Thursday, October 23, 2008

Work Release at Apostrophe Cast

Yeah, I'm still here.

You can hear me read my short story "Work Release" at Apostrophe Cast. Work Release was originally published by Thieves Jargon in 2005. Next week's reader at Apostrophe Cast is Ben Tanzer, whose poetry has also been in TJ, and whose book Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine is available from Orange Alert Press, like, right now. Randall Brown read one of his flash fictions for AC recently as well. Readings by Sheila Heti, Celeste Ng, Richard Siken, and many more can be found in the archives.

Here I answer some questions in an interview, where you can learn some things about me that you did not know before.

Thanks to John Dermot Woods for his help and for putting this together. He also took my fiction that appeared in the latest issue of Action, Yes. Check out John's work in the first issue of No Colony while you're looking into things.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Spending Time with Dad While Waiting for the Apocalypse on CNN

Dad’s head is on the coffee table. All of us kids are sitting around, keeping him company while he adjusts to his new Medusa docking station. We’re all getting used to this, really.

While we watch TV, he spends most of the day asking Stacey to take him to work or complaining about phantom aches and pains. Then the breaker blows and he loses power. His eyes close and we pause for a moment to admire our dad, our father, noting the iconic dignity of a Che or a Nietzsche as seen on our t-shirts: an immortal, postmodern quality. Then, smirking, Avery says he looks more like Lenin with that bullet-clean scalp—those wrinkles on his forehead are for the revolution, not the people.

Our eyes roll and we find that someone has pulled the plug. Avery says he didn’t do it. Yeah right, we say, you’re the only one always saying you wish he would have died.

He says: Actually, I’d prefer to let his whole generation go. Don’t get me wrong, the docking gadget is really cool, and it’s comforting that dad’s body parts are right up in the attic, nicely vacuum-sealed in case we want to get nostalgic, but the whole living forever business, though it looks fun and all, it’s not doing anyone any good. If the Baby Boomers really care, they’ll move on so we can too. Then Avery turns to dad’s head and tells him, Just say the word, pops, and I’ll set us all free from this nightmare.

Stacey squeaks. She’s crying and glaring at Avery. We’re lucky to get this last little bit with him. It’s called making up for lost time, you asshole.

It’s a little late now, Avery snorts. He had a choice just like everyone else. And he chose to spend every moment of his life at work, Stacey, remember? He chose work and not you. Does it sound like he wants to be here when he’s always begging you to take him to the shop?

We gang up and explain that dad wants to go to the shop because it’s all he knows. He’ll get used to this. Give him some time. Besides, look around at all the nice things we have. Things we wouldn’t have if he hadn’t cared enough to spend his life at work. True, we shouldn’t have had him docked without his consent, but it’s better this way. Really.

Avery tells us where to put our nice things, and asks how many hours of dad’s life are packed in the closets and sealed in Tupperware.

How can you say no to a second chance like this?

Fine, he says, I’d like to trade in 10 or 12 of those video game systems rotting in the basement for a fishing trip, or maybe a game of catch. Fuck it, let’s rob a bank for all I care. He pounds the coffee table and sits down.

Dad’s head is still rebooting, so he misses all this. His eyes open and he asks Stacey to take him to work. Her eyes grow glossy again and she bites her lip, looking between us and him.

No, dad, you’re not going to work, Avery says. Your job at the plant still requires a body and you haven’t got one. That’s how you ruined it in the first place, remember? So, no. Just watch TV with us, your loving children.

We actually agree with Avery and encourage dad to watch TV with us. Besides, we say, consumption is the new labor, and you’ve instilled us with a great work ethic, dad. When we watch the new Tom Cruise movie, it’s just like working. We don’t always want to, but we do it anyway, just like you did. Watching TV is good for the economy.

Fine, he says, then turn me so I can see.

Stacey cranks him in fine adjustment toward the TV wall.

And now the TV doesn’t work. We troubleshoot by aiming the remote control at different angles, beating it against our palm like a pack of cigarettes. When we get up to inspect the cable connection, we see that the TV is unplugged. Avery gets the evil eye while we plug it back in, making sure he doesn’t cut dad’s juice again.

Whatever, you guys. We’ve got a choice, Medusa or TV. You know the circuit can’t handle both. He settles into the couch with a scowl.

Stop being an idiot, we say. We’re trying to make dad feel more comfortable, more at-home, so we turn on the Revisionist History Channel. Another documentary is about to start. The RHC voice recites the slogan: “History of the Boomers, by the Boomers, and for the Boomers.” Avery joins on queue, “Who shall not perish from the Earth,” changing ‘shall’ to ‘will’. The next three hours of programming look like this:

1 pm The New Greatest Generation
2 pm Death is the New Twenty
3 pm Baby Boomers: The Hub of Human History

More mockery from Avery, but no one pays attention to him. Instead, we watch grainy protest footage and shots of topless women with pointy breasts flailing about during outdoor concerts.

Avery says this is bullshit. Dad died a little to pay for that video camera in the closet, so let’s go out and make some footage of our own. If we really wanted to honor him, we would use it.

Shut up, Avery, they’re talking about the Cultural Revolution. If you’d listen once, maybe you’d recognize progress staring you in the face and be a little more thankful instead of whining about everything.

Still, we toss around the idea of reenacting a march or a protest. But then there’s the issue of looking after dad, so we scrap that.

Reenactment? What about doing something of our own? Don’t we have anything to say?

There’s nothing left to say that’s new, Avery, haven’t you been listening?

Whatever. Solomon declared the end of the new like 5,000 years ago. Clever way of demanding the last word.

It’s just easier to ignore him, so we do. Halfway through the summary of vast social upheaval, dad sniffles and the lights go out. His eyes are closed. His cheeks glisten with sunlight from the window.

At first he liked watching footage from his youth, but lately it just makes him cry. His streaking tears short out the docking station, which of course trips the hyper-sensitive breaker, leaving us in the dark with no TV and no dad. It’s Stacey’s job to dry dad’s tears when we watch this stuff. But she was moved by the documentary, too, and forgot about him. We’re always afraid that this time will be the last.

After we admire his silhouette, she cleans him up. Everyone is quiet while we find flashlights to go downstairs and restore power. The air is thick with the same feeling we had at the hospital when the doctor told us we had lost our dad.

Meanwhile, Avery stands up and looks at dad’s inanimate head on the coffee table. He sighs and says, You know, it did seem like a good idea at the time.

first published in Rivet Magazine, The Power Issue, July 2007

Friday, October 10, 2008

Name Drop 2.2 [bereft of the burden

"I don't know -- there were more, but I don't remember all of their names, or what order they came in." --Michael Kimball, Dear Everybody

"It's such a small thing to remember someone's name." --J.D. Riso

"One day a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name." First line of a forwarded email from my mother.

"Listen--is there anything more useful as a means of control than names? Names aren't hopes--they're commands. Don't you see the danger in your calling it? In your giving names?" --Peter Orner

"But I passed away along with my name nearly two decades ago." --Mia Cuoto

"47. Dear god, make this list reflect the names of prayers I couldn’t fit. Include the prayers that have no name." --Blake Butler, List Prayer


"The most powerful person is he who is able to do least himself and burden others most with the things for which he lends his name and pockets the credit." --Theodor Adorno

"I don't even correct people when they mispronounce my name now." --Ann Beattie

"It's not name dropping . . ." --Jeffrey Bernard

" . . . her dead father, after whom the baby is named . . ." --copywriter for back cover of Hélène Cixous's book The Day I Wasn't There

"Her names were Beatrice, Margaret and Jane. Margaret was the feisty one." --Richard Froude, The Margaret Thatcher Trilogy

"There are a lot of people who really abused sampling and gave it a bad name . . ." --Beck

"Far from calling things up and bringing them to us, names seem to alienate us from things by negating their singularity. Names only repeat the incurable fracture, the laceration, the death that separates us from the world. Indeed, could they be the cause of death itself?" --Stefano Franchi

"He won't get far. He's got no mummy, he's got no names, he's got nothing. What happens to a bum like that, a nameless, mummyless asshole? Why, demons will swarm all over him at the first check point. He will be dismembered and thrown into a flaming pit, where his soul will be utterly consumed and destroyed forever. While others, with sound mummies and the right names to drop in the right places, sail through to the Western Lands." --William S. Burroughs, The Place of Dead Roads

". . . a name . . . itself is always already a homage to the namelessness or anonymity that makes all names both necessary and unnecessary, possible and impossible as such." --Leslie Hill, ""An outstretched hand . . ." From Fragment to Fragmentary", p. 2

"All the characters in this tale are given [OF COURSE] false names.

"All places have their true names but could [INDEED] be given other names." --Raymond Federman, Take It or Leave It

"Can he smell that new name they give him? Can he smell bad luck?" -- William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

". . . she claimed not to know any names." -- Brian Evenson, "The Sanza Affair", Altmann's Tongue

"That the name also expresses one speaker's phonic fantasies is made apparent by another coined word . . . in which the same phonemes are obsessionally disseminated." --Jacques Lecercle, Philosophy of Nonsense

". . . it was perhaps not entirely frivolous to consider the question of naming with some care." --Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Television

Saturday, October 4, 2008

for godot: Issue 1

The name drop of name drops. 3,785 page PDF of something of nothing. People have cartoon shiver lines at their temples.

UPDATE: check out the comment thread on Silliman's blog; for the predictably binary reactions, but also the discussions of the notion of "name". Interesting.

Friday, October 3, 2008


New things are being born and spanked.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Dalkey Archive has been hitting it hard lately (as usual, I guess). New releases and first English translation of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's novels, for example. Arrived yesterday: a month or so ahead of schedule (pronounced: shedyool) my copy of Gert Jonke's novel HOMAGE TO CZERNY: STUDIES IN VIRTUOSO TECHNIQUE. I've got Jonke's novel GEOMETRIC REGIONAL NOVEL in the to-read pile, so I recognized his name. Anyway, I read the opening pages last night while rocking the baby to sleep, and I am now reading it along with finishing up Toussaint's Camera. The premise of HOMAGE is that two siblings are preparing for their annual garden party. They hang paintings that are perfect realism, mimicking the scene behind it so exactly that it seems they had simply hung an empty frame. But the brother is walking around taking photos of the setup and comparing them with photos from last year's party so that they can exactly reproduce it; not simply a reproduction, but a

REPETITION OF THE PARTY that we had last year on the same day at the same time. It's supposed to be exactly the same party again . . . The same guests, said Johanna, are going to have the same conversations at the same time and tell the same stories they did last year, with the same movements, the same gestures, same looks, same sentiments.

Except they haven't mentioned this to any of the guests.

We have to see if it's possible to establish a congruity of chronologically sequential feelings, sensations, thoughts, relationships, inferences, and insights, explained Diabelli--possibly not just conguity, but identity. Don't you see what we're after? Whether people can still feel, sense, think, experience, and discover exactly the same things one year later.

And so the novel begins. The central word/concept is obviously "Repetition". As I read these passages I immediately thought of Kierkegaard's book REPETITION (subtitled "A Venture in Experimental Psychology). Yeah, really tough, I know. Except there's more than simply the word Repetition. It's the entire concept of attempting to recreate the exact same "feelings, sensations, thoughts, relationships, inferences, and insights" that echoes (repeats?) Kierkegaard's character's return to Berlin in an attempt to relive exactly his time there the previous year. Whether or not Jonke had Kierkegaard's book in mind at all, it's a striking coincidence that got my attention.

HOMAGE TO CZERNY, what with the siblings' exact painting of the entire garden, recalls for me Borges's stories like "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" and "On Exactitude in Science", also obviously stories dealing with the idea of perfect repetition.

All of this and more unfolded in my brain by page 4 of Jonke's novel. So I am stoked to read the rest of the book. And I'll probably read Kierkegaard's REPETITION again, too.

Aside from the idea and uses of the fragmentary, I've been obsessed with the notion of repetition in literature. Not the boring rehashed and redundant, but a repetition that actually changes and paradoxically adds something new. I think of the last line of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! where Quentin keeps saying that he doesn't hate the South, how the meaning changes and deepens as he repeats himself (speaking of Faulkner, I'd love to read a study of repetition in his body of work, too). I've think Carole Maso's AVA is a good example of work moving in both the fragmentary and using repetition. You'll find repetition in Beckett's work, and Deleuze certainly had a few things to say about it (not without looking at Kierkegaard, of course). Gert Jonke's novel doesn't seem to be overburdened with dry philosophizing, but is well balanced with living imagination where things happen.

So, that's all for now. I can already recommend checking out Jonke's work.