McCARTHY AND PATRICK WHITE

This topic contains 27 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Peter Josyph 2 years, 9 months ago.

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  • 22 Mar 2015 at 12:34 am #6710

    Rick Wallach
    Keymaster

    I don’t think that White is “hated,” but that he’s underread is unquestionable. He is hardly any more “difficult” than McCarthy, and if you made it through Blood Meridian or The Crossing there is absolutely nothing about Patrick White that would obstruct you. His prose is rich, rhythmical and beautiful in a gnarly sort of way, and as Jan Norby pointed out with his usual cranky perspicacity in Sydney, some of the passages we read out loud during our talks could easily have been written by either novelist. If you savor McCarthy’s cadences as you read him, well then, go ahead and read White. Voss is a good place to start, though I would just as enthusiastically recommend Riders in the Chariot or White’s true masterpiece, The Vivisector.

    I also noted in my Sydney talk that there’s a strong current of Dickens in White that just about nobody seems to have noticed. So, Pierre, perhaps we ought to be asking, as long as we’re at this, if anyone even reads Dickens anymore.

    What’s more, I am frankly amazed that American queer theorists haven’t pounced on White’s work – especially, dear Buddha, his resounding (and often hilarious) ode to polymorphous perversity, The Twyborn Affair.

    Some years back I had a little fun writing a feminist study of Charles Brockden Brown’s early American novel Wieland or the Transformation (1798). If our queer theorists are too busy theorizing about how Pope Francis will handle the problem of gay divorce, I may have to write a study of Twyborn from a QT perspective myself. If they want to spare themselves the embarrassment of being beaten to it (as it were) by a straight critic, my LGBT colleagues ought to get orf their PC hobbyhorses and deal with the damned thing, and soon.

    About all I could do at this point would be to publish my White/McCarthy paper from Sydney before it becomes to brittle and yellow to canary mark effectively in the editing process. I had promised it to a Tasmanian magazine, Island, quite some time ago and have been flat out remiss in not brushing it off, editing it properly and sending it over there. Life keeps intruding. You know how that goes. Meanwhile, I can’t recommend White strongly enough.


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    23 Mar 2015 at 12:11 pm #6718

    Peter Josyph
    Member

    Not being an academic, I am wondering whether Queer Theory is now a respectable academic category. I’ve never heard it used. I have a book by William Burroughs called QUEER, but no works of criticism with that in the title. Am I showing my out-of-datedness?

    I guess I am also out-of-date in that I reread Dickens quite often and have, in one of my books, mentioned a Dicknesian quality in McCarthy. I have also read White but I am not qualified to discuss him. I am, though, writing a long piece about that other White, the one in THE SUNSET LIMITED whom I had the honor of representing on stage…


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    23 Mar 2015 at 12:18 pm #6719

    Peter Josyph
    Member

    When I think of Queer Theory I imagine something Richard Feynman would have concocted while spinning a plate in a cafeteria, contemplating its uneven motion around his finger. “Well, Richard, THAT’s a queer theory – you should write that one up, maybe it’ll get you a Nobel Prize.” (Which of course it did…)


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    • This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  Peter Josyph.
    23 Mar 2015 at 2:01 pm #6722

    Rick Wallach
    Keymaster

    Well then welcome to the wonderful world of contemporaneous academia. Here’s Yale’s own approach to it: oyc.yale.edu/english/engl-300/lecture-23

    It really started, oddly enough, as a reaction against dogmatic feminist readings, which insisted that the genders are endowed with irremediable qualities and subject to various social expectations and types of repression. Queer theory argued that, no, sexual identities are mobile and subject to shifting and recentering themselves. It grew from there. One of my favorite queer readings is Monsters in the closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film by Harry Benshoff. It was the book that first convinced me that there was more to reading for variable gender inferences than mere ideological motivation.

    Again, why there’s been so comparatively little of this kind of thinking applied to White’s work, I have no idea. In response to the same question that his publisher’s idiot secretary asked Jack Nicholson in As Good as it Gets, “how do you write women so well,” White – in an uncharacteristic moment of forbearance – responded that he believed as a gay man, his feminine aspect was more evolved within his personality than it would be in straight men. This seems to me a more profound response than “I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability.”


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    27 Mar 2015 at 11:09 am #6750

    Peter Josyph
    Member

    Rick:

    This summary of the talk on Queer Theory at Yale verifies my sense that academic English criticism, sociology, philosophy, etc, have gone functionally insane in the obsession to out-jargon each other, proving intellectual superiority by being comprehensible to as small and as select a clique as possible.

    “Differences in terminology and methods are discussed, including Butler’s emphasis on performance and Foucault’s reliance on formulations such as “power-knowledge” and “the deployment of alliance.” Butler’s fixation with ontology is explored with reference to Levi-Strauss’s concept of the raw and the cooked. At the lecture’s conclusion, Butler’s interrogation of identity politics is compared with that of post-colonial and African-American theorists.”

    The winning sentence, of course, is: “Butler’s fixation with ontology is explored with reference to Levi-Strauss’s concept of the raw and the cooked.”

    “Want to go catch STRANGELOVE on the big screen?”
    “I’m off to a lecture. Why don’t you come?
    “What’s it on?”
    “Butler’s fixation with ontology with reference to Levi-Strauss’s concept of the raw and the cooked.”
    “……………………….”

    I keep trying. I attended two seminars on Laruelle in which not one sentence of human speech was spoken. Masonesque in its elitism. And a total waste of intelligence. As if to prove the line in GODOT about the ac-ac-ac-ac-ac-ac-ademy. No wonder Harold Bloom is held in dubious regard: a guy like me can read him, be stimulated and learn something.

    But we still haven’t addressed my question about White and, by extension, his relation to McCarthy in McCarthy criticism. You, Rick, have said that he’s less hated than unread and you recommended several of his novels. But that cleverly skirts the issue I was attempting to raise: WHY is he unread? By “hated” I really meant NO ONE SEEMS TO WANT TO READ HIM, whereas, to take a counter-example, everyone seems to want to read, say, Robinson (or at least they want ME to read Robinson), or Morrison (equally a trial for me), or any number of authors of our day who are spoken in the same sentence with McCarthy. How do you account for the seemingly total lack of interest in White? If you and Jan are so right about White, why is everyone else being so dense in not reading him him, in missing all of that greatness? Is there something about White that is inherently boring to the multitudes of the otherwise well-read? This returns me to my original point: very few people even at the Sydney conference seemed interested at all in reading or discussing White, and he’s their Nobel Laureate… Our guy, McCarthy, a mere Pulitzer, appears to be receiving far more attention in that country… Is White destined to be a kind of Sinclair or Dos Passos, once famed, now hardly read?


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    27 Mar 2015 at 9:19 pm #6760

    Glass
    Member

    Peter,

    I have trouble reading Laruelle and only read him in the past because of his connection to Speculative Realism. I do think you might like Graham Harman though if you are interested in this area of philosophy. Harman is quite a gifted writer and is always provocative and a blast to read. I believe his forthcoming book is called Dante’s Broken Hammer.


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    28 Mar 2015 at 10:25 am #6763

    Rick Wallach
    Keymaster

    Hey, you wanted to know if there really was such a thing as Queer Theory. Well, now you know.

    I suspect that some of the lack of attention American readers pay to White (which is not as true of European readers, by the way) can be attributed to the Gruber Principle, which, when extrapolated only slightly, suggests that there are a lot of stupid people out there and that there are more of them joining the ranks all the time. I grant you that sixteen years of teaching morning composition and intro to lit courses full of football scholarships may well have jaundiced my outlook somewhat, but the Gruberian decline of the “educated lay reader” is, I think, a difficult principle to disprove these days. And incidentally, while we’re at it, let’s have a show of hands by all of you who feigned shock and indignation at Gruber’s comments while in your heart you knew he was right. Come on now, hands up – you know who you are.

    McCarthy himself, in his Wall Street Journal interview (which itself was idiotically titled “Hollywood’s Favorite Cowboy” – a Gruberism on par with the racing stagecoach on the cover of the Chinese edition of All the Pretty Horses, which was comforting at least to the extent that it proved there was an stupid component in Chinese publishing too) – acknowledged that readers don’t have the patience for long novels anymore. You can write them, he said, but no one will read them. I don’t know that Gruber has read all that much McLuhan but there surely is an instant-gratification, media-driven element in all this. But then, Gruberian thought is still in its infancy and it will evolve as more French critics climb on board. Most of White’s novels are, indeed, long. The prose is rich and dense.

    Worse, White is more often identified as a “modernist,” as opposed to a “postmodernist” (marginally more fashionable) or even as what Dave Holloway would call a “late modernist” (sufficiently ambiguous to merit a curious second look). These days being called a “modernist” is nearly as bad as being yclept a “classic.” “Modernist” automatically summons up images of Brobdingnagian bindings, of abandoning Hans Castorp on page 460 with at least as many left to read, or shelving Nostromo three hundred pages before Ridley Scott named the mining craft in Alien after it. This contemporaneous horror of concerted effort insulates his work against acquiring any of that youthful now-a-go-go cachet that, at least, would encourage people to buy copies of his work, even if just to leave them on the shelf next to their equally unread copies of Hawkings’ A Brief History of Time.


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    • This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  Rick Wallach.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  Rick Wallach.
    28 Mar 2015 at 3:32 pm #6773

    Peter Josyph
    Member

    Here’s the thing, though:

    This is probably the best-read Forum on the net. I don’t mean that the Forum is best read, I mean that your average Forumite appears to have read roundedly. Glass and Marty, to give just two examples out of many, hardly fit the category of “a lot of stupid people out there” with “more of them joining the ranks all the time.” And yet if you look at this thread and the threads of Forums past (which I have followed indigently and at times indignantly for decades), you will find few participants who have breathed a word of White. Your Forumites don’t seem shy of length, or even of modernism, and yet they remain obdurately Whiteless.

    Perhaps a few of them need to weigh in on why they either haven’t read, or can’t squeeze out a paragraph about, an author you and Jan have closeted with McCarthy and showered with equal admiration.

    As some Forumites have an evil, even Neanderthal, sense of humor (by which of course I mean Rick, though I won’t name names), I should add that my use of the word “closeted” is not intended as a pun on the aforespoke issue of Queer Theory in relation to White’s homosexuality.


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    28 Mar 2015 at 9:04 pm #6779

    efscerbo
    Member

    Peter,

    Never read him cuz I never heard of him. But because of this thread, I ordered copies of Voss and The Vivisector from Amazon. They should’ve been delivered today, but I wasn’t home and FedEx sucks. No idea when I’ll actually get to reading them, as my reading list is near infinite and I’m currently going through a Pynchon + Shakespeare phase, but at least they’ll be there, mocking me silently from my bookcase.


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    28 Mar 2015 at 9:30 pm #6780

    Peter Josyph
    Member

    …Furthermore, Rick:

    Economist Jonathan Gruber saying, about why a bill was written a certain way, “call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass,” is hardly an apt basis for explaining why so few literate Americans appear to care a damn about an Australian Nobel Laureate whose work you, my dear Rick, have so hugely extolled and compared with such conviction to that of Mr. McCarthy. I suggest that your extrapolation is more a case of enjoying a reference more than is good for your argument…

    Similarly, your teaching of “morning composition and intro to lit courses full of football scholarships” has no bearing on the question I’ve been raising, which is about the dearth of Whitists amongst men and women who DO read and love complex (including long or modernist) literature to a degree that they are enthused about discussing Cormac McCarthy, whose works are not exactly a walk in the park.

    I see that efscerbo now has VOSS and THE VIVISECTOR in his sights, so perhaps you will have a convert. If so, that would make three of you…


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