Monday, July 7, 2008

SEEKING INNOVATIVE FICTION & POETRY

This just in from Subito Press:

"Subito Press of the University of Colorado announces its Annual Book Competition. We will publish two books of innovative writing, one each of fiction and poetry. Submissions will be accepted from June 2 to August 15 (postmark date).

Submit manuscripts of up to 70 pages of poetry or up to 100 pages of (double spaced) fiction along with a $20 reading fee and an 8.5 x 11 SASE if you would like a copy of the winning entry in your genre. Manuscripts should include two cover sheets: one with title only, the other with title, author's name, address, e-mail, and phone number. All submissions will be judged anonymously by the creative writing faculty at the University of Colorado; friends, relatives, and former students of University of Colorado creative writing faculty are not eligible. Simultaneous submissions o.k.; please notify Subito immediately if your ms. is accepted elsewhere. Winners will give a reading at the University of Colorado. Notifications of winners will occur by December of 2008.

Send mss. to :
Subito Press
Department of English
226 University of Colorado, Boulder,
Boulder, Colorado 80309-0226

Please visit Subito http://www.colorado.edu/English/crw/crwprogram.htm for additional information.

Friday, June 13, 2008

TIME WAS: Part Two: My Head Exults



These [INTERNET Internet pages take their design from magazine pages that take their design from newspaper pages that take their design from early gazettes that take their design from public notices that... We're not really looking at anything new.] pages map my mind: nook & cranny, niche & corner, knob & hollow. All stitched, woven, tied, tangled and compressed. What initially appears to be chaos manifests
, with scrutiny, as interconnected patterns. I am a pattern-maker, more interested in interconnections between M-theory, architectural transparency, primate intercourse, technological advancements, human behavior, visual-textual literary space, etc., than isolated (read: Cartesian (read: parts (read: limited))) existential dilemmas that rarely, and often don’t, rise above a 19th Century knowledge base. Thus, in much contemporary literature people do things to and with and for each other, and they are either good or bad, like kids in a school primer. Nothing is ever always that simple, that black and white.



Recently, a noted literary journal published its Editor's Choices in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, all (1) horrifying in their mediocrity, (2) retreads of older, better literary works (3) offering no significant insights regarding the way we live now.So-and-so-writer says he doesn’t live that way now. He is an idiot. Because he does live that way now: he, with his computer laptop & email & cell phone & students with their laptops & email & cell phones & IM & MySpace & YouTube & iPods growing out of their hea... He is just appallingly, inexcusably unaware that the way he lives now is the way we live now. More importantly, he has grown old and afraid of dying. Clinging to stasis is, ironically, clinging to death. Because life is change and, not coincidentally, so is language. As of June 13, 2008, over 5000 entries exist in NetLingo’s text messaging dictionary, grown from 1174 entries on May 8, 2007, when I first researched this essay. SWIS?



Obviously, I don’t have much sympathy for the willful ignorant, for those who never or no longer question, wish to know, refuse to do their homework, swallow hook-line-&-sinker every goddamn thing that makes them feel comfy-cozy-righteous and let their preferred pundits fill their mouths with shit to spit it back out as if it were/they had an original thought. Intellectual laziness, and the denunciation of the intellect, is the most dangerous evil, and these days we’re drowning in it: http://newsbusters.org/node/11011. If nothing else, the Internet (like talk radio) gives writers a sniff of the shit in the ass crack of humanity: every blog, video, chatroom and forum becomes a dais upon which users publicize their hate and intolerance (which I hate and intolerate [sic]) and epidemic ignorance masquerading as wisdom. I am fascinated. As human I may judge, but as writer I must explore. Gutenberg's press changed the world more dramatically than the Internet; the Internet, in fact, is merely an inevitable outcome of Gutenberg's invention and Homo sapiens' propulsion toward innovation. We do not have a problem with printed matter because mass-produced books are over 500 years old
Actually, the Chinese were printing, with wooden blocks, nearly a thousand years before Gutenberg’s press. and we (the unlanded nongentry, at least) consequently are no longer entirely illiterate. Book banning, fashionable again, is the result of a complexly woven rug of illiteracy based on religious fundamentalism (literalism), reduction of K-12 arts education, the anti-intellectualism movement, and resultant decline of critical thinking.

With a single burst, an electromagnetic bomb (e-bomb) can (and likely will someday) destroy any and all technology using electricity within its range, including all – ALL! – computers and their systems.

PLEASE: Imagine the forms literature will take after another 500 years: Imagine the forms humans will take?
Humanity's ache toward the future leads us ever forward into the realm of "what if...?" For writers like me who are highly visual and aural, and synesthetic, the Internet offers fabulous forests of literary exploration for which I yearned long before the system became available. My composition space now resembles a colossal bucket of fluid whose infinite boundaries infinitely expand, projected outward by if-thens that beget exponentially more what-ifs.






Once free of the strict linearity of the book, other boundaries fall, and my narratives now incorporate video, audio, music, websites, visual art, consumer products and real people interacting with fictive characters. The Internet can teach writers and readers, if willing to learn, to see human, global and literally universal relationships, to understand that
everything is linked to everything else, that meanings arise from a malleable history created from language, that we can no longer shirk our responsibility for behaving responsibly toward all, and that we need not fear the Great Unknown(s) for that is where we live.

Literature will change as it has always changed, more or less – I hope more than less. And, as always, some people will change with it; many others will stagnate: their intellectual death preceding their corporeal death by decades, and time will pass in the pixel of an iPhone.


Because the information deluge is embryonic in the greater scheme of my spacetime, I have not yet had time to balance online time and off-line time. Bu
t I will.

"No one is ahead of his time, it is only that the particular variety of creating his time is the one that his contemporaries who are also creating their own time refuse to accept.... For a very long time everybody refuses and then
almost without a pause almost everybody accepts. In the history of the refused in the arts and literature the rapidity of the change is always startling." –Gertrude Stein

Time, as we know it, is a figment of our collective imagination. Time was, we could lay supine in the grass for hours, watching clouds shifting. Time was, we thought we reached deep enough into language.

Time was before us then. Time is before us now.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Literature & Global Warming

Look, folks: I want you to seriously consider how literature is/will be greatly affected by oil prices, global warming, and resultant economic plummet. I want you to consider that the publishing paradigm we're now using is not optimal, that we should be using & demanding development of new technologies to save both the book and the environment.

Here's an excerpt from the presentation I gave at the &NOW Festival of Innovative Writing & Art in April:


So now as a result of all that’s come before and coming now, of preparing this lecture, of thinking past the easily reachable threads already in place so that the whole realizes a burst of growth, reaches too toward some other available metaphorical space wherein and whereout I ask, metaphorically “What then is sustainable literature, literature that sustains itself, that leaves a small undamaging footprint in the world and yet is indubitably in the world? How important is it that the future / the present / the past know we were here? The multitude of writers and their publishers leaving mediocre pap in the world like mountains of discarded cell phones. Hundreds of thousands of new titles are published each year in the US alone and only a handful will ever be read by as many people. Hundreds of thousands multiplied by an average a print run of five thousand each equals nearly one billion new US books annually. A billion multiplied by an average of two hundred pages of paper, recycled or not. And the energy that goes into manufacturing that paper, that ink. The energy used even to recycle paper. And those timberlands cut down not only for the 200 billion pages a year, and the billion book covers a year, but for the wooden pallets on which those books will be shipped – two-thirds of the world’s cut wood, including rare hardwoods, used for pallets. And the energy used to make the pallets. And the energy used to transport the pallets of paper products and books. And the energy used to process the fuel used to transport the pallets of paper products and books. And the energy used to manufacture the transport vehicles. And the energy used to manufacture the parts used in manufacturing the vehicles. And so on here, there, then and now that thread of web tugged just enough so that I consider and thus point out to you now the tremendous amount of energy used for me to take a jet from Kansas City to California to give this talk that is not what I meant it to be.




More perspectives at Environmental Defense Action Fund.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Part Deuxes

Yes, I put a lot of highway between a Part 1 blog entry and a Part 2. They shall be released. Soon. Ish.

In Our Time

"When a work appears to be ahead of its time, it is only the time that is behind the work."
–Jean Cocteau, author & filmmaker


"No one is ahead of his time, it is only that the particular variety of creating his time is the one that his contemporaries who are also creating their own time refuse to accept."
–Gertrude Stein, author


"No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time; it is just that others are behind the times."
–Martha Graham, dancer

Every writer interested in avant-garde literature must become familiar with Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle. I was lucky enough, smart enough to see the Guggenheim installation back in 2003, and, shortly thereafter, watched the entire film cycle. Though considered primarily a visual (perhaps also performance) artist, Barney is also a multimodal writer. Even if he doesn't hang that label around his neck. And, really, the lable just isn't important. The art is.

BLEED

BLEED is up and running, with videos added weekly.
video
BLEED is a national vodcast channel addressing new generations of readers and viewers. It explores the newest trends in literature and the arts, and includes conversations with innovative writers and artists regarding how and why they create.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

&NOW BOOKS

Besides the benefits I spoke of in my last entry, more are coming down the pike (or as Jiri Cech says, "down the pipe"). At the 2008 &NOW Festival, Davis Schneiderman (author of the recently released work of innovative fiction, Abecedarium), announced two terrific con/in-ceptions:

1. &NOW Books (an imprint of Lake Forest College Press):
The newly formed Lake Forest College Press is pleased to announce the formation of its imprint, &NOW Books. Every two years, &NOW Books will publish THE &NOW AWARDS: THE BEST INNOVATIVE WRITING—a collection of the most provocative, hardest-hitting, deadly serious, patently absurd, cutting-edge, avant-everything-and-nothing work. Distribution of &NOW books will be through Northwestern University Press. Attendees at &NOW 2009 (Fall, SUNY Buffalo) will receive a complementary copy of the debut anthology, but writers need not attend &NOW to be included in the collection.

2. The Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize &NOW/Lake Forest College
Lake Forest College, in conjunction with the &NOW Festival of Innovative Writing and Art, invites applications for an emerging writer under forty years old, with no major book publication (chapbooks and the like excepted), to spend two months (February-March or March-April 2009) in residence at our campus in Chicago’s northern suburbs on the shores of Lake Michigan. There are no formal teaching duties attached to the residency. Time is to be spent completing a manuscript, participating in the Lake Forest Literary Festival, and offering two public presentations.
After the residency, the completed manuscript will be published, upon approval, by the new Lake Forest College Press &NOW Books imprint. The stipend is $10,000, with a housing suite and campus meals provided by the college. The position will be offered on alternate years to writers of prose and poetry, with the 2009 residency going to a poet. Hybrid genre and non-classifiable applications are welcome during either year.


Get the full details on the Now What blog.

WHERE I

was:

Chapman University, Orange, CA
Note to young, intelligent writers hoping to meet well-connected and 80% smarter writers, editors, and publishers: &NOW Festival of Innovative Writing & Art is an intimate gathering of great literary minds, relative to the unwieldy get-lost-in-the-crowd AWP Conference. The festival (note the celebratory implications of the word) has grown since its 2004 inception, but attendance is still no more than 200. Thus, over a period of 3 days, you have plenty of opportunities to talk, really talk, with writers in casual atmospheres, whether coffee or martinis, burritos or sea bass. The panels are insightful, the topics provocative, and the readings are gorgeous. Best of all, if you attend the Festival regularly, it eventually becomes a pleasant reunion with more and more people you actually like, not pretend to like. Oh, did I just confess to pretense? The next &NOW will be held six months early, in the fall of 2009 (Buffalo, New York) in order to shift it from spring, congested with the ever-date-shifting AWP.

Doubletree Hotel Annaheim/Orange CA

Monday, April 7, 2008

Where I'm

At:





Sacramento State University
via Doug Rice
April 10
Sacramento, CA

&NOW Festival of Innovative Writing & Art
April 14-18
Chapman University
Orange, California
Speaking on Science In/And Literature

Promises to again be great fun and brain.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Time Was: Part I: MY ASS HURTS






no longer recognize our place in the world. If the physical space of insular cities and suburbs made us big in our vainglorious minds, then the virtual space of the Internet makes us colossal: deities hovering above a 17-inch plasma universe, manipulating (often anonymously) information, people and entire cultures without fear of retribution. Yet – and still – we’re barely more than nothing: quantum grit in time’s bulging eye: single cell in nature’s deep throat. She blinks a hurricane and we’re history. She coughs a tsunami and we’re history erased.

Pixelate my raging holy water, bit stream my unimpeded flow:
Digitize my brother as Bellerophon upon Pegasus’ back:
Compress my mother’s body beached among flotsam & sand:


Death, like the speed of light, is constant.
Or so THEY say:

At 7:00 AM I sit down at my computer and don’t stand up* until 4 PM. After dinner I often sit down for two hours more. Imagine this: I imagine spring grass growing, seed to blade, though an authentic lawn beckons the naked soles of my feet only actually really 20 yards away!

*except to eat and piss and irregularly shit
this is important. this makes me here. this makes me [corpo]real.

The Internet displaces – disspaces – users so far from the holiest trinity of earth/water/air that we grow increasingly ignorant of our sensual connection to an environment that includes each other. Empathy shrivels, and user-writers no longer rely primarily on shifting empirical evidence of three and four dimensions to feed their anorexic muse.

(To be fair, writers stopped doing their homework long before the advent of the Internet. They stopped when academic writing programs became the substitute for living widely, curiously and intensely in the world. Stein, Hemingway, Hellmann, Conrad, et al.-- (more alive dead than most living writers -- are shitting in their loamy graves.)

Evidence shifts because we shift, rapidly shoved verso and recto by ontological bullies: contentious politics, religious extremism, corrupt media, cult of the personality, consume-ification, and, of course, fast and faster technologies – all now manifest profusely in byte-size morsels of mis- and disinformation:

THEY
don’t know their sore ass from a LOAMY hole in the ground. Ergo: Neither do we.




Pfffft!

“Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity – technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.”
– Ray Kurzweil, theoretical physicist










NOTE:
This essay (Parts I and II) was originally published in Boulevard, September 2007. Interestingly, the translation from my computer to Boulevard's designer/printer was hosed, and the essay looked like hell, further proving my thesis.

Monday, March 17, 2008

PIECE O' PIE CHART: March 16, 2008

Erratum: Sam Tanenhaus has been NY Times editor since 2004. (Many thanks to Shanna for pointing this out.) Historically, the gender bias is consistent with today's appalling statistics, averaging 20% women reviewed/reviewers, though Sammy may be breaking that all-time low.

Each week, Gertrude's Basket will create a pie chart illustrating The New York Times Book Review's gender bias. Charles McGrath is editor and thus primarily responsible for what gets reviewed and by whom. Included in the chart is the last page essay. Excluded is everything in the Best Sellers pages. Here's this week's:

Friday, March 14, 2008

PIECE-O-PIE CHART: March 9, 2008

Erratum: Sam Tanenhaus has been NY Times editor since 2004. (Many thanks to Shanna for pointing this out.) Historically, the gender bias is consistent with today's appalling statistics, averaging 20% women reviewed/reviewers, though Sammy may be breaking that all-time low.

Each week, Gertrude's Basket will create a pie chart illustrating The New York Times Book Review's gender bias. Charles McGrath is editor and thus primarily responsible for what gets reviewed and by whom. Included in the chart is the last page essay. Excluded is everything in the Best Sellers pages. Here's this week's:





Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Monstrous Women of the Avant-Garde: Part II

Shortly after my arrival at AWP, I headed for the Book Fair, specifically to the Les Figues Press table, piled with their lovely TrenchArt series and a few more superb anthologies.

And I must say something here about book-as-art-object. When did the publishing industry -- including most small, independent presses -- forget that part of a book’s allure lay in its aesthetic beauty, and I’m not just talking about cover art? (Much of which sucks, by the way. A game my husband and I play: Q: How do you tell if a book’s poorly written? A: If the title and author’s name appears in embossed metallic!) Go to any bookstore and watch people fondling paperbacks, weighing them in their hands. They’re drawn to unconventional formats: perfect little squares, long horizontals, tall verticals, unusual cover textures. Look hard at the Children’s book section, with its marvelous sensuality. Just because we get older does not mean we lose our love for the visually and tactilely enticing.

Enticing like Les Figues TrenchArt series. You can subscribe to the series for a so-reasonable-as-to-be-unholy $60, that gives you all five books, shipped to you as they’re published. It’s an investment in art and intellect, certainly, but also (to be materially crass) in one’s economic portfolio: I predict owning the complete sets will one day prove financially fruitful; thus, I subscribe. NOTE TO INVESTORS: I collect signed first editions published by small presses in print runs less than 3,000 because the return on investment is typically enormous and relatively quick, though staying in for the long run is significantly more profitable. You can watch your investment multiply at used & rare book sellers like www.alibris.com and www.abebooks.com.

Les Figues is run by Vanessa Place and Teresa Carmody, avant-garde writers and literary visionaries. Vanessa is author of Dies: A 50,000 Word Sentence, and La Medusa, forthcoming Fall 2008. Teresa is author of the story collection, Requiem.

Les Figues Press is by far one of the most interesting functioning today, more proof that much of the avant-garde exists far from New York and Brooklyn. (Though, as you’ll see in Part III of Monstrous, there are some very fine women writers on the F Train.) Besides their incredible brain capacity, these women are fun. Conversations with them are always full of "joie de tete," and sentences swing like machetes whacking through the untouched scrubland of contemporary aesthetics, with the historical path well-marked and respected.

For hors d’oevres of their deliciousness, here’s a clip from my forthcoming vodcast wherein I interview Vanessa and Teresa, plus the lovely former dancer, current actress and experimental dramatist, Sissy Boyd, not shown in this clip. Sissy's book, In the Plain Turn of the Body Make A Sentence: Two Plays, was published by Les Figues Press. (More about Sissy to come).

video

Monday, March 3, 2008

PIECE-O-PIE CHART: March 2, 2008

Erratum: Sam Tanenhaus has been NY Times editor since 2004. (Many thanks to Shanna for pointing this out.) Historically, the gender bias is consistent with today's appalling statistics, averaging 20% women reviewed/reviewers, though Sammy may be breaking that all-time low.

Each week, Gertrude's Basket will create a pie chart illustrating The New York Times Book Review's gender bias. Charles McGrath is editor and thus primarily responsible for what gets reviewed and by whom. Included in the chart is the last page essay. Excluded is everything in the Best Sellers pages. Here's this week's:



Friday, February 22, 2008

FALL INTO THE GAP: 21st Century Primer

Voila! The video of my 2008 Associated Writing Programs (AWP) presentation on the marriage of text and image in fiction and other narrative forms.  Recommended reading for literary and art critics, creative writing and English professors, and writers who aspire toward approaching, Herein, I discuss Bardo, neurological synapses, amazon.com's Kindle, virtual reality, Second Life (and lives), typeface design and usage, advertising, brain computer interface, Oblomov, willful ignorance, and much more. Originally presented on the AWP panel, "1000Pictures."  

PART ONE

Part Two  (if Part Two does not appear here, go to:  http://gertrudesbasket.blogspot.com)

[If you would like a high-res copy on DVD for educational purposes, please email me: ddiblasi at earthlink.net ]

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Interjection: The Death of Robbe-Grillet

There are a handful of writers who changed my thinking and thus my writing and thus my life. Alain Robbe-Grillet was one of them. I first read Jealousy in 1980. A thin, powerful book so much like squeezing through a crack in a stone wall after which, on the other side, lay magnificent possibilities. Robbe-Grillet's intersection between the language of film and the language literature allowed a conversation between the two that subsequently allowed other forms of narrative to occur and marry. (See the French New Wave film, Last Year at Marienbad, for which Robbe-Grillet is likely better known, because readin B hard, sez U shits)  

(NOTE to the similar shit to whom I foolishly loaned my only copy of Jealousy: May your life be plagued with dangling participles!)

14 years later I read The Voyeur, a novel that is not, as some too-simply synopsize, just a serial killer story. There are amazing shifts of point of view in the book which asks the reader to question the veracity of the narrator, the narrator's identity, and time itself. Thus, the reader is forced to question her own identity as reader and/or participant in envisioning killing, and the moment in which a novel occurs, beginning to end. A pack of cigarettes floating on water grows monumental inside this questioning.

When I began teaching avant-garde writing, I used Robbe-Grillet's Toward a New Novel as my lifeline into the fissure that would eventually open up into a vast cave yet unexplored. This nonfiction book is invaluable, and still immensely relevant. If you have not read it, then you are not a serious writer or writing teacher.

The French produced frittes and Robbe-Grillet. They are still delicious.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Monstrous Women of the Avant-Garde (Part I)


I'm back from the AWP Conference in New York. Five pounds lighter with a pocketful of business cards.


To those of you not in an academic writing program (if you're over 25, rejoice! then go live in a foreign country until you have something interesting to say), AWP stands for Associated Writing Programs. The annual conference is typically a depressing confluence of desperate graduate and PhD (for fuck's sake) creative writing students, and adjunct, assistant, and associate (plus a few full) professors trying to move up in that narrow spout akin to that which the itsy-bitsy spider ascends only to get washed out by the rain. Eventually, the spider dies as a result of its Sisyphean life because the pipeline does not prepare it for the big green FROG OF DOOM hopping by on its way from one marvelous teeming pond to the next. But that is another children's song of quite a different tune. (Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha!) 


This year's AWP was different. Or I was different. Or both were different. I can honestly say I enjoyed myself more than once. In hindsight, the reason is clear: I was surrounded by breathtakingly brilliant, funny, talented, intrepid women writers, editors, publishers, et al. Nearly all of them are, in one way or another, involved in avant-garde literature. This is no coincidence. I've said it before (though I can't remember when or where): Avant-garde women writers take significantly more risks in their lives and therefore in their writing and therefore are endlessly fascinating, endlessly evolving. They put their asses on the line again and again and don't give a shit if that ass is naked. Naked is good. Curious is good. Being a good writer is good. Being a good girl is boring -- and an old, frayed-at-the edges lie. And these women know it.  As do I. 


When you not only question the rules (created by...um...who?) but break them because they coddle the status quo and protect some notion of humanity disturbingly separate from actual human biology ("godlike," my naked ape ass!), then you achieve a level of freedom otherwise impossible.  A priceless Visa moment. But better. Because Visa would never advertise such a moment as it would interfere with rampant consumerism.


There's a quasar in the eyes of these women.  Glint of mischief.  Laser flash of perspicacity.  If you're hiding something you're going to get cooked.  If you're not, that light's a doorway to great conversations. I'm going to introduce you to a few of these women writers in my next few blogs.  And when I say they are GREAT WOMEN WRITERS I mean:  They are great writers who have vaginas not penises.  But as for balls...!


P.S. to those who requested my Text + Image presentation: It will be posted here by February 15.


Friday, January 18, 2008

TRUTH or DARE with Michiko Kakutani et al.

Speaking of idiots. Each December a hoard of print and net publications put out their BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR list. Virtually, all of them sound like that novel you're working on.

This is not to say that all of the choices suck; they don't. And every once in a while an interesting book pops up on a Best Books list. But few ever rise above the pandemic of predictability and, thus, mediocrity. Really, how may of the Best Books of 2006 do you remember? How many did you read? How many of those that you read changed the way you think? Changed the way you think about thinking -- and not thinking?

To my knowledge, none of these lists come with an all-important disclaimer: Best Books of the Year THAT WE ACTUALLY READ.
And just how many books can one critic read? Let's use The New York Times book critic Mishiko Kakutani as an example. Because I like her hair. (I'm not choosing The New York Times book critic Janet Maslin because of her flagrantly pedestrian taste, and bully for her for at least not pretending to be interested in brain expanding books.)

If Michiko reads even three books a day, she's still going to complete only 1,095 books a year, so my calculator says.* Reading three books of superbly written literature per day requires speed reading.** And that's akin to trying to dissect the nuances of Beethoven's Fifth while listening to it at 5x the speed. Assuming (falsely) that Kakutani reads equally from all categories, she therefore consumes 365 books each of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. (365 books of poetry!?! Oh, that's a good one, yes, haha, that's a regular laugh riot! Oh hahahaha!) 2006 saw the publication of 42,076 fiction titles alone.***

Funnily enough, Kakutani reviewed Stuart Kelly's THE BOOK OF LOST BOOKS: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read. Writes Kakutani: "The books in Stuart Kelly's clever and highly entertaining new book are works of literature that have somehow been lost to posterity... As Mr. Kelly notes, 'Loss is not an anomaly, or a deviation, or an exception,' it's the norm.'" Damn straight. And Michiko, babe, you're not helping.

Nor are the teeming minnows of other critics who are tangled in a web of conventionality, of old directions retrod, and nary an offramp in print. But I'd rather see an avant-garde book go unreviewed than reviewed by a critic not educated enough to analyze it. And most critics lack the skills -- or simply are put off by how much longer it may take to adequately explore a work of avant-garde literature than a TV novel. Even though that extra time is spent magnificently, deliciously, sensually producing far more dopamine per page than 99% of the Best Books of any given year.

Therefore, readers: If you like drugs and/or alcohol and/or caffeine and/or running marathons you will enjoy avant-garde literature. If you like sex before marriage and even more after, you will enjoy avant-garde literature.

Therefore, critics: In this new year rife with possibilities, I challenge all of you everydamnwhere to play Truth or Dare:

Either (1) tell the TRUTH about how many books you actually read in 2008 or (2) DARE to read and understand avant-garde books outside of your tiny radar screen wherein the whole of society is crashing under your dopey gaze.

* I no longer to math by hand because I don’t have to! And one might ask: Isn't the refusal to do math by brain as lazy as a book critic refusing to read books that require more than TV vocabulary, even if it's HDTV? No, it is not. "Why not" is a forthcoming post.
** Don't expect me to get through more than 20 fiction titles a year. I read every single and hyphenated word. Usually two or three times. Sometimes four, if it is particularly fine.
*** 2007 statistics not yet available. Source Bowker.com



Sunday, January 13, 2008

What is "avant," who is the "garde," and why [should you] [you should] give a shit [?] [!]

You would have thought our evolution a certainty by now. That literary labels and classifications and genres and categories would have faded like cartographic borders between nations. Oh, wait. The ink boundaries on my atlas linger and the US-Mexico border is arising like a 3-D wall festooned with razor wire. Ergo: Here I am: Stuck in the middle with you.

Of all the literary terms thrown lumpenly about like WWF wrestlers, avant-garde is to me the best descriptor of writing that investigates new possibilities of narrative, whether prose, poetry, or something wondrously, nebulously in-between.

The expression, translated as "fore-guard" or "before the guard," originated in the late 1400 French military. Avant-garde soldiers explored unknown territories ahead of the main army (garde), mapping topography, identifying enemy outposts, and providing attack strategies. Today Americans call the task recon (reconnaissance).

The literary garde is the old guard: writers, editors, publishers, and readers unwilling and sometimes unable to trek into new literary landscapes. (Yes, reading requires practice, too, and some readers are simply more talented than others, as a conversation with the odd lit professor or editor reveals.)

Though I find authentic military hawks akin to barbaric chimps with psychopathic and carnivorous impulses, the battlefield implication of avant-garde is pleasingly appropriate in contemporary literature. The publishing industry as manifested in the early 20th Century continues to be a capitalist venture, and avant-garde books continue to be considered unprofitable "products." Less than a thimbleful of goliath publishers have figured out the long-term profitability of keeping a backlist of avant-garde books that will likely become classics, representing innovations of their respective eras, and thus will be required reading for a majority of the annual 18 million college $tudent$. The rest of the publishers are idiots.

So it is a battle, many battles for avant-garde writers:

a battle to be published

a battle to be reviewed

a battle to be read

a battle to be read intelligently

As an avant-garde writer, I have the battle scars -- and pseudo-post traumatic stress disorder -- to prove just how fucking painful and exhausting it is to publish and promote writing that takes risks. But the times, sweetmeat, they are a-changin'. Sez me. And so are readers: for good and bad.

Gertrude’s Basket shall report on these times and those to come. I'll apprise of and appraise avant-garde literature for non-academic readers interested in learning why new narrative forms, including those using the latest technologies, are relevant to our lives.

My focus is (1) why avant-garde literature exists now, (2) how -- and if -- it reflects significant aspects of the broader American or global culture, (3) my subjective interpretation of avant-garde works and the societal muck from which they arise, and (4) whether they succeed at whatever investigative attempts they make. I promise that esoteric language and theory shall be avoided as much as possible, though now and then I’ll try to tell you where to find esoteric language and theory.

Think of me as an unarmed photojournalist trudging behind the vanguard, viewing and reviewing the authentic war front through both the naked eye and the camera's lens.

Watch out for IEDs.