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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“Froth” and “Cloud Formations”

“You know,” the painter said, “that art froth, that artist fornication, that general art-and-artist loathsomeness, I always found that repelling; those cloud formations of basest self-preservation topped with envy…Envy is what holds artists together, envy, pure envy, everyone envies everyone else for everything…I talked about it once before, I want to say: artists are the sons and daughters of loathsomeness, of paradisiac shamelessness, the original sons and daughters of lewdness; artists, painters, writers, and musicians are the compulsive masturbators on the planet, its disgusting cramps, its peripheral puffings and swellings, its pustular secretions…I want to say: artists are the great emetic agents of the time, they are always the great, the very greatest emetics…Artists, are they not a devastating army of absurdity, of scum? The infernality of unscrupulousness is something I always meet with the thoughts of artists…But I don’t want any artist’s thoughts anymore, no more of those unnatural thoughts, I want nothing more to do with artists or with art, yes, not with art either, that greatest of all abortions…Do you understand: I want to get right away from that bad smell. Get away from that stink, I always say to myself, and secretly I always thought, get away from that corrosive, shredding, useless lie, get away from that shameless simony…” He said: “Artists are the identical twins of hypocrisy, the identical twins of lowmindedness, the identical twins of licensed exploitation, the greatest licensed exploitation of all time. Artists, as they have shown themselves to me to be,” he said, “are all dull and grandiloquent, nothing but dull and grandiloquent, nothing…”

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