March 26, 2002


Reader Ted Welter writes with a couple of criticisms that we receive here frequently, the first accurate but I think explicable, the second I think just wrong. But he states both more literately and with fewer swear words than many of our correspondents so I asked if I could reprint them here. Mr. Welter kindly consented :

From: TedWelter
Date: Sat, 23 Mar 2002 12:11:12 EST
Subject: a nit, a disagreement, and an author suggestion.

Mr. Judd,

I must say I'm enjoying your site, but I do have one nit you might want to take care of :

"it's" (the contraction for "it is") vs. "its" (the possessive pronoun).

It's one thing to confuse them on a message board, quite another to confuse them all over the place in archived *literary reviews. It chips away at your credibility, especially when you criticize other writers for lack of professionalism.

That being said, I must disagree with your assessment of Joyce's Ulysses. Without Joyce, their would be no Vonnegut, no Heller, etc. He practically invented the voice of the modern novel. Nabokov thought so too, including it in his Cornell University course on The Masterpieces of World Literature, along with Kafka's Metamorphosis. Sorry, but you're completely misunderstanding these writers. I suggest you get a copy of N's Lectures on Literature, not only because Nabokov is funny and wise, but it might give you clue on a different aesthetic for judging a novel, going beyond "identifying with the characters."

Also, I was looking for your take on David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest," one of the more challenging (and rewarding) books of the last decade. For a shorter sample of Wallace, check out the etext-version of The Depressed Person.

Ted Welter

To which I responded :

Dear Mr. Welter

Thanks, I very much appreciate constructive criticism; we tend to get more of the "You're an idiot kind"

Unfortunately, I have no editor and perhaps the most frequent error on these pages is the "it's" vs. "its" snafu. I even did it in my review of Strunk & White's Elements of Style review--I thought one English prof was going to go into cardiac arrest. I deeply regret these errors, and have tried very hard to avoid them over the past couple years (I think most occur in the first year of reviews) but realistically the time it would require to hunt them down and fix them is beyond my capacity. It is unprofessional, but sadly I do not get paid, and so am in fact not professional.

I actually went to the absurd lengths of reading Biely's Petersburg (which no one has ever read) because it too was chosen by Nabokov as one of the four masterpieces. And then, as is
necessarily the case with such things, it turned out being the only one of the four I liked. I understand perfectly well why Kafka, Joyce, and Proust were influential, but I believe the influence was pernicious. I believe that literature must be universal to be great and that they are all too much engaged in navel-gazing. I believe that I "understand" them, but I disagree with them. It is entirely possible though that you are right and I completely fail to comprehend them. Even if the latter is so, I have no desire to, as Joyce suggested we do, devote my life to just the task of understanding one of his books.

I have received more email about those three (and the James brothers [Henry and William]) than any other authors and am well aware that they are accepted as geniuses by a great many people, most of whom, unlike you, have probably never actually finished the books. I take the point, but I respectfully disagree.

I hope neither my disappearing apostrophes nor my disregard for the modern masters will prevent you from enjoying the rest of the site and I hope you will continue to disagree with me where you see fit. I'm not terribly fragile; I can take a difference of opinion.


Hopefully, that will save a few of you the time and effort required to explain to me that I'm a philistine, but if you must dogpile on the rabbit, your comments are, of course, welcome.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 26, 2002 12:19 AM
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