26 May 2006

Eunoia, Yes.

I've been looking for a place amidst the terrific sparks flying about to squeeze a word or two out of my sleep-deprived, impoverished word cloth/skull, and Carol's friendly post on Eunoia was it.

A marvelous book, Bok's book: smart, funny! strange. And, go figure, a huge seller in Canada. My copy, purchased a couple years ago, was the 15th printing. Perhaps others of you know the story better than I do -- but apparently what helped Eunoia catch on was interest from synesthetes (a society thereof), who found their senses going all deliciously bonkers when they would hit the different vowel-rich sections. Bok (I apologize for not knowing how to do the umlaut here) writes interestingly on writing Eunoia in the anthology Biting the Error (worth a long look, incidentally) -- describes how in part it was a way of wrastling with the Oulipo and the often, as he saw it (and it can certainly be true) bland (I paraphrase/misremember/muck up) results of their wild systems (I love the Oulipo to death, but it's definitely true that there are many works that are more, hmm, appealing in concept. Anyone else have that sense?). If you can get hold of the Coach House edition, do so -- it's printed on lovely paper, has a great cover and crisp, elegant font. I'm curious to see what Soft Skull does with it. Incidentally, Eunoia sits bizarrely close to Europeana (check it out, Kass -- I think you would dig it) in my mind, mostly for quirky personal reasons, but also as a striking gesture that manages to feel sui generis even as it positions itself in a traceable lineage. And then of course there are all those letters the two titles share...

Resisting the Sentence

In so many ways, I would prefer to do in art what we’re talking about here. But here are a range of comments I have after a long read of the blog entire.

I’m with Lydia on “resistance,” but after 10 years of resisting, I’m not sure what I’m resisting anymore. Quite often of late I feel that I’m resisting my own tribe. For instance I find frustrating Lance’s discussion of Stacey’s “quirky” narrative turns and Ourednik’s (last name there since I don’t know him) “absurdities.” Perhaps I am simply aged and weary. The theater of the absurd, in which I participated in the late 70s, was over by 1980. Lance (and you know I love ya, Lance) suggests that resistance is about “working within and against historico-aesthetic continuities and rupture” (hereinafter HACR). It’s that “within” that’s got me a bit nervous.

Timmi mentions the problem of executive power and I am so with this, so freaked about this incredible loophole that 43 has gone apeshit nuts with. We're talking (or should be) about power, folks. I know someone early on in the conversation (sorry, notes incomplete as always) said something about modernism going on for 100 years. The twentieth century, at the same time, has seen a dramatic shift in power distribution to the executive branch---unheralded in history blah blah blah. We’ve also lived through two gilded ages, two upward transfers of wealth. We’re living through the 2nd right now.

I think it’s been made pretty clear by everyone writing in this space that Lance’s “within” to that culture is not possible.

This is why when Jeffrey insists that we take genre boundaries seriously for the sake of maintaining narrative, I have to step back and say, Whoa. The fundamentally discrete attribute of prose is not narrative; it’s the sentence.

What is it with prose writers that we so rarely talk about the sentence? Or do anything with it? Or challenge it? IT’S OUR FOUNDATION. (The traditional sentence is the source of prose's market power.) Thus I was grateful for Mark’s nudge toward language poetry. Most of what I know about the art I make these days has not come from reading novels. It’s come from listening to and reading about “difficult” (uh-oh) poetry. The only time I need to know anything about how story works on readers is when I write (more) conventional (dreaded, I know) nonfiction. Nonfiction exists entirely on a novelistic structure. Makes me nuts----

---but there ARE essential stories that need to be told, and for those, and for that wider audience, yeah, I retreat to the good old sentenced story. My thinking about the work I do in that area is this: telling a willfully unheard story is radical (resistant) only in the short term. Once the story gets out (assuming you can find a publisher in this era of these HACRs), once the story enters the public consciousness, the book is dead. It’s no longer a resisting artifact.

So yeah, Lydia, hybrids. I agree with Lance that lists are a fool’s errand, but the group indulged the impulse anyway, and what I find missing from the lists are some women whose (I believe) prose innovations (hybrids, due attention paid to the sentence) are being published as poetry. Lyn Hejinian wrote what is, for me, the best memoir of the late 20th century; and then we have Carla Harryman and Laura Mullen. I think of myself as a novelist, but all of my artwork has been accepted by poetry publishers. You should see my rejection letters from the prose tribes. Some really Wow stuff in there.

So when Lydia asks whether hybridity will stop being hybrid at some point and become its own third genre, I have to answer that hybridity or creolization has already been divorced in the main by prose folk, and is finding a lumpy-mattressed home as poetry’s distant cousin. That is, at this moment, hybridity isn’t even hybridity. It’s some other genre’s third limb.

(Ted: Curt White has a jones for birds. Dunno why, but chicks dig him.)

Michael! I’m concerned about the use of the word postmodern to describe what we’re trying to do, or the ethos of the current moment. I turn to Federman here, who in Critifiction said that postmodernism died with Beckett (I think Michael Berube puts the obit a few years later) BUT that the issues that created the NEED for postmodernism have NOT BEEN RESOLVED.

Among other things, we still don't know how to talk about power.

I guess what I’m trying not to say here is that most of us have been down these roads before. Yes; we've been less-empowered for a long time now. I’ve been quoting Fed. for ages ("To play the same old game by the same old rules, to say the same old thing the same old way would be merely competence"), not to mention Bruce Lee ("Using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation") and Stevens ("The trouble with your poetry, Frost, is that it has subjects," said Wallace to Robert while on a train trip to Florida---this as quoted by Robert in 1963)----all of these for the past NINE prose-writing syllabi.

What are we doing?? I love that Michael mentions rules. And Michael mentions history.

History. History. History. I really think this is, with the sentence, prose writing’s final frontier. At this point in time (said Nixon), the thing haunting culture more than anything else---more than language, much as I WISH the culture were haunted by language---is history. Just 2 days ago on CNN, a presumably sane and intelligent man said into a stuck-in-his-lapel mike, “Wolf, in this postmodern era nobody believes in truth anymore.”

My television is lucky to have survived this appalling incident. People need to be told (Stein and telling) that this is not what people “believe.”

I fear that our tribe is living in its own past...and is refusing to take up a number of ongoing challenges, like the sentence (our people love to QUOTE Stein, but we don’t like to risk our transparency, as she does) and hybridity and history and power (withinness). Rather than respond to these urgencies we have rationalized our existence by scientizing ourselves (lord, 40 years after lit crit did the same thing)---you can’t get anyone to look at an “unconventional novel” without spending a full year in the library, researching something obscure, quirky, and absurd that happened.........long ago.

Recently I had an amazingly depressing experience; I got my hands on a little-discussed book by Sukenick, Down and In, a history of The Glory Days for artists of all sort, including writers, in the Village 60s. He wrote the book in the 80s, and in it he asks virtually every question we’ve been asking here.

Again: he wrote that in the 80s.

(I had really bad hair in the 80s. I was really hoping the 80s were over.)

I will now...SIGN my STATEMENT. THANK YOU for this space, and

love to yall,


Christian Bok's Eunoia

A writing colleague brought this to my attention and I think it's worth sharing here:

As mentioned in Harper's this month, Christian Bok has a book forthcoming called Eunoia which is only five chapters long but each chapter ONLY uses a single vowel. Here is an extract from the 'i' chapter: Fishing till twilight, I sit, drifting in this birch skiff jigging kingfish with jigs, bringing in fish which nip this bright string (its vivid glint bristling with stick pins.) Whilst I slit this fish in its gills knifing it, slicing it, killing it with skill, shipwrights might trim this jib, swinging it right, hitching it tight, riding brisk winds which pitch this skiff, tipping it, tilting it, till this ship in crisis flips. Riging rips. Christ, this ship is sinking. Diving in, I swim, fighting this frigid swirl, kicking, kicking, swimming in it till I sight high cliffs rising indistinct in thick mists, lit with lightning.

I was wondering who'd publish such a wild and wonderful book, and it's Coach House (also listed on this blog).

As an addendum to my comment to Michael M's post, I forgot that Amazon now publishes stories one can download for a modest amount of money. I'm wondering if we (and other "innovative" writers) should consider forming an e-fiction, fusion and book collective, using the crowdsourcing model but without the corporation.

In dementia perpetua,