I am not a literary insider. My degree is not in literature or writing or journalism but history. I am not well aquainted with the Modern American Novel. I am a erattic, eclectic, and fickle reader. One thing I do know, however, is that Dale Peck is a hot topic at the moment. Since this blog is supposed to be about books, I felt I should touch on the man making the rounds. So here goes:
– Peck has been famous and controversial for some time but this NYT profile by James Atlas started another round of publicity.
– Another conspicuous contributor to all the hubbub was this NYT book review by Andrew O’Hagan. The opening paragraph was controversial:
NOBODY likes to say so, but when gay men write about fatherhood they are often ruminating about manhood. The reasons for this should be obvious: gay men’s experience of fatherhood generally stops at having, or having had, a father, and being a father oneself can usually be considered an absent possibility. An absence isn’t the same as a loss, and, to a great many, not fathering children may be one of life’s happier outcomes. Nevertheless it is true that some gay writers experience the question in complicated ways, as if their sexuality implied an explicit foreshortening of their own presence.
– The Guardian addressed the issue as well. Kate Kellaway explores the “Hatchet Man” and had this to say:
Reading his reviews, there is a sense that Peck’s writing is motored by a rage that has little to do with literature. There are clues in his biography. He grew up on Long Island, the son of an alcoholic plumber. His mother died in mysterious circumstances when he was three and he has put it on record that ‘violence’ may have had something to do with it. When his father discovered his son was gay, he beat him up. Peck’s father is important here, if only because his latest book is a ‘memoir’ about his father’s childhood (What We Lost, published in February by Granta). Dale Peck emerges as a fighter with the evangelical zeal of a Jehovah’s Witness for whom the End of the Novel is Nigh. He was educated at Drew University in New Jersey and took a creative writing course at Columbia. He was talent-spotted as a critic by James Wood, who commissioned him to write in the back pages of the New Republic, back pages that were to make front-page news.
– Mr. Peck tried to explain what he was up to in an article for The New Republic. And here is a interesting quote from said article:
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming this particular novelist for the phenomenon. Certainly I’d rather be writing novels than working in an office any day, and if she can pull it off then it’s nobody’s fault but the people who pay her. Blame, rather, Thomas More for writing Utopia. Blame Sartre for writing “The Wall,” and Doris Lessing for writing The Golden Notebook, and Gore Vidal for writing all those historical diatribes, and Don DeLillo just for writing (and Jonathan Franzen, God help us, for reading him). Blame the people who publish these books; blame the people who buy them. Blame the writing programs and the prize committees; blame the deconstructionist literary critics or the back-patting Siamese-twinned professions of writing and reviewing fiction; blame any or all of the identity communities who read and write those ethnic- or gender-marketed booster books; blame the dead white European males who forced us to resort to literature as our daily affirmation in the first place. Blame whomever you want–but it seems to me that to summarize and to evaluate yet another of these shadow fictions is to miss the point. These novels are not bad. They just are not novels. They are not art. Real fiction does not “discover” truth, let alone present it to readers: real fiction invents and dispenses with truth as it sees fit. That’s why it’s called fiction.
Robert Birnbaum interviewed the man himself in the Morning News. Here was a part I found intriguing:
RB: You donâ€™t subscribe to the notion offered by Gertrude Stein that artists should never be criticized?
DP: No, I think artists should be criticized all the time. Constantly, constantly, constantly. I donâ€™t think I could say it any other way. If I just said that the novel has no essential role to play in life despite the fact that itâ€™s one of the most precious products of our culture, then the role of the critic must be even that much more ephemeral. To me the novel is nothing more than a strongly expressed opinion and so it seems like the only thing you can respond to it with that is even remotely worthwhile is an equally strongly expressed opinion. Whether itâ€™s for or againstâ€¦Sometimes I feel when the two ideas butt up against each other you actually get the sense of a visible outline.
I found the interview interesting, especially the tension that centers around notions of truth in literature and history. As a historian and avid reader I see this tension a lot. I will make a confession, however. It always irks me when artists/celebreties reveal their distaste for our current president with such forcefullness. Not becuase I don’t want them to offer their opinion or because I disagree with them. No, it is mostly because I can’t help but let it distance me a little from them. It sort introduces a strange tension between us. I have a hard time relating to people with these passionate views. Here is an exchange from the interview:
RB: I find it very strange that Gore Vidal, who is ferociously disaffected with the state of affairs in the U.S., has moved back here from Italy.
DP: For the next year I am working for Howard Dean or whatever Democrat gets the nomination or whenever Hillary decides to enter the race, I guess. And if a Democrat wins, I will be far more prone to stay, but if George W. Bush is reelected I think I really want to leave and just get the hell out of Dodge.
RB: Is that based on fear or disdain?
DP: Pure and utter disgust, at what he is doing to the American name with American tax dollars. I have contemplated renouncing my citizenship because I find his foreign policy so incredibly repulsive, and it seems like the only way not to give him oneâ€™s tax dollars is to leave.
What motivates such emotion? I will admit that I am a conservative Republican and that I didn’t much care for Bill Clinton. But I can’t recall ever having such strong feelings about him. What is it about liberal or leftists art types that they always feel it neccesary to threaten to leave the country? There is a long line of literary expatriots I guess, but does bad foreign policy require that you live abroad? I can’t think of a past President that would have caused me to even think about living abroad out of “pure and utter disgust.” I guess I just find these off topic rants jarring and slightly unsettling. To defend myself from accusations of partisianship, etc. I find similar rants from conservatives equally unsettling.
So there you have it, a Dale Peck link-a-thon. Am I cool yet?