January 25, 2011
1.Well, not really, but I have collected a quite large number of emails over the years as a function of my work as an editor, writer, and professor. On the rare occasion when I have a new book about to be released, I send out an email announcement.
2.I know, I know. How full of hubris! How can I get my big head through the motherboard?
3.And, crime among crimes: do I personally know every person on the list?
4.Of course, I certainly do not know with any degree that might suggest personal intimacy the many people who routinely send me notices about literary events, journals, books, art stuff, etc.I’ve received four just today.
5.As my wife says—a veteran of the Chicago Tribune, who received a near-constant stream of PR emails in her days on the now-defunct Q section—“If I don’t want to read a message, I click delete.”
6.Recently, in preparation for sending out the call for proposals for the 5th &NOW conference at UC San Diego on Oct 13-15, 2011, I decided to try a new way, for me, of contacting my email list: using Word to send messages through Outlook using an Excel file.
7.Good thing I’m not sending people money from Nigeria. To say I had troubles would be like saying Napoleon ran into some difficulties at Waterloo: it took me two days of hanging with the IT guys, amiable basement dwellers of Lake Forest College’s operation, to make the complex variables that are modern mail merge bend to my will.
8.In any event, I ended up sending the same message, or a version thereof, twice. It’s worth repeating the content here, as the story unfolds.
9.[Yes, double messaging brands me—in some local regions of the human mind—a hardened criminal. See me typing frantic message on a smuggled cell phone, deep in Alcatraz. I begin to thumb type on the numeric keypad. After 12 fraught hours, I spell out “Hello…”]
10.Well, here it is, my shame my indignity my all-too-human folly.
Dear You, Wonderful You;
My forthcoming novel, BLANK, from Jaded Ibis Press is available for the next week at a 20% preorder discount, here: http://jadedibisproductions.com/PREORDER.html
[NOTE FROM PRESENT—PREORDER SALE IS OVER]
The cost to you–the smart consumer–$11.96.
Davis Schneiderman’s 206-page novel, BLANK, contains only compelling chapter titles. The story is–as it always has been–up to the reader. White-on-white pyrographic images are by notable artist Susan White.
The fine art edition ($7500) is shrink-wrapped and enclosed in a wooden box that is fully encased in plaster and can be opened with a pull-tab. Once opened, the box cannot be re-encased. Three Bach remix tracks by renowned experimental hip hop musician, DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid (a.k.a. Paul. Miller), cap the fine-art edition. Hear one:
50% of proceeds from BLANK go to help support the Dj Spooky-backed Vanuatu Pacifica Project and Tanna Center for the Arts on the small Pacific Island.
Your purchase not only supports a good cause, but also says hurrah for a blank book.
The book also has an interesting production history, as dramatized in this trailer where 200 books are destroyed, many with a chainsaw.
With so much unsatisfying literature published each year, why not read something you can really get behind?
Interested in review, desk, or exam copies: email@example.com
Want off this email list? Just reply with STOP in the subject line.
11.Yes, I know. How could I? I received a few “stop” requests, which I immediately honored.Strangely, though, for I also received this one-line reply:
12.“thanks for the spam, pretentious hack.”
13.Now, I cannot be sure if the recipient received the message once or twice, but let’s say it was twice. Ok, then throw me in the slammer and toss away the key. I promise to re-read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales in penance. I get it.
15.I could only take the “pretentious hack” part as some sort of dig against the books itself, which is, aside from White’s illustrations and the chapter title, blank in content. The connection with the Tanna center and Dj Spooky provides additional coding, as does the packaging of the text—it’s primarily packaging, really—that suggests various modes of interpretation.
16.But ok, sure, it’s also a blank book. Yes, nothing inside.
17.[My father, gazing once upon a pile of bricks on the gallery floor as part of a minimalist exhibit, many years ago: “I could have done that!” Me, still an unformed teenager: “Why didn’t you?”]
18.I consider BLANK to follow in a long tradition of conceptual art, and the story of its inception—and its almost unbelievable publication—speaks to many of my feelings on authority, genius, and aesthetics.
19.Thus, I want to take a look at the issues raised by this recipient’s message, and my responses.
20.While touring for my novel DRAIN, full of words and definitely not blank, I read at Central Michigan University through the work of my kind host and friend Matthew Roberson, author of the really excellent work Impotent: a novel (FC2). During the reading, I not only discussed BLANK after reading from DRAIN, but also performed a rope trick.
21.I thread a rope through the crowd and secure it with a carabineer to my belt. I read, and invite the audience to respond by pulling me. I pull back. I scream. I sweat. The audience laughs, or doesn’t react, or drops the rope, or allows their inner antagonist to emerge (as happened with the chair of the English Department at a large southern university during my residency last year: his mild-manner dissolving into a wild-eyed mania as he pulled me over a set of terraced bleacher seats.]
22.Together, the effect is meant to turn readings, which I generally find to be boring, into un-readings or anti-readings or, well, forget the theory for a moment, and just say not boring or maybe in some small part fun.
23.After the event, still panting, I overhear a gaggle of graduate students discussing the reading, one particularly disgruntled. He turns in surprise to see me, and one of his compatriots joyfully shouts that the disgruntled type says that no one will publish his novel, but you are able to get a blank novel, with nothing in it. Shit!
24.[As my wise-and-snarky wife suggested later: maybe he should take another look at that novel…]
25.I can’t help but see such sentiment in the same matrix as the email comment. What is most interesting are the two final words of the latter, “pretentious” and “hack.” The first suggests a position on avant-garde or conceptual aesthetics that remains contrarian, that privileges content and presence in opposition to form, and in this case, absence.Surely, a notice of one’s book announcement in itself would not be seen as pretentious, unless the recipient were somehow in a world where this simply does not occur. Then, it might be like waving to a paramecium in greeting and smiling: Nice pseudopodia! Rather, this disgruntled recipient must take umbrage at the content of the message.
26.Now, a quick web search of the respondent turned up a few facts. This person is a recent MFA grad. He appears to have a few publications, but remains in the early part of his poetic career. Most of these appear in print journals. I did manage to find one poem online; the style—without giving away the author—suggests to me a sort of classical poesy-meets-Americana-meets-some-wonder-of-self-expression. It’s not without a certain juxtaposition-born effect, but the piece contains a number of suspect words, including the unfortunately chosen “Arcadian.”
27.Ok, I succumbed to a mild fit of pique, and decided to respond thusly:
Great blurb for the book!
So many people don’t seem to get it, but it’s good to know there are still a few sharp critics out there.
Please send me a 1-2 line bio for the website.
Thanks for your support.
28. The joke did not transmit. His next response was not nearly a delightful as the original, although its terse language did inform me that the offended party was not amused and that I should not quote him yadda yadda yadda yawn.
29.The entire brief episode, which my again wise wife encouraged me to drop suggests some of the tensions at work not only in the larger world of conceptual art, but also in the opening of William Gillespie’s fantastic new sort-of-end-of-the-world narrative-fucking adventure, Keyhole Factory. (An interview I conducted with Gillespie, here).
30.In the long almost-opening section of the text, “The Bad Poet,” Gillespie opposes the “good poetry” of Claude Reagan and his charge Blake to the non-poetry of Claude’s friend, Max Winchester, and his accidental acolyte, Jasper. Blake discussing Max with Claude:
“Oh great, so he’s a mouth poet.”
“No, Max was working out of a different tradition…”
“What universities has he taught at?”
“No universities. High school three days a week, prison on Thursdays.”
“Oh, I thought you meant he was a professor. And he’s got problems with your writing? You’re one of the founders of RealPoetry, the David Whitewater Chair of Poetics, editor of Fairweather Review, and a two-time Danto recipient.” (15)
31.Claude and Max are friends, and mutual supporters, even though their aesthetics differ considerably. Claude arranges for Max to read at the university’s Gertrude Stein conference, and we learn of Max’s early days, opening for The Who by reading a “poem” written on the spot by the Tommy-loving crowd.
32.Neither of these poetic practices escapes Gillespie’s parody, and when the world ends, or sort-of-ends, with the release of a deadly virus dubbed Pandora, we learn that good poetry and bad poetry have analogues with good ideas and bad ideas, which like viruses, can incubate for centuries.
33.I can’t blame my accuser for chafing at a note about a book full of nothing. After all, what does it say about Arcadia? What happens when the unspoiled wilderness of poetry past must acknowledge that it’s goals—the project of poetry and creative writing and individualism—may not be universal even within the absurdly limited bounds of western poetics?
34.There’s room for the shepherd, and room for the sheep—we’ve seen some intensely beautiful models—but we can’t all be two-time Danto recipients, now, can we?
35.The best some of us can hope for, sadly, is to be a two-time spammer.