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By Kelman Out Of Pessoa

By Kelman Out Of Pessoa
by Doug Nufer
Les Figues Press, 2011
194 pages / $15  Buy from Les Figues or SPD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why write a conceptual novel? Is conceptual writing meant to be read? Is conceptual writing truly “conceptual” in the way conceptual art was? If conceptual art was more to be read than it was to be seen, then, following the same “logic,” is conceptual writing more of a spectacle than it is a reflection? Isn’t writing by and large dematerialized anyway? Doesn’t reading atomize as much as it coheres? Isn’t the novel ultimately only intelligible in terms of a material transcendence? Is Douglas Nufer’s By Kelman Out Of Pessoa more Sol Lewitt or more Rene Girard?

I think the latter rather than the former. I think the conflation of Oulipian constraint and conceptual aesthetics has become too easy. I think schematicism need not make a virtue of the perfunctory. I think that novels like Nufer’s, or Harry Mathews’ Cigarettes, can simultaneously be novels and “anti-novels”: mere pretexts or engines for putting one word, then one sentence, then one paragraph, then one chapter, after another, but also “subjective experiences” that offer readers traditional pleasures and vertigos. I think that the author’s and the reader’s processes have to collaborate in order to complete the novel, and this book; they are symbiotic, even if one antedates / predates (upon?) the other. I think all novels—and, by extension, all characters, all points-of-view, all settings, all symbols, all themes—are thus accidents of time, eruptions of advantage and disadvantage. I think about Michel’s capture in Bresson’s Pickpocket, how it is a direct result of his notion of who he is in relationship to someone else who, in a context explicitly over-determined by competitiveness, is not quite whole or anything beyond a phantom. I think that readers always have a hand out for the last word.

Louis Bury, in his introduction, writes: “Doug Nufer wrote By Kelman Out Of Pessoa by going to the track once a week for an entire horseracing season, placing bets on behalf of three fictional characters’, the results of which, in turn, dictated the structure and plot of the novel.” Louis Bury, in his introduction, writes: “The difference between the type of order play produces and the type of order art produces is that the former tends towards reductive simplicity, the latter towards complexity, even entropy.” Louis Bury, in his introduction, writes: “Each of the novel’s principal literary influences can be seen as the embodiment of a novelistic desire. Kelman: the desire to write about horse betting and have it be something other than genre fiction. Pessoa: the desire to make an elaborate show of masking and unmasking aspects of oneself.” Louis Bury, in his introduction, writes: “Blaise Pascal’s famous wager—that it’s a good bet to believe in God because if you win you gain everything and if you lose you lose nothing—was a bet, ultimately, not about God’s existence but about the nature of life itself: that we humans possess more purpose and meaning to our movements than mere game board tokens.”

What are we really saying when we say that a work of art, like a novel, “moves us”? What are we really saying when we say that we want to improve ourselves? What are we really saying when we say we’ve been a victim of bad luck? What are we really saying when we say that we’ve sabotaged ourselves? What are we really saying when we say that the story means what it does when it comes to its end? What are we really saying when we say, “Don’t worry; I’ve got a plan.”  What are we really saying when we say we want to be more or less like so-and-so? What are we really saying when we say that there is a real world? What are we really saying when we say to writers: “Small is beautiful”? “Kill your darlings”? “Find your voice”? “Write what you know”? “Don’t lose your reader”?

Cal Nipper, one of Nufer’s three heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “The sequence of winners by post position (not from all of the races, but from the select few races we bet) says when who says what about which of each of the others.”

Cal Nipper, one of Nufer’s three heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “The races tended to provoke certain feelings in yourself. You couldn’t help feeling that you were a center of attention, that what you did mattered, as much as, if not more than, what others did.” Cal Nipper, one of Nufer’s three heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “We had to do what we did in different ways, to oppose what we wanted with some alternative outcome. Was it human nature or was it some quirk we shared?” Cal Nipper, one of Nufer’s three heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “Is it selfish to want to live through another person? To want to win and to make a winner of her or winners of them? To keep doing what we have been doing?” Cal Nipper, one of Nufer’s three heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “I must do what I know and know what I do. I must apply myself to do what I can.” Cal Nipper, one of Nufer’s three heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “To do me made it devil? Quite not, yet and, the responsibility of lack us of each had this scheme in an alibi did offer. Pass a make or make a pass was same the all, fact the after in the day of light.”

I want the novels I choose to read to feature happenings but not consist solely of events. I want the novels I choose to read not to end where they begin, but to acknowledge that their beginnings and endings possess identities that while distinct obtain in responsibility to each another. I want the novels I choose to read to do something different with the business that typically entails in novels. I want the novels I choose to read to be metaphors for themselves. I want the novels I choose to read to guffaw if not point and laugh at allegory. I want the novels I choose to read to exist, comfortably, rather than to strain at persistence.

Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “These schemes and sayings and sings we lived by were but the configuration of a single moment, and we lived in the moment of the moment we lived.” Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “What does it have to say about yourself when the guys you pick all turn out to be losers? It says a lot worse if you  then dump on them for being losers. Don’t dump on them. Pick them up.” Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “Whatever odds you make for any of these outcomes, what we did will be reflected by how we do, on and off the track.” Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “The Course said each of us had to think of the others as autonomous heteronymous beings, but maybe The Course was just testing us, deliberately misleading us to rave like entrepreneurs when the most productive way for us to act was to work together as a collective.” Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “But what if when it’s over, it’s just pain over? Why should there be any next step, contingent on the step that went before?” Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “The outcome of his freaky lone system freed doubts some of us leak. He owed us then, what? To try to do all he could to win? True. Tight, due to call, he would do in hope of reviving in time, just before arriving.” Kelly Lane, the lone female playing alongside Nufer’s other two heteronyms-slash-characters-slash-betting strategies, writes: “What is wrong with me? Does ‘hysteria’ mean I have something wrong with me, or is it natural?”

Isn’t all personality pathology? Isn’t all aspiration corrective? Isn’t all identity speculative, projective? Isn’t all ambition conceptual? Isn’t all conceptualism dishonest with respect to its ambitiousness? Isn’t all memory an estrangement rather than détente? Isn’t all character in the character of accent: something one perceives rather than possesses? Isn’t all subjectivity plural? Isn’t all love a reflection of narcissism? Isn’t all narrative propaganda, overt or malgre lui, for the notion that history alone equals possibility? Isn’t all pluralism nostalgic and dystopian? Isn’t all utopianism totalitarian? Isn’t all solution in turn solved by the camera shutting off, the curtain falling, the frame intersecting with the horizon, the chord dissipating? Isn’t this sort of thing— By Kelman Out Of Pessoa, I mean—virtuosic; prog rock?

Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “… these accidents at the ticket window where you came away with a wager you. personally, hadn’t reckoned on, were no less true to what your bet should be than the bets you did wind up holding.” Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “When it comes to making up your heteronyms and setting them loose, I ask you, who has done the best job of fleshing out his players? … I, who managed to make up not only a pair of quirky, even somewhat likeable characters, but a love story!” Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “Shouldn’t I make them mind their business? They’re not doing very well with sex on their minds. In a real office, we wouldn’t have to worry… We’re supposed to be applying ourselves to the job of making money. The fact that we’re losing money doesn’t change what we are supposed to do.” Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “She knew I could have said it was up to her what I did tonight, and she could have made me do damn near anything, and she was grateful that I hadn’t blurted that out in front of Nipper. Addled or not in my scrambled way of processing the world, I wouldn’t do that.” Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “Me? What did they care about me?” Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “After all, what each of us came from wasn’t a set of parents whose ancestors went back to any particular culture, but a set of personal problems whose origins went back to the peculiar psyches of one and/or both of us.” Henderson Will, the last of Nufer’s personae, himself imagined tripartite (Septimus Smith, via Cal Nipper; Lewis Carroll, via Kelly Lane; Charles Bukowski, to himself), writes: “Thanks to them, I had no hope. My circumstances were hermetic, confined to this makeshift ring where a tag team of verbal grapplers took turns on me to put me through ludicrous contortions, but my hold on them told a different story.”

You are reading what is ostensibly a review of Doug Nufer’s novel By Kelman Out Of Pessoa. You are perhaps looking for additional information about these characters, their resemblances, their motivations, what happens to them and, in the process, makes them persons: organic and dimensional. (Does one of the three come out ahead? Does Henderson Will prevent or permit Kelly Lane’s and Cal Nipper’s being together?) You are perhaps recalling my first paragraphs, disagreeing now, or even more strenuously than before, with my assumptions regarding what a novel is and what a novel does. You are perhaps questioning the point of this exercise, even going so far as to propose to yourself, “If one can only describe the work as an exercise, its point is already subject to debate.” You are perhaps wondering if my goal all along has been to write something “about” By Kelman Out Of Pessoa that could never be used as a blurb, in a press kit, as “copy.” You are perhaps wondering what Doug Nufer might make of this “review.” You are perhaps wishing I had written more about Nufer’s actual procedures (recondite and inseparable from By Kelman Out Of Pessoa’s narratives, superficial as well as esoteric-slash-paranoid; trust me), or the quality of Nufer’s prose (you can read for yourself; inventive, appealingly demotic, never showy), or distilled this novel’s relationship to literary conceptualism (OK: the key notion here is what Place and Fitterman have termed the “sobject;” or, as Nufer himself writes in his preface, “No matter what you do, these heteronyms of yours are there, festering inside of the fucking middleman that is you, infecting you with the hysteria of insurmountable desire. Without them, you are nothing. With them, you can be a winner. But only with my help.”) You are perhaps wondering if this is an essay. You are almost certainly reading a text that has no desire to organize itself. And, at least temporarily, you are a recycling embedded in what you are consuming of yourself, itself consumed through the organ of who you are, reading what you read.

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Joe Milazzo is the author of The Terraces (Das Arquibancadas) (Little Red Leaves Textile Series, 2012). With Janice Lee and Eric Lindley, he co-edits the interdisciplinary arts journal [out of nothing]. His writings have appeared in H_NGM_N, The Collagist, Drunken Boat, Black Clock, and elsewhere. Joe lives and works in Dallas, TX, and his virtual location is http://www.slowstudies.net/jmilazzo.

 

 

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