Monthly Archives: November 2008

Kill the Meme

Let’s preserve this comment over at Open Letters Monthly …

… before it’s deleted:


It’s absurd to critique this book with the self-aggrandizing zeal that debuts are too often punished with (”Amidst all this fumbling by the two inexperienced writers…”). The many typos and formatting errors on display don’t help; ditto with identifying Andrew as an “editorial intern” who has “worked” (in what capacity?) for…

Andrew launches a line-item critique: “The Hemingway/Dashiell Hammett imitation is obvious in the deliberately artless repetition of the word ‘bar’ in the two consecutive sentences,” introducing the next snippet with an unedited sentence at the core of which is a gratingly oxymoronic formulation: “The next page features a precursor to the casual hyperbole and outrage that powers so much of Burroughs later work”, and then *tops* it, in the field of unedited ugliness, with: “Of course, his later work would have probably substituted that Hemingway aping in the final line for something about the sailors’ ‘jissom soaked anal rampaging’ through Brooklyn or some such thing, but at this point Burroughs does not yet have the imaginative confidence to do any more than lay the foundation for his later.”

I could assume that premature full stop was an act of clemency, though Andrew goes on to write, “The weirdest thing about this plot development is that Burroughs actually was a private detective for a time during this period of his life—perhaps he himself was suddenly hired by an agency after forgetting he’d applied with forged documents,” betraying a “weird” obliviousness to the fact that it’s a circumstance of profound banality that autobiographical splinters and echoes often make their way into art.

I bought “And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks” as a curiosity on two levels: 1) as Burroughs/Kerouac juvenilia and 2) as a time capsule from early postwar Bohemia.

Any reviewer with the good grace to bear in mind that this is the early work of two (now dead) men who went on to write books of some interest to quite a few people (ie, the reviewer’s capacity as instructor-to-the-novelist is nil, here) and who can provide *little-known* tidbits (about the writers and the era) with which I can enrich my reading… is providing a genuine service and is most welcome. In contrast… (and so on).

Andrew, this review fails on many levels. The first failure, though, is its unearned smugness. Unearned smugness is becoming the critical default of the Litbloggerverse. Kill the meme, improve the content.