The latest from Notices and Profiles: literary criticism becoming too much about men

The Paris Review Magazine posted the latest excerpt from its January-February issue in tandem with Notices and Profiles, The Nation’s bi-monthly magazine, which is also on the racks in Condé Nast’s Book Depository. While…

The latest from Notices and Profiles: literary criticism becoming too much about men

The Paris Review Magazine posted the latest excerpt from its January-February issue in tandem with Notices and Profiles, The Nation’s bi-monthly magazine, which is also on the racks in Condé Nast’s Book Depository. While Notices and Profiles often cover stories about artists and writers, most of this week’s topics focus on the men in the predominantly male field of literary criticism and criticism, and specifically “literary criticism becoming too much about men.” “And yes, if the response at this literary event is any indication, sometimes it is becoming about men too much about men,” states a summary of an event on female critics at PEN International.

The magazine offers a brief, nameless critique of the 1995 publication of Don’t Look Up, a satirical novel by the Russian writer Yaroslav Liakhov that was told in a fourth-person narration by the unnamed narrator (but whose identity was in effect revealed in the 1976 translation by the the young British English writer Peter Molloy).

Given the literary nature of so much of literary criticism, the narrator in Don’t Look Up skewers it with some fevered, acid wit: “We are memoirists in our own book,” he reports at one point, “we don’t even read the original books.” As the narrator and his editor move through Liakhov’s work, he notes that the targets are clear: most of the descriptive passages speak of a foreign city, and those that do draw from familiar literary sources are from the Alexandrian or Greek classics, “wineskins of the past, like the Goethe play, The Will to Love,” or Carl Bloch’s The Diary of Anne Frank. “The texts don’t contribute anything new to the canon, but show the narrator’s brazen unabashedness as a young journalist in (the supposed) intelligentsia, writing novel after novel.”

In the novel, the narrator defines a product as either male or female, and describes a male novel as “a successor, heir to a writing tradition that, however brief, instilled an ideology in the minds of men in the world.”

Through scathing satire, the Don’t Look Up narrator has a bit of a case to make: how does a literary critique get lost in the translation when half of the texts at the dinner table on a night of historical fiction conversation are male texts, which may help to explain the decline in publishing from 19th century to 20th century, according to Liakhov.

In a passage that might be seen as a stretch in trying to gain political meaning for the zeitgeist, the narrator reflects on the influence of art writing on men’s lives.

“Gentlemen are supposed to be stronger. They are taller. They were taught to believe in themselves.”

The Don’t Look Up protagonist is also examining the role of sex in the book and perhaps even on the reader: “Given the frequent sexual metaphors in the text, reading it is a journey. It might be like your climb to the peak of Kilimanjaro; the sun always makes an appearance. Nothing to worry about, except your corpse in your tent.”

The latest excerpt from Don’t Look Up is followed by future excerpts from American Poet-Chef Peter Rauch and New York Times best-selling fiction writer Colin McAllister.

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