My Bologna Has a Second Name: It’s M-Y-E-R-S

When the last words of a litblogger’s post are “Fuck you, B.R. Myers,” and the rest of the litblogger’s argument is ignored by a bunch of trolls who scarf down critical animosity towards anything remotely divergent from hard-core literary realism with the same relish one finds in a stern Calvinist happily sitting upright in a hard cushionless pew, and the commenters fail to observe that the guy who caused all this nonsense was the same shit-stirrer who wrote a manifesto that called out Proulx, DeLillo, McCarthy, Auster, Guterson, Moody, and nearly anybody else who did anything different, I begin to smell a rat. A large, grossly sinister rodent gnawing its way upon agile minds, understandably mistaking the fierce lobes for Swiss cheese.

In such circumstances, there is only one recourse: bring out the cat.

Be Sociable, Share!

21 Comments

  1. This reminds me, somewhat, of the JK Rowling wars. Writing “Fuck You, BR Myers” (or whatever the exact valedictory was) at the end of that rebuttal gives the game away.

    Personally, I’m *only* interested in the (well-written and) innovative in fiction… too much of what the mainstream hypes is merely research-lumbered hackery under a stylish glaze of vitamin MFA. But I’ve seen an awful lot of writers with wobbly chops (hello, JT Leroy) become The Annointed among the Literati, for a season, due, largely, to workingclass bonafides and a paucity of competition. Innovation + technical mastery should be the gold standard. The combination is super-rare, of course, and we’re rather impatient, I know. But, still.

    The “cherry-picked” sentences at the heart of all this do in fact suck.

    Myers is a literary luddite but that doesn’t mean he can never (by accident, even) be right, and only an ideologue would argue otherwise. James Wood was self-servingly (and green-eyed) wrong about DeLillo, for example, but he has been right about some things, too.

    Maybe Johnson cannibalized an early manuscript for Tree of Smoke? But those sentences *do* suck arse, and The Annointed doesn’t write suck-arse sentences.

  2. It is possible for a sentence to “suck” when removed from context but actually work — posssibly in a weird, off-kilter way — within its paragraph. Or for it not to work for you but work for me.

    Myers is a Swift-boater:he ignores the guy’s larger project and drags him down by distorting the details.

  3. I’ll say it again: after his book, how does Myers have a job? He publicly announced that he dislikes complicated, stylistic, or sophisticated writing – he doesn’t like fiction, essentially. I haven’t read the book so I can’t say that he is right or wrong in his fundamental critiques (although the passages he pulled were pretty damn bad, I thought, so right to complain about them).

    But why do editors keep giving him work? This is the fault of Atlantic, not Myers. Blame the source’s low standards.

  4. I think you guys are fundamentally misunderstanding Myers (and he is someone frequently misunderstood). It’s not that he only wants hard-core realism, that’s not true at all. He doesn’t like writing that’s artificially complicated and “mandarin”, complicated for it’s own sake without having anything to do with the story. To say this, however, “he dislikes complicated, stylistic, or sophisticated writing – he doesn’t like fiction, essentially” boggles my mind. Does something have to be complicated, stylistic or sophisticated to be fiction? (Even aside from the fact that there’s much complicated, stylistic and sophisticated writing that Myers praises.) I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s a whole lot of fiction out there that’s very straightforward in its writing style.

    That all said, I disagree with Myers about Paul Auster, who I think is great.

  5. You know you’re a great success when you have to start patiently explaining all your jokes. Yeesh.

    The profanity was included as a goof on Myers’ criticism of DJ’s “jumble of language levels” in a certain passage–meant to play off the kinda pretentious “ne plus ultra” of the previous paragraph. Not that it matters; all the tut-tutting and pearl-clutching over the use of Th’ Eff Word is funny & instructive & almost worth the hassle. Better, I guess, than going the Mailer route with “fug” and then having some self-styled Dot Parker accusing me of not knowing how to spell “fuck.”

    And though I tend to agree with Mr. Augustine, I’m sorry, but that particular valedictory gives away nothing; joke or no, I stand behind strong admonition for Myers’ hack polemics and his taste for false equivalence. I’ve yet to hear a good supporting argument for the major conclusion of the BRM Tree of Smoke review, i.e., that you can credibly connect the crimes of the literati to the crimes of Bush et al.

    It doesn’t matter if Myers has uncovered the Truth About Tree of Smoke or not. The problem with him goes beyond this or that particular judgment. His critical stance is bigoted and unforgiving, allowing for no disagreement about, for example, Paul Auster. He’d accuse you of philistinism and worse rather than allowing for a divergence in tastes.

  6. For all of Myers faults, and he has a few serious ones, being a latter day James Wood is not one of them. Myers’ beef is and always has been cheap flash in prose as a cover for not being more meaningful. Which is to say a lot of the time, particularly where his comments about Cormac McCarthy or Rick Moody’s garbage prose “style” are concerned, he’s spot on. Myers doesn’t have a problem with Complexity or challenging prose conventions, his central concern in the readers manifesto is when that is done poorly. The central argument is that contemporary prose criticism is overfocussed on the sentence as a compositional unit and underanalyzes the use of non-standard grammar as a device in descriptive language.

    And there, he’s absolutely right. like rakesprogress does here and elsewhere, calling him a bigot and narrowminded, that’s all well and good, but aren’t you more or less just doing the same thing you’re accusing him of doing, that is, not engaging with his actual critical position and instead leaping to a bunch of unsupported conclusions based on ignorance.

  7. Okay, dude, seriously: are you Momento? Can you not remember, like, anything that happened before?

    “When the last words of a litblogger’s post are “Fuck you, B.R. Myers,” and the rest of the litblogger’s argument is ignored by a bunch of trolls” — and I’ll stop there, because of the 14 responses to Rake’s “BR Myers is Satan” post, I count 0 (zero) trolls. In fact, I think I’m the only one in those comments who is supportive of Myers’s argument; however, I don’t think I was a troll about it.

    “and the commenters fail to observe that the guy who caused all this nonsense was the same shit-stirrer who wrote a manifesto that called out Proulx, DeLillo, McCarthy, Auster, Guterson, Moody, and nearly anybody else who did anything different, I begin to smell a rat.”

    You may be smelling a rat. You do, if I recall correctly, live in New York City. I read a book called “Rats” or “Rat” or something like that about vermin in Manhattan. But again, I’m calling your reading comprehension into question. At no point does anyone appear to “fail to observe” that Myers wrote “A Reader’s Manifesto.” I own a copy. I’ve given several copies. And again, of all the comments on that particular post, I’m the only pro-Myers voice in there.

    “A large, grossly sinister rodent gnawing its way upon agile minds, understandably mistaking the fierce lobes for Swiss cheese.”

    For the love of Pete. I’m *trying* to lose the weight. But you try sitting at a cube with a 10-pound bucket of Hersey’s on your ledge.

    Look: I like Myers. I don’t like Johnson (or Proulx, DeLillo, McCarthy, Auster, Guterson, Moody). I don’t think of myself as evil, a villain, a rat, or out to destroy literature. At least, I didn’t until now.

    Mike Bevel (because I’m not anonymous)
    mbevel2002@yahoo.com

  8. There’s a good (and pretty positive) review of Tree of Smoke in this week’s LRB. But I tell you, I have to agree with Myers: that first sentence (“Last night at 3:00 a.m. President Kennedy had been killed.”) just ain’t right.

    Also, anyone who admires the novels of Conrad and Nabokov (as Myers does) can’t be said to dislike “complicated, stylistic, or sophisticated writing.”

  9. @ Edward Champion:

    “Mike B: Go to first link and follow additional links and you’ll see what I’m talking about.”

    Okay. You’re still not convincing me that your blog post has any relationship to reality. What’s troubling for me is that, if you can’t even be trusted to represent an argument as inconsequential as online posters disagreeing about a reviewer, what does that say about your other reviews?

    Your first link goes to Rake’s “BR Myers is Satan” entry. A non-anonymous, non-troll person calls Rake out for resorting to name calling (http://beiderbecke.typepad.com/tba/2007/12/whos-the-wanker.html#comments), and Rake links to his response. Of the 9 comments there, only one isn’t “signed” — and that comment is anti-Myers. There aren’t any enthusiastic Myers supporters in that blog entry.

    The other links in Rake’s entry are either to the review itself, or to pro-Johnson sites, or to the imdb.

    And yet you come out swinging at imaginary trolls. You develop a pretty prosaic and simultaneously labored metaphor about rats and cheese. All to point to a webposting from Rake from a week ago.

    Again, I’m not seeing anyone trollish. I’ve mostly read some thoughtful arguments against Myers as a critic. I don’t necessarily agree with the anti-Myers contingent — but I certainly appreciate their thoughtful responses.

    Of course, you may have simply tried to be funny; this may have been your amusing way of linking to “BR Myers is Hello Kitty” (which, as I said on Rake’s site, is pretty funny — and I really like Myers a lot). In my opinion, though, the joke didn’t work. And also, at least for this reader, it undermined your credibility just a little.

  10. I, also found the “Hello Kitty” reference to be funny, although I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean (that Myers is white or that Myers, who is fluent in Korean and has written about Korean literature, is big in Asia — which I suspect he’s not; I suspect he’s not even big in Korea). Having lived in Korea myself, I find the omnipresent “Hello Kitty” to be ridiculous, and sometimes Myers himself can be the same. But nothing is more ridiculous than Ed. With all due respect, Dr. Mabuse, “A large, grossly sinister rodent gnawing its way upon agile minds, understandably mistaking the fierce lobes for Swiss cheese”?

    What?

    And not to now turn defensive after making fun of my host, but . . . I don’t think I was “clutching at pearls” by “tut-tutting” about the Rake’s profanity. He may have indeed meant it as a joke or a play off the pretension of earlier sentences. I just happen to count myself among the apparent few who don’t think that Myers is a terrible critic. I think he has started a conversation that is far more intelligent and interesting than the Rake’s “Fuck you” or Ed’s “grossly sinister” gibberish would suggest, and for that I’m grateful.

  11. Mr. Rake and esteemed Others:

    “It doesn’t matter if Myers has uncovered the Truth About Tree of Smoke or not. The problem with him goes beyond this or that particular judgment. His critical stance is bigoted and unforgiving, allowing for no disagreement about, for example, Paul Auster. He’d accuse you of philistinism and worse rather than allowing for a divergence in tastes.”

    My own interest in reading such reviews/critiques/purely-subjective-rants is to test an argument, for or against buying a given book, for its persuasiveness. Critical “manifestoes”, even from the brightest critics, are almost always just humbug… a kind of womb-envy that generates a credo in lieu of a novel.

    I really don’t care how bigoted or unforgiving Myers is; I’m clever enough to withstand the force of his brainwaves. He made a case against Tree of Smoke based on the writing therein, and provided enough examples from the text to support the case, and now I will give Tree of Smoke a pass. And it’s not because of any perceived over-trickiness on Johnson’s part; the examples that grated were ramshackle-banal, and I’ve had it up to here (imagine my chin) with the righteous banality of so much American Fiction.

    I know for a fact that most literary fracasses like this one, when they happen over at the Guardian, say, are all about the class war, and it’s starting to dawn on me that there’s a similar dynamic going on here… allowing for the differences between British and American conceptions of class, of course. I keep reading (or whiffing) the word “snob” in this overall debate and I wonder when high standards became the mark of the Square?

    I page through one of the over-pawed novels in my little library and the textual quality control is the first thing that unnerves and reassures me. There are *no* bum sentences in “Sabbath’s Theater”, for example. No weak/cliche-rotten/sloppy constructs. There are bits you might want to nitpick for philosophical or attitudinal reasons, but on the level of word-choice, “Sabbath’s Theater” is impervious, and that’s why it’s a masterpiece, and belongs to a golden age (no matter its actual birthdate).

    (I forgot, for a second there, whether I was dissing Ray Carver again or… )

    (PS and before anyone hits me with the fact that Roth blurbbed Tree: do you honestly think he had the time to read the whole thing?)

  12. Misunderstandi Myers? Good lord Fred, how do you misunderstand simplistic banality on this level?

    What dead rodent is breeding the defenders of this indefensible abomination who are recently crawling over over Blogistan?

    Only chiming in because I’ve noticed in several places assumptions about his politics… namely, in what he makes of his gross misappropriation of that Pound quote: that the “bad writing” he attacks is, by implication, responsible for the Bushistas and they stand for.

    I find that curious. From the first Atlantic fart.. his “manifesto,” I smelled New Criterion, pseudo-Strausian right wing politics. The way the NC has honed in on its own version of the politically incorrect from Hilton Kramer’s jumping ship from the NYT, and used that as though it were doing literary criticism.

    I really don’t know.

    What is this guy’s politics?

    Anyone out there have a handle on this?

  13. “And it’s not because of any perceived over-trickiness on Johnson’s part; the examples that grated were ramshackle-banal, and I’ve had it up to here (imagine my chin) with the righteous banality of so much American Fiction.

    And I think you’d be dead wrong to do so.

    Take it on, quote for quote for quote. From the opening sentence to the drug addled syntesthetic “squeaking” sweat: it all works in contest. Yes, it twists language in ways that make you remember the artifice and take it into account–if you want brain-dead belief in the transparent window to some version of conventional “reality,” this book won’t be for you. If you want good writing, that smacks you in the gut and makes you think about how he did it, this will do it.

    OF course, the MF will tell me I’m lying… that the only reason I’d defend the book is cause I’m in somebody’s pocket, or fucking his sister. I’d like to see that asshole say that to my face.

    Ahem… now back to my normal mode of reasoned, Apollonian discourse

  14. I just finished ‘Tree of Smoke’ and I thought it was incredible. I remember BR Myers wetting his pants over an adverb or two that he didn’t like (of a 600 page novel) and I really hope that Myers is done. The fact that he might have put thousands of readers off of this book with his nonsense is a real shame. How he ever got any attention is really a mystery. He’s one of those guys who is absolutely convinced that he’s a ‘man of letters’ and the fact that he hates EVERYTHING he reads hasn’t changed that. He just can’t get over himself. He hasn’t clued in to the fact that he just doesn’t like fiction. I see he makes a weak attempt at being a fan of Korean literature (Wow, stripped down, I bet, ‘authentic’ right?) and he just needs to get out of the literary field. He also makes the weak and comical claim that old writers like Faulkner etc, never committed the follies that McCarthy etc do. LAUGHABLE and wrong. BR is like a basketball commentator who has grown to simply hate the game. Hates layups, swishes, fastbreaks, zone defense and turnovers, ggrrrr, don’t get him started on turnovers. BR Myers hates reading as much as any lumberjack but just can’t get over the cool image he has of himself with a book in a hip cafe, probably a goatee and some kind of rare style of beret. That’s all that he’s in it for. The writing? No, ALL writing sucks. He needs to go away and spend the rest of his life pondering the true genius of 8 word poems about kimchi. Stripped down and authentic!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *