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Posts Tagged ‘James Wood

James Woods, Zadie Smith, and “Hysterical Realism”

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James Woods, a esteemed literary critic, made headlines in 2004 by denouncing Zadie Smith’s White Teeth and the novels of Jonathan Safran Foer as a form of “hysterical realism:”

Hysterical realism is not exactly magical realism, but magical realism’s next stop. It is characterised by a fear of silence. This kind of realism is a perpetual motion machine that appears to have been embarrassed into velocity. Stories and sub-stories sprout on every page. There is a pursuit of vitality at all costs. Recent novels by Rushdie, Pynchon, DeLillo, Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith and others have featured a great rock musician who played air guitar in his crib (Rushdie); a talking dog, a mechanical duck and a giant octagonal cheese (Pynchon); a nun obsessed with germs who may be a reincarnation of J Edgar Hoover (DeLillo); a terrorist group devoted to the liberation of Quebec who move around in wheelchairs (Foster Wallace); and a terrorist Islamic group based in North London with the silly acronym Kevin (Smith).

While I personally loathe Jonathan Safran Foer’s work, I am a bit uneasy about the idea that the novel can’t be messy, expansive, and above all have a postmodern sensibility. Thoughts?

Written by Adam Elkus

October 21, 2008 at 7:23 am