William T. Vollmann

Andrew Ervin writes frankly about the difficulties of reviewing William T. Vollmann’s new seven-volume treatise, Rising Up and Rising Down ($100, McSweeney’s) in a short newspaper piece:

This review, the one you’re reading now, is 900 words long, give or take a few lopped off by a sensible editor. Read it 1,100 times — once a day, say, for the next three years — and you’ll get an idea of the girth of William T. Vollmann’s new seven-volume treatise, “Rising Up and Rising Down.” It’s impossible to do justice in this space to the 3,299 pages of philosophic declaration, autobiography, journalism and intellectual exhibitionism in machete-sharp prose and photography. “Rising” is a literary accomplishment in the tradition of Edward Gibbons’ “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” which is an acknowledged influence on the author.

(Via BookWatch, whose proprietor needs a publishing job hereabouts.)

In an interview, Vollmann says of his book:

“I didn’t ever think it would become this long …. It started out as a political manifesto, an essay on finding a moral calculus for assessing violence. Is there a simple moral compass for all violence? Sometimes it’s justified, although most of the excuses I’ve heard for violence are not good ones.”

At a recent reading Vollman reportedly rejected a story request from a Zoetrope senior editor, saying, “Thanks, I appreciate it — but I don’t think you can pay me what my going rate is.”

Later, he explained, “I love literary magazines, but they don’t pay what the big ones do.”


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