I went to the &Now Conference held in Buffalo, New York, October 14-17, and enjoyed it on a number of levels. First of all, it was great to cross that cold digital divide and finally meet so many people that I’ve been corresponding and/or working with, and/or reading their work for a while, people like Matt Bell, Cara Benson, Blake Butler, Donald Breckinridge, Ryan Call, Mary Caponegro, Kim Chinquee, Rikki Ducornet, Tina May Hall, Lily Hoang, Joanna Howard, Matt Kirkpatrick, Josh Maday, Kendra Grant Malone, Lance Olsen, J.A. Tyler, Bill Walsh, and John Dermot Woods, as well as reconnecting with Brian Evenson and James Yeh. I also had a chance to meet Dimitri Anastasopoulos, Donald Breckenridge, Rikki Ducornet, Shelly Jackson, Steve Katz, Dave Kress, Christina Milletti, Pedro Ponce, Davis Schneiderman, and Steve Tomasula. Have I missed anyone?
And if it was only that, it would have been well worth it, but I also attended many dynamic, energetic, informed, inventive, and stimulating panels and readings. Below are some capsules of some of the events as well as recordings of some of them.
1. “Cut Culture: Innovative Collaboration for the Digital Age,” by Davis Schneiderman, Debra DiBlasi, Steve Tomasula, Lance Olsen, and Stephanie Strickland
I was amazed at how the idea/theory/act of collaboration and authorship infused many of the panels and discussions and this panel presented a number of machines or structures that resulted in various texts. Apparently, as I learned from Matt Bell later, the collaborative texts that Lance Olsen shared will appear in a forthcoming issue of The Collagist.
2. “Postmodernity, ‘Dissective’ Nostalgia, Innovation, Experimentalism,” by Joseph Conte, Brian Evenson, H.L. Hix, and Dave Kress
Joseph Conte’s paper “Incredulity and Fanaticism: Postmodernity After 9-11” explored the possible datedness of postmodernism as a practice and a theory. He talked about the postmodern sublime, how it is innovative rather than nostalgic. These are all familiar ideas that led to a series of questions on how to depict or engage the so-called unpresentable event. Speaking of nostalgia, Evenson’s discussion of ‘Dissective’ Nostalgia was a provocative revisioning of nostalgia; Evenson “mutates” the term nostalgia to mean a longing for an irretrievable past and that it is excessive. You can hear me responding to the presentation at the end. This panel turned out to be one of the strongest ones.
3. “Words and Pictures: Life After Rupture in Image-Text Collaboration,” by John Woods, Johannes Goransson, JA Tyler, and Tim Wood
John Dermot Woods led an interesting discussion about his various collaborations as a visual artist with the writers all of whom were present and also described the various challenges and successes of their work together. We were also invited to collaborate on a project of Woods’s. Unfortunately, my recording didn’t work out for this session.
4. The recording of “me+words+you/N+7 = Poem: the Role of Authorial Intention in Procedural, Conceptual and Collaborative Writing” doesn’t quite capture its inspired chaos. Cara Benson, Joseph Cooper, Jared Hayes, and Jennifer Karmin became a kind of comedy troupe like New York City’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade. While it wasn’t completely improvised (they worked from a “script”), the group’s use of modulation, counterpoint, overlap, speed, and other forms of delivery gave it that kind of feel.
At one point (around 19:13), I was handed an index card that read: “describe your emotional landscape”. I spontaneously responded: “My emotional landscape is a tree right now that’s in a desert, unwatered, parched, and dying—there are no roots.” At a certain point, the whole panel, along with most of the audience, went outside into the hallway. During this part, Vanessa Place, who remained inside says, “Refusing [or refusal] is part of it.” My recording software freaked out so unfortunately the whole performance wasn’t captured.
5. Shelley Jackson’s reading was a captivating one. It was a voice from the dead story. Her delivery was a sharp lesson on how embody the bodiless. Rikki Ducornet’s keynote address was a lyrical meditation on storytelling and myth.
6. “RE: Telling: Making Narratives with Borrowed Characters, Familiar Settings, Classic Plots, Mimicked Modes and Reclaimed Themes,” a panel by Bill Walsh, Matt Bell, Kim Chinquee, Tom Lafarge, Noam Mor, Pedro Ponce, and Wendy Walker was another engaging one. Walsh read a couple of pieces including one that he worked on for the forthcoming book I’m editing about the craft of writing. Matt Bell read one of his video game stories in which he used the raw material of Mario Bros. to create an imaginative narrative. Kim Chinquee read some exemplars of the parodic form.
7. “Against the (Slip)stream: Science Fiction, Postmodernism, and Border Bleeding,” by Pawel Frelik; “Literary and Bodily Evolution in Steve Tomasula and Stephen Farrell’s Vas: an Opera in Flatland,” by Flore Chevaillier; “Mutating Languages in Vas: an Opera in Flatland by Steve Tomasula and Stephen Farrell,” by Anne-Laure Tissut
8. It was great to finally hear Mary Caponegro read from her new short story collection All Fall Down. Brian Evenson read from a short, strange piece and then read “Invisible Box” from Fugue State. From the first line, there was so much laughter. I was surprised by the crowd’s reaction to this story. The response was so different than the times I’ve read the story, a story squeezed with anxiety and terror. He followed this with a fantastic new story that includes a meditation on, and perhaps was derived from, the etymology of the word “window” which comes from the Norse word vindauga meaning “wind-eye.”
9. After Vanessa Place and Robert Fitterman’s hilarious “Notes on Conceptualisms/the movie,” I went to the panel “Dreams of Dada/Surrealism” led by Steve Katz, Yuriy Tarnawsky, Edward Desautels, and Dimitri Anastasopoulos
10. The Starcherone Books reading with Joshua Cohen, Donald Breckinridge, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Johannes Goransson, and Ted Pelton was excellent. Each one read with conviction from strong stories.
11. And now we come to the somewhat notorious panel “Inconsequentiality: Why It’s Important,” by Joshua Cohen, Teresa Carmody, Lily Hoang, and Vanessa Place (in absentia; Carmody read Place’s piece), notorious mainly because of Joshua Cohen’s tepid, whiny “critique” of the conference as a whole. It is equal parts rant and mild dissent. Cohen was drunk (he admits to it), visibly disinterested (he half-stripped, feigned sleep, and distracted in other ways), and was unprepared. At one point, he admits to being lazy. In the end, his “performance” was just another posture, an knee-jerk reaction, and a largely uninteresing one at that. I think if Cohen were truly disinterested, he would simply not have shown up. Instead, he self-consciously disrupted what was (because of Carmody, Hoang, and Place) a series of compelling, provocative presentations. And why did he half-strip? Why didn’t he do something that was completely disruptive? Perhaps the most spot-on comment Cohen made was “People who speak the best are saying the least.” Except in Cohen’s case, he both spoke the worst and said the least. It was a disappointing, juvenile, smug, and inexcusable display. I expected so much more from such a fine writer. [I originally had a recording of the panel included here which Joshua Cohen asked me to take down. He also asked me not to share the email he wrote to me explaining why. As a result, I’ve also taken off a series of exchanges I had in the comments section of this post with A D Jameson. The comments make less sense without the recording to refer to.]
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.