Congrats to Sunday Rumpus alum, Tara Ison, on the selection of her novel Rockaway as a “don’t miss” summer read by O, Oprah’s magazine.
It’s Father’s Day. Have an open letter. Kinda schmaltzy, but at the end of the day there’s truth here.
The Six Question Sex Interview with Marie Calloway, interviewed by Zoe Zolbrod. These two sizzle together.
Marie Calloway is being grouped among the Alt Lit crowd, which is having–to hear it told–their moment of truth in Big Publishing, with the release of Tao Lin’s Taipei. I used to publish Tao in Other Voices magazine, and find some of the writers associated with this movement really interesting. But I’m not sure it…is a movement, per se. Am I just getting old? I mean…does anyone on the planet read Lin without comparing him to Bret Easton Ellis? Would giving Clay an iPhone really create a new form of literature? (According to The Guardian, yes, actually–the Brits have long had a massive Ellis hard-on that now seems to extend to Lin, which is fascinating in and of itself.)
Anyway, maybe I’m being glib. Internet culture has changed the way people interact. I see my 13-year-old daughters texting other friends while they’re sitting on the sofa with 3 friends…sometimes every one of them is on a device talking to someone else who isn’t in the room, instead of talking to each other. They watch TV while pressing buttons on their phones, too. One screen isn’t enough. Studies say that the average age at which boys start perusing internet form is 10. At almost-45, I claim to be a technophobe, yet even I edit two online magazines. No one can escape cyberspace, it seems. How all this impacts our psychology and relationships is certainly valid fodder for literature. People are being creative about how they explore this. That’s what movements are, right?
Still, I think about Ellis. If you lived and read through the 80s, you know we didn’t need social media or texting to tell us about consumer excess, information glut, or sexual/emotional numbness, all of which seem to be some hallmarks of Alt Lit too. I think about the fact that the writer’s “brand” can become indistinguishable from the writer’s art, and how the internet sure didn’t invent that either. Think Hemingway, for god’s sake. Foucault was trying to dissuade us from our obsession with the artist’s personality and life before today’s grad students were born. And literary culture is just catching up in some ways to what the music world went through 30 years ago, in terms of DIY culture-dissemination. Some of what the Alt Lit movement embodies may be just new manifestations of existential angst or celebrity culture or “going indie”–things that have been around for a long, long time. Though this sounds more critical of the writers affiliated with Alt Lit than I mean it. A writer’s responsibility is to his or her own work, not to a movement. There are eternal themes in art, and as long as it’s done well nothing is ever off the table. There is always both nothing and everything new to say, and the struggle, challenge and gift is in the how of the saying. A so-called movement can be producing great books, and still be kind of dubious as a movement. That has to do with critics, not writers. If Lin’s publication by a mainstream press is the make-or-break moment of…well, anything other than Taipei’s success as an individual book…then what we really need is a “movement” to describe the idiocy of contemporary marketing departments in corporate publishing, because nothing is allowed to be Itself in that universe; it all has to represent and embody something collective that we either consume until we choke, or that they aim to keep from our eyes ever again for fear we don’t want to throw money at it.
The thing is: ironic or numb detachment swings around like a possessed pendulum in lit circles, too. Some years it’s hip not to feel, and other years Irony is dead. Yet relevant art always makes you feel, and a real artist is never “cool,” because to be cool implies a deeply limited emotional range, which is exactly what art combats. The older I get, the more I crave writers who take the overt risk of really feeling, really desiring, really investing. It’s imperative for the reader to care about a character’s self-destruction and despair even when the character does not–for a novel to crackle even when the people who embody it feel anesthetized. I’ve lost my taste for some of the passionate dispassion or dispassionate passion that held me in thrall when I was a student. If ’80s literary nihilism contained a certain innovative energy , then today’s excavators of ennui are charged with a more post-postmodern task. Excess born of boredom is no longer shocking, and numbness for numbness’ sake can just be dull.
Age. It intensifies things, in sometimes embarrassing ways. It makes you closer to the bone. It forces things to matter in a deep, unabashed fashion that the 20something Me would have rolled my eyes at–and yet I feel more alive now, thanks to this, as both a writer and a human being. It’s often assumed that we numb out bit by bit as we grow older…but that has not been my experience. Life feels like a ball of flame that just keeps rolling and growing until it will eventually hit a wall of cement and snuff out with pathetic finality; the closer we get to the end point the faster we roll. I also sometimes think that who we are pushing 50 has more to do with who we were at age 6 than at age 26…but that’s a digression beyond books.
Here’s Tao rocking it on Other People.
Zadie Smith declares having more than one child is not a threat to women writers. Imagine that.
Art Edwards goes Kickstarter to launch his third of a series of ten rock novels.
It is the last week to sign up for Other Voices Queretaro–I leave for Mexico on Saturday and the program launches July 5. Pam Houston, Rob Roberge, and Josip Novakovich teaching. Disorganized latecomers welcome.
Eyeball licking. Come on now–it’s Big In Japan. What’s a little blindness between friends?