Given that most critics are people who have devoted their careers to reading and rereading their favorite books—romantics who pursue the ideal in everything they read—finding Pushkin in Pelham and so on—there is something mysterious and even, as Kundera says, scandalous in Moretti’s willed and scientific choice to read what is formally interesting, with so little regard for what he likes.
If there is one thing I heard a thousand times in Samarkand, it was how they have the greatest bread in Uzbekistan because of their amazingly clean water and air. The famous bread of Samarkand comes in round, flat loaves, known in Russian as lepyoshka. As legend has it, the Emir of Bukhara once summoned the best baker of Samarkand to bake him some Samarkand bread.
Go to Uzbekistan now . . . or you will never get departmental funding ever again?
In the name of science, I recently read from cover to cover the Best American Short Stories anthologies of 2004 and 2005. Many of these stories seemed to have been pared down to a nearly unreadable core of brisk verbs and vivid nouns. An indiscriminate premium has been placed on the particular, the tactile, the “crisp,” and the “tart”—as if literary worth should be calibrated by resemblance to an apple (or, in the lingo of hyperspecificity, a McIntosh). Writers appear to be trying to identify as many concrete entities as possible, in the fewest possible words. The result is celebrated as “lean,” “tight,” “well-honed” prose.
“Indeed,” I finally said, “as a six foot tall first-generation Turkish woman growing up in New Jersey, I cannot possibly know as much about alienation as you, a short American Jew.” He nodded: “So you see the problem.”