A Comment on Anis Shivani

by Nick

If Anis Shivani didn’t already invalidate himself in your mind then here are two things worth mentioning.


1. Master Shiv’s really good at making sweeping statements like “No great American novel ever came out of the second world war either” without having read some of the major contenders in that category or actually naming names. I read over Roxane Gay‘s interview with A.S. at HTMLGiant last night and, uh, welp, “Right now, on one shelf of the bookcase next to my bed, I have these books lined in order:…Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (I still haven’t come to a final conclusion about Pynchon).” Wait, so you’re going to indite post-WWII American fiction without reading what many people put on the short list of most influential novels of the last 40 odd years? Really? It makes me wonder if you’ve read Catch-22 or The Naked and the Dead or The Recognitions. It’s fine if you don’t like those books but at least read them and provide reasons rather than hiding behind presumptuous statements you don’t elaborate on. He also names Omensetter’s Luck as something he hasn’t read yet which further clobbers his credibility. Who’s William Gass? Is he some kinda important person or something?

2. “The responsibility of the critic is to use his preferred set of criteria to judge and evaluate whether or not a work of art is good.”

“If you think Jorie Graham is a good poet, let’s hear it, defeat my propositions, or if you think the Pulitzer Prize is a good barometer of worthy writing, then let’s hear your arguments.”

It doesn’t take much to figure out why these are hopelessly idiosyncratic and allow for Shiv-daddy to object on multiple possible grounds. “Good” in this case is defined by Shiv rather than the critic or author in question. I’m not here to say everything needs to be treated lightly by critics but this is just a matter of aesthetic preference. A better take down of something like the Pulitzer Prize winners might note how the voice and quirkiness of the novels are very similar or how the committee trades difficulty for accessibility to a fault. Gravity’s Rainbow being a good example here since it far surpassed just about everything else released that year. DeLillo’s Mao II  or O’Brien’s The Things They Carried or Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater have all proven more influential than the prize winners of that year. That’s at least a fairer critique less steeped in my own definitions of ambiguous words.

I don’t  disagree with some of the other things said but it’s stupid to sit there and make passes at half a century without reading the big contenders or framing a question in a way that allows you to redefine and alter your original statement.