Really, cycling is not the only thing I do…

I’ve been reading too. And making notes. All of that didn’t make it into the blog.

Spending two days in Brussels at Acting Out Technology ( was very much worth while.

On the first day I delivered a long sort of improvised talk on 1. Latourian Dingpolitik, ANT, Latours definition of a network, and 2. Web 2.0-stuff. For me it functioned (also) as an explanation of the connection between both. A first public attempt at it. It often feels as if I just happen to think about/reseach online collaboration & sharing & publication issues, and am reading Latour at the same time. But both strands inform each other. I hope to be able to ‘pull them together’ in a text too….

The second day it was to art-historian Eric de Bruyn & his talk on the network in the history of art — from roughly Stan VanderBeek and the Eames IBM-pavilion, via Conceptual Art toward Radical Software. (I love all that). Thomas Zummer — also present — came up good issues & explanations & ideas during discussion with the workshop participants. & some of the proposals of the participants were very, very promising. Inspiring.

I read Diderot’s Jacques le fataliste in the new Dutch translation. Further exploring the world 18th century publishing. Also took a look at Tobias Smolett’s ( The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, and some more Samuel Johnson. Just the fun stuff at the side — but what I learn from it spills over into other areas of interest. Early 18th century being, of course, interesting for its changes in the publishing industry, copyright, writers living from what they write for money etc.

And then I picked up Peter Rawlings American Theorists of the Novel, James, Trilling, Booth, from the series Routlede Critical Thinkers ( (Just because it was a recent acquisition of the library). It’s not a very inspiring book, and I wonder why we (or students of literature) would need a guide to James, Trilling and Booth. Whatever you have against Gerard Genette and narratology, the theories from that field go beyond James and Booth if you ask me. Maybe not when you focus on ‘morality’ — a big issue for James, Trilling and Booth, But when it comes to literature & morality, one better picks up Rorty or Nussbaum (and no, I do not particularly like their approaches to literature).

Of course James’ introductions to his novels are monuments. Certainly Trilling wrote inspiring essays (I did not read anything of Trilling). Booth’ Rhetoric of Fiction is a classic — euh, already considered outdated when I studied Literary Theory end of the eighties.

So why did I read this ‘guide’?

1. In contemporary literature (also in the Netherlands) James — and his theories of storytelling — keep popping up. It is as if he is the grand master to whom one has to turn to really learn what it means to write a novel. I want to understand better: why James…? Of course James is great (though I have severe problems enjoying his writing). But he doesn’t particularly strike me as a ‘model’ for contemporary literature. Am I wrong?

2. I’m interested in AmLit. I do like to read the American essayist Leslie Fiedler for instance. I’ve never read anything of Trilling.

And what did I get?

1. A short recap of Jamesian + Boothian theory. Always handy. Also a reconfirmation that I rather turn to Genette, early Barthes, Russian formalism & structuralism or Bachtin for insights.

2. An idea of Trillings position — he is conservative in his thinking about the art of the novel, and progressive in terms of its transforming power. For me the useful eye-opener is Trillings opposition of ‘sincerity’ and authenticity’: ‘sincerity’ as connected to rhetoric, appearance, 18th century literature, persona’s; and ‘authenticity’ as the twentieth century idea of a true inner self (Freud being important for Trilling). Trilling would like literature to be about the discovering of this authenticy — against the ‘unreal sincerity’. (Well, this is from a summary of Trilling, I have not yet read his Sincerity and Authenticity).

In this way my reading of Jacques le Fataliste, and exploration of rhetorics (with its idea of the ‘ethos’ of the speaker), connects nicely with reading through a not so inspiring guide on American theories of the novel…

en,reading matter,research,writing | August 28, 2006 | 17:42 | Comments (3) |


  1. Hi

    I think that you rather misunderstand the target of this series (the undergraduate student); it is not meant to “inspiring.” One has to sacrifice the usual theory-ridden prose in the interest of (more or less straight) communication. I also think that you have attended very carefully to the overall argument, and especially to the chapter on morality (and the later references to Nussbaum). Incidentally, if you think that Booth’s “Rhetoric” is out of date, you have a much more progressivist view of cultural history than I can stomach.

    Peter Rawlings

    comment by Peter Rawlings | 14 September 2006 | 17:06 |
  2. “have attended” should have been “have not attended” (a Freudian slip, perhaps).

    Peter Rawlings

    comment by Peter Rawlings | 14 September 2006 | 17:07 |
  3. Dear Peter,

    my remarks are very offhand & based on a partly very cursory reading of your guide; it’s a blog entry & not so much a review….(I hope this is clear).

    If I was to write a review I would indeed attend more to the overal argument with regard to morality, — go into Nussbaum and Rorty’s use of literature maybe, but this is not at the moment the focus of attention of my research/writing etc.

    & yes, if I was to review the guide I would pay attention to the fact that it is a guide for undergraduates. The book is very clear & useful for the classroom — if one wants or has to teach James – Trilling – Booth.

    Maybe it’s my Continental/European perspective, but I would prefer James – Bachtin – Genette… with a bit of early Barthes thrown in. A different emphasis, maybe a different idea of what literature is anf how it functions. (I’d have to give that more thought).

    And well, I admit, I was never a fan of Booth’ Rhetoric of Fiction…

    comment by Arie Altena | 18 September 2006 | 22:11 |

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