The Real Mr. Difficult, or Why Cthulhu Threatens to Destroy the Canon, Self-Interested Literary Essayists, and the Universe Itself. Finally.


Nick Mamatas in the LA Review of Books:

I MAY AS WELL state my claim in as straightforward a way as possible: H. P. Lovecraft, he of the squamous and eldritch, is wrongly derided as a bad writer. Lovecraft is actually a difficult writer. The previous decade saw a slow-motion dust-up over the notion of difficult writers thanks to Jonathan Franzen’s 2002New Yorker essay “Mr. Difficult: William Gaddis and the Problem of Hard-to-Read Books” and the 2005 rejoinder by Ben Marcus in Harper’s: “Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life as We Know It.” Franzen suggested an age-old conflict between Contract writers who wanted to offer a “good read” to their audiences, and Status writers who pursued an artistic vision to the very limits of the novel-form. Marcus, in his response, pled a case for high modernism, for writers who “interrogate the assumptions of realism and bend the habitual gestures around new shapes.”

Both essays are harmed by the simple fact that Franzen and Marcus are self-interested: Franzen considers himself “a Contract kind of person” and was put out when he received a letter from a reader who complained that his novel The Corrections contained the word “diurnality.” Marcus was put out by Franzen’s essay, labeling his own piece “a response to an attack” from the real status players of literature: the inappropriately named realists who hold experimental fiction of the sort Marcus prefers to write in disdain.

As it has been nine years, surely it is time to plant another flag: Lovecraftian fiction as experimental fiction — that is, the sort of fiction I’ve been known to write. I’ve done a bit of actual experiments: what if we triggered nucleic exchange between Lovecraft and the Beats, or Raymond Carver, or David Foster Wallace, or New Narrative, or or or…? (See my The Nickronomicon.) If there’s a difference between the self-interest in this essay and those of Franzen and Marcus, it’s a simple one: you’ve never heard of me. There’s no reason why you should, as I am a Status writer with no status, a Contract writer who has reneged.

More here.