James Wood Is Vexed

Literary critic James Wood left a comment at New York's Vulture blog, objecting to its prior characterization of his new book How Fiction Works. It is not, he says, a "prescriptive guide to writing one kind of book," nor is there is any such thing as "the high realist novel," and even if there were, he would not be its Zhdanovite champion. He esteems "stylistic flourishes," for one — just don't go thinking you can write a pretty little book about nothing. In its defense, Vulture argues that nowhere does Wood actually deny being the leader of a new lit school; the original post referred to Leon Neyfakh's Observer profile of exultant, MFA-carrying Woodies, which quoted the master as saying that his favorite remarks are from writers who claim his essays helped them escape this or that brier patch in their own work. Not sure that makes him a didactic commissar so much as just good. Full comment after the jump:

For the record, because the record matters, and the record is now online rather than anywhere else, I must respond to the nonsense above: my new book is precisely not a prescriptive guide to writing one kind of book (it praises the novel as the virtuoso of exceptionalism); it is precisely not a defense of 'the high realist novel,' whatever that is (the chapter on character defends a postmodern idea of a kind of 'character of gaps'); and to say that I champion the fiction of character and dialogue over 'stylistic flourishes' is almost the opposite of the truth. As almost every word of criticism I have ever written attests, I pay the greatest attention to 'stylistic flourishes,' examine them, and revel joyfully in them. They are everything. — James Wood

"Literature has a kind of life of its own, you know," says an Oxbridge don to Charles Highway, Martin Amis's alter ego in The Rachel Papers. "You can't just use it...ruthlessly, for your own ends..." It isn't the vitriol or scabrous wit that bothers readers of Wood's reviews; he's a Royal College surgeon compared to Dale Peck's Hannibal Lecture. What they seem to object to his attempts at pattern recognition, bulk categorization, the better to explain what's gone wrong with a whole host of contemporary authors. ("He doesn't like Don DeLillo — who doesn't like Don DeLillo!?") Wood's crime is hysterical discrimination. It's like watching F.R. Leavis ply his trade in an age in which judgmental has become a dirty word.

EARLIER: Is James Wood Really That Good?
Photo copyright Miriam Berkley [Vulture]
[Observer]