is now up at Rain Taxi. FYI.
[Please note that I’ve updated both of these posts with photos that Yuriy sent me.]
I’d like to ask a few more questions about Three Blondes and Death, if you don’t mind. Perhaps the most memorable and complicated aspect of that novel is its syntax. I’ll quote a short passage to illustrate:
It’d been unusually warm all that spring. The vegetation was much more advanced than usual. It really looked almost as in the middle of June. The grass was thick. It was bright green. It covered the earth like a bright layer of paint. The paint seemed shiny. It seemed still wet. It seemed to have been poured out of a can and to have spread over the earth. It seemed to have spread by itself. The earth therefore seemed tilted. (13)
How did you arrive at such a style?
Oh, yes, that syntax! You can’t imagine how much grief and pain it cost me.
Let’s back up a bit. When did you move to the US?
I came to this country in 1952, having left Germany at age 17. My 18th birthday I celebrated on the boat a week before landing in New York. I had just graduated from High School. This was in February, and in the fall I enrolled at Newark College of Engineering (now New Jersey Institute of Technology) in the BS program in the department of Electrical Engineering. I didn’t feel I had any other choice. Having spent my formative years in post-WWII Germany, I saw of how little use was liberal arts education during times of crisis so, like most of my Ukrainian friends, I decided to study engineering. Being “technical” was the answer. This kind of thinking permeated the whole Ukrainian immigrant community. New Jersey had a lot of recent Ukrainian immigrants at that time; I believe that about 10% of the students at the college were Ukrainian. (Both my brother and stepbrother later followed in my footsteps.)
I had no particular interest in engineering as such (I hated to tinker around with things and never put together a radio as some of my friends did), but loved math, so I chose Electrical Engineering, which was the most theoretical of the engineering disciplines. I took lots of math and physics, and actually enjoyed the technical subjects more than the less technical ones, such as economics, “principles of engineering,” and even English. I preferred dealing with clear-cut issues. But there was another reason I went in for engineering. While in High School, I avidly read Dostoyevsky, and one of my favorite characters of his was the nihilist Kirilov from The Possessed, which I mentioned earlier. He, as you may recall, was an engineer. I fancied myself similar to Kirilov in many ways and like him wanted to be an engineer.
I first encountered Yuriy Tarnawsky‘s writing in 1998, when I stumbled across a copy of Three Blondes and Death (FC2, 1993) in a Philadelphia bookstore. (A college professor, having noticed my interest in less-than-realist fiction, encouraged me to be on the lookout for any books published by FC2 or Dalkey Archive Press.)
Three Blondes was unlike any other book I’d ever seen: it consisted of hundreds of short chapters, each one a solid block of prose, describing in meticulous detail the simultaneously outlandish and banal lives of the protagonist, Hwbrgdtse, and three blonde women—Alphabette, Bethlehem, and Chemnitz—that he grows, in turn, infatuated with. The chapters are not always presented in chronological order, and more than half of them relate the characters’ dreams. It very quickly became one of my favorite contemporary novels. (When I moved to Thailand in 2003, it was one of the few books that I brought with me.)
Later, in the summer of 2004, I met Yuriy in New York, at Ron Sukenick’s memorial service; we began talking, and soon became friends. I’m pleased now to be able to post here, in multiple parts, a lengthy interview I’ve conducted with him. I’ll also be posting and linking to excerpts from Yuriy’s writing; my hope is that this will encourage more people to seek out his unique and deliriously fascinating work. Continue reading
My first book, the prose collection, Amazing Adult Fantasy, is now available. Interested parties can order it here.
Of it, others have said:
“Adam Jameson’s amazing adult fiction is alive with the life of language. Like Céline or Gertrude Stein, Jameson’s fiction works if the language works and the language works so the work works. He restores my faith in the possibility of joy in fiction.”
— Curtis White, author of The Middle Mind and Memories of My Father Watching TV
“There is a character in one of these stories called Indian Jones who ‘had his plate too full looking for priceless artifacts to have any time for toys or children.’ Not A D Jameson. He has written a book of modernday fables in which the plot and language amaze the reader on every page with wit and imagination. Jameson has managed to accomplish something not every artist has: he has grown to adulthood while retaining the spontaneity and inventiveness of a child.”
— Yuriy Tarnawsky, author of Three Blondes and Death and Like Blood in Water
Meanwhile, a few selections have appeared online:
- elimae: “Fiction”
- NOÖ Journal: “Indian Jones”
- alice blue review: “Caracas”
- Harp & Altar: “Korawik Wattanakul”
- Mutable Sound: “Rock Albany!”
Thank you for your time and attention!
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)
Part 4, “Death,” Chapter 27: “Why Is Water So Beautiful?”
It may shine like cheeks down which tears flow. It may shine like tears. It may be dark like tears. It may be dark like cheeks down which tears flow. It may be pale like cheeks down which tears flow. It may be dark like a room in which tears flow. It may be pale like a room in which tears flow. It may flow like tears. It may flow to where tears flow. It may flow to where tears flow from. It may flow like the world when tears flow. It may carry away with it tears after they fall off the cheeks down which they’d flown. It may carry away cheeks so that there’ll be no more place for tears to flow on. It may carry away rooms so that there’ll be no space for tears to flow in. It may flow past tears. It may flow past cheeks. It may flow past rooms. It may flow past clocks. It may make the sound of a clock ticking. It may move like the hands of a clock. It may move past Roman and Arabic numerals. It may be added or subtracted like numbers. It’s invisible like numbers. It’s invisible like time. It’s like time in the sense that it can be detected only through the effect it has on the material world. It’s like an idea in the sense that it can be detected only through the effect it has on the material world. It can look like a page in a book. It can cover a page like fine print. It can carry away print. It can carry away feet. It can carry away faces. It can provide a roof over one’s head. It can kill like a sword. It’s shaped like a sword. It’s shaped like an atom bomb. It can kill like an atom bomb. It can soothe like soft hands. It can mend broken bones. It can mend broken minds. It can sway like a branch after a bird has flown off it. It can sound like a bird singing. It can make a bird sing. It can sound like a telephone ringing. It can look like a telephone in an empty room. It looks like grass. It covers the earth like grass. It’s green like grass. It’s transparent like an angel’s eye. It’s shaped like an angel’s eye. It’s blue like an angel’s eye. It’s blue like an angel’s wing. It’s transparent like an angel’s wing. It can flow out of an angel’s eye. It can flow out of an angel’s wing. Angels’ wings and eyes can flow out of it. It’s parallel to angels’ eyes and wings. It’s parallel to everything. It can be compared to anything.
[Update: As if this post weren’t long enough, there’s now a Part 2.]
On January 22, I read Shya Scanlon’s post “The Dull King”; on January 25 I read his second post “Cover Your Tracks.” Both were about reading James Wood’s How Fiction Works. Before that I’d heard of James Wood but hadn’t read anything by him; I knew some people liked him and some didn’t like him. I myself had no opinion about the guy. Nor did I have any real plan to read How Fiction Works. But still I posted a couple of comments on Shya’s posts, and Shya wrote back, and I wrote back, and before I knew it I’d written a very long comment that I turned into my own post, “Uncover Your Tracks.”
Then I thought what the hell and trudged through the snow to Columbia College. That was a fun trip; the library elevators weren’t working, and a security guard had to escort me up to the fifth floor. It felt like the normal world had gotten broken, and something exciting was taking place. I took that as a sign that I was on the right track. I went home right away and read the book from cover to cover….