Great news! One of my fictions, “Suspension as a Unit of Experience; or, What She Remembered of the Vanishing Lines,” will appear in Conjunctions:60, In Absentia, alongside work by Matt Bell, Robert Walser, J. W. McCormack, Kim Chinquee, Gabriel Blackwell, Carole Maso, Can Xue, Robert Coover, Stephen O’Connor, Joanna Ruocco, Samuel R. Delany, Benjamin Hale, Ben Marcus, Elizabeth Hand, and many others.
Thanks, Bradford Morrow and everyone at Conjunctions!
Jef Lee Johnson died on Monday, January 28, 2013 in Roxborough Memorial Hospital of complications of pneumonia and diabetes. He was 54.
Jef was an incredible musician. I always enjoyed our conversations, which would cover music, art, politics, and sometimes dark and sad matters. I’ve been listening to his music non-stop since I heard the news of his passing. I still can’t believe he’s dead.
“Jungle” was one of Jef’s signature songs. In concert, Jef would sometimes stretch the song out to last half an hour or more. Like all of his performances, they were overwhelming expressions, where the dynamic of tension-and-release became something you could touch, or, rather, that could crush you.
Dawn Raffel, Editor at The Literarian, asked me and other writers to “cite visual artwork that has informed or inspired [our] work.” Here’s an excerpt from my answer:
Writing, sensu stricto, is also a visual art, and thus, the question of what visual artist or particular work of visual art has provided inspiration for me as a writer is akin to asking me what visual art or visual artist has provided inspiration for me as a visual artist. I’m being a bit facetious, here, but I feel it’s important to begin answering the question by addressing how easy it is to forget the sheer physicality of the graphic symbols we use to communicate ideas, meaning, story, or whatever else.
A few weeks back, Lance Olsen invited me to contribute some words to “a collage of the words and insights of others” about Ben Marcus, which he would then present at the 2012 &Now Festival held at the Université de la Sorbonne in Paris June 6-10, 2012. Check out the fine results, HERE. An excerpt:
It’s all about vision. The Marcus vision is dark. It is clear and shot through with its special Marcus pessimistic energy, but, as we all know, pessimism is secret code for wild hope and idealism.1 I’ve learned how acutely meaning depends on syntax, and how nimble and able the mind of a reader is when diction has made a rash departure.2 Once, in workshop, Ben instructed us all to bury our food in the backyard for safekeeping.3 If humans are in reality hosts for the virus that is language, Ben, then are you as a writer enslaved? Language made me ask this.4 Paragraphs that surprise you like nests mice make near a warm engine.5 If Marcus is conducting experiments, he’s conducting them out of view, and then unveiling the results as a fait accompli, like an Edison or Tesla or some other secular magician emerging from a laboratory. Marcus’s work, with its powerful kinship to the visual arts and music and perhaps even pharmacology, should less be copyrighted than patented.6
I first encountered Alexander Theroux’s writing—the style of which is grandiloquently lyrical, dizzyingly erudite, and often acerbic—through his books on colors: taxonomies of the spectrum we think we’ve seen but that Theroux, attentive observer that he is, suggests we haven’t really seen at all. I followed up these readings with savoring every word of three of his novels, beginning with Darconville’s Cat, his second novel, a book that satisfies syntactically, texturally, and structurally, reminding me at once of Henry James (because of the novel’s sentential convolutions and its paragraphic architectonics, and also because of the way it limns various consciousnesses); Virginia Woolf and Wallace Stevens (because of its luxuriant and daunting yet still inviting lexicon); John Hawkes (because of its lyricism and sensuousness); William Gaddis (because of its range and the way it captures different voices); Mark Twain (because of its scathing wit); and contemporary fellow travelers like William Gass and Mary Caponegro (hooray for longeurs, digressions, and taxonomies!). What is perhaps more important is how little I actually thought about these things while reading the novel, how, ultimately, the novel coheres into a wonderful prose object, unique in its own right: a singularity. Three Wogs, Theroux’s triptych of linked novellas, is an outrageous book brimming with bigots and other grotesques, all virtuosically rendered, which coheres into a comical critique of human stupidity. An Adultery is largely devoid of lexical pyrotechnics, but it is no less lyrical, and its unwavering scrutiny of emotional brutalities is unparalleled. The narrator’s self-absorption often leads him to observations that are at once insightful and imperfect: