in my previous post, tim jones-yelvington brought up this important point (somewhere along the comment stream) about this us v. them dichotomy: “my kind of writer” or not, with us or against us, etc etc.
this is important because this isn’t just an “innovative” v. “traditional” writer question. even within our little world, small though it may be, there’s this split, where we have to “prove” our coolness. i mean, look who we promote. look who htmlg promotes. it’s totally a cool club. (i admit my egotism: i troll hoping to see my name. who doesn’t?) but it’s more than just that.
at &now (a conference for “innovative” writing), i found myself an underwhelming minority. when we (“my kind of writer” which we all were there) went out, i was consistently the only female, among fifteen to twenty males. when we went out, james yeh & i were the only “non-white” people. when we went out, almost all of us had academic affiliations in one way or any. (yeah, here, there was a bit more of a split, but come on!)
let’s just say: there’s a mold.
“my kind of writer”: turns out he’s not really “my kind” at all. so then it becomes problematic for me, where it’s impossible to NOT question whether i’m just a “them” being paraded with “us,” a poster child for diversity & open-mindedness. (ok. i get it. asians are, after all, the “model minority.”) i don’t want to be a token. nor do i think i’m being too sensitive about this.
ok. this isn’t where i wanted this post to go at all. but this is where it went. i want to ask about clubs & exclusivity. i want to ask about the hip factor. i want to ask about gender and class and race and heteronormativity. i mean, let’s just admit it: we’re a privileged crew, whether monetarily or educationally.
so what’s “us” anymore?
this morning, i had a conversation with one of my colleagues about writing, & i kept on saying “my kind” of writers. a philosopher, she asked exactly what i meant by “my kind,” which is a more than fair question. do you think it’s limiting or even degrading to ostracize ourselves as “innovative” or “conceptual” or “experimental” writers? these terms are all lame. why do i feel a need to differentiate? is it problematic? do you differentiate? does it have value or use?
i mean, we’re all different writers writing very differently. furthermore, i’m not doing anything that wasn’t done a century ago, and arguably, those who did it a century ago did it a hell of a lot better than i do. we are, after all, working within a tradition, as much as any “traditional” writer does, right? how do you all feel about this?
yes, this is an old question, but a question worth revisiting over & over again, until we reach a solution. i’d rather just call myself a serious writer. or a writer. fuck. may as well call myself anything. who cares, right, all of 20 people?
What is appropriation, & when does it cross the line into plagiarism?
Also, is it different to do this with a living writer’s work v. a dead writer’s work?
I’ve been having this conversation A LOT lately, with a wide range of writers with a crazy amount of variation in answer. Oddly enough, one of the most conservative/traditional writers I know is totally ok with appropriation that is practically plagiarism, whereas some of the most least conservative/traditional writers have been arguing against it. Those of you who know my more recent writing know I’m all about appropriation, but when does it “cross the line”? I find myself increasingly conservative on this issue. Hmm…
It’s a small world, that’s for sure, and it’s inevitable that as writers, we get to know each other. We form friendships, etc. etc. Over at HTMLg, they’ve had discussions about friends publishing friends, which is a question worth exploring, but let’s not beat a tired horse.
So I’ll reframe their question: How do you feel about friends reviewing friends? Is it ok, or is it not? Does being friends with someone change your reading of their book?
I have to admit: I’m biased when reading a friend’s book. If I like him/her as a person, I’m bound to read differently than if it’s a stranger. Now, I’m not necessarily saying I’m a more generous reader if I know the person (though that’s often the case), but it does change things if you’re friends, right? Or am I wrong?
I had a conversation with a writer-friend (let’s call him Adam) recently who asked me why I liked another writer (let’s call him Bob). Adam argued that Bob was not a good writer, his sentences were un-noteworthy, and the book itself without point or purpose. I respect Adam. I generally respect his opinions too, esp. on books. (Though sure, we don’t always see eye to eye. But who does?) When asked why I like Bob’s writing, my first default answer was that he’s my friend. But I like his writing too. Only: do I like his writing because we’re friends? Except I can usually separate my opinions from my friendships. Kind of.
I often find myself saying: I don’t especially like his/her writing, but I think he/she’s a great person. So then do I read what I read, do I like what I like, primarily because of friendships? I’ve confused myself. I’ve talked myself in a circle.
How much of an influence does friendship play in your reading?
Tomorrow morning, early, I’ll get on a plane to go to New York. Whereas I grew up in a city, I’ve been in small town Midwest for the past five years or so, and the whole concept of New York is overwhelming. It’s a city. I mean a real city, with arts & food, etc. To add to any pre-existing anxiety, I’m supposed to go hobnob with “big” people. As it is, I can barely stumble out a few words to someone like Ben Marcus, who’s a nice as heck guy.
But that’s not my point. At the PEN “celebration,” which is titled “Crossing Over” this year, I’m slated to participate in a panel discussion with my co-winners Uwem Akpan (Oprah’s new book pick) & Juan Felipe Herrara (who’s won a NBCC poetry prize), NBCC president Jane Ciabettari, & Norton editor Brendan Curry about “crossing over” in genre & how this leads to critical & commercial success. Little, Brown published Uwem’s book, and Juan is published by university presses. I’m obviously small press. Many of the proposed discussion deals with our experiences working in these different types of presses. Jane has one question in particular about the role of small presses. Yes, I’m in the world of small press, & yes, my books are all small press & I serve as editor for two small presses, but what is the ROLE of small press? I’m proud to represent small press, don’t get me wrong, especially for an event that is bound to generate publicity, but I have to admit, I’m nothing but nerves about this. So give me some advice, Big Other. What role do YOU think small press plays? Of course, I have my own conception (both ethical & aesthetic) of the role of small press, sure sure, but I’d like to open a dialogue about this! Tell me your thoughts!
& if you’re free, please come support me & small press! The event is tomorrow at 7pm at Housing Works.
this interview with paul auster from New York Magazine is hilarious. no other word for it. read it. tell me what you think… one day, i hope people read my books & ask me questions about how similar i am to my characters. oh paul auster: by the way, are you a pedophile, do you like incest, & what about parisian women on bicycles!? http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/62258/
because folks liked my last version of this, for your viewing pleasure, below are the books i read last week. it’s a pretty exciting list:
1. Patrik Ourednik’s Europeana: A Brief History of the Twentieth Century (Dalkey Archive, 2005): The twentieth century boiled down to painstakingly concise and shocking truths. No one is left unscathed or uncriticized in this book. Ourednik’s dry humor pairs well with sentences that are dense in their simplicity, that makes sense. For instance: “Psychiatrists said that in many people the First World War provoked traumas that had been previously hidden in the unconscious, and in the 1920s and 1930s the people started to be neurotic because they were not adapted to their inner or outer state, and in Europe in the 1960s, 25% of women and 15% of men were neurotic, and journalists called it the disease of the century. And in the 1970s the number of people suffering from depression also started to rise, and at the end of the century every fifth citizen of Europe was depress” (65). Every sentence in Europeana reads this way: biting, revealing, absurd, contradictory, a slap across an entire century’s big sweaty face.
2. Urs Allemann’s Babyfucker (Les Figues, 2010 but available now!): This is a book to talk about. This is a book you want to carry around with you, just so people can ask you what it’s about. Last week, as I was sitting at a cafe in South Bend, this slender volume lying on top of my usual stack of library books. It’s cover is a lovely yellow, it’s spine an unobtrusive pink. But the title! The title is what interests people most. So someone asks me: What’s that you’re reading? And I say: Babyfucker. Just like that. And that person responds: Hmm. There’s no follow-up question. I have to force their discomfort. I say: It’s a book about a man who fucks babies, or not. It’s this little Beckettian book, this man obsessed with the sentence, ‘I fuck babies,’ constantly repeating, ‘I fuck babies. That’s my sentence.’ Whether or not he actually fucks the babies is irrelevant to the reader, but to that person standing by your chair at the cafe, that’s the only question that matters. Here’s the thing, I haven’t even started touching the substance or the incredible writing in this book, but it’s all solid. This is an inadequate review of a truly stunning book, but I’ve only managed to do exactly what I’ve criticized that person at the cafe of doing: getting lost in the spectacle. Continue reading