Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thinking Outloud on "Innovation" as a label..

Brian Allen Carr was nice enough to respond to my post in the comments section under the previous post. He makes the point that he was asked to review a book that had "Innovative" stamped on it. Fair enough.

I guess my whole beef is with the narrow understanding of innovation in general. It seems like books in the US are labeled "innovative" or "experimental" where in Germany, for instance, (and only because I am somewhat familiar with German bookstores) these books would simply be called literature. I mean, shouldn't writers always be thinking about whether or not the form they are using is the right one for the 'content' they are working with? In other words, shouldn't anyone writing a novel (or anything for that matter) be thinking about HOW to write it best? The US publishing world favors a certain kind of realist prose, and calls that "fiction" or "literature," and writing that comes out of another kind of literary tradition, if it is not foreign, gets labeled "innovative" or "experimental." These two terms, then, become labels for everything that isn't, for example, Alice Munro and Robert Ford.

To quote the FC2 website: "In his New York Times Book Review "Guest Word" of Sept 15, 1974, Sukenick described the group's aim to 'make serious novels and story collections available' and 'keep them in print permanently.'" In other words, Suckenick and others create FC2 in order to create the possibility of publishing prose other than, to change the old Charles Bernstein term, Official Prose Culture. But I am wondering if we aren't both operating (Carr and I) under a too narrow view of "innovation." The OED defines "innovative: 1. a. The action of innovating; the introduction of novelties; the alteration of what is established by the introduction of new elements or forms. {dag}Formerly const. of (the thing altered or introduced)." It seems like innovative becomes rigid and prescriptive as well: 'did you mess with your sequencing of the narrative? etc.' It seems like a working definition that is more generous to what most writers are doing is the second half of #1: "the alteration of what is established by the introduction of new elements or forms.' Recombinations, in other words. And to toot my own horn, I think I could argue for my work being innovative in this way. I mean, I don't think that Thomas Bernhard ever wrote a lesbian sex scene. If I am wrong on this, let me know. It seems like old technique applied to new content is a kind of innovation.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I think I don't believe in INNOVATION.

The most negative review my book has received was written by Brian Allen Carr in the March/April 2009 issue of American Book Review online.[By the way, the first long passage that is quoted in the review has a typo in it. The word "site" should be "since."] For Carr, my book's biggest offense besides being "boring" and containing "student-grade prose," was the fact that although The Bruise received the "Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize," the book was not "innovative." I can't really defend myself against this charge of non-innovation. That's a question for the judges at FC2. I simply put my manuscript in the mail.

What I mean is that Carr is right when he says that "Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein, Franz Kafka are all liberally borrowed from here." And that "this is a lesbian pseudo-romance, but that's nothing new." He does forget to mention Thomas Bernhard. I stole like mad from Thomas Bernhard. What I am trying to get to is this: I had no intention of making anything NEW when I was writing this book. In fact, what would or could be new? I am not really interested in that question. It seems like something for boys who like Pynchon and HTML to work on. I was just trying to write a book that I would want to read. My guess is that Carr and I like to read different things. What I find offensive in this review, though, is the implication that I was trying to pull one over on the reader, as if I thought the reader wouldn't hear the imitation, the sampling of my favorites. And this I don't think is Carr's fault. For some reason the literary world is haunted by this idea of novelty. The "Dude, I've heard that before..." syndrome. For all its post-modern claims, it holds tight to the most MODERNIST idea of all: that of making it NEW. But trust me, I was well aware of my book not being new. Charging that my influences are too obvious, both as favorites [as in not obscure enough] and as sounds in the prose, seems like something that would only happen to a writer. I mean, when we hear a Rickenbacker plugged into a Vox on some new indie album, we don't turn it off because it sounds too much like the Beatles. I at least keep listening to see what happens to that Beatles sound. Maybe I am boring, but I don't mind if new music sounds a little like old music. And I like new books that sound a lot like old books that I like. But even if I had lived up to Carr's ideas of the Sukenick award, even if I had completely adopted Sukenick's theories and deviated from linear form by "experimenting" with sequencing, I imagine that I still would have only been as innovative as Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. I would rather be like Bernhard or Proust or Stein, in any case.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

In case you missed this because of all the Michael Jackson stories...

Obama Health Care Plan -- July 1, 2009 Townhall Meeting

Yesterday I was unable to watch the President's town hall meeting on health care live and was hoping to get a report on it on the 5pm news, but instead MSNBC, CNN, and FOX only reported on Michael Jackson and governors who hiked the Appalachian trail. This morning I was luckily able to watch the entire meeting on I've been out of the country for six weeks and thought that was why I was finding it hard to learn about the nuts and bolts of the President's proposal, but given that America lacks any real television news and I am at my parents' house in NJ where cable rules, I could only get the information from the White House itself via internet. Thank God for Youtube. Infotainment doesn't really cut it, when people are dying because of lack of health care.

In case you were wondering, I don't see how we could give up Obama's Public Option and call anything else real reform. Watch the video.