nature of the Internet makes dating websites a difficulty)."

I had to puzzle over that parenthetical for a good five minutes before I realized that the author hadn't meant DATING websites, e.g., Match.com, eHarmony, etc. And here I thought we were about to get the REAL scoop on Savras . . .


They lost me at Foucault.


If you are in the corner and have no cash to move out from that point, you will need to receive the business loans. Because that will aid you unquestionably. I get collateral loan every time I need and feel myself good just because of it.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."