Links

Helen DeWitt’s “Cormac McCarthy & the Semi-Colon” is about the travails of punctuation. Yes, editors are often always trying to add commas.

The new great issue of The Quarterly Conversation has a review of William H. Gass’s Middle C by Brad Johnson and one of  Sam Lipsyte’s The Fun Parts by David Winters. David Winters’ review of Christine Schutt’s Prosperous Friends in the LA Review of Books is also well worth the click.

Canadian author Douglas Glover’s literary journal Numero Cinq is billed as “A warm place on a cruel web.” Jason Lucarelli’s piece “The Consecution of Gordon Lish: An Essay on Form and Influence” might be the most definitive piece on Lish.

There is a wonderful interview with Evan Lavender-Smith by Edwin Turner at Biblioklept. Lavender-Smith’s glorious From Old Notebooks was recently re-issued by Dzanc Books. I reviewed it at this site.

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Thoughts About Christine Schutt’s Nightwork

I was recently asked to play a game of “Truth or Truth,” an asinine variant of an already asinine game, “Truth or Dare,” the game a transparent but ultimately futile attempt at sublimation: a redirection from the charged quality of being a stranger in a sleepy town: an escape from the anguish of having been uprooted, that uprooting being self-imposed doing nothing to assuage that feeling. After I said I was “game” (yes, I was willing to play, but I also meant less-than-half-jokingly that I was also permanently injured), I was asked: “What subjects are taboo in your writing?” Perhaps too quickly, I answered, “None.” And so the game moved on to someone else. I say, “too quickly” because after having just finished rereading (for what, the third time?) Christine Schutt’s Nightwork, preparing to teach it tomorrow, I can’t help thinking that Schutt’s writing demonstrates what I can only hope is evident in my writing, that is, a willingness to engage, to represent what is socially or culturally prohibited; to accept, that is, come to some kind of intelligent terms with the unacceptable; to sully the so-called sacred; to allow, in some way, what’s forbidden; to trespass whatever number of boundaries.

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Big Other’s Birthday Tribute to William H. Gass, 2012

https://bigotherbigother.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/tunneling-gass-dipiazz1.jpg?w=300

Photo by Frank Di Piazza

It’s probably too easy a move to begin my very brief remarks about Gass’s use of architecture as a metaphor by trotting out the old horse of a quote about language being the house of Being, before flogging it to death once and for all; but it seems appropriate, nevertheless, to do so, especially when I think about Gass’s positing that the sentence is a container of consciousness. Actually, the quote from Heidegger is useful only when held in contrast with Gass’s ideas about language. Whereas Heidegger placed speech, that is, the continuum of speech, which includes talking, listening, and silence, at the center of his theory of language, Gass does not see writing as a mere supplement to speech. The continuum of writing includes four modes: persuasive, expository, expressive, and literary; and two hybrid modes: argumentative (a fusion of persuasive and expository) and critical (a fusion of expository and expressive) modes. Of these modes, it is the literary that receives the primary focus in Gass’s critical writing. And so, one might perhaps properly say that, for Gass, writing, or, rather, the sentence is the house of becoming. And what is it exactly that becomes in a sentence? For Gass, the sentence is a container of consciousness, a “verbal consciousness, of course, one built of symbols, not sensations; yet one of perceptions all the same: perceptions followed by thoughts like tracking hounds, and infused throughout by the energies of memory and desire, the moods emotions foster, and the reach, through imagery and other juxtapositions, of imagination…” (“The Aesthetic Structure of the Sentence”). Like any house, this container can take any number of forms:

[S]entences must be understood to contain all sorts of unused syntactical space; places that could be filled with more words, but, in any specific instance, aren’t…Sentences are like latticework, like fences, to be left open or prudently closed, their boards wide or narrow, pointy or level, the spaces between them, ditto….A sentence can sometimes give its reader such a strong sense of its overall character that it provokes a flight of fancy, a metaphorical description: it’s like a journey of discovery; it’s like a coil of rope, a triumphal column; it’s like a hallway or a chapel; it’s like a spiral stair. To me, for instance, Sir Thomas Browne’s triplet—“Grave stones tell truth scarce forty years. Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oak.”—with its relentlessly stressed syllables (seven strong to one weak in the first row, seven to two in the second course, and six to one in the last) resembles a wall. I can even locate spots (the weak stresses) where its stones have crumbled. Families come to pieces the way the word does.

Yes, architecture is a theme running throughout William Gass’s oeuvre, not only in his critical work but in his fictions as well, particularly in The Tunnel, where tunnel-as-metaphor is used as the very structure from which the novel is built.

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“Fifty Literary Pillars or a Few Planks,” by Christine Schutt

The books listed come in order of memory and recent courses taught at high school and college levels; in both instances, pleasure.  Every year:  Shakespeare, Dickinson, Lowell, Bishop, Frost.  I like many living writers, too, but I have decided to interpret the assignment as listing writers whose work I read again and again.

1.    Shakespeare’s plays, particularly: Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Richard III, Twelfth Night,  Richard II.  Lines come back that make me cry.  Lear’s “Never, never, never, never, never.”

2.  Emily Dickinson
One of the astonishments is how many great poems there are—too many.   The titles may not be rightly capped but these tumble out:
I Felt a Funeral in My Brain
The Bustle in the House
Twas Just this Time last Year I Died
The Distance that the Dead have Gone  .
I heard a Fly Buzz when I Died
Just Lost When I was Saved
Because I could not stop for death
Pain has an element of Blank
A Certain Slant of Light Winter Afternoons
My Life it Stood a loaded Gun
The Soul Selects her own Society
I could not Live with you it would be Life

3.  Robert Frost, especially  “Home Burial”

4.  Elizabeth Bishop, especially the poem “Crusoe in England”

5.  Robert Lowell, especially the last book,  Day by Day

6.  Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights and the essays

7.  W. G. Sebald, Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants

8.  William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow

9.  Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

10.  Homer, Just the epithets are colossal. . .Hector, Breaker of Horse

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I Shot the Moon, Calamari Press, 41 / 41, SLEEPINGFISH 8

Click through to read the full review of SLEEPINGFISH, the forty-first (and final installment) in this full-press review of Calamari Press, and one in which I excerpt some tremendous work, praise Calamari Press one last time, give away copies of SLEEPINGFISH 8, and publicly offer a book contract to M. T. Fallon.

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Soda Series #10 this Wednesday at 7pm in Brooklyn

The Soda Series is having our 10th reading Wednesday at the Soda Bar in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn at 7pm. What makes our series unique is that it is a reading and conversation. First short readings and then a 30-40 minute conversation between the writers and the audience. This time we have Roberta Allen, Robin Grearson, John Haskell, and Kirsten Kaschock.  Facebook RSVP

Also, on January 24th  Bradford Morrow, Brian Evenson, and Susan Daitch will be reading. After that the series will be going to four times a year.

Here is a complete list of our past readers: Christine Schutt, Gary Lutz, John Domini, Claire Donato, Mary Caponegro, Tim Horvath, Nick Ripatrazone, Robin Beth Schaer, Brenda Shaughnessy, Anthony Tognazzini, Paula Bomer, Sasha Fletcher, Amy King, Eugene Lim, Matt Bell, John Madera, Jeff Parker, Amber Sparks, Dawn Raffel, David Peak, Ana Božičević, Edward Mullany, Janice Shapiro, Michael Leong, Mike Young, Steve Himmer, Joseph Riippi, Mairéad Byrne, Daniel Groves, Stephanie Barber, Andy Devine, Adam Robinson, Vincent Czyz, Melissa Broder, Stever Himmer, and Josef Horáček.

A very big thank you to all of these past readers and the future ones. You have made and will continue to make the Soda Series a spectacular event!

Kirsten Kaschock makes poems, novels, dances, sometimes people. Her novel Sleight has just been released by Coffee House Press. Her second book of poetry, A Beautiful Name for a Girl, is available from Ahsahta Press. She lives in Philly with three proto-men and their father.
John Haskell is the author of American Purgatorio, I Am Not Jackson Pollock, and Out of My Skin. A contributor to the radio program The Next Big Thing, he lives in Brooklyn.
Robin Grearson is a nonfiction writer who relocated to Brooklyn from Los Angeles last year. When she arrived in New York, she sought to collaborate with visual artists in an effort to expand her writing practice. This interest in art and artists has led to her curating art shows and teaching; she leads a writing workshop for artists at 3rd Ward. Her writing has appeared in print in The New York Times and The Brooklyn Rail, and online in various publications. She is currently working on a memoir.
Roberta Allen is the author of eight books, including Certain People, short shorts, published by Coffee House Press. Her two collections were both praised by The New York Times Book Review. She has been a Tennessee Williams Fellow In Fiction. Her popular writing guide in the 1990s, FAST FICTION, was the first to teach flash fiction. A visual/conceptual artist as well, she has exhibited worldwide and has work in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She taught at The New School for eighteen years and has taught in the writing program at Columbia University. She continues to teach private workshops. Recently, she completed a new story collection called The Princess Of Herself. Her 2000 novel, The Dreaming Girl, has just been republished by Ellipsis Press.