February 3, 2006

I’ll still read your books, Martel!

Posted in literature, novelists, songs at 10:59 pm by Jerry

“…a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest, hmm-mm-mm.” – The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel

Earlier today I went with Becky to the U. of S. to hear Yann Martel speak about the latest book he’s writing. I thought he said a lot of good things, revealing to us a context for making the decision to write a novel about Auschwitz.

He explained that there’s been little fiction written on Auschwitz and said more needs to be created, much like George Orwell’s Animal Farm still tells a story about Stalin’s regime. However, apparently, many have felt that the telling of Auschwitz should be left to mediums such as documentarys or “Representations” like Anne Frank’s work or Schindler’s List.

When the question period started, I asked him, “For those who don’t appreciate a novel being written on Auschwitz, do you think they are afraid of an agenda being written under a cloak of metaphor? And if so, what kind of agendas are they afraid of?”

I did not expect the response I was given. He really didn’t answer my question except for saying such things as, “I already explained this..,” and “Every work of art has an agenda..” And then moved on to another’s question. Normally I would think, “Oh well, he misunderstood my question.” But the tone and pace in Martel’s voice aggravated me. Ask my wife, and she will confirm that the novelist’s tone and pace in his response to me (and the girl before me) was defensive and dismissive, as if I was attacking him with my question.

I just wanted to know why people are giving him a hard time about writing a novel on Auschwitz. I wasn’t personally accusing him of using some underhanded agenda to mislead the masses by twisting the historic truths into something entirely… what? What was he so worried about? He didn’t have anything to prove to me. Wasn’t his Life of Pi success enough?

Nevertheless, I still have a high appreciation for what Yann Martel is trying to accomplish. And I’ll explain more of this in the third and last part of “Theodicy” (quotes & response to Evil in Modern Thought). And I hope all goes well with his next book. But I have to admit, this is the second time I’ve talked with him and have been disappointed with our dialogue.


  1. becky said,

    Ah, insecurity. Welcome to the world of academia!

  2. suzy said,

    Did you piss off an author too?!? My friend “Marta” is good with handing those type of situations. Want her email? (Heehee…)

  3. Randall said,

    I suspect if I was an award winning author, I would retreat into some safe writing space. The negative comments and evaluations of my work by complete strangers would frustrate me continually.

    Like Becky said, insecurity baby!

  4. Jerry said,

    Ya, i’ll keep “Marta” in mind 🙂 Thanks Suzy!

    Hey Randall, nice to hear from you! Didn’t you, among others, prophesy my future of blogging? You’re probably right about Martel. He might just need a break from everyone and find himself a quiet place to write his next book.

  5. Randall said,


  6. Shuana said,

    Life of Pi is a book sitting on my shelf pleading with me to be read…but I’m into building a global/historical understanding of literary criticism at the moment, so..SHHHH! I’ll get to you later!

  7. Jerry said,

    Shuana, I know I’m late in responding to you, so I hope you get this.
    I would love to hear from you what you are learning about literary criticism. One of my hobbies is working on a novel, so I like to keep my eyes and ears open to the literary criticism world.

  8. Shuana said,

    My reading agenda includes: Spiritus Mundi By Northrop Frye. (Actually, I’m re-reading quite a few of his books. I took a seven year hiatus from my BA degree and have forgotton quite a bit.) Also, By Northrop Frye: The Educated Imagination (I finished this one–highly recommended if you are wondering about the relevance of studying literature), and Anatomy of Criticism (a re-read that is well worth it if you are interested in archetypes in literature.) I have a couple of Harold Bloom books: The Western Canon, Where Shall Wisdom be Found, (He is such a great, inspirational writer, and I think there is something to be said for trying to preserve the canon of English Literature inspite of the unpopularity of doing so in our pluralistic society.) After that, I want to look at Derrida some more (Deconstructionist criticism)..and I have yet to chart the rest of this journey through criticism land.

    Hey, I’ve started on a novel too–I don’t know if I have the stick-to-it-ability but I love doing the research! (I’ve had my nose stuck in the Gnostic Gospels this past while.)

  9. Shuana said,

    What am I learning? Historically, (19th C) criticism was philology based: ” Philology is the study of ancient texts and languages. The term originally meant a love (Greek philo-) of learning and literature (Greek -logia). In the academic traditions of several nations, a wide sense of the term “philology” describes the study of a language together with its literature and the historical and cultural contexts which are indispensable for an understanding of the literary works and other culturally significant texts. …” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philology

    Initially, 20th C criticism was linguistics based. New criticism emerged in the 1940s–more of a literary approach exploring the HOW question: how to read a poem. So, explication became the major task of criticism. There are a variety of answers to the question of ‘How’, from pure emotional or aesthetic response, to almost purely “scientific” or systematic study of literature. Frye suggests that literature in itself is a structure and can be studied in sequence, systematically, progressively, and aesthetically.

    I think Bloom endeavors to follow through with Frye’s idea. Also, I think that all of the different criticisms (feminist, queer, new historicism, freudian, deconstructionism etc.) are attempts to define the structure of literature through various lenses. This is a big topic. And now I am coming dangerously close to posting in your blog—sorry 🙂 Thanks for the question. I love good questions, and thinking about good answers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: