Novel Gazing

First of all, I’m calling “dibs” on the title “Novel Gazing” for my future collection of essays on the art of the novel. But that’s later.

Rob Long’s article on Bob Crane has me thinking, and I’m now going to attempt a kind of apology – in every contradictory sense of the word – for some of the pornographic episodes in Bird’s Nest (which, if you haven’t noticed, is being posted chapter by chapter every Friday). To the half dozen or so people I know who have checked in on the progress of the story at one time or another, I’m well aware that there are some fairly … uh, purple passages here and there. I’m sorry if you found them offensive. Mom hardly seemed pleased, let me tell you, so allow me to direct one mea culpa to her especially. However.

Offensive is sort of the point. Scratch that “sort of”. It is the point. Pornography is offensive, or perhaps we should say “still offensive”, no matter what effect you may or may not have noticed it may or may not have had on you. And of course we have long been in the process of piling up some fairly mind-boggling statistics. Apologies if you’ve seen these too many times before. According to

The pornography industry is larger than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and EarthLink.

Every second – $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography.

Every second – 28,258 Internet users are viewing pornography.

80% of young adults aged 15-17 years old have had multiple exposures to hard-core pornography.

The United States leads the world in the number of pornographic web pages, all 244,661,900 of them.

And these figures should probably be understood as increasingly tumescent. But haven’t I written about pornography in a lighthearted manner? Yes, and I suppose I can scratch that “about”. Let me confess here what I didn’t get around to confessing in the novel: Something is happening, but I don’t know what it is. With pornography, with sex, with religion, with science … I’m not so sure I really understand what in the world is happening with anything these days, including novel writing. It just seemed to me that a novel was a good way of looking around.

Here’s another statistic from the same website:

The “Top Pornography Banning Countries” are Saudia Arabia, Iran, Syria, Bahrain, Egypt, UAE, Kuwait, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Kenya, India, Cuba, China.

Please don’t take my citation of this statistic as grounds for going out and exercising your first ammendment rights with the latest edition of Girls Gone Wild. Assuming you’re in the U.S. and have first ammendment rights; if you’re in one of the countries just listed … I’m at a loss for words.

What I do suggest, more than the correlation between bans on pornography and bans of other stripes, and more than a question about the rightful place of censorship (your individual conscience or any of the various archons-at-large), and less than a plea to read my novel Bird’s Nest (appearing in chapter installments every Friday, if you haven’t heard) … what I do suggest is the cultivation of what Keats called “negative capability”.

I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason. ~ John Keats’ Letter to George and Thomas Keats, 22 December 1817

Including such facts as listed above. I think we’d be much better off in any number of ways … in some way, I think our lives may well depend on this “negative capability”. Partaking of pornography probably isn’t a good thing, but I still think partaking of a novel is. Partaking of a novel that is to some extent “about” pornography … maybe that’s okay too, with a certain measure of this negative capability. Being a phrase of Keats, the art is perhaps more poetic than novelistic … but that’s another chapter in my someday-to-be-released volume, Novel Gazing.


  1. Rufus McCain says

    Brilliant. And that picture of Keats will grace the cover. Except when the paperback edition of Novel Gazing comes out, Keats will be a replaced by a soft porn image to boost sales.

  2. Amendment – one ‘m’.

  3. Rufus McCain says

    See, if you’d outsourced this to, there’d have been no spelling errors. Unless of course you want spelling errors for authenticity. But there’s an extra fee for that.

  4. Matthew Lickona says

    My work really IS finished – Korrektiv has taken over Today in Porn…

  5. An exercise in authenticity?

    So it doesn’t matter how I write – I simply change the spelling of a word, and perhaps my name, and then no criticism is valid because it was all meant to be ‘ironic’.

  6. Quin Finnegan says


    I’m pretty sure Rufus was making a joke. Let me try to explain it to you.

    If an average student – perhaps prone to misspelling words such as ‘amendment’ – were to hand in a paper free of spelling errors, the teacher might become suspicious. He, the teacher, might not; he might just think he’s doing such a good job teaching that the student has decided to proofread his papers more carefully. But the student doesn’t know whether the teacher is prone to suspicion or not, and he, the student, might want to play it safe and assume that the teacher is prone to suspicion. In which case, he, the student, might decide to just write the paper himself and take his lumps on spelling errors.

    Or he might decide that he’ll go ahead and buy a paper from, but he might want to do his best to get as good a grade as possible while at the same time attracting as little attention as possible to the fact that he purchased his essay online in order to get a better grade than he could with his own work. In this scenario, he asks the good folks at to leave a few spelling errors in the paper, so that the teacher won’t get suspicious. In this sense, the paper would me more “authentic” – more like a paper the average student would be likely to have written himself.

    Now that I think about it, it seems to me entirely likely that the good folks at would stock “A” or “A+” papers, and then dumb them down as needed. It’s easier to ratchet down quality than bring it up.

    Take, for example, your use of the phrase “exercise in authenticity”. Rufus didn’t write that, and a teacher might grade you down for misrepresenting a source, especially if you did it on purpose. You wouldn’t want that in an essay you purchased online, if you wanted to be sure you got an A+. On the other hand, it might well seem authentic to the teacher, especially if he’s run into this sort of pettiness in your work before.

    Get it?

    It does matter how you write.

    No, criticism is not invalidated by either irony or changing the spelling of a word.

    And there is a fine tradition of works by pseudonymous as well as anonymous writers.

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