June 6th, 2011 / 2:00 pm

What is Experimental Literature? {Five Questions: Brian Evenson}

Illustration by Dave Crosland

Brian Evenson is the author of ten books of fiction, most recently the limited edition novella Baby Leg, published by New York Tyrant Press in 2009. In 2009 he also published the novel Last Days (which won the American Library Association’s award for Best Horror Novel of 2009) and the story collection Fugue State, both of which were on Time Out New York‘s top books of the year. His novel The Open Curtain (Coffee House Press) was a finalist for an Edgar Award and an IHG Award. His work has been translated into French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Slovenian. He lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island, where he directs Brown University’s Literary Arts Program. Other books include The Wavering Knife, Dark Property, and Altmann’s Tongue. He is the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes as well as an NEA fellowship.

Question #1 – The Body

In the first volume of “Five Questions,” when asked to describe experimental writing, Bhanu Kapil redirected my question to the body: “Or: What are the somatics of an emigrant line?” She then went on to discuss “the diasporic body” -and- “the language of somatic experiencing.” I find this provocative line of inquiry very interesting because it draws our attention away from the role of the mind in creating literature and instead compels us to pay attention to the role of the body. What thoughts do you have about the relationship between the body and experimental writing?

I’m fairly skeptical of the idea of a mind/body split to begin with; minds don’t function without bodies and bodies don’t function without minds. I think, since we live in a culture still dominated by Cartesian notions that favor the mind, that correctives such as the one Bhanu gave can be very useful for shaking us out of our unexamined habits. I’d also say, though, that for me the most productive path in terms of thinking about these relationships is phenomenology, one of the few philosophical disciplines which takes seriously the task of thinking of consciousness as beginning with the experiencing of one’s own body as a kind of lived body and then building up from there. That notion of the lived body seems to me a very important one since it can be read as suggesting that the joining of body and mind is essential to consciousness.

Thomas Metzinger argues that we don’t really experience the world but experience a representation of the world that we simulate in our head. But of course we create this simulation by moving around in the world and taking it in with our physical body, and if we don’t create our simulation with a sufficient degree of accuracy we run into bodily trouble in the real world.

There’s an essay by Friedrich Dürrenmatt called “The Brain” in which he starts with the idea of a brain floating in space without stimulus and suggests how thinking might develop in such a brain as a way of simply fighting against nothingness, and how that thinking might lead to imagining a good part of the world as we know it. But ultimately, for Dürrenmatt, in the middle of the 20th century, with Auschwitz, we reach the unthinkable, something that cannot be conceived by the imagination but terrifyingly comes to happen nonetheless. However, I’m not so sure that a brain in a void would reach even a rudimentary stage of imagining: imagination is always embodied imagination (I have a story directly about this, called “Legion,” but in one way or another many of my stories are about this). Without a body, everything might be unimaginable, though even an incomplete or damaged body can give us enough sensory input to bring us into a compelling, even unique, form of consciousness.

A lot of my work is very visceral, even about damaged or mutilated bodies, about people or creatures who suffer through something and have to learn to adapt differently. These characters–and most of my characters in fact–have a hard time thinking of the world around them as real; they are incredibly suspicious of reality (often justifiably so) but they can’t be suspicious of reality without also being suspicious of their own sanity. They mistrust their perceptions and sensations. They come to feel there’s really no way to know for certain if something is wrong in your head or if something is wrong with the world, that ultimately you can’t really know anything for certain.

Question #2 — Politics

In describing experimental writing, Miranda Mellis suggested, “Its politics are its aesthetics and vice versa.” I’m interested to learn your perspective on the political potential and/or limitations of experimental writing. Additionally, in what ways do you think experimental literature can engage with politics differently than other forms of literature?

On one level writing of any kind is a very inefficient form of politics. Anything literature does it does over a long period of time, whereas a speech or a thrown rock or a political rally can have an almost immediate effect. On the other hand, over time and subterraneanly, writing has the ability to change not only the way people think but the structure of how they think, and that can have a subtle but powerful effect. When I read someone like Thomas Bernhard, I find my way of putting together language in my head changes; it’s like a contagion.

I do think there’s a danger, though, in beginning with a political idea and trying to write fiction that conforms to that. I read Miranda’s statement as suggesting that the politics and aesthetics of a given piece have to be interdependent and develop from one another if they are to succeed. Its starting point is not all that different from what Henry James calls organic form or Beckett’s statement about Joyce that “form is content, content is form,” but it moves beyond that to become differently emphasized and particularized.

I guess I would add that the kind of fiction I like to read, experimental or no, feels like it has something at stake to it, that there’s some sort of necessity to its having been written rather than it being a replication of patterns or traditions that have come before or brain fodder. I think a lot of stuff that gets called experimental, particularly within the American tradition, is in fact very staid, very predictable. Often that’s the stuff that gets praised, at least in the short term. At the same time there’s great work out there if you’re willing to look for it.

I think of my own work as philosophically engaged, as trying to provide ways of approaching certain sorts of philosophical issues that I feel haunted by. But also as engaged in an assault on religious extremism and patriarchy, an assault which I think of as political. In some of my books, and in my forthcoming novel Immobility in particular, those two engagements merge. I think from any rational perspective it’s hard not to think of humans as a very bad idea: the planet would be much better off without us; every other species would benefit from our destruction, except maybe cockroaches. Cockroaches would miss us. Pubic lice might miss us as well, but they’d probably eventually get along just fine. At the same time, as a human, and as a human who is generally pretty happy, I can only have those thoughts from within an embodied (lived) human body, and I recognize that if one is not careful they become a kind of luxury, a game with no stakes. That’s why I so greatly admire a writer like Antoine Volodine: he seems to be able to think about the end of individuals and of civilization, even the end of humanity, in a very clear-sighted and sincere way that I find at once moving and uncompromising. That strikes me as the heart of innovative writing: necessity and seriousness (even if it’s a comedic seriousness) inextricably bound to a real attention to language and form, whatever the specifics of that attention might be. All the other things that we might find in innovative writing–typographical experimentation, sexual transgressiveness, narrative disruption, verbal bedazzlement, etc., etc.,–all of which are readily identifiable and can be very good things in the right hands, they all come secondary to that. But since those things are much easier to talk about, we tend to think of them as characterizing innovative writing. But such characterizations are faulty, maybe even lazy, and I think end up missing the point.

Question #3 — Economics

Debra Di Blasi responded to my question about how we might evaluate the success of a work of experimental literature (in light of the seeming lack of established criteria) by arguing that the act of “Determining ‘success’ or ‘failure’ shifts literary significance to product rather than process, to a means to an end rather than a means to a means to a means, i.e., evolution. Product concerns itself with marketing, process with art. They remain antagonistic neighbors.” By shifting my question away from the realm of aesthetic judgment and toward the discourse of commodities, Di Blasi raises interesting economic considerations. How might we begin to think about the use value of experimental literature? Or, to put it another way, what does experimental literature offer society or the individual that cannot be accounted for elsewhere?

I think use-value is a very bad way to think of literature of any kind. It’s the sort of idea that leads to bestselling books like What Proust Can Teach You about How to Walk Your Dog, clever and often enjoyable books that utterly miss the point about the books they claim to elucidate. The only genuine use value for a book, at least that is consistent no matter who the reader is, is as a device to press flowers or to support a table leg. I also think your question swerves too far from Debra’s statement: she’s right, I think, about art and marketing being antagonistic neighbors, and I think that as soon as you move your gaze from process to product you’ve moved out of the realm of art. I think a lot of promising books are ruined by thinking in terms of product, and I also think when it happens with innovative literature it’s the death knell of innovation.

I’m also, as you might have gathered by the way I rarely say it, hostile to the term “experimental literature,” which for me brings too much scientific baggage with it and also brings expectations from another realm. It brings with it images of mad scientists and beakers, and also the binary idea that experiments either succeed or fail, and thus forefronts the notion of success. I prefer “innovative literature” since it’s a somewhat more neutral and non-discipline specific term and more likely to keep us focused on process.

I don’t care if a book I like (or even a book I write) is read by the larger culture. What I care about is that it’s read by me, that I have a way of finding it and that, once I’ve found it, I have ways of recommending it to people who I think will like it. I love to read, and I still find it a thrill when I find a great book. But rarely do I find out about those books from The New York Times or another big review organ. Friends tell me about them, students recommend them, I stumble onto them, some great blogs recommend them to me (I won’t name them for fear of missing one), I find them in Rain Taxi, Bookforum, Time Out New York, etc. Sometimes Amazon.com recommends them to me, but Amazon.com sometimes has good taste and sometimes has taste like my religious uncle (and it also is relentless in its desire to try to get me to read Jonathan Franzen). But it’s actually much easier for me to find the books I want to read than it was ten or fifteen years ago. That’s partly because it’s become easier to put out a book with very little capital so there are more possibilities, partly because book culture has become very positively decentralized in a way that has begun to give at least a little of the power back to the readers. That to me is the only economics that we should be concerned about: what can we do to help ourselves and others like us find the books that we want to read? How do we bring books to the people who have given up reading after having assiduously tried to follow the New York Times Editor’s Picks for ten years with increasing despair?

One answer for me has been simply to irreverently cross lines that are generally left uncrossed by literary writers. I personally think there’s a lot more connections between innovative fiction and the best stuff that’s going on in genre fiction than most people think, and when Peter Straub edited the New Wave Fabulist issue of Conjunctions I suddenly realized that I had a lot to learn from people that I’d dismissed in advance, out of ignorance. It’s caused me to do things like write video game novels and film tie-in novels since I feel that one place the battle for reading should be fought is there: getting people who sometimes read only a book or two a year to start believing in reading again. There’s an ethics behind doing that that I believe in. I still remember when I was twelve and mostly reading pretty predictable genre fiction what it felt like to stumble suddenly onto Gene Wolfe or Peter Straub or J. G. Ballard, who were doing things that I just didn’t realize could be done. That I suppose should tie in to my definition of innovative fiction: innovative fiction is fiction that can change your life. If it can’t, why bother?

Question #4 – Race

When asked about the relationship between women and experimental literature, Alexandra Chasin responded by asking, “What about the relationship between people of color and experimental literature in the U.S.? What about representations of race and racial Others? Can we talk about that?” Since this sentiment was echoed by various of the previous “Five Questions” participants, and because it strikes me as true that discussions about race and representations of racial diversity tend to be underrepresented in the field of experimental literature, I think it’s important to pursue answers to those questions. What are your thoughts?

I think this question goes back to what Debra says about process and product, and is probably defined most clearly and cuttingly in Percival Everett’s book Erasure. I think the New York publishing industry is intensely discriminatory, with editors having ideas about how people of color should be represented. That’s not to say that good books by people of color don’t get done by New York houses, only that there’s a tendency for editors and reviewers to key in on books that are seen as representing or encapsulating, say, the African American Experience, or the Cubano Experience. And even very good books by people of color often get overdetermined by critics to fit into those models, in a way that sometimes obscures the strengths of the books themselves.

In innovative literature the problem is different: there seems at times to be too little conversation between different groups of innovative writers, so the people reading FC2 writers aren’t necessarily aware of what’s going on with fiction at Atelos or or Leon Works, say, and vice versa. I think there’s starting to be some cross-pollination, but we’re still far from having made a recognizable place for innovative writers of color.

Having said that, I think the other crucial thing that we need to do is stop thinking about it as U.S. innovative literature. Dambudzo Marechera suggests, rightly I think, that writers not only occupy their own nation, but also occupy a country entirely their own, a country of writers both living and dead. Innovative writing in this country would be much more interesting if we began to pay more attention to what’s going on throughout the world; indeed, the most important authors in the last few years for me have largely been writers living outside of this country, as well as writers who are dead.

Question #5 – Reading Suggestions

Which are your favorite works of experimental literature, and why?

I hate these sorts of questions, since as soon as the interview goes online you think of all the things you should have said… I’m very fond of Samuel Beckett’s Molloy which is one of the few books I reread with any regularity, and which I still find astonishing. Kafka’s story “The Country Doctor” has been exceptionally important to me and probably always will be. Dambudzo Marechera’s story “The Slow Sound of His Feet” I think quite astonishing–it’s one of the few stories whose effect on my fictional style I can actually measure. I like the first story in Janet Kauffman’s Obscene Gestures for Women very much. Percival Everett’s The Water Cure (among others). Pretty much all of James Purdy’s work, especially “63: Dream Palace.” Muriel Spark, pretty much every single thing–and I’m convinced that her novels often categorized as her least experimental are as innovative as the so-called more experimental ones. William Melvin Kelley’s Dem. Peter Straub’s story “Bunny is Good Bread.” Dennis Cooper’s work, especially Try (maybe because I read it first). Diane Wiliams’ work. Antoine Volodine’s work–everything, I wish more of it was translated so I could share it with more people. Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren. Diana George’s Disciplines and Brian Conn’s The Fixed Stars. Renee Gladman’s Juice. César Aira’s Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter and The Literary Conference, Roberto Bolaño’s By Night in Chile (among many other things). Tarjev Vesaas’s The Ice Palace, which is simple but nearly perfect. Nicolas Mosley’s brilliant Impossible Object. Marie Redonnet’s Nevermore, Cordwainer Smith’s “A Planet Called Shayol”, China Miéville’s Embassytown (which says some very interesting things about language and meaning), Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia. Stacey Levine’s Frances Johnson. I could go on and on, and would still leave too much out…


  1. deadgod

      [These questions are asked in a tighter way than the previous series’s were.  Not sure if that makes them less experimental questions – ha ha – , but it makes for a more direct conversation (to me, anyway).]

  2. deadgod

      #5:  Evenson’s turn to Kafka and Beckett as a way into answering the question he “hate[s]” makes me wonder:

      Are there “experiments” that stay “experimental”?  (In Evenson’s term:  innovations – or conventional uses! – of technique that stay “innovative”, that continue ‘to make new’.)  Can the same thing both remain an “experiment” and have become a “classic” – and be received as a vibration between confirmed anticipation and shock – , or do the mechanics of social acceptance militate against any but the most oppositional evolution of the one into the other?

  3. Blair Hodges

      Thanks for continuing the series, guys. Evenson’s comments about the baggage of “experimental” were especially interesting to me.  

  4. Brian Evenson

      My sense is there are, and that there’s something about Beckett and Kafka that still remains fresh, though perhaps that’s not true of all their work.  I don’t think of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” as particularly innovative at this point, nor do I think of Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” as being so; that may be partly because those are the works that the culture at large has spent the most time interpreting, appropriating, claiming.  But Molloy still feels alive to me, a little bit of a different book every time I read it (same with “A Country Doctor”).  Would they feel as alive if they’d had the same sort of aggressive commentary as “The Metamorphosis”?  Maybe not, but I also think that there’s a reason they haven’t had that commentary, that they resist cultural appropriation more successfully than those other (still excellent) works.

      One can argue that Sterne’s Tristram Shandy remains still innovative as well despite being several centuries old; I guess I’d argue instead that from one perspective that seems to be the case and from another not, that maybe it’s as much a question of the angle you take in regard to a work, the way you look at it.  Writers are constantly revivifying works that come before them, going back and looking at books that weren’t particularly noticed in their own time but that now seem like they opened productive possibilities for fiction that were missed.  So I think innovation lies partly in the resilience of the work (which suggests a certain quotient of productive ambiguity) and partly in the angle of gaze of the reader/thinker.  In that sense, a few literary works still feel innovative through several generations, but a very few indeed–there are far more works that succeed well for a particular moment but can’t adapt outside of that moment.

      If you want to phrase it in “experimental” terms, I guess you could argue that there are some experiments that are very hard to repeat, that the precision and elegance of the procedure make them stand apart and last over time…

  5. Troyweav

      you are awesome

  6. Merzmensch

      Does perhaps the innovativeness and freshness depend on universality of content and style? I mean, textes by Daniil Kharms, Kurt Schwitters, Tommaso Landolfi bear some archetypical universality, which is outer their “Zeit”. Or besser said: their “Zeit” is also our ones. Not only symbolism, but also relinquishment of epoch framing could led to such everlasting freshness?

  7. mimi

      maybe it depends on the individual reader, a first-time reading experience for that reader, that moment when the reader realized that they’ve just read something completely new and different (to them) – that individual reader’s ‘wow’ moment, when a reader’s thinking/understanding/reading/(writing) is expanded
      when the ‘experiment’ has been conducted on one more ‘sample’
      and some works remain more ‘experimental’ over time that others

  8. Ken Baumann

      Chris: Excellent start. Thanks.
      Brian: Thank you. Very generous responses. 

  9. Lincoln Michel

      Great installment! 

  10. Corey Wakeling

      Brian, when you say the experimental writing you prefer to read has something at stakes, it seems to me, esp. considering your preference for writers like Kafka and Beckett, is that there is an experiment going on with whatever it is inferred exists behind the words. For some, this might not be a satisfying model for experimentalism, what about Oulipo, and so on. Well, even with Oulipo and the nouveau roman it seems to me there is a difference between devising exercises in which something of language is at stake, such as the role of the letter ‘e’, and being merely ‘innovative’. The nouveau roman experiments with conventions of the novel genre. Stalwarts of Oulipo experiment with the expressive nature of grammar and spelling. The more abstract the exercise or constraint becomes, the more inevitable the failure, I believe, and it is the bravery of experimental writers to confront failure, “as no other dare fail” (Beckett’s Disjecta), that is their virtue. Perhaps this is one aspect, Brian, of what you speak about when you say something is at stake in the experimental writing that you like. Either the expressive or sensate stakehold of writing, or even the the voice that iterates, the author. Moreover, I believe, to add to your point, that experimental writing is an experiment WITH something, it experiments. The verb operation must be foremost in the thinker of experimentalism’s mind, it is not enough to speak about style only. Maybe the thinking of the verb operation “to experiment” would bring some around to a similar conclusion you have. Thanks very much, Chris and Brian.

  11. Lynne Butler Oaks

      “Killing Cats” was, is, unforgettable for me in terms of an introduction years ago to innovative fiction.  

  12. Brian Evenson

      Yes, maybe so.  I still remain suspicious of the term experimental for some of the reasons that I suggested above.  And I do think the best of both the Nouveau Roman and Oulipo (Perec and Matthews especially, but not exclusively) are quite remarkable.  With Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy, for instance, there’s a moment when I go from slogging through the objective descriptions to feeling suddenly as if I’ve been embodied in the text, feeling almost panic at the centipede being killed (not the first time it’s killed but later).  That for me was not quite like anything I’d ever experienced as a reader, and was the moment where I was “in”, and it wouldn’t have worked without that careful and seemingly tedious approach.  But that also makes me think of all the books I’ve read that I never had that experience with, where I went away from the book feeling like I didn’t have any stake in the experience, books which I’ve very quickly forgotten.
      And yes, I definitely have a bias toward writing like Kafka’s and Beckett’s, and toward sparer forms of innovation, largely because I feel more connected to them as a writer and because I think (apart from Kafka and Beckett) they sometimes.  I wont’ go into that here, since I did a piece about that (and other things) for The Collagist not too long ago, called “Doing Without.”  Anyway, thanks for the response.

  13. Brian Evenson

      I guess I don’t think that’s exactly it.  I do think it has to do with the openness of the text, its flexibility, its ability to adapt to new interpretations and contexts and to allow the reader room to move around inside of it.  Yes, something like that can make it feel as if those texts are freshly written, but at the same time it’s not so much that theuy’re either part of our time or timeless but that they participate in an exceptionally weird sort of relationship to culture, time, and even style.  Beckett’s use of language is deliberately eccentric as is Kafka’s, almost as if they’re writing from a place like our world but not part of our world, a sort of parallel universe that’s highly eccentric.  I’d say similar things about Schwitters and Kharms…

  14. Brian_Evenson

      Yes, I love it when you run across something that does that to you, and its importance can’t be minimized in terms of how different writers and readers develop.  It’s definitely partly (maybe even largely) individual, but I think it’s also cultural as well.  As a professor, I’ve had the experience of teaching a contemporary writer and having students being blown away by their book, and then teaching the same book again a few years later and having the students like it but not have that “wow” moment.  That’s sometimes a result of the writer being influential enough that they’ve helped shift the perception of what literature is.  For instance, the first time I taught George Saunders’ work, students felt like it was unlike anything they’d ever seen.  When I’ve taught it since, they like it, but now see it as part of a an ongoing tradition of American fabulist writing.  Of course it’s not just Saunders who is bringing that particular shift about, but a number of writers.

      On the other hand, when I taught Stanley Crawford’s The Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine ten years ago, the students thought it was exceptionally weird and interesting, and when I taught it about a year ago they thought the same thing.  Some books do seem to resist being assimilated more than others.

  15. mimi

      ‘wow’ moment for me that you would mention ‘Log of the S.S. the Mrs. Unguentine’, as I first read it about nine months ago, having seen it mentioned at html g –

      (hey look! i’m in italics!!) (i just cut & pasted your italicized ‘Log . . . Unguentine’) (or maybe disqus will change it back to non-italicized and then i will just feel like an ass)  

      – to think that it was  published in 1972 and written by a man – 

      – and to me it was lonely and evocative of ‘something’ that i *cliche’ alert* can’t even put my finger on, in a way that no other book had ever been for me -someday i will make a list of my own personal (‘individual’) ‘wow’ moments – like (for starters) when humbert humbert, at the lake, says ‘waterproof’ (about his watch . . . ? ? ? . . . ) ! !thanks, professor evenson

  16. mimi

      (okay, so disqus didn’t keep the italics – my bad – )

  17. mimi

      (does disqus not allow one to reply to oneself?)
      (just askin’ . . . )

  18. Anonymous


  19. Brian Kubarycz

      So, you don’t imagine that there have been classic experiments in the history of laboratory science?  The work of Claude Bernard and Hermann von Helmholtz immediately comes to mind.  Though the conclusions reached by key experimenters may have long ago become standard dogma to us, can we not continue, generations later, to be amazed by the processes of thought and technical innovation which led up to today’s commonplaces? 

  20. Brian Kubarycz

      So, you don’t imagine that there have been classic experiments in the history of laboratory science?  The work of Claude Bernard and Hermann von Helmholtz immediately comes to mind.  Though the conclusions reached by key experimenters may have long ago become standard dogma to us, can we not continue, generations later, to be amazed by the processes of thought and technical innovation which led up to today’s commonplaces? 

  21. deadgod

      Not sure why this leading question is addressed to me.  I was talking about art, which I do think admits of persistent “experiment” (because that’s what I suppose I’ve experienced myself). 

      I think the historicity of “classic” science – both experimental testing and also conceptual ingenuity – is experienced, as you say, in an ossified way by later people, especially ones who’ve consciously absorbed those tests and ideas specifically as ‘foundation’. 

      But, as you also suggest, one can imaginatively place oneself in a position of suspended belief, as it were, and experience the shock of discovery in spite of what would otherwise be a comfortably assumptive reception.  (Two examples that come to my mind are Darwin and Maxwell, and many mathematical coming-to-knows are re-experienced lifelong (?) with a sense of being surprised by beauty.)

      The fictive nature of such an aha! is no argument against either its compulsion of pleasure or its illumination of the fact of disclosure.

  22. deadgod

      I agree; there are “experiments” that do stay “experimental”, though I mean in the sense of ‘innovating meaning‘, rather than of technical novelty that doesn’t get assimilated (for whatever reasons). 

      Of course, in the flux of meaning, everything means something new every time it’s encountered, and, individual people changing as they live, every time a person reads the ‘same’ thing , it’s a new thing (because it’s a different person reading it).  The former, as I understand it, is the basic argument for the persistence of a “classic”:  it is surprisingly ‘new’ in spite of whatever structures have evolved to digest it.   Waiting for Godot is a useful example; it’s been so explained, parodied, appropriated, and so on that, as a fresh thing – and not merely a great thing – it feels squozen to nearly dry fiber.  Who can say whether it’ll re-surface in some analogue or parallel or relative of its original strangeness? 

      Whether there’s something intrinsic or essential about a work – or about ‘work’ itself – that resists or accommodates stability of interpretation is tricky to say, but surely most people encounter, in “classics” that strike their inward tuning forks solidly, a recognition of being transformed by the experience.  Not sure whether that’s to be called an “experiment”, or whether “experimental” writers care about provoking such experiences . . .

  23. Anonymous


  24. June 8, 2011 Links and Plugs : Hobbies and Rides

      […] HTML Giant (Christopher Higgs) interviews Brian Evenson. […]

  25. postitbreakup

      I hope it’s OK to post this here, since I didn’t know where else to put it exactly.

      I was wondering if anyone could post an Introduction to Experimental Writing.  Whenever I try to read these “What Is E.L.?” posts, I feel like I missed all the prerequisites.

      I’m looking for something mildly experimental to dip my toes in.  I like stories with characters better (as I’ve talked about on HTMLGiant ad nauseum, I feel like), but if experimental lit is really not about that, then I could try to get past that inhibition.

      Probably the most experimental writers I’ve read are DFW and Dennis Cooper.  The example of Dennis Cooper concerns me though, in regard to my prospects of ever liking exp. lit., since out of his books I liked My Loose Thread and Try a lot more than Period.  

      I’ve also read some “magical realism” (? that may not be the right term) works like Aimee Bender and George Saunders.

      Also, in school, I was assigned to read Lost in the Funhouse, but–even though I went into it thinking I would really like it–I only made it through two stories.  

      I might be a hopeless lost cause.  I’m just tired of feeling like I’m missing out and not knowing what people are talking about around here.

      It’s really not that I mind any kind of unusual content (I really liked the Bender and Saunders I read, and “The Metamorphosis” one of my favorite stories/novellas ever…  per this interview, looks like I will have to check out “Country Doctor” too), I just have such a hard time with books where I don’t know what’s going on.  Like when I read the Deleuze post, about how you have to accept that you won’t understand whole sections of it and let it wash over you… that’s just not a skill I have yet.  That kind of thing drives me crazy.  But I want to get better.

      So.  Thanks.

  26. Ken Baumann

      Try Finnegans Wake. Seriously. It’s the most musical weird text around, I’d posit, especially for the English speaker, English ear. The music and rhythm embedded helps you read without sussing the logic, but you end up identifying meaning, supplying image, emotion, humor, all because of the patterns of speech written and twisted. I love it.

  27. postitbreakup

      Isn’t it like the most difficult book ever, though?  Not trying to be difficult–I do appreciate the recommendation–I’m just wondering if I should start with something a little easier?  Or is its reputation overblown?  Or is the whole thing with exp. lit. that it’s all really difficult and there’s not going to be a good starting point/beginner’s book?

      EDIT: Maybe I’m thinking of Ulysses?

  28. postitbreakup
  29. Nathan Huffstutter

      There is something about these posts that makes it hard to determine whether you are genuinely earnest and interested or whether this is a sort of performance art prank where you pretend to have fallen down a well just to see what sort of self-important dopes show up with ropes and a plan. Perhaps that’s why Baumann tossed you a brick instead of a ladder.

      If you are genuinely interested, then the Introduction to Experimental Writing is a course you need to teach yourself. Innovative works of literature require the reader to find their own way through the text – if you need to someone to physically hand you the book in the first place, you are going to have trouble negotiating your way through challenging text. 

      Innovation is relative to the experience of the reader, it exists on the reader’s own continuum – you don’t “need to do exp. lit” just to have some sort of beginner’s understanding, the beginning is you. So, start with the authors you have read – Cooper, Bender, Saunders. Search out interviews with them – chances are they will talk about authors they respect and books they are reading, and writers gravitate toward books that are a degree more difficult than their own current writing. Read some of those books and do the same thing, search these authors, search their reading lists, read the books, and by degrees you will move toward more challenging and “experimental” works.

  30. Christopher Higgs

      Hello, postitbreakup.


      I understand Nathan’s suspicion re: the authenticity of your question, and I
      think he makes a really good suggestion about following the trail from one
      writer to another, I’m going to take you at your word.


      This is the perfect place to ask any and all
      questions about experimental literature.  I especially appreciate you
      asking for an introduction — it’s not only a valid question, it’s a really
      good question!  (As a matter of fact, you’ve got me thinking that I should
      do a post addressing this lacuna in my series.)  If Brian is still
      monitoring this comment stream, perhaps he will offer some guidance on the

      As for Ken’s
      recommendation, it may seem daunting, given that Finnegans Wake is indeed
      considered a “difficult” book, but all it takes to fruitfully engage
      with it is a willingness to marinate in the language, and an openness to
      shifting your reading strategy.  For one thing, reading it out loud really
      helps, and morphs the text in ways that reading silently does not permit. 
      At times it will not “make sense” per se, but think of it this way:
      making sense is only one way to read, just like playing poker for money is only
      one way of playing poker.  You can also play just for fun.  Likewise
      you can read just for fun: for pleasures other than understanding.

      In general, when it
      comes to art, to understand is to complete.  To finish.  To be done
      with.  Experimental literature tends to resist this obsolescence. 
      That is why I have characterized it (in previous posts on the subject) as open,
      rather than closed.  A text that can be understood is a text that is
      closed.  Finished.  Over.  But a text that is open, a text that resists being understood, continues to live, to pulse, to grow.  One has a
      hard time capturing and containing an open text (a.k.a. an experimental text)
      because it is always leaking, exceeding its bounds, eluding
      comprehension.  This makes the open text dangerous and frightening. 
      But it also makes it exciting and worthwhile. 
      As I have written in a previous post, I do not believe that a reader can
      (or should) approach experimental literature with the same set of expectations
      and assumptions they would use to approach a work of conventional
      literature.  For example, the way one reads The Great Gatsby is not the
      same way one reads Finnegans Wake.  Just as the way one plays Monopoly is
      not the same way one plays Roulette.  It
      is true that both are books the same as it is true that both are games, but in
      each case we are talking about a difference in kind rather than degree.  Finnegans Wake is a different kind of book
      than The Great Gatsby.  Attempting to
      approach them in the same way will only lead to frustration.   I respect your belief that this reading
      strategy is currently out of your comfort zone, but I encourage you to practice
      at it.  After a while, you will begin to
      see the benefits.  Like any new activity,
      it will take some time.  One who has been
      classically trained on the guitar may hold the believe that it is impossible to
      play black metal; but having the skill to play (or, in this analogy, the
      ability to read) means that it is possible given an openness and willingness to

      All that to say, I will work on creating a “beginner’s guide”-type post.  Look for it in the not too distant future.   

  31. Nathan Huffstutter

      In these comment fields, people frequently pose questions that they already think they know the answer to, just to prove or satisfy their own whatever. This is not one of those instances. I am curious to hear your view of “affirmative agency” as it applies to the learning process. Instruction is vital to education, but at what point does the passive “I am willing sit and to learn” need to give way to the active “I am going to learn, come hell or high water?” It’s not an idle distinction when it comes to grappling with open texts: at what point in “marinating in language” is a passive-leaning reader likely to drown? In order to wade through difficult texts, to recognize the need to read backward as well as forward, to accept something less than full-comprehension, should a reader be motivated to actively seize those texts or should they react to the texts they are given?

      Obviously, there are numerous ways to achieve a given result. In the Deleuze comments, you use the basketball analogy where losing players lament that their opponent dictated the game’s style and tempo. Just as often, though, I think, you will find a losing player who laments that his team dominated the game but unlucky breaks, bad-calls, missed opportunities, random events changed the outcome. Soccer is notorious for games where the team that exerts the most “affirmative agency” will still come out on the losing end. This is not to quibble with your hoops analogy, but to admit openness to the notion that reaction can produce a legitimate, successful outcome.

      Looking forward to the rest of the posts you have planned in this series – they are very much appreciated.


  32. postitbreakup

      It kind of hurts my feelings that you would think I’m doing “performance art” because what I really feel like you’re saying is “I can’t believe anyone is this stupid, so you must be joking.”

      I know I wrote these questions from a place of insecurity–losing my best friend/love and my job within the last few months has heightened my already extreme level of insecurity, and this blog heightens it even more.  For example, I was eager to read the “Beginner’s Guide” to Deleuze, since I remembered reading a Deleuze excerpt in college but never got much context for it.  I was expecting something like a “Dummies Guide” to Deleuze, or at least one of those “__[Philosopher]___ in 90 Minutes” type things.  Instead the post went way over my head for a few pages then included an exhaustive reading list and I finished it not understanding anything about Deleuze except some kind of distinction between acting/reacting.  

      Everyone else seemed to completely understand it, so I knew the failure wasn’t with the post, but with me.  That hurt.

      Then I come over here and ask for a recommendation of some mildly experimental works to start with and get suggested Finnegan’s Wake.  Well, I am not an idiot (even though I guess I come across that way to you).  I’ve tried reading Finnegan’s Wake before and it was torture so I tried reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and even that was too much for me, so the suggestion of Finnegan’s Wake was, yes, just like a brick, right in my face.  But I didn’t say anything like that, I tried to humbly and politely ask for something a little less advanced to start with, but then you say I’m a performance artist and/or too passive and need to do everything myself.  

      Well, I could be like the vast majority of people outside of the tiny lit blog community and just read Dan Brown and John Grisham the rest of my life.  At least I’m trying.  And being told that the mode of reading I’ve grown accustomed to my entire life–looking up all the words, figuring out who the characters are and exactly what happens to them, finding a reasonable interpretation of all the symbols and distilling the characters/plot/symbols down to a theme–won’t work at all, requires such a tremendous paradigm shift that I was hoping to build that muscle on maybe a short story or something instead of Finnegan’s Wake.  

      Almost the only thing I’ve been good at my entire life is school and “getting the right answer”–even as I’ve gotten more and more depressed and my social life has fallen apart and I’ve made so many terrible decisions, I’ve at least been able to get good grades–that’s like the only thing I had to stand on and having graduated has been terrible for me.  But I’m trying to keep learning anyway, but then get told “well, because you want to start by walking up a hill instead of scaling Everest, you’re not good enough/active enough to do this quest, you don’t deserve the knowledge.”

      Which, fine, I mean, I know–or I should say I can imagine, since I’m left out–that it’s fun to have an exclusive club and not let anyone in who hasn’t learned the secret knock.  Pretty much anything I say on here is dismissed as too sincere or naive (or questioned as being fake because of those qualities) and I’m tired of it.  I got an English degree at a school that wasn’t every good for English majors, so I’m not as well read as everyone here, and I love reading for comprehension since I’ve always been taught that that’s the goal and felt proud of myself whenever I “got” something and like a failure when I didn’t, but apparently that’s half the fun for everyone or something.  I don’t know, I never got the secret manual.  I look forward to Christopher Higgs’ beginner post, if he ever does one, but I don’t feel like posting on here anymore.

  33. Mike Young

      hey now, don’t let jerks derail you

      especially dudes named “Nathan Huffstutter”

      which is like a joke inventing itself

      (all half-hearted apologies due to nate who i’m sure if that’s his real name has dealt his whole long articulate life with teasing on the dodgeball court etc. etc.)

      but really: do your thing, brush your shoulders off, you have an honest and goodhearted curiosity

      have you read MOLLOY? i feel like that’s a pretty bedrock start, and it’s very easy to conceptualize as these two complementary long monologues. the language is beautiful to sink through and the tweaking of narrative is right there for the fiddling.

      personally, BEAUTIFUL LOSERS by leonard cohen was of early importance as an entry into strangely tuned prose, and it’s super character driven.

      richard brautigan is a lot of fun

      if you like bender’s fairy tale-ish stuff, maybe etgar keret? which might lead you back to daniil kharms, which would lead you all over the place, like over to julio cortazar maybe, or maybe you could try that ben marcus anthology that came out a few years ago w/ saunders + bender in it and see if you like anything in there

      huffpuffer’s advice is toned barftastically pompous, but it’s admittedly solid: sniff out some interviews with saunders/bender/etc and see what they think is wild & good.

      there are always going to be people with weird names telling you which fork to eat your salad with. fuck ’em.

  34. Nathan Huffstutter

      If commenting anonymously on a blog exposes you to hurt feelings, what do you plan to do when you send real work to real editors under your real name? 

      No one is name-calling here – speaking for myself, I was responding to your desire to engage other commenters in direct dialogues. Rule #1 of the internet, beware anonymous individuals starting up multiple conversations, since they are often not who they claim to be. And Rule #1 of writing, there are no hurt feelings. Your feelings, your insecurities, your personal life, you gotta leave all that at home. 

      As for wanting to learn, being easily discouraged and asking for the “Dummies Guide” are not a great foundation. There is no decoder ring, literature is a language you learn gradually and no matter who you are, there will always be someone else who speaks it a hell of a lot better than you. That fact is never a personal insult. As far as there being an exclusive club, I wouldn’t know, I am most certainly not a member. But there is a way for anyone to knock and it’s not secret at all – pop up a few columns and look in on the Dalkey Archive Sale. 10 books for $65, free shipping. Commenters are offering recommendations. Forget Everest, start walking up the hill.

  35. Nathan Huffstutter

      I thought Look! Look! Feathers was outstanding – I am happy to brush the “name” calling off my shoulders. 

      Whether toned collegially or pompously, advice-giving is bound to be a barftastic enterprise. I don’t know what is more likely to derail someone, my coming off like a jerk or the 85 page unbroken paragraph that starts Molloy. That’s a doozy. I certainly don’t have it figured out., any of it. But you gotta dig in and eat the salad.

  36. Mike Young

      fair enough, man, no hard feelings; i just feel bad when people feel discouraged/unwelcome from something as fluffy as a literary discussion forum; not exactly the marines down here, you know?

  37. alan

      Hi Brian. “A Country Doctor” is such an interesting Kafka pick. I can see the relation to your work–it’s probably tied with “In the Penal Colony” as the most body-oriented of his stories, and it’s definitely one of the most cryptic and fascinating. Looking forward to checking out the stuff on your list that I don’t already know.

  38. deadgod

      I agree with Mike, postitbreakup; don’t get “derail[ed]” from saying your say.  Let me add that I’ve not seen Nathan say anything malicious at this site, and, here, I think she or he’s just naming a suspicion (apparently (to me), of sock-puppetry) in a plain-spoken way; it’s easy for plain speaking to look hostile without a face or tones or hands waving.

      I think artistic “experiment” is best considered in contrast to (I think:  in conflict with) “convention”.  This distinction is not a model of absolute categorization with respect to perception, judgement, or object; think of “experimental” and “convention” as fictive poles between which one finds some particular text.  That is, every text partakes of both, in terms, say, of technique; each categorization implicates the other.

      — but that mutual implication isn’t helpful when one has familiar and strange books and wants to locate their divergences in this sense.  So, without categorical dogmatism:  “conventional” and “experimental”.

      Molloy is not hard to read at the level of sentences or word-play.  Taken five or ten sentences at a time, it moves and sounds borderline mellifluously and is often quite beautiful.  Page after page, though, and one will find one’s conventionalized anticipations – of narrative propulsion, character development, intelligibility of crisis, and so on – frustrated, perhaps boringly and perhaps irritatingly. – but a reader who’s told this possibility might have, rivaling any readerly antagonism, a reason to try patience.  ??

  39. Roxane

      Come on, Nathan. Sometimes, people need guidance. This notion that folks should just dive in and always figure out difficult things for themselves is absurd. We’re here to learn from each other, not to say, “Figure it out.” He’s just asking for a place to start.

  40. Roxane
  41. postitbreakup

      Thanks, Mike.  I know I shouldn’t have said I wouldn’t post.  I almost edited it out, but there were already replies.  I feel like quitting everything/returning to it about 1000x a week.  I have to reign that shit in.  I bristle/get discouraged too easily.  (I’ll never get the “anonymous” prejudice though.  It’s not exactly a secret what my name is on DC’s since I was in Userlands a few years ago before I turned to shit, but since then I’ve kept my real name off the net as much as possible because I’m having to apply for corporate jobs.  I feel like that’s understandable and shouldn’t automatically discredit me.)

      ANYWAY, I’ve got all your recommendations pasted down for my next trip to the library, and I found a download of Molloy that I can start reading right away.  Thank you very much for taking the time to list them, and I’ll let you know what I discover.  (PS started the review I mentioned to you.  I don’t think my review will be very good, but the book is terrific.)

  42. postitbreakup

      Yeah, leave it to me to always assume the worst of something neutral.  I always think dogs look depressed, too, even though they’re probably not looking anything.

      I like the experiment/convention poles idea.  I’ve download Molloy and I’m going to give it a try.  I’ve actually found it easier to read books that have paragraphs going for pages online/on my Kindle, feels less overwhelming somehow.  Thanks

  43. MFBomb

      But the poster is posting on a thread that’s part of a primer/how-to series on experimental literature.  What do you expect?

      I agree with many of your larger points, though, and I wonder how productive this series has been and if it just ends up reinforcing stupid binaries and allow readers and writers to stay comfortably within their own camps where it’s always safe.

  44. deadgod

      In general, when it comes to art, to understand is to complete.

      This assumptive totalization is a needlessly narrow understanding of “understanding”.  To come to understand, in the usage of Gadamer, for example, is never to complete one’s attention to the work. 

      The ‘openness’ of the work in its disclosiveness is a function of “understanding”, in this usage of the word; ‘closure’ is not the exhaustion of the work by “understanding”, but rather, is a refusal to continue to “understand” itself.

      To converse, either with the work or propelled by one’s encounter with it, is to put “understanding” in play and at risk, and that is “open” reading.

  45. postitbreakup

      Thanks, Christopher.  

      I think that open/closed insight is great.  When I have tried to read experimental works in the past, I definitely approached them as if I were reading Gatsby.  I thought that experimental just meant the usual characters/plots/meanings were harder to find, not that they weren’t necessarily there or that that was the wrong way to approach it.  I think this will be really helpful.

      I also like the guitar analogy.  I can’t play more than a few chords, but when I was getting into it for awhile, I remember being so frustrated about how bad my fingers hurt, and then I grew calluses and felt so proud.  I just need to grow some exp. lit. calluses.

  46. postitbreakup

      I appreciate you saying that about Deleuze; it makes me feel less alone.  

      Thanks for those links and recommendations!  I’m going to check out the first What Is post right now.

      I started out feeling really discouraged, but this thread has turned out to be very helpful.

  47. MFBomb

      I wonder if you’re really discussing the differences between narrative forms? This is the problem I have with a lot of “traditional vs. experimental” discussions–the categories are too broad. Form is obviously related to differences between “traditional” and “experimental,” but it’s probably more productive to go right to the forms themselves to see their distinctions.

      Madison Smartt Bell’s “Narrative Design” would be a good book for you to read.  In the book, he distinguishes between “linear” and “modular” design.  Linear should be familiar to you, based on your posts.  “Modular” is additive–he compares this type of story to mosaic and collage art (think “Winesburg, Ohio”).  Whereas the writer of a linear story tends to start with a blob of clay and whittle it into a particular shape, a modular story works by arranging objects/things/whatever in relation to each other, often as the story progresses. A lot of the outsider/junk type art in the visual arts would be an example of this kind of design. 

  48. postitbreakup

      Thanks, MFBomb.  Book is in the mail now.  I’ve been looking for some new writing text to read and missing the workshop environment so I’m looking forward to reading this.

      Just in this one thread, I’ve got a whole summer reading list.  Excellent, excellent.

  49. MFBomb

      What’s interesting about the book–and your post above–is that his introduction discusses how the workshop, which is mostly focused on “craft,” sometimes inhibits our understanding of forms and their relationship to imaginations and vision. 

      That’s why categories like “traditional” and “experimental” mean nothing to me if the writer doesn’t have vision, or something interesting and unique to say. People have been using “experimental” as a category to signal their smarts for years, but smart doesn’t mean shit if you’re not trying to move people.

  50. Nathan Huffstutter

      I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I think you’re reacting more to postitbreakup’s reaction (getting upset) than to my original comment (itself, by definition, a reaction). I truly hope you are not reacting to the Nathan w/ an Exclamation Point who dropped the “High School Book Report” comment on you however long ago, because that was not me. Regardless, if Christopher diagramed the flow of this thread as an equation, we might see all sorts of negative breakdowns. 

      Working with younger students, one of the things you do is take individual personalities and needs into consideration. I admit, I assume a level playing-field and that assumption hasn’t always served me well, so that’s an assumption I’ll need to reconsider.

      However, it’s important to note that I didn’t tell postitbreakup “figure it out yourself – now beat it.” My advice was more teach a man to fish than give a man a fish, and you can debate whether that advice was worthwhile or poorly pitched, but you cannot say I offered none.

      ” start with the authors you have read – Cooper, Bender, Saunders. Search out interviews with them – chances are they will talk about authors they respect and books they are reading, and writers gravitate toward books that are a degree more difficult than their own current writing. Read some of those books and do the same thing, search these authors, search their reading lists, read the books, and by degrees you will move toward more challenging and “experimental” works.”

      That was meant as genuine, practical advice, and we can argue whether it’s more productive to tell someone struggling with experimental texts “read Beckett, read Finnegan’s Wake,” or to say “start with where you’re at and learn to work your way from there.” But I don’t want to argue. I wasn’t spoiling for a fight yesterday, I’m not spoiling for one today, and I don’t want to further spoil Christopher’s post with all this back and forth that has absolutely nothing to do with Brian Evenson.

  51. gavin

      I’m teaching a class called Hybrid Prose in the fall, which is a haphazard introduction to experimental lit, and I’m using MOLLOY as one of the main texts.  Some others on the syllabus include PALE FIRE and CANE, then jumping a bit more contemporary with THE COLLECTED LETTERS OF BILLY THE KID, THE PINK INSTITUTION, THE RINGS OF SATURN, CIRCLE K CYCLES, and planning to end with NOX and THERE IS NO YEAR.  And I have no idea yet if this is a good introduction to anything, but I will have students who have mostly not encountered these kinds of texts, and so I hope this gives them a taste they’ll want to pursue on their own.  I’ve also been teaching Evenson’s FUGUE STATE the last few years in Freshmen Comp, and seems every time the effect is Wow, I didn’t know stories acted this way.  Stories like ‘Fugue State’ and ‘The Adjudicator’ seem to have dizzying effects.  I for one enjoy innovative fictions that don’t completely abandon narrative, and so if you still like character, albeit character wrung out and beaten silly, maybe these might work for you.

      and meant to reply to postit, not Mike, but agree with Mike too.  especially Brautigan, who is just fun, fun, fun, and who I should have smuggled into the syllabus above.

  52. Ryan Call

      honestly curious: why are you teaching fugue state in a comp class? and how are you doing that?

  53. gavin

      The class is broken into four standard freshmen type papers, one of which can be a literary analysis. Fugue State has worked great on all kinds of levels: It has that continuity of themes that helps my students see the way writers can come at the same ideas from a variety of directions; it’s strange and funny and violent and unnerving, which means it’s making students who may not be readers all of a sudden realize how much fun reading can be; on that same note it flirts with the type of reading some of them have done, such as genre reading, in enough of a way to make the stories both familiar and not simultaneously; and for me, some of the best of those stories have such a beating heart, such a wide eyed view of relationships and childhood and feelings of uncertainty and loneliness and the need to just understand the world you had so recently thought you understood, that I’ve found many of the freshmen at my school suddenly feel really strange when they discover how literature can actually articulate what you feel in a way that makes you feel it even more.  Those two stories, ‘Younger’ and ‘Girls in Tent’ seem to especially connect with them.  And finally, I like to stress how literature, when it’s really smoking, gets up under your skin and stays with you, like it or not.  I know the images in ‘The Adjudicator’ and ‘Invisible Box’ and ‘Fugue State’ have had that effect for them, or at least that’s what they’ve reported even after they’ve left the class.  I like for my classes to be about experience as much as analysis (probably more).  Fugue State is an experience that sticks.

  54. MFBomb

      I’ve used Ander Monson’s “Other Electricities” in comp classes and have had similar results.  Same with most of Mark Richard’s deliciously odd work.  Students are starving for something different than the same ole’.

  55. Ryan Call

      oh i see now; so it was a lit. analysis unit within the comp course. thanks for the response.

  56. Roxane

      I was only referring to the comment you made here. I understand the point you were making, but to drop someone in the middle of an unknown place and tell them to find their way out without a compass makes no sense to me. I am a teacher so I am well aware that a good portion of the work of learning must come from within but anyone who wants to learn also needs some kind of guidance and to suggest otherwise makes no sense to me. 

  57. postitbreakup

      That advice about looking up the authors’ reading lists was great, if you had just posted that paragraph and not the rest of your comment calling me lazy/an impostor and asking how I could be so dumb, I would have said “Thank you, great idea”

  58. Nathan Huffstutter

      In Malloy, the reader is dropped in an unknown place without a compass and they very much need to find their own way through the pages. The point I was trying to make is that the skill-set you develop in seeking out these challenging texts is the same skill-set that will help you negotiate your way through these challenging texts. A phrase some of your fellow contributors have used is that certain innovative works “teach the reader how to read the text as the text progresses.” To me, the thrill of a book like Malloy comes during those lucid, unfiltered moments where you feel totally conversant in the text; maybe those moments come with equal potency when the book is being taught in a formal setting or when a reader is only reading Beckett because they are under some form of obligation. I don’t know. You could fill a world with what I don’t know.

  59. mimi

      i liked when reynard likened ‘finnegans wake’ to a rave
      open to any page

  60. Anonymous


  61. Nathan Huffstutter


      Please re-read the offending paragraph:

      “There is something about these posts that makes it hard to determine whether you are genuinely earnest and interested or whether this is a sort of performance art prank where you pretend to have fallen down a well just to see what sort of self-important dopes show up with ropes and a plan. Perhaps that’s why Baumann tossed you a brick instead of a ladder. 

      These sentences acknowledges two possibilities:
      A) Given the nature of the internet and the fact we do not know each other, there is a possibility the solicitation for help may have been made as someone’s self-interested lark.
      B) You are genuinely earnest and interested.

      If A, disregard. If B, and you are “genuinely earnest and interested” I offered a real-world suggestion to build from your existing foundation in a way that would exercise the same reading muscles that will help you negotiate the innovative texts you intend to read. Like all suggestions and advice, take or leave, in part or in whole.

      All the loaded terms, “lazy”, “dumb”, “stupid”, these are words you self-supplied in folding the comment thread into your own personal narrative. This is a distinction worth making; having made it, I wish you all the best in your future reading and writing endeavors.