I was doing some editorial work today on the forthcoming Electronic Literature Collection Volume One, which I’m editing along with Katherine Hayles, Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland. Having left my books temporarily in New Jersey, I was delighted to run across the Chicago Manual of Style online FAQ which quickly resolved the quandries about how many spaces after a colon and whether to include a second ‘s after a name that ends in s (yes, Stephanie was right, it’s Andrews’s, though plurals that end in s just get the apostrophe).
There is a superb interview of Robert Coover available in RealAudio from KCRW’s Bookworm program. The first part of a two part interview was broadcast December 8th, and the other half will be broadcast on the 15th. The first part of the wide-ranging interview provides an overview of Coover’s career and some insights into his process, themes, methods and interest in formal innovation. There are some gems in the interview, such as the fact that Coover finished writing The Public Burning, his novel about the Rosenberg execuations and Nixon, in the British Library while sitting on the same hard wooden benches where Karl Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto.
I was interviewed by the Chicago Tribune‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic, Julia Keller, for an article published in the Trib this Sunday, “Plugged-in Proust: Has e-lit come of age?” (archive). William J. Mitchell, head of the Media Arts and Sciences program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was also interviewed for the piece, which examines the relationship between control and reading technologies.
I’ve gotten some sweet packages in the mail from Amazon over the past couple of weeks. My longest-anticipated purchase finally arrived from England. For the past year, I’ve had the Oulipo Compendium on order from Amazon UK. It seemed impossible to find a copy of the 1998 Compendium, edited by Harry Mathews and Alistair Brotchie, online, or in any used bookstore. I was beginning to think that the Oulipo Compendium would turn into my Holy Grail book. I searched depsondently at my favorite used bookstores. The Strand in New York didn’t have it, nor Myopic Books in Chicago. Lo and behold, two weeks ago it arrived, laden with pounds and pounds of shipping charges and great expectations. To my delighted surprise, the Compendium is not in fact the 1998 edition but a revised and updated 2005 edition. I had seen the 1998 edition and often coveted it, but I’ve recently had the pleasure of spending some fruitful hours with the new edition. The book is organized in a pleasingly cross-referenced hypertextual encyclopedia, and provides an immersive introduction to the Oulipo, both as a historical introduction to the group, its writers, and their work, and as a kind of workbook. Hundreds of Oulipan writing techniques ranging from the lipogram to the avalanche are explained and exemplified. It’s the type of book that makes you want to spend the afternoon playing with language at your keyboard. I’ll be teaching the book next semester in a new course titled “Art, Games, and Narrative.”
I’ve also recently received Katherine Hayles My Mother Was a Computer and Edward Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds, both recently published by the University of Chicago. Alan Liu writes of Hayles’ book, “Reading My Mother Was a Computer is like exploring a new planet. There are other scholars who have recently published books in areas that concern Hayles, but there is no one else who brings the history of science, cybernetics, hypertext theory, and new media into such multifaceted focus.” Castronova’s Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games promises to offer “the first comprehensive look at the online game industry, exploring its implications for business and culture alike.” Castronova is an associate professor at the Department of Telecommunications at Indiana University and one of the bloggers at Terra Nova. I’ll post more on these two books after I’ve read them on an aircraft over Christmas break.
A former student, Tracy Lisk, is doing a project for Tom Kinsella’s “Readers, Writers, and Books” class and has asked each of the Lit faculty to tell her about three books that changed their lives. Here is my response:
First, a general disclaimer: Every book I have ever read has changed my life. Cognitive scientists tell us that all experiences, particularly those of reflexive autopoietic activities such as reading, actually affect the way that our brains function on a physiological, molecular level. So the short answer is “all of them.” I should also moan a bit, just as my students moan when I ask them similar questions. It’s easier for me to tell you some of the books that I found enlightening over the course of the past year than it is to look across the span of my life and pick a few particular reading moments. Different books are important to me for different reasons, and there are many of them. Some books, for instance, are important to me not because of their content, but because they were written by friends or mentors or given to me by a person I care about. Other books are important because they shape my understanding of my field. Other books are simply fun to look at, to handle, and to place on my coffee table for the enjoyment of others. Other books have one or two great lines, or I admire their structure, or one of their central conceits. The Great Gatsby, for instance, has a magnificent structure and a great last line: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. ” Perfect. In spite of that, I’m not sure that it would be on my top 100.
Anyway, enough throat clearing.
1) Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
I came across this novel in the science fiction section of the Mead Junior High School library, where I would often spend half of my lunch period reading. At the time I was a voracious reader of science fiction and fantasy novels, but thought of “literature” as some separate category of book, those taught by teachers, filled with Christ figures and unlikely to be enjoyable. Vonnegut’s novel, which is both science fiction and concerned with the shape of modern history as lived by its neo-allegorical protagonist Billy Pilgrim, a survivor of the bombing of Dresden. This book opened up doors for me. After I read this novel, I had to read everything Vonnegut had written, and soon after I had to read everything written by writers like him. The novel is funny, and serious, and sad, and hopeful. It freely mixes a variety of genres. This book ultimately led to my interest in postmodern fiction, and may well ultimately be the reason why I ended up getting a Ph.D. in Literature.
2) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (any edition)
I’m not a Shakespearean, but Shakespeare is one of the most important authors in my life. I cheated and said his complete works because I don’t want to choose one play. Shakespeare is an author you come back to if for no other reason than that he is unavoidable. Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and the Henry plays are retold over and over again in contemporary films. Shakespeare is the most-recycled author. He is worth stealing from. He invented the clichés. Shakespeare has also become a part of my life in the sense that I try to see a Shakespeare play performed at least every other year. If you haven’t been to a Shakespeare festival, and sat on the lawn, and perhaps enjoyed a picnic or a glass of wine while watching the play, you’re missing something. I hope that I will continue to come back to the plays, not only the texts, and not only films, but actual performances, many summer days hence.
3) Ulysses by James Joyce
I read Ulysses three times. The first time I read it on my own, the summer after I graduated from college. I found the experience to be humiliating and the novel incomprehensible. I didn’t read it again until I was in graduate school, when I took a summer course titled “Ulysses.” We read the book twice together, once quickly, and once again in a slower, painstaking fashion. It is the monumental novel of the twentieth century, and it rewards rereading in a way that few other books can. Ulysses is a magnificent technical and artistic achievement. It’s also ultimately a quite hilarious and moving novel about ordinary human life. I hope to reread it again soon.
I recently ran across this ambitious and obsessive illustration project: Zak Smith’s Illustrated Gravity’s Rainbow includes an image for every single page of Pynchon’s masterpiece. All the images are available on the site. The whole collection was exhibited at the 2004 Whitney Biennial and is now in the permanent collection of the Walker Museum in Minneapolis.
Shelley Jackson visited Stockton last night to give a reading as the featured reader at the Stockpot literary magazine release party. Shelley read a brand-new story with an unpronounceable title in the form of an equation. She was revising it in my office until ten minutes before the reading. It turned out to be a brilliant, absurd story about mortality set in a post-apocalyptic alternate reality, wherein distances are measured in alligators and timothies, and people carry their deaths and obituaries around with them, in many cases finding their obituaries more appealing than their actual lives.
One of Shelley Jackson’s “words” from her project “Skin” showed up at the reading. “I.
After the Stockpot reading, Shelley Jackson autographed copies of CD cover of her hypertext “Patchwork Girl.”
William Gillespie’s MFA thesis reading at Brown University was a resounding success. William is the second writer to complete the Brown MFA creative writing program with an electronic writing fellowship (or third, if you count Noah). William enlisted me as his “band from New Jersey” to help with an Unknown reading to kick things off. It was the first time in a while that we read the Unknown without a screen and projector, with just the callbell to clue people to links. It worked pretty well. Although he didn’t have a screen or projector and wasn’t reading strictly electronic work, William did an excellent job of integrating interactivity and multimedia aesthetics into the rest of the reading, which included readings from his box of notebooks (the audience chose entries on the basis of titles) while harmonica blues played in the background, and a reading of a newspoem which juxtaposed a news story about a school shooting with a news story about a NASA malfunction arranged into a tapestry of sound that included outer-space radiation and a haunting walkie-talkie rendition of children running amuck as they shot up their school. Well done, Gillespie, and good luck with the next stage of your career.
The Stockpot release party and reading will be held on April 21st at 8PM, B126 Stockpot is Stockton’s literary magazine featuring poetry, art, and fiction by Stockton students. I’m the Stocktpot faculty advisor. This year we are pleased to welcome the innovative author Shelley Jackson to campus. Jackson is the author of Patchwork Girl, a feminist hypertext retelling of the Frankenstein story, The Melancholy of Anatomy (Anchor 2002), a book of short stories in which the humors become characters, and “Skin,” a notorious short story tattooed on the skin of 2,000 participants who volunteered to become “words.” Jackson will be reading from her new novel about siamese twins.
Shortly after my next class, I’m hitting the highway for a quick trip to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where I’m giving a talk tomorrow titled “Electronic Writing from Hypertext to the Network Novel.” I’m also going to attend William Gillespie‘s thesis reading tomorrow night, 8 PM at the Family Theater. William has told me to pack my suit and call bell, so an Unknown reading may be in the offing. Congrats on the MFA, William. I’ve had a chance to preview William’s book, Keyholes, evidence that Gillespie’s time at Brown was time well spent.
This is pretty darn cool news that must have classicists jumping up and down. The Independent reports that, using infrared imaging technology developed for satellites, Oxford University scientists are now able to decode a horde of hundreds of papyrus manuscripts discovered in the 19th century in ancient garbage dump in Egypt. The “Oxyrhyncus Papyri” were blackened, decayed, worm-eaten and illegible to the naked eye, but the new technology makes them readable. Fragments of previously unknown texts by Sophocles, Euripides, and Hesoid have already been discovered, and the find is expected to yield five million words of texts, “mainly in Greek, but sometimes in Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, Nubian and early Persian,” and to expand the known canon of Ancient Greek literature by 20%.
I just added some new old material from my Miningco days: interviews of T.C. Boyle and Bettina Drew, as well as transcripts of chat/interviews with Chuck Palahniuk, Octavia Butler, Kinky Friedman, and Chitra Divakaruni. These can be found in the interviews category.
I posted many of the book reviews I wrote 1997-1999 for Authors Review of Books, the online book review I edited when I was doing the Authors site at the Mining Company. Reviews of books by Octavia Butler, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, Robert Scholes and others can be found in the reviews category.
I've been an avid fan of Don DeLillo ever since David Foster Wallace accused me of ripping off DeLillo's style in a story I wrote, when I was taking a workshop with Wallace at ISU, where I did my M.A. I hadn't read DeLillo before that, and have since read most of his books. DeLillo's papers were recently acquired by UT-Austin. The Panopticist blogs an article from the Austin American-Statesman, including a revealing annontation of the first page of White Noise. Among the revelations: DeLillo uses a typewriter, no PC, and he writes one paragraph at a time:
In the first drafts, this paragraph, like every paragraph DeLillo writes, gets a page to itself. It's a method DeLillo discovered while writing his previous book, “The Names”: He types one paragraph and then pulls the sheet out of the typewriter and scribbles changes on it. Later, he inserts a fresh sheet and types out another draft of the paragraph, and so on, until it's done. “The advantage is being able to see a fragment of prose more clearly if the page isn't entirely covered in words,” he explains. “If there are only five lines or ten lines — whatever the size of the paragraph — you can reread and rewrite with a little more clarity. It's as simple as that. I can simply see it better with a lot of blank space around it.
I walked from my house to the Rod and Reel at about noon, yesterday grabbed a reuben for lunch, called a cab, took a cab from the Rod to the Atlantic City Bus Terminal, purchased a greyhound ticket to Port Authority, took a shuttle from Port Authority to JFK (got there just in time for my 6:30 departure - very smooth the Swiss, a fellow in line glanced at my ticket and ushered me to the front of the line). I like Swiss Air. The food was actually good, and the service was excellent (sure it was chicken, but all airlines serve chicken in a nice sauce with rice brocolli and red peppers with a tasteful Australian wine shiraz/cabernet blend). I was reading an Australian novel at the time, the True History of the Ned Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, which is a great pageturner sort of an Australian Western about a folk hero/bushranger. I also always like it when they bring around those lemon-scented hot towels, and the light breakfast (croissant, banana, raspberry yogurt and croissant) was excellent. The Swiss chocolate at the end of the flight was a little disappointing, in that they had slivers of peanut butter in the chocolate cube, wasnt that much different from a peanut butter cup. I was expecting something I dont know sort of darker. But Im not complaining. The film, Seabiscuit, wasnt as bad as I thought it might be, though it wasnt great. I enjoyed watching the horses, regardless, and it kind of dovetailed nicely with the novel, in which theres a great deal of horseriding and horsethieving going on. The highlight of the trip so far was watching the sun rise over the Alps as we began our descent. You could see the peaks well above cloud-cover though its quite foggy here on the ground at Zurich International Airport, which is this amazingly well Swiss looking vision of the future, lots of burnished steel and glass, very clean lines, comfortable leather chairs in the waiting area and some kind of vine growing behind the clouded glass of the elevator shaft. Two more flights to go. Id get a coffee but I dont have any Swiss currency or Eurodollars. They have wireless but it looks really expensive and requires some kind of card. Hell I dont know if its expensive I have no idea.
An uneventful one hour and thirty-five minute Swiss Air connecting flight from Zurich to Copenhagen — and they dont offer you anything for free - not even water. But Copenhagens duty free shop is INSANE its this liquor supermarket, cigars, gourmet foodstuffs, this place is more a mall than an airport. Ive heard that the Norweigans and Finns do most of their sin shopping over here that sometimes theyll do a one-day return flight to Copenhagen just to buy cheap liquor. I picked up a half liter of kahlua and a half liter of vodka I figure we can make White Russians one night this week, after all its the closest Ive ever been to Russia. I think the booze was cheap, I think. Though I really have absolutely no idea what relationship this Danish currency has to real American dollars (other than that the Bush dollar is down, way down, against most Euro monopoly money, thanks Georgie).
Oh, one more thing. Airport security seems surprisingly lax over here. Most people dont even need to take off their coats, much less their shoes. Nary an invasive strip search did I witness. I saw Danes walk through security fully clothed. They didnt even ask me to take my laptop out of the bag. And no biometrics whatsoever. Very retro.
I think Ive been up for like 22 hours now. Ill probably be pushing 30 by the time I sleep. Thank god my brother gave me that tin of Penguin caffeinated mints. Maybe the Scandinavians will offer me a cup of coffee on the flight to Bergen, although I think this one is even shorter than the last - ascend, descend. You could practically swim here from Bergen, if the water werent so cold.
The Scandinavians did pretty well. Free coffee, orange juice and a copy of the International Herald-Tribune. The coffee was swill, but good effort and plenty of legroom. The best vista by far was at the end of the trip, on the approach into Bergen. We cruised in a slow descent, about 3,500 or so over mountains, fjords, these foresty islands and the city. Bergen is a stunningly beautiful place. And I made it here in one piece and everything. Then a taxi to Jill's flat.
Jill only allowed me a two hour nap and fixed me a traditional Norweigan meal of ravioli and salad. Im about to fall over, but I did win the first round of Scrabble even in a half-consciousness stupor and if I stay up another couple hours, Ill be on Bergen time, hopefully.
Someday, when I'm older, I might want to spend some time in Austin, where the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center now hosts The Don DeLillo Archive. He's one of the few living novelists whose discarded pages I'd like to spend some quality time with.
I came up with a formulation years ago of levels of fame. The first level of fame is: Nobody knows who you are, and nobody cares. The second level of fame is what I have achieved: People read my books, they come out to see me, and sometimes they will come up and say “T.C. Boyle?” Ill say yeah. Theyll say “We love your work,” and then theyll go away. The third level is the same scenario only theyll say, “T.C. Boyle?” Ill say yes, theyll say, “You son of a bitch,” and punch me in the face. And then the final level is J.D. Salinger. So, Id like to stay at level two.
There's a nice feature page on T.C. Boyle up at The New York Times, including first chapters of his new novel about Kinsey and his research group, The Inner Circle and Riven Rock, in addition to the Times reviews of all his books back to Budding Prospects. One of the highlights of my time as the authors guide at About.com was the chance to spend an hour with Boyle on a November evening in 1998 at the Whitehall Hotel in Chicago to talk with him about his short stories, Riven Rock, and his writing career. After About.com and I parted ways, Sandye Utley of the online T.C. Boyle Resource Center emailed me to ask what happened to it, and then asked to republish the interview there.
Critic and novelist Tom LeClair recently published a novel Passing On. While the novel itself is a print novel, in part about a company that takes the dying on trips when they have no one to assist them, LeClair also recently published a Web site, Terminal Tours, which is purportedly the site for the fictional company featured in the novel. I include the link here because I think it’s an interesting example of one modest way that authors can use the Web to extend a fictional universe beyond the bound artifact. Some of the stories and testimonials are also quite funny.
This post was originally published on Grand Text Auto.
Last night I tore myself away from the 1000-page grading marathon of the past week to take the train up to Philadelphia for a unique experience. Harry Mathews, one of the most interesting living novelists and the only American member of the Oulipo, the author of books including The Journalist, Cigarettes, Tlooth, and The Human Country, was doing a reading at Penn in conjunction with an exhibit of his papers at the Penn Library, curated by Nick Montfort, who also introduced Harry at the reading (after the Director of the Penn library sang Nick's praises fairly extensively). Before the reading began, just as I walked in an began reading some of the exhibited papers, which reveal a great deal about Mathews' fascinating composition process, Harry and his entourage arrived from New York. I was able to spend a few minutes watching Harry walk through his own past. It has been 9 years since Penn acquired his papers, so he was running across many bits of his own life he had forgotten, such as an alternate ending to Cigarettes, which he said he was glad he'd elided. It was fascinating to watch someone as accomplished as Mathews looking with wonder on the exhibits of his own life. He seemed to regard the whole experience as one of pleasurable curiousity. His reading, of work both from his early career (the first poem he'd published, in 1956) and more recent work, was characterized by the playful showmanship he's always been known for.
Just as a measure of Harry's spirit, after the reading, he walked up to some people reading papers in the exhibit and thanked them personally for reading his work. I've known Harry for a few years, he's a member of the ELO's Literary Advisory Board, and had a wonderful evening with him, Joe Tabbi and Rob Wittig in Chicago a few years back. The organizers of the event generously invited me to join their party for dinner, where we broke bread with a fascinating group of people. I hope Harry wasn't too upset about the Implementation sticker I affixed to his bottle of wine. I'm grateful to Nick, whose work on the exhibit was thoughtful and impressive, for inviting me to share in that very special event.