American Energies: Essays on Literature

Overview

Award-winning writer Sven Birkerts takes on contemporary American fiction in this provocative new collection of essays. In these insightful pieces, Birkerts evaluates the postmodern literary scene and the effect the media, especially television, have had on the way we think and write. The most crucial essay, "The Talent in the Room," sets the theme for the book, as Birkerts discusses the diminished possibilities for the "great American novel" to be written. The essential connection between past and present has ...
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Overview

Award-winning writer Sven Birkerts takes on contemporary American fiction in this provocative new collection of essays. In these insightful pieces, Birkerts evaluates the postmodern literary scene and the effect the media, especially television, have had on the way we think and write. The most crucial essay, "The Talent in the Room," sets the theme for the book, as Birkerts discusses the diminished possibilities for the "great American novel" to be written. The essential connection between past and present has been severed, he argues, and a sense of history and depth, and the distinctions between high and low culture, have faded, only to be replaced with a glut of information from the computer age and the homogenized forces of television and mass communication. In other essays, Birkerts examines the diversity of the novelistic styles of such established writers as Philip Roth, Norman Mailer, Thomas Pynchon, and Don DeLillo, and such writers just beginning to gain reputation as Paul Auster, Leslie Marmon Silko, and David Foster Wallace. American Energies confirms Birkerts's stature as one of the major essayists of our time.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Birkerts's ( The Electric Life ) case against the main trend in contemporary American fiction need only be stated to be persuasively argued against: that the postmodern reality is a blight for writers. Today's novelist contends with a ``depersonalizing force that grows exponentially every time the microchip is further refined''22 and with the complete triumph of television, which has trained a generation of novelists--and readers--in a ``death-dealing aesthetic of flatness.''310 Birkerts has little hope of reversing the main trend; he's content to note and praise writers of the countervailing ones who probe and assimilate experience and deliver a ``skilled stacking of clauses''310 amid a ``bob and weave of syllables.''289 Barth, Updike and Oates are among those he admits to his canon?or some such? , but his loudest praise is for the neglected and unknown: Jack Pulaski ( The St. Veronica Gig Stories )289 and Alfred Alcorn ( The Pull of the Earth )310 , among others. Since most of these essays have been previously published, (the Nation , Ploughshares , etc.), we find the critic recapitulating his central jeremiad in individual reviews again and again--but not really amplifying it. The reading list is enticing, but Birkerts's short takes on fiction unfortunately serve in lieu of full-length, interlocking analysis. (June)
Library Journal
Award-winning critic Birkerts here lends his voice to the ongoing cultural conversation about the present state and direction of American fiction. While writers like John Aldridge (in Talents and Technicians , LJ 3/15/92) and Tom Wolfe (in his notorious Harper's essay) have blamed shopping-mall minimalism for its impoverishment, Birkerts argues that contemporary writing is more vital than generally believed. He traces his thesis through three sections: ``Backgrounds'' examines the influence of nostalgia, word processing, and electronic media on writing and reading in America; ``American Fictions,'' which contains the book's finest essays (``The Talent in the Room'' and ``Paranoids and Intellectuals''), explores recent literary successes and failures; and ``American Writers'' reviews the works of those Birkerts sees as instrumental to the future of American fiction. Although uneven in quality, these essays make a compelling argument for the vitality of our national fiction. Recommended.-- Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Westerville P.L., Ohio
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688106126
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/1/1992
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Pages: 413

Table of Contents

Preface 7
Backgrounds
Postmodernism: Bumper-Sticker Culture 17
The Totalized World: A Note 33
The Nostalgia Disease 36
The Second Time Around: (Richard Goldstein) 45
The Boomers Go Bust: (Terry Teachout) 50
The Hipness unto Death: (Mark Crispin Miller) 56
Amusing Ourselves to Death: (Neil Postman) 63
Objections Noted: Word Processing 69
The Orwell Mystique (John Rodden) 74
Highbrow/Lowbrow (Lawrence W. Levine) 81
Teaching in a Video Age 86
American Fiction
The Talent in the Room/ with Postscript 105
Paranoids and Intellectuals: Keepers of the Flame 129
Fiction in a Media Age 146
The School of Lish 155
Writing Black: (Gayl Jones) 168
Destinies of Character: A Reading: (Anne Tyler) 174
American Writers
Henry Miller 183
Walker Percy 189
Jack Kerouac 196
William Styron 203
James Salter 210
Richard Stern 214
William Kennedy 221
Paule Marshall 227
Harold Brodkey 231
Paul West 238
John Barth 245
John Updike 251
Norman Rush 255
Philip Roth 260
Don DeLillo 266
Thomas Pynchon 272
Joyce Carol Oates 275
Alan Lelchuk 280
Russell Banks 286
Jack Pulaski 295
Lynne Sharon Schwartz 301
Frederick Busch/Elizabeth Spencer 304
Larry Woiwode 309
Jonathan Strong/Andre Dubus/Alfred Alcorn 316
J. California Cooper 323
A Postscript on Black American Fiction 330
Paul Auster 338
Leslie Marmon Silko 347
W. D. Wetherell 354
Rebecca Goldstein 360
Nicholson Baker 365
Allen Kurzweil 370
Ethan Canin/Mona Simpson/Brett Easton Ellis/Jill Eisenstadt 374
Madison Smartt Bell/Debra Spark 380
David Foster Wallace 386
Index 393
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