Daniel Nester on Literary Bullshitting

by on Oct.10, 2010

[Daniel Nester wrote a really angry reply to this on his blog, so this must have come off as more offensive than I meant it to. I’m going to add to this post to explain what I meant in greater detail because I’m really not interested in offending anybody:]

This is what Daniel Nester thinks about the discussions that go on on literary blogs:

“John Updike said something like there is no one happier than writers who get together, not writing and drinking. To that I would add: aggregating. Harriet, the Huffington Post “Books Section,” lit blogs like this one, all of them, I am afraid, are wasting our time playing literary culture whac-a-mole, talking about whether or not to get an MFA, offer open-thread debate posts or lite manifestos-as-deep thoughts, and for what purpose? Rhetorical calisthenics? Talking semi-loud at each other and saying nothing? We’re then compelled to aggregate and round up what we didn’t read the first time around. It’s an echo chamber, a closed circuit that doesn’t keep in mind actual readers. Or people who read books but don’t write them.”

“I suppose one could say all of this fart-smelling adds up to merely gossip, or that this stuff I am talking about isn’t the “real” writing we’re all doing when we’re away from our content management systems. But we are in the public square, are we not? Can we mean what we say and say what we mean and stop pussyfooting around? Or can we all assign ourselves a topic to write about besides smelling our own farts and start faux-arguing and manifesto-ing about that?”

His post is up on “We Who Are About To Die,.”

The reason this post rubs me the wrong way is that there is such a constant attack on the very practice of writing about literature – it’s academic, it’s not academic enough, it’s narcissistic, it’s “fart-smelling” etc. Further, to me the post seems to exhibit exactly the kind of pretend humility he’s attacking in the post.

But since he has gotten so insulted by the comments I made here, I invite others to read his post and tell me what you think about it.


I should also mention that I found Nester’s post via Bob Archambeau’s blog; he actually took Nester up on his charge and wrote an interesting post on one of my favorite contemporary poets, Haryette Mullen, using self-consciously archaic (Romantic) terminology, and concluding:

“…the more likely a poet is to be identified with experimentalism, or linguistic innovation, the more likely he or she is to be a poet of what Addison would call false or mixed, rather than true, wit — because the poet is more likely to be drawing attention to language as language, and less likely to be oriented toward statements about the resemblance of things in the world.”

3 comments for this entry:
  1. Archambeau

    I just want to add that I don’t think what Addison called “mixed wit” is worse than what he called “true wit.” I like his description of different kinds of wit, but I don’t see quite the same hierarchy that he does.

    (Just hoping to avoid hate-mail from Mullen’s fans, in whose number I count myself).


  2. Ryan Sanford Smith

    “Daniel Nester wrote a really angry reply to this on his blog…”


    Like Bob A., I also rarely ‘give a fuck’ about these ‘intramurals’ ‘MFA debates’, etc.; I sort of take the same approach to these: I don’t care, so I mostly don’t get involved. What I don’t understand is why people think they have an obligation to care? If Nester doesn’t find them interesting or productive, then I’d assume he’d not really care enough about to them get pissy about them…and then get pissy again when he’s argued with, thus engaging in what he wants to stop. Why doesn’t he just take his own advice & go do whatever it is writers ‘should’ be doing besides blogging about writing?

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