"The King's Teacup at Rest"
by Michael Andreasen
Originally published in the July 11 & 18, 2016 issue of The New Yorker.

07_11_16-400This is Michael Andreasen’s first story in the magazine, and from my meager research it is one of his first stories published anywhere. And here we get it in a double issue — I hope they’ve found a story and author for the heightened expectations.

I’ll post my thoughts below once I’ve read the story, but please feel free to comment in the meantime.

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By |2016-07-19T12:34:40+00:00July 4th, 2016|Categories: Michael Andreasen, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |39 Comments

39 Comments

  1. David July 4, 2016 at 10:54 am

    For several decades The New Yorker has been well-known for featuring cartoons that leave readers confused. A great many people read them and think, “I don’t get it.” Sometimes the assumption is “maybe it is making a reference I am not aware of” or “maybe I am not smart enough to get this highbrow humour”, but usually it is just “I’m not sure there is a THERE there.” So common has this sentiment been that in 1998 “Seinfeld” did an episode about Elaine’s frustration with a cartoon that does not make sense and questioning the magazine’s editor about it. (He didn’t understand it either.)

    With short stories in The New Yorker, I find all too often I have a related reaction. The story is well-written and appears it is going to have a point or to be about something, but then it ends and I am left thinking I don’t know why this was a story the author thought worth telling. Recently Paul Theroux’s “Upside-Down Cake” had me thinking it was going to be a story like that, until the (minimal) point of it all was revealed at the end. T. Coraghessan Boyle’s “The Fugitive” left me with this reaction until I read the interview with him about the story and I found out that I didn’t understand it because he was trying to make an absurd point in a reprehensibly manipulative way, which never would have occurred to me to conclude had he not so clearly explained it. Karen Russell’s “The Bog Girl” left me with this reaction, and reading the author interview my reaction was unchanged. With “The King’s Teacup At Rest” I find myself in the same position.

    I was surprised to learn from the interview that Andreasen began the story with the bear. To me the bear is an odd and fairly uninteresting minor character. To him, the bear is “just too much fun not to write, and the world and vocabulary of the story more or less materialized around him, springing from both his inherent silliness and his grim earnestness”. Really? This suggests to me that Andreasen and I just have very different ideas of what makes a character funny and interesting. The story is really two stories, as the King and the scout each have their own stories (that seem entirely unrelated in any important way), but neither amount to much. I presume from Andreasen’s comments that he just finds these characters and their stories entertaining in a quirky way. I just found them odd.

    It is timely that we were just discussing Calvino and Barthelme with regard to Russell, because it seems Andreasen is vying for the title of disciple of one or both of those authors. That he explicitly mentions Barthelme in his interview as a “master of that playful, deeply inquisitive form, with stories that always have the feeling of keen scalpel work” says something of what he is trying to achieve. This story does not come close to achieving that, but I would like to read more of his work to see if he can get there. So while this story was, for me, more of an abandoned carnival than a thriving one, I have hopes that he, unlike the King, is not just a collector of rusted-out versions of thing that were fun long ago. Sign me up for the next spin of the Teacups.

  2. Trevor Berrett July 5, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I never once got close to whatever wave-length was delivering this story. I found it hokey, trite, self-indulgent, deliberately obtuse, and ultimately meaningless.

    I’m glad that, while you didn’t seem to get much from this particular story, you are happy to give Andreasen another go, David. For me, it stops here. The last month of stories is a keen reminder of why I quit reading The New Yorker fiction weekly.

  3. Joe July 8, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    Words fail. But I’ll try.

    Someone needs to fire the entire fiction reading unit at TNY.

    Total garbage, again. A story that I would have been happy to see come off the pen of my current seventh-grade private creative writing pupil. Not from an adult writer.

    The New Yorker should truly be embarrassed at the junk they are peddling as quality fiction. With no disrespect to David, the story is NOT well-written (hyperbolic without any justification / purple to the point of feeling like a bruise on your eyes). I’m completely gobsmacked at the tripe they are publishing as fiction.

  4. Lee Monks July 9, 2016 at 3:58 am

    I think the writer has talent, but needs to quit this schtick, fast. I gave up at this point:

    “The king turns to the bear, now lying horizontal on his ball, teetering, asleep. He plucks the fez from the animal’s head and flogs him with it until, with a prolonged stretch that seems to solidify the bear’s balance rather than upset it, he rises.

    ‘Hot dogs,’ the king says.

    The beast lifts his nose to the high wind and inhales. In the courtyard, fallen leaves rustle nearer. Slowly, he adjusts his heading and rolls the ball in the direction of the midway, and the men follow.”

  5. tom2one12m montgomery July 9, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    Truly terrible story. Wondered how it could have been chosen, given the talent available. Had no idea what the story was intended to tell. Felt silly for wasting time on it.

  6. TScott July 11, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    Fine. Just finished the story. Read the execrable comments. I loved the story. It lifted me to a strange place. I wasn’t sure where I was going. The heightened diction clashed against the grim prosaic setting wonderfully. He disarranged the world , rattled my expectations, pulled the ground out from beneath me. I praise him for that.

  7. Trevor Berrett July 12, 2016 at 11:28 am

    I’m glad to get a comment in support of the story, TScott. I hope others will feel comfortable defending it. That said, could you elaborate? I’m not asking because I think you’re wrong and I’m trying to call you out or anything — I genuinely would like to understand how this story worked for you.

  8. William July 15, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    I’m with TScott — I really enjoyed this story. I read it through at one go — unusual for me, even with a short story — and was entertained and amused all the way. Also intellectually challenged. About halfway through, I was thinking, Andreason sounds like another of George Saunders’s disciples. So I was pleased when Andreason said in the interview:

    “I don’t think you can talk about writing that combines solemnity and humor and not immediately think of George Saunders, whom I admire down to my socks..”

    I think we’re seeing a whole school of serious/absurd writing (or solemn/humorous, as Andreason called it) emerging — Ben Lerner’s “The Polish Rider” is in that group. Also Charles Yu’s “Fable”.

    Trevor — you asked TScott to elaborate on why he liked the story. In thinking about that request, I go back to what David wrote about New Yorker cartoons., Sure, there are some that I don’t get. But there are many that I find funny but couldn’t explain in simple language. That is the nature of humor, and of art, which applies to this story particularly, since I see it as being like a poem — its impact is achieved through built-up images, many of them absurd, and is not readily translated into declaratory language. Think of Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man”.

    If I were to try to express the “theme” of this story, as though I were writing a paper for a college lit class, I would say that it presents the deadness of a society that lives for constant stimulation and by seeking “the next big new thing”. How that results in desolation, not in building anything worthwhile. What is so great about a story that attempts to present that idea? That kind of social analysis is a cliché — “Ho-hum, our society is trendy. So what?” However, this story makes its point in an indirect way, using arresting and disorienting characters and action. I’ve commented previously that I think many writers are looking for new ways to present their insights so that they grab their readers’ attention. I think that’s what Andreason is doing here. It worked for me.

    Trevor, it’s OK not to like a story. But it’s a bit arrogant to use rhetoric like “hokey, trite, self-indulgent, deliberately obtuse, and ultimately meaningless.” You’re implying that because you don’t get it, that there is nothing to get. Do you really want to paint yourself into that corner? Recall the reception for Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in 1913. One extreme critic wrote that it was “a laborious and puerile barbarity”. You would be hard put to find anyone who would say that now.

    I noted that we have only male commenters. I’d be interested to hear what any of the women has to say.

    P.S.: Trevor, you referred to this as a double issue. I only see one story. Perhaps you were confused by George Saunders’s byline? That is a piece of journalism, like Franzen’s essay a couple of months ago. An interesting trend.

    P.P.S.: I just finished reading the Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories. It contains some very good work. I was familiar with some of the stories (“Guests of the Nation”), but many authors were new to me. A lot of the early “traditional” writing went by me. But I enjoyed almost everything from Daniel Corkery’s piece onwards. The only experimental work is the very last one.

  9. Trevor Berrett July 15, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    Thanks for the good words about this story, William. I don’t see it the same as you, but I have no problem with that. I hope I’m the one who’s wrong!

    Which leads me to respond to the latter part of your comment:

    Trevor, it’s OK not to like a story. But it’s a bit arrogant to use rhetoric like “hokey, trite, self-indulgent, deliberately obtuse, and ultimately meaningless.” You’re implying that because you don’t get it, that there is nothing to get.

    I agree that it’s okay not to like a story, but I completely disagree that it’s arrogant (even a bit) to use any kind of rhetoric like “hokey, trite, self-indulgent, deliberately obtuse, and ultimately meaningless.” That’s not rhetoric. Those are qualities of the story as I read it. Surely a story can be hokey, right? Or any of the other qualities I laid out. Doesn’t it follow that it’s okay to say so? I was also careful to say that that’s “how I found it,” and not to suggest that others wouldn’t find something to like. I think it’s reasonable to go that far and allow I may be — even hope I am — wrong, but I hope no one hog ties themselves.

    Do you really want to paint yourself into that corner? Recall the reception for Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” in 1913. One extreme critic wrote that it was “a laborious and puerile barbarity”. You would be hard put to find anyone who would say that now.

    If I painted myself in a corner, I did so willingly and am okay with that, even if in 100 years my words stand up and show just how blind I was to a masterwork. I think we can only go so far in allowing that our distaste for something may be wrong. And this would be especially dangerous if we are right! I actually don’t find myself welcoming to Saunders and his acolytes. Though I have liked a lot of their work, I find a lot of it . . . well, let’s use the string of words I used above. Again, happy to be completely wrong and hope to catch up if I am.

    As for the double issue. I don’t mean that it’s an issue that has two pieces of fiction in it. It’s a double issue because it covers two weeks rather than the regular one. The magazine does four or five double issues each year.

    Thanks again for the comment. I realize that by simply saying I disliked the story and found it all of those things I didn’t do anything to support my opinion. That would be the professional thing to do, and I know it makes me come off as having a knee-jerk reaction rather than a rational one.

  10. William July 18, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    Trevor –

    I admire your willingness to be wrong! I probably lean too much the other way – always wanting to justify my emotional reaction to a story and show that I’m right. Of course, 50 years from now – or, in my case, 25 years from now – this will all be moot.

    Still, I think we should try to communicate about literature in a way that makes sense to another person. A way that may be enlightening. Otherwise, why try to communicate at all? We could just count up how many people liked the story and how many didn’t. Kind of a democratic vote, like choosing a president. I think literature is too important for that.

    With regard to the 5 qualities you listed, you said; “Those are qualities of the story as I read it.” But in fact, “self-indulgent” and “deliberately obtuse” are qualities of the writer. I think we need to be careful of imputing motive to people whom we don’t know.

    You also said, “Surely a story can be hokey, right?” Of course. But if “hokey” has a meaning, then you should be able to cite aspects of the story that make it hokey. As you wrote, “I didn’t do anything to support my opinion.” That’s understandable. It’s hard work. And not always what we feel like spending time and energy on.

    What would be interesting to me would be if you named a few writers whose stories you do like – whether they’ve published in the NYer or not. I’ve come to this website very recently so I haven’t seen any posts where you say you like a particular writer/story.

  11. David July 18, 2016 at 11:40 pm

    William and Trevor, two quick thoughts on your recent discussion. First (for William) to call a story “obtuse” is a very different thing from calling an author “obtuse”. To say the author is obtuse is to say he lacks intelligence, something I don’t think Trevor is saying at all. To call a story obtuse is to call it difficult to understand due to faults in how it is written. This seems to me to be much more likely what he is saying.

    Second, the discussion of the description “self-indulgent” reminds me of one of my pet peeves. While I agree with William that strictly speaking this is a description of the author, not the story, I am always baffled why people use this as a criticism of an author rather than as a compliment. To say that a writer is being self-indulgent is to say that they are pursuing ideas, characters, and events, or employing styles, techniques, and structures that are of great interest to them regardless of what appeal they might or might not have for their readers. They are responding to their inner impulses to create and not to ideas about what people would like to read or how people would like a story to be told. In fact, NOT being self-indulgent is the primary vice of writing that is merely designed for commercial success. Those writers are not in the business of creating art. They are in the business of appealing to the masses, the business of business.

    That a writer (or other artist) is self-indulgent is no guarantee of greatness or even of (at minimum) being marginally successful. But no great art is possible unless the artist (including writers) is anything less than self-indulgent. So to call a work self-indulgent is to compliment the author for trying to express something that is motivated from within and not merely trying to please the crowds. To be called self-indulgent in ones personal life, when the considerations of others ought to be considered, or in most people’s professional lives, when doing the job well is often not about pleasing yourself, is a severe criticism. But when talking about an artist making art, self-indulgence is a must. One can make a great piece of entertainment without being self-indulgent, but not great art.

    Ok I’ll get off my hobby horse now. I apologize for the interruption and now return you to your regularly scheduled discussion….

  12. Trevor Berrett July 19, 2016 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks to both William and David for more enlightening comments!

    I think David has my ideas of “obtuse” correct. I even use the word deliberately above because I think Andreasen (and his editor) maintained a tone and set of imagery throughout that seemed meant to alienate the reader rather than touch on the reader’s sense of mystery and desire to dig beneath the surface.

    As for “self-indulgent,” I think David’s response is very interesting. I agree that we often describe something and never show why that is negative. We take it for granted that it is and that others agree. This happens all of the time in all kinds of criticism, and it’s hard work to stop and explain. I think David has a great point that the artist needs to dig deeply and go for what he or she needs to explore. That said, when they proceed to offer it to other people, I hope they have found a way to evoke something from us. I think the purpose of art is to explore, for highly personal reasons, but I think it is also to evoke something of that exploration for others.

    But I also use “self-indulgent” as a descriptor of the tendency to leave things in a work of art that do not fit but that one is very proud of, the one has fallen in love with even. Often, it feels like an author does this to show off; consequently, I feel the reader, and not the object of the piece, is very much in mind when it comes time to decide whether to leave something in or cut it out.

    Returning to respond to William’s comment, I appreciate all you say about trying “to communicate about literature in a way that makes sense to another person.” And I particularly agree with this part: “We could just count up how many people liked the story and how many didn’t . . . . I think literature is too important for that.”

    I already admitted that I didn’t do any of this with my response to the story above. I do have excuses that apply to this one, though, that I’ll fall back on here even while agreeing with you.

    This website has been around for eight years, and the section devoted to The New Yorker has been around for seven and a half of those years. Until a few years ago, I read every story, trying to explain why I liked it and why I didn’t. This was very fulfilling and I constantly learned different perspectives from others. However, the readings themselves seemed to get more and more tiresome, and I eventually quit reading regularly though this forum stayed open because many people still had valuable things to say. It has only been recently that I jumped back in, and I wanted to give myself the ability to walk away from a piece, to not get bogged down in anything I simply didn’t believe it, because otherwise this hobby would turn into hard work. Furthermore, I do not believe that Willing Davidson, the editor who interviewed Andreasen for this story, and I have the same taste. I’m not sure if Davidson had the honor of conducting the interview because he championed the piece or if it just fell to him. And it’s not just him: I’ve not been keen on much that the magazine has published in recent years. This is due to changes in taste by me and, I believe, the magazine, so I don’t entirely wish to fault The New Yorker on its choices. And I have still discovered some amazing voices in its pages. The one that pops to mind first and foremost is Dorthe Nors, whom I first read in the magazine.

    My response to Andreasen is also curt and dismissive because I think the magazine’s recent selections have been terrible. I am middling on “The Bog Girl,” negative on Paul Theroux’s “Upside-Down Cake,” even more negative on Boyle’s “The Fugitive,” and then this story popped up, a story that encapsulates many of the attributes I’ve developed a strong aversion to over the years as more and more writers follow in the footsteps of George Saunders. I love George Saunders, but I’ve even disliked his work for the last four or five years, though I think he succeeds a great deal more than Andreasen did here.

    A final excuse, though a poor one: I didn’t want to show my work unless someone cared enough to see it in this case. Many of us who have written for this site have spent hours and hours writing up defenses or complaints against pieces of fiction. One of my favorites is still Betsy’s line-by-line comparison of Chinelo Okparanta’s “Benji” and Alice Munro’s “Corrie” (though in that case there was a lively conversation going on that ran for 266 comments and led to a further interview from Okparanta in which she defended why her story so closely resembled Munro’s). It takes a lot of time to do this, and I know that eventually it would lead to me quitting if I did it with pieces I really feel are not worth the time. And this particular piece just felt so similar to the train of fabulist, sarcastic pieces that I really just threw my hands in the air. Perhaps prematurely.

    But . . .

    What I feel is worth the time are conversations like this when an intelligent, interested reader engages with a story that I found lackluster. It’s worth it to me to go back and see what I missed the first time around or, if I still feel the same way after my return, to explain it better. I’d like to do that with this story. I don’t know if I’ll be able to, given everything else, but if I can I will definitely spend the time to explain my response, whether it is the same or whether I have modified it from above.

    You also asked me to tell you about authors I like. That’s easier! I love many. If I’m reading this correctly, you’ve come recently and probably mainly to the posts on The New Yorker. Well, I have been negative there, for reasons I touched on above. But even there I can give you some authors I’ve enjoyed that show up in the magazine frequently (or did). Here are the ones who have published stories this year: Paul Theroux, despite my distaste for “Upside-Down Cake”; Lauren Groff; Annie Proulx; Ottessa Moshfegh (who I first read about in the magazine). I also loved Ian McEwan’s “My Purple Scented Novel,” and I have drifted away from McEwan in the past decade. I love Thomas McGuane, Alice McDermott, Tessa Hadley, Louise Erdrich, Colm Tóibín, and Colin Barrett. Last year I was delighted to find Elizabeth Harrower in the magazine; I’d never read her before and now I have most of her work waiting for me. These are all authors who published something in the magazine in 2015, though many of them have been publishing there for years. I like Tim Parks, Brad Watson, Antonya Nelson, and Maile Meloy. I’ve been delighted by Paul Pierce, whose stories about the absurd may have a similar tone to Andreasen’s above but that succeed much more to my mind. Yiyun Li is an author I didn’t latch onto at first, but I’ve really come around and found that wave length; I love her work.

    My all-time favorite New Yorker writers are Alice Munro, William Trevor, and Steven Millhauser. Every few weeks Betsy and I write about Alice Munro, so there’s a lot of positivity (and more analysis) going on there. William Trevor is my hero, and I developed that love primarily through The New Yorker. Steven Millhauser is head-and-shoulders my favorite writer of absurdities, though Robert Coover is right up there, and I thought of how well he handles the carnivalesque while reading Andreasen’s story.

    I’d love to go on and discuss these authors and any you’d like to as well. There’s so much out there (which is another reason why I was dismissive (perhaps hastily and definitely unproductively) of “The King’s Teacup at Rest.”

  13. Greg July 21, 2016 at 1:25 am

    William – Thank you for sharing with us the story’s theme of the effect on society of wanting constant stimulation and the next big new thing….now this story has more gravity for me.

    David – I appreciate you taking the time to explain to us how self-indulgence (excluding vanity though) is required to make art!

    Trevor – We appreciate all the quality work you do on this site. We ‘regulars’ understand that your brief New Yorker comments are primarily to get the ball rolling for us to pick up and run with!

  14. David July 21, 2016 at 8:02 am

    Greg, I think you might have made the useful distinction there. If “self-indulgence” is to follow your own interests regardless of anyone else and “vanity” involves overvaluing your work and being motivated by trying to convince others to be impressed with you then it would seem that “vanity” is the better way to describe the faults that people might be seeing when they are tempted to use the term “self-indulgent”. It does seem to capture the difference between “I’m going to do whatever I want regardless of what you think about it” and “Look at me! Look at me! Aren’t I clever?” Thought of this way, self-indulgence and vanity are opposites in terms of how one considers the importance of the reactions of others.

  15. Trevor Berrett July 21, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    I’d need to think on the distinction a bit more. Self-indulgent carries baggage that I don’t think we can cast off that easily to make it mean something akin to following one’s heart.

  16. David July 22, 2016 at 12:11 am

    Trevor, I agree it has “baggage” (or, more formally “a negative connotation”), but that is because we generally regard being self-indulgent as a bad thing. Like I said before, in a person’s personal life and in most occupations saying someone was acting self-indulgently almost always is to note a bad thing, but not because the term itself means it is bad, but because these are circumstances where self-indulgence is problematic.

    We do use “self-indulgent” (or, more typically, the phrase “indulge oneself”) when talking about allowing oneself a special treat as an exception for purposes of relaxation or just as a break from work and duty. The OED says that “self-indulgent” is defined as “Characterized by doing or tending to do exactly what one wants, especially when this involves pleasure or idleness:” This seems right in all the scenarios I described: A vice (in general) in one’s personal or professional life, acceptable as a “treat yourself” exception on occasion, and a virtue for an artist in the creation of art.

    My guess is that whatever other baggage you think might be carried by the term “self-indulgent” is probably much better to be specified directly. So if the writer seems a little too pleased with his own cleverness, then that is the way to describe the problem. But if the writer is just failing to communicate his ideas in a way others can understand or relate to, then that can also be said directly. Both of these types of different problems seem sometimes what people mean by “self-indulgent”, but in reality they are very different things and not really about self-indulgence at all.

  17. Trevor Berrett July 22, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Good points, David. I do still look at self-indulgence as a negative trait for the most part as I think all of the things you are describing — and artist honoring his or her own mandate — can also be described more directly and without the negative connation of indulging in something simply for oneself. Also, I disagree that “self-indulgent” when it comes to art is the same as “indulging oneself” with a special treat. In one case, you put yourself on display for others; in the other, you simply give yourself pleasure. Last on my disagreements, I think that being show-offy is still “self-indulgent,” even if it can be defined more specifically. Self-indulgence, then, is a general term that encapsulates many things, and you’re right that it is best to be more direct in one’s criticism.

    After all, another way to look at self-indulgence, that is not show-offy, is to allow something to stand in a work that is not really coherent in the work because it reflects one’s own mentality rather than that of the character, say, and one simply cannot remove it. For example, in Jane Eyre there is a passage where Jane angrily reflects on some important feminist thought, but I agree with Virginia Wolfe when she said that those thoughts were not Jane’s but rather the author’s.

    So, I do realize that it is a term that is best defined for the purposes for which one uses it. Even then one needs to explain why such a trait is negative in the context, because even show-offy art can be incredibly profound and satisfying.

  18. Ken July 23, 2016 at 4:56 am

    I was more impressed with this then anything I’ve read in the New Yorker for a while and was stunned at the negative response of the first posts. I’ve been a bit bored with fairy-tale stories, but when the story itself is of things discarded (like things of childhood such as fairy tales) and thus lost and never to be found again, it seems the fairy tale setting with its often latent melancholy is absolutely perfect. I thought this was truly visionary. I’ve never quite found this mixture of social commentary, fantasy, and adventure in things such as Coover or Yu’s fairy tale attempts.

  19. Ken July 23, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    I just read the discussion all the way through, which I had only partially done when I posted last night. I want to add my thanks to Trevor. You’ve created a marvelous forum and your efforts and your obvious passion and intelligence are appreciated. I’m glad some people liked this story. I do a reading record of every story/novel I read and I express myself differently in it. Here’s what I wrote in that forum: I really loved this. Another fantasy-like story—a New Yorker specialty of late—but this was not simplistic or heavy-handed. A King of “retired amusements” travels to decrepit carnivals and the like along with a boy who is looking for his lost tribe/past and accompanied by a dancing bear. This may sound twee, but it’s really moving. America always moves on and leaves things behind. The past hangs on as a sad ghost haunting those of us not obsessed with progress. It can never be recovered.

  20. David July 23, 2016 at 9:15 pm

    Ken, One of the problems I had with the story was taken as a grand metaphor, I really didn’t know what point the author was trying to make. To say that things get left behind as life moves on seems pretty vague and a familiar sentiment. So I wonder if you think that Andreasen was trying to say anything more specific than that? For example, the scout can’t find his “people” and the answer seems to have something to do with neighbourhoods being gentrified, but the scout is only 15. How does his age fit in to the idea of a lost community? It is also hard to figure out what the King himself is supposed to symbolize. Is it nothing more than the sadness of a lost childhood symbolized by the carnivals he collects? Or is there something else to it? As you can see, overall I did not feel I had any grasp on what point the author was trying to make that was not very general and familiar.

    You mentioned Charles Yu’s “Fable”, which I liked a lot more than I think you did. In that story the fable device is a lot more clear as the character telling the story is working out particular aspects of his life that are mentioned as failings, frustrations, and disappointments. So with his fable I felt I had a much better idea what the character had lost and was trying to deal with than I did here. As I noted before, Andreasen says he started writing this with the bear on the ball and was particularly amused by that character, so it sounds to me that the story might just be a bit of surreal fun rather than having any deep meaning, but I’m still not sure. Anything more specific you might be able to add would be interesting to hear.

  21. Ken July 24, 2016 at 2:22 am

    I can’t really be more helpful because what I rather liked was the non-specificity and more allusive, poetic qualities of the story. I don’t think it had a grand or baldly obvious metaphor. I thought it was a lovely, poetic story and that these ideas were intermingled rather than highlighted. Clearly, though, the description of how the spirit “proclaims in a voice meant to carry over the crackle of backyard terra cotta fire pits…” conveys a rather American melancholy which sort of made me think of Robert Frank photos. In and of themselves the ideas may be obvious but I found their poetic expression lovely.

  22. Greg July 24, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    I see Ken that your comments align with William’s thoughts regarding the poetic expression of the story…..you both have helped me look at literature in an alternate way!

  23. mehbe July 25, 2016 at 8:22 am

    I enjoyed this story – but then, I also thought Zadie Smith’s “Escape from New York” was first-rate, brilliantly realized allegorical satire. So, you know…

    Several times while reading this story, it crossed my mind that it was getting very close to being poetry, of a surreal kind that didn’t have a specific, detailed meaning carved in stone for the reader to decipher, but rather was suggestive of unconscious processes. That’s fine with me – I’m happy not to feel I must “understand” a story that is ambiguous in effect and meaning.

    The telepathic shaman-bear guiding the scout was wonderful. And so was the ball that was, in effect, its home. I particularly liked the ball’s moody changes in appearance.

  24. Sean H July 27, 2016 at 4:46 am

    I don’t have much love for this one but it has generated an awful lot of comments. I’ll try to be brief then.
    First of all, self-indulgent has a negative connotation and a deserved one. Something self-indulgent is the opposite of generous. That said, self-indulgence wasn’t the problem with Andreasen’s piece. What TScott called its “heightened diction” is clearly intentional and every now and then results in gleaming and resonant imagery, ie: “They are strange places, these abandoned fairgrounds and shipwreked boardwalks and dry, cavernous water parks.” Or also: “The artificial smoke hangs low in the room. It smells sterile and chemical. It is nothing like real smoke, heavy with vaporized sap and hot with embers. When the boy departs, it will not cling to his clothes and linger in his hair.” The prose doesn’t consistently achieve those heights and quite often the piece is what many would call “overwritten,” but it’s clear the author is going for richness. It aspires to a sort of grandiose metaphor about America and decay and seems to be trying to evoke a long tradition that spans the mostly recent American arts of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, whether it be in the lyrics of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes (or the Richard Gere sections of Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There) or Bruce Springsteen’s “Wild Billy’s Circus Story,” or in the lushness of Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, or the spry hit quasi-YA novel The Night Circus by Erin Morgentsern. The topicality isn’t the issue, nor is the author’s awareness, nor his bells and whistles prose, nor the imperfectly imported faery taleish/post-magical realist/post-Gaiman vibe he strives for. He’s actually quite evocative of space & place at times.
    The problem is that the story is thin. It doesn’t really generate much interest in what is happening. And there is little forward momentum and even less at stake. The other big problem is the characters. Part of the reason not much seems to be at stake (other than at an allegorical level mixed with some hijinks and attempts at humor; humor is admittedly very subjective but I didn’t laugh at anything here and yet felt like the author clearly was trying to generate humorous juxtapositions and mostly failing, be it in the gross-out imagery or the vernacular or the weird imposition of contemporary blights like drug addiction layered onto the more phantasmagorical setting) is because these characters are shallow and ill defined. A reader can’t care about archetypes so without characters a reader can care about in some form it needs to be really, really smart and clever at the level of invention, inversion/subversion and language (as in Gaiman, Angela Carter, Calvino, the Barth/Bathelme/Coover crowd, etc.). That level of brilliance or genius just isn’t here and it’s not particularly close. It’s not like this story is a smidgen away from those writers, it’s a good ways behind.

  25. David July 27, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Sean, you say that a writer or writing being self-indulgent is the opposite of being generous. I have not heard the term “generous” applied to writing before and I did not have an immediate idea what you might mean, so I did a dangerous thing: I googled it. I ended up with only a very small number of hits for it and not much agreement about what people mean using that term. One meaning I found was to say writing is generous is to say it goes beyond a terse telling of the facts. I doubt this is what you meant by generous writing, as it’s opposite does not sound anything like what one would call “self-indulgent”.

    The second definition I found was that a generous writer writes with the audiences wishes in mind and tries to satisfy the audience and not necessarily the writer’s own interests. As described, this makes generous writing sound to me more like pandering to an audience and abandoning the writer’s own artistic vision. While this sounds a lot more like an opposite for what I think of when writing is called “self-indulgent” it only seems to highlight that you have it backwards – generous writing is a vice artistically speaking and self-indulgence a virtue. To authors I would say this: Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Tell me what you think you have to say.

    If you have something else in mind for what generous writing is and how it is a virtue and an opposite to self-indulgence, I don’t know what it might be (and neither, apparently, does google). But I would be interested to hear what you do mean or why, if you think the second definition is right, you think generous writing is superior to self-indulgent writing.

  26. Sean H July 29, 2016 at 3:44 am

    Hi David,
    Just very quickly, I would argue that self-indulgent writing is synonymous with (or at least very similar to) writing that is insular, narcissistic, solipsistic. Published writing has an audience, a reader, a recipient at the other end of the process. Self-indulgent writing belongs in a diary or a journal, not a published literary manuscript, be it a novel, a story, a poem, a play.
    I agree that pandering is bad, that it leads to writing that is pat and predictable, the stuff of beach reads and shallow page-turners. It is writing without depth or substance, designed purely as entertainment or distraction or escape. Writing that is literary is generous because it alters and enlarges our minds. Generous writing is warm and human, it nourishes and stimulates and entrances the reader.
    Self-indulgence is the kid who eats his Halloween candy all at once. It is a juvenile, childish trait in a writer. Self-indulgence makes for a bad editor. The self-indulgent writer thinks short-term, immediate gratification, he or she doesn’t realize that sometimes you have to cut things that you “like” for the greater good of the larger work (hence the phrase “kill your darlings”). Self-indulgence is simplistic and first-instinct and lacking in thoughtfulness or consideration.
    Generous writing can still be challenging and subversive and confrontational, but it can’t be banal, it can’t lack artfulness. It’s not about the writer’s “own interests,” that’s about that short-term animalistic satiation. Nor is good writing an author “telling you what you have to say.” That’s for editorials. The literary writer transforms his ideas into art before presenting them to the audience.
    Hopefully this clears up the issue of self-indulgent vs. generous writing and what they are and why the latter is superior to the former.

  27. Greg July 29, 2016 at 7:58 am

    Thank you Sean for your two very instructive posts related to this story.

    The quotes you chose to highlight from the story are so good!

    Also, I believe your explanation of generous writing is a touchstone to understanding the purpose of literature. My favourite part of your above post is this:

    “The literary writer transforms his ideas into art before presenting them to the audience.”

  28. David July 29, 2016 at 8:27 am

    Sean, I’m not really sure that helps much. When I think of a narcissistic writer, I think of a writer whose opinion of his own work is much higher than it actually deserves. Now if that work is good, but just not as good as he supposes it is, then being narcissistic is a personal vice of the author. But if the work is not very good and the author thinks it’s brilliant, then the narcissism of the author isn’t the real concern. It’s the poor quality of the work. But narcissism seems very different from self-indulgence.

    The reference to Halloween candy does not help, as I have already said that I agree that self-indulgence as a personal quality in general is a vice, so of course I agree with you there. Also your comments on my saying “Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. Tell me what you think you have to say.” is a far too literal reading of that. I am not talking merely about reporting facts, but about expressing ideas, emotions, creating experiences, etc.

    But if I am left with an overall impression of how we see things differently it seems that you think there are both objective and subjective measures of quality and being self-indulgent is when a writer knows (or should know) that objectively what they are writing is not as good as it should (or could) be but who prefers to keep things they subjectively like anyway. Their “darlings” are the bits they love but that are objectively not good for the story. That would be where I disagree with you. I don’t believe that there is such a thing as objective quality. When an author murders a darling it is them conceding what they take to have value in the face of recognizing that others will not value it as much. And that’s just pandering. It’s not pandering in a pop-fiction, best seller sense, but it is still pandering to what you expect or know an audience would prefer. That it is the preference of a highbrow audience rather than that of the masses makes it no less pandering to your audience.

    You are right that art when made public does have an audience, but thinking about what the audience wants or what might make them value the work is not necessarily something that makes art better. The only way we get truly new and unique voices in art is when the artist expresses things that have not been expressed before in ways they have not been expressed before and that requires not thinking about how something will be received by an audience. To be sure, a lot of times this leads to results that are not very rewarding for much of anyone, but we already knew that coming up with something unique and special is much more difficult than pleasing a waiting audience, be they beach readers with Kindles or drawing room readers with leather bound volumes.

  29. Sean H July 29, 2016 at 5:39 pm

    Interesting points. I’m not sure innovation is the end-all-be-all, though. The art critic Dave Hickey has a quote about how “the good” is always better than “the original.” The visual arts have for too long valued a perceived “originality” above all else and nowadays people can barely even explain why they find something aesthetically interesting.
    And of course you believe in “objective quality.” There is a discernible difference between Shakespeare and James Patterson. It’s not just subjective. Could an individual reader enjoy a James Patterson book more than a Shakespeare tragedy? Of course. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a massive and pretty easily identifiable difference in terms of overall quality, value, merit, what have you.

  30. David July 29, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    Sean, how dare you disparage the name of the great James Patterson! …. I’m just kidding. I’ve never had the displeasure of reading one of his books and never plan to (but I did fall victim once to a book by Particia Cornwell, so she is my usual go-to name for a writer of popular garbage). But seriously….

    I agree that there are objective differences in what different authors might try to achieve in their writing. I agree that there are objective differences in how easy or difficult it is for an author to achieve many of those goals. But if a reader is moved by the writing of James Patterson and not by the writing of William Shakespeare I don’t see why their response is wrong. I am not going to take any book recommendations from such a person and I probably have little to talk to them about when it comes to fiction writing, but that’s not because I think I’m right and they are wrong about the quality of the work. If someone said they could not tell Patterson from Shakespeare I would either not believe them or question their reading comprehension ability, but if they said there are great differences and that Patterson is better I would not say they are wrong. They just value writing in a radically different way from me.

    So when an author does not seem to be trying to aim at what a particular literary class agrees makes a piece of writing have artistic merit and does so intentionally, that sounds to me like self-indulgence. But at the end of the day the question is how well what the author wrote worked. Maybe by defying convention in self-indulgent ways the author opens all of our eyes to new possibilities in writing. Or maybe it is not revolutionary, but still works in its own way. Or maybe it just falls apart for us. Regardless of the outcome, I give authors credit for being self-indulgent. If nothing else, it is clear evidence that they are trying to be creative.

    To briefly mention a name from another medium that has been discussed recently on this website, Terrence Malick is a filmmaker who is quite often described as self-indulgent by critics and as an original voice by his admirers. I have admired most of his films (I should probably give “The New World” a second chance), but I would say that he is an original voice precisely because he is self-indulgent. So the critics are right, they just a wrong in thinking that observation is itself a criticism.

  31. Greg July 31, 2016 at 7:43 am

    Sean and David – Thank you for your very interesting discussion! It is especially timely with the new Harry Potter book being released at midnight last night. Many adults love this series of books which I think you both would agreed are excellent for youth, but not intellectually satisfying for adults…..Hmm….what to do?

  32. William August 3, 2016 at 2:10 pm

    I too want to thank Trevor for his long-term dedication to this website, maintaining a home for our comments about reading. It’s a forum that allows us to express our love of fiction. I am a newcomer, but I could see the value of this virtual group instantly. If I disagree with some of Trevor’s comments, I do so respectfully.

    Second, I want to give kudos to David for his parsing of “self-indulgent”. He wrote:

    “To say that a writer is being self-indulgent is to say that they are pursuing ideas, characters, and events, or employing styles, techniques, and structures that are of great interest to them regardless of what appeal they might or might not have for their readers.”

    It seemed so obvious once he said it, but making this point shines a light on some of the disagreements that people have had about this story (and about writing in general). Good call, David. Your insight reminds me of one of my very early therapy sessions, many, many years ago. I told the therapist that I thought a person was “selfish”. She replied “You mean that she looks after herself?” We always need to be aware of the subtext (“baggage”) of words, their emotional power.

    I can tell when something is important to me because it informs how I see things, or what I see. After reading David’s comment, I became aware of two examples in the next couple of weeks. From Anne Tyler’s “A Spool of Blue Thread”:

    “’If your parents are really so decrepit they should move to a retirement community. That’s what other people do.’

    “‘We’re too independent for a retirement community,’ Red told her.

    “’Independent? Bosh. That’s just another word for selfish. It’s stiff-back people like you who end up being the biggest burdens.’”

    Not surprisingly, the speaker is herself very self-centered.

    And from a thriller about a 30-ish Chinese female “forensic accountant”:

    “In many ways Ava’s mother was a princess, spoiled and self-indulgent. But then again, so many Chinese women were. They made the “Jewish Princesses” Ava had known in university look like amateurs.”

    Here “self-indulgent” is used in its most crass sense – someone who indulges herself in pleasures (shopping; spas) while contributing nothing to the world.

    In the case of Andreason and other contemporary writers (George Saunders, notably), this word is applicable in David’s sense, I think. They are following their own artistic intuition, trusting that it will lead them to make something creative. It is for us to say whether we find their efforts effective, not to impute motive to them. To say that they are solipsistic or, even worse, that they “maintained a tone and set of imagery throughout that seemed meant to alienate the reader”, is totally unjustified. You can’t know that. The most you can say is that you felt alienated by the story.

    Moreover, it seems unlikely that any writer would deliberately set out to alienate readers. I don’t think any writer writes for him/herself alone. Every writer wants to be read, to have either critical or commercial success (or both). There is always in the back of the writer’s mind an audience – it is only a very insecure person who writes “for the drawer”, as one Russian author put it. Even the most solipsistic of writers intends to communicate — think of Marcel Proust tucked up in his bed day after day mining his most private memories for material for people to whom he will eventually hand over his soul but whom he will never see.

    Would you accuse James Joyce of deliberating trying to alienate his readers? And yet after the brilliant “Dubliners”, he wrote one book that very few people have read and a second book that no one has read (I’m exaggerating for the sake of making a point).

    I used to read a lot of poetry. Then I encountered John Ashbery. I couldn’t make heads nor tails of his pieces. Now I read them when they appear in the New Yorker, but I still don’t get anything out of them. I could blame Ashbery – “He’s being deliberately dense and self-indulgent; he’s in love with his own cleverness” – but that would merely express my frustration. The Wiki article on Ashbery notes that his poetry is characterized by “opacity”. Yet it also says: “Ashbery has stated that he wishes his work to be accessible to as many people as possible, and not to be a private dialogue with himself.”

    I guess my final and powerful argument for the correctness of David’s interpretation of the word “self-indulgent” can be expressed in two words: Pablo Picasso.

    I’d also like to comment briefly on Trevor’s use of “deliberately obtuse” to apply to a story. A story can’t be obtuse (a story can’t be deliberate either). A person can be obtuse (“slow-witted”) or an angle can be obtuse (between 90 and 180 degrees). So neither the story nor the writer can be obtuse. Only the reader can be obtuse. I know that feeling of being obtuse based on my experiences with Joyce and Ashbery. Again, I don’t think I we can say that the writer deliberately set out to make us feel that way.

    My most recent episode of feeling obtuse was trying to read “The Ambassadors”. On my first attempt I only managed a few pages. I thought, What is this? Why does he write like that? How can he be considered a great stylist? Then I took a second running start and got about 100 pages in. I found the characters – Lambert Strether and Maria Gostrey — interesting, but I just couldn’t continue wading through those verbal thickets. It was like trying to hack my way through a tropical jungle. So I stopped. However, I have to honestly admit – I don’t think James wrote that way to frustrate me (or anyone).It was just his way. Some people enjoy it, but I don’t.

    On this point, I also want to take issue with David, who said: “To call a story obtuse is to call it difficult to understand due to faults in how it is written.” I don’t think we can say that a story’s difficulty is always due to “faults in how it is written”, any more than we can say that our inability to understand a book on nuclear physics is due to faults in the way it is written. When something is written in standard English and not scientific vocabulary it seems like we should be able to understand it. But I don’t think that’s true.

    Subjectively, I find James’ writing style faulty. But thousands of people like it, so that can’t be an absolute objective judgment. Is “The Waste Land” faulty or might we have difficulty understanding it because we don’t have Eliot’s erudition? If he uses his erudition does that make his poem faulty? Let’s do away with this assumption that we need to be able to understand everything that is written, or else it’s the writer’s fault. I know that sometimes I’m just not knowledgeable enough or bright enough. To paraphrase Cassius:

    “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the text,
    But in ourselves . . . ”

    David also asked about the deeper meaning of Andreason’s story. He asked, “Is it nothing more than the sadness of a lost childhood symbolized by the carnivals he collects?” I would question the use of “nothing more”. Can we say that “The Emperor of Ice Cream” is about “nothing more” than a death? Or that “Prufrock” is about “nothing more” than a man’s loneliness? These are profound feelings. To express them in poetic, evocative language is a valuable accomplishment. I like the way that Ken put it. He referred to the “more allusive, poetic qualities of the story.” He described it this way:

    “The past hangs on as a sad ghost haunting those of us not obsessed with progress.”

    Nice words.

    (BTW, Ken, you expressed a liking for fairy tale type stories. Do you know A. S Byatt’s 1994 collection, “The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye”? I’d put it in the “speculative fiction” category. They’re fun stories. I came to it when I read her 2003 story “A Stone Woman” – published in the New Yorker.)

    I don’t want to make too much of this story. I like it, and I think it’s well written. But it’s a slight object to hang all these weighty arguments on. Sean H had some concerns that I think are legitimate:

    “A reader can’t care about archetypes so without characters a reader can care about in some form it needs to be really, really smart and clever at the level of invention, inversion/subversion and language.”

    Maybe this story doesn’t reach that level, but it is moving in that direction.

    I asked Trevor which writers he likes, and he provided a list. I think Trevor’s preferences are most informative and do more to explain our different reactions to this and other stories than hundreds of words of critical analysis. His taste in short stories and mine are very different, so much so that it is clearly a matter of personalities.

    We both like William Trevor, Stephen Millhauser, Annie Proulx and George Saunders. (Although Trevor thinks that Saunders’ recent stories are less good, and I think that “Home”, Mother’s Day” and “Semplica Girl Diaries” move beyond “Civil War Land In Sad Decline”). And of course we both like Alice Munro. I had reason recently to re-read “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” and appreciated once again its human warmth and wry irony.

    But some of Trevor’s choices are outside my range of appreciation. When there is a story by Tessa Hadley, Thomas McGuane, Paul Theroux or Louise Erdrich in the New Yorker, I think it is a wasted issue. I wonder, “Is that the best they can do?” It seems to me as though nothing happens in those writers’ pieces. And of course there is the godmother of nothing happening, Anne Beattie. She and T.C. could have a contest to see who could write the story about the most self-obsessed character. But now I’m getting pejorative, when all I can really say is that I find these writers bland and boring.

    One final thought: We should stop beating on the NYer editors. They have to please a wide range of reading constituents, so that any one group of people with limited tastes – and we all have limited tastes – will only be happy a minority of the time. It’s like that T-shirt slogan: “I can only please one person a day. Today isn’t your day. Tomorrow doesn’t look so good either.” The New Yorker has published many stories that I’ve liked (including one that a very literary friend called “the perfect short story” — “Safari”, by Jennifer Egan). If this week’s story isn’t to my taste, maybe next week’s will be.

  33. Trevor Berrett August 3, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    William, thanks for coming back and sharing a long, thoughtful comment. It is most welcome and offers a lot of food for thought. You hit on something particularly poignant for this site when you brought up James Joyce; “The Mookse and the Gripes” is, after all, named after a section in Finnegans Wake!

    I disagree with several of your general points, though, even if I may be off on how I read this particular story. Like you, though, I hope to disagree respectfully. That’s always been one of the strengths of this site. People disagree often — why, even David and I, both not particularly liking this story, disagree about how to talk about it — but I feel most of us disagree respectfully most of the time. And our disagreements here have taken us to some wonderful places. I’m convinced that would not be the case if we all felt we could say no more than “I personally found this unsatisfactory due to my own faults and/or taste.”

    I’m still not satisfied with David’s definition of “self-indulgent,” and I fall much more in line with Sean. It is a quality of the writer/artist that can be seen in the art itself. I think we can use it as a legitimate criticism. Self-indulgent is valid criticism that should usually connote a negative critique. I’d certainly apply it to Ulysses, though I think that’s a brilliant book and I’m okay with it, thankful for it, so I’d have to explain that in my defense because I understand where others may not be as welcoming of the negative implications of James’s penchant, and I want to hear what they have to say. That doesn’t mean Joyce should listen to them or me, but it’s an aspect we can discuss. And perhaps Joyce should have listened to critics because, though I’d not wish it away, Finnegans Wake is extremely self-indulgent. And difficult. But I’d not call it “obtuse” . . .

    So, let me go there. I also have an issue with “obtuse” being thrown out of critical discourse as applied to language and to a story. When I used the term to describe this story, that was not a unique use of the term as a criticism of language. David’s definition works for me, though perhaps it is a bit of a bastardization of language since my own comprehension of “obtuse” in this context is closely related to “abstruse.” But “obtuse” means what it does today and is commonly used in critical discourse regardless. It does not mean only “slow-witted” and is not limited to sentient beings like readers. Language can be obtuse: blunt, strange, difficult to comprehend, imprecise in thought and expression. That last definition — imprecise in thought/expression — from Merriam-Webster, is how I intended it above, as imprecise as I myself may have been. And something can be deliberately so if I think there’s good reason to believe the writer is purposefully making language imprecise/abstract for some effect. Here in particular I thought (I haven’t reread so I’ll keep that in the past tense) Andreasen made his language obtuse for the same reason many authors do: it gives off the illusion of difficulty, and therefore of profundity. That’s not a positive assessment, and it does impute a motive on the author which I can never know, but I’m not too worried about that. I’m more worried that I didn’t back myself up when that is an important part of making a claim like that. But throwing it out there? I’m not worried about that.

    I don’t think we can say that a story’s difficulty is always due to “faults in how it is written”,any more than we can say that our inability to understand a book on nuclear physics is due to faults in the way it is written.

    I agree, but I don’t think that’s what I’m saying (certainly not “always”), and I don’t think anyone else is either. I don’t want to mix up “difficulty” with “obtuse.” Obtuse is, to my mind, an illusion of difficulty. If a reader succeed in penetrating that obtuse language, there’s not so much there. For that, we can blame the writer and editor, and we can be doubly concerned if we think it was deliberate, for that shows a lack of judgment. Even if we are wrong to use this criticism in a particular case (as I may be here), that does not make the criticism invalid in all cases. It is, to some degree, subjective, so we can disagree . . .

    As we do with Henry James :-), but you are briefly making a similar argument against James as I’m making against Andreasen: “Subjectively, I find James’ writing style faulty.” It may not be absolutely objective, but you can definitely make a case for your perspective.

    We surely have some differences of opinion, and I’m glad because for me that’s where all of this is fun. When I stopped reading The New Yorker I still missed these conversations, and they are the reason I’ve decided to read the fiction again. I can’t wait to dislike the next Anne Beattie story with you, and I hope you read Tessa Hadley’s in the current issue because I loved it and I’d love to debate it a bit more with someone who ins’t convinced of her mastery! I think you can say more than “I find these writers bland and boring,” and I hope you feel welcome to do so.

    And thank goodness Hadley’s in there because though I don’t expect The New Yorker to cater to my particular tastes, I do expect them to recognize and publish quality fiction, and I and others have been nearly driven mad by the slate of what we consider lackluster offerings over the past few months.

  34. Greg August 4, 2016 at 12:09 am

    Thank you William and Trevor for this thrilling exchange!

    Also, I absolutely loved this part of your post:

    “Think of Marcel Proust tucked up in his bed day after day mining his most private memories for material for people to whom he will eventually hand over his soul but whom he will never see.”

  35. William August 8, 2016 at 9:55 pm

    Trevor —

    Lot to debate in your post, but I suspect we cold go on forever and not reach agreement. Nothing wrong with that (either disagreeing or going on forever0 — except that now I am 4 stories behind1 So I will move on to new ground. Eventually I will get to Tessa Hadley and we can come to grips again.

    I’ll only comment on this sentence: “Obtuse is, to my mind, an illusion of difficulty. If a reader succeed in penetrating that obtuse language, there’s not so much there.” When I penetrated Andreason’s language, I found a lot there. You didn’t — what does that imply for the subjective/objective dualism that Sean and David were battling over?

    Also, I can’t stop myself from responding to Sean’s pejorative view of “original” art as being less valuable than good art. So when Giotto and his successors in the Italian Renaissance introduced linear perspective into their works, was that “self-indulgent” because they were valuing “original” technique too highly? Or did their originality make their art better? In other words, I don’t accept that good and original form a dichotomy.

    Greg — thanks for those kind words. I know that I have found my intellectual home when someone calls a literary exchange “thrilling”. Glad you liked my sentence about Proust — that was one of my darlings that I decided not to murder. Sometimes it’s OK to be self-indulgent. :)

    On to Joy Williams!

  36. Trevor Berrett August 9, 2016 at 11:19 am

    See you around the corner, William! I’m really glad you’re around . . . as I am with the rest of you.

  37. Maria Kallai August 20, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    Do some readers have nothing better to do than rip a writer’s short story? Too many posts about Andreasen’s short story were self-congratulatory, pretentious, and full of hot air.
    I enjoyed the story and found it lively, imaginative and well-written.This is a writer whose work I will follow.

  38. Trevor Berrett August 22, 2016 at 11:41 am

    Do some readers have nothing better to do than rip a writer’s short story?

    The hope was to discuss it.

    I am glad to have another comment from someone who enjoyed the story. Though I do not think I’m going to follow Andreasen, I am convinced I missed some vital link when I read the story. I’m very happy others did not miss it as I did.

  39. David August 22, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    Maria, asking “Do some readers have nothing better to do than rip a writer’s short story?” is no more a fair question than asking “Do some readers have nothing better to do than rip other people’s comments on a short story?” If criticisms are made without some sort of substance to explain and support them, then they are not very useful. But when someone has taken the time to try to elaborate on the reasons they had the reaction they did it does, as Trevor indicated, start a conversation of a story where people with all sorts of different responses can discuss them and maybe learn more about the story as a result. That’s what I think most of us have tried to do here. You might count that as self-congratulatory, pretentious, and full of hot air, but it just sounds like you are mad some people did not like the story as much as you did and they explained why.

    Aaron Sorkin once wrote, “If you’re smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you.” I agree with that. I find I get an awful lot more out of a story by discussing it with people who are smart and disagree with me than I do than discussing it with anyone else. That would be my assessment of what has happened on this page. Your mileage may vary.

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