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Literature Against Criticism

Martin Paul Eve


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1She will be distracted by the plot into which I shall draw her [...] putting on the things she sees the constructions she expects to find.
— Sarah Waters, Fingersmith

2We too must write interpretative essays on the work of others more intelligent and gifted than we will ever be. We too must do our best to offer support and solace to others despite the fact that we will always misunderstand their genius, and only bother them with our enthusiasm.
— Lars Iyer, Spurious

3This book began life in early 2012 and was meant to be my second book. It is, instead, co-genetic with two of my other books: Pynchon and Philosophy and Open Access and the Humanities. The former of these books sparked my interest in mutations in metafiction in contemporary fiction, an aspect that was borne out over Pynchon’s extensive career as a writer. Reflecting this, earlier drafts of this book were called Metafiction After the Millennium and The Anxiety of Academia, the latter referring to Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence. At the same time, in part due to the history of radical politics at the University of Sussex (under constant repressive threat from the administration) where I undertook my PhD, I became interested in the ways in which the public good of the university might be salvaged, even if that was through the instruments of mass technocracy; an aspect that I believe to be furthered by the general, free availability of research material on the internet – open access. These two interests converge in this study of self-aware fiction that plays with the university. I found this book difficult to write and it went through many different drafts until I discovered what I needed to say. My thanks, therefore, must go to everyone who helped me with those other two works and, therefore, in turn, with this.

4Three colleagues and friends in particular, though, have been key to this book (in alphabetical order): Siân Adiseshiah, Joe Brooker, and Caroline Edwards. In various ways both direct and indirect I have profited from their wit, wisdom, and kindnesses throughout the process of writing this work and in life more broadly, whether they know it or not. We certainly don’t always agree on everything (we probably don’t even now, Joe) but in the productive spaces of our discussions, I have found great pleasure and greater understandings that have found their way into this work. This book is dedicated to you. For the stronger parts of the book are due to you. The weaker, to me.

5For his erudition and stimulating conversations, I also thank Jake Wilson. It was he who introduced me to the Tale of the Eloquent Peasant, which opens this book. Likewise, I thank Adeline Koh for a stimulating conversation in NYC in early 2015. It is thanks to her that I remembered On Beauty and kicked myself for ever neglecting it. David Winters introduced me to the work of Lars Iyer, from whom I draw an epigraph, and I have profited from many hours of stimulating conversation with him about fiction after Theory. Thanks must also go to Siobhan Garrigan, who first led me to consider the diary objects in Affinity as impossible, while Peter Fifield and Ted Underwood gave invaluable feedback upon my thoughts about digital reading practices. As ever, I thank Ruth Charnock for reading a draft of this work and suggesting improvements (although the remaining faults are all mine).

6I also thank Penny Andrews for the cover suggestion and Heidi Coburn for its realisation. At Birkbeck, University of London I would particularly like to thank Robert Atkinson, who helped enormously with budgeting and the book publishing charge. At Open Book Publishers I would like to thank Alessandra Tosi, Rupert Gatti, and William St Clair for their ongoing efforts to ensure that the broadest number of people have access to university research material in the humanities.

7Some parts of this work have appeared previously (or are forthcoming) in different article or edited-collection/book chapter form, or are derived from my thinking in other publications. Chapter Three, on Tom McCarthy’s C, is partially derived from a different draft of my chapter in Tom McCarthy: Critical Essays (Gylphi, 2016), edited by Dennis Duncan (to whom I extend my many thanks for his patient editorial feedback). Chapter Four, on Roberto Bolaño, was originally published open access in Textual Practice 29.7 (2015). Part of Chapter Five is under submission to the forthcoming Routledge Companion to Contemporary Fiction, edited by Robert Eaglestone. A small part of Chapter Six grew from my article, ‘“Too Many Goddamn Echoes”: Historicizing the Iraq War in Don DeLillo’s Point Omega’, Journal of American Studies 49.3 (2015). Parts of Chapter Six appeared open access as ‘“Structural Dissatisfaction”: Academics on Safari in the Novels of Jennifer Egan’ in the Open Library of Humanities, 1.1 (2015). Chapter Seven, on Sarah Waters, was originally published open access as ‘“You Will See the Logic of the Design of This”: From Historiography to Taxonomography in the Contemporary Metafiction of Sarah Waters’s Affinity’ in Neo-Victorian Studies, 6.1 (2013).

8Last but not least, and as always, I thank my wife, Helen; my dearest friend and more.


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