Sussex University • 28 September 2016

Fail Better samuel beckettAs a supplement to the publication of Excursions Vol. 7, Excursions Journal is holding a one-day interdisciplinary symposium on the theme of ‘Failure’.

The concept of failure is gaining traction as a subject of critical attention. Our recent history has been defined by significant and far-reaching failures: from the failure of the U.S. and U.K. governments to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to the more recent collapse of global financial markets. In the wake of events such as these, the viability of old models of ‘success’ and ‘failure’ has been called into question. Can we resituate failure as not merely an absence, a lack of success, but rather as a category in its own right? Whether figured as a fundamental aspect of modernity, a distinct aesthetic for artistic production, or, as the queer theorist Jack Halberstam has argued, a radical alternative to the restrictive, success-oriented norms of our society, we are faced with the possibility that failure might have a value of its own. (more…)

Marjorie Perloff on the poet, playwright, novelist, futurist, feminist, designer of lamps, and bohemian
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Mina Loy
“I was trying,” Mina Loy observed in 1927, with reference to her polyglot, punning, scholastic, asyntactic, unpunctuated free-verse poems, “to make a foreign language, because English had already been used.” So distinctive was Loy’s “logopoeia” (the term Ezra Pound invented to describe this particular poet’s “dance of the intelligence among words and ideas”), that it has taken the better part of the century for her to be appreciated for what she was–one of the central avant-garde poets writing in English. Indeed, Roger Conover’s collection The Lost Lunar Baedeker is more than a new edition of Loy’s poetry; it is the only available edition of her collected (although by no means complete) works. Together with Carolyn Burke’s long awaited biography of the mysterious Mina Loy, the Farrar, Straus collection (subsequently cited as FS) is thus a major literary event.

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William S. Burroughs in Paris

From BBC Radio 4:

Think of American writers in Paris and the chances are the first people to come to mind are the Lost Generation of the 1920s – Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Stein and friends. But a period every bit as significant in the development of American letters and the culture more broadly is often overlooked. (more…)

Lidia Yuknavitch
Lidia Yuknavitch
Jennifer Glaser (LARB) praises Yuknavitch’s new novel, The Small Backs of Children, as a fine example of experimental women’s writing
The terrain of contemporary experimental fiction has been largely claimed by male writers. This is nothing new. As Andreas Huyssen pointed out years ago, despite Gustave Flaubert’s assertion that Madame Bovary “c’est moi,” he spent most of his career carefully distinguishing his high modernist literary sensibilities from the popular tastes of the feminized masses. The contest between high and low, difficulty and ease, in fiction continues to travel along these gendered lines — particularly in conversations about American literature. Jonathan Franzen and Ben Marcus’s 2002 row over the value of experimental fiction and the fate of the novel in the pages of The New Yorker and Harper’s marked not only a new, meta-ethical turn in fiction after 9/11, but also a continuation of age-old male anxieties about the feminization (or “Oprah-fication”) of the reading public and what this meant for male novelists concerned about the size of their … impact. Later, Franzen tangled with a new foe, so-called chick lit author Jennifer Weiner, about a related topic: the perils of self-promotion for writers of literary fiction. This conflict, in turn, developed into a larger battle about the absence of women writers in the contemporary American canon — with Weiner and Franzen as its unlikely antipodes.

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Why read a ‘difficult’ book?
Emily Temple (Flavorwire) has compiled a list of ’50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers’. Their toughness varies from the sheer bulk of the volume (eg. Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Stein’s The Making of Americans), to their stylistic virtuosity (Finnegans Wake, anyone?). But despite their daunting reputations, there can be something special about reading a ‘difficult’ book.

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