I do not have to tell you about the devices we all carry around in our pockets. You know all about these devices, and you have already read all of the arguments about what they are doing to our attention spans, our privacy, our peace, our stillness. You know that we turn to these devices to enliven every last fraction of a second that is not already consumed with the jobs we work too-long hours at, the affairs we squeeze into the minutes after we leave, the hobbies and secret passions we fill in around the edges of the affairs, and the metric tons of consumer entertainment that slurries into the crevices not already occupied. You know this all. I only want to say to you that these pocket devices are but the latest iterations of technologies we have been made to carry around in our pockets, so to speak, for some time now. These devices and their ubiquity are tokens of the lust for novelty that is bred within us all.
Every last one of us is doing our best to keep from doing nothing. All day, every day, we are cramming every last second of our lives full with purpose. I do it, you do it, we all do it. And I would like to ask: When was the last time you sat absolutely still with no purpose in your body whatsoever? Were you attempting to fall asleep? Meditating? Were you stuck in a meeting? Squeezed into the middle seat of a jetliner? How did you feel at that time, and what did you think about?
I am as invested as anyone in this rush to fill my days with motion. I do it in all the ways one tends to—I have a job, I have a passion, I have a partner, I have media, and I have a phone. I also have books. For at least the last fifteen years of my life, books have existed as a unique node in this nexus of purpose-seeking.
I always open a book in hopes of finding something that I have never, ever seen before. That’s a tall order, especially when you consider that centuries before the life of Christ it had already become a truism among the wizened heads that everything worth saying had already been said. Books are where I turn to know my own thoughts better, and where I go to derail those thoughts from the same trajectories they have followed for ages. They are where I discover new uses for language. They are where I learn about the world and its inhabitants. They are where I become inspired by the creativity and diversity humans have ceaselessly exhibited for the 5,000 years we have been writing things down on permanent surfaces.
Perhaps most of all, books are the place where I find stillness in motion. “Poetry makes nothing happen,” wrote Auden. One hundred years before him Shelley wrote that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” From nothing to everything, absurdly lot of ground, but it gets a whole lot less absurd if you consider that both of them might have been talking about poetry’s effects on the same space: those several inches between your two ears. Because it’s true—if you videotaped me reading poetry it would look like almost nothing was happening. But if you could videotape the inside of my skull in those same moments, you would see that everything was being legislated.
I have words for a book that can make my mind function in a way it’s never functioned before. I call it fever, I call it silence, I call it novelty. These are not the words we generally use; it is much more normal to stigmatize such books as “difficult.” I myself admit to probably having called a book “difficult” several times in just the last week. It’s one of the most commonly used clichés, a thing that just slips in whether we like it or not. Even a true believer in avant-garde fiction like Ben Marcus happily ghettoizes novel literature. He did precisely this while trying to defend it against its leading antagonist. I speak of Marcus’s famous Harper’s essay, where he rebutted Jonathan Franzen’s assault on William Gaddis and all the head-throbbing modernism he represented.
The fact that somebody like Marcus resorted to the language of difficulty to defend great literature speaks to just how pervasive this nomenclature is. If you read Marcus’s essay, you will find it full of pain-is-gain metaphors. We Gaddis-readers are ninja-like daredevils, taut, muscular minds capable of submitting even the most recondite grammar to unflinching code-breaking. We scale the sheer granite face of Mt. Musil, using every last ounce of our strength to claw our way to comprehension. Contemporary “difficult” novelists like Gary Lutz and David Markson are “weapons-grade experimentalists.” I appreciate Marcus’s effort to glamorize us all, but his efforts feel a little too much like the political left, always eager to appropriate the tactics of the right in its attempt to persuade voters. I get it—he wants to reclaim the word difficult, to make it a good thing. I suppose that’s an honorable pursuit, but it cedes far too much ground: it puts Marcus in the odd position of trying to out-macho Franzen, and it implicitly endorses the idea that literature can only be great if it conforms to certain masculine stereotypes of greatness. And plus, it’s just trivial. I mean: weapons-grade experimentalists? Are we all adolescents scratching at our acne?
Susan Sontag found much more interesting things to say about this subject in her essay on the aesthetics of silence. Alas, she too chose a martial metaphor, but at least she put a much more interesting weapon into the author’s hand: “the ultimate weapon in the artist’s inconsistent war with his audience is to verge closer and closer to silence.” Sontag meant a metaphorical silence—a tendency toward inscrutability, toward creating a private language impermeable to outsiders. Although these works would initially cause much confusion, Sontag reassures us that “the isolation of the work from its audience never lasts.” Readers will always find their way in to a text—presuming there is something to be found in there—and with time books that were once foreign and confusing will lose their silence. It is then up to the next generation of artists to find new forms of silence. And, indeed, we see this happening: once on the margins of literature, Ulysses is now canonized and taught at universities everywhere; such canonization means that contemporary novels that use similar tactics to disrupt a reader’s expectations—like Infinite Jest—can quickly become market successes that travel well beyond self-identified aesthetes. Authors looking to fall silent will have to turn elsewhere.
According to Sontag’s aesthetics, Marcus would be intrigued to comprehend the artist’s disappearance toward silence, Franzen would be put off by the effort required. I prefer this framing much more than “Marcus likes difficult literature, Franzen doesn’t.” Because, first of all, it’s not clear to me that the kind of books Marcus likes are objectively more challenging. And also, Sontag’s framing doesn’t imply that any particular book is beyond a reader’s talents; nor does it summarily reduce a novel’s worth to some trivial realization made in the closing pages, as Franzen unfairly does to Gaddis again and again. Instead, reading is seen as a book-length dialogue, an aspiration to understand, not a moral to be gotten.
Perhaps best of all, it does away with the silly metaphors of muscle-building in favor of something much more mysterious. And I like this because I simply do not believe that literature is about inflicting pain, choosing elites, or providing utility. When we talk about those things, we are not talking about great books; we are talking about something else—namely, we are talking about the market, in the language of the market. Sontag’s aesthetics of silence take us one step away from such capitalistic language of economy—and one step toward whatever we are talking about when we talk about literature. I want to keep going. I want us to find language so generalized that it is broad enough to describe anyone who has ever been enlivened by a great book, but so exact that it still speaks to those things that literature does better than anything else. I want this language to replace our clichés.
Here’s what I say. We are all in search of something new. We all know this, and we have the cell phones in our pockets to prove it. Life has a tendency toward dullness and repetition—that dreadful conversation you have every Monday with the same coworker, that loathsome line at the supermarket, the sugary breakfast cereal you consume every morning. Moreover, many of the things we do to break up the monotony are ritualized into their own sort of tedium, like watching sports events, listening to the drone of cable news, or having a cigarette break (if any of you still smoke). It’s not that any of this is good or bad, per se; this is simply what it is to be living in a technologically advanced, capitalistic society. This is the baseline reality that we all exist within.
But of course, we are offered lots and lots of ways to liven things up. You can buy a whole bunch of different sugary breakfast cereals in colorful boxes that feature whimsical drawings of pirates and leprechauns. Maybe a fight will break out at the latest football match, or one player will head-butt another. You can try to smoke marijuana instead of tobacco. You can download more and more pointless apps for your cell phone.
I think what this comes down to is that we are all in search of novelty: something that is genuinely new, at least to you. At its truest and its hottest, novelty can be unforgettable. This is a thing you’ve never, ever experienced before, that you can barely understand. Your initial encounter with Pynchon, the first time you made out with someone you were passionate about, or learning to ice skate. To this day I retain striking memories of all of these experiences. I think true novelty is one of the noblest goods a human being can aspire to. You can actually feel the process of attempting to get your body and mind accustomed to something it’s never done before. It’s a tactile experience that involves all of your senses and imprints itself on your mind. This is wonderful, but we frighten people off from it: in the literary realm, novelty is where all the scare words come in. Work and pain and strain and labor and all that. I don’t see it that way. It can take me an hour to experience just a few pages of a very, very novel text—an hour that I barely notice passing—and at the end of it I come away replenished, as though my mind has managed to latch on to something entirely outside of anything it has ever experienced before.
When I think of novelty in art, I think of the afternoon I spent at the Centre Pompidou, known widely as the place to go in Paris (and thus the world) for the most aggressively avant-garde works of art imaginable. The architecture of Centre itself is purposely bizarre, part amusement park carnival, part inside-out skyscraper. And within the Centre you find the canonization of relentless silence-seeking. During my afternoon there, I stared and stared into things I hardly understood, things that absorbed my gaze and would not let go. I don’t know that I comprehended a fifth of what I saw that day, but the point is that I could just keep looking at these things, for dozens of minutes at a time, just absorbed by these oils that someone had put onto a stretched piece of linen, these absurd spaces and forms that people had built for me to interact with. When I finally stepped out of this haze of thought to look at my watch, I simply could not believe what it was telling me. The entire day had passed and I was late for an appointment with friends. I asked more than one person in my horrible French to tell me the time, because it did not seem possible that so many hours had passed. I had not experienced time in that way for weeks.
This is novelty. If it weren’t so incompatible with the prospects of earning a living in a capitalist society, this would be the way I would choose to spend the majority of my hours on Earth. I found it that afternoon at the Centre Pompidou, and I find it again and again in novel literature. The advantage books have over the Centre Pompidou is that I can take them with me: they are always waiting to absorb my focus and to provide me with that motion in stillness. Sontag speculates that, “perhaps the quality of the attention we bring to bear on something will be better (less contaminated, less distracted) the less we are offered.” That is, the closer art is to that metaphorical silence, the better and more absolute will be the attention that we can focus on it. That is precisely my experience of the art of which she speaks. A less contaminated, less distracted stillness that grows in proportion to the silence it attempts to pierce.
I think our reliance on the clichés of difficulty has much to do with novelty being contrary to what we need to do to get by. Novelty, as I experienced it in the Centre Pompidou, is very hard to monetize. Its benefits are very hard to quantify. Spending all your time absorbed by novelty is deleterious to maintaining an active social life. It’s virtually impossible to earn a living if you spend all your time trying to make such art. True novelty is just a sort of haze of experience that affects you in some profound way, but is so personal and mysterious that you have a hard time ever articulating it, even to yourself.
I am reminded of a story I recently read on a website called Marketwatch. This story explained to me that reading fiction can improve empathy. It was a proven fact—the scientific method had determined that books could do this. This was relevant because Marketwatch was reporting on a new finding that only 47 percent of Americans had read a novel, play, or poem in 2012, down from 50 percent in 2008. The argument was simple: you can get a tangible benefit out of fiction—in this case, greater empathy. This benefit could make reading more competitive with other entertainment options. Reading could improve its market share.
I was struck by the fact that this article never tried to account for the utilitarian benefits of much more widespread forms of entertainment, like professional basketball or a Hollywood action movie. I’ve read a lot of articles like the Marketwatch one, and I’ve noted that none of them ever do this. Never is an NBA playoff game or a blockbuster movie expected to explain its reason for existing, its benefits to the consumer. They only ever try to make novel art account for its purpose. Maybe this is the divide we’re really speaking of when we invoke that binary, high and low. Perhaps we are talking about ways of filling our free time that need no justification, and those that do.
And this, I think, points to another problem with the way we talk about novel literature: when the market validates something, its utility is taken as a given. It’s only when you can barely it give away that we start to ask, well, what does it do? But why do we only dredge up this question for the market failures? We very well might ask why a person would spend their hard-earned money on a beverage purposely engineered to have no nutrition whatsoever, and filled with chemicals that no one really understands. Or why people pack the multiplexes to see the latest sequel in a commoditized media property thoroughly denounced by critics and consumers alike and known to simply be a projection of its own marketing hype.
I mean these statements in a strictly rhetorical sense. I don’t really expect people to justify why they drink Diet Coke or why they watch Pirates of the Caribbean. I just want art to be accorded the same privilege. If anything, art deserves that privilege more than anything else—talking about art with the language of utility is pointless, because the purpose of art is never known. This is exactly what keeps it perpetually innovating, and what makes it unique. If there were a purpose to it, then artists could just build it better and better, like the latest brand of toilet. In MFA classes they could give you a textbook with diagrams that show you how to make it. This isn’t how art works. Art doesn’t set out to do anything in particular, and neither does it set out to achieve some sort of benefit for the consumer. This is precisely what makes it different than any other category of item that humans make.
I would argue that the latest comic book franchise reboot doesn’t exactly set out to do much for the consumer either, other than offer a couple of hours of distraction from whatever life problems one has. But here’s the difference: you can just slump down in the darkened theater with your pound of buttered popcorn and gallon of soda and space out while the images scream across the screen. With novel literature, on the other hand, you can still consume the popcorn and the soda, but you are the one who has to provide the forward momentum.
This is a framing that sounds elitist, and I’m not trying to construct an elitist argument. I think this is more an argument about technology: movies and TV are electronic devices where the energy generated by burning coal is used to propel your entertainment forward. With books, the onus is on you to move your eyes and turn the page. Literature is nearly unique in this way; even live theater or a symphony orchestra relies on the energy of someone other than its audience. The closest equivalent I can think of is graphic art: the artwork just sits there while you have to traverse the space around it and stare into it. Somehow, the fact that you have to provide the energy to the artwork—rather than vice versa—is seen as some kind of a defect, the thing that makes it “difficult.” Of course, there are books that give you a feeling more akin to the cinema: when you become immersed in a page-turner (note the name), you begin to feel that sense of flow and self-propulsion that’s native to film. The so-called difficulty slips off amid that quasi-sense of free propulsion that makes cinema such a relaxing, immersive experience.
This is not an argument against action movies. Cinematic spectacles have their place in our world. Elitist French theorists like Roland Barthes and Jean Baudrillard loved them and argued for their relevance. They’re often lots of fun. Even when they’re truly nothing more than disposable entertainment, that’s okay—except for the true ascetics out there, we all need to slump down and consume at certain points in the week. My problem isn’t with the superhero movie, per se, it’s with the double standard that makes novel literature explain itself while the movie’s worth is taken as self-evident.
I hope I’m making it clear to you that I don’t believe in the mercantile, high/low dichotomy on which this double-standard rests. Plenty of people are capable of responding to both Pirates of the Caribbean and The Recognitions in interesting ways. I fully believe that you can have a meaningful experience with either. And don’t forget that plenty of entertainment that was considered “low” in its time—Shakespeare, anyone?—is now thought of as high art. The Iliad was originally a roaring, gruesomely violent yarn told to entertain macho aristocrats. Beethoven borrowed from a tavern song to write a symphony that has become synonymous with great art in every corner of the globe.
At root, this is a matter of framing. Many of the same people who watch the action movie but despise Gaddis are also doing things like raising children, trying to make their marriage work, and navigating loathsome bureaucratic snarls. Every year people who don’t particularly care about literature invest themselves in the process of learning to speak and write successfully in the English language. None of these are simple matters. They all require a great deal of ingenuity and perseverance. They all seem rather difficult to me—and, remember, many people who wrote great literature were utter failures at these tasks. I think the issue is: these people can buy in to the logic of raising children, they can see the logic of going to watch a diverting movie, or coming to America to learn English. This logic is self-evident because our capitalist system is constructed to make it self-evident. It provides a place for these endeavors and gives you plenty of rationales to explain why you choose to pursue them, why you persevere. This can even be the case with great art, sometimes. Every December, people who never otherwise listen to classical music or give a damn about the ballet go and watch The Nutcracker, and they love it. Other people who only go to the theater once a year watch “A Christmas Carol.” They do it because these extraordinary works of art have been ritualized into a part of modern culture. Society has given them a space.
But we don’t do this for novel literature, or at least not on the scale of The Nutcracker. Society isn’t there implicitly making that case. There’s no annual Avant-Garde Fiction Day to carve out space for David Markson. And even if there were, it wouldn’t be about joyously taking your children to perpetuate a holiday tradition. It would be some sad person droning on about how so-and-so thematizes ideas of subversion and decay. Indeed—it’s a shame when higher education, one of the few societal spaces left for novel literature, aids and abets the agents of difficulty, making something so ravishing as Joyce into dull coursework. And this is the problem: everybody, from novel literature’s assailants to its defenders, is telling us that it’s some stress-inducing chore that we only choose to do for our personal edification. Everywhere we turn, those same high/low, difficult/easy binaries.
In a sense, having someone like myself make this argument is a bad idea. The “use” of literature is very clear to me—it helps me develop my own art, and I can use my knowledge of it to earn a (modest) living. I’ve long since been brainwashed into this lifestyle, so much that it’s a considerable challenge to imagine the mind of someone who couldn’t tell you who William Faulkner was to save her life. I don’t really know much about that person, but one thing I’m pretty sure of is that the language of utility isn’t going to do much for her. That person doesn’t go to a baseball game because she wants to achieve some sort of tangible life purpose. It’s just what you do—you watch sports, you go see the latest blockbuster film, you grimace at the politicians on late night cable news. These are all activities that produce no tangible benefit to anyone—studies have shown that cable news actually makes people less informed. But that has not kept them from colonizing the majority of the “free time” of the society in which I live. I want a language of criticism that understands how to talk about novel literature on these terms. Because if you try to sell this person literature based on the idea that it’ll increase your empathy, or that it can be a conversation-starter with Joe from the next cubicle over, or that it’s going to build the muscles of your brain (whatever that means), you’ve greatly mistaken your task.
There is a thing Borges once said that has always stuck with me: he was giving a lecture, and he exhorted his listeners to not deny themselves the aesthetic bliss of reading Dante. To not read him was “to submit to a strange asceticism.” I think the old man was even in earnest when he said this! He just couldn’t believe that anybody on Earth wouldn’t want to enjoy The Divine Comedy. “It is not difficult to read,” he added. “What is difficult is outside of the reading: the opinions, the discussions.” I do believe that was what finally got me to read Dante. The way Borges effortlessly thrust aside every single thing anybody had ever told me about it—it’s hard, it’s obscure, it’s weird, it’s scary, it’s old, it’s in meter—and just said: for God’s sake, man, don’t deny yourself this pleasure! I think we all need to be a little more like Borges. We all need to get in touch with that headspace where it is an unthinkable act of deprivation to deny oneself the bliss of novel literature.
What Borges understood was wonder. And when I think back to the years when I began to regard myself as a serious reader of literature, I think my motivations came back to wonder as well. I wanted to belong to this club of people who discussed these books in hushed tones, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about for myself. So I did the only thing I could—I threw myself into the task. I remember what happened to me the spring I first read Mrs. Dalloway. This was not a straightforward experience; but neither, honestly, was watching my first baseball game. That first game was as foreign as any esoteric novel from Eastern Europe—I had no idea what was happening on the field: some guy was throwing a ball, and some other guy was swinging a stick of wood. Everyone else was standing still and looking as confused as I was (they were all tiny, by the way, since I was a good fifty yards away from the closest one of them). Which is to say, I had yet to figure out what was going on in the players’ minds, to the point where I could anticipate their actions, predict outcomes, evaluate the chances of certain plays succeeding or failing. Knowing these things is what makes baseball interesting to watch. It was just the same when professional football—or as we Americans call it, soccer—made its way to the U.S. It’s too elitist, people said, it’s too European. What kind of a game ends with a score of 1 – nil? These were the arguments for why football wasn’t catching on, and they were nonsense. It was simply that Americans had no clue what was happening on the field, so of course they weren’t going to enjoy the game. And now, now that America more or less comprehends football, things are very different.
And this was just what was happening to me in that first encounter with Mrs. Dalloway. That spring when I read this book, I knew that literature was something I was determined to be a part of. But I still had much to learn. I had no context to place this book in. I had little sense of what Woolf was trying to accomplish. I didn’t know how to follow a plot of the kind she was constructing, how to understand her way of creating characters. The only way forward was to immerse myself in this silence.
Which is not to say Mrs. Dalloway was dull, difficult, or painful. It was amazing. I can still remember the feel of the blazing afternoons on which I read that book. I know the exact cafe at which I sat, the very table where I read, and I can even remember sensory details of those hours. I scribbled the most ecstatic comments into the margins of that book. On a scale of pure, shocking enjoyment, I must have hit higher that first time than in any subsequent reading. Each person’s encounter with any kind of genuinely new art can partake in this sort of intensely personal emotion. I’m not talking about cheap emotions that any halfway competent tearjerker can wrest out of you every five minutes. I’m talking about the real stuff. The stuff where you dive into a silence so profound that what comes back out is a transformed quantity. Do not submit to the strange asceticism that denies you this pleasure!
I spent so much time just trying to get Mrs. Dalloway to talk back to me. In my previous 22 years of life I had never read sentences of the sort Virginia Woolf writes in that book. They came on like the onslaught of some undiscovered microbe, the intense fever they promulgated within me inducing blurred eyes and a dazed head that could just not think of the usual things. I spent a week with this illness, and when I eventually recovered I understood that for all the times I was destined to fall so ill again, the infection would never be quite so revitalizing. Nearly 15 years later this is still why I seek—this search for the silence that brings that revitalizing fever.
What I’m asking for in this essay is really very simple: I want us to stop using the language of difficulty when we talk about literature. I want us to stop doing this because it partakes in the cheapest, lamest stereotypes out there, and because it encourages people to feel like the books we love are frightening things that are too rich for them to experience. And, lastly, because using that language turns us into cheap caricatures of the people we really are.
More than that: every time we do this, we make ourselves tools of the capitalist order. Let’s face it: capitalism as it exists today seeks to infantilize grown men and women. It has a million ways of keeping you in your place—that is, of keeping your mind dull and your eyes fixed on exactly what it wants you to see. One of them is by promulgating this myth that great art is “hard.” Every single time anybody speaks of great art with this language—whether they’re a Ben Marcus or a Jonathan Franzen—they’re making themselves a tool of this oppression.
I know that this is not an easy habit to break. I, myself, while writing this very essay had to constantly stop and force myself to use different words and different rhetoric, because the habit is as ingrained into me as anyone. I have tried to suggest some new approaches ways we might take and contribute a little fresh language. I have tried to offer some new frames to replace that dreaded high/low binary that enables talk of “difficulty.” My hope is that some of these ideas will help you find the new language we need.
It’s clear to me that in its efforts to be relevant—its efforts to compete—literature can’t pander to the dictates of mass messaging. Whenever we try to start making new converts, that’s when we break out all the talk about increased empathy and strengthening your mind and climbing Mt. Ulysses. Forget that. Great art is by definition relevant. You have to keep in mind that there’s relevance, and then there’s relevance. There’s the silly fashion trend that you laugh at next year when you’re looking at old photos, and there’s the masterful painting that still draws the eye 100 years after it was first exhibited. The unacknowledged legislators of the world. We must abandon the language of dominance, the language of the market, patriarchal language, the language of that lesser, silly relevance. We must construct our own metaphors, our own ways to discuss what we feel when we experience novel literature on our own terms. And we would all do well to remember that these things take time. The Impressionists were laughed at and marginalized for decades. Proust paid to have his own books published. F. Scott Fitzgerald died thinking he was a failure. So on and so forth.
To conclude—a story about finding inspiration in the unlikeliest of places. The place was Amazon.com, and I had gotten there after googling a word that was new to me. The word is rhizome, and I’m still not sure I understand it. My Google search for this word brought me to the Amazon page for a book called A Thousand Plateaus, a rather seminal work by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, two French theorists whose thoughts are just about as novel as they come. I’ve spent my share of time with Deleuze and Guattari, enough time to know the investment required to read one of their books; frankly, as intrigued and excited as I was to discover A Thousand Plateaus, I just wasn’t sure I had it in me. All the stock phrases came to mind: but Anti-Oedipus was such a trudge. I have so many other books to read. D & G can be so damn obscure at times. 800 pages?! Etc. And then I happened upon this, the very first review displayed for this book. I found these words inspiring:
I’m not particularly erudite, and I’m certainly not a genius. My schooling has left me (for better or worse) without any familiarity with some of the philosophers, artists and writers D&G namecheck as lynchpins of their untimely meditation.
Why, then, would I struggle with this 800-odd page monstrosity of densely-referential Gallic thought? Why am I here recommending that you do it?
Well…because it’s worth the long, thorny trudge. You’ve got to get around some idiosyncratic vocabulary, but that’s OK. Because, in fact, *A Thousand Plateaus* presents a credible candidacy for Philosophy for our Time (if you can still believe in that). The concept of the rhizome alone – burrowing, nonhierarchical, endlessly foliating thought – let alone fertile ideas like nomadology or the Body without Organs: once grasped, these are extraordinarily useful figures that can wind up restoring some sense of agency (and subversiveness, and fun) to your intellectual life. They’re perfectly suited, especially, to life and work in the age of the deeply rhizomorphic Internet.
Remember, you’re smart enough to understand this stuff. (I had to keep reminding myself.) Reading with partners or in groups helps, a lot. There really is a *vast* amount of provocative and useful thought in here. Go for it.
I’ve since done a little googling around to figure out more about the person who wrote this review. Insofar as one can gauge another human from the traces left in cyberspace, he seems like a bright person, successful, educated. I think he’s being modest when he calls himself “not particularly erudite.” But the point is: here’s a person who has no particular professional investment in reading French theory. His profession isn’t in the language arts. He has no skin in the game. He’s just somebody who was intrigued by a book and ended up having a meaningful experience with it. And he was sharing this genuine literary experience—and inspiring me to track down this book at a local bookstore—on the website of one of the most reviled, über-capitalistic corporations to walk the Earth today. This, I think, has much to say about the kinds of ways we should talk about novel literature. This is the language of someone who hasn’t been completely sucked into the literary world. I would like those of us who have been sucked in to find this very same language somewhere in it.