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Archive for June 19th, 2009

Mea Culpa

with 5 comments

Hal Duncan has written several posts about criticism, authority and prescriptivism. They are very, very long. I am only interested in this one because it mentions me. A couple of years ago I reviewed Vellum for Vector. I concluded the review by saying:

This is not the one great, insurmountable problem with this book though. That problem is simple: it is not a novel. As is increasingly common these days it is instead half a novel, a single work that has been arbitrarily cleaved in two. There is no need for this and, as I have suggested above, it is not as if Duncan doesn’t provide ample opportunity for cuts to be made. Indeed so long and knotted is the book that what is initially a delight to read starts to drag in its final quarter. Once we have struggled through the bewildering, disorienting text with its multiple cul-de-sacs we are rewarded with… nothing. Merely the promise of more to come.

Duncan responds:

This is simply inaccurate. Had the same “shows every sign of being” phrase been included here there would be no issue, but as it stands the review presents a speculation that Lewis does not and cannot know to be true — because it is actually false — as a spurious assertion of “fact”. (In actuality the structural decision to write a diptych of two novels was made after much deliberation, (rather than arbitrarily,) on aesthetic grounds that I considered to outweigh the potential for misreading to occur, (again, rather than arbitrarily,) and with the vast majority of the actual writing still to be done, (which is to say, before there was a coherent novel to be halved, a single work to be cleaved.) Factual error corrected, I’ll make no defensive claims here that Lewis’s impression of a sundered novel is rendered illegitimate by this actuallity. The author is dead. I won’t stink up the room.)

This then is the peril of making assumptions. As it happens, sometime after I wrote that review, I attended an interview Duncan gave where he made clear the level of structural formalism he had brought to the diptych. This was something I missed and although I still find the presentation of the diptych problematic I was clearly wrong here.

Written by Martin

19 June 2009 at 16:48

Posted in criticism, sf

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