Here’s the introduction I delivered before David Peak’s reading at Brown University’s Literary Arts Department’s Demitasse on April 18, 2013:
The first fiction I read from David Peak’s work was his chapbook Museum of Fucked, the curator-narrator of which has a thing for b-grade horror films, the narrator offering aching portraits of disturbed, hurting, and despairing people living in rundown Chicago neighborhoods, ne’er-do-wells, like crack addicts, homeless people, a blind man begging for change, a landlord who starves cats and dogs for pleasure, a woman with “burned out nostrils” with “rotten” teeth who claims her mother was Marilyn Monroe, and a desperate man swinging a baseball bat holding kids captive. Roaming Chicago’s “gray gentrified industrial neighborhoods,” its “people-packed, colorful shopping districts,” “hip neighborhoods filled with three-flats,” and the “dirty parts…with their broken glass and families,” these grotesques could easily be confused for the zombies of Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead (titles of two of Museum’s stories). The view of life here is encapsulated in the following lines from this brutal fiction: “God we’re all fucked, he says to someone on the other end of the line.”
[This post began as a response to some comments made by Douglas Storm on Amber’s most recent post.]
The name “Viktor Shklovsky” comes up a lot at this site (I’m guilty of mentioning it in perhaps half of my posts), and one might wonder why the man and his work matters. Below, I’ll try and lay out what Viktor Shklovsky has done for me, and what he might be able to do for you, too! Because Shklovsky might be the single most interesting and, above all else, useful critic I’ve ever encountered…
Carl Baratta, "Driver Take Me to the River 3."
The Summer 2011 issue of Requited is now online. It features:
- fiction by Josh Collins, Jess Upshaw Glass, Suzanne Scanlon, Ben Slotzky, and Simon A. Smith;
- poetry by Kristy Bowen, Nicelle Davis, Eric Ellingson, Molly Gaudry, Monica Gomery, Rich Ives, Alyse Knorr, Kate Martin Rowe, and J. A. Tyler;
- essays by Steve Katz, Mark Rappaport, and Viktor Shklovsky;
- visual art by Carl Baratta and Alexis MacKenzie;
- and videos by Anne Elizabeth Moore and Hyon Jung Kim.
Please check it out! And since the nonfiction section is my domain, allow me to say a few words about the pieces there.
Nearly two years ago, when I moved to England from California, I had a box of books shipped over from California to England. The box was full of books, some of which were my most beloved books, and some of which were books I needed to finish the novel I was writing. At the same time, there was a Royal Mail strike going on. The box of books never arrived.
Now I don’t live in that London flat anymore. I don’t know if those books will ever find their way to me. I desperately hope the striking workers opened the box up and read the books. Took the books for themselves. I hope they found something in them. Fell in love with them. With the life in them.
Have you ever lost books like that? These are the ones I lost.
just went up—well, Part One did, in which Matt Rowan asks me questions about my first book (Amazing Adult Fantasy), G.I. Joe, geek culture, Ota Benga, Ayn Rand, George Orwell, and bad writing habits; we also discuss Curtis White, Theodor Adorno, Viktor Shklovsky, and ninjas, among other things.
[Update: Part Two, which focuses more on my first novel, Giant Slugs, is now up.]
Anybody who knows me knows this passage. I am constantly quoting it:
[H]eld accountable for nothing, life fades into nothingness. Automatization eats away at things, at clothes, at furniture, at our wives, at our fear of war. […] And so, in order to return sensation to our limbs, in order to make us feel objects, to make a stone feel stony, man has been given the tool of art. The purpose of art, then, is to lead us to a knowledge of a thing through the organ of sight instead of recognition. By ‘enstranging’ objects and complicating form, the device of art makes perception long and ‘laborious.’ —Viktor Shklovsky, “Art as Device” (Theory of Prose pages 5–6)
Experimental chef Grant Achatz, speaking in an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air:
If you think about eating, you know, we do it two, three, four times a day since we’re born, basically. And the act of eating, the mechanics of eating, become very monotonous. So literally you’re either picking up a fork or a spoon, and you’re eating from a plate or a bowl, with the same motion every time. And so if we can break that monotony, then we get you to take notice of the moment, and now you’re thinking about the food, it’s making you feel a certain way. (8:50–9:22)
The entire interview is well worth listening to.
The new sentence, like all other “new” phenomena and movements (the New Criticism, the New Novel, the New Narrative, dozens of New Wave movements in film and music) keeps getting older and older—it is, in fact, roughly as old as I am, if you date it from 1977. Such is the danger of naming anything new. But what made the New Sentence something novel way back in its youth, in the late 1970s and early 1980s?
An aside, though, before we begin: I’m rather fond of tracing out lineages and influences. This may create the impression that I don’t believe that anything’s ever new. Quite the contrary! We are surrounded by innovation—however, I believe that it rarely (if ever) arises out of thin air, and that it represents less of a break with the past than we might think. An extremely novel effect can come about through the recombination of preexisting influences and materials. Or: a simple shift in an artwork’s organizing dominant (to use Roman Jakobson’s term) can create something exceedingly innovative.
Allow me to attempt to demonstrate with the new sentence, first described (to my knowledge) by Ron Silliman in his 1977 essay titled after it. This long and complex essay advances several arguments: much of it, for instance, is devoted to criticizing the lack of a coherent concept of the sentence in linguistics, philosophy, and literary criticism. Along the way there are numerous intriguing observations, such as:
If we argue—and I am arguing—that the sentence, as distinct from the utterance of speech, is a unit of prose, and if prose as literature and the rise of printing are inextricably interwoven [here Silliman is following a line of thought borrowed from Viktor Shklovsky], then the impact of printing on literature, not just on the presentation of literature, but on how writing itself is written, needs to be addressed. This would be the historical component of any theory of the sentence. (73)