Robert Coover

A History of the Future of Narrative: Robert Coover from Scott Rettberg on Vimeo.

Robert Coover came to speak with us last week. He’s a writer’s writer for sure, someone who burrows deep into text and wiggles around with it. He lectured on electronic writing, an obscure discipline he’s become an unlikely patron saint of. Unlikely in that he’s fairly old (he hit his stride in the 1960s) and that he’s a writer rather than a computer programmer or other operator. [Print is now a subset of digital literature, says Coover, since all but the print itself is produced digitally.] Coover thinks multimedia and hypertext have yet to mature as media, and made an analogy to American literature. Right now we are in the equivalent of the pre-Revolutionary America, adrift in a new medium, and just like Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine we are all amateurs cranking out our little pamphlets. It took a hundred and fifty years of American publishing to create Moby Dick, and since no one in our program had grown up completely saturated in digital media, we were doomed to flounder in the new medium.

Coover's CAVE system

We also got to look at Coover’s CAVE writing work — this is an immersive three-dimensional writing program that lets you have complete control over every aspect of the experience. CAVE writing is really just [x,y,z] coordinates tagged with XML, but it’s a powerful ensemble effect; albeit one beyond the limits of a single human being to create a work (such as novel or symphony) bigger than themselves.

The Q & A: Lorin Stein

This month editorial control of the Paris Review, a pre-eminent American literary magazine, changed hands from Philip Gourevitch to Lorin Stein, now a former senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux (and an occasional contributor to this magazine). While at FSG, Stein made his name finding and refining such authors as Elif Batuman, Lydia Davis, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Denis Johnson, Sam Lipsyte, Richard Price and James Wood. He also worked on FSG’s recent translations of fiction by Roberto Bolaño and personally translated from the French “The Mystery Guest” by Gregoire Bouillier… [LINK]

Introducing The Flopp-V

Introducing the Flop-V

Not sure if this is insult or flattery. From Cute Boys With Cats; photo by Pink Eye.

The evolution of a pet name.

Small black cat introduced to main pride. Floppy (a fawnish, foppish, not quite grown into his paws) appearance noted. The name Floppy is coined. As other aspects of his personality become apparent, a ferocious energy, the ability to hold his own in a pride of three other cats, despite his sweet exterior manner invokes comparisons to the reptilian ‘V.’ Floppy becomes Flop-V. An extra “p” is later added for propriety’s sake.

Reading with emptiness/Entering the protocols

Joshua Ferris (of And We Came to the End fame) spoke in class yesterday. He described his reading and writing process and it seemed diametrically opposed to my own. Ferris takes an enormous pad and writes little chunks all over, assembling a narrative from the fragments. Just thinking about writing that way made me uncomfortable (which likely means I should try it). The traditional method of writing, according to Ferris, is to build an idea (he called it a platonic ideal) in your head and then try to get it down on paper. I see writing as more of a thread, and as I write I’m trying to build something up from a spool of text. Ferris isn’t much of a world-builder, and admitted as much, saying there was no way he could get away with such an exotic narrator (a plural “I”) without setting his novel in such a familiar setting (i.e. an office). Another takeaway: Ferris talked about his MFA, saying that the only lesson he really took from Irvine was figuring out how to read without imputing his own aesthetic onto other people’s work. I have been struggling with how to read critically but correctly and that seems to be the key. Our professor suggested John Updike’s Rules for Reviewing (which seem to have vanished in its original form, leaving only bloggy traces):

Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end.

Submission to the spell… if only it were easy

WHITNEY’S TEPID BIENNIAL

Jennifer Jackson Hutchins
Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Couch For a Long Time, 2009
Sleet spattered over VIPs queuing outside for the opening of the Whitney Biennial on February 23rd. We suffered in silence, in darkness, our conversations drowned by the monastic groaning of an outdoor installation that cast an eerie blue hue. Dumpling trucks prowled and rogue cameramen interviewed some on a scrap of red carpet. We inched along as the storm intensified, sentries sifting us into various purgatories….[link]

Three Minute Fiction: JOYOUS TRANSACTION

NPR Contest Image

We’re supposed to do this with yarrow stalks, but “coins,” he says, “are more indicative of global currency flow.”

I stand to leave. Scraping my chair back. He shakes his head and swirls his coffee: “more modern,” he says.

I sit down again. Take a sip of mine.

Given the swirling streams of capital – well, I get it; as a modern soothsayer coins aren’t a bad idea.

But I’m not asking about money.

He pushes aside his Straits Times, revealing an I-Ching and three U.S. quarters. He slides his coins to me. I shake and fling. Coins flash, fall across the table six times in succession. He tabulates my score: Heads-heads-tails. (Twice) Heads-tails-tails. (Once) Heads-heads-tails. (Twice again) Heads-tails-tails….

He points at the coins and beckons. I slide them over. He shakes his head. “First: my fee.” I slide that over too. He nods and turns the book around for me to see:

58. Tui, The Joyous

Lakes resting one on the other:
The image of the Joyous.
Thus the superior man joins with his friends
For discussion and practice.

The moment of discovery! My muscles flinch involuntarily: “That’s all?” I say, my voice a squeak.

“You understand why you do this now?”

He’s so wise, that crumpled grey suit, those yellowing plastic frames. Enlightenment is bearing down on us: I feel it. I squish my palms together, and choose my reply very, very carefully. “For fun?”

“You don’t fully understand.”

“I don’t,” I say, pressing my palms harder. “Tell me! Please!”

He picks my coffee cup up and dumps it into his; brown liquid floods, soaking the paper: “that mindless moment of exchange,” he says, as it drips on my pants, and he gets up and leaves.