Crowley on Disch

by Henry Farrell on January 17, 2009

“John Crowley”: has a lovely essay on Thomas Disch in the new “Boston Review”: The essay isn’t on the WWW yet (I’ll link to it when/if it does appear), but I wanted to quote this bit about Disch’s _334_ as soon as I read it:

… why did he need the scaffoldings of futurist fiction? We might guess that if he were beginning a writing career now, with dozens of writers taking up and inventing personal worlds in irrealistic modes and nobody minding, he wouldn’t need science fiction. But I think that he was always haunted – and vivified – by the awful and the apocalyptic. In creating the world of _334_, he had the grand sweep of decline and fall, featuring numberless populations and quick-time disasters, that would allow him to admit a competing tendency to generosity and humility in dealing with individual hurt and longing. Posit a future that is cruel enough to be convincingly the future of this bad present – a hard shell for the tender snail of self – and you can bring out from it what matters most to you: the shortened version of things in the world.

When I wrote an “irritated piece”: in response to Benjamin Kunkel’s “silly essay”: last month, I mentioned _334_ as a counter-example to Kunkel’s claims. But Crowley’s summation of Disch (perhaps because it isn’t a polemic or counter-polemic, instead being a sympathetic analysis of a particular aesthetic) says what I was trying to say far better. There isn’t any necessary reason why a particular set of literary tropes and themes _have_ to overwhelm character in dystopian or apocalyptic novels. Instead, as _334_ exemplifies, you can use the tensions between dystopia and the everyday lives of people as a source of art. Which is what _334_ does so well, and why it is a minor masterpiece.


by Henry Farrell on January 17, 2009

I was on C-Span’s _Washington Journal_ this morning, talking about my “piece”: for the _American Prospect_ on partisanship and organizing. Anyone who’s interested can watch it “here”: (from about 1.01.15 for half an hour or so).