29 May 2006

We’re ready for our close up, Mr. DeMille

[Thanks to all for the scintillating and complex views, and for the several glimpes into the classroom. I’m always happy to hear what my colleagues are up to…]

What’s that old Hollywood saying...something like, if you want to send a message, go to Western Union…? And we all love moving pictures.

Not sure, as per Lance Olsen’s (I'm using last names for readers) recent post, what unifies any of the people on this blog—except that fact that we are on the blog. Follow?

An I.Q. test is a test of how well you take an I.Q. test, and if so, then the GREs are a test of well, you guessed it, how well you take the GREs. And, a dissertation becomes a test (word “test” used broadly) of how well you comport to the various institutional rules that govern what constitutes a dissertation in your particular field, at your particular moment, with your particular committee etc. Roll over, Pierre Bourdieu, and dig these rhythm and blues.

In other words, I’m with Kass on focusing on “power.” Of course, Kass Fleisher and I had the same dissertation director at SUNY Binghamton (now called Binghamton University, in its privatized phase), although we were a few years apart. I can’t pin this down for sure, but knowing the Bingo scene, Kass and I were probably relative anomalies from the still to some degree John Gardner -influenced zeitgeist going on that-a-way.

[I deliberately do not want to be John Gardner…can’t ride a motorcycle, not much of a hard drinker, etc, and found The Art of Fiction to be real snoozer.]

Lance’s point about affiliation in an important one. We may not all be academics, or small press/journal editors, or even however-you-want-to-define-it “innovative” writers, but we are still, of course, on this blog. We’re all passing this test of how well we write on a blog rather well, it seems. But, how’d we get here?

Invitation from Lance and Ted Pelton perhaps (?), who, I believe, both came up with the idea while at a Colorado writing festival with Jeffrey DeShell. Maybe the seed emerged at an earlier meeting, AWP in Austin, the &NOW Festival at Lake Forest College? A number of us are alums of a short-lived list serve from the late 90s (Prosaics…was it called?), which was kind of like this blog, but not quite so public. [Like multicolored legos, we’ve got plenty more connections I won’t bother to enunciate here.]

If it ain’t writing until it’s read (as Doug Rice notes), then perhaps there is the public internet aspect to muse upon…? Is there anybody out there? Clearly, a few, maybe more. Do we have the visitor stats for the blog thus far? But otherwise, perhaps we are still engaged very much in a tribal enterprise. Seems to me, though, that tribes are often eradicated, marginalized, or, if things carry on long enough, given points on lucrative casinos.

Watch the ball bouncing over the roulette wheel; ignore the keno zombies staring cold and catatonic over the empires of the senseless.

I’d be very interested to know about affinities this group shares, about articulations, even tentative, that can offer a way to point toward some collective interrogation of the contemporary writing landscape.

For my part, I’ll venture a very tentative hypothesis that what makes members of a group like this coalesce is some collective recognition, albeit drawn from myriad different experiences, of what makes art signal difference from whatever definition of traditional/mainstream/narrative/sentence-based/etc stuff it is not.

We may not, and should not, all agree of any of the specifics of how this occurs, but to shoot back to an earlier idea (Bourdieu’s)—we are to some degree acculturated into our likings, and for some (and here’s a problem), such aesthetics are markers of “privilege” (education, exposure, leisure time). A trap in the radical possibilities of our broadly defined aesthetic? Production for producers? Rewarded with symbolic capital (academic jobs…) for not engaging in a certain type of self-promotional capitalist game? Pick a card, any card.

Let me throw out another possibility for what our stuff is not—for the most part, we don’t control the means of widespread distribution for our work. Even our most financially successful enterprises can’t compete with most of the cookbooks Joe Amato probably reads.

I dropped out of the Culinary Institute of American at 17, and since have never made a béchamel again.


Nick Mamatas said...

I've been reading, but I guarantee that the perfect way to make me (and most anyone) stop is to fall into the trap of the intellectual — considering the role of the intellectual. The famed comic panel of a man deep in contemplation, with the thought bubble showing that same exact man deep in that same exact contemplation isn't just a gag, it's a warning.

The answer to "What now?" isn't "So, what do we mean by 'what now'? Or, for that matter, 'we'?"

Write something of interest.

Lance Olsen said...

I hear and sympathize with your position, Nick. I doubt we'll be inhabiting this navel-gazing terrain very long, but, for me, at any rate, it's an extremely important one to visit early on in our larger discussion because I believe it might help shed a few photons of light on what we're doing, why, and how; might help us better understand the larger context in which we're working; might help us think about why any of us are talking to each other in this digital cafe.

Meanwhile, Davis: I very much respond to your Collective Recognition Theory.

Davis Schneiderman said...


Good point. My first few posts were about "real world" topics (Opal Mehta, and the NYT best fiction of the last 25 years), and in truth I prefer those to this type.

Still, there is some value in not having 17 people spout off about 17 different things, without some initial navel-gazing.

And, really, my point doesn't have much to do with the role of the intellectual (which, as a disucssion, can quickly fall into the trap of self-importance), but the role of the blog at a time where distribution methods are radically changing.

I'm very interested in the technology of writing, and the mechanics of publicity and distribution.

For instance, we haven't emailed each other in a number of years, but here you are, responding to my post. And I appreciate the comment.



Laird Hunt said...

My inclination would, actually, have been to let this thing run for a while before leaping into a discussion of the discussion, which after all is just starting. A discussion of a discussion that hasn't quite happened or a discussion of the terms of a discussion or of the discussees -- I could see why folks (or maybe it's just Nick?) following along might say, hey, wait a minute... 17 people spouting off a bit about their passions might, in that context, seem pretty appealing.

But I also hear Lance noting that this is a necessary swerve in the system and so I will stop discussing the turn in the discussion and evoke Naropa's Summer Writing Program, and the larger Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, where on any given week during June and July you can encounter all shape and variety of so-called "outriders" -- poets galore (and it's worth mentioning that a school that still gets ripped for being a beat haven has hosted, among others, many of the major langpo folks), of course, but also your Rebecca Browns, Chip Delanys, Brian Evensons, Carla Harrymans, Kass Fleishers, Renee Gladmans, Thomas Glaves, etc. All there, in the main, because they want to share space and condition, at least for a little while. Which is kind of how I'm looking at Now What -- for now. Is it a perfect model -- no? But who wants perfection?

blonde said...

i'd add to Laird's discursive aside from the discussion of the discussion that THE WRITER'S EDGE innovative writing workshops held this summer in Portland Oregon at PSU present an opportunity for people to stop yapping and put innovation into practice.

ok maybe there will still be yapping but still.

blonde said...

oh yeah and DAVIS keep your pop-culture mixed with high theory bad mamajama coming.


Carol Novack said...

Yeah oh hear I go, fucking writing "student," bad word, no no not MFA please enough is enough, former college teacher with two "higher" degrees and an absurd inferiority whatchamacallit, and I'm one of those persona going to the Portland workshop and also have to say I'm happy to be going and meeting Lidia and Lance and a bunch of others, not here. And I love Davis's writings; we're publishing a whole gaggle of them at Mad Hatters' Review.

Just gushing a bit while there's available water. It's going fast. Off to a workshop on the Lower East Side.

I would love this blog to be a writing blog. If philosophy and literary theory and history and pedagogy of the oppressed and repressed & suppressed want to roll out of the garage door, so be it. I would love this inspirational and inspired blog to be an adventuresome (qualifier avoiding "experimental," et al) writers' and writer's blog, primarily, but I am not a pedagogue, as I have said so I won't repeat it. I want to respond to the verbal offerings of other wonderful people here by writing, by writing.... by writing.



Kass Fleisher said...

davis, i keep forgetting to say, yes we share a dissertation director, but he quite rightly loves you more than me. keep on keeping on---you're fabulous. love, your younger sibling. ps: hey nick, don't like the topic? change it; or change the channel. and carol, all writing is pedagogical to some degree. i kind of like the yogi bera philosophy, where you think about how to hit a ball, analyze all angles of possibilities for hitting a ball; but when you get up to the plate, "Don't think. Hit the ball." or, if you prefer faux-physics, for every output there must be input. this space holds the possibility for good input. ttfn, -kass