Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Talking about the possibility of there being characters"

Here is Gary Lutz, from an entertaining interview conducted by David Winters, published in 2011 at 3:AM Magazine:
Talking about the possibility of there being characters in my fiction puts me a little ill at ease, because I almost never seem to think in those terms. But, having been invited to consider the matter, I can see that in the things I write, something or other achieves, for a short spell, a vocal state, a vocal condition, though the words soon enough drain out completely. I guess that if there are characters at all, they are bodies of language, and their limbs and lineaments are typographical. These verbal presences, call them what we must, have a hard time going into detail about themselves; things tend to come out in summary form, as if everything has already been concluded and can be recounted but not changed. I do not draw or crib from outer life, but sometimes I get the feeling I might be trespassing on some inner one of my own. I’ve never really thought about introducing a wider assortment of human doings into my writing; I wouldn’t want to have to invent or observe. I would rather not describe what’s out there. People, I imagine, can already see it for themselves.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

System of Compromise

There's been much ado about the stupid article written by the president of Emery University, James Wagner. Aaron Bady has a characteristically excellent piece on it at The New Inquiry. I don't have much else to add personally, but all the talk about "compromise" (and that, as Aaron writes in his piece, "Politics trumps principle") has reminded me, again, as so much does, of James and Grace Lee Boggs and their remarkable book, Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century (1974). In particular, their brilliant survey and assessment of the American Revolution and American history in general. I recommend tracking the book down and, if nothing else, reading this section in its entirety. But for the purposes of this post, here is a short excerpt from pages 175 and 176:
A nation which has compromised so often, which has taken the road of opportunism again and again, no longer has the same options as it had two hundred years ago. Its people are no longer the same people as they were at the time of the American Revolution. Too much water has flowed under the bridge. With each compromise they have been more deeply incorporated into the system of compromise. With each evasion of political and social responsibility, their political backwardness and their irresponsibility have been intensified. So that not only their political institutions but they themselves are now embarked on a road accelerating and worsening their political irresponsibility, their powerlessness, their unreadiness to reverse the direction in which they are moving.


There is no simple solution. It is this naked fact—that no simple solution exists—which torments United States citizens, be they black or white. The people of this country have for so long believed that, if things were just left to the politicians while they pursued their own individual wants and desires, somehow, some day, some leader would come up with the necessary answers. Now that the working out of solutions depends increasingly upon the people themselves, there is widespread confusion and demoralization.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

"She wrote it, but..."

Reading Kate Zambreno's Heroines over the last week, I've been inevitably reminded of Joanna Russ and the chapter "Anomalousness" from her book How to Suppress Women's Writing (1983) (which book I have not, unfortunately, read in full; I have read the chapter in, and am transcribing it here from, Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism (1991), edited by Robyn R. Warhol and Diane Price Herndl), which begins with this litany (all italics in the original):
She didn't write it.
She wrote it, but she shouldn't have.
She wrote it, but look what she wrote about.
She wrote it, but "she" isn't really an artist and "it" isn't really serious, of the right genre—i.e., really art.
She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it.
She wrote it, but it's only interesting/included in the canon for one, limited reason.
She wrote it, but there are very few of her.
And ends like this:
Quality can be controlled by denial of agency, pollution of agency, and false categorizing. I believe that the anomalousness of the woman writer—produced by the double standard of content and the writer's isolation from the female tradition—is the final means of ensuring permanent marginality. In order to have her "belong" fully to English literature, the tradition to which she belongs must also be admitted. Other writers must be admitted along with their tradition, written and unwritten. Speech must be admitted. Canons of excellence and conceptions of excellence must change, perhaps beyond recognition. In short, we have a complete collapse of the original solution to the problem of the "wrong" people creating the "right" values. When this happens, the very idea that some people are "wrong" begins to fade. And that makes it necessary to recognize what has been done to the "wrong" people and why. And that means recognizing one's own complicity in an appalling situation. It means anger, horror, helplessness, fear for one's own privilege, a conviction of personal guilt, and what for professional intellectuals may be even worse, a conviction of one's own profound stupidity. It may mean fear of retaliation. It means knowing that they are watching you.

Of those who are not ignored completely, dismissed as writing about the "wrong" things, condemned for (whatever passes for) impropriety (that year), described as of merely technical interest (on the basis of a carefully selected few worst works), falsely categorized as other than artists, condemned for writing in the wrong genre, or out of genre, or simply joked about, or blamed for what has, in fact, been deleted from or misinterpreted out of their work by others, it is still possible to say, quite sincerely:

She wrote it, but she doesn't fit in.
Or, more generously: She's wonderful, but where on earth did she come from?

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Incoming Books

A number of interesting books have made their way into my possession in the recent period overlapping with Christmas, by gift or purchase, used or new:

Fiction, or at least not quite non-Fiction:
The Roving Shadows by Pascal Quignard (translated from the French by Chris Turner; Stephen Mitchelmore's excellent review brought this book to my attention; already read)
Divorcer by Gary Lutz
a clutch of old, cheap, used, mass-market paperbacks, mainly science fiction:
And Chaos Died by Joanna Russ (already read)
The Zanzibar Cat by Joanna Russ (stories, partly read)
Souls by Joanna Russ/Houston, Houston, Do You Read? by James Tiptree, Jr. (two novellas in one volume)
Time and Again by Clifford D. Simak 
Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban (Riddley Walker wasn't available; this was $2, looked interesting)
a couple of impulse purchases enabled by a discount coupon:
Mathilda by Mary Shelley (Ethan mentioned this in private conversation, and has been a key influence in my ongoing interest in Joanna Russ - and is totally responsible for my knowing anything at all about Clifford Simak. . .)
Eeeee Eee Eeee by Tao Lin (eh, figured I'd give one of his books a whirl; this was the one I remembered Stephen Mitchelmore liking. . .)
and I want to include Heroines by Kate Zambreno in this section, for reasons that remain somewhat obscure to me, yet are nonetheless consistent with my practice of including "sufficiently literary memoir" in the fiction section of my annual year-end accounting - many people have been talking about this excellent book, with good reason, so I don't know who was responsible for bringing it to my attention, but many thanks to whomever that might have been. . .

Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf (used; already read)
Hegel by Frederick Beider (thanks to Mark Thwaite for recommending this one; partly read)
The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries by Kathi Weeks (thanks to Kurt Newman, and others, for making me aware of this)
Pages from a Black Radical's Notebook: A James Boggs Reader
Freedom with Violence: Race, Sexuality, and the US State by Chandan Reddy (Kurt Newman mentioned this somewhere, too, I think)
The Portable Malcolm X Reader (another impulse purchase)
Political Writings, 1953-1993 by Maurice Blanchot (translated from the French by Zakir Paul; Stephen Mitchelmore was responsible for this one, too)