Tuesday, April 17, 2012

More Pulitzer Fallout + Eagleton Refinds Literature + MLB Baseball 2012

Ann Patchett (www.annpatchett.com)
The fallout from the Pulitzer Foundation's failure to award a fiction prize continues. The New York Times features three articles on it, the first a Media Decoder blog post (whose title is stronger than anything said in it--who's "fuming"?), Julie Bosman's straight news report, the third an Op-Ed by belauded author Ann Patchett (Bel Canto, State of Wonder--which I suggested should have been a Pulitzer fiction consideree). The Daily Beast weighs in with more gossipy Sturm, if not Drang. Reggie H. directed me first to the Publishers Weekly Publishers' Launch site, and then to Laura Miller's Salon piece. Much speculation, none of the three judges are happy, nor are most publishers (or authors, it seems). It appears the board, which does include one truly amazing creative writer (and professor), Junot Díaz, couldn't agree on a choice. It got me thinking, on another note, that a sizable swath of the better-known and most original American fiction writers of the 20th and 21st centuries, have not received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for their best works, or at all. This list would include William Faulkner, John dos Passos, Scott Fitzgerald, the major early novels of Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O'Connor, all the Beats (Jack Kerouac in particular), Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Vladimir Nabokov, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., William Gaddis, James Baldwin, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLillo, E. L. Doctorow, Ishmael Reed, Grace Paley, Samuel R. Delany, Donald Barthelme, Ursula LeGuin, Raymond Carver, Joy Williams, Leslie Marmon Silko, Tim O'Brien, Sandra Cisneros, Bobbie Ann Mason,  Gayl Jones, John Edgar Wideman, Jayne Anne Phillips, Julia Álvarez, Lois Ann Yamanaka, Charles Baxter, T. C. Boyle, Mary Gaitskill, Sherman Alexie, David Foster Wallace, or George Saunders, just to name a few.  An august list, by any measure, though many of these folks are still with us and still writing, so....


Today after the Poetry and Poetics Colloquium event featuring Russian prose writer Andrei Levkin (about which I'll blog tomorrow or so), I was chatting with a senior colleague and noting how humorous I found it that Terry Eagleton (1943-), the leading British Marxist literary and cultural critic who loomed over many discussions when I was an undergraduate in the late mid-1980s and who spent a great deal of his early career attempting, with some success (and help from others), to dispel the idea of literary value or literariness itself, has now decided that, in fact, there is such a thing as literary value and literariness and "literature," and that he, Terry Eagleton, is determined to describe and define it. This is not his first volta face; there was After Theory, almost a dozen years ago (2003).  Not that I'm mocking Eagleton, of course; his advocacy of theory, and many of his insights about the relationship between the literary and the aesthetic, interpretation and reading, and capitalist hegemony and empire, the primacy of social construction and the political, and so forth, are still quite valid. We forget them at our peril. Also: No text is completely transparent: this idea blazes as clear as a torch to this reader as day. But it has also always struck me that he and others might have gone too far, as he too has noted, and in The Event of Literature (Yale University Press, 2012), which sounds like he might be toking a good deal of Alain Badiou but isn't, he has taken up the idea, long ago cast away, that there is something called the "literary," or that there is something common to what we might call "literature," that he can subject to an Eagletonian taxonomy. I think many of us could have told him this. Baby, bathwater. According to this Stuart Kelly Guardian piece, Eagleton gets there via a more traditional (and to me reassuring, since I cite this person not infrequently, to bemusement, since I don't think he's considered so valid anymore) route: Ludwig Wittgenstein. The Wittgenstein of the later works, The Philosophical Investigations, Lectures on Aesthetics, Brown and Blue Books, that Wittgenstein, not the one who thought everything could be contained within a logical treatise.  According to Kelly, Eagleton essentially returns to a "common sense" (or pragmatic view) of what literature is, creating five categories--fictional, moral, linguistic, non-pragmatic, and normative--which those things we call "literary" possess at least some combination or all of. I haven't read the book, so I can't assess the argument, but it sounds very interesting, and I think Wittgenstein's concepts of familial resemblances and particular kinds of language games are a way back into a means of linking disparate texts. Kelly's critique is generous and fair. He finds Eagleton's argument "elegant" but "fuzzy," witty and sometimes felicitous in his aphoristic skill, but also thinks facts belie certain his assertions, particularly in the "moral" and "linguistic" categories. Kelly concludes with: "When, as a critic, I call something literature, I mean that it expands the field of what literature can be. David Foster Wallace is literature. Jonathan Franzen just tried to write a literary novel." I'm no great fan of Franzen, but The Corrections certain is literature, and I find a good deal of Wallace--I do like some of his work, let me be clear--trying too hard (and his fans, legion though they be, trying very hard to convince others). I guess this means I'll be reading this book at some point, once it's published (officially, May 12, 2012), as I have many of Eagleton's others, with a trained and skeptical eye...


C. C. Sabathia (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
It's baseball season, and I admit to not following so closely, because I have too many other things to fixate on right now. But I am still saddened that Albert Pujols now wears the uniform of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (the most unfelicitous team name in history), and will not man first base for the World Series champion Saint Louis Cardinals. He went out in style, though, and now has a 10-year mega-contract to ensure that no matter what happens, his family will be set for life. The Cardinals are relying much more on pitching this year, a mix of veterans (Rafael Furcal, Javier Molina, Matt Holliday) and newbies (Matt Carpenter, free agent Carlos Beltrán), and the return of David Freese's bat. So far they've ascended to the top of the NL Central Division's heap, with an 8-3 record. Can they keep it up? I hope so.

The other currently top 2 NL beyond the Cardinals are the Washington Senators (I'm not joking), and the formerly financially shaky Los Angeles Dodgers. The Senators have some of the league's better young players and pitching sensation Stephen Strasburg, who is back from arm surgery and up through today has struck out 19 batters in 19 innings. He's only one of a very sharp pitching staff. The Dodgers have some of the league's best field players, including almost-MVP and Rihanna ex, coverboy Matt Kemp, as well as André Ethier, and Juan Rivera, and superb pitching, including 2011 Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, who went 21-5 last year with a 2.28 ERA. Other teams that look good so far: the New York Mets and the Arizona Diamondbacks. The rest of the league, at least thus far? Meh.

This season's major distraction has been Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen's impromptu praise of Fidel Castro, which led to profuse apologies and a 5-game suspension. He probably could have gotten away with what he said anywhere else, including New York, but he'll be apologizing till the end of the season given the team he's managing, unless the Marlins manage to end up scaling their division. That team has pulled out miracles in the past, but this season, I'm not so sure.

In the AL, last year's World Series runners up, the Texas Rangers, are again setting the pace at 9-2. They have the cast and the tools to go all the way this year. Whether they can achieve their aims is another question. They definitely are playoff caliber. The Detroit Tigers lead the AL Central Division, and have been one of the better teams in this league for the last decade. They possess a reliable, solid fielding core, led by outfield Miguel Cabrera, as well as hefty slugger Prince Fielder, and they have the league's best pitcher in Justin Verlander, who won last year's Cy Young Award.

In the AL East, the New York Yankees are middling at 6-5; it is only April, and pitching star C. C. Sabathia just won his first game tonight. But the team in general looks long in the tooth; a number of its veteran players--Derek Jeter, Alex Rodríguez, Raul Ibanez, are approaching the end of their careers and only Jeter isn't playing as if this is the case--and the youngsters--Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cañó, Nick Swisher--haven't yet hit their stride this season. Senescent or not, they're never a team to count out.

The other AL East teams are keeping pace with the Yankees. The Baltimore Orioles, a team accustomed to bottom-dwelling these last few years, leads the division. Reviewing their stats leaders and lineup, I hardly recognize even a single name, save Wilson Betemit. Maybe they have the chops for a run. We'll see. What we can see now is that the Boston Red Sox are in last place, a bit of a surprise after their amazing run in the early 2000s. Stepping to the plate every day for them are David "Big Papi" Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Adrian González, and their always strong corps of hurlers. The Yankees and everyone else are surely keeping an eye on them. Sleeping serpents. Let's hope they keep slumbering, as opposed to lumbering in the bat department, all the way through October.

In the AL West the Angels have posted more losses, 7, than wins, 4. It's only April, though. Albert Pujols is batting only .268, with no homers. I wish him the best, and hope he resumes his Hall of Famer pace. The Angels have good pitching (Jered Weaver, C. J. Wilson, Danny Haren) and a host of veterans alongside Pujols, so they should return to form soon enough. It's going to take everything to catch those Rangers. They really look great, again.  Rangers and Cardinals? I'm not betting on it, at least not yet, it the rematch would be sweet.

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