In which I get found out

August 9, 2010 by · 7 Comments 

The ever-vigilant Nathan Whitlock pointed out that my essay “Fuck Books,” which appeared in Canadian Notes & Queries more than a year ago, but has been given new life thanks to a mention in a Maclean’s blog post by Paul Wells, has been tapped for Geist magazine’s Findings section. The folks at Geist have lovingly combed through the essay, in which I complain about the, er, high-falutin’ stylistic shenanigans perpetrated by CanLit icons Michael Ondaatje and Anne Michaels, and have extracted a list of high-falutin’ stylistic shenanigans perpetrated by yr. humble correspondent in the course of making his argument.

This is actually pretty funny, and echoes a comment made by Britt Gullick in a post over at Pickle Me This. Now, Whitlock (who really should have trademarked the term “fuck books”) always advises me, “If two or more people tell you you’re drunk, it’s time to sit down.” And so, I must admit that there is a certain irony in using frankly elevated language to critique the elevated writing of others. All I would say in my defence is that nowhere in the essay do I suggest that I am against the deployment of big words. What I’m against is the inappropriate deployment of big words: their use in an ineffective context, a condescending manner, or as a veil to disguise the fact that a writer has little of substance to say.

I’d also point out that the phrase “the oatmeal of world literature” isn’t mine, it’s Stephen Marche’s. But it’s still a good line.


7 Responses to “In which I get found out”
  1. LH says:

    Well done. You’ve arrived.


  2. Steven,

    You’ll be reassured to know that the CNQ ‘Fuck Books’ piece is the first link that appears atop Google when a person searches for the phrase ‘subaqueous silence’.

    Keep falutin’, high or low,


  3. Chad Pelley says:

    “Fuck Books” was a long-overdue and well-reasoned spiel of truth that I was damn happy to finally hear said. I’ve sent the link out to others on multiple occasions …

  4. Finn Harvor says:

    I’m having ongoing problems accessing the CNQ site, so I’ll have to base my understanding of your argument on a reading of your posts here. It seems to me the argument you’re making is about how we define genuine literary brilliance on the level of style. Obviously, there are all kinds of approaches, from the self-conscious stripping down of speech and description of Hemingway to the witty sensuality of Mary Gaitskill to the dry, deep wit of Ian Brown. The issue here isn’t one of plain vs. belletristic language; it’s one of pretentious vs. brilliant language, and presence of wit is one of the factors that seems to be necessary for the existence of the latter.

    There have to be other factors present, too, and obviously trying with huffing purposefulness to be witty can sometimes backfire big time. (Some fiction I read reads like it’s by people who haven’t listened to stand-up for fifteen or twenty years, and don’t know what’s already become cliche). The importance of dialogue also needs to be factored in; it’s not descriptive, but it’s used by a lot of writers with what might be termed “underseen wit” (as long as the writer maintains allegiance to the characters’ personalities).

    It’s an interesting topic for discussion. It’s certainly one that AngCanLit needs.

  5. Nathan says:

    By my count, Steven, you owe me about $0.30 from this post alone.

    Also, as you have no doubt discovered, putting “Fuck Books” in a blog post sends many fair gents your way in search of “fuck books” – where “fuck” is an adjective, not a verb.

    To help those gents in their search, may I just add that wank, screw, ass, tit, jerk off, boobies, schoolgirl, barely legal, nipple, upskirt, and poop chute.

    Your welcome.

  6. Nathan says:

    “You’re”, not “your. Fuck grammar, too. And boobies.

  7. Andrew S says:

    The interesting thing about subaqueous silence, on reflection, is that it doesn’t exist. Water, being a dense medium, carries sound extremely well. This is why fish have two separate organs, ears and a lateral line, for sensing sound. (Don’t ask me about belugas or narwhals.)

    So right there we have a problem with bog boy and his subaqueous silence.

    I make a distinction between fancy-pants diction in pursuit of the concrete and specific, and fancy-pants diction in pursuit of abstract fancy pants.