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Hatchet Jobs: Writings on Contemporary Fiction: Writings on Contemporary Fction (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 1. November 2005

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"Dale Peck may have an ego the size of Montana. He may have annoyed half the known literary world with his screeds on other writers. But he may also be one of our most adventurous and singularly talented writers working today." —San Francisco Chronicle

"Alive, crackling and sparkling with electric energy . . .  Peck’s style is classic American, a jivey mix of rhetoric and spontaneity." —The Washington Post

"Peck challenges received critical wisdom with energy, fire, and unmitigated gall. Behind the loudmouth cynicism is an idealist who’d open a hill of literary oysters in search of a single pearl." —The Boston Globe


Since the publication last year of Hatchet Jobs, the groves of literary criticism have echoed to the clatter of steel on wood. From heated panels at Book Expo in Chicago to contretemps at writers' watering holes in New York, voices, even fists, have been raised. Peck's bracing philippic proposes that contemporary literature is at a dead end. Novelists have forfeited a wider audience, succumbing to identity politicking and self-reflexive post-modernism. In the torrent of responses to this figuration, opinions were not so much divided as cleaved in two with, for example, Carlin Romano contending that "Peck's judgements are worse than nasty - they are hysterical" and Benjamin Schwarz retorting that "in his meticulous attention to diction, his savage with, his exact and rollicking prose, and his disdain for pseudo-intellectual flatulence. Dale Peck is Mencken's heir." Now Hatchet Jobs, with its swinging critiques of the work of among others, Sven Birkets, David Foster Wallace, Philip Roth, Colson Whitehead, Jim Crace, Stanley Crouch, and Rick Moody, is available in paperback.


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Amazon.com: 18 Rezensionen
92 von 99 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Utter hypocrisy 18. Juli 2004
Von TruthWillOut - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
I actually share a large number of the opinions that Peck articulates in this book, and I certainly recognize the absolute necessity for this kind of merciless criticism in such a deluded, hype-driven age. The problem is that Peck doesn't have the credibility to deliver it.
This is not because he is himself a novelist of only mediocre accomplishments--after all, many great critics had no talent for the writing of fiction itself. It is because he is guilty of the same kind of dubious back-scratching and addle-brained marketing hyperbole that is responsible for the degenerate state of contemporary publishing.
In his blurb for Jonathan Safran Foer's _Everything Is Illuminated_ he writes breathlessly that it is the best first novel ever written.
Excuse me?
Now, let's give Peck the benefit of the doubt that he actually believes this and has good reason to do so, although we know that he is a family friend of the Foers' and works together with Jonathan Safran Foer's brother, Franklin, on the staff of The New Republic. Yes, let's forget all that. But has Peck ever heard of _The Tin Drum_ I wonder? That was a first novel. So was _Invisible Man_. So was _Catch-22_. So was _Buddenbrooks_. So was _Amerika_ by Kafka. So was _Wuthering Heights_. And _Sense and Sensibility_. This is, of course, to say nothing of _The Tale of Genji_. The list is long and exceedingly distinguished.
Regardless of what one thinks of _Everything Is Illuminated_ (I personally found it a mixture of cleverness, good intentions, and overweening self-indulgence), to say that it is the best first novel ever written is to say something stupid and irresponsible. Such a statement can only be the product of favoritism or abysmal ignorance--neither of which are qualities I value in a literary critic. When he then goes on to call Rick Moody the "worst writer of his generation" in this book, he demolishes his credibility entirely. Rick Moody is an uneven writer who has written some halfway-decent books. The "worst writer of his generation"? No. That is called "writing for effect." I do not read critics for their pathetic attempts at effect (and exaggeration is the cheapest, most witless form of such)--I read them to find a model of how to be an intelligent, sensitive, and yes, sometimes dismissive, reader. I do not read them to chortle over how much they resemble Fox News commentators. We have enough of that in our society. Too much, in fact.
In order for a critic to earn the right to launch such withering frontal assaults on people who are merely trying to practice their craft, he must demonstrate that he can not only tell good from bad from mediocre, but also that he can tell the great from the "almost-great" and the "merely good." AT THE VERY LEAST, he must desist from the corrupt game of writing meaninglessly effusive blurbs for his friends.
54 von 60 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
A waste of time 8. September 2004
Von Gulley Jimson - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
I remember the moment when I decided that Dale Peck didn't deserve my attention. At the end of a review of a Julian Barnes novel, he said that modern British writing was awful, and then spent a single paragraph naming various writers and insulting them. Ian McEwan's novels stink like old fish, etc. He didn't bother explaining to the reader why he thought this was so: he just made a list and said, these people are bad.

And in review after review, this is his favorite way of working. With the exception of his review of Rick Moody's The Black Veil, which is a legitimate dismantling of a bad book, Peck almost never goes into detail as to why a book isn't worth reading. He just throws around insults. There's nothing wrong with writing a vicious review, but back it up: quote examples, explain why the book is badly written, poorly constructed, unrealistic, anything. A responsible critic like James Wood takes the trouble to do this.

But all we get from Peck are strings of denunciations: "All I'm suggesting is that these writers (and their editors) see themselves as the heirs to a bankrupt tradition. A tradition that began with the diarrheic flow of words that is Ulysses; continued on through the incomprehensible ramblings of late Faulkner and the sterile inventions of Nabokov; and then burst into full, foul life in the ridiculous dithering of Barth and Hawkes and Gaddis, and the reductive cardboard constructions of Barthelme, and the word-by-word wasting of a talent as formidable as Pynchon's; and finally broke apart like a cracked sidewalk beneath the weight of the stupid--just plain stupid--tomes of DeLillo."

If you agree with Peck, then this isn't really illuminating; but if you don't - and think that, let's say, plenty of Barth is not "ridiculous dithering" - then this is useless to you, because Peck doesn't bother defending his claims. That these writers are awful strikes him as self-evident; all he needs to do is say it, and maybe with a writerly flourish, like the bit about a sidewalk cracking under the weight of someone's stupidity.

But clearly, since these writers are not already forgotten, their worthlessness is not self-evident. And if you want to take them apart you have to do it patiently, using analysis instead of playground taunts. BR Myers, for example, also wrote an article that was a rant against the state of modern writing, and went after both Moody and DeLillo, but he took the time to quote sections of prose, and slowly built up his case. It was clear that he had read their books carefully. One wouldn't even have to read the books in question to write some of Peck's reviews: just say "incomprehensible ramblings" and call it a day.

Peck delivers these insults with a great deal of passion, and appears to want to set himself up as some sort of conscience of literature, calling for a return to the authentic. But it's unclear just what he wants, especially when he produces lines like this: "But only after a work of literature has accepted its own failure--has, as it were, elegized its stillborn self--can it begin the complex series of contextual manipulations by which meaning is created and we locate ourselves as surely as the ancient navigators fixed their positions between stars."

Ah yes, that complex series of manipulations. I for one, unlike the ancient navigators, am having trouble locating myself in that sentence, but Peck would probably say that I am merely an idiot. He then goes on to say "Contemporary novels have either counterfeited reality or forfeited it. In their stead we need a new materialism." This is his positive program. Great: come on writers, get on that! Start working on that new materialism.

I don't think Peck is dishonest; he seems to mean these things that he says. He is merely lazy, and won't bother to tell us why he thinks so - and, more importantly, why we should think so too. Don't waste your time on him.
25 von 28 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
He's Tough! He's Angry! He Whines like Andy Rooney! 18. August 2004
Von pnotley@hotmail.com - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Lionel Trilling once spoke, in his somewhat sententious way, of "the Moral Obligation to be Intelligent." This is worth pondering here, because much criticism gains its power from the coherent moral perspective that it offers. One thinks obviously of Trilling's own Cold War Liberalism, Eliot's Anglicanism, the many varieties of Marxism, Oscar Wilde's aesthetics, or the determined relativism of a Stanley Fish. So what is striking about this collection of mostly angry reviews by Dale Peck is the absence of any coherent philosophical or aesthetic perspective. Note that it is the absence of a coherent morality; not the absence of a moralism that could and frequently did disfigure Trilling, Leavis, Eliot, Chesterton and others. It is not that Peck is amoral or nihilistic. His angry comments on the world in his discussion of Rick Moody, his preference for a nuanced homosexual fiction, his criticisms of Julian Barnes and Philip Roth for misogyny reveal a certain left-liberal attitude. But unlike James Wood, Peck does not use literature as a way of illuminating moral questions. Rather this is a book by a promising young novelist which discusses why he dislikes other promising young novelists, such as Jim Crace, Colson Whitehead, David Foster Wallace, and (of course) Moody, as well as slightly more prominent Barnes, Jamaica Kincaid, and Stanley Crouch. Of the books in this review of the past decade's fiction only two, I think, are in any danger of being mistaken for being the best novels of their time: "Infinite Jest" and "American Pastoral." In other words there are no sacred cows here, and little sign of genius discovered.

Nor does Peck seem to have read widely. His references are largely to English literature, and even more so to American fiction. Perhaps the most lively line in this book is about Peck's miserable access to literature when he was growing up in darkest Kansas, where Taylor Caldwell is on the high school reading list, and where he thought Watership Down was the best book he read before going to university and he was right. Unfortunately Peck is not a particularly amusing writer, nor is he a terribly perceptive one. He has a caustic comment on Stanley Crouch ("just another demagogue in an age that confuses demagoguery with honesty") but his account does not really follow it up. Instead there is a criticism of the Emancipation Proclamation of questionable accuracy, a misreading of a metaphor which is based on Peck's ignorance that birds evolved from dinosaurs, and there are the kinds of sententious comments that he criticizes other authors for making ("Ralph Ellison was an individual; Stanley Crouch, his student, is not.")

Several times Peck criticizes authors for using mixed metaphors, but his own work is not immune from them. In the course of castigating Rick Moody, Peck argues that "the murder of innocents" is a redundancy. Clearly it is not, since it is perfectly possible to murder guilty or generally contemptible people. Elsewhere he blames the rise of genre fiction that inflicts "How Stella got Her Groove Back" on the "post-World War II critical establishment," who applaud positive moralistic fiction over "decadent" fiction. What is he talking about? Post-1945 can one imagine any Partisan Review contributor expressing such a preference. The tendency was the exact opposite, as one can see in Macdonald, Howe, Trilling, Rahv, Fielder, Baldwin, and so many others. At one point he dismisses Sven Birkerts as a geriatic twit, the sort of person who makes a fool himself mouthing rap lyrics but really prefers polkas. Then Peck undercuts himself by listing the writers Birkerts has championed: Musil, Mandelstam, Joseph Roth and several other worthy writers, and airily dismisses them. Now Mandelstam is one of the four or five greatest poets of the last century, and if Peck could write a book as deep as "The Radetsky March" or "The Man Without Qualities" or "Life: A User's Manual," reviewers would be ecstatic.

All this leads to Peck's disenchantment with the modern novel, where he argues that everything went downhill after the second half of "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." The geneology runs from "Ulysses" to later Faulkner and later Nabokov down to the experimental mush we have today. There are insulting comments about McEwan, DeLillo, and Franzen, but no real analysis. That's hardly suprising since Peck's geneology makes little sense. Everyone knows Faulkner is uneven and his later work is of finite value, while most people know how to keep the enthusiasts for "Ada" at bay. And to write an autopsy of American literature as if no American writer read Proust, Singer, Kafka, Garcia Marquez, Grass, Naipaul, Vargas Llosa or Appelfeld, while Bellow and Morrison are kept off stage is simply peculiar. Peck starts his book by boldly defending his right to be angry. But the problem with Peck is not that he is critical: it is that he takes easy targets and tries to bludgeon them with wiffle-bats.
15 von 18 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Better than I expected 1. Oktober 2004
Von fml66 - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
It's interesting to me that most of the reader reviews on this book dismiss Peck for tearing apart the writers that they like -- although that is Peck's point.

Peck is a gifted writer, no doubt. However, I find it ironic that Peck considers himself first and foremost a Novelist with a Capital N. This "review" stuff is just a sideline. It's ironic because Peck's novels, for the most part, suck. (To use one of Peck's favorite words.) Has anybody ever actually gotten through one of Peck's doorstops and felt fulfilled at the end? Given that reality, who is Peck to skewer the likes of James Joyce? And to let us know that his "hands [were] literally shaking" while he tore Joyce apart?

On the other hand, Peck's reviews, to my surprise, are on the whole incisive, thoughtful, and yes, iconoclastic (despite being suffused with a maddening self-importance). I expected (given the overwhelmingly negative press this book got when it came out, and the general media perception that Peck is much too full of himself) to dislike these reviews, and there were points in some of them that left me scratching my head and wondering what Peck was thinking when he wrote them.

Peck selects some easy targets (Sven Birkerts? Ethan Mordden?). His characteristically melodramatic announcement at the beginning of the book that he "will no longer write negative book reviews" sounds disingenuous. His claim that he is "by no means convinced of the hallowedness of my own ideas" is belied by the evidence in his own reviews.

But some writers, especially middlebrow tasteful ones, richly deserve being taken down a few pegs, and that's exactly what Peck does, devastatingly, with the likes of Philip Roth ("'American Pastoral' is like watery oatmeal"), Julian Barnes ("seems motivated by nothing more than boredom, decadence, or hubris"), David Foster Wallace ("I resent the five weeks of my life I gave over to reading the thing," i.e., "Infinite Jest"), and, of course, Rick Moody ("a writer of one terrible book after another, but a writer nonetheless").
6 von 7 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Don't waste your time. 27. Januar 2008
Von David M. Giltinan - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
A nasty, boring book in which someone whose talent appears to have sputtered out years ago, attempts to gain some notoriety by taking a hatchet to the work of others.

As other reviewers have noted, Peck's preferred technique is to seek out the worst efforts of the author under 'review', line up a few cheap shots, and use this as an excuse to dismiss the author's entire body of work. The litany of denunciations does not appear to spring from any particularly coherent view of literature - it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the primary motivation is simple the author's own spleen, mixed in with resentment at the success of others. The cumulative effect of so much gratuitous nastiness is to make clear that Peck lacks the one essential quality needed to be an effective critic - that of discernment.

Sour grapes much, Dale? At least Jonathan Franzen has some talent to back up his prickly public persona. With this author there's all the obnoxiousness and very little talent.
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