“Things to avoid in literature”:

March 29, 2010

[As per Adolfo Bioy Casares, “Libros y amistad”, La otra aventura, Buenos Aires: Galerna, 1968 and quoted Alberto Manguel, The Library at Night, New Haven and London: Yale U P, 2008: 221-222]:

  • psychological curiosities and paradoxes: murders through kindness, suicides through contentment;
  • surprising interpretations of certain books and characters: the misogyny of Don Juan, etc.;
  • twin protagonists too obviously dissimilar: Don Quixote and Sancho, Sherlock Holmes and Watson;
  • novels with identical twin characters, like Bouvard and Pécuchet. […]
  • characters depicted through their peculiarities, as in Dickens;
  • anything new or astonishing. Civilized readers are not amused by the discourtesy of a surprise;
  • idle games with time and space: Faulkner, Borges, etc.;
  • the discovery in a novel that the real hero is the prairie, the jungle, the sea, the rain, the stock market;
  • poems, situations, characters with which the reader might–God forbid!–identify;
  • phrases that might become proverbs or quotations; they are incompatible with a coherent book;
  • characters likely to become myths;
  • chaotic enumeration;
  • a rich vocabulary. Synonyms. Le mot juste. Any attempt at precision;
  • vivid descriptions, worlds full of rich physical details, as in Faulker;
  • background, ambience, atmosphere. Tropical heat, drunkenness, the voice on the radio, phrases repeated like a refrain;
  • meteorological beginnings and endings. Pathetic fallacies. “Le vent se lève! Il faut tenter de vivre!”;
  • any metaphors. Particularly visual metaphors. Even more particularly, metaphors drawn from agriculture, seamanship, banking. As in Proust;
  • anthropomorphism;
  • books that parallel other books. Ulysses and the Odyssey;
  • books that pretend to be menus, photo albums, road maps, concert programs;
  • anything that might inspire illustrations. Anything that might inspire a film;
  • the extraneous: domestic scenes in detective novels. Dramatic scenes in philosophical dialogues;
  • the expected. Pathos and erotic scenes in love stories. Puzzles and crimes in detective stories. Ghosts in supernatural stories;
  • vanity, modesty, pederasty, no pederasty, suicide.

Manguel, of course, observes that at the end of this proscription lies “the absence of any literature” at all. [Oh ha!]

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