In the first post in this series, I outlined Viktor Shklovsky’s fundamental concepts of device (priem) and defamiliarization (ostranenie) as presented in the first chapter of Theory of Prose, “Art as Device.” This time around, I’d like to look at the start of Chapter 2 and try applying it to contemporary writing (specifically to the New Sincerity). As before, I’m proposing that one can actually use the principles of Russian Formalism to become a better writer and a better critic.
Author J. A. Tyler has put together a neat thing, a story across five stories, across five publishers. He calls it “wreckage” and describes the story with his uniquely destructive voice:
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ is wreckage. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ takes place as five distinct works, all built around the same core story. Each narrative is that of a girl who holds the last water in the world, a herd of chaos that takes it from her, and the boy who comes to resuscitate it all. But each story takes this kernel and shreds it in a new direction, incorporates other elements, reshapes the narrative in its own image. And each press that came aboard this project, releasing this wreckage into readers’ hands, worked on the same principle of core unity with distinct press-specific alterations. All that is left is the beautiful static hum: zzzzzzzzzzzzz.
The publishers, linked here, are:
This week I received the installment from Aaron Cohick’s NewLights Press (home of the $400 Brian Evenson book), and it is an amazing artifact. It’s completely letterpressed inside and out, and sturdily constructed. It’s hefty. It’s probably about 30 pages, depending on how you count them.
You can see images of the NewLights book here.
Checked in with the Faster Times Books Page lately?
Clancy Martin has been writing a column about love and lying.
And Rozi Jovanovic has interviewed J.A. Tyler of Mud Luscious press.
‘experimental’ is often overused and really doesn’t mean much to readers / writers anymore because of its constant use. for me, it means something that I haven’t seen before, something that hits me as profoundly different – that is why I tend towards describing our work as violent / beautiful / pulsing – I want a text that shatters, that buries me in its lines. and I suppose too that I use ‘experimental’ or sometimes ‘innovative’ in order to scare away the exposition-heavy writers, those who spoon-feed actions / events as if readers are not smart enough to discover what a text is doing. I look to the work of james chapman as well as his fugue state books, jesse ball and blake butler, those writers who aren’t afraid to omit the narrative details in favor of descriptive tones and overall voice, those works that reach into me without pandering, hand-holding, without guiding me as if I am blind.
Big fun. Don’t miss it.
A month ago, both J. A. Tyler and I wrote Stephen Elliott and asked to be included as destinations for an advanced copy of his forthcoming book, The Adderall Diaries (which you can still do). We were instructed to read the book within a week and mail it to the next person on a list of readers. While it was nice reading The Adderall Diaries for free this way, thanks to the generosity of its author, any sort of information we can recall about the book is likely flawed or just wrong. The book has left us, and is with other people now. Neither J. A. Tyler or myself have any way of verifying any specifics referenced in our conversation.
J. A. Tyler’s writing has caught my attention with his fairly (uncommon these days) old school ‘modernist’ approach. Think of William Faulkner and/or Virginia Woolf’s obsessive hermetic space. I call it ‘brainy fuzziness.’
He seems focused on timeless narratives—with hardly ever any pop references non-intrinsic to the human condition. This is real dangerous ground to tread, because it’s painfully boring when not done well.
I usually respond more to edgy vernacular, with prosaic and almost glib tendencies; but J. A. Tyler really hits some stunning lines, especially with “In Their Palms” published recently in Pequin:
“And he woke to the light of a still white wall and an up-tilted palm holding stains of pills begging water and tears.”
“She held her palm to the sky and the ceiling and smiled and slept and pierced him with her lashes. And she smiled. And his sun shifted in its sky.”
There’s also lyrical play in the ‘palm’ motif, as he repeats alternate versions of “in their palm/in her palm, etc.” Tyler seems cognizant of the spatial implications of words or phrases, almost like e.e. cummings coaxing the eye down the page with words which act as tonal notes. Tyler writes one line paragraphs “And he went,” and “And he did,” (the ‘and’ phonetically paired with other one line paragraphs “An invisibility,” and “An affair.”)
It’s refreshing to see such intricately composed writing and restraint from today’s ironies in writing, which I’m shamelessly guilty of, but that’s neither hear nor they’re.