David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Tag: david quint

Books of the Year 2014

I had less time for reading this year than I would have liked. When I selected Drago Jancar’s haunting and beautiful The Tree with No Name for Slate’s Overlooked Books, it was still with the knowledge that I’d read a lot less fiction than I’d wanted. And Antal Szerb’s excellent, though modest Journey by Moonlight is a bit of a cheat, since I read it (and wrote about it) when Pushkin Press published it all the way back in 2003, rather than when NYRB Classics reissued it this year. It’s stayed with me, though, so I can pick it with more certainty than some of the other choices.

Seeing Richard McGuire’s long-gestating Here finally be published bookends my reading the original 8 page version in RAW when I was 13, when it changed my life. I wrote about the original Here in 2003 too.

And Alonso de Ercilla’s 1569 Spanish-Chilean epic The Araucaniad has been an alluring title to me since I read about it in David Quint’s fascinating Epic and Empire in connection with Lucan’s Civil War. Quint described The Araucaniad as one of those rare epics that takes the side of the losers, and it’s one of those artifacts, like Lucan’s Civil War, that doesn’t fit neatly with any common sense of literary history. Its relevance stems from its own grim variation on a theme that is at the heart of so many great epics and books: in Quint’s words, “that those who have been victimized losers in history somehow have the right to become victimizing winners, in turn.” It deserves a new translation.

As with last year, I haven’t read the entirety of some of the nonfiction selections: Chris Wickham is an excellent historian but I’m not going to deny that some of his Annales-ish wonkery had my eyes skimming. And while the biology and physics books are pretty interesting, I can’t say with much certainty that they’re accurate.

If anyone’s curious as to why some book or other made the list, feel free to ask in the comments. Thanks again for reading my work here or elsewhere.

(As always, I do not make any money from these links; they’re just the easiest way to get the thumbnails.)


The Araucaniad
Zuniga, Alonso de Ercilla Y; Lancaster, Charles Maxwell (Translator); Manchester, Paul Thomas (Translator)
(Vanderbilt University Press)

Contemporaries and Snobs (Modern & Contemporary Poetics)
Riding, Laura; Heffernan, Laura (Editor); Malcolm, Jane (Editor)
(University Alabama Press)

The Tree with No Name (Slovenian Literature Series)
Jancar, Drago; Biggins, Michael (Translator)
(Dalkey Archive Press)

I Am China: A Novel
Guo, Xiaolu

All Our Names
Mengestu, Dinaw

Foreign Gods, Inc.
Ndibe, Okey
(Soho Press)

A Voice Full of Cities: The Collected Essays of Robert Kelly
Kelly, Robert; Joris, Pierre (Editor); Cockelbergh, Peter (Editor)
(Contra Mundum Press)

Prae, Vol. 1
Szentkuthy, Miklos; Wilkinson, Tim (Translator)
(Contra Mundum Press)

The Time Regulation Institute
Tanpinar, Ahmet Hamdi; Mishra, Pankaj (Introduction); Dawe, Alexander (Translator); Freely, Maureen (Translator)
(Penguin Classics)

The Alp (Swiss Literature Series)
Camenisch, Arno; McLaughlin, Donal (Translator)
(Dalkey Archive Press)

The Stories of Jane Gardam
Gardam, Jane
(Europa Editions)

Harlequin's Millions: A Novel
Hrabal, Bohumil; Knecht, Stacey (Translator)

Journey by Moonlight (NYRB Classics)
Szerb, Antal; Rix, Len (Translator); Orringer, Julie (Introduction)
(NYRB Classics)

In the Heart of the Heart of the Country: And Other Stories (NYRB Classics)
Gass, William H.; Scott, Joanna (Introduction)
(NYRB Classics)

Midnight in the Century (NYRB Classics)
Serge, Victor; Greeman, Richard (Translator); Greeman, Richard (Introduction)
(NYRB Classics)



Time, History, and Literature: Selected Essays of Erich Auerbach
Auerbach, Erich; Porter, James I. (Editor); Newman, Jane O. (Translator); Porter, James I. (Introduction)
(Princeton University Press)

The Classical Tradition: Art, Literature, Thought
Silk, Michael; Gildenhard, Ingo; Barrow, Rosemary

We Are Our Brains: A Neurobiography of the Brain, from the Womb to Alzheimer's
Swaab, D. F.; Hedley-Prole, Jane (Translator)
(Spiegel & Grau)

Inside Paradise Lost: Reading the Designs of Milton's Epic
Quint, David
(Princeton University Press)

Why Is There Philosophy of Mathematics At All?
Hacking, Ian
(Cambridge University Press)

Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon (Translation/Transnation Book 35)
Cassin, Barbara (Editor); Apter, Emily (Editor); Lezra, Jacques (Editor); Wood, Michael (Editor)
(Princeton University Press)

A World without Why
Geuss, Raymond
(Princeton University Press)

From Akhenaten to Moses: Ancient Egypt and Religious Change
Assmann, Jan
(The American University in Cairo Press)

The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself
Pettegree, Andrew
(Yale University Press)

Social Dynamics
Skyrms, Brian
(Oxford University Press)

Absolute Music: The History of an Idea
Bonds, Mark Evan
(Oxford University Press)

Common Knowledge?: An Ethnography of Wikipedia
Jemielniak, Dariusz
(Stanford University Press)

Science and Emotions after 1945: A Transatlantic Perspective
Biess, Frank (Editor); Gross, Daniel M. (Editor)
(University of Chicago Press)

July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914
Otte, T. G.
(Cambridge University Press)

The Logical Must: Wittgenstein on Logic
Maddy, Penelope
(Oxford University Press)

After Hegel: German Philosophy, 1840-1900
Beiser, Frederick C.
(Oxford University Press)

Pay Any Price
James Risen; Christopher Lane (Reader)
(Brilliance Audio)

Becoming Mead: The Social Process of Academic Knowledge
Huebner, Daniel R.
(University of Chicago Press)

The Congress of Vienna: Power and Politics after Napoleon
Vick, Brian E.
(Harvard University Press)

Children into Swans: Fairy Tales and the Pagan Imagination
Beveridge, Jan
(McGill-Queen's University Press)

Earth's Deep History: How It Was Discovered and Why It Matters
Rudwick, Martin J. S.
(University of Chicago Press)

Forensic Shakespeare (Clarendon Lectures in English)
Skinner, Quentin
(Oxford University Press)

The Computing Universe: A Journey through a Revolution
Hey, Tony; Pápay, Gyuri
(Cambridge University Press)

In Other Shoes: Music, Metaphor, Empathy, Existence
Walton, Kendall L.
(Oxford University Press)



Here (Pantheon Graphic Library)
McGuire, Richard

Beautiful Darkness
Vehlmann, Fabien; Kerascoët; Dascher, Helge (Translator)
(Drawn and Quarterly)

Hubert; Kerascoët (Illustrator)
(NBM Publishing)

Dungeon: Twilight – Vol. 4: The End of Dungeon (4)
Sfar, Joann; Trondheim, Lewis; Alfred (Illustrator); Mazan (Illustrator)
(NBM Publishing)

Sam Zabel And The Magic Pen
Horrocks, Dylan

Incomplete Works
Horrocks, Dylan
(Victoria University Press)

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth: A Novel
Greenberg, Isabel
(Little, Brown and Company)

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth: A Novel
Greenberg, Isabel
(Little, Brown and Company)

Perfect Nonsense: Chaotic Comics and Goofy Games of George Carlson
Carlson, George; Carlson, George (Artist)
(Fantagraphics Books)

Weapons of Mass Diplomacy
Lanzac, Abel; Blain, Christophe (Illustrator); Gauvin, Edward (Translator)

David Quint on Structuralism and New Historicism and Theory in General

David Quint, in his estimable book Epic and Empire, argues against the totalizing tendency of much literary theory and criticism of the 20th century. He speaks of poststructuralism and New Historicism but the general argument could apply to any number of other theories as well. (This is, essentially, what I criticized Derrida for doing in his attack on Husserl.)

I register here my methodological distance from, while acknowledging my indebtedness to, a poststructuralist critical practice that, in turning literary studies back toward history, has incorporated the models of structuralist anthropology. In this line of work, which is sometimes broadly called New Historicism, the literary text is one of an array of cultural products that share a single deep structure or mentality.

My reservations about this practice are partly conditioned by the more local explanations I have arrived at concerning epic and its relationship to the political order. In the widely conceived web of intertextual relationships that constitute the structuralist-historicist slice of history—in which all components of the culture are presupposed to develop at more or less the same rate at any historical moment—the literary text seems capable of being linked with almost any other text of the culture, and there appears to be no control to determine the juxtaposition. The text’s own explicit allusive network becomes only one element of this intertextuality, and certainly not a privileged one. Politics, too, the social disposition of coercive power, becomes one more product of this patterned mentality or “poetics.” That is, politics is necessarily aestheticized by the interpreter. It is one thing to acknowledge that power to some degree depends on the manipulation of semiotic and symbolic order—I do, in fact, argue this—but quite another to conflate the two.

Furthermore, attention to synchronous historical relationships can cause the text’s participation in a diachronic literary history to be overlooked.

David Quint, Epic and Empire (14)

Similar points have been made by many critics of such overarching theories, but this is the most compact statement of the critique that I’ve seen, so I thought it deserved quoting. The underlying irony Quint seems to emphasize is that the conflation of power and semiotics is, in fact, a semiotic power grab.

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