Get your freak on with Zack Wentz—writer, musician, artist, and straight up one of the good folks riding around on this planet. Chiasmus is proud to put out his novel The Garbageman and the Prostitute, with artwork by K8 Wince. Check out their exploits and grooviness at www.killmetomorrow.com.

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LY: In some ways when I read your novel I feel a zeitgeist asserting itself--one that contemporary culture pretty much doesn't want to admit exists, what with glitzy television reality shows and news programs turned glitz machines and just the overall bogus nature of current events (the show, the serial, the ratings driven schlock-o-rama). Do you think you are "speaking" a certain truth of any sort for a certain kind of individual or group living in so-called America today? Do you move from what might be called a "blind spot" from the point of view of mainstream culture, or do you identify with the tradition of a "counter culture?" Can there even be a counter culture circa 2006 America?

ZW: I wonder if any culture, as a whole, can collectively admit� anything at this point in time. As far as our own culture goes (American?) I don’t know if we’ve come even close. We haven’t been forced into the position where we’ve had to yet. I think a Zeitgeist is always in the process of asserting itself, addressing what came before it. The spirit of a time is always most apparent after the fact and we can call it tagged and bagged. When it’s more of a ghost than an animating principle. I was in Germany recently and it was interesting to see how people my own age and younger lived under an awareness of their history they seem to have collectively taken on, but are just past the point of apologizing for. Their Nazi history is something they live in and grew up with that most of the world simply regards as a kind of convenient shorthand for evil without putting much more thought into it. America hasn’t had to deal with that, but I think we will. When you lose, your closet gets opened. Nothing lasts forever. The American empire has nothing on the Romans, and we’ll eventually fall as well. I’m not giddy or excited about this, but just reading the writing on the walls and trying to be prepared. The most frightening thing is the powers that be� seem intent on taking out the rest of the world with them if that has to happen. We won’t pass the baton, won’t let anybody else have a turn at being king-of-the-hill. It’s human to make mistakes. Horrible mistakes. It’s the humans who make these mistakes and don’t learn from them you should be afraid of. Collectively America still seems made up of the latter kind of humans at this point in time. From a global� perspective I think we provide more negative contrast than a model to live up to. It’s a shame, but it’s our shame.

Sorry for trailing so far off there. Backing off that rant, I think I am speaking a certain truth, or set of them, but as far as this book goes it may well be limited to speaking of myself and the persona(s) I’ve imposed on certain ideas. I really don’t know, really didn’t know, if this book would have anything to say to or for anyone. One always hopes for the “there but for the grace of God go I�” effect, but it’s mostly after the fact. It’s just something I needed, and wanted, to do. I’m glad it’s done.

I’ve identified with a counter culture so far as I’ve fed myself off some things certain people across time have created that made sense to me, but maybe didn’t seem to resonate with the majority. I still do, to some extent. My interests and tastes have grown so eclectic and vast over the last decade, however, I really don’t identify with any particular culture or aspect of it. Or maybe I identify with aspects of so many cultures it’s a moot point. I suppose that isn’t so unusual. I felt drawn toward some vague idea of a counter culture when I was much younger, but never found it. I grew up in a very small town and somehow stumbled into certain relatively obscure things (it used to be much more difficult) that jibed with my impressions and attitudes toward what was going on and they helped me to survive. Of course they caused me a lot of problems too. They helped me to despise my environment on what I, at the time, considered a much more sophisticated level than I thought the average� person was capable of. I feel like I can identify with most things I encounter now. This is not to say I enjoy or like everything I come into contact with. It just all makes a bit of sense.

So I suppose in regards to most things I have always pretty much been flying blind. I think operating from a blind spot is the most any person can honestly hope to do. If I am part of a tradition, I must be so deeply entrenched in it that I don’t notice. But, like I said, most of that kind of business seems to be determined only by looking backward.

Can there be a counter culture now? It depends on what your definition of counter culture is. Most of the things I considered "counter culture" while growing up have been co-opted to such a degree I wonder if there is any meaning left to be wrung out of them, but there always seem to be new things. I believe it is impossible for there not to be new things. Any culture at any point has its counter implicit in it. Everything carries the seed of its own origin and undoing. You wake up in a diaper (or a suit). You see a thread sticking out. You pick at the thread . . . Eventually you’ll end up naked.

LY: The language of your text is orgasmically heteroglossic...all kinds of voices and rhythms and themes crashing into one another without apology. My experience of listening to your music carries with it an even more extreme version of that criss-crossing of forms, themes, and styles...What do you think the links are between your writing and your music?

ZW: It’s one of those musicians writing a book and another one of them illustrating it. I’m trying to do the same kind of thing, I suppose. Or maybe I’m just doing the only things I know how to do so far in another medium. I’m only trying to do what I think is necessary and maybe enjoy myself in the process when I’m lucky.

LY: Why does a musician want or need to write a novel?

ZW: I don’t know. I actually wrote (and read) long before I made my own music. This isn’t the first book-length work I’ve attempted. I’ve written far more stories and poems and plays etc. than I’ve written songs. Songs are just much easier to get out there and much easier to move people with. More visible,� strangely enough. You could look at it the other way. Why does a writer play music? Many of them seem to. Paint or draw or take photographs, make movies, clothing, tend gardens . . . Hell, why does a writer even write a novel? Sometimes I’m surprised
anyone actually does anymore. I guess I just need to do both, trying to blur the lines between the crafts/activities without completely destroying what I consider their essential elements. Maybe the fact that a lot of non-literary specialists (music fans) will read this book encouraged me more to get it out there. That drive wasn’t there as much when it was just a private hobby. If a certain number of people are genuinely interested in the music I make, perhaps they’ll be interested in the other side of what I do. Like you said, the writing isn’t really that
different from the music.

LY: The interplay between text and image in your novel is breathtaking from my point of view. K8's images are raw and gritty and profound if you look at them by themselves. Your text is equally unnerving. Together--at least for me--they deconstruct or break apart violently the "tradition" of the novel, because they ask a reader to confront a kind of base truth which makes them uncomfortable physically, emotionally, intellectually. Some of my favorite writers of all time took us to a similar edge—George Bataille, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Burroughs, Acker, lots more. Do you think the novel (and story) NEEDS the images, or it wouldn't carry as much weight? What relationship do YOU think the images have to the text?

ZW: Thank you very much. I think K8 is one of the greatest visual artists working right now. I grew up drawing and painting, still do a bit, but when K8 took them up I pretty much threw in the towel. She emerged and developed completely untouched by any sort of desire to be an artist (one of the biggest problems with art in this country, or the world for that matter, in my opinion). I saw this happen. Her stuff is genuinely hers and I see few artists who ever get to that point. It’s terribly difficult, especially with a visual medium in a society that emphasizes the appearance of things above all else. Not to mention a society that emphasizes the necessity of identifying yourself with an occupation from the second you’re old enough to respond to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Anyhoo, initially we thought it was going to be a much shorter one-off kind of thing with the book, maybe a hand-made chapbook, but it got bigger. I have trouble not going overboard on any project I get involved with. I don’t know if the novel in general needs to go in that direction, but it’s the way this particular one went. I don’t want to go too far into how these images relate to the text because they carry a lot of clues, and form a clue altogether, as to what’s happening in the book from a sort of exploded mystery-plot angle, and I don’t want to ruin that any more than I just did.

It is uncomfortable. Unfamiliar on the surface. I do think too many of our entertainments are focused on making us comfortable and obviously didn’t want to pander to that. This whole sex, drugs and apple pie thing we’ve been selling the world since the 20’s or earlier . . . it’s a major part of why America runs the world in regards to entertainment, so of course we won’t let that position go if we can help it. We can absorb anything and make it into entertainment. America can make gangsters and serial killers and war seem comforting. Those Chinese
won’t kill us off because where else could they get their Hollywood? Uncomfortable art is marginalized, thought of as a kind of poison, but it’s acknowledged that people want to take the poison. Watered down doses, we allow that. We’ll always need it for that, the uncut junk. Of course letting people have it in weaker doses over time makes the heavy dose less effective, less devastating. Titillating or merely amusing, then quaint. Our culture progresses by this process of teleological gentrification. I suppose uncomfortable work is better documented than it ever has been before as a result of that, at least. But when it’s new it takes more effort to deal with, the uncomfortable and unfamiliar, and that’s the point. That what makes something a work of art. It’s work from both the perspective of production and appreciation/understanding. If you have to work at it, it’s more likely to take you inside to where it’s more familiar than you could have imagined.

LY: What's your take on the importance of indie music labels and indie presses--do they have a good use? Are they being absorbed by i-pods and technological hoo-doo? Should artists, from your point of view, carve their paths without allegiance to any organized press or production entity?

ZW: We all have a good use. Anything that is has a good use. These indie things are being absorbed, but the so-called indie-minded people are usually among the first to exploit technological hoo-doo, for better or for worse. For a change right now the major entertainment companies have to adjust to the playing field new technologies have created. Artists, the obsessive, driven kind, will always carve their own paths, are the first to adapt to new means of communications and entertainments and try to use them to say what they want. Allegiance to a production entity? Devotion to the work comes first. I think any
production entity that isn’t primarily concerned with making money pretty much leaves it to artist to carve their own path anyway. If someone’s extremely involved in carving your path for you it’s not very likely they’re doing it for your sake, much less the art’s.



Dearest Chiasmus visitors:

Please indulge yourself in reading this interview with Gina Frangello by Lidia Yuknavitch. These two are forces to be reckoned with...

Chiasmus Staff

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Click here to go to Gina Frangello's website.

LY: One of the deepest pleasures inside your text for me is underneath its many skins. I say that because I see a first layer of skin as Freud's original text, in which he provided a case study on hysteria and pretty much a roman a clef on a bisexual woman named Dora; I see a second layer as the character of Kirby exploring psychosexual identity; another layer seems to expose gender, sexuality, and violence in a neat little knot; and I suppose a last layer for me is the heart of the matter, the family romance as Freud articulated it, deconstructed a la Gina's hand. Can you talk a little bit about what drew you so beautifully, violently, and in the end, skillfully through these layers?

GF: Well the first thing that’s important is that I actually came to the Dora case study, Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, very late in the game of writing about these characters. So in a way all the other ingredients were already there, just without that frame. I had written about Kendra in series of short stories, most of which were published, and had also started a draft of the novel from Kirby’s first person point of view, prior to deciding to use Freud’s case study to structure the plot. So in a way, what appears to be the first layer—about Dora and hysteria—is actually the last layer, if that makes sense. Kirby was already a bisexual or lesbian character (depending on perspective) and Kendra was already involved in an S/M relationship with her father’s law partner, and there was already the contention and enmeshment between the twin sisters and their complicated, differing opinions of their parents, and the “family romance,” so to speak, of their father, Henry, being both in love with Kendra and hating her, and being indifferent to Kirby—though in the finished novel his indifference to her takes on a more ominous tone than it did in the earlier draft and the stories. So all of that was there, and I had this background in psych—I had a master’s and was a practicing counselor for a few years before going back for my grad degree in English—but it wasn’t until I was in literary theory classes that I actually read much about Dora. Contemporary psych students aren’t exactly devouring Freud case studies these days. It was the French feminists—Cixous and such—who got me interested in Dora; they compelled me to go investigating and to read Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria. When I saw the similarities between that case and the stories I had written—the novel I was trying to write—it literally blew my mind. I went back and re-envisioned the entire project using Freud’s “novella” as a framework, and it opened things up for me in a huge way. In a scary way—the consistency, I guess, of how a woman writer in the late 1990’s could be working on fiction that essentially held the same psychological and emotional plotline as a case study written nearly 100 years earlier. That obviously not nearly enough had actually changed—yet enough things had changed that I wanted to explore those too: who Dora would be today.

LY: Since we've both been attracted to Dora, I'll show you mine if you show me yours...heh. My attraction to Dora is born from an interest in how certain stories
about women and sexuality become axiomatic for a certain definition of female behaviors. In the case of THIS story I felt literal pain and sadness...that the story of a real woman's experience had been so badly misinterpreted, used as clinical case-study,
promoted as definitional truth. It's as if her truth, which for me is her body, was WRITTEN over. Perhaps written out of existence. So that's my obsession with her. What's yours?

GF: You’ve hit on something very real there in the way that stories become axiomatic—yes, that’s exactly what I was trying to articulate in how shocked and disturbed I was when I found out how many parallels there were between the fiction I was writing and this 100 year old case study, in terms of the way women have always faced and continue to face certain forms of violence and categorization, and those seem to be eternal over time even though the specifics of “plot” change. The way women are, consequently, misrepresented or written over is a core part of that. Like I said, I became interested in Dora largely out of an interest in French feminism, which I liked in many ways because its language was so much more compelling to me than traditional American feminism—and because it was sexier; because it didn’t disdain desire and seemed to empower previously disempowered women, like the hysterics, by recasting their suffering into a symbol of rebellion against the patriarchy. To me as a grad student, the French feminists made the hysterics sound sexy and brave; they saw the hysterics as symbols of rebellion and language outside the patriarchal order. I think I wanted to believe that and so I came to share their obsession.
The thing is that, as my obsession led me to investigate more, I came to believe that a lot of their perspectives about Dora, and hysteria in general, were entirely too optimistic and in some ways influenced by their own positions of intellectual privilege and power, in a way that made it hard for them to get how fucked-up and miserable and ineffectual the so-called hysterics—and Dora in particular—really were as would-be rebels. Cixous would write, “The hysterics are my sisters,” but it came to seem to me that, in a reductive way but one that makes my point, the Desperate Housewives of the world are more the heirs to hysteria than are the fierce powerhouse intellectuals like Cixous. I don’t mean this as a way of criticizing Ida Bauer (Dora’s real name) so much as to say that the feminist theorists who appropriated her turned her so much into a symbol that she ceased to be a person almost as much as she had when written about by Freud. They glorified the hysterics, and in doing so they erased some truths just as Freud had, albeit in a more flattering way. To give a concrete example of what I’m talking about: a lot is made out of the way that Dora confounded Freud with her bisexuality and how Freud ultimately failed to realize that Frau K, not Herr K, was the real object of her attraction—and that may well be true. It was a failure on Freud’s part, and on Dora’s it exemplified her inability to be classified through patriarchal assumptions. But what the feminist theorists never really get to is that, while Ida Bauer walked away from Freud, walked out on her treatment—she did not go on to lead in any way a rebellious life. She married, and she continued to suffer from her debilitating physical symptoms for the rest of her life. She was bitter and unhappy and died relatively young. She was proud of the fact that Freud—whom she viewed as a great man, in much the way so many people view celebrities as great today—had written about her in a case study. It was her claim to fame, so to speak. When interviewed in her later life, she bragged of it as a great accomplishment. So while I don’t deny that the hysterics, including this woman known as Dora, were suffering from symptoms induced by their inability to cope with the misogynistic laws imposed on them, I think that they were still primarily their own victims, as well as victims of the men of their age. They held the same beliefs that were destroying them. Likewise, their symptoms debilitated them; they didn’t bring down the patriarchy, or even one man like Freud. These were primarily broken women, duped by the system even if their bodies subconsciously rebelled. Their rebellions were not effective. Feminist theory has recast that to some extent, and it’s done so in a beautiful and provocative and very compelling way, but it’s got more in common with myth-making than with the real women who suffered from what psychoanalysis labeled “hysteria.”
I became disheartened that these women were being reduced to symbols by not one school of thought but by several. It struck me that fiction—what is overtly fictional, like the novel—was the only way to really explore Dora anymore; that the truth of her as a real historical woman has already been reduced and recast beyond repair. And my only hope of exploring her was through the lens of a new era, through new characters who didn’t purport to translate directly. I wanted to honor her but also depart from her.

LY: Interestingly, your novel intertwines traditional narrative tropes and forms with quite radical content innovations (at least that's what LIDIA thinks). Can you describe what use-value traditional narrative/novelistic forms hold for you, and what made you want to ... "disturb" them with your content?

GF: Yeah, I never really set out to write an “experimental” novel or anything. In my graduate program, that was really big—a lot of the students, especially when I first started, were into anything innovative to the point of basically eschewing any kind of “plot” or even traditional character development as banal and idiotic, vestiges of a dead form. I thought a lot of what was coming out of my program was linguistically fascinating and smart, but much of it left me cold emotionally. I still, as an editor and writer, find a lot of avant-garde fiction frustrating if it doesn’t offer me characters who come to feel like “real” people I can get attached to—by which I don’t mean I have to like them or find them “nice,” but I have to care about them—and a plot that gives me some clue as to why this particular story is being told at this particular moment, and what is at stake, and that moves. On a very fundamental level, whether it’s a “traditional” perspective or not, I believe fiction needs to entertain the reader and get her or him involved in the story if it’s to have any hope of getting its larger points across. I love many novels of ideas—for example, I love Kundera, he’s probably the writer who’s had the biggest impact on me, especially before he started writing in French—but I don’t have much interest in fiction that puts those ideas before the people who live within the pages. I wanted Kendra and Kirby to be real women, real sisters, contradictory, full characters, not just the embodiment of a contemporary analysis of hysteria and psychology. I’d have cut that Freudian framework before cutting the things that made the characters live and breathe for me as individuals. So in that sense, I would have been an unlikely candidate to write a novel that was all about conceptual or linguistic innovation, without the utilization of traditional novelistic forms, which I’ve always found valuable.
At the same time, the disturbances of the traditional forms, as they may exist in this novel, were just as organic to me because they seemed a necessary, intrinsic part of the story. At its core, this story is a sexual, dark, secret one. I think what is really at issue—at stake in the literary world—is the dumbing-down of literary fiction, and this push, which has become even more rabid post-9/11 in the United States, to make fiction palatable and “inspiring” and positive. That terrifies me. That literature, especially by women, is increasingly facile and feel-good, and hesitates or even refuses to tackle the darker side of humanity and our world. Not to say there aren’t dozens or hundreds of writers out there who are writing challenging, gritty, real literature, but they are having a harder and harder time breaking into print. You can get away with it if you’re already famous—I mean, if you’re Roth or Doctorow or Coetzee or Atwood or Morrison, you know, these are real writers, brilliant writers, who have experimented with form and who have tackled some of the most terrifying issues out there—then you can still find an audience, a big one, with the support of the corporate publishing engine. But if you’re some new chick, everyone wants you to write The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing, or at least if you have to be a little bit depressing, The Lovely Bones. They want something that will be the pick of all the book clubs with the suburban women of a certain age who want to read something they think is kind of smart and edgy, but that in the end offers them all the palatable resolutions—that, you know, heaven is like summer camp and good girls will marry their grade school boyfriends and bad men are impaled with icicles and mothers who leave will return, and that it will all be okay in the end. To be clear, I don’t dispute the right of some novels to read that way, or think that makes them not good on an individual basis. But when there’s this large-scale homogeneity and white-washing of literary fiction, that scares me. There is a huge emphasis right now on morality in this country, and it shows in the fiction that’s being published. One of the biggest sins a woman writer can commit is writing about characters who are not “sympathetic” in the sense of not being a plucky heroine who, if anything bad happens to her it’s because she was the victim of some predator we can hate who’ll no doubt be punished in the end. The publishing industry has decided this is what America wants, and I can’t say for sure whether they are correct or not, because the general public is so bombarded by the big corporate media engines that drive chain bookstores and nationwide media-driven book clubs, that most general readers don’t even know about indie publishing and other alternatives to the novels that have the biggest publicity pushes behind them. Fiction hasn’t gotten to the point yet that the music industry or the film industry has in terms of the independent record label or indie film being recognized by the general public, no doubt because literature itself is so endangered today. I mean, let’s face it, despite the astronomical sales in the realm of literature, a hell of a lot fewer people read The Lovely Bones than went to see Titanic, you know? Even literary fiction that is coming from the mainstream houses and may seem whitewashed to some of us in indie publishing is still radical from the perspective of what most people expose themselves to. According to the NEA, less than half of Americans read any book last year. Not just literary fiction—not just fiction at all—but any book. So the industry is in huge trouble, and so is the American public.
All of which is a long way of saying that if you write graphic sex in a literary novel, or you write women characters who are as intent on destroying themselves as any man could be on destroying them, or who decide to forget men altogether and sleep with girls, or who want to be hit as a kind of catharsis instead of finding a nice therapy group for survivors of whatever—well, that is by it’s very nature disrupting what is passing for the literary novel right now. I think there was a lot of innovative and radical fiction coming out in the early or mid 1990’s that would never fly now. Even Kathy Acker found a relatively wide readership in the 90’s, whereas I would almost hate to think what would happen if Acker were, let’s say, 20-something years old now in 2006 and writing her first novel. What was considered disruptive has shifted because of political shifts. I didn’t think my novel was all that “disruptive” when I wrote it, but the response of the corporate publishing industry—one editor literally said she had to keep putting the novel down and leaving the room it was so disturbing, but that’s a whole other story—finally convinced me otherwise. I think that says as much about the industry as about my work.

LY: I very much admire your drive to multiply discourses in your novel--case studies, letters, journals, citations/fragments, lyrics, lists, dialogue, internal monologue, dream. And I get the feeling that these cannot "speak" the story alone, that each interrupts and informs the other in a kind of heteroglossic orgy. Before I get carried away, can you describe how and why your novel insists on these interwoven linguistic devices?

GF: On a very basic level, contrary to the way some might classify this technique, I would consider this kind of form to really be “high realism” in the sense that real lives—perhaps particularly women’s lives—are informed by so many different kinds of dialogue with the self and others. We live in a world where popular culture, like song lyrics and sitcom episodes, constantly intrude on our inner monologues, our dreams, our conversations with friends, relatives, lovers and therapists. Obviously my novel had a particular necessity to concentrate on dreams and on some citations from Freud’s work, but once that got started, it seemed there was already a whole culture in dialogue with those ideas and that they had to be included too. Most of my quotes in the novel are literary ones, but My Sister’s Continent also takes place at the same time as the Clinton impeachment and the echoes there seemed too good to pass up. It seems to me that when “traditional” fiction is so relentlessly linear and plot-focused as to ignore all these other influences, becoming really narrow and hyper-focused, what is created is anti-realism, even though it isn’t labeled as such by the industry. So really, at the heart of it, I was just trying to get at all the things that echo in the minds of actual people: the way we document ourselves and frame ourselves. It wasn’t a very theoretical agenda, but really a very practical one in that I was trying to portray full characters, and these things are part of anyone’s life.

LY: Do you think innovative writing by women in particular has a chance in hell of surviving a market-driven publishing machine? How? And for what purpose?

GF: Well, I sure went on and on about my feelings about the publishing industry already. Through my work as an editor at Other Voices/OV Books, and certainly through my experiences with My Sister’s Continent, I’ve become convinced that it’s predominantly indie presses right now publishing dark, challenging work by new writers. I guess the only thing I can add here is that I truly believe that pendulums swing all the time and that the publishing industry as a whole is still—though this is small comfort—far less corrupt and co-opted than most other corporate industries in the sense that most book editors still get into the business out of a love of words and reading. If you just wanted to be a rich fuck or whatever, you wouldn’t go become an editor at Dial Press, you’d go to law school or you’d start some bio-tech company or you’d go work at some Halliburton equivalent, right? The corporate publishing industry is in a bad, bad place right now, and most people fully immersed in the industry are willing to verify and articulate that—they know it’s true, and they’re tap-dancing for shareholders and for the country’s current moral fervor and mass fear and hysteria. They’re doing that, and it may sicken a lot of writers and readers and indie editors, but at the core they are still holding on and believing that books are relevant, which is more than can be said for any other industry. They aren’t making reality TV shows or drilling for oil in Alaska, they’re reading. Meanwhile, while these people hold onto some small but vital amount of their integrity, independent presses are popping up all over the place, offering a crazier, total, almost masochistic integrity by working for free to publish work that will almost certainly never make much money but that feels vital to those of us in that community—that feels like real political action and like something we can’t live without.
I am bugged by the fact that some of the best and biggest indies like Akashic and Soft Skull seem very predisposed to work by men and the kind of topics that men feel are political, and give far less attention to writing by women. But I also believe really strongly that women writers and editors are still finding and will find ways to be heard. I believe this state of our country is temporary. If I didn’t believe that, I guess I’d have to move to Canada or Amsterdam. I don’t think we can have a Bush in office forever and I don’t think 9-11 can continue to hold the American people in mute fear permanently so that we all want to be anesthetized by easy, light things like brain dead TV and chick-lit. Innovative writing is always—by its very definition—going to be somewhat fringe, but I believe these crazily dark days in publishing will pass and we’ll see a return of the kind of climate that makes room for many voices and styles in publishing. For those who will never fit in to that niche, the indies will continue to thrive, and a positive change in the larger literary climate can only benefit us too. At the bottom line, people have been saying the novel was dead for over 100 years now. Okay, so the novel is maybe on life-support. The industry maybe has cancer. But writers and readers have defied predictions of death for way longer than I’ve been alive, and I don’t see any real reason to believe that will change now.



Hello to all Chiasmus visitors:

Here is our latest interview with Jeanne Heuving. Enjoy as Lidia and Jeanne engage in a gripping rap on words, women, and the writing of the self. Feel free to express your(her/his/my/our/them)self in response to their conversation. And thanks for your patronage.

Peace out,
Chiasmus Staff
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I'd like to start with three of my favorite concepts-liminality, affect and palimpsest (also one of lidia's favorite words of all time). Incapacity stages a reading experience (and I imagine a writing experience) unlike most anything I've seen before. My reading experience might be described as being deep inside affect-a place where affect is so foregrounded that its ordinary moorings slide away; deep inside liminality-an in-between space, between I and she, between writing and self, between writer and reader and writing; deep inside a palimpsest-the writing of others sometimes pushing up through your writing, or your writing embedded within theirs (Cocteau, Duras, Cixous)--as well as a layering of forms. Why I care about this is that all three of these concepts / spaces seem intimately linked to the lived experience of women in particular. Would you say that this writing has any lineage to l'ecriture feminine as it has been variously theorized? Are these concepts which so deeply inform the writing and the reading gendered?

JH: Actually, I would say that the relationship between women's experience and language is such that writing occupies an in-between space--a space between existing forms of articulation and non-articulation. Language is an immensely mobile, febrile, and tensile formation; but it is also marked by prior use that sustains conventional and status quo relations. If one is sensitive to how prevailing language uses do not speak oneself, then, as one writes, one of necessity formulates oneself through this gap in intention and available expression. I think this gap is particularly vivid in any language practice in which representation or representativeness is of issue--such as in fiction, or in my work Incapacity which as a cross genre work I list as poetry, fiction, autobiography, and biography. I wanted Incapacity to be representative of me, my life, and hence its rather excessive moments of inarticulation.
I like that you see this piece as being "deep inside affect--a place where affect is so foregrounded that its ordinary moorings slide away." Since innovative or experimental writing is often read quite erroneously as being largely cerebral, and at times anti-emotional, I am glad that I am communicating at this level. I have a hard time knowing just how "affect" works in this piece for a reader, but I do know in writing the piece, I wanted to be true to something that might go be the name of affect. Leslie Scalapino in commenting on this book picked up something of how the affect works: "Incapacity uses the separation of us /one as passive viewers, who see their own actions as outside them only always: taking this very separation of the present from language (conventional seeing), which is pain, as the means itself of inverting one's relation to others--love stood on end--she moves the terrain, fast-forwarding and flashbacks at once, to see not even the formation of events but seeing in their midst." This is a very Leslie Scalapino kind of observation, but I do believe she is quite right about how affect works in my book, since affect is importantly caught up in relations of ontology and epistemology--between inside and outside, nearness and distance. I think that Incapacity is about an immense kind of struggle within myself--a struggle that once it was contained in a book did make me feel sad. When I decided to call my book Incapacity, I wept about it, off and on for several days, maybe even a week or two. The naming of the book and the publishing of it, this coming into the world around a life riddled with hiddenness and non-being, was cathartic. It is as if the book itself is a wonderful little house that contains the uncontainable; as such it has so much capacity for incapacity that incapacity has been chopped down to size, so to speak.
As for others' writing pushing up through my writing in a palimpsestic mode, it was finally through borrowing others' words as if they were my words that allowed me to get beyond, "I don't want to formulate anything at all. All formulation is false." In grafting my writing to other people's writing who had felt deeply, strangely, awkwardly, I came to accept the fictional nature of all formulation; and also came to understand that these formulations are partial truths, momentary resting places, in an onward rushing, mutating existence. These articulations, formulations, enhanced my life by allowing me to "feel" what was incipient in my life.
As for l'ecriture feminine, I would say that it is written out of similar impulses as to what I am describing above, and no doubt gave me courage, waywardness to articulate my own untoward directions. And it is the problematics of l'ecriture feminine which are so important, remain so vital for this time, any time--especially for women or for any person within the society that feels misrepresented by the status quo. L'ecriture feminine has been horribly stereotyped ever since its emergence in the U.S. in the 1980's, but perhaps more so now. This is, in part, because of the current reaction against poststructuralism, deconstruction, but also because of the perennial misogyny of the larger society, including the academy. I am just amazed how the leading lights of the women's movement and so-called French feminism have fallen so quickly from grace. They certainly deserve all the honor that has accrued to other "rights" activists, civil rights activists, human rights activists; yet in the case of women, their self-interest in the category of woman is always threatening to implode. Certain caricatures of French feminist writing have been created around such truncated ideas as "a woman's ink being her mother's milk" and of a "separate woman's language"; these have been pulled out of context and have no more relation to what these set of writings are about than summarizing the larger U.S. Women's movement as being about burning bras. These words and actions taken out of context are so much debris used to mischaracterize the very real issues women had and continue to have, not only with society, but also with available forms of expression and representation.
Importantly, in a sense all writing that is newly formulating something is "in-between," in between what has already been articulated and what needs to be newly felt, thought. For women, and other suppressed groups, the in-between gives them far greater possibilities.

LY: One of the great mind and heart beats of Incapacity is that the "self" it sets out to narrate (autobiography) doesn't exactly emerge in the ways we are used to. Not as a unified subject, not as a main character whose conflicts are played out and resolved over the course of the text. And yet something does emerge, resolve, even if fleetingly, even as the act of appearing is always also in the process of dissolution. That makes my heart race. Trying to find her. Is this motion one you think is at the heart of language itself-its inner-workings? The act of naming chasing its object of desire perpetually?

JH: Again, I am really gratified that you respond to Incapacity on an emotional level. As I mentioned previously, what I do think does emerge in Incapacity is some sense of capacity by the end of the book. While I will write other innovative or experimental books in the future, I will never write anything quite like Incapacity again. It is very much my first (creative) book (although I am not a young person) and I needed to write it before any other "real" writing could occur. Not all writers write this kind of "first book"; some find an idiom or a way to write without struggling directly with the conditions of their life, without needing to write some version of their autobiography; but for me, without bringing my life in overt ways into the fold of my writing, I would have remained outside of my writing.
I love thinking about whether some "her" does emerge in the book, however fleetingly. And I like to think that this "she" is not just an "effect" of the writing, an illusion of the writing. I would have to say that whatever emerges in this book is probably more me than any overt representation of my life or me. The book is actually arranged somewhat chronologically, with respect to how I wrote and arranged the book. There are three sections that are very "written" that I wrote fairly recently and three sections that are taken from my journals, beginning as early as 1970. I began going through my journals after I had written a couple of the "written" sections of the book, namely "Snowball" and "Offering." Then after selecting journal entries and arranging them in the sections called "Daybooks," I wrote "Gaudy Night," the most palimpsestic, phantasmagoric section of the book that prominently uses the writing of Dorothy Sayer, Emily Bronte, and Marguerite Duras. And then I needed to conclude the book, so I created the collage "Snow," that is made up of journal entries and lost cat ads. In putting this section together, I looked for journal entries that would help me engage the sense of destitution and dereliction that seemed to be hanging around the other sections in the book. The final section "Snow" then is the disparate precipitate of the earlier sections, made up mostly of early journal entries. The book concludes with a few fragmented phrases, that can be read as either poetry or prose. The final line of the book is, "Shot through with heat and luster. Heavens teeming with black holes." This feels pretty positive to me, as if the real energies in life are moving through things; and so cannot be isolated and contained. I / she has entered the world of moving forces.

LY: The images in Incapacity seem utterly vital and at the same time not completely understandable--readers often try to "link" image to text-this is both possible and perpetually frustrated. Similarly, your use of film history and theory and artistic production casts the story away from narrative and toward the moving image. Is that another in-between space of exploration? Between image and text?

JH: I believe, as do many theorists and thinkers, that we are changed by the technologies we use. We are amidst a great technological revolution that began with photography, was catapulted into film and television, and is now transformed even further through computers and the internet. When I first began writing in my late teens, early twenties, I was acutely aware of how amorphous fiction writing seemed, say as opposed to filmic representation, or in relationship to the direct analytical statements about human life in psychology or sociology. So, at the very least, I thought, creative forms of writing needed to register some of the effects of these new technologies, not just in the new contents they unearth, but as modes of apprehension. I was introduced to Marshall McLuhan fairly early on and his idea that the medium is the message has really stuck with me. Broadly speaking then, the technologies that allow for the articulation of diverse contents, whether these technologies are image-making media or powerful modes of reasoning, are often more important than the putative content they "contain."
In Incapacity, I juxtapose my written text with photographic images to create a gap between either mode as registering "reality." Again, if there is a "real," it would be between these modes of presentation. In many ways, I wanted the photographs to cut through the fictional or literary enclosure of the text, so that the sense of what is "symbolic" and what is "fact" are destabilized. Paul Auster in The Invention of Solitude draws attention to how in art or in imaginative works facts are almost always read as potentially symbolic, if ever so obscurely. And he also points out how in literary or artistic works descriptions that insist on their facticity are often very disruptive. You can find this kind of combination in Melville's Moby Dick and in Paul Auster himself. In many ways, I want the photographs here to function as a "factual" disruption of a written text that I presume will be read at least in part as symbolical. Some of the photographs in Incapacity are mundane and others are grand, cataclysmic. It seemed a real break through in thinking about the book when I decided, for instance, to take photographs of the backyard of the house where I grew up--a concrete slab patio and cropped, scraggly grass. I had to go up and knock on door of the house where I grew up and explain to the woman who was living there, what I wanted to do. Even so, I felt very furtive taking these photos in my old backyard, as if I was transgressing not only the enclosure of someone else's back yard, but of the back yard tucked away in my memory, a back yard I felt as a child to belong far more to my mother and father than to me. Then I was appropriating it through the aggressive technology of photography for my own unseemly work. There are also a number of photographs of the volcanic mountain areas around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala as well as photographs from the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala that I was in and is part of the subject matter of this book. These "grand," cataclysmic shots are meant to contrast with the mundane shots. The final photographs in the book are taken on the street where I now live just when the snow is beginning to melt. One of the sidewalks has been chalked in with numbers, lines--perhaps designating a place for painters to paint a drive way return, or perhaps sink a new sewer line, or something. I am not sure. I love the slight dreariness and beauty of melting snow with its many layerings. The marks on the street became symbolic, or emblematic, of my desire to write--caught, stilled in a photograph. Moving between media as a writer or reader vivifies sensation. It has something to do with how our brains are made up--going from one media to the next addressing something of the same content in a different media, recreates it, makes it more powerful. And since being, feeling, and representing are really important issues in Incapacity, these crossovers not only create my relationship to my work, but also exist as part of the artistic content of the book for whoever reads it.

LY: Do you see hybrids such as yours as an interruption of the current literary present, a continuation of some literary history, or a kind of repressed but always secretly present pulse? Or something else entirely? How important is it for us to learn to listen, read, write like this?

JH: I see my particular hybrid as very much born of the contemporary moment, which is not to say that there are not hybrids in other periods of time. Tristram Shandy, for instance, is often given as an example of a writing that combines meta commentary or philosophical speculation with fiction. Yet, my book, and other work that engages multi media and multi genre, Theresa Cha's Dictee comes to mind; Leslie Scalapino, Susan Howe, your work, Lidia, are all partially relating to the challenges new technologies. Your Two Girls Review seems an early, really adventurous move in this direction with its bold use of graphics and photography. Actually, I think that early the early Modernist movement of Imagism, in urging an intensified, disassociated image, is actually responding to new technologies, such as film. I think the greater the change that is occurring in any particular historical time, the more likely will there be hybridization going on. But there is hybridization in art that announces itself; and other hybridization that is hidden in the synthesis that art makes. In this latter case, I am thinking of the kind of hybridization that occurs beginning with African American spirituals as they change to blues and jazz, and then onto rock and roll. In our own time, if we are to have a spiritual, alive response, and by that I mean, if we are to continue responding in the fullest, most enhanced way, to what Althusser calls the "real" condition of our existence, than we also need to engage hybrid forms that reveal their edges. We need to see what it feels like to bring diverse technologies, orientations, together. When I teach, I use a line that Laurie Anderson brought into a talk she gave at Cornish College of the Arts, "How wide is the jump cut?" By this question, she was focusing on the challenge in filmmaking of making large, initial jump cuts that the ensuing film then has to respond to. If the jump cut starts out wide, then the work is likely to register some of the leaps and gaps most people go through as part of their daily lives. I think it is very important to respond to the world around us and to engage synthesizing processes. And I think it is important that some of these syntheses will be very edgy--so the hybrid nature of the creation announces itself.

LY: Why do you think there are not more hybrid texts published in America?

JH: I think that in a time of much change that most interesting, significant art is hybrid in one of the two ways I describe above. But if you mean why aren't there more art forms that show and reveal their edges, I think it is because they often require more from their readers. Many people want to escape the very demanding world we live in, not engage it. And then there is a real anti-intellectual, anti-artistic ethos in this culture that fits in nicely with a national political culture that has been drifting to the right under the influence of corporate control for many decades now. Art within such a culture needs to challenge our basic modes of perception and apprehension if we are to awaken from the current cultural somnambulism that seems to be heading for a large bang.



Dearest Chiasmus visitors, freaks, and mad readers:

We invite you to read, let it sink into your gray matter, and then construct your very own textual response to Lidia's interview with the mastermind R.M. Berry.

His book, FRANK, is due out at the end of October 2005. It's much more than mere trick or treat: see below.

Chiasmus staff

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Lidia Yuknavitch:
FRANK seems to have at its heart, at least formally, a palimpsest. I'm thinking of the layers of history. The layers of language upon language. The geographic layers. The layers of time--past, present. The layers of authorship. The layers of character--or for me, it would be more accurate to say subjectivities. What's your take on this layering effect? I myself find it breathtaking.

R.M. Berry: Your phrase, the layering of subjectivities, captures with unusual vividness what I wanted to produce. My idea was that the source of our captivity to the past—and here “our” can refer to 21st century Americans collectively or to the Europeanized West or to human beings as such or merely to each of us as individuals—that the source of our captivity is to be grasped as the superimposition of two lives, competing histories. Sometimes I think of it as foreign occupation. Or perhaps demonic.
I don’t think anyone, not even the wealthy and powerful, really wants our present form of life. Capitalism requires too much repression of too much of what’s best in each of us. But we continue to live out the life we don’t desire, all the while displaying in a thousand ways the symptoms of our stifled disgust and anger. How does that happen? Ideology can’t explain it, economic coercion can’t explain it, institutionalization can’t explain it. What needs to be grasped is the seamless continuity of me with not me, or better, the sense of a forgotten life living in my living, a kind of ghost inhabiting my acts.
This alien subject is the holdover from a past that is not my personal past. It may have a different sexuality or gender from mine. It may speak an unfamiliar idiom, have a quite distinct style and taste. I think it’s what mythology calls fate. Or metempsychosis. But every emotion or impulse of mine, my most intimate and personal reflexes, every flinch projects a shadow, the emotion, impulse, twitch, sensation, of another being.
I didn’t read much growing up. I became interested in books late, only after arriving in college, but I’d always thought, worried, mulled, puzzled over things. I feel like I live in a basement. So, when I started to read and then to talk and write about what I was reading, I was startled when professors or other students responded to a thought of mine, “That’s Kant’s idea of judgment,” or “That’s Schlegel’s romanticism,” or “That’s Emerson.” I hadn’t read any of these people, in most cases had never heard their names. How could someone else’s idea already be inside of me? Once I actually did start to read, it really got crazy, since I started discovering in the writings of philosophers and poets and novelists from centuries ago or other cultures thoughts I’d always assumed I’d invented.
I don’t know when I first began to hit on my present explanation. It seems always to have been there, but not until I started reading Wittgenstein did I have the “Ah, now I see” experience. The ghosts of every story and poem and idea and argument ever written or thought or sung or screamed actually did inhabit me, always had. They were called words. And in learning to speak, I hadn’t just learned a code or system. I’d learned a memory, the memory of a whole culture, of the whole fucking human species! And like other memories, these could be referred to with merely a fragment or associated image or formula—dictionaries are collections of these shorthand references—but if I really wanted to know what a word in my head remembered, then I wanted its story, its history. Words are the histories of every past occasion of their use. That’s what we call their “meaning.” And these tight little knots of human history inhabit everyone. They narrate us before we do. There’s nothing at all unusual about discovering one’s own life written by someone else. What’s unusual is discovering oneself discovering this.
In FRANK I was looking for a way to write a novel in which you’d see both subjectivities at once, the word and its memory, me and my ghost. The aim, of course, would be freedom, but that would require another understanding of what freedom is. You don’t escape a story by narrating it. Quite the opposite. That’s what I learned from Beckett.

LY: Since Mary Shelley once visited me in a dream in what I would call one of the most lucid and concrete conversations I've ever had in my life (really. I woke up and sat bolt upright in bed thinking I'd either fallen out of time or she had staged a present tense break-in), how does her text speak to you specifically? Why inhabit her text to release your own?

RMB: The fact that Mary Shelley had a conversation with you in a dream explains why I’ve always found you so interesting. We occupy a tense.
I inhabited Shelley’s text to release my own because I was already inhabiting her text. The question for me was how to acknowledge this within-ness, my containment. Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN strikes me as the most ordinary of stories: it’s about a guy who wanted to create a life for himself. And who doesn’t want that? (I deliberately allow the male pronoun to stand, since it’s a question for me, a question for FRANK, whether or to what extent the wish for one’s own life is specific to men or shared. If FRANK is successful, then it doesn’t answer the question, but it evokes the pandemonium to which an answer might bring peace.) The paradox I faced, of course, is that precisely by trying to create a life for myself, I replicated hers, Shelley’s. Every man who sets out to create his own life becomes Victor Frankenstein. And this is awful, because it entails the death of everyone he loves. This is what I mean by my being within her text, my life being contained. How does a man get out? Well, Freud showed us. The way out is on the other side of all the way in.
So, I set out to write a novel in which, from literally the first word—and I mean “literally” literally—it is unrepressing its containment, acknowledging its place in Shelley’s plot, its desire for her creation, and so bringing to the consciousness itself, of its own reading and writing, what compels its story endlessly on. Shelley’s protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, voices his intuition of a fate driving him. This is how repression talks. A past in which Victor avoided Victor is experienced by Victor in the present as a power over him, his own alienated past repeating itself in his every instant.
In FRANK Shelley’s novel becomes the fate. When Rob Lawton or Frank Stein intuit some power over themselves, some plot they are forced to live out, they sense their position as characters in Shelley’s plot. The solution is obvious: I must acknowledge what I avoid by inhabiting her text instead of my own. Only in this way can FRANK become mine. I am not inside Shelley’s book because language forces me to be there. I am inside Shelley’s book because, when learning to voice to my desires, I also learned the history of their avoidance, the storehouse of memories of slights and fears and demands and confusions that makes avoidance itself so desirable. I must learn to hear what I’m saying, what my own words mean, what I mean in speaking them. My goal was to write FRANK so that this meaning continually calls out, trips us up, brings the forward movement, the compelling fate to a halt. There’s a sense in which, if only you saw what the words are saying, you could stop reading, go free. Unfortunately, until you see where this fate leads, you’ll just think the words are being cute, coy, self-consciously clever.
All you can ever tell is what happened to you. The alternative to the lived life is the narrated one. What’s happening here and now—this!—that’s what nobody can tell.

LY: The distribution of race, class, notions of otherness and geography mapped out in FRANK suggests you understand these categories as dislocatable/relocatable in terms of signification (not unlike words). put slightly differently, I get that great "what if" feeling when reading FRANK . . . like "what could happen" if we dislocated the old stories and relocated them elsewhere and differently. Do you mean to be making this kind of claim about language, definitions, and identity as well?

RMB: Yes.
The importance of the inevitability of FRANK, the sense that Shelley’s plot has the power of fate, the power of inescapability, is that it reveals an interconnectedness of racism and misogyny and class violence within the (male?) desire to create a life for oneself. Obviously, in FRANK this desire is what a novel must satisfy.
What I want the reader to feel is that the violence in the book is simultaneously interconnected, each part leading to and entailing the next in a vast network or social matrix, and also that it’s wholly contrived, arbitrary, without any necessity at all—almost as though somebody had willfully taken some other story and plopped it down on this one. I don’t imagine that this plot explain every form of monstrousness today, but I do think it explains a very old, very widespread one. For example, I think it explains the monstrousness in the Whitehouse.
There’s something more to be said. I don’t think Shelley is blameless. If my aim is to acknowledge my containment within her story, I must do that by acknowledging, not only my wish for her creation, my place in the story of male parthenogenesis, but also what Shelley herself avoided in captivating me. There’s something she could not have told and still have told FRANKENSTEIN. The plot she created, the one in which I’m a captive, is the one in which Victor Frankenstein makes the creature. It was that plot, by which I mean the one in which a man invents a life (I hadn’t read Shelley yet), which over three decades ago first drew me to the idea of becoming a novelist. The plot that frees me from her, hence frees others from FRANK, is the one in which I acknowledge the limits of that plot, that is, the limits of any man’s power to reproduce himself. That liberating story is the one in which the misogyny, racism, and class division in FRANK appear contrived, not inevitable. It begins with the acknowledgment—but how is this to be done?—that I’m the one creating this violence, that I’m the one who desires to reproduce Shelley’s plot, tell this old story. Unfortunately, acknowledging my hand in violence is not the same thing as telling a story in which I have a hand in violence. Or if so, I’d have to tell another story to acknowledge my hand in that one, and the violence would never end.

Acknowledging the words, their capacity to move independently of me, of my desires, reveals the arbitrariness of the plot. This is a way of saying: Mary Shelley created the monster too.

LY: I honestly believe that books such as FRANK pose a direct challenge to, or more accurately, burrow beneath the contemporary novel as a market-driven endlessly replaceable object . . . because books like FRANK remake a reader back into a complex human rather than a consuming machine. I say that because part of the reading experience is struggle. does that sound like something you want to happen to readers, something that should be part of the pleasure of the text?

RMB: Each of your questions catches so precisely something I wanted, that along with being very, very gratifying, they’re a little disarming. “Part of the reading experience is struggle.” Yes, I wanted that, but not in the sense of difficulty or obscurity or slogging away. Rather in the sense of a striving, a struggle for survival, or a struggle with one’s adversary. (The ghost, the cultural past, that me I’m not.) My fear writing the book, of course—my fear writing everything I write—is that people will sense the difficulties, feel that somehow the words won’t stay still, that the story continual folds back on itself, becomes preposterous or inscrutable or perverse, or that the characters aren’t likeable and the situations aren’t realistic, etc., and decide that I’m narcissistically caught up in my own cleverness and just can’t get on with the story. There’s no defense against that feeling. Hell, maybe it’s just true.
But what I’d like is not for the reading to be A struggle, but for reading to be struggle. I want that directness, that feeling that, if I could just see what these words right here in front of me are saying, what they could not possibly make clearer, I would be where I need to be—here, now.
The struggle is for peace.

LY: On at least one level, the form of the novel as we have traditionally understood it is alive and well and smothering real art (this is Lidia Yuknavitch's personal opinion). On the other hand, a handful of innovative writers such as yourself are insisting that the form of the novel must, and is, undergoing radical change. Why does the novel matter just now? What is at stake?

RMB: I have yet to hear one of Lidia Yuknavitch’s personal opinions which didn’t strike me as impersonal too, that is, as an opinion others could have. Anyway, this one has room for me.
Why the novel matters just now. I’ve been reading in MS a new book coming out from Fordham UP within the next year or so, EUROPEAN PHILOSOPHY AND LITERARY MODERNISM by Gerald L. Bruns. At one point, in one of the book’s remarkable and surprising turns, Bruns suggests that what the kind of community called into being by avant garde writing may want, its utopia, is a world in which it no longer was necessary to answer questions like “why does the novel matter just now.” This isn’t my way of throwing off on your question; it’s my way of answering it. You ask the question because, we obviously don’t live in that world, in that utopia, and acting as though we did would be worse than stupid. It would be complicitous. So for us, you and me, the question “why does the novel matter now” matters.
To live in a world in which the writing of FRANK required no explanation, no justification, would be to live in a natural world, a world where human life no longer required us to make it what it is, but in which a life could happen by a logic or necessity within itself, by its own unfolding. Nature is what can simply be what it is w/out ever having to give any account of why. In that great Wallace Stevens poem about placing a jar on a hill in Tennessee, he suggests that nature is called into being by art, is somehow allowed to come into its own when art does. The fact that there’s a question about why fiction matters suggests to me that our present world, this ugliness with all of its promise, feels its unnaturalness in fiction’s presence, is ashamed of itself. Of course, this can only happen when fiction is fiction, that is, happens of itself, in accord with its own necessity, or nature. (Everyone knows naturalness of this kind is impossible until he or she sees the jar.) Neither it nor we, the self-contained work nor those who gawk, can be comfortably in the other’s presence. One of us must change. And that’s why the writing I care about, that you care about, is always on the defensive, raises interminable questions (and eyebrows), and must be ready to say why it matters. And that’s why it matters.

LY: Do you think independent presses which emphasize innovative writing will survive in the current climate?

RMB: I think the writing I care about will survive, assuming humans do. Will independent presses survive? Look at poetry. It has been financially hopeless for more than a century, but today I think it’s in much better shape than fiction. It knows itself, or much of it does. Its community is incredibly strong, well-organized. I don’t really have any idea how the present market madness overtaking the world, our self-imprisonment, will turn out. But I’m pretty optimistic that, if there’s a human wish for writing, there’ll be writing. Whether the wish for writing is the wish for indy presses, that’s another story. I don’t know. But I’m pretty confident that the future of writing will presuppose what you and I are trying to do now. I don’t really think that anything significant within culture dies. There’s only repression and return.



Hello Chiasmus visitors:

Welcome to the Chiasmus Interview Series. We are proud to share with you our interview with the most fabulous Cris Mazza. Go ahead, read it--there's pictures! Please share with us and Cris your reactions and insights as well. A little reactivity does the body good.

Chiasmus Staff


1. Some of the chapters in MWTGIMWTSI have been published before. When you began this work did you have a clear sense of where it was heading, or did it just start accumulating, or was it something else entirely?

CM: I’m not sure how interesting the life history of a novel is to most people, but of course I find it enormously fun to think back. This book started life as a somewhat loosely plotted novel titled Two Halves, written originally around 1987-88, before my 3rd novel Your Name Here:___ Even though titled Two Halves, the book had two parts that alternated. What is now the 2nd half of MWTGIMWTSI came, in chapters, in between chapters of the first half — and those chapters were not separately titled as they are now. The characters and their problems and motives were basically the same, but it was longer by at least 75 pages. The title, Two Halves, was meant to highlight the idea of a person’s life being divided into two parts, the time while they are developing and deciding who they’ll be, and the time after it’s pretty much set in stone, dealing with who you’ve turned out to be. A few commercial editors showed a lot of interest, one even pitched it to a committee, but ultimately, it didn’t sell. I decided to try to create excerpts from it that I could place in magazines. I cut the excerpts out, titled each like a story and shopped them to magazines or anthologies as stories, never calling them excerpts. I think I thought the novel, as a novel, was dead, and publishing the individual stories was the only life outside my brain that Loralee would have. When these stories started being published, and mostly in anthologies, I wondered if the book might be resurrected as a “story cycle” (or “story cycle plus novella,” because I had never excerpted anything from the 2nd half). I just threw away anything from the 1st half that hadn’t been taken for an excerpt. It was like rolled out cookie dough after the cookies have been cut out and put onto a baking sheet — the leftover dough wasn’t reused, just tossed out. So I called it a story-cycle-plus-novella and tried shopping it. Still got interest, but no takers. I changed the title to Heart Problems and tried calling it a novel again and meanwhile kept revising the 2nd half, the last revision involving research into all the sexual slang the character uses, trying to never use the same sexual euphemism twice. That was when the titles for the two parts came to me, “Many Ways to Get It,” and “Many Ways to Say It.” Then I changed the overall title again to Young in the 80s (keeping the two subtitles for the two parts) When the opportunity to publish this long-suffering novel with Chiasmus came along, I knew I also had a publisher who would give me freedom with things like how long the title was, so I made a final title change to Many Ways to Get It, Many Ways to Say It.

2. When writing MWTGIMWTSI, did you find your writing style or ideas about craft shift within the period you were writing the book? How did that influence the final product?

CM: Since “the period I was writing the book” could be counted as a decade or more, then yes, many of my approaches to writing changed while working on this book. Most notably: The 2nd half was originally in 1st person — it was the “notes” Clay was dictating into a tape recorder while on this bus trip, so a journal-like form. But it began to feel phony. No one would narrate long dramatized scenes into a tape recorder. I knew I didn’t want him to be narrating the whole thing, later, in past tense, because then I would have a character who had already been through the whole story and had come out the other side, was already affected by whatever would happen in the story, and therefore wouldn’t narrate in the same agitated way I wanted him to sound. This might have been the beginning of my deeper understanding of 1st person: my realization that too many writers don’t utilize all the complexities and layers of 1st person; my dismay over the growing over-use of 1st person — especially 1st person narratives that didn’t seem to understand or take into consideration issues like temporal distance and irony and what motivates the telling; and finally my turn away from being able to use 1st person because it had so much baggage. [I’ve since decided I have to try it again, and not only carry all its baggage with me, but use its baggage in the texture of the novel. And this, I often preach, is the only way it should be used.] All those changes in my opinions and attitudes caused me to change the 2nd half of MWTGIMWTSI to a 3rd person present tense, so close to the character that it could be his voice creating the narrative (there are no “he thinks” or “he wonders if” — his thoughts and questions and conjectures and anxiety and assumptions are just sewn into the narrative). Thus the tone of anxiety is his, and is his present condition, but there’s no responsibility on the book (or the character) for what I call “motives for telling.” Technically, and literally, he’s not “telling.”

3. In MWTGIMWTSI, much of the narrative explores the idea that men and women are essentially unknowable to each other. How does this theme inform the actions of characters in your novel? Why is this kind of exploration important?

CM: I’m going to use a quote that I’ll cite (with its author’s name) again later: “Hunches are important to writers; intuitions are essential. Pursuing them honestly and enthusiastically towards success is what we …do.” Except often, for me, it’s less a hunch and more intuition. The concept that a good reader sees being explored is often not the idea I started with. Yes, I certainly became aware of it, and it became my guiding principle at some point while working on this book, but it wasn’t what I was “exploring” while initially writing the first draft. I often start with just a condition, a type of life that interests me, that I might like to vicariously try for a while. In this case, I was thinking about the girls in high school for whom college was not the obvious, logical, and always-known next step, the way it was for me and most of my close friends. Girls whose families either never mentioned it, never suggested it, and for sure never encouraged it. Girls whose life experience would have “taught” them that high school was enough, they would graduate, get some kind of job, have some fun being young, then get married, have kids, etc. I sat in classes with girls who already lived a very different life than I did: some of them did the grocery shopping for their families, some of them never had to be home at a certain time, didn’t sit down to a family dinner every night with everyone around the table. Why else would I remember one day in 10th grade world history class, a girl came in wearing the same clothes as the day before. I heard her tell someone else that she’d been over at a friend’s house and had just decided to spend the night and then came to school directly from there. (I couldn’t imagine suggesting such a plan to my mother.) That same girl, who had thin blond hair, an angular face, a husky voice, and was not well endowed, became the head cheerleader and then became Miss Spring Valley. Our school bordered three towns, and Miss Lemon Grove and Miss La Mesa were also in my class … none of these girls went to college. So I wanted to imagine that kind of life, with the life of support-yourself decisions being made at 18, when my mother was still deciding what I would have for dinner each night. I made a composite girl, thought of the boldest, most audacious traits I’d ever observed, made my girl more audacious than these, and set off with her, giving her that important craving: not knowledge, not a future, not accomplishments — but an adrenalin rush. (A craving I was well-aware of, although hadn’t followed at any length, not even on roller coasters!) It was in following her life, her reactions to the consequences of her actions, her method of “caring” for her young husband, and then, in the 2nd half, how her earlier experiences had shaped her view of life, that I came to understand the wall between her and the men she was physically intimate with. Also, in developing her “male double” in Clay — how that double would be different even though similar, how he looked at the world, sex, happiness, love, etc. — that I discovered the fissure between them greater than I ever thought. At one time I used to declare that men and women were really the same, except for different hormones and body parts; but things have changed my view, and writing this book was certainly one of those things. But, getting back to your question, the theme of being unknowable to each other didn’t necessarily inform the characters’ actions — their actions informed that theme, and then, once recognizing it, I was able to strengthen it in various ways on revision.

4. Where do you think you writing fits into the literary spectrum?

CM: I’m going to answer this question (or not) with a little story:

In fall of 2004, ebr (electronic book review) ran a series of essays on postfeminism including one containing this hypothetical question:

“I myself would love to know how authors like Mazza see their work in relation to other waves of feminism and feminist narrative practice: how [does her work] compare with, say, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway?”
—Lisa Yaszek, “I’ll be a postfeminist in a postpatriarchy.”

The editor of the series of essays invited me to offer a response to Yaszek’s piece. By logical inference, my reply should have contained my answer, but didn’t, because I couldn’t, or wouldn’t. What I wanted to say instead — my reason for not answering — had already been said, and better, almost twenty years ago:

“The orientation of scholarly and critical work is towards judiciousness — working deliberately, thinking carefully, and not being swept away by enthusiasms. We are all familiar with the orientation, and in fact many writers embody it superbly well. But others of us do not, for nowhere is it written that all of us handle the creative act as if it were a session in court… Hunches are important to writers; intuitions are essential. Pursuing them honestly and enthusiastically towards success is what we want to do, yet at the same time those ‘successes’ can appear to come and go with a facility which seems to betray more inspiration than judgment, to some of our colleagues.”
— Bruce Cutler, “What Happens If We Win?” (AWP Newsletter, May 1986)

But I do want to account for my opposition to answering this kind of question, which represents my resistance against making any synthesizing statements about the literary “movements” in which I participate. My reason comes in three parts:

I. I don’t think about it
This is going to sound an awful lot like “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like,” but it’s actually “I know about brushstrokes and textures, but not about things like the postmodern pre-diaspora of the post-masculine woman in post-9/11 post-America.”
II. Please allow at least a pretense of humility
How self centered would it be if I compared myself to this or that well-known (or even canonized) writer, or placed myself beside them on some continuum. Please let this be someone else’s job, and I’ll never complain about what they say (unless they call me a chick-lit writer).
III. The hypocrisy of deconstruction (I’m not supposed to know)
According to deconstructionists (usually professors in English departments) authors are not supposed to be the experts nor own the answers regarding their own work, but if we wanted jobs teaching in English departments, we had to go into interviews (with these same deconstructionist professors) and understand why we didn’t have the answers and be able to explain the answers that we weren’t supposed to have, and why in reality we didn’t really have them.
I like the idea that the author isn’t an expert on what his or her book means or where it belongs in a literary movement. Not because this lets me off the hook and I don’t have to have any intelligent ideas, but because when I hear a “real” literary scholar or critic pronounce what my books “mean” or where I fit, it is, frankly, for me, breathtaking. Not because what they’re saying is completely novel or exotic; it’s because I’m hearing ideas expressed in a way I never could have or would have articulated them. Certain ideas I never could have or would have explained in that particular way because they were, in the first place while creating my fictions, more of an intuition for me. Thus I recognize the interpretation, but I never could have made that same explanation myself. So under the (welcome) regime of deconstruction, critics — stewards of the now public ownership of books’ meanings — interpret me back to myself. Long before deconstruction, in a 1936 essay, “Technique as Discovery,” Mark Shorer said, “If our books are to be exercises in self-analysis, then technique must — and alone can — take the place of the absent analyst.” My text (my “technique”) may be my absent therapist, but I still need a medium (a critic) to translate.

But, I don’t want to completely avoid the spirit of this question: I consider myself a literary fiction writer who writes layered narratives, often about a person’s interior world impacting their “real world,” or so one of my former publishers told me. There is no school, camp, movement or category that I like to wear or own.

5. How do your various selves influence your writing? The author? The woman? The professor? Where do the politics of identity come into play in fiction writing?

CM: Perhaps in fiction writing —— during the hours of actually doing it —— I can completely shed the politics of identity. My identity can become as innate and basic as it is for a dog. I don’t write as a professor any more than I write as a woman. I think about being a woman when I am engaged in the task of shopping manuscripts, when dealing with issues of publicity and reviews, when I have to think about the business of the literary world and who really has the power. I think about being an author when speaking to a literature class that has read one of my books, when giving a reading or answering questions in an interview. I don’t think about myself as a professor unless I am leading a workshop or advising a student, or on campus in some other professorial capacity. I don’t think about being any of those things when I am fishing in the Upper Peninsula for smallmouth bass and northern pike on the Sturgeon River a mile past any marked trail. And I don’t think about being any of those things when I am training and showing a dog. Nor when I am writing a story or working on a novel. Those are the times I am not consciously wearing an identity, when my identity becomes just “me.” The switches of identity, however, are noticeable to me when, for example, I have to spend 2 days at a book convention, helping to promote a new book, or when I go to a fiction festival where I am reading or participating on a panel, and then —— immediately afterwards —- drive off somewhere with my dogs to a show or up to the Northwoods to fish. Sometimes, on the way, it’s difficult to shake off that “author” identity and get back to just “me.” And I do wonder if writers with other identities (say, “man” or “parent”) have this problem of shifting back to a more comfortable, more intrinsic self. Or if other people’s labeled identities are intrinsic to them.

6. What do you see as the role of the independent press in contemporary publishing?

CM: It’s a huge and important role, no matter how it’s defined. We all know the issues associated with commercial (or corporate) publishers. Simplified: The bottom line is money. Lots of it. The way toward lots of money is to tap into a mass audience. And the mass audience in the United States watches reality TV and follows the Brad-and-Jennifer divorce. Sure the corporate presses publish what they call “literary fiction,” and some of these books — even many of these books — are books I can enjoy reading. But so many of them are of a simple structure: starts here, goes forward, ends here, with some flashbacks. What happens in between may be shocking, fascinating, intense, important … I’m just talking about the structure being uncomplicated. Most of these commercial literary novels are easy (or easier) to follow. [I said most; I know people are going to want to throw the exceptions at me.] They aren’t layered, either with different passages in time or different portions of the character’s brain at work presenting different language, forms and voices. And 80 to 90 percent of them are in 1st person, tapping into that “reality TV” and talk-show confession and morning-news-around-the-coffee-table feel, the sensation that a “real” person is telling his or her own story. As an example, I have a novel MS in which the character becomes intrigued with a name on her family tree and begins to invent (and relive in her fantasy-mind) the story of that person’s life. So a subplot runs throughout the novel which is the character’s fantasy-invention of this distant relative’s life. Obviously (to most readers) this subplot says volumes about the character who is inventing; the original name on the family tree and what her real life was is irrelevant. And outside that thread the novel has dramatic scenes in the tangible “reality” of the main character’s life. When shopping the MS to agents, one agent suggested to me that I just make the novel two separate narratives about “the two women,” instead of trying to have one of the stories come from the mind of the other character. Two narratives about “the two women”? There weren’t two women. One of them was just a name and her “life story” wouldn’t exist without the other character inventing it. And that she invented it, and how she invented it, and why she invented it were major components of the novel! But contained in this agent’s suggestion is that easier road for readers: just tell a story, start here and end there, don’t mess with layers of consciousness and the reasons for fantasy and how fantasy and telling a story are the same thing, and how in the invention of another life a self is discovered. So in this experience is the role of independent publishers: Give those readers who don’t need the easiest structure and a confessional 1st person POV a choice of good books. This has been the age-old comparison of corporate to independent publishing: Indies “get to” publish daring, inventive, un-commercial books. Once at the old ABA (American Booksellers Association) convention, some representatives from a corporate publisher were out on the floor looking at other booths and came past the independent publisher’s booth where I was helping to introduce one of my novels. “You guys get to publish all the good stuff,” one wistfully said as she grazed her fingertips across the row of new books at the front of the booth.

However, something scary has been happening lately: independent publishers are unconsciously, perhaps unwillingly, adopting the same attitudes as the corporate publishers. One of my publishers recently wrote to me: “… you’re plumbing the depths of traumatized passive women who live inside their heads instead of in the real world. And as we’ve discussed, it’s not the easiest theme to present these days. I respect your decision to be true to your vision, but it does make your books more of a challenge for a marketing staff.” Another independent publisher told me they are no longer doing novels as they have been hard to sell; an occasional themed story collection might work, but novels just don’t sell. Many other independent publishers have dropped collections of short fiction, due to the difficulty of getting reviews and therefore the danger of low sales. And one publisher said he has to only consider MSS under 300 pages, regardless of literary quality of longer projects. So something has happened to the old fissure whereby the corporate publishers worried about making sure a book was marketable and profitable, but the independent publishers looked for writing that was significant, bold, entering new territory, or in some other way carried high literary value regardless of its potential to create revenue. And yet, this idealistic vision of what independent publishers “should” do, of course, disregards the very real problems of funding. Paying for book production, for editorial services, for publicity, for the time the publishers are pouring into their ventures has become more and more difficult as granting organizations tighten up, as government grants become controlled by arch conservatives, as too many publishers are competing for the same pool of serious book buyers, and as the pool of book buyers becomes, mysteriously, stagnant. I wonder: with the plethora of writing programs not only churning out new writers but turning away a certain percentage of applicants … aren’t all those would-be or promising-new writers also readers? Why hasn’t the buying of literary books increased componentially with the increase in enrollment in writing programs?

These are not problems any single independent press can solve. But independent presses can team up with disenfranchised (i.e. labeled “unmarketable”) writers and work together, instead of trying to emulate the priorities of corporate publishers.



To Chiasmus visitors:

Welcome to the Chiasmus blog! To launch our on-line interactive- and reactiveness, we decided it would be cool to do an interview series with our authors. Feel free to respond and converse as you like--the interview is here in the blog for you to read and react to--so go ahead and react.

Here is our first interview, with Lance Olsen--author, internet master, and all-around good guy (really, he's got awesome all over him).

--Chiasmus staff


CP: 10:01 employs much different formal moves than your previous novels. Was it the content you wanted to tackle or the limitations of the form of the novel or something else entirely that led you to choose the form for 10:01?

LO: I don’t like to repeat myself formally. The pleasure in writing for me is to try something with each book that I haven’t tried before. Otherwise, I find the process of composition feeling flat and faded fast.

What’s always intrigued me about the communal event of film watching is how, when you’re partaking in it, you’re surrounded by an ocean of others, each with his or her own secret history. I’ve always suspected that those secret histories are much more emotionally and intellectually appealing than what’s usually blowing up on the screen. That suspicion suggested the form and led me to write the print version of 10:01, which is set in an AMC theater on the fourth floor of the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota—that is, smack in the heart of the American Dream. The narrative drifts in and out of the minds of forty-some-odd moviegoers, one mouse, and one cat during the ten minutes and one second before the feature begins, nestling into various narraticules behind what appears to be The Narrative (i.e., the about-to-begin movie), but isn’t.

Novels mine psychology in a way that films can’t. Films are all about surface and speed, novels depth and taking one’s time. What other art form allows you to live inside another person’s consciousness—a theater full of other people’s consciousnesses—for days or even weeks on end? Much of the satisfaction I experienced in writing 10:01 was using one genre (the novel) to explore the limits of another (film).

CP: It has been claimed that the novel's role in fiction writing has been the pursuit of historical accuracy or truth seeking. How does this idea resonate in current novel writing versus its significance in the past?

LO: Much mainstream fiction in the last decade or two has conceived of itself as an art of consolation and solace. It is concerned, that is, not with historical accuracy or truth-seeking, but with making the reader feel at the end of the day cozy, complacent, satisfied. Why might this be? Because the literary equivalent of Zoloft sells almost as well as the chemical compound does.

But the texts that have engaged me most through the years are the ones that impede easy accessibility, move us into regions of disturbance, make us feel the opposite of comfortable. It’s there that we can begin to begin to think and see in ways we may not have done before. It’s in the topography that lies just on the far side of our comfort zone where we start to sense change within ourselves, recalling that the our books, our lives, and our worlds can always be other than they are. This is the aesthetico-politico-existential purpose of vanguard writing.

CP: The fragmented form of 10:01 could be said to reflect the lack of linearity or causality in people's lives. With that in mind, would you consider the formal choices within the novel to present a more natural view than a more traditional narrative structure?

LO: Is standing on a street corner in Manhattan, or channel-surfing, or trying to navigate the web or a declining relationship, or hearing that a close friend died last night more like a mimetic novel or an experimental one? Experimental fiction is the real realism. Mimetic fiction teaches us, inaccurately, that life is an interlocking, coherent, fathomable whole that concludes in neatly wrapped-up revelation. Innovative fiction teaches us that lived life is just the opposite—that, as Celan Solen, one of my characters in 10:01, realizes, “Life flies at us in bright splinters. We turn them into significance.” And we should listen to what Celan Solen says, since his name is an anagram of the author’s.

CP: How did writing 10:01 change or utilize your methods of craft?

LO: I had never juggled as many consciousnesses in a single text before as I do in 10:01, and I found that a great delight and a great challenge. I wanted to keep each narraticule, each secret history, as brief and concentrated as possible. I wanted to generate the sense of a whole life, a whole way of perceiving the world, in as few words as possible—a few hundred in most cases. So for inspiration I turned to prose poetry, in which I immersed myself heavily as I worked. It’s an extraordinary form—flash fiction, only denser, more distilled, more in love with language.

About halfway through writing the print version 10:01, the idea arrived of creating a complementary and complimentary hypermedia one—a version that isn’t simply a digital adaptation of the print one, mind you, but a rethinking that through its hypertextual form and function opens onto questions about how we read, why we read, what the difference is between reading on page and reading on screen, between reading and watching, about which text (the one made of atoms or the one made of bytes) is the more “authentic,” and so forth. Tim Guthrie, an extraordinarily talented assemblage and web artist, had approached me about a year earlier with the suggestion that we collaborate on a project someday, and 10:01 seemed the perfect occasion to do so.

The more closely one reads and compares the print and digital versions, the more unlike one will likely see they are. In the gap between them, I hope, exists a third virtual version that’s the most textured.

CP: How do non-literary art and entertainment forms such as television, film, and the internet influence what you choose to write about?

LO: My generation of fiction writers is the first to have nursed on film, teethed on television. We were the ones who witnessed the web come into being and grow up around us over the last ten or fifteen years. It’s no surprise, then, that these media have had a profound impact on the way many of us structure our increasingly fractured, elliptical, inter-netted narratives, not to mention the sorts of secondary texts we appropriate and quote. If you listen closely, you can hear the sentences of many contemporary writers competing with the pop-cultural expressions of late-stage capitalism, with the latest action movie, with last week’s hot hip-hop album, with the jump-cut aesthetic of the most visually interesting videos on MTV.

On the one hand, of course, that’s liberating, energizing, deliciously appealing. On the other, it’s more than slightly disconcerting because it runs the risk of neutralizing the very thing that is special about fiction writing.

Addressing this question puts me in mind of David Foster Wallace’s 1993 critique in Review of Contemporary Fiction of what he calls “image-fiction,” of which he believes Mark Leyner’s work is the best instance: “Velocity and vividness—the wow—replace the literary hmm of actual development,” Wallace writes. “People flicker in and out; events are garishly there and then gone and never referred to. There’s a brashly irreverent rejection of ‘outmoded’ concepts like integrated plot or enduring character. Instead, there’s a series of dazzlingly creative parodic vignettes, designed to appeal to the forty-five seconds of near-Zen concentration we call the TV attention span.” Wallace concludes that such work is ultimately “both amazing and forgettable, wonderful and oddly hollow.” It is, when everything is said and done, “hilarious, upsetting, sophisticated, and extremely shallow.”

What worries me about that sort of writing is this: while image-fiction may attempt to position itself as a satiric laying-bare of the late-stage capitalist moment, it also all-too-easily aids in perpetuating the very impulses it claims to resist and dismantle.

CP: Why did you choose to place 10:01 on the internet for free?

LO: “Writers are a glum lot,” Ann Beattie commented in a recent Poets & Writers interview. “They usually expect the worst—but now that it’s here, now that corporations control from afar, and money is the bottom line, and editors are almost as expendable as writers, what are we to do but make trouble by persisting as long as we can?”

One way of making trouble, of persisting as serious avant-garde writers, is to refuse to think of art in economic terms, refuse to equate quantity sold with quality inborn. This is nothing more, I suppose, than an extension a certain D.I.Y. aesthetic that tracks back through various websites, blogs, indie music labels, and important alternative presses like Chiasmus through the early-twentieth-century Russian tradition of the samizdat (those hastily published books designed to exist below the dominant cultures’ radar), all the way to the political pamphlets like Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” passed hand to hand in the street in the eighteenth century and before.

That is, it’s nothing more than a manifestation of an essential artistic impulse to keep confronting, complicating, interrogating, and even perhaps for brief periods of time short-circuiting through myriad heterodox approaches the bird-brained, user-friendly narratives produced by our dominant cultures that would like to see such narratives told and retold until they begin to pass for something like truths about aesthetics and the human condition.


go to www.cafezeitgeist.com to see more of lance olsen.