Regarding Amanda Claybaugh’s discussion of Tom McCarthy, I never said that McCarthy’s version of the avant-garde represents “the only alternative” to lyrical realism. I said the book Remainder “offer[ed] a glimpse of an alternate road down which the novel might, with difficulty, travel forward.”
Big difference, at least to me.
Also, my strong appreciation of Remainder did not obscure a skepticism towards McCarthy’s avant-garde credentials: “The INS demands that ‘all cults of authenticity . . . be abandoned.’ It does not say what is to be done about the authenticity cult of the avant-garde.”
Finally, Claybaugh argues that some great writers, like Tolstoy and Joyce, effectively transcend the distinction. I think we agree:
“Friction, fear, and outright hatred spring up often between these two traditions—yet they have revealing points of connection. At their crossroads we find extraordinary writers claimed by both sides: Melville, Conrad, Kafka, Beckett, Joyce, Nabokov. For though manifestos feed on rupture, artworks themselves bear the trace of their own continuity.”
— Zadie Smith
MFA = NYC
In February, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs rolled into Washing- ton DC, taking over two hotels not far from where I live. I’d never been before—I’d never wanted to go—but this year I had no good excuse. Proximity is, I suppose, the mother of resignation. Anyway, I was looking over a conference schedule when I thought of your essay “MFA vs. NYC.” The rubric you set out is persuasive, but you miss how the MFA world aspires to be like its more famous, better turned-out cousin NYC. At this year’s AWP, card-carrying members enjoyed readings by such bright young stars of New York publishing as Joshua Ferris and Gary Shteyngart, writers you claim the MFA world ignores as simply too popular, too of the moment. Such featured presenters were joined by Colson Whitehead, Rick Moody, the musician Roseanne Cash, and keynote speaker Jhumpa Lahiri. As you say, there are exceptions, writers who traffic back and forth between the worlds, but with so many exceptions, can there still be rules?