painting of a woman reading a novel

There’s a David Shields quote that I have encountered multiple times, first in his own book Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, and most recently in “Note to Self” by Elaine Blair, a review of the work (both written and editorial) of John D’Agata, subtitled “The lyric essay’s convenient fictions.” Both D’Agata and Shields are proponents of blurring the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. This is the quote (boldface mine):

Why do I so strenuously resist generic boundaries? Because when I’m constrained within a form, my mind shuts down, goes on a sit-down strike, saying, This is boring, so I refuse to try very hard. I find it very nearly impossible to read a contemporary novel that presents itself unselfconsciously as a novel, since it’s not clear to me how such a book could convey what it feels like to be alive right now.

More… “Why Read Novels?”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.

Shagga glowered, a fearsome sight to see. “Shagga son of Dolf likes this not. Shagga will go with the boyman, and if the boyman lies, Shagga will chop off his manhood.”

No, that’s not a parody of A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin; it is A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. And if I begin my discussion of what is in some respects a remarkable creative achievement with a sample of bad prose, that’s because A Game of Thrones is virtually an encyclopedia of bad prose. It has bad exposition, bad dialogue, bad sex scenes, bad nature description, even bad free indirect discourse, to use the term for the narrative device Martin employs to advance the plot while taking us inside the heads of his principal characters.

More… “Shagga Son of Dolf Likes this Not”

Stephen Akey is the author of two memoirs, College and Library, and of essays in The New Republic, Open Letters Monthly, and The Millions.
Cover art for a 1973 edition of A Princess of Mars by Gino D'Achille

The setting of post-apocalyptic fiction, a venerable genre of science fiction, is a future in which today’s technological civilization has been destroyed by some global catastrophe — nuclear war, a plague, a meteor impact, a new Ice Age. The survivors of the disaster find themselves living in the conditions of a new medievalism, or perhaps a new Stone Age. Often to survive they must battle against zombies or mutants in the ruins of once-great cities. Now and then, in post-apocalyptic tales, the primitives of the future uncover shining relics of our forgotten industrial era — a computer, perhaps, or a spaceship.

Something similar has happened to the science fiction shelf at the bookstore in the last few decades. Stories about space travel and robots and domed cities in a gleaming high-tech future have all but disappeared, while the shelves groan under the weight of multi-novel series about medieval warriors in magical kingdoms, like George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Aliens from other planets in the solar system or other solar systems are on the endangered species list. Their place in the ecosystem of the imagination has been taken by vampires, werewolves, fallen angels, and, sometimes, repressive governments.
More… “The Lost Frontier”

Michael Lind is a contributing writer of The Smart Set, a fellow at New America in Washington, D.C., and author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States.
A tribute to Rudolph II.

We fill absences. This is what we do. Nature has her way of filling up absence with stars, atoms, frogs, dirt, human beings. Human beings, though, have their own curious way of filling absence. When we lived in caves, we filled the vacuum of the unknown with fear. In ancient times, gods filled the unknown. In 16th-century Europe, the artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo filled the unknown with monsters.

“Arcimboldo, 1526–1593: Nature and Fantasy” Through January 9. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

In the darkened rooms of the “Arcimboldo, 1526-1593: Nature and Fantasy” exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., hang strange and unwholesome monster faces. The portraits lining the walls are a perversion of everything we consider to be natural and right and harmonious about the human visage. In Arcimboldo’s “composite heads,” men are… More…