RE: RARA-AVIS: Philip K Dick, the NY Times, and pulp

From: Steve Svecz (
Date: 25 May 2007

I am behind on my Rara-Avis reading so please forgive the untimeliness of this reply, but, Yeah!, that Pulp vs Literary false dichotomy crops up all the time (and not just in the Times) and it really pisses me off too.

I just happened to be reading a Washingtom Post Review of the new Michael Chabon novel The Yiddish Policeman's Union and I detected the same condescending snobbery when the reviewer contrasted Chabon's literary bona fides with his pulpy inclinations. Am I just being sensitive or does this sound like the same kind of snobbery you are talking about:

"What sort of writer is Michael Chabon? The question, especially considering his terrific new novel, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, is complicated. Of course he's literary, author of the Pulitzer-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and other marvelous books of fiction. His work is page-turning and poignant; he is one of the best writers of English prose alive. But Chabon has an avowed interest in forms considered perhaps less than literary. He's edited two anthologies of pulp-inspired stories for McSweeney's, written a "story of detection" featuring Sherlock Holmes, and he "presents" a comic book quarterly starring one of the superheroes of Kavalier & Clay. He's interested in busting the chains of everydayness that bind many so-called literary writers: He wants to move and thrill us both, and he does."

Yeah, God forbid any literary writer should slip up and actually
"thrill" us. The funny thing is I just heard Michael Chabon speak and he talked about exactly how meaningless these distinctions are about literature and genre and pulp. I don't think he is trying to break them down. I think he is way beyond that. I wish the reviewers were to. The harder I think about that term "literary" the less it seems to actually mean. Maybe I should stop thinking. Maybe I'm just overreacting. Grrrr.

Anyway here's the link. 1002593.html

By the way I haven't seen any mention of The Yiddish Policeman's Union on here yet, (but I am behind) but it is definitely Hard-boiled as well as being an alternate history. Anyone read it?

Steve Svecz

-----Original Message----- From: [mailto:] On Behalf Of Jay Gertzman Sent: Sunday, May 06, 2007 10:41 AM To: rara avis Subject: RARA-AVIS: Philip K Dick, the NY Times, and pulp

The NY Times carried an article Sunday on Philip K Dick; something must be done to show that the Good Grey Lady is hep to his Library of America

collection. The article was headed "The Prince of Pulp" ("pulpish sensibility," "Thrilling Wonder Stories," "lurid cover"). It contains some nice insights into his work ("to a considerable extent Mr. Dick's future is a lot like our present"), but it uses "pulp" as if this kind of writing is suitable for Hollywood pot boilers. The Times implies that

pulp is totally unattached to any kind of literary merit, as if whatever

benefits there are to Dick's writing, they exist *in spite of* the fact that he wrote for popular genre magazines and Ace Doubles that were sold

on newsstands. It's a kind of bourgeois snobbery that characterizes every literary and film evaluation of the paper, and IMO a sign of its attitude about popular culture. It's not cluelessness; it's hostility, based on its belief that the proper reader must base his/her values in entertainment on a "decent" class system. "Nobody would ever dream of looking to [Emerson] for movie ideas. Emerson was all brain, no pulp."

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