[Video shamelessly stolen from Shane Jones’s Facebook feed]
Of course sometimes the hippie with his feet up on the desk actually does have good taste — the example is too often used, but, well, Gordon Lish. (There must be others; good books do still get published.) Still, up until all that “Punker” and “tennis” business, right, right? And allied to this brand of toybox-tyrant naivety is a penchant for pushing lots of little piles into one or two rather large, rather capriciously chosen piles. I’m thinking especially of the whole Mark Z. Danielewski serialized-novel business. I liked House of Leaves fine, but I couldn’t help but think: why not buy 50 books with that $1 million? (And yes, I realize that Pantheon got 10 books for their Publishers Clearing House-sized check.) Now that the ink has dried, it doesn’t much matter whether the cigar-chomper in question has made a good bet or not — Pantheon will be throwing money at the book(s) regardless. Is it significant that so many of the “Biggest Box-Office Bombs” were produced after 2000? Are we getting worse at this? When Plan 9 from Outer Space bombed, J. Edward Reynolds despaired of losing $60,000, got out of the movie business. When Cutthroat Island bombed, Carolco lost almost $140 million, went bankrupt. Too big to fail? Not in art, I guess.
Stanley Elkin proved remarkably supportive and generous with me, c. 1977 in Boston. He’d come to town as a visiting writer at Boston U., just another of the amazing lineup (Barth, Barthelme [Donald], Cheever [alcoholic, alas], more…) brought in by George Starbuck while he was running the writing program. I was a recent graduate and still spending a lot of time in the department, while freelancing as a teacher and writer in town. I’d read a couple of his novellas, stuff that later wound up in Searches & Seizures and The Living End, and I’d started A Bad Man after seeing Gass recommend it in one of his essays, then had it snitched off my seat by a stranger on the MBTA.
The photo used elsewhere on Big Other is the figure I recall. Elkin and I met at a department function and, drink in hand, he proved a delightful sourpuss, for instance regarding his friend Bill Gass. “Listen,” he groused, “I’ve written better novels than Bill ever will.” This with obvious fondness! And energy, too — this was before Elkin’s MS put him in a walker. I don’t even recall seeing him with a cane. Continue reading
The votes are in, and the winner of the poll for the first book to be discussed in the Big Other Book Club is Tom McCarthy’s C. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, hailed by many and knocked by maybe even more, McCarthy describes the book as dealing with technology and mourning. I’m excited to have, as our first book for discussion, a contest finalist that’s merit has been argued. All the more fuel for our discussion. I’ll start reading quite soon, and begin posting questions, comments and death threats in January.
In the mean time, here’s the rest of the schedule for 2011:
January: Tom McCarthy C
February: Mary Caponegro The Complexities of Intimacy
March: Manuel Puig Betrayed by Rita Hayworth
April: Stanley Elkin Searches and Seizures: 3 Novellas
May: Djuna Barnes Nightwood
June: Lyn Hejinian My Life
July: John Barth The Sotweed Factor
August: Gordon Lish Peru
September: John Gardner and John Maier translation of Gilgamesh
October: John Hawkes Travesty
November: Helen Vendler Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries
December: Mo Yan Big Breasts and Wide Hips
Do you know of ILLiad? It’s an interlibrary loan system from which I’ve recently requested and received the following books (that my own university library does not have):
- Gordon Lish’s Mourner at the Door and My Romance and Krupp’s Lulu
- Helene Cixous’s Coming to Writing and Other Essays
- Ken Sparling’s Dad says he saw you at the mall
- Peter Handke’s The Weight of the World
- DFW’s Infinite Jest
- Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day
- Mark Halliday’s Tasker Street
- Aimee Parkison’s Woman with Dark Horses
- Nina Shope’s Hangings: Three Novellas
- Sara Greenslit’s The Blue of Her Body
- Zachary Mason’s The Lost Books of the Odyssey
- Janet Mitchell’s The Creepy Girl and Other Stories
- Jacques Roubaud’s Some Thing Black
- Gary Young’s No Other Life
- Marilyn Hacker’s Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons
- Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee
- Michael Hardt’s and Antonio Negri’s Empire
- Frank Stanford’s The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You
I don’t know what I’d do without the ILLiad. What books are on your to-read-but-don’t-have-yet list?
The qualities of the new sentence:
1) The paragraph organizes the sentences;
2) The paragraph is a unit of quantity, not logic or argument;
3) Sentence length is a unit of measure;
4) Sentence structure is altered for torque, or increased polysemy/ambiguity;
5) Syllogistic movement is (a) limited (b) controlled;
6) Primary syllogistic movement is toward the paragraph as a whole, or the total work;
7) Secondary syllogistic movement is toward the paragraph as a whole, or the total work;
8) The limiting of syllogistic movement keeps the reader’s attention at or very close to the level of language, the sentence level or below.
I first heard about this book approximately six years ago, in my first semester of graduate school at U Nebraska, when Marjorie Perloff (then president of MLA) came to Lincoln to give a talk that would end up being a formative moment in my education. That was where I first learned about L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, first heard the name Christian Bök, and first experienced a poem by Charles Bernstein — Perloff shared a particularly brilliant one called “Every Lake Has A House” (which you can listen to Bernstein read here).
What follows is a blow-by-blow account of the first issue of Gordon Lish’s legendary literary journal The Quarterly. Here I’ll examine stories by Amy Hempel, Tom Spanbauer,
Matthew Levine, Chris Spain,
Pamela Schirmeister, Yannick Murphy,
J.S. Marcus, Darrell Spencer, Kaye Gibbons,
Janet Kauffman, and Tom Rayfiel; a novella by Jane Smiley; poems by Paulette Jiles, Robert Gibb,
and Harvey Shapiro; and letters by Nancy Lemann, Pagan Kennedy, Harold Brodkey,
Robert Jones, E.J. Cullen, and
Dan Duffy; and drawings by Don Nace. I hope to eventually cover every single issue of this incredible journal.