With quietism like yours one could fill a hundred years with happiness. Whether one showed you an execution or a little finger, you would extract an equally edifying thought from both of them, and would still be content. That’s the way to get on in life.

— Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot

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The New Yorker weighs in on the Norwegian author’s mass appeal

knausgaard-mystruggle-volume1-deathinthefamilyOnce you have begun reading the books in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume autobiographical novel, “My Struggle,” it is difficult to stop talking about them. In the author’s native Norway, where around one in nine people have purchased copies, some employers have had to impose Knausgaard-free days in the workplace. In the U.S., where the third volume of the book was released last week, fiction writers like Rivka Galchen, Sheila Heti, and Ben Lerner have reviewed his books rapturously, and Zadie Smith has likened them to crack. On this week’s Out Loud, Sasha Weiss, the literary editor of newyorker.com, discusses Knausgaard’s work with the magazine’s deputy fiction editor, Cressida Leyshon, and archives editor, Joshua Rothman, who reviewed volume three for Page-Turner. (A short story adapted from the book was published in the magazine in February.) (more…)

Olivia Laing (The Guardian) offers a brief history
Jane Bowles
Jane Bowles

If you write a book about alcohol and male writers, as I did, the one question you’ll be asked more than any other is: what about the women? Are there any alcoholic female writers? And are their stories the same, or different? The answer to the first question is easy. Yes, of course there are, among them such brilliant, restless figures as Jean Rhys, Jean Stafford, Marguerite Duras, Patricia Highsmith, Elizabeth Bishop, Jane Bowles, Anne Sexton, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker and Shirley Jackson. Alcoholism is more prevalent in men than women (in 2013, the NHS calculated that 9% of men and 4% of women were alcohol-dependent). Still, there is no shortage of female drinkers; no lack of falling-down afternoons and binges that stretch sweatily into days. Female writers haven’t been immune to the lure of the bottle, nor to getting into the kinds of trouble – the fights and arrests, the humiliating escapades, the slow poisoning of friendships and familial relations – that have dogged their male colleagues. Jean Rhys was briefly in Holloway prison for assault; Elizabeth Bishop more than once drank eau de cologne, having exhausted the possibilities of the liquor cabinet. But are their reasons for drinking different? And how about society’s responses, particularly in the lubricated, tipsy 20th century; the golden age, if one can call it that, of alcohol and the writer? [Read More]

Personally I’ve never met any intellectuals. I’ve met people who write novels, others who treat the sick; people who work in economics and others who compose electronic music. I’ve met people who teach, people who paint, and people of whom I have never really understood what they do. But intellectuals? Never.

— Michel Foucault, Ethics

A collection of essays edited by Julian Murphet, Rónán McDonald, and Sascha Morrell (from Bloomsbury):
Flann O'Brien & Modernism (Bloomsbury)
Flann O’Brien & Modernism (Bloomsbury)

Flann O’Brien & Modernism brings a much-needed refreshment to the state of scholarship on this increasingly recognised but still widely misunderstood ‘second generation’ modernist. Rather than construe him as a postmodernist, it correctly locates O’Brien’s work as the product of a late modernist sensibility and cultural context. Similarly, while there should be no doubt of his Irishness, and his profound debts to Irish language, history and culture, this collection seeks to understand O’Brien’s nationally sensitive achievement as the work of an internationalist whose preoccupations reflect global modernist trends.

The distinct themes and concerns tracked in Flann O’Brien & Modernism include characterization in branching narrative forms; the ethics and paradoxes of naming; parody and homage; lies and deception; theatricality; sexuality; technology and transport; and the inevitable matter of drink and intoxication.

Taken together, these specific topics construct a mosaic image of O’Brien as an exemplary modernist auteur, abreast of all the most salient philosophical and technical concerns affecting literary production in the period immediately before and after World War Two. [Read More]