An Introduction, of Sorts

Mark Amerika & Lance Olsen
"Terrorism is a way to health. Health is the lusting for infinity and dying of all variants. Health is not stasis. It is not repression of lusting or dying. It is no bonds. The only desire of any terrorist is NO BONDS though terrorists don't desire. Their flaming jumping passions are infinite, but are not them."
--Kathy Acker, Blood and Guts in High School

"May Road Runner cartoons never vanish from the video waves, is my attitude."
--Thomas Pynchon, Slow Learner


Subject: Avant-Pop & Dada's Doorstep

Cybergreetings Amerika! Listen, I've been totally psyched about this *In Memoriam To Postmodernism* collection we've been working on and wanna open up a short e-mail rap with you about it. Namely, what I'd like to know, is do you really think that the Avant-Pop is that which supersedes pomo, as you've suggested, or is it rather a subset of pomo?

Subject: No Mo Po Mo

Freelance! Great to hear from you! Hey man, please, No Mo Po Mo! I mean there's no question that Avant-Pop grows out of many rhizomatic lineages and traditions including the weird pomo fictioneers like Barthelme, Pynchon, Madeline Gins and Steve Katz (whose _The Exagggerations of Peter Prince_ is *the* Avant-Pop novel par excellence). But somehow the metafictional strategies of postmodernism got totally absorbed by the mainstream media marketeers who took pleasure in rooting out whatever avant-garde spirit may have resided in the best work. This, of course, led to the neutralizing or neutering of pomo's potentially liberating effects. The thing about Avant-Popsters is that we're putting the *avant* back into the equation. Besides, wasn't it you who said the more one reads a pomo text the less pomo it becomes?

Subject: Same Old Same Old?

Absolutely. Remember that first head-jarring ride you took through a book like Acker's _Empire of the Senseless_? All that near-hypertextual aesthetics of trash, the broken-backed sentences, the high-grade anger, the mind-bending exploration of and delight in taboo, the extravagant pla(y)giarism, the lollapalooza lambasting of plot? Only then, when you went back and reread it, you realized that the language somehow seemed more transparent the second time around. The narratological anarchy gave way to the tight tripartite discipline of three sections which explore the different pre- and post-revolutionary universes of a world where gender and identity are fluid and heading toward terminal transformation. Writers like Acker (and Burroughs before her) have taught our generation of writers that we have to wake up in the midst of all this reality-studio dreaming. Let's face it, our society is run by control freaks like Dr. Benway whose reason for being is the manipulation of our addictions. Addictions he and his cronies create *for* us!

Subject: Onwards & Outwards

Yeah, right! So the Avant-Pop, then, becomes a way to turn Benway and his cronies back against themselves so that they self-destruct! Sort of like one of those Jean Tinguely or Survival Research Lab experiments. Use the media to subvert the media. Become subversive *mediums*. This Avant-Pop scene still seems very much in development, which I really like. So many people want the regurgitated soundbite in order to go out and repeat the party-line. Well, there may be an Avant-Pop party going on, but there sure ain't no line! Still, though, we seem to have had a blast tracing it's possible lineage and strategies. This has been mindblower! But let's get to the meat of the matter and put this *Smells Like A-P* spirit on-line! Catch you on the fast loop!


Even though artists like Richard Brautigan, Andy Warhol, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Rauschenberg, and the Velvet Underground spoke what we would later realize was the language of Avant-Pop, there was still, in our minds, something missing from much of the postmodern work produced in the sixties and seventies, something that didn't quite click with our tele-visual, compu-corder, audio-digitized viewing habits. It wasn't until the eighties, with the emergence of such edge-runners as Kathy Acker, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer, Sonic Youth, and Mark Leyner, that we really began to recognize texts with which we felt directly connected. The result? The appearance, or the reappearance, or the continuation (depending on your perspective and your sense of aesthetic history) of the Avant-Pop.

"This blurring of the traditional distinctions between 'high' and 'pop' art becomes a central, defining feature of postmodernism itself. Today such distinctions are, if anything, even more difficult to maintain than they were only a quarter of a century ago. Should rock videos by Madonna, Peter Gabriel, or Laurie Anderson be considered mainstream simply because they are enormously popular--even though they employ visual and poetic techniques that twenty-five years ago would certainly have been considered highly experimental? Is William Gibson's 'cyberpunk' novel, Neuromancer, 'avant-garde' since it employs unusual formal techniques (the use of collage, cut-ups, appropriation of other texts, the introduction of bizarre new vocabularies and metaphors)? Or does its publication bythe genre science-fiction industry establish it as pop? Are television shows like Max Headroom, the early Saturday Night Live, or David Lynch's recent Twin Peaks 'underground' works because they utilize so many features associated with postmodern innovation---or 'pop art' because they were, in fact, 'merely' television shows?"
--Larry McCaffery, "The Avant-Pop Phenomenon," in ANQ 5.4 (October 1992): 216.
"The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors," Borges writes at the conclusion of his famous essay on Kafka's retro-influence on Browning and others. "His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future." In retrospect, things shift in such a way as to make perfect sense. Turning up the amp, we can hear the first sonic chord of the Avant-Pop's buzz-clip in Eliot's vogue use and abuse of ragtime rhythms and cinematic montage in his plagiarized and pastiched The Waste Land. Or, one major tweak of the fuzz-knob and we hear Joyce's schizophrenic daydream bliss unwinding at the end of Ulysses. The feedback loop is alive and well and we can see it in dada, surrealism, Sergeant Pepper, Dos Passos's newsreels in The Big Money, Faulkner's lurid genre fiction in Sanctuary, Ginsberg in his quintessentially hip Howl, and the acidic metacommentary of Lenny Bruce. Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Nam June Paik, Gilbert and George, Joseph Beuys, David Bowie.

Similar to cyberpunk, beatnik poetry, Generation X, and every other label you've seen hit the market in the last forty or so years, the Avant-Pop is suddenly appearing everywhere you look, like a new word you've just added to your vocabulary and now see on every page you read, or a new viral strain, one that is the genetically-engineered fusion of these two extremes: 1) the avant-garde's impulse to push the aesthetic envelope, and 2) a specific sensibility's addiction to (and usually ambivalence with) pop culture in all its manifestations--especially electronic realities. Every day, as the boundaries between those extremes blur even further, many artists who've grown up teething on TV, the computer, the camcorder, the CD, and now the hypertext, CD-ROM, and VR, find themselves increasingly exposed to an aesthetically experimental lineage found in the material taught in college courses, on the increasingly accessible databanks converging on the Internet, and through a thriving underground network of zines and performance-happenings that introduce to the always-in-formation cultural nomad a surprisingly rich variety of altered perspectives grooving in pleasure-ridden situations.

That lineage, interestingly and appropriately enough, has its metaphorical origins in the military. The term avant-garde first surfaced at the end of the eighteenth century to designate the elite shock troops of the French army whose mission was to engage with the enemy in small, intense battles so as to pave the way for the main body of fighters. By 1830, it was appropriated by utopian socialists to refer to those people of vision--artists, philosophers, scientists--who would help usher in the new ideal society. And by 1870, it had morphed out of the realm of warriors and pure politics, become commonly used to identify successive movements of writers, musicians, artists, and other performers who, with typical in-your-face elan, were intent on developing their own formal opposition to everything mainstream.

During the next few decades, especially from the beginning of World War I through World War II, the term became readily associated with such revolutionary streams as expressionism, futurism, and constructivism, and, in the late fifties and sixties, as many of the Avant-Popsters were just being born, and such premier postmodernists as John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, Raymond Federman, Ronald Sukenick, and Thomas Pynchon were beginning or continuing to mine this radically opulent vein, widespread cultural and political upheavals fueled vanguard-ideas like the Death of The Novel, the Death of the Author, and the Death of the Critic--anything, in other words, that might signal the clarion call of the avant-garde tradition whose calling-card obstructionism ran the risk of stabilizing, neutralizing, petrifying, and devolving under the ever-present pressure of capitalist commodification (cf. Avant-Guard, product-name for that screen protecting you from all those evil rays emanating from your computer; or Avant-Card, the Hallmark-like gift shop in downtown Boulder).

Instead, though, a certain group of artists who never conceived of themselves as a group of artists appropriated, embraced, pla(y)giarized, and subverted that commercial pop thrust, emblem of the extraordinary influence mass media has had over the development of myriad minds in our generation. Growing up . . .

"It won't do, then, for the literary establishment simply to complain that, for instance, young-written characters don't have very interesting dialogues with each other, that young writers' ears seem tinny. Tinny they may be, but the truth is that in younger Americans' experience, people in the same room don't do all that much direct conversing with each other. What most of the people I know do is they all sit and face the same direction and stare at the same thing and then structure commercial-length conversations around the sorts of questions myopic car-crash witnesses might ask each other. . . . So now whose literary aesthetic seems dated?"
--David Foster Wallace, "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," in Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.2 (Summer 1993): 168.
"There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing. . . . I am a recording instrument. . . . I do not presume to impose 'story' or 'plot' 'continuity.'"
--William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch (New York: Grove, 1959): 221
"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
--William Gibson, Neuromancer (New York: Ace, 1984): 1.
"In this book you get such a sense of the reality of the main character that he seems to get off the page and sit down with you on the bus."
--Steve Katz, from "Trip," in Moving Parts (Brooklyn: Fiction Collective, 1977): 10
"'But our beauty lies,' explained Metzger, 'in this extended capacity for convolution. A lawyer in a courtroom, in front of a jury, becomes an actor, right? Raymond Burr is an actor, impersonating a lawyer, who in front of a jury becomes an actor. Me, I'm a former actor who became a lawyer. They've done the pilot film of a TV series, in fact, based loosely on my career, starring my friend Manny Di Presso, a one-time lawyer who quit his firm to become an actor. Who in this pilot plays me, an actor become a lawyer reverting periodically to being an actor.'"
--Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (New York: Harper & Row, 1966): 33.
"Soon signs started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were forty cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. . . . Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book. 'No one sees the barn,' he said finally. A long silence followed. 'Once you've seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn. . . . We've agreed to be part of a collective perception. This literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism.'"
--Don DeLillo, White Noise (New York: Viking Penguin, 1985): 12.
"So, starting in around 1974, we the disappointed started getting jobs. Countercultural as all get out at first, to be sure. But eventually it was hard not to see that what we'd also almost inadvertently acquired in the universities--organizational skills, knowledge and capacity for insight--the auto-, techno-, and bureau-crats were willing to pay really a lot of money for."
--Curt White, The Idea of Home (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1992): 146.
"In the distorting mirror of the camcorder everyone was a star."
--Stephen Wright, Going Native (New York: FSG, 1994): 134-5.
"I mean, you don't bitch about Madonna or Rambo or all those awful sexist violent/racist television shows, you colorize 'em, re-narratize em, give 'em a new sound track, you supply a new non-sexist, -racist ending that won't offend you. You sample the parts you like, you lay down a drumtrack! (literal narrative), you become your own conductor! The technology's out there if people will only learn to start using their own imaginations rather than relying on other people's."
--Larry McCaffery and Takayuki Tatsumi, "Graffiti's Rainbow," in Science Fiction Eye 12 (Summer 1993): 49.
. . . growing up as a kid in America in the fifties, sixties, and seventies provided us with a unique window on the world: the television screen reflecting a vast array of simulated constructs from network TV. Now that the promise of five-hundred channels and on-demand interactive television are soon to become realities,

a) our culture seems limitless;
b) our culture seems doomed;
c) our culture seems unchanged;
d) our culture seems on the brink of something dazzling;
e) our culture seems more alive than ever;
f) our culture seems to be thriving;
g) our culture seems to be idling;
h) our culture seems rooted in psychasthenia;
i) our culture seems to be going nowhere fast;
j) our culture seems desperate for libidinal synchronicity;
ok) our culture seems . . . our culture seems . . .


Some of Avant-Pop's most utilized techniques can best be summarized in the word heteroglossia, or A MULTIPLICITY OF NARRATIVE VOICES HOUSED IN A SINGLE "FORM." In this case, a subset thereof could be called FRICTION, i.e., various creative discourses fused, interfused and confused with various critical ones.


Another subset thereof could be called FACTION, i.e., various creative discourses fused, interfused and confused with various facts-oriented writing that typically gets labeled non-fiction.

FICTION = "I" + F (A) C T.

We will not attempt to do a post-structuralist decoding of the already written so as to (supposedly) help elucidate an otherwise indeterminate text (which most PoMo fiction is said to be). What you see as fact may be the next person's fiction. Or, if the fact that what you're reading now is a self-described fiction that claims to be everything but made-up makes you feel the friction of fictional events from the past rub up against you the wrong way (theoretical frottage), maybe sometime in the near future you will create an entirely Other kind of Avant-Pop reading strategy. For example, we're already wondering about the possibility of Non-Diction.


Most so-called "postmodern" theorists discuss discursive subversion in discourses that are (ironically) tight-assedly Cartesian. The whole purpose of this sort of intro to the Avant-Pop attempts to discuss discursive subversion in a form that is itself discursively subversive, yet (we hope) readable. A question to ask ourselves is: What was postmodernism?

a) a menu
b) dispersal
c) mutant forms of play
d) decenterment
e) polymorphous metanarratives full of themselves
f) clever misreadings
g) demystification of the self (whose Identity became plural and perverse)


Attaching oneself to popular culture is one of the easiest things in the world to do during these last handful of years left in this millennium. Many in our generation would prefer to usher in the next thousand years reading Kathy Acker and Jean Baudrillard simultaneously; a copy of Nobodaddies in our laps; fictional hypertexts published by Eastgate Systems on the computer screen; television surfing through MTV, CNN, HBO, PPV, Bravo, televangelist after televangelist; a tape of Mystery Train, or True Stories, or Slackers, or Wax: or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees looping on the VCR; windows wide open to the sounds outside: look! up in the sky! is it a bird? a plane? no, it's a freelance TV cameraman in a helicopter chasing down the next prime-time victim! And so what do we do? Do we take out our fire-retardant corrosion-resistant nickel- base alloy robo-enhanced methyl isocyanate flamethrowers and blow the fucker up? What will we be listening to as we make this crucial decision? The Breeders' latest, turned up real, real loud?

Generation-Xsters have accepted their fate in this world, and at least one niche community within this emerging generation of artists is seeking ways to metamorphose this virtual ghetto called The Present, turning to Avant-Pop strategies as both a refuge and a resource of provocation. Even someone as dead-set on becoming a commercial success as Mark [A fan calls 1-900-T-LEYNER and--using a touch-tone phone, of course, dials "1" to hear an excerpt from your upcoming book, "2" for your most intimate thoughts about weightlifting, "3" for dating advice, "4" for an upclose-and-personal tidbit from Arleen, and "5" for a cute anecdote about Carmella. --Mark Leyner, Et Tu, Babe (New York: Harmony Books, 1992): 75.] Leyner employs many of the devices we used, not too long ago, to think of as being in the domain of the avant-garde. His sound-bite imagery and speed-metal rhythms, emblematic of much Avant-Pop writing, are constantly sampling the fictioneers, artists, and performers of the avant-garde, not to mention the rest of Western culture's dreck-machine. By doing so, his work enacts the great Creeley-Olson dictum--that form is never more than an extension of content. In this case, "content" is what the media-conglemerates deliver into one's home via the TV screen and form is the ability to level out or flatten the meaning of all things.

"Do you know the commercial where the heavily mustached old woman in a black shroud drinks strawberry Nestle's Quik and turns into this buxom bombshell in pasties and g-string, and she squats down for a second in a mud puddle, and when she gets up, her buttocks are covered with leeches, and Jesus appears holding a Barbie, and two beams of sparkling particles shoot from the eyes of the Barbie and vaporize the leeches, and the bombshell gets on her motorcycle, and pink florets of exhaust spurt from its tailpipe spelling out the words 'Be All That You Can Be'?"
--Mark Leyner, Et Tu, Babe (New York: Harmony Books, 1992): 69.
Here are the progeny of Donald Barthelme's backbroke sentences, the project of a gomi no sensei, master of junk, who builds from the detritus of contemporary culture, collecting in his dented shopping cart the heterogeneous mixture of leftovers from the pop hypermart, embracing pomo polyphony, adoring the idea of undifferentiation, cramming a whole short story, perchance a whole novel, into the confines of one syntactical unit, appealing to the attention-span of a gnat. The consequence is what David Foster Wallace calls "less a novel than a piece of witty erudite extremely high-quality prose television. Velocity and vividness--the wow--replace the literary hmm of actual development. People flicker in and out; events are garishly there and then gone and never referred to." It's a fiction that's "both amazing and forgettable, wonderful and oddly hollow"; "hilarious, upsetting, sophisticated, and extremely shallow" ("E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," in Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.2 Summer 1993: 192.) It's also an echo of and genuflection to the sentence that Pynchon built: crammed with as much information as its syntax will bear; packed with as many images, references, colors, smells, as an artist's talent will allow; prose that rumbles and thrums for five hundred, six hundred, a thousand words at a clip, till by the utterance's end you can no longer remember its beginning. Hence language presses to the foreground, becomes another character (sometimes the only one) to watch and admire, and an info-linguistic webwork springs forth that parallels the computer's hypertext, gives life to a kind of hypertextual fiction, as Brooks Landon dubs it, which encourages us to view it "as the tip of an iceberg of information, a hypertext inviting, if not demanding, exploration" (ANQ 5.4 [October 1992]: 213).
"In case you're thinking, Well, Avital, fuck her, she just lives inside her own head, this work reveals a growing concern over the finite figures that comprise our shared experience. As long as there is something like experience, it is not entirely mine."
--Avital Ronell, Infinitude's Score: Essays For the End of the Millennium (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska, 1994): xi
"Our embodied imaginations of ourselves and others are increasingly vulnerable to being ritually relayed or mechanically pre-processed through complex networks of bio-technological feedback, video-loops, stereophonic sound- systems, Sony Walkmans, and talking cars. All within a solid liquidity of CAPITAL, a fast thick ocean of white noise."
--Stephen Pfohl, Death at the Parasite Café (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992): 43


The roots (routes, tracks, lineages) of the Avant-Pop are manifested in many texts from the past. In a sense, they've been here all along: in Tristram Shandy, in Moby Dick, in The Chants of Maldoror, in Finnegans Wake; in Apuleius, in Rabelais, in Gravity's Rainbow, in Slaughterhouse Five. This blatant acknowledgment of A-P's connectivity to the tissues of text that inform much experimental writing will inevitably cause a knee-jerk reaction by certain cultural critics who will try to trivialize it as so much peripheral Modernism/Postmodernism ... and who can blame them?! There's a lot of time-money management invested therein. But think about those artist/critics who are just beginning to invest their hard-earned reputation-dollars on the potential market value of the just-gone-public Avant-Pop!

Or do we, in retrospect, come to understand how aesthetically naive and historically shortsighted it would be, in the standard manifesto two-step, to claim the Avant Pop, a term first appropriated from a Lester Bowie jazz album by Ronald Sukenick and Larry McCaffery in 1992, is something radically new? Does it not, from a certain perspective, grow out of the postmodern? Does it form a subset of the postmodern in the same way metafiction, surfiction, cyberpunk, magical realism, and minimalism do? Does it have less to do with a rupture in history than with a state of mind that can be found throughout the ages, and has perhaps only come to the fore in the eighties and nineties of this schizoid century (thanks, alas, to the Big Digital Wink)? Haven't we, from a certain perspective, simply rediscovered the antinarratological wheel? Or is it none of the above?

To test your ability to think through this yourself, especially in light of all the info we've given you up to this point, we'd like the navigator to please take part in the following Avant-Pop Quiz! [SPECIAL PRIZES AWAIT THE PERSON WHO CAN CORRECTLY ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS!]:

Avant-Pop Quiz

1. Postmodernism is Dead because a. we say it is
b. you want to believe it
c. it was never really alive, it just "simulated" life!

2. Avant-Pop will never die because

a. we say it won't
b. you need it too much to see it all end so soon
c. it's The Real Thing(TM)

3. Avant-Pop, which claims itself to be The Real Thing(TM), is actually

a. an umbrella term to protect you from all of those harmful postmodern rays
b. a dark, existentially mis-fit community of artists and theorists inviting you to consume them
c. a consortium of writing strategies deployed by a new wave of artists bred on the tainted bosom of mass media
4. Writing strategies usually associated with Avant-Pop would include which of the following: a. appropriation of other texts and characters
b. the continuous inmixing of neo-logisms, designer vocabularies, and pseudo-genres
c. automatic word and sentence cut-ups producing radical mind-altering experiences similar to channel-surfing and Internet navigating on LSD
d. an infinitely hot and dense series of connect-the-dots disguised as a sprawling syntax that proactively engages the participant in a "psychogeographical becoming" causing the participant to imagine themselves a "revolutionary consumer" (activist shopper, eager pla(y)giarist, ephemeral do-me anarchist, etc.)
5. If it's true that A-P is just another catch-all phrase that attempts to depict our contemporary cultural sensibilities, then what is it about the false consciousness of postmodernism that causes us to believe that its immediate future looks so bleak. Is it a. its total absorption by an out-of-touch academic elite
b. its total liquidation in commercial TV news & entertainment
c. its well-tempered provinciality
d. its inability to radicalize subjectivity
e. all of the above
6. Which of the following terms could be considered a subset of Avant-Pop? a. surfiction
b. metafiction
c. cyberpunk
d. friction
e. faction
f. non-diction
g. all of the above
7. Who invented the term Avant-Pop? a. Lester Bowie
b. Larry McCaffery
c. Ron Sukenick
d. Iggy Pop
8. A Mutant Fictioneer approaches you as you're walking down the street. She reaches into the inside pocket of her leather jacket and pulls out something she calls Avant-Pop. Is she pulling out a. a sheet of windowpane
b. a home-made porn video
c. an alternative trade paperback book
d. a floppy disk
e. a loose body part
f. a new contraceptive device
g. a soft-drink made of recycled theory
9. The End Is Nearing. Karmageddon has stuck its androgynous lollipop-head inside your window. Do you a. blow its head off
b. stick your tongue on it
c. feed it some Avant-Pop
d. suck it, tongue it, feed it, suck it again
10. Taking an Avant-Pop Quiz is like a. being manipulated by the mass media (which is losing its mass this very moment)
b. riding the new wave of hope that incites the latent dissident inside you to think of something like revolutionary action
c. watching Persian Gulf War reruns on 27 pots of strong coffee
d. listening to more of that raising-consciousness crap we heard in the Sixties


A. Whereas it's true that certain strains of modernism, structuralism, poststructuralism, surrealism, dadaism, futurism, capitalism and even marxism pervade the Avant-Pop sensibility, the major difference is that the artists who create Avant-Pop art are the Children of Mass Media (even more than being the children of their parents, who have much less influence over them). Many of the early practitioners of postmodernism, from Beckett to Vargas Ilosa, Borges to Silko, Davenport to Lessing, Gaddis to Garcia Marquez, who came into active adult consciousness and textual production in the forties, fifties, sixties and early seventies, tried desperately to keep themselves away from the forefront of the newly powerful Mediagenic Reality that was rapidly becoming the space where most of our social exchange was taking place. Despite its early insistence on remaining caught up in the academic and elitist art world's presuppositions of self institutionalization and incest, early postmodernism found itself overtaken by the popular media engine; out of such extremely diverse writers as Abish, Ballard, Barthelme, Burroughs, Coover, Pynchon, Vonnegut, and even Nabokov, whose Lolita is one of the first fictional Avant-Popsters, the A&P began its move toward increasing recognition.

B. Avant-Pop artists have had to resist the avant-garde sensibility that stubbornly denies the existence of a popular media culture and its dominant influence over the way we use our imaginations to process experience. At the same time, A&P artists have had to work hard not to become so enamored by the false consciousness of the mass media itself that they lose sight of their creative directives, the single most important one of which is to enter the mainstream culture as a parasite would, sucking out all the bad blood that lies between the mainstream and the margin. Avant-Popsters thus turn into Mutant Fictioneers, it's true, but our goal is and always has been to face up to our monster deformation and to find wild and adventurous ways to love it for what it is. We have acquired immunity from the Terminal Death dysfunctionalism of a Pop Culture gone awry and are now ready to offer our own weirdly concocted elixirs to cure us from this dreadful disease that infects the core of our collective life.

C. Whereas Avant-Popsters are fully aware of their need to maintain a crucial avant-sensibility as it drives the creative processing of their work, and attaches itself to the avant-garde lineage from which they spring, they are also quick to acknowledge the need to develop more open-minded strategies that will allow them to attract attention within the popularized forms of representation that fill the contemporary Mediascape. Our collective mission is to radically alter Pop Culture's focus by channeling a more popularized kind of dark, sexy, surreal, and subtly ironic gesture that grows out of the work of many twentieth-century artists like Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Lenny Bruce, the two Davids (Cronenberg and Lynch); movements like fluxus, situationism, lettrism and neo-hoodooism; and scores of rock bands including the Sex Pistols, Pere Ubu, Bongwater, Slint, L7, Pavement, Stereolab, Meccanormal {this list of bands constantly changes everytime the manifesto is read aloud}...

The emerging wave of Avant-Pop artists now arriving on the scene find themselves caught in this struggle to rapidly transform our sick, commodity-infested workaday culture into a more sensual, trippy, exotic and networked experience. One way to achieve this goal is to create and expand virtual niche communities, many of which already exist through the zine scene and Internet. By actively engaging themselves in the continuous exchange and proliferation of collectively generated electronic publications, individually designed creative works, manifestos, live on-line readings, multi-media interactive hypertexts, conferences, and so forth, Avant-Popsters and the alternative networks they are part of will eat away at the conventional relics of a bygone era where the individual artist-author creates her/his beautifully-crafted, original works consumed primarily by the elitist art world and their business cronies who pass judgment on what is appropriate and what is not.

Literary establishment? Art establishment? Forget it. Avant-Pop artists wear each other's experiential data like waves of chaotic energy colliding and mixing in the textual blood while the ever-changing flow of creative projects that ripple from their collective work floods the electronic cult-terrain with a subtle anti-establishment energy that will forever change the way we disseminate and interact with writing.

D. Avant-Popsters welcome the new Electronic Age with open arms because we know that this will vastly increase our chances of finding an audience of like-minded individuals with whom we can communicate and collaborate. The future of writing is moving away from the lone creator sitting behind a keyboard cranking out magical, mystical verse so that one day he or she may find an editor or agent or publisher who will hype her or his work to those interested in commercial literary culture. Instead, the future of writing will feature more multi-media collaborative authoring that will make itself available to hundreds if not thousands or tens of thousands of potential associates around the world actively internetworking in their own niche communities. Our audience will be both immediate and global, and our identities will remain forever in flux as we develop self-designed nodes of operation from which to distribute our multi-media litware. As Hakim Bey, author of the ontologically-anarchic book of guerrilla aesthetics, Temporary Autonomous Zones, recently said in the magazine Dreamtime Talkingmail, we're exploring "the possibility of an art which is by no means 'sensible' in the Civilizational sense of the word, but which is nevertheless devoted with PASSIONATE INTENSITY to COMMUNICATION, and thus to a certain kind of situational clarity and accessibility" ("Anarcho-Aesthetics and The Problem of Clarity," Dreamtime Talkingmail [Winter 1994]:12.)

Can you imagine what The Futurists would have done with an Information Superhighway?

E. The distribution formula will radically change from: Author --> Agent --> Editor/Publisher --> Printer --> Distributor --> Retailer --> Consumer to a more simplified and direct:

Author (Sender) --> Interactive Participant (Receiver)

Avant-Popsters and their pirate signals promoting wild station identifications are ready to expand into your home right now, just log on, click around and find them. For example, check out Mark Amerika's electronic publishing enterprise, Alternative-X on the World Wide Web.

F. One of the main tenets of postmodernism is: I, whoever that is, will put together these bits of data and form a Text, while you, whoever that is, will produce your own meaning based on what you bring to the Text. One of the main tenets of Avant-Pop writing is: I, whoever that is, am always interacting with data created by the Collective You, whoever that is, and by interacting with and supplementing the Collective You, will find meaning.

In a Data Age where we all risk suffering from Information Sickness, one cure is a highly potent, creatively filtered tonic of (yes) textual (or multi-media) residue spilled from the depths of our spiritual unconscious. Creating a work of art will depend more and more on the ability of the artist to select, organize and present the bits of raw data he or she has at her or his disposal. We all know originality is dead and that our contaminated virtual realities are always already readymade and ready for consumption!

G. The future of the book is happening now. True, the idea that books as hard or paperbound products coming back from the printer so that they can then go to the distributor who will try and convince retailers that their consumers will want to buy them is not in danger of becoming obsolete any time soon.

Nor is the lone author, cranking out her or his writing wares at home only to send them off to distant agents/editors/publishers so that his/her work can then take part in this Author-->Agent-->Publisher--> Printer-->Distributor-->Retailer-->Consumer formula. Books will remain books and bookstores will continue to sell them. Writers will continue to get single-digit royalties and the distributors and bookstores will continue to reap most of the profit. The Best-Sellers list and the New York establishment will continue to maintain their rockhard hegemony.

BUT: now there's more to communication, more to language, more to text production, than the book. There are all manner of videos, graphic novels, dissident comix, CD-ROMS, computer hypertexts, earplays, and, soon, in a universally-accessible location near you, a small black box that will sit on top of your reconstructed soon-to-be-a-computer TV that will bring into your private space all kinds of fireworks created by (yep, it's true) writers. Electronic writers. Which, it ends up, most of us already are.

H. Technology is becoming more accessible and software is getting better. Soon we can start thinking seriously of publishing ourselves in our home offices, virtual brain centers--without being accused of vanity, thanks to the growing Do It Yourself ethic that's grown out of the underground scene. Soon we'll be able to create and send multi-media non-linear narrative over the wires and into computers all around the world. And, yes, it's true, many artists will continue to depend on the institutionalized system to nurture them through their careers. The comfort of the old system will keep a lot of artists happy with things the way they are. We can hear them already saying something like "but I'm a writer, I don't have time for all this other stuff." To which we'll respond: "You can't afford NOT to find the time . . .

"Reading through a hypertext, one senses that just under the surface of the screen is a vast reservoir of story waiting to be found."
--Robert Coover, New York Times Book Review, August 29, 1993: 1.
. . . for all this other stuff lest you be left behind."

I. The Avant-Popster is a nomadic voyager, a cultural terrorist, whose identity is constantly in flux. He/she secretly "becomes" something like Woman or the open-endedness of feminine imagination, reclaiming the terrain vis-a-vis the enactment of subliminal postures/gestures that sabotage the system's rigidity. Our strategy is to deterritorialize the institutional effects so as to generate a new level playing-field where the action of bees and bodies buzzing can once again ignite the language of our spiritual unconscious.

Our dilemma then becomes how to make the Electric real while simultaneously making the desert of our souls virtually inhabitable.


The following is a highly selective, sometimes arbitrary, surely biased, briefly annotated, and alphabetical checklist of interesting Avant-Pop sites. This list makes no claims toward completeness (Tim Ferret, Richard Meltzer, David Matlin, Stacey Levine, Harry Polkinhorn, Jill St. Jacques, and William T. Vollmann, for instance, aren't mentioned, though they certainly could be), but it does acknowledge that any checklist on such an amorphous topic as the Avant-Pop entails myriad hidden judgments and decisions.

Nonetheless, it's a start, a sketch, the delineation of a relatively uncharted space to begin to explore for those coming to this subject for the first time; those wishing to test their opinions of what's Avant-Pop and what's not against ours; teachers out to design courses about this rough new beast; libraries checking up on their stocks of the current.

Kathy Acker. Empire of the Senseless (1988). The most cyberpunkish text (parts of which are actually pla[y]giarized from Gibson's Neuromancer) by the dominatrix of the Anglo-American A&P. No discussion of the A&P can begin without a brief genuflection in her direction. If Acker captures your imagination, you should also check out her brilliant Blood and Guts in High School (1978), Don Quixote (1985), and In Memoriam to Identity (1990).

Alternative-X. An online publishing network created by Mark Amerika that features many of the fictions, manifestos, essays, and on-line culture columns by many of the writers mentioned herein. Located at

Mark Amerika. The Kafka Chronicles (1993). Less novel than formalistic and theoretical pyrotechnic exploring the instability of selfhood in an electronic culture by one of the editors of Black Ice Books, editor of Black Ice magazine, and Director of the GRAMMATRON project, a multi-media writing-machine soon to be installed at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Donald Barthelme. Sixty Stories (1982). One of the original pop cultural linguistically brilliant dreck-machines, his stories are little works of big genius. If you're interested in something longer, try The Dead Father (1975), more about killing off the aesthetic past than about moribund parents.

Richard Brautigan. The Abortion (1970). The simplicity of life becomes more than surfictional as Brautigan's use of language begins to unravel the cacophony of countercultural voices that invade his hyperreality. Also see Trout Fishing In America.

William S. Burroughs. Naked Lunch (1959). Short, perhaps, of Pynchon, no one writer has wielded more influence on post-war avant-garde writing both here and in Europe that WB. NL is a cut-up text that probes various addictions, from opiates to media, control, and sex. A pivotal work.

Robert Coover. Pricksongs & Descants (1969). Prototypic A&P, particularly the dazzling tele-visual, hypertextual story "The Babysitter," by one of the most significant post-war stylists.

Douglas Coupland. Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991). A first-novel A&P cult-classic chronicle of the McLives of the McGeneration by an original voice for the nineties.

Ricardo Cortez Cruz. Straight Outta Compton (1993). McCaffery says: "As we move into the nineties, rap music's slice-and-dice (and then bring-the-noize) approach has been this country's most effective and original strategy for providing outsiders with a sense of the urgency, anger, and sheer exhilaration produced by the collisions of sounds, sights, and people in our urban jungles. Now, in Straight Outta Compton, Ricardo Cruz has succeeded in writing the first major rap novel."

Don DeLillo. White Noise (1985) and Mao II (1991). Two of the most important novels of the last decade by one of the masters of contemporary fiction, these books explore the Baudrillardian infusion into our lives of media and other information technologies.

Eurudice. f/32 (1990). Funny, energetic, schizoid text that begins when a woman's vagina decides to run away from home. How does one write beyond Kathy Acker at the fin de millennium? Read this and find out.

Lauren Fairbanks. Sister Carrie (1993). This one reads as if Dreiser said 'I love you' but didn't mean it and went to bed with Donald Barthelme and William Burroughs. The payoff is an aesthetics of rotting zoobies, hair-tearingly funny samples on sex and the city, the art of commerce and the commerce of art.

Raymond Federman. The Twofold Vibration (1982) and Take It Or Leave It (1975). Founder of the Surfiction movement, he has been a major influence on the young avant-set for years. Both his fiction and hypertextual theory are widely translated for a growing international audience.

William Gibson. Neuromancer (1984). The white-hot prosed, gritty-futureworld cyberpunk classic. Also check out Gibson's collaboration with the abstract expressionist painter Dennis Ashbaugh, Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) (1992), an amazingly expensive nostalgic electronic prose poem about Gibson's childhood and the development of several key technologies that self-destructs after one reading--available on the Net newsgroup alt.cyberpunk.

Harold Jaffe. Eros Anti-Eros (1990). Extreme experimental f(r)ictions about a media-manipulated society by one of the most significant and underrated fringe writers in the United States. See also his upcoming Straight Razor (Black Ice Books) with illustrations by Norman Conquest.

Darius James. Negrophobia (1992). A wild novel written in screenplay form, where James uses hyperreal racial stereotypes as the best logical weapon to do away with those same stereotypes. Part Ishmael Reed, Terry Southern and Richard Pryor, this one will make you look in the mirror.

Michael Joyce. Afternoon (1987). The granddaddy of hypertext fiction about a man who may have just seen his ex-wife and son die in a car crash, but is too scared to find out. Interesting fusion of traditional psychologically motivated plot and cutting-edge form.

Steve Katz. The Exagggerations of Peter Prince (1968). Katz's first novel is everything you wanted in an Avant-Pop novel and more. There are enough innovative narrative devices here to spawn numerous generations of Avant-Pop progeny. One can only wonder what would have happened if hypertext-pioneer Ted Nelson had gotten together with Katz back in the late Sixties and started formulating the future of multi-media texts. See also his wild and wonderful Creamy & Delicious.

Mark Leyner. My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist (1990). Short, hilarious, cyberdelic linguistic explosions that formed an instant A&P classic. Followed by Et Tu, Babe (1992), a "novel" about a Warholesque writer who becomes a living god through media hype.

Larry McCaffery, ed. Avant-Pop: Fiction for a Daydream Nation (1993). The first A&P anthology, featuring work from many of the key players, including Kathy Acker, Ricardo Cortez Cruz, Eurudice, Harold Jaffe, Mark Leyner, Stephen Wright, and others. Followed in 1995 by a large version from Viking. Both are excellent introductions and overviews of the fiction.

Larry McCaffery and Takayuki Tatsumi. "Graffiti's Rainbow: Towards the Theoretical Frontiers of 'Fiction': From Metafiction and Cyberpunk through Avant-Pop." In Science Fiction Eye 12 (Summer 1993): 43-49. Fine introduction to the A&P phenomenon by two of the best critics of the contemporary.

John McDaid. Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse (1992). A hypertext whose premise is that the narrator visits his dead uncle's house and begins rifling through his things. The result is a multi-media extravaganza about the shifting nature of selfhood.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen (1986). The mother of all graphic novels, pure A&P with a healthy dose of cyberpunk, set in a near-future world without heroes.

Lance Olsen. Tonguing the Zeitgeist (1994). Info-dense imaginative fire set in a rock'n'roll near-future world that investigates the commodification of the arts at the end of the millennium by the critic-fictioneer who wrote the first full-length study of William Gibson.

Lance Olsen, ed. Surfing Tomorrow: Essays on the Future of American Fiction (1994). Overview of the current and future states of American fiction, with contributions from Janice Eidus, Brooks Landon, Larry McCaffery, Lewis Shiner, Alan Wilde, and many other important writers and critics.

Derek Pell. Assassination Rhapsody (1988). One of the aces of the collage-text deconstructs the Warren Commission Report's investigation into the assassination of J.F.K. through the use of pastiche, quotation, and (re)appropriation.

Thomas Pynchon. Gravity's Rainbow (1973). The most crucial post-war novel, period. Pynchon exerts more influence over the new generation of innovative writers than anyone else except, perhaps, William S. Burroughs.

Doug Rice, ed. Nobodaddies. An A-P zine whose first issue reads like a who's who on the scene, with work by Eurudice, George Chambers, Raymond Federman, Mark Amerika, Rob Hardin, Michael Hemmingson, Derek Pell, Steven Shaviro, Curt White, and many significant others. Three other zines with an A-P twist are Jasmine Sailing's wild Cyber-Psycho's A.O.D, Brian Clark's ultra-kewl Puck and, of course, Black Ice, which has continuously published many of the emerging A-P writers.

John Shirley. New Noir (1993). A wealth of sick pomo Poeian fictions like "Jodi and Annie on TV," about two teens who'll do anything to appear on the six o'clock news.

Art Spiegelman. Maus I and II (1986, 1992). Just when Jewish fiction went comatose, content doing paler and paler imitations of itself (Bellow, Wiesel, the late Malamud, et al.), along came this A&P graphic novel about the Holocaust in which Jews are portrayed as mice and Nazis as cats, and everything is dynamically possible again.

Neal Stephenson. Snow Crash (1992). Cyberpunk with a sense of humor, A&P with a sense of electronic media, here's a novel that believes there are four things the U.S. does better than anyone else: music, movies, software, and high-speed pizza delivery.

Ronald Sukenick. Doggy Bag (1994). An answer to modernist Eliot's The Waste Land by one of the father's of A-P, prolific surfictional co-founder of the Fiction Collective and publisher of American Book Review. This book confirms Sukenick's uncanny ability to transcend generational differences and keep his underground finger on the pulse of American culture. See also his earlier novels Out, Up and especially Blown Away.

Gerald Vizenor. Griever: An American Monkey King in China (1987). A "novel" by the most disruptively experimental Native American on the writing scene.

Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse Five (1968). Time-tripping, anyone? Hybrid genres, new vocabularies, metacommentary, and a political edge that clearly marks the terrain for more formally assaultive A-P texts to tread and move beyond.

David Foster Wallace. The Broom of the System (1987). A great comic A&P narrative worthy of Pynchon which begins when Lenore Beadsman's grandmother and twenty-five other residents mysteriously disappear from their nursing home in Ohio. Full of brain-buring style and intelligence.

Bruce Wagner. Wild Palms (1993). Cyberdelic graphic novel with so much pop-will-eat-itself-referentiality that you might miss the avant buzz that drives it. Originally published in the mainstreeam magazine, Details, and eventually produced by Oliver Stone for a TV mini-series, great for the intellectually stoned. Illustrated by Julian Allen.

Stephen Wright. Going Native (1994). Superb A-P novel in which the protagonist one evening just walks out of a suburban cookout, away from his family, and begins a long, dark, vampiric drift across a drug-stunned America; and yet, as in the algebra of subatomic physics, almost all we ever see of him is his effect on others.



as one of the inventors of avant-pop I think I have certain privileges as to defining what it means to say that it means using mass market modes against the mass market in a kind of update of the Lettriste ploy of detournement is correct as far as it goes--but it doesn't go far enough--actually what we have here is a reversal of the old consumerist tactic of "co-optation", i.e., if some rebel-rousing movement comes along, de-fang it, package it and sell it, absorb it into the mass market, render it harmless--avant-pop, on the other hand, co-opts mass market schlock, twists it and tortures it till it becomes dangerous and injects it back into the market as a virus that destroys its host from within, rotting it like ice on a lake in the spring to free up a more fluent and various relation between art producer and art consumer--where monolithic mass market was, many mini-markets there shall be, making clear the difference between consumerism's "free market," and a democratic market which offers the consumer a wide spectrum of choice

writers know that writing on writing is like an essay on the unkown--there are no rules--but one of them is that few people are cursed with the gift of the assayist, of knowing ore from earth--and in this case, though it's the slick ore that sells, it's the crude gritty earth we want--you can't keep people from going for the gold, and in going for it even the clever are going to go for the glitz, the cool, the hype, the hip, the stylish, the smart--it takes a certain kind of stupidity to resist--i'm sorry if this sounds elitist but if it's elite it's an elite of the obscure and powerless--so the question is, how do people detect the difference between the truly avant-pop and mass market poop, between the real thing and its slick consumerized version?

other day i was driving along the road and passed a huge consumer mall parkinglot--in the middle of which stood a small prefab looking structure that said, JOE'S: NEIGHBORHOOD BAR-- looked around for a neighborhood, but all i saw was acres and acres of parkinglot--that's why Joe's had to say it was A NEIGHBORHOOD BAR--because otherwise how would you have known it, i.e., the more something declares itself in the free market, the less it's actually there--corollary: the less it's there the better it sells--it's the pet rock ploy, promotion is expensive but production is minimal--it's the theory of vacuum marketing: worked content is an impediment to promotion, vacuity appeals to the broadest possible spectrum of tastes--and i'm not talking about the poised emptiness of a Mallarme or the meditative emptiness of a monk, i'm talking about the packaged emptiness of the shopping mall

so how do you figure the real thing from the hollywood version-- avant-pop doesn't make these distinctions clear and is liable to lead us back into the shopping mall--without further qualification--which is why we can't do without the idea of hyperfiction

hyperfiction is the successor to surfiction--where surfiction was inventive, hyperfiction is interventive, hyperfiction like hypertext is interactive--hyperfiction projects itself into the world by, to put it crudely, making something happen, making somebody react and act on others, not simply adding to reality as with surfiction, but changing reality, hyperfiction is activist fiction--it is not concerned with marketing--it assumes that it is better to get three people to do the right thing than to entertain three thousand, three hundred thousand, and is therefore not aimed at the mass market but the appropriate market for its intervention--and one's faith is that the payoff could be ultimately more significant with the three than the three thou, with three thou than with three hundred thou, & etc.--that is, quantity is not the main issue--and attention! interventive fiction is not propaganda because propaganda is deceptive and manipulative where interventiveness is based on open communication among free spirits

and how do you know what the right thing is you're trying to get people to do to change things interventively? well, that's another question--one i have to leave to you

13 Introductory Ways of Looking at a Post-Postmodernist Aesthetic Phenomenon Called 'Avant-Pop'

by Larry McCaffery


The Crash of High Modernism--The Single-Aesthetic Bullet Theory.

Pop. n. 1. a sudden, short, light, explosive sound. 2. shot with a revolver. WEBSTER'S NEW WORLD DICTIONARY

"The spectacle originates in the loss of the unity of the world, and the gigantic expansion of the modern spectacle expresses the totality of this loss . . . " --Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle

...these were obviously difficult questions to answer--so difficult that when the word starting going down in the late 60s that the novel had died, there were plenty of people who mourned its loss, but nobody was really very surprised. In fact, the death of serious fiction was usually seen as being just an extension of the larger tragedy--the crash of the High Modernist Program, which had apparently taken the lives of the Avant-Garde, the author, and everyone else associated with "high art." As with the assassination of JFK, the crash of High Modernism was seen by many people as marking the end of a certain kind of optimism and self-assurance that had helped shape our notion of what fiction (or art of any kind) should be. For nearly a hundred years, the aesthetic laboratories of High Modernism had been filled with a vigorous breed of innovative artists who were confident their experiments would result in finding a means for serious art to survive, but in the end, the beast proved too powerful. Surveying the wreckage left behind by the crash of the High Modernist Program, noted art historian Robert Hughes observed that, "The modernist laboratory is now vacant. It has become less an arena for significant experiment and more like a period room in a museum, a historical space that we can enter, look at, but no longer be part of. . . . What has our culture lost in 1980 that the avant-garde had in 1890? Ebullience, idealism, confidence, the belief that there was plenty of territory to explore, an above, all the sense that art, in the most disinterested and noble way, could find the necessary metaphors by which a radically changing culture could be explained to its inhabitants." Such glum assessments were seconded by a whole range of literary critics, semioticians, and cultural theorists who had jerry-rigged the Postmodernist Program which achieved liftoff in the aftermath of the crash of High Modernism. According to the leading experts of the PO-MOD-SQUAD, not only had serious art died but so had a lot of other things--including meaning, truth, originality, the author (and authority generally), realism, even reality itself.

It turns out, though, that such widely-circulated reports of the death of serious writing and art in America were greatly exaggerated. Even as apologists for the PO-MOD-SQUAD's Program of absence, disappearance, skepticism and loss were issuing one obituary notice after another, a new breed of media-savvy American writers and artists were busy down in their basement laboratories mixing up some new kinds of aesthetic medicine, specifically designed to revitalize artists suffering from info-overload, psychic fragmentation, loss of affect, reality decay, daydream drift and other debilitating symptoms of life in post-apocalypse America...


Borrego Springs, 85 miles northeast of San Deigo, lies in the middle of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It has remained a small town--population 2,244--because rugged mountains separate it from metropolitan southern California and because of its geologic and climatic extremes. 2 p.m. in Borrego on a typical August afternoon would likely have temperatures of more than 115--hot enough that an unlucky (or foolish) individual who finds herself without water, hat or shade would not live to see the evening.

It is an utterly quiet landscape. When the black raven passes you overhead--all 25 inches of it--you can follow the whoosh of its wings for several lovely seconds. But the serenity is misleading. It may feel as if you're in a world that only transforms by tens of thousands of years, but the valley that Borrego lies in is in fact the most active area for earthquakes in California. Since 1899, it has had 14 quakes of magnitude greater than 6.0; we have over 10,000 mini-rumbles per year which means for the Borrego citizen rock and roll is a way of life.


Earlier tonight I had delivered my final speech to the Avant-Pop crowd:

"Tonight as we make final preparations to launch a literary assault which we hope will begin the long process of recapturing our homelands of creativity, we should all recognize... I don't have to remind you that the narrative and aesthetic terrain... You are going to be appalled at the desolation you will find; during the years of enemy occupation, they have transformed an area once known for creative abundance into a parched desert incapable of sustaining... Moreover, it's not just the prospect of facing a well-armed... It's daunting but you are likely to be shocked by the condition of the ordinary citizens you encounter and the hostile and bewildered reactions of ordinary readers... Finally, I'm sure every writer participating in this Avant-Pop mission recalls the sense of outrage, anger, and humiliation at being forced to witness the shocking spectacle of the hideously disfigured corpse of the Avant-Garde being dragged through the dusty airways of the Desert of the Real by an unruly mob of media executives, advertisers, and... In retrospect, these images, painful as they are even today, perhaps may have served a useful purpose, for they provided final proof that reports of the death of this courageous and venerated figure who had presided over so many earlier campaigns against the forces of banality and conformity had not been, as we had hoped, greatly exaggerated at all..."


What I am arguing is that AP represents a whole new paradigm based on co-evolutionary principles--i.e., you have these two, previously antagonistic "species" of aesthetic production (serious/avant garde) and mass culture (bourgeoisie, banal, uniform) which have co-evolved in such a way that they now exist in a new relationship to one another--a feedback loop of information, stylistic tendencies, narrative archetypes, and character representations that are mutually supportive.

The whole point of the avant garde was that you had this "movement" that would lead the way into "enemy" (bourgeoisie) territory, plant some bombs, blow people's mind, and prepare the way for a later mass assault in which serious liberating art would eventually be victorious. The avant garde was based on 19th century notions--as a movement it relied on bi-nary principles (us versus them), linear, top-down organization, and Darwinian evolutionary principles (survival of the fittest), and so on.

AP--and the paradigm it grows out of--carries with it a good news/bad news message. The bad news is that Yeats' predictions about some rough beast heading our ways have come true: in fact, the apocalypse has already arrived, the old world is gone, and the "bad guys" (mass culture) have prevailed.

The good news is that the bad news is good news! . And the bad guys aren't even bad. What AP writers recognize is that more is better--the massive expansion of mass culture (the pop culture represented and celebrated by Warhol, et al., has been replaced by AVANT POP CULTURE, which is not uniform and banal but highly individualized, and at least potentially interactive) isn't something to be gotten rid of (replaced, presumably by "high art") or conquered but used, incorporated, interacted with, etc.


The modern man receives ten times as much stimulation today as he did 100 years ago. --Fernand Leger, 1914.
It's an image we never actually saw but feel like we did: the hideously disfigured corpses of Modernism, the Novel, and the Avant-Garde being paraded through the streets by an unruly mob of jeering television and advertising executives, multi-national moguls, and Pop Artists. This hyperreal image is a nightmarish literalization of an apocalyptic scenario which has been regularly forecast by artists and cultural critics ever since the massive socio-political upheavals unleashed by the French Revolution swept over Western Culture over two hundred years ago. Those initial tremors were followed by a series of powerful after-shocks that continued unabated throughout the 19th century and not only swept away the class system that had been in place in Europe for over a thousand years, but laid the groundwork for other changes equally as profound--the transformation of rural, agrarian, essentially changeless feudal society into an urban, democratic, capitalist one in which constant change became the norm. These changes naturally had an equally profound effect on the status of art within a new cultural landscape.


Why Ask "Why Avant Pop"?

Because it's about time readers and cultural critics quit their endless wrangling about the meaning of "postmodernism," as well as their routine proclamations and hang-wringing concerning the "death of the novel" and the dire consequences of the rise of mass media, and get on to more relevant concerns. The most important of these involves discarding the basic paradigms concerning the status of "serious art" in Western culture (and the related areas of how serious art is produced, who produces it, and how its meanings are consumed by its audience) and replacing it with one that is a more relevant and accurate model about how serious art is produced in our current avant-pop cultural age of mechanical reproduction, information-exchange, computer modems, and mass-culture.


The highest art will be the one which in its conscious content presents the thousand fold problems of the day, the art which has been visibly shattered by the explosions of last week, which is forever trying to collect it limbs after yesterday's crash. . . . Hatred of the press, hatred of advertising, hatred of SENSATIONS are typical of people who prefer their armchair to the noise of the street. Life appears as a simultaneous muddle of noises, colors and spiritual rhythms, which is taken unmodified with all the sensations, screams and fevers of its reckless everyday psyche and with all its brutal reality. --1918 Berlin Dada Manifesto


"The Blank mumble blat/Babble song babble song/Foaming at the mouth/Won ton soupie . . . The Beast is Loose" --Bucky Wunderlick, "Pee-Pee-Maw-Maw" (in Don DeLillo's Great Jones Street).

When they put the silence on you, there is no recovery. You are turned into a media buffoon or worse. --Stephen Wright, "Light"

As the many-headed, many-armed rough beast of apocalyptic change first sighted by William Butler Yeats over 75 years ago has continued slouching its way across the 20th century towards our own era's simulated-millennial version of Bethlehem, it has become increasingly obvious that the biggest challenge facing contemporary American artists is no longer a matter of trying to figure out how to halt or deflect the progress of the beast, but learning how to co-exist with it. For the beast is already here, having checked in a few years ahead of its originally-scheduled arrival time, accompanied by its most recent live-in lover and care-taker, Hyperconsumer Capitalism, and bringing with it just what the movie directors and the moonies and the rock stars said it would--a little gift called . . . APOCALYPSE NOW.
This world comes to an end, for which we are grateful. The Chosen Ones rejoice at this prospect of the apocalypse, for it is the sign of our future reign in a millennial kingdom elsewhere in the universe." --Craig Baldwin, "Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America"
Fredric Jameson has described the beginnings of the end of the world as we know it as involving, "a prodigious expansion of culture throughout the social realm, to the point at which everything in our social life--from economic value and state power practice to the very structure of the psyche itself--can be said to have become cultural in some original and as yet untheorized sense." This unprecedented expansion of culture, made possible specifically by the exponential growth of technology, changed the contours of the world: pop culture not only displaced nature and "colonized" the physical space of nearly every country on earth, but (just as importantly) it began to colonize even those inner, subjective realms that nearly everyone once believed were inviolable, such as people's unconscious, sexual desires, and memories.

The problem for serious art, then, has been to learn how to survive in these new conditions, for just about everything in this culture of mass media has conspired against the ways in which art had been previously created and received. Jameson's point about the expansion of culture is the crucial issue here: how does writing, or art of any kind, adapt within a landscape whose surface was already comprised of the kinds of signs and replications that had once been available from art? In fact, this landscape has increasingly become less a literal territory than a multi-dimensional hyperreality of television lands, media "jungles" and information "highways," a place where the real is now a "desert" "rained on" by a ceaseless "downpour" of information and data, "flooded by" a "torrent" of disposable consumer goods, narratives, images, ads, signs, and electronically-generated "stimuli," and "peopled by" media figures whose lives and stories seem at once more vivid, more familiar, and more real than anything the artist might create.


a) A-P is less an artist "movement" with manifestoes and specifically agreed upon goals than a set of related aesthetic and thematic tendencies specifically designed to counter the ideologies of consumption and hyperconsumption which have transformed citizens into virtual prisoners of the Society of the Spectacle.

b) There is no single no single set of aesthetic impulses or thematic concerns that define this type of art, but central to all Avant-Pop Art is the desire to create works which interact with and reconstitute present disruptive, often blasphemous, and hopefully liberating alternatives to the mind-numbing flood of images, values, slogans, archetypes that have inundated peoples' lives and imaginations during the prodigious rise of the Media (or Culture) Industry during the past 40 years.

c) Avant-Pop first emerged as a coherent tendency during the repressive Reagan era of the 1980s--the period when the logic of hyperconsumption began. This is not to say, however, that there weren't earlier Avant-Popsters. For example, William Burroughs and Phillip K. Dick, authors working on the margins of SF (with its own focus on the implications of technological change) and the radical literary underground. Among those contributing to the Avant-Pop core of aesthetic strategies and themes are an eclectic array of artists and theorists ranging from Sade, Rimbaud, the Dadaists and Surrealists (Marcel Duchamp's influence is pervasive), Walter Benjamin, Warhol, Marshall McLuhan, The French Situationists, punk, and the cyberpunks.


d) The two terms that comprise "Avant-Pop" suggest its lineage with both the 19th century avant-garde movement and the Pop Art movement that emerged first in England during the mid-50s and in the U.S. a few years later. The Avant portion of Avant-Pop suggests its lineage with the 19th century's European avant-garde tradition, with its emphasis on subversiveness and radicalism as a means of attacking and disrupting the growing dominance and influence of the interlocking systems of economics, politics, law, rationalism, scientific determinism and militarisms--and the art emerging from these systems. Avant Pop shares with the avant-garde the central strategy of using formal innovation as a means to "shock the bourgeoisie"--a shock that is administered in an effort to liberate ordinary citizens from the cocoon of habituation.

e) More examples of AP from earlier times: Woody Allen's WHAT'S UP TIGER LILLY and THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO; PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (THE SINGING DETECTIVE, Donald Barthelme's SNOW WHITE, Bob Coover's...)

f) The "Pop" portion of the term points to its connections with the Pop Art movement that appeared in England in the mid 1950s and that was to have such a dominant impact on American art when it appeared there a few years later. Indeed, Avant-Pop represents the most recent stage in the dialectical process occurring within the realm of artistic production and the culture at large which gave rise to both the avant-garde and Pop Art. THEREFORE BEFORE ONE CAN HOPE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT AVANT POP IS, ONE MUST FIRST DEVELOP SOME CLEAR AND SPECIFIC UNDERSTANDING OF THE GOALS AND TRADITIONS OF THESE EARLIER MOVEMENTS...


Chorus: A-P is less an artist "movement" with manifestoes and specifically agreed upon goals than a set of related aesthetic and thematic tendencies specifically designed to counter the ideologies of consumption and hyperconsumption which have transformed citizens into virtual prisoners of the Society of the Spectacle.


"On the basis of this experience, we vowed that the liberation of our fellow citizens from their status of prisoners before the Society of the Spectacle would not include taking over the local tv stations and turning them all into PBS affiliates or making Monumental Valley off limits to heavy metal bands wishing to film MTV videos but that we would concentrate on providing education and information concerning both its potential benefits as well as its harmful effects--all the while warning people about its dangerously addictive side-effects...

"Another feature of our preparation involved gathering and disseminating information among ourselves concerning the history of our struggles. These studies included readings in the historical background of popular culture in the days before the rise of mass production and the vital role it has always played in societies. We read historical studies describing the great variety of forms which popular culture has assumed in different culture--and of the vital (and universal) role that it plays in organizing a society's deepest fears, questions, and desires--as well as more mundane concerns--into the narrative of stories, myths, games and public events which literalize these features and allow them to be circulated. We paid particular attention to the ways popular culture had allowed societal fears and desires to be literalized, imaginatively inhabited, the ways that nearly all cultures had wisely created public holidays and festivals which allowed citizens--guided by a shaman or religious leader--to be given access to the 'underworld'...

"Once we had been provided with a firm grounding in the sociological and historical significance of popular culture, we studied the rise of industrialism in the 19th century...we saw what happened when popular culture gave way to pop or mass culture...we saw the dangers involved in mass culture's ability to disseminate the sacred, dreadful urges to kill and procreate garish products of rock-videos and excess-tv--how this process not only trivialized and desacredized these mysteries and terrors but reifed them, thus bringing people into contact with aspects of themselves which should occur under the guidance of holymen, mediums, people who were trained in...we learned about the analogous process that was occurring with drugs--we learned that it was equally as ludicrous for a society to ban drugs and transform them into something evil as it was for citizens who didn't respect their power and who used them not as a means of contacting other worlds and thus expanding their minds and spirits but in a foolish effort to escape this world...

"After these preliminary studies, we began to examine the circumstances surrounding our own ancestry--the birth of our venerable forefather, the Avant Garde, the complex, interlocking web of economic, philosophical, military, political, and legal forces that had arisen since the French Revolution that gave rise to the revolutionary movement that bears his name, the rationale behind the strategies he devised to counter the growing power and influence of this system. Because of the nature and scope of this system, we read widely through fiction, art history, philosophy, treatises on economics and anarchy--everything from Nietzsche and Norman O. Brown (which we read while listening to The Doors), to Kant, Hegel, Marx, Wittgenstein, Bertram Russell, Charles Dickens, Mao's Red Book, Tolstoy, Freud, Marcuse. What gradually became clear was first of all a clear pattern of connections and interactions among the various systems that had given rise to the Industrialism and urbanization...

"Our readings in fiction, poetry, art history soon brought us in contact with an entire lineage of artists and thinkers who had opposed the rationalist/capitalist system in various ways (Mallarme, Rimbaud, the Dadaists and Surrealists, Genet, Patti Smith, Duchamp, Cage, Pollack, Poe, Baudelaire, Wilde, Lautremont)..."


Like a cell or the person, it [the bee hive] behaves as a unitary whole, maintaining its identity in space, resisting dissolution . . . neither a thing nor a concept, but a continual flux or process. --William Morton Wheeler, Journal of Morphology
When Avant-Pop artists look out their windows onto the streets of America's Society of the Spectacle, they see essentially the same thing the Berlin Dadaists did in 1918: not a trash-strewn jumble of confusion but an aesthetic opportunity hive of emergent meanings and holistic patterns. Of course, the windows and streets themselves have changed somewhat during the past 75 years. The windows that A-P artists are now peering through today are television and computer screens; and except for occasionally driving down the block to rent some new videos and a pick up CD's at the local mini mall, the avenues they roam aren't cobblestone roads but the hyperreal garden of forking paths that feed into today's Information Highway. And whereas the Berlin Dadaists mainly used their feet or an occasional tram or a railway to get them out into the midst of the street scenes they wished to testify to, the preferred modes of transport by their contemporary counterparts are keyboard clickers, computer modems, and remote control devices--chrome wheeled, fuel-injected data-access systems they've learned to skillfully maneuver through the exotic, multi-dimensional virtual passageways of the Macro-Mediascape at full-tilt-bozo velocities.
More is different. --Kevin Kelly, Out of Control.
And there's always more: More deals going down, more money and goods being exchanged, people getting ripped off, more credit being arranged for and loans repaid, meetings attended: the dance of biz keeping everything in perpetual motion, bringing people together or separating them, creating chance collisions, wrong numbers dialed, all these elements constantly reforming into banal arrangements or startling juxtapositions, as the city renews itself each day through exchanges of pubic image and private gestures.

Until recently, artists have rarely been interested in portraying such scenes in their work. Even assuming you were willing to abandon the comfort of your armchair, what were you supposed to do in this scene of pandemonium? What you would find would be so vulgar, chaotic--so ordinary --while art is so precious, beautiful, meaningful, unique. It wasn't until our own century that a few artists, applying Rimbaud's theory of illumination as a means of taking a fresh look at art and life, began to recognize that this scene was actually a kind of perpetual meaning-generator. It would never occur to such people that larger patterns of meaning and structure could emerge from such a system because clearly no one, either inside or outside it, was controlling or planning its operations. How could larger patterns of order emerge out of what is so obviously chaotic interactions at the micro level?

As it turns out, however, there are two ways to structure "moreness," as Kevin Kelly explains in his fascinating recent study of emergent complexity, Out of Control: "At one extreme, you can construct a system as a long string of sequential operations, such as we do in a meandering factory assembly line. . . . At the other extreme, we find many systems ordered as a patchwork of parallel operations, very much as in the neural network of a brain or a colony of ants. . . . What emerges from the collective is not a series of critical individual actions but a multitude of simultaneous actions whose collective pattern is far more important. This is the swarm model" (Kelly, 21). Although neither the Dadaists nor (as far as I know) the A-Poppers ever conceived it in these terms, this scene which fascinated them so much with its spontaneity, vibrancy, sheer energy, and above all, its power to subvert traditional aesthetic norms was a swarm system. This swarm system was called mass culture during the Dada period; later, in the years just after WWII when consumer culture began achieving exponential growth in American, Lawrence Alloway coined a new word for it: "Pop." At any rate, the Dadaists, A-P and a surprising few other early Modernists (e.g.. Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Stella and Stuart Davis) found the "simultaneous muddle of noises, colors and spiritual rhythms" appealing both aesthetically and because they sensed its "sensation screams and fever" represented a kind of collective unconscious of the society's "reckless everyday psyche."


All this may sound interesting enough in theory, but what does it mean in practice? What kind of aesthetic sensibility could give fiction (or any other art, for that matter) such a sense of urgency and confidence given the enormously increased demands on audience's attention spans and memory capacity? How could the avant-garde's spirit of transgression and radical formal methods be employed when Pop Culture now appropriates even the most radical styles and shocking content and has them turned into disposable spectacle, along with everything else? Above all, how could the medium of fiction specifically produce a convincing sense of the exponential increase in sensory input--this glut of electronically produced, competing realities, white noise, information overload, and so forth--or render the enormous changes that this increase has wrought on people's view of themselves and the world around them? Hasn't the novel, and fiction writing generally, become increasingly obsolete in the Global Village's electronic system of communication, computer modems and data bases, 57 channels (soon expanding to 500), multi-media hypertext systems, and cellular phones?

Stay tuned.

Narrative Immersion

by David Blair

1 Disneyland

It's 9:45 PM, and I'm walking through New Orleans Square at Disneyland-Anaheim. The watershow is in full swing, with miraculous sudden set changes... the giant pirate boat with 50 actors has turned and completely hidden behind a corner too small for it, and multiple 30-foot evil magic-mirror faces hang on mist screens above the water. I decide to take a sudden turn myself, to visit the Pirates of the Carribean ride. A few feet down the path, the crowd is gone, and the water show almost inaudible. The ride is a narrow water way with flatbottom boats inexorably driven forwards through the artificial landscape by a fearsome chain and gear mechanism hidden by the water. I'm in my seat, and 20 seconds later we are underground, on a river in a cave system somewhere beneath Disneyland, somewhere in the Carribean, probably near the storage space of that missing water-show pirate ship. And, simultaneous with all this, I am almost back in the Carlsbad Caverns National Monument, true wonder of the underworld, alone, after midnight, during the production of my film "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees". Floating on a boat attached by bottom chains to an artifical underground Disney-Carribean river is not that much different from walking alone, at midnight, through the unbelievable underground and path-determined space of Carlsbad Caverns, moving in half-light among giant rock forms. That afternoon, deeper in the cave, I'd had a beekeeper's suit on and been standing around the corner of the one-way path from a cameraman, almost leaning on an fractionally detailed limestone formation. On the cameraman's cue, I was supposed to suddenly create a material wipe by walking around the corner, but we had to keep delaying the shot as tourists kept appearing behind me on the one-way path... surprising me, but not themeselves.... I was just part of the landscape, and several even said: "The Moon, huh?", before turning the next corner and finding the camera. I was part of their ride, but they knew I was also a thousand feet underneath the moon, maybe somewhere in France on the set of a Melies movie, or perhaps back at Disneyland, back at Pirates of the Carribean.

An interesting and vital part of navigation in immersive enviroments is the effect of sudden mode change.... often, turning a corner, you are instantly in another enviroment, as if you had just passed through the spatial equivilent of a soft-edged wipe. What is shocking is that these mode changes can often take you to an enviroment which contradicts the one you just came from, both in appearance, and in meaning and use... like turning a smooth corner at the base of the Matterhorn at Disneyland, and ending up at the end of a row of urinals.

The first effect of this spatial mode change, I believe, is that one becomes more susceptible to association. In other words, free navigation in an immersive enviroment leads to mode changes, and mode changes lead to an increase in association. .. sometimes internal, and sometimes external. The latter we call coincidence.

Back in the early 1970's, I learned a lot from surreal audio theatre pieces put out by the group "Firesign Theatre". I hadn't listened to them for almost twenty years until I bought them as used records, in preparation for a trip to SIGGRAPH '93. Off the plane under the memorial statue at the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, in an enormous surrounding glass abuttment that was the symmetric center of a high imperial Post-Modern building so obviously built first in the computer that regular holes had been designed in the mold of the parking garage's poured roof to allow what started as elephant feet underground to turn into a grid of optimistic palm trees above... I realized I'd better go to Disneyland before I got too busy. Four hours later, it was closing time at Disneyland, and I was emerging from the bathroom across from the Matterhorn. I'd just bought my first Walkman the month before, and wasn't used to the dual alienation and audio overlay effect you get from a Walkman,so I put the headphones on again with self-conscious semi-reluctance, and went back to "We're all Bozo's on this Bus" (Firesign Theatre, 1971), written at the beginning of the age of Video as an imagination of what goverment-inflicted simulation might really be like. Putting the story briefly, a bus comes to town, and Clem gets on board. It turns out that the bus is actually a seamless VR enviroment, that may or may not take Clem to a future amusement park very similar to what I imagine is Ross Perot's vision of the Data Superhighway. While meeting the audioanimatronic President on the White House Ride, Clem reveals himself as a quasi-revolutionary hacker, who conversationally forces the robot president into maintanence mode, in order to talk to Dr. Memory, the real program running the simulation. Clem is in inside the machine and inside the program, calling out to Dr. Memory: "Read me, Dr, Memory! Read -me- Dr. Memory!". There's a full moon out, the Matterhorn is white, and the gondola cables are dark and visible against the sky. Suddenly, there's an additional voice and space on the tape, which it takes about ten seconds to identify as coming from the entire southern slope of the Matterhorn, which has begun to speak in the sublime voice of a woman on a microphone saying: "Shutting Down System A. Shutting Down System A. Check. Shutting Down System B. Check." A male voice conversationally replies to the technical woman from another set of speakers across the way. In the meantime, Clem, who had already succeeded in breaking the President, has just shut down the entire Future Fair.

The effect of modal change and association, whether the latter takes place in the imagination, or in the world as coincidence, is that you end up with at a sort of spatial fiction, what Jay Bolter in his book on electronic writing called a topical, or topographic fiction... a fiction of aphorisms and situations, spread in front of you as a field of places that can change one to the other in a variety of ways. Traveling through the fiction is like navigating through an immersive enviroment, and vice cersa.

2 haptic dimensions

Navigation through immersive enviroments is of course a serious problem in the world, an enjoyable problem in amusement parks, and a highly rhetoricized one in virtual worlds. Already, in an amusement park, we are often already on the verge of fiction making. By the time we get to virtual reality, we find ourselves in the midst of a full blown metafiction.

Metafictions have been described as fictions that examine the creation of systems, especially themselves and other fictions, with particular attention to the ways in which these systems transform and filter reality. There is an assumption in this sort of fiction-making that we are locked in a world we have created, a fictional world shaped by narrative and subjective forms developed to generate meaning and stabilize our perceptions. Metafictions don't operate on aesthetic assumptions of verisimilitude, but exult in their own ficticiousness. They assume that there are no true descriptions in fiction, only constructions, which may not have any relation to the world.

Navigation in virtual worlds tends to disrupt the ordinary balance that exists between our exterior senses and our interpretive subjectivity. It is no accident that VR has been compared with hallucinogens. LSD, as well as alcohol, fatigue, and lucid dreaming, have already provided us with many examples of this disruption, all tending to reveal what I would call the haptic dimensions of thought... a sudden intuition of the material nature of thought, of how thought is received from the enviroment, and at the same time transforms the enviroment. Acid trips, as example, are famous for their mode changes, sudden and powerful associations, and constant commentary upon themselves, a unified meta-fictional expereince that often leave the user with the powerful impression that thought is literally another and different physical sense.

Of course, the same effect is common to exhaustion in immersive enviroments. After the Matterhorn spoke through speakers, I made the very long walk back to my hotel across the famous and vast parking lot, past the gate and down a long street with a new sidewalk which changed side of street every block, and width more often. Four hours off the plane, with miniature golf to one side, the Charismatic Convention Center to the other, and naked power pylons above, I was waiting for the next epiphany, as I could barely tell the difference between Disneyland and California. I received my epiphany as the appearance of a small rectangular concrete cover embedded in, and same color as the sidewalk. On the molded top there was indented the word "telephone", which in the tunnel of my exhaustion made me think too clearly about the lines invisible under the over-lit night street, about my telephone at home, barely lit and unseen by my wife, who was certainly asleep in another room; about the last phone I used to call her, a payphone back at Disneyland... in general, about both the limits of my knowledge, and the connectiveness of words, my thoughts, and the world... and how, in making those connections, my thoughts had acted like a strange sense, seeing things so far away, or impossible to see.

I believe this is related to something the mathematician Poincare said when describing his theory of conventionalism, the main purpose of which was to assert that the space described by the convention of Euclid's theorems did not rule out other spaces with their own self-consistent sets of rules. In certain descriptions of space, he said, there could also be haptic dimensions... where every muscle was a dimension. This thought fascinated people at the turn of the century, and was related by them to the notion that the 4th dimension was an alternate spatial dimension, at right angles to everything we know. In many ways, these enthusiasms were parts of an attempt to deal with subjectivity as a dimension and as a sense.. an n-dimensional sense, since with so many possible descriptions, there was no point in stopping the count.

Nowadays, with human/computer interface technology, we have come to a literalization of the idea of haptic dimensions. Now, the world can be mapped to muscles, so that a small hand gesture inside a Dataglove can be used to navigate, or even to increase the amount of space available in a virtual world.

Speaking about the human/computer interface in his book "VIrtual Reality", Howard Rheingold says:

"We build models of the world inside our head, using the data from sense organs and the information processing capacity of our brian.... We habitually think of the world we see as out there, but what we are really seeing is a mental model, a perceptual simulaton that only exists in the brain. That simulation capabilty is where human minds and digital computers share a potential for synergy."

I find it fascinating that Rheingold is not just a great popularizer of VR... he is also a popularizer of lucid dreaming technologies.... which allow a dreamer literally paralyzed by sleep to communicate information from a parallel, artificial and autonomous world out to sleep researchers, using a morse code of eye-wiggles. I take it as a clue that our equivilent of the turn of the century fascination with haptic and higher dimensions can nowadays be found in the theme of potentially autonomous alternate worlds, that exist in machines as virtual reality and artificial life, or in our world, as Jurassic Park, and which share among themselves the qualities of metafiction.

3 meta JP

In North America, we already immersed and navigating within Jurassic Park. Of course, Jurassic Park, The Film, is only a single interstice within an immersive, navigable enviroment made up of the various media that Jurassic Park, the Concept, is presented in.... ranging from wearable teeshirts, and wrappings for burgers at McDonalds, to many of the booths at SIGGRAPH, and beyond that to future theme park rides. Metafictonal elements are the audiences' navigation within this enviroment... from product to product, fromplace to place... best emblemized by the film audience's common smile at the only really visible product placement in the entire film: the Jurassic Park memorabilia that can be seen on screen in the Jurassic Park gift shop. Given the fact that the film is part of an immersive enviroment, this moment is more than an advertisement for itself... it is an metafiction emblem of navigation, modal change, and potential association, in the same sense as given back at the Pirates of the Caribbean, though designed for a more limited and practical effect... to sell you tee-shirts, or whatever you might want when you decide you want it.

Navigation is an important theme within the film. Richard Attenborough, famous film director in our world, stars as the concept and money-man behind Jurassic Park, a world within our world where dinosaurs live again. He transports our main characters to the island in the bellies of helicopters, to see and approve the mystery of his creation. First stop, after a brief witnessing of this creation, is the island's museum movie theatre. There everyone is treated to a film within the film, in which Attenborough clones himself to introduce us to the idea of reproduction without sex. Suddenly the movie theatre becomes a theme park ride. Restraining bars come down over the seat-bound, a wall opens, and, diaroma-style, a living laboratory behind a plate glass wall begin to scroll past the riders; dinosaur-reproduction workers are visible inside the laboratory. The lawyer-character whispers to Richard Attenborough: how marvelous, it's all so realistic... are those auto-erotica? Attenborough replies: no, we have no animatronics here. They're real! It is at this moment that the three scientist characters, so taken by this completely immersive enviroment... there is no question of real or unreal for them!... decide that they have to navigate. Communally, they force up the restraining bars, and exit the ride... cybernetic sailors on this narrative's oceanic pond!

If you've ever seen Blazing Saddles by Mel Brooks, you'll remember the famous horse chase, whose climax is a sudden modal change, where the chase crashes through a painted landscape backdrop, and finds itself backstage... with no loss of momentum, the riders continue on to the next set, where they disrupt a Busby Berkeley style movie in mid-production. That's how I tend to view the scientist's jump off the ride, as well as the famous scene when the autonomous and artificial Tyranosaurus Rex crashes through the Park's unelectric fence at the beginning of the film's recorded disaster.

Of course, by that point in Jurassic Park, the associative process is already in overdrive. For instance, what are the dinosaurs? Before seeing them, most people already know that they are this age's miracle of computer-generated psuedo-autonomous entertainment reality. In the film, we also learn they are earth-buried bone that can be made visible aboveground in the middle of the Badlands of South Dakota through the use of shock waves generated by elephant-gun shells, which create echoes that can be written to computer screens as image-processed pictures. They are DNA held invisible within mosquitos doubly hidden within miraculous transparent amber buried deep in the earth, which yet can be dug up, extracted, and revealed as equivilent to the wall to wall scrolling alphabetic texture that covers the cinema screen in the movie within the movie at the Jurassic Park Museum... DNA letters actually generated during the dinosaur's fateful afterdeath mating with frogs that can change their own sex. I can't even begin to go into the number of descriptive associations this film can generate... to my mind, it is one of the great associative narratives, a truly atemporal, or should I say spatialized film.


Which brings us to Jurassic Park, the potential virtual reality. Several weeks after seeing the movie, two days after Disneyland, I found myself at Discovery Park, part of the Silicon Graphics booth at SIGGRAPH '93. It was here I had a chance to reconsider what I had thought to be one of the most sublime elements of the film... the overarching, fractionally dimensional and ultimately recursive theme best expressed by the main scientist in the phrase: "you'll never look at birds the same way again."

If I remember correctly... at the beginning of the film, we're in the Badlands with the main scientists, digging fossils. The shotgun shell has gone off, revealing the subterranean velociraptor skeleton on their outdoor but not particularly mobile computer screen. In the midst of a violently imaginative fleshing out of the dinosaur bones' previous body and behavior, the scientist says "You'll never look at birds the same way again". This phrase, stranger than it seems, and well aware of it's effect, echoes through the film in hundreds of ways... becoming, as if by default, a main theme. Moments after the fatal pronouncement, Richard Attenborough arrives by helicopter to take them to Jurassic Park, where it is their job to judge whether this high entertainment concept can fit in our world. The park implodes, the dinosaurs riot, and the scientists barely escape... but they do, in the belly of a helicopter. At the film's wordless end, the main scientist looks through the clear window, or dead eye, of his artificial bird, and finds what appears to be the sublime in the image of a pelican winding its wings over the ocean beneath him, which, except for an exterior shot of the helicopter in flight, is pretty much the last shot in the film. Despite all the emotion on his face and in the sound track, I have to say that I really don't know what it is the scientist sees, but it certainly is a bird.

At SIGGRAPH, the day before I actually did find my way to SGI's "Discovery Park", I was standing two halls away in line at The Virtual Reality Laboratory, part of a VR museum ride created for an exhibit called "Imaging, the Tools of Science" to be installed at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. The visual interface was the Fakespace Boom 2C, a boom-suspended periscope-style cube with a high resolution stereoscopic display inside... more vividly, something like a large, swivelable , realtime Viewmaster at the end of a very fancy articulating lamp-stand. Virtual Reality Lab was essentially a fly-ride through several surreal and constructed worlds. First you found yourself in a bare, circular room, with your pre-grabbed portrait on the wall, and a polgonally crude Fakespace Boom 2C recursively in front of you. Back in the real world, with the real boom, you could swivel around and look at the room, all the while inexorably advancing toward your portrait, which, at a certainly distance, shivered into fragments that flocked together and flew through the hole left by their disassembly. You had to follow them, through the hole, to find yourself floating in the clouds. The birds that were you departed ahead and above. To the side was a girder-thick red wireframe cow, a sort of surrogate cloud, and directly ahead was a structure that once again you were inexorably heading towards and then through, a sort of open ended floating skyhouse made of 4 circuit boards in extreme perspective, and a fifth right ahead. The moment before colliding with the fatal frontal board, you could see the image of a flower, and by the miracle of modal change, you found that you had passed through to emerge out of a patch of flowers in the center of a park, main natural space in a Potemkin city made of texture-map flats.

This, seen from the particular angle chosen by the FakeSpace user, was all projected on a video screen behind the person standing with his head up to the swiveling box. I didn't actually get to put my head up to the box that day, as the line was quite long. Time is always a consideration at SIGGRAPH, and since I didn't have a watch, I turned around to ask the fellow behind me what time it was. Before he started to speak I could see he didn't have a watch, and so I stopped in mid sentance, just as he started to say something that I couldn't hear. Being polite, I said "What?" and he said "Right now", so I said "What?" and he said, "You asked me what time it was, and I said it's right now". I agreed.

Twenty six hours later, just before finally getting to Silicon Graphics' "Discovery World", I found myself waiting in line to pay for my lunch at the International Food Court. Again I needed to know what time it was, so I turned around and asked the person behind me. I recognized it was the same fellow just before he inevitably said "I said, it's right now, don't you remember?", surprising both of us, as it had been estimated there were 10,000 other people with us in the Anaheim convention center. So, to be polite, as we obviously had something in common, I read his tee-shirt, which said "The Virtual Museum", and asked "What's the Virtual Museum?". He didn't really want to answer, and I didn't really find out until the next day, when I came across the actual Virtual Museum, back in Machine Culture, as the art show was known during this SIGGRAPH year. The Virtual Museum being sort of a common interface for inexpensive, individually created virtual worlds, a sort of museum atrium through which one could enter, under arches, any compatible virtual world module you might pick up from the Internet, or a floppy disk. The Virtual Museum describes itself as therefore allowing anyone to explore ancient Egypt, pre-Columbian Peru, and Atlantis. None of this information being offered by my space-time companion at the International Food Court, I decided to push the situation, so I read his convention badge, which always has name and job function printed on it at SIGGRAPH... apparently he worked for a company called Earth. So I asked, "What's Earth?", and he said "That's where I live".

After that and lunch, I was off to "Discovery Park", where the line was too long, so I talked my way in the back door. "Discovery Park is an Interactive Entertainment and Virtual Reality Experience!" was written on the brochure, and inside, there were birds.

First was a pterodactyl-shaped, user-mountable ride, where a canyon enviroment appeared on 3 large hi-definition screens ahead of the person who steered the flying machine from it's virtual back, with wing tips and pterodactyl-head visible ocassionally . Everyone in the room could see the screens, and there was a bit of ambiguity whether or not the rider was actually the bird having an out-of-body experience, with the annoyed bird-body continuously attempting to catch the eye of the floating oversoul. Networked to this was the private, 2 million pixel Fakespace Boom 3C, which apparently allowed you to look around while the pterodactyl-person did the steering through the inevitably progressing air. Noone else could see what the person at the Fakespace boom saw. Third node on the network was yet another viewpoint, embodied in a high resolution and also resolutely private head-mounted display from Kaiser Electro-Optics.

People were also looking at birds differently in the Evans and Sutherland booth, which had SIGGRAPH's other user-mountable flying demo ride, a sort of Sports Simulation Gym where your body was a hang-glider space ship in an extraordinarily complex and enclosed high-definition city space. In the Reagan/Bush years, we would have immediately thought of the military as the buyer or maker of such flying rides, as well as flying things, and uncontrollable carnivores. But now is the time when we instead remember that Link, inventor of the flight simulator, came to that device from his work designing rides for amusement parks.

Link's flight simulator took the rollercoaster off the ground using pneumatic motion, making the rider into a bird in a box. Before computer graphics could match the realism of that motion, miniature landscapes were built, reconstructions of appropriate countrysides, which the flight-simulator pilot could see through a motion-controlled camera that floated on a grid above the model board. In this time before computer graphics, many people identified visual simulation with such physical miniatures, so that there it was no great associative leap from the model board to Disneyland. Of course, at that time, one of the logical associative paths leading out of Disneyland was the idea of goverment-inflicted simulation, presented "In Technical Stimulation", as the Firesign Theatre put it. And certainly, visiting Anaheim's ancient Disneyland, it is very easy to arrive at an idea of the intimate linkage of entertainment and death, especially in New Orleans Square, where Pirates of the Carribean begins, after establishing the cave, with skeletal pirates guarding gold, then proceeds through torture and rape to end with a ecstatically drunken pistol duel held in a gunpowder storage cellar.

In Jurassic Park, the one skeptical scientist hears Richard Attenborourgh say that a mechanized tour of Jurassic Park is as safe as any amusement park ride, and in repsonse volunteers: "But on the Pirates of the Carribean, if the Pirates get loose, they don't eat the tourists". So what should we see when we look at birds flying free as a tyranosaurous rex through the air?

In "WAX or the discovery of television among the bees", Jacob Maker works on a simple, local network of flight simulators, a 1983 precursor to what in 1986 or so became SIMNET, a wide area simulation networking scheme that allowed a group of pilots in sitting in flight simulators somewhere in Tennessee to train with people driving tank simulators in California, all together in the same limited, synthetic enviroment. This sort of networked simulation prepared the way for the raid on Libya, the invasion of Panama, and ultimately for the Gulf War. The proposed successor to Simnet is called DSI, or the Distributed Simulation Internet, if I have the correct acronym, which combines broader bandwidth with new graphics and networking standards, literally allowing an army of linked individuals, spread across the globe, to join each other in that military amusement park. Not formally different from what some people propose for interactive, navigable, immersive cable-tv games. Of course, what does program content mean in the context of this DIS?

Or what is history? One of the first implementations of the DSI was a minute by minute, foot by foot reconstruction of a Gulf War skirmish known as the Battle of 73 Easting. As you might expect, it plays the battle forward and backwards, and allows you to view it from any angle. It also allows you to create alternate battles from this reality base. Considering how much history has already been prepared in cyberspace, it is truly meta-fictional that 73 Easting was presented to the Senate as the first example of virtual history.

Unfortunately, this is a normal theme in the history of the history of technology. Television is an excellent example. According to evidence presented in Steven Spielberg's earlier "Raiders of the Lost Ark", it was possibly the God of Israel who invented both television and virtual reality. But according to the Nazi's and some others, it was Paul Nipkow who discovered it in Berlin in the 1880's. His fascinating electro-mechanical telephone for the eyes coupled unique spinning-disk spiral scanners, known as image dissectors, with magnetically-controlled crystals that occultly served as light-valves.

Nipkow worked for city railroad company during the electrification and transportification (which is a deliberate rhyme with fortification) of Berlin, designing a street-car semaphore signal system. It is a not so odd fact that his television system mainly resembled the axles and wheels of a railroad car... 2 spinning disk scanners sychronized by an fixed axle between.

By the1890's, apparently the signal system was in place, the job had probably settled down, and in his private inventing life, Nipkow had moved on, bypassing further development on the television to focus on his new next obsession, the invention of a working helicopter.

More than thirty years later in Weimer Berlin, contruction began on the Funkturm, the the Eiffel Tower of Radio, defining what became the communications heart of Berlin, an area so important that it later was given the name of Adolf Hitler Platz. Nipkowwas an old man, and practical, low-resolution mechanical television systems based on his scanning scheme had come into existence in Germany, the UK, the US, and elsewhere. This was television with less than 40 lines, but it was a commercial television, with regular scheduled broadcasts from the Funkturm by 1929. At that moment, it became clear that the real challenge for television engineers lay in high resolution television; breakthroughs in high frequency research promised broadcast systems and receiver sets with over 400 image-lines.

Certain people knew that this same technology would also make possible a practical system of radio-wave based detection and ranging of distant flying objects... what we know as radar. As a result, as mechanical television died a natural death, due in part to the worsening financial situation world-wide, a decision was made in the 3 main tv countries to promote the creation of a popular, entertainment-oriented high-definition television system; the goal, never publically stated, was to create both the industrial and human resource base neccessary to design and manufacture a practical air defense system.

Which created a peculiar situation. Germany provides the best example. First, Hitler declared all German television research a state secret. Then the public search began for facts that would establish German priority in television research... historical priority. Paul Nipkow was snatched from obscurity to become a new national hero... the Father of Television. England replied... or maybe they started it all with the Edisonification of John Logie Baird, who became the Other Father of Television.

In every country, television history, like television itself, was discovered, or invented. Books were written, and in other places, factories were built. In 1941, not long after the radar machines were switched on in England, Holland, Germany, and elsewhere, Paul Nipkow died, which triggered his greatest honor... Paul Nipkow's funeral was broadcast live on Fernsehsender Paul Nipkow, the Nazi high definition tv station named after him and broadcasting from atop the Funkturm in Berlin.

5 Par.Worlds

More than 50 years after Nipkow, or right now, as my more associationally minded colleague from Earth might say, we have mind amplifiers, as Howard Rheingold calls the modern computer. Artificial realities have increased in number, mechanical and immaterial transportation have improved, and with the neccessary increase in modal changes have come increases in the descriptive power of association and metafiction.

So, again, what should we see when we look at birds? Maybe, metafictionally, they could remind us of a navigational ethics... since the ride is so many different possible things, and since on occassion we are on the other side of the ride, go ahead and go where you are going, in whatever way you wish to travel, just try to remember you are responsible if you kill when you get there. Unfortunately, our usual sad situation is very much like that of the religious soul told to remember something after death, who, on arrival in the other world, only remembered once having had a conversation with someone, but not what was said.

Several months ago, at the Cyberspace Conference in Austin, a fellow came up to me and said, "Congratulations, I work at Hughes Aircraft, and I used to have the same job as that guy in your film". In "WAX", a narrative metafiction, Jacob Maker works on the Intergrated Air Battle Mission Simulator, writing the code that controls the acquisition of target information. It is up to him to make sure that the gunsight displays work, that what the pilot sees, whether by radar, infrared, or simple sight, does coordinate with his use of weapons. By congratulations, the fellow from Hughes meant that he used to be Jacob. After 12 to 16 hours in a completely immersive, photorealistic flying enviroment, it was time to go outdoors, and as he told me: "I'd go outdoors, just out onto the street, and I'd wonder.... am I supposed to kill now? And what was really strange, you know," he said, "was that after a while, I started seeing these lines, they were just floating in the air, like the marks your guy was seeing in the film." The fellow from Hughes was much happier now, as he had gotten himself transferred out to a part of the company that was trying to find a way to convert flight simulators into personal amusement park pods.

Unfortunately, in either entertainment or war, navigation isn't usually free... it's closer to semi-autonomous. Often, in both, you can go where you want, but only as long as you make sure you kill and spend disposable income. Grotesque narrative dealt with this particular difficulty of navigational ethics in immersive enviroments long ago, by transferring autonomy to the artificial world... by stripping the creator of an artificial world of all free will, and passing a parody of that on to his or her creations. Such fictions are invariably metafictions, as there is always a rather smooth continuum from the created and autonomous world to the narrative itself, which, being also a creation, is implicitly also autonomous. This is half-way to recursion, the creation of endless mirrors, or other interfoldings of space and light, which in metafiction have always lead to worlds within worlds, just around the corner from us but burdened with other space-time rules... not just alternate histories, but parallel universes.

When the Jurassic scientist, embedded in the belly of the anonymously piloted helicopter, looks out through the metal bird's window-eye at the free-floating pelican, it is easy for me to make the associative jump to the artificial life scientists, who watch freely navigating autonomous graphic agents on computer machines, and see life. They claim that automatism, of the kind once given rhetorically in grotesque fictions to describe an ethical dilemna, has now become practical. With this, metafiction becomes perhaps experimentally verifiable. Windows open onto other worlds that might be really be there.

The Game of Life is a computer program, a virtual, time-based machine that floats as distributed, changing patterns inside many popular mind amplifiers. This program consists of a small set of rules, a tiny grammar that controls an on/off graphic display of dots clustered together as gridded pixels on the 2D screen you see from outside the machine. The rules turn the pixel dots on and off, and make the dots interact with each other in order to determine the order of this flashing. Some of the patterns resulting from this interaction have the ability to grow and maintain themselves in complicated shapes, which can move through 2-D screen space, and even reproduce. Writers and players of the game claim that these dot-group pattern behaviors are mimetic of life itself. They then on ocassion argue that anything that so clearly imitated life must be alive itself, potentially with it's own point of view, as part of a limited but autonomous alternate world embedded within our own.

The Game of Life is an example of cellular automata in action. Cellular automata have also been practically applied to image processing. The pictures to be processed in this manner have often been machine gathered and transmitted to us through great noise from places not part of our normal point of view; for instance, the point of view of someone from can read the constituant parts of your blood; or the point of view of a tv camera on the top of a rocket plummeting out of control towards the moon.

Pictures to be processed are divided into pixels; the grammars go to work on these pixels, forcing them to interact, forcing the picture to become more visible to us. Potentially living, or at least potentially autonomous pixel groups self-organize into potentially autonomous, substantial, though still changable image-shapes, leaving us with pictures that have more visible information than before the process started.

As cinema collapses into the computer, where it will meet virtual reality, science, and many other residents of our cultural world, we approach a situation where all the film production data, gathered from places beyond our ordinary point of view, is passed into a unitary workstation... the maker, sitting in front of the workstation screen works on this data like cellular automata on pixels, forcing various pieces of meaning to interact so that pictures will become more visible to us. However, simultaneously, the maker will also encounter real automata inside the machine....

The maker slowly navigates through the real-time, proto-narrative space of the production data, applying any of a variety of processes to that data, in any sequence desired, controlling composition within frames and between frames interactively, occassionally mixing real-world images with synthetic objects or character elements... all the time composing literal and associative meaning. All processes, from the manipulation of synthetic geometries to the collation of associations, have been partially mechanized, so that the narrative building proceeds with a partial autonomy that allows the workstation screen to look back. The mind amplifier has become a mirror, and at a rhetorical and virtual distance behind the mirror, anti-eyes connected to a anti-body in an alternate universe embedded in ours watch back with a glimmer of narrative intelligence, ready to play you back all the histories of that 73 Easting patch of desert, including the many possible alternate flight paths of semi-autonomous weapons over that part of virtual Iraq... misguided missiles that are willing to stop and assist you with both spell checking and story building, if that's what the story requires.

In many Japanese newspaper offices, there are old and giant composition typewriters with hundreds of keys for the thousands of pictographic kanji characters. Each key has 21 shifts... the Roman alphabet almost hides in a single key. Writers, however, now use personal word processors with the same number of typewriter keys we are used to, that hold both the miniature , alternate Japanese phonetic alphabet, along with the Roman. As you type, the computer collates your pseudo-phonetic strokes, compares them with a built-in kanji chart, and offers you choices of alternate kanji-pictures in a menu at the bottom of the page... a spell checker in reverse, an inadvertant poetry machine mechanizing the processes of association. In cinema, as it slowly collapses into personal computers, kanji are replaced by images and sound, and the semi-phonetic alphabet by your descriptions of your images... the computer offering fill-in-the-blanks association opportunities (or, in less delicate software, spell-checking neccessities), to help you get that story into reasonable communicative shape.

Give names to pictures in a semi-intelligent picture processor, and the machine begins to sort the pictures into proto-sequences. The maker looks at these, choses the clumpings that are pleasing, perhaps adjusts them a bit, then turns back to the machine, which reapplies its' ultimately mutational rules of travel and association, adding organization in several possible ways, which are then again choosen from. Navigation through choices made by the machine soon becomes a primary form of story-construction for the maker, who travels through machine-offered potential worlds, chosing the ones that become virtual worlds... leaving a trail of partial and rejected universes behind the maker, who has become a sort of aesthetic eugenicist.

The maker is still on a flat-bottomed boat in Pirates of the Carribean at Disneyland, traveling inevitably forward, though in this case building rather than viewing. Whether traveling through alternate worlds, traveling through immersive enviroments that force the creation of association, or traveling through mechanized association in order to create immersive enviroments... navigational ethics remain a priority. In the future, when you can go anywhere you want, cinema, by whatever name, will become a grotesquerie without grotesques.... a metafiction where information wants to be free, and stories possessing senses, skills, and resources stutter in and out ofexistence in digital space-time, on earth and in other worlds. With immersive enviroments now even embedded within one another, with modal changes available at any moment, and association almost a style of knowledge, it's good to remember.... though it may be difficult to remember what it is you are supposed to remember.

I personally work in the area of cinema that I call image-processed narrative: a type of narrative where both the images and the narrative are processed by both myself and machines, and where, in the process, navigational ethics are attempted. So I personally welcome this, our new proto-future, where the past imitates the future, where metafiction is potentially experimentally verifiable; where, as in the book I read last week, wrinkles in the universal background cosmic microwave radiation lead an enviably optimistic popular cosmologist to the conclusion that the universe is alive, that it reproduces, and that as a result that are infinite connected or embedded universes probably related, struggling through the impractical difficulties of evolution in action. A proto-future world where new and old media imitate one another, where the single user is not much different from the single author, and where rhetorical autonomy has been extended to machines... though hopefully, it will be given to people in equal or greater amounts.


by Brooks Landon

"Subaru," the calmly confident TV voice tells me, then adds with finality, "it's what to drive." On another channel everyone's favorite gruff-grandfather-type, Wilford Brimley, tells me to eat Quaker Oats oatmeal, then summons even more certainty to reassure me, "It's the right thing to do." But I want to know what to read, not what to drive, and what to teach rather than what to eat. And while I hear lots of voices making lots of suggestions, what I don't hear in contemporary literary/critical choruses is anyone approaching the persuasiveness of a Wilford Brimley, or even of a good Subaru salesman.

I suppose I think about those two confident commercials precisely because they remind me how different I must sound in my teaching and in my writing when I try to suggest the "right thing to read." Nor will I find or manufacture that kind of confidence now, so while I'm about to mention a number of contemporary novels, what follows will be more descriptive than normative, offering my view of a new kind of novel that may promote a new kind of reading. For lack of a better term, I'll call this new kind of fiction the hypertextual novel, and for lack of a more resounding Wilford Brimleyish recommendation, I'll simply say that it's what I seem to be reading more and more of these days.

I started thinking about the hypertextual novel a couple of years ago as I was reading Lewis Shiner's Slam, a quietly subversive novel that not only spurred me to confront the cultural inscription of skateboarding, but also to realize ways in which this subculture implicated me in a number of cultural dialectics, most having something to do with computers. My thinking about Slam had been focused by O. B. Hardison's Disappearing Through the Skylight: Culture and Technology in the Twentieth Century in which among many other things Hardison calls attention to the proliferation of data bases prepared for the computer study of literary texts. These data bases allow the user-reader to directly access detailed information about virtually any referential material in the text, so that starting from one of Shakespeare's plays a reader could segue into an almost infinite regress of data base information about Elizabethan history, literature, or material culture.

More recently, William S. Wilson, writing in the May 1992 American Book Review, organized his discussion of Jay David Bolter's Writing Space and George P. Landow's Hyptertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology around the idea that hypertexts inherently embody many of the values and goals of poststructuralist theory. Wilson explains that computer hypertexts link many texts (and in theory, all texts) in a decentered system where one may enter "where one chooses, and then not so much follow a path as construct a path as one makes links by deciding upon a direction." Moreover, these "decisions can immediately become part of the content and structure of the system," so that in using a hypertext "one has set in motion an intellectual adventure which reciprocally sets one in motion."

Of course, Hardison and Wilson are both talking about computer programs, and for the moment at least most of us teachers and critics of literature are still talking about words printed on paper. Slam didn't come with an attendant set of hypertext data bases, but it did consistently call my attention to the utility and availability of such data bases in electronic culture. In doing this, Shiner reminded me of other contemporary writers such as Don DeLillo, Ursula K. LeGuin, Thomas Pynchon, Kathy Acker, Jay Cantor, J. G. Ballard, Nicholson Baker, Douglas Coupland, and many more whose fictions seem to invite us to trip out down hypertext lane, to see the novel as the tip of an iceberg of information, a hypertext inviting, if not demanding, exploration. The hypertextual impulse is certainly neither completely new nor tied to computer technology, as Moby-Dick and Ulysses make clear, but only in the technologically fast-forwarded world of more recent works such as The Ticket that Exploded and Gravity's Rainbow does the time become not only ripe but also perhaps inevitable for the hypertextual novel.

The fiction of contemporary hypertextual writers insists on being part of the world, on refusing to support clear distinctions between their texts and others. The hypertextual novel urges us to check things out--not through the modernist gambit of allusion, nor through the postmodernist gambit of quotation, but through the simple suggestion that the more we read around their texts, the more complete our experience of their texts will be. Information assumes huge importance in hypertextual novels not as a commodity, but as the core of new processes, new ways of making connections, new ways of navigating and narrativizing the technosphere. Novels have always contained information, but their value has stemmed from the ways in which that information was shaped to provide the experience of the text. Modernism aimed the novel at the experience of reality by stressing the indeterminacies of perception; postmodernism more and more tries to come to grips with a new cultural reality in which the experience of information provides both setting (the mediascape) and the subject of the literature of information. In a strong sense postmodern culture has technologized perception itself, replacing questions about the world with questions about how we access, author, and edit the world of information. One strong implication of the hypertextual novel is that experience in electronic culture has largely become the experience of information as TV and computers overwhelm us with a tidal wave of sounds and images.

Some hypertextual novels: Ursula K. LeGuin's Always Coming Home; Don DeLillo's Libra; J. G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition; Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine, Room Temperature, and Vox; Kathy Acker's In Memoriam to Identity; Derek Pell's Assassination Rhapsody; Jay Cantor's Krazy Kat; Douglas Coupland's Generation X. These are novels that I believe most clearly mark the literary response to the information-intensive nature of electronic culture, not going quite so far as to use the computer to create an actual hypertext, but sponsoring the metaphor of the hypertext in recognition of the fact that, at its heart, postmodernism means we process information in new ways. Unlike a hypertext approach to a Shakespeare play, which would necessarily take us further and further away from the experience of the play, hypertextual novels encourage data base digressions (either within the text as in Always Coming Home or without as in Libra), strongly suggesting that these digressions can actually involve us more deeply in the hypertextual work, offering a kind of technologized deep structure. It is no coincidence that DeLillo has a character in Libra describe the Warren Commission Report as "the megaton novel James Joyce would have written if he'd moved to Iowa City and lived to be a hundred," while J. G. Ballard terms the Report a fictional masterpiece, and both writers have written novels that appropriate the Warren Report as an almost essential hypertext. Indeed, Ballard may have sounded the battle cry of the hypertextual novel when he complained to an interviewer, "I want a much higher throughput of information in my life than I can get my hands on--I want to know everything about everything!" Or, to put it another way, what Ballard wants is the mother of all hypertexts.

Of course, what I'm calling the hypertextual novel can't deliver what Ballard wants, but it can promote the idea that his desire is not only reasonable but necessary. The hypertextual novel is not a true hypertext but is a novel for a hypertextual culture, and it sponsors at least the possibility of seeing the computer as the novelist's ally rather than enemy. Whether or not the informationally dense allure of the hypertext environment will ultimately doom the novel to antique and impotent status is impossible (and undesirable) to say. The hypertextual novel may be only a transition to interactive computer novels that provide true access to hypertext data bases. Or, these novels may be enough of a recognition of the basic changes in the ways in which electronic culture processes information to bring the traditional fixed print novel culturally online, creating a literature of information that can compete in the new mediascape. Whatever the case, I think it important that we note how a fast-growing class of novels seems to be different in ways only the hypertext metaphor can account for.

The hypertextual novel. It's what I'm reading.

An Essay-Simulacrum on Avant-Pop

by Curt White

I have recently been asked to write some short essays on cultural politics. I have stitched them together here in a shameless imitation of an essay.

I. I Attack Saint Noam at the Midwest Radical Scholars and Activists Conference, Loyola University, Chicago, 1993

In the late sixties, you will recall, one of the great impediments to successful action on the left was the mistrust, even contempt, of the "politicos" for the "hippies," of theoretical Berkeley for psychedelic San Francisco, of, in short, revolutioary politics for cultural politics. Allen Ginsberg's famous "Gathering of the Tribes" in Golden Gate Park was the first attempt to heal this rift. Ginsberg rightly believed that the two could work together and certainly needed to work together. His optimism achieved a very short-lived realization in the anti-election activities of 1968 when the SDS and Yippie! coordinated activities, including the nomination of Pegasus the Pig for president. Unhappily, the socialist left soon returned to its usual humorless separation from cultural politics. It ought to seem to us astonishing that a movement as marginal, fragile and small as the American socialist left has, since the middle seventies, done nothing to accomodate or even create dialogue with punks, New Wave avant gardists, academic postmodernists, cyberpunks, political rappers, slackers, cartoon crazies on the zine scene, or independent publishers like Semiotext(e), all of which are clearly engaged in radical cultural politics.

I am going to try to provide for you today my own sense of the situation on the left, specifically the relation of the socialist left to the academic left and the cultural left. I take it that the American socialist left is a community identified with the ideas disseminated in journals like The New Left Review, The Socialist Review, The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, Z, and the publications of the South End Press. Unfortunately, it's a discourse community that is drying up. The American socialist left is moribund. Deathly. Its advocates, as a demographic profile, are aging veterans of anti-intervention and other New Left struggles of the past. Its politics are the opposite of infectious. They are repellant. Repellant not because Noam Chomsky or Michael Albert or Alexander Cockburn or Victor Navasky are wrong about the security state or manufactured consent or CIA intervention abroad. What is repellant about their politics is the stale odor of "state logic" about them. None of the above have advanced any description of a social organization beyond capitalism more invigorating than the oft used and dusty phrase "true participatory democracy." I find it revealing that the socialist left is perfectly willing to continue to imagine life within the state, even the mythic United States, only more "justly" organized.

On the other hand, for radical cultural politics there is no recuperable logic of the state, especially the United States. It is precisely the state form that must die, whether capitalist or New Left socialist. As Marvin Garson, editor of the old San Francisco Express Times and theorist of anarchic tendencies within the Movement, wrote,

The only way out is a revolution which is consciously determined to go BEYOND democracy . . . . The point is not to help the masses enter history but to help the masses exit from it. A mass is like a great blob of dough; it gets kneaded by one elite or another, but cannot do anything for itself. Revolution, in 1968, does not mean grabbing hold of the mass and throwing it into the left-hand pan of the scales; revolution means breaking up that sticky, shapeless mass once and for all so that no person, clique, party, or ruling class will ever again be able to pound those 200 million Americans into shape.
But the socialist left in its relation with the academic left has shown none of the tolerance for autonomous activity that Garson encourages. The academic left (theorists, postmodernisits, deconstructionists, Lacanian feminists, the whole diabolical concatenation of theoretical orientations) has been roundly denounced in advance, and largely in absentia by the socialist press. Like the left itself in establishment media, academics have not had the opportunity to represent themselves, they have rather been represented and usually with overt hostility. The socialist left, with Z and Michael Albert in the lead, constitute the left party of know-nothings of the '80s and '90s. As Albert put it in one diatribe against deconstruction, "If it can't be explained to a reasonably intelligent person like myself during a twenty-five minute car trip to Boston, what's it worth?" When was the last time that Albert explained Marx to a hostile audience in twenty-five minutes? More than anything else, Albert and the left media can't stand the idea of intellectuals off talking to themselves in their own private language. Where, after all, is the intellectual's commitment to "the People"? But what else, Michael Albert, is a community except people who live in the same language strata? What is most striking about the new academic left is not its usefulness to the Revolution, and certainly not its loyalty to this theoretical beggar called "true participatory democracy." What is most striking about the new academic left is precisely its autonomy. As Dinesh D'souza has shown, the contamination of an important bourgeois institution, the American university system, by neo-Marxists, Derrideans, feminists, ACT-UP queer theorists et. al. has not been missed by the Right. It is as disturbing as a manager at McDonald's discovering that all of his employees are slackers. French fries? If someone wants french fries, there's the frying vat. Professors are showing videos in literature classrooms. Someone's not keeping to her job description! Fucking scary! During the Reagan-Bush years "the liberal professor" was demonized and ranked only just behind international satans like Khadafy, Noriega, and Hussein. (This attack from the Right against academics continues as we speak. The Illinois Board of Higher Education uses the populist appeal of putting professors "back in the classroom" as a way to curtail research--creativity?--of academics in public institutions. Its logic to "ordinary" people is simple: if you have to suffer unhappy labor, why shouldn't these professors?) And yet where academic theorists are concerned, the socialist press has few disagreements with Right demogogues like George Will or former Secretary of Education Bennet: the professors are a bunch of jargon spouting phonies.

American socialism is just as notoriously impatient with the cultural politics of punk, rap, grunge, cyberpunk and other manifestations of the Youth Movement nineties style. As with the hippies, the radical politicos just don't get it. There is no interest no sympathy no support and certainly no effort to communicate with ventures like Factsheet Five and Maximum Rock and Roll. Does Sonic Youth represent a politics that Victor Navasky wants to join? Well, that's why, Victor, no one under thirty-five reads your magazine.

The problem, I believe, is with the kind of logic that dominates on the socialist left. It is the typically American, because thoroughly Puritan, logic of right and wrong. Just and injust. Western corporate liberalism is wrong and we must replace it with something right. But the logic of academic leftism is essentially the logic of separation. And the logic of punk is radically solipsistic: personal autonomy here, now, right in the middle of your hell. The socialist left has lost touch with the logic of autonomy that once existed in the commune movement and in the theory of Herbert Marcuse. Marcuse once said:

Now, to the organization of the New Left. No party whatsoever can I envisage today which would not within a very short time fall victim to the general and totalitarian political corruption which characterizes the political universe . . . .

As against these forms, what seems to be shaping up is an entirely overt organization, diffused, concentrated in small groups and around local activities, small groups which are highly flexible and autonomous.

I want to add one thing here that may almost appear as heretic--no primitive unification of strategy. The Left is split! The Left has always been split! Only the right, which has no ideas to fight for, is united."

Marcuse called this strategy "organized spontaneity."

Among the most interesting and enduring of the "spontaneous" cultural events of the eighties and nineties--and again it is one that has been wholly and shamefully ignored by the left media--has been the explosion of independent presses. The most noteworthy of these, from a left perspective, has been Semiotext(e) and its Autonomedia imprint. Overtly inspired by the Italian Autonomia movement of the seventies, Semiotext(e) has filled a gaping hole in the oppositional strategies of American radicalism. It has published theory (including first American publications of work by Baudrillard, Negri, Virilio, and Deleuze and Guattari), fiction and rant. Semiotext(e) USA is the most important document of the eighties for indicating the breadth and depth of American anarchic refusal of administered life. And yet I have never seen a review or encouraging mention of this press or its work in the left press. The same holds true for more literary publishers like Fiction Collective Two, Dalkey Archive Press, Sun and Moon or Andrei Codrescu's Exquisite Corpse. These presses were formed as a direct affront and refusal of the politics and aesthetics of the New York capitalist presses. And yet one learns nothing of them from Z, or In These Times, or The Nation. One fears that the reason for this is that the socialist left actually shares capitalism's aesthetic vision: realism.

In short, the socialist left press is a participant in capitalist media's effort to make the most important, and most immediate subversive activities of the moment invisible. Nonetheless, from the cultural left, where the refusal of work goes on, one hears the mighty battle cry, "Workers of the world, relax!"

II. I am Asked if the Pen is Mightier than the Sword at the Underground Press Conference, De Paul University, Chicago, 1994

Yes, of course, the pen is mightier than the sword and vice versa. It depends on the context. Following Louis Althusser's famous distinction between ideological state apparatuses and repressive state apparatuses, it is easy enough to say that if you have the misfortune of living in Pinochet's Chile, the gun rules. In our own situation, unfortunately, the pen rules. We call it television, Hollywood and even rock'n'roll. To be sure, just beyond television's unearthly gray light is the silhouette of the cop. Baton raised.

The luxury we can not afford is to imagine that the pen is always and necessarily our ally. The pen is just another conscienceless prick, not at all unlike his cousin the sword. It is not for nothing that Kafka revealed to us, in his story "In the Penal Colony," that the pen and the sword are finally one. The machine that writes as it cuts inscribes its tale in our flesh. The name of our crime is "self-defeat."

For an "underground" press, the objective is simply "refusal." I/we refuse willingly to conspire in our own defeat. That makes us very different in this culture. An alternative press takes up or reappropriates the means of its oppression for other purposes: autonomy, self-determination, freedom, or "fun." Or Life. Yes, the great secret of the underground's ability to reinvent itself generation after generation is that there is always a margin (sometimes a sadly small margin) of people not willing to be dead.

The quaint but effective way the peoples of our culture signal their unwillingness to be dead is captured in our pregnant expression "fuck you." Fuck you repubican and fuck you Democrat. Fuck you CBS. Fuck you Connie Chung. Fuck you Ed Meese and fuck you Andrea Dworkin. Fuck you Michael Jackson and fuck you Nirvana. Fuck you Woodstock and fuck you Generation X. Fuck you Casy Kasim and especially fuck you MTV. Fuck you Random House and fuck you Avant Pop. Fuck you "go to school" and fuck you "get a job." Finally and most emphatically fuck you "just say no."

So whether or not the pen is "mightier" than the sword, it remains clear that the pen (by which I mean our collective capacity for a fully human creativity, whatever that will come to mean) has a lot of work before it.

But the pen must do this work in the shadow of the PEN. We function in the shadow of DePaul University which functions in the shadow of the Chicago Tribune which functions in the shadow of the Illinois Correctional System. The PEN. The collective citizens of the PEN now constitute one of the larger cities in Illinois. And it is getting bigger because it is now profitable. Illinois cities now compete for the privilege of being the home to a prison. Maximum security, minimum security, we don't care. Money is all the same color green. Of course, this curious "income" is all tax dollars provided by both the prisoners and their custodians. Here, I'll give you your own money back if you'll just repress yourselves and free me of that nasty duty. It's public investment for in the interest of private (techno-capitalist) repression.

Of course, as Monsieur Baudrillard would point out, the most real function of the prison is to obscure the fact that the entire social system is a prison. For us, then, writers, publishers and readers of the underground, our risky strategy is to write ourselves out of jail. What should the particulars of that strategy be?

First, the pen in opposition must create what Deleuze and Guattari call "a line of flight." This is simply a way of thinking and acting that takes us outside the sanctioned confines of dominant culture.

Second, this line of flight or logic of refusal must have its own positive content. This is where hippy logic failed us (through its romantic naivete) and punk logic failed us (through its will to stupidity). The logic of capital, yuppy, consumption, democracy, and TV needs to be replaced with a logic of...well, I'll leave this space blank so that you all have something to do with your mighty pens.

III. Amerika and Olsen Ask Me to Say Something About Avant-Pop and I Use Their Invitation as an Opportunity to Continue This Meditation on the Underground

"Marginality" is not the only challenge facing "alternative" culture. It is certainly true that bourgeois culture is "louder" than underground culture, especially "vulgar" bourgeois culture (i.e. the mass media). In no way is this a fair contest. The underground press owns no "means of production" that aren't either free, dead cheap, or pirated (from e-mail to sidewalks) or available through a glitch in class logic (for example, the occasional support of universities and commercial publishers--the next Larry McCaffery avant-pop anthology will come out with Viking, a far cry from squalid Black Ice Books). Beyond its obvious advantage in proportion, however, it is also true that bourgeois culture is more beautiful than so-called "alternative" culture. (This is one of those things that you are really not supposed to say. It's boho PC. It is like saying "the problem with socialists is that they are boring.")

I am speaking of the dilemma that Roland Barthes frequently grappled with. All his life, Barthes was a fervent advocate of the politically engaged avant-garde (the Writerly), and he was the most astute critic of the bourgeois "classical" (the despised Readerly). The rude fact that Barthes bumped his nose against repeatedly was, political convictions aside, all of his sense of pleasure and beauty was wrapped up in the bourgeois. The secret of his critique of Balzac, in his beautiful book S/Z, is that he loved Balzac. He found Balzac unbelievably sexy. And he found Balzac worthy of a book length investigation, a compliment he never offered Robe-Grillet. Barthes' term for this quality, this je ne sais quoi of the ruling class, was "the bourgeois art of life."

In short, wealth and privilege have not entirely squandered their opportunities. We need to discover some of the insight of Bardamu in Celine's Journey to the End of Night when, destitute and AWOL from WWI, he finds himself sitting in a bank in New York City. And for a moment he thinks he understands the reason for wealth: so the rest of us can have something beautiful to look at.

People are not miserable or painful to look upon who:

This is not the description of a hollow, superficial life (even though the vulgar culture of mass stupidity they (the "ruling class" that enjoys the list above) provide for the rest of us may be). Let the truth be told: the yuppies are right! Balsamic vinegar tastes great!

What one rightly resents about bourgeois culture is not its beauties but its cruelties, i.e. the things it does to make its beauties possible, i.e. impoverish and/or stupidify everyone else.

The problem for "alternative culture" in the long run is how to make itself more beautiful and intelligent than bourgeois culture. (Which will mean, I hope, keeping large parts of bourgeois culture--like jazz--which the bourgeois coopted from resistant cultural strains to begin with.) This is where, for me, the concept of "avant-pop" makes some sense (is more than hype). Punk argues, "Look at us! We're ugly! You made us ugly! We're stupid and you made us stupid! We hate you for it! So if the world you provide us is stupid, we're going to be more stupid than stupid. If it's ugly, we're going to be uglier than ugly. We're going to stage our misery under your nose and take what consolation we can in your discomfort and the camaraderie of our performance." In the history of popular resistance to administered life, punk and its progeny were an important signal that even at its most defeated, with the Reagan-Thatcher ghouls sunk in our collective neck, refusal is possible. But the strategy of punk is, sadly, the strategy of a Caliban, the strategy of a slave.

There is no positive content to punk's politics. Kathy Acker has spoken of her efforts to write a novel (Empire of the Senseless) which was "positive." In her own words, "It didn't work." Acker brilliantly evokes the climate of postmodern mutilation. But who would choose to live in this mutilation? When punk sets up its home in mutilation, it is not unlike that strain of Marxism which glorifies the nobility of the "worker". But Marx's point was always to transcend work; work (i.e. selling the body as the commodity "labor power") is destructive and inhuman. Punk and the many cultural forms which have followed in its wake need to figure how to conclude their messy refusal and begin the project of reclaiming life as something worth having.

Avant-pop as a political and artistic gesture synthesizes modernist intelligence and avant aesthetic sophistication with pop/punk/postmodern popular resistance. I want an art (hence a world) which is as smart as Adorno, as beautiful as Proust (that is, full of a passionate mastery rooted in a tradition of beautiful making rooted in a culture of beautiful living), and as resistant as Kathy Acker. (If anyone is interested, this is precisely the synthetic power I work toward in my own fiction.)

Examples? Like most theoretical categories, there are none to few pure examples (in spite of Larry McCaffery's avant-pop anthologies). Here's a tip which you might file under "the future": Nathaniel Mackey, Djbot Baghostus's Run.

As my avant-pop comrades say, It'll turn you on, Dead Man.

A Mysterious Manifesto

by Don Webb

Not long ago, a good writer named Wendy Wheeler interviewed me for Gotta Write Network Litmag. She asked, When did I think a story was successful? I started to answer some flippant remark on the lines of, "I don't know what art is, but I know it when I see it." But whenever I can escape an easy answer and look for the Real answer, I try to do so. That seems to be the root of all true becoming. So this was my answer: "A good story makes us a little unsure of the world we exist in. It fills us with the sense of the unknown. Probably my guiding light here would be Russian critic Victor Shlovsky's remark, 'The technique of art is to make objects 'unfamiliar,' to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object itself is not important.' Real art creates the Unknown, not the Known. If I am stirred by the mystery of what I read (even if I have written it), then it is successful."

Although pompous, this answer gave my insight into things that I like and create -- that are always around the edges of the SF world but never in its center. I like writers who make the world mysterious -- examples coming to mind are R. A. Lafferty and Ballard. I like those works which essentially violate the SF paradigm of plot revolution through cleverness and explanation of some obscure (or momentarily forgotten) physical law, and replace it with a world of wonder that is essentially unknown. Hence I've always been a big fan of Samuel Delaney's Dhalgren. Now I've noticed that if you champion those works that try for an opening up of the world over the implication of order upon it, you will invariably be confronted with a fan who not only pooh-poohs your taste, but becomes angry while doing so. If you doubt this try championing Delany at the next con you go to. Now this isn't a simple rejection of your taste, but an actual emotional disease of someone who cannot face an open world. This revelation startled me, like most people who have spent their years among the yellowing paperbacks of Sf, I had always thought that there was an essential brotherhood of fandom. That our motives were more the less the same.

I have discovered that there are two sets of motives, which create two almost entirely different literatures. The consumer that seeks fantasy and science fiction merely as the drug of choice to end their focus on the workaday world, and the individual who seeks it to increase his or her focus upon the possibilities of the world. I refer to these as the members of the gray school and of the mysterious school. Now this may not be a new observation. I am sure it doesn't take long to realize the difference between the reader of trilogies and dekologies and the dedicated reader that spends a kazillion bucks in specialist catalogs. But for people who don't want to think, but want instead the comfort of a an easily described world, SF is not nearly as efficient a drug as are videos, computer games and the now arising possibilities of virtual reality. Since these drugs are already pulling in fatalistic youth, SF readership keeps declining. We must realize that it is in the interest of everyone not to lure kids away from video games, but instead to change the remaining print medium into a place where an ever higher level of energy can be made. It is time not to try to tone novels so that they sell better -- in fact they'll sell worse because the active reader will move more and more into a field where he or she finds the material that is needed. It is very important to not only to herald the new -- such as the Black Ice series, but also to quietly do away with that type of critic which dismisses these books because they threaten him or her.

I'm not suggesting offing certain reviewers (well I ain't against it you understand), but instead rendering them helpless by giving them a new Nintendo game. Abraham Maslow in his Towards a Psychology of Being shows the conception between self actualization and the mysterious:

"SA [Self Actualizing] people are relatively unfrightened by the unknown, the mysterious, the puzzling, and often are positively attracted to it... They do not neglect the unknown, or deny it, or run away from it, or try to make believe it is really known, nor do they organize, dichotomize, or rubicize it prematurely. They do not cling to the familiar, nor is their quest for the truth a catastrophic need for certainty, safety, definiteness, and order... They can be, when the total situation calls for it, comfortably disorderly, sloppy, anarchic, chaotic, vague, doubtful, uncertain, indefinite, approximate, inexact, or inaccurate..."
John Fowles, in his philosophical work The Aristos makes this quite clear under the rubric of "Mystery" (p.28) he writes: "Mystery, or unknowing, is energy. As soon as a mystery is explained, it ceases to be a source of energy. If we question deep enough there comes a point where answers, if answers could be given, would kill. We may want to dam the river; but we dam the spring at our peril. In fact, since 'God' is knowable, we cannot dam the spring of basic existential mystery. 'God' is the energy of all questions and questing; and so the ultimate source of all action and volition."

Now this distinction should not be thought of as in favor of the literary as opposed to the "nut's-n-bolts" school of science fiction writing. The capacity for the mysterious can exist in any type of SF including nonwritten material. It is the function of the writing that is the focus. Does the reader pursue the story for a sense of well being that could probably be brought on better by a cup of Mexican hot chocolate? Or does she read for the moment of stretching the self? That instant when presented with a reality beyond the scope of the world she knows, she has to create more of herself in order to take it in. For those who seek the latter experience a visit to a an SF specialty shop is interesting -- most everything is invisible in its grayness. There will be -- if the seeker is incredibly lucky -- one or two volumes promising the mysterious experience.

For those who shun the mysterious (out of an emotional disease) the visit to the SF shop is promising. Everything is there in its glorious commodity, except for the occasional weirdo book. And if they should have the unhappy experience of picking Dhalgren or Nine Hundred Grandmothers or The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, they will go on a religious crusade against the book. Because the book stirred some of that mysterious darkness within, they will devote an astonishing amount of time against the book -- if they are active fans they will write LOC after LOC or flame on BBS. (Yes I have seen modern cyberspace filled in a tirade against Poe). Poe is an interesting test. Ask people what they like. The seekers after the mysteries will go for "Ligea," "The Fall of the House of Usher" and will make a stab at reading Eureka because they wanted to get inside Poe's head and share the vision of the mysterious dark. The dwellers in grayness will love the detective stories, "The Raven" which they will explain to you as the suicidal poet meeting a trained bird by chance, and will say that Poe was completely crazy when he wrote Eureka. (in fact they'll say it's a stain to his memory).

Now that I've put myself in the mysterious camp, what can I say about the good it brings besides enjoyment? It took me a long time to discover the good in those writers who exemplify the mysterious school. Who can claim there is good in the strained verbal style of an H.P. Lovecraft or the silly season stories of R.A. Lafferty? The great transformative good in these fictions is that they tell us that there is so much we don't know. Gray Sf teaches us that we live in a world that is thoroughly determined by facts. If we can just get the facts we either have power (optimistic "classical" SF) or we are absolutely screwed (New Wave Sf such as Oedipus Rex by Sophocles). Gray SF teaches us that there is much, much more within and beyond us.

I suspect the love of the mysterious is hard-wired deep in Indo-european culture with its threefold division of producer, soldier and king/priest/magician. All of us possess all three divisions in ourselves, but the later part -- the king/priest/magician part needs to be nourished by the unknown. The farmer-producer needs the known -- when to plant, when to harvest, how to treat a cow with the staggers. The farmer-producer in us yearns for the cyclical fantasy tale -- the hero that re-creates the sun's journey. The soldier wants the how-to of strategy -- a mode based on "If I am smarter than my enemy." This section of ourselves yearns for the tale of deduction, cleverness, and strategy -- this yearning being so powerful among us that it creates the strongly militaristic school of SF firstmost, and the "hard" school secondmost. This also explains why the enthusiast of one is usually the enthusiast of the second. Neither of the first two functions, farmer-producer and soldier, have any taste for the unknown. It is the king/priest/magician who must face the world beyond the borders (whether beyond his kingdom or among the unseen powers) that hungers for the unknown. It becomes a necessity to cultivate a sense of awe in such individuals. Without consciously raising the love of the unknown in themselves they will turn from the hard job of facing the unknown and sleep with the peasants.

In the Germanic languages the words for advice and the mysterious are related. I chose Old Norse examples for this useful thought complex; since the modern English forms of these words "Rown" to whisper is only used in the British army for passwords, and "Rune" is regarded only as the written character because of Blum's terrible books on the subject (we may yet see a true runic revival in Modern English from the likes of Stephen Flowers and Edred Thorsson). Look at Old Norse mysterious school words:

The complex of thought I was trying to find in why I like certain modern (and postmodern) SF is there. It is secret (Run), it represents a methodical "prying into" in other words the characters want to know the answers rather than just accepting them as magic (Reyna), and ultimately it advises the soul (Runa). When I walk outside and look up at the stars after reading Olaf Stapledon, I have a spiritual experience. Not one based on faith or primitive emotions, but based on a love of the strange I have properly cultivated and purveyed.

Given the above that the mysterious school will interest the smallest section of readers, what does this do to the market place? The question of writing as commodity is seldom addressed in serious criticism, but I would like to discuss what effect the gray school has not only on the products we see, but the the creators thereof -- and then I would like to discuss certain strategies that we in our proper roles as kings/priests/magicians can use to insure the production and availability of the substances we crave. That the gray school rules is obvious to anyone who can count the number of sequels, "coauthored" books, and shared world anthologies. These will no doubt always be with us -- unless the promised 500 TV channels of the future removes literacy altogether. But the dangerous phenomenon is that use of money to change the the writer of the mysterious school into a gray school hack. The best example (I will limit myself to dead men, because it breaks my heart to point out this slow death in the living -- although two living authors came to mind as I wrote these words) is Frank Herbert, who produced two excellent mysterious school books: Dune and Whipping Star. Dune has a high sense of the mysterious, but since the mysteries are incidental to the plot -- this high energy book sold well. However its energy, that is to say its mystery, irritated the comfortable gray school reader. So he demanded, and since demand = money, got a series of sequel each worse than the proceeding explaining away the mysteries. Herbert sensed something was wrong and tried to pep up the books with sex and drugs, which along with violence are used as cheap substitutes for mysteries. An empty stomach is not a good political adviser, indeed that the mysterious school exists in Sf is due to the fact that almost all SF writers have day jobs and it is essentially a literature produced by dilettantes. Whipping Star did not conceal its mysterious nature, and despite its excellence, not only went out of print, but produced no critical notice as well. The lure of money can't be denied. If you have to get medical treatment, fix your cheap clunker car, etc. It will be there whispering bad gray advice. So we have to change the lure.

So here are nine ways to promote the mysterious school. Only you can save the sense of wonder. If you let it fail don't despair at all the gray people that surround you in your old age.

  1. Read to your children. Do not let them listen to Barney, do not let your school system take care of this -- the school system belongs to the grays. Get highly charged mysterious books and read aloud. As the Runa-word complex illustrates hearing the advice is important. Two books to begin with are Half Magic and The Cat in the Hat. Those who do not read to their children are accursed. Ultimately this leads to certain Freudian mysteries which connect infant sexuality with the wonder tale, and the ability to find mates that give good story (and thus incarnate the mystery of Runi or Runa mentioned above).

  2. Buy and donate mysterious hardbacks to your local library. Make damn sure that there's a copy of Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Gods of Mars for junior high school kids to read, and a copy of Naked Lunch for that pervy High School senior. Fight the ban the books people toe-to-toe.

  3. Never pass up an opportunity to use cultural prestige as a tool against the gray book. If you review books for the littlest fanzine, to your local BBS, to just your friends -- you need to make a campaign of telling people that to be seen buying or reading X or Y gray book is to look stupid. Cultural pressure will take care of the rest. Better books will be printed (although not read), and the future grows more secure this way.

  4. Write letters to publishers praising books for their mysterious content. If you happen to find a book that energizes your life through the sense of the unknown it gives you, you must write the letter of praise to the publisher. If by some miracle of miracles you find the book in a chain store, mention that fact explicitly "At the B. Dalton's in Pinefart" and send a copy to the publisher and the head of the chain.

  5. Write letters to publishers and chains complaining about any gray school book's first appearance. If you can stop the reprinting of a gray school book, you have performed an important defensive action. It is particularly powerful to write when you see a good writer slipping. "Dear Publisher, whereas I loved D. B. Bowen's The Cellophane Fawn, because of its high sense of mystery -- I feel his current Cellophane Fawn Chronicles is a a boring book designed to fill in the "gaps" of the earlier classic. Why not let this one fade away, and encourage Bowen to return his creative roots. If not I know he will lose me and thousands of others as a readers. The concept of the trilogy is frankly outdated in these new high energy times." This also suggests creative pranksterism when you see such books displayed. Now I would never advocate any illicit acts (yeah, right), but let those of you possessed of a trickster nature follow the dicatates of your hearts.

  6. Make sure that used copies of gray books go to the recycling bin instead of the used bookstore.

  7. Write (and cause to be written) critical articles on mysterious school writers. The amount and direction of critical thinking both encourages young writers in certain directions as well insuring the print status of certain works through the powerful force of cultural prestige (and if you are a king/priest/magician determining cultural prestige is your job). Do not write that ten thousandth essay on Ursula Le Guin, write about Lafferty, write about Cordwainder Smith. If you can't write (here is a secret: everyone can write) then demand these essays from such critics and historians as you are apt to meet. Better still if you teach a class about SF, demand these essays from your students.

  8. Tie the demand for mysterious writing with other demands in even the most unlikely places. Say you're writing your congress about the Thor Power tool law, cast your thought in the form of preserving the imaginative mysterious wellspring of pour culture. Anytime you can push the idea push it. This will have three benefits. Firstly it will raise the love of the unknown in you. Secondly it will awaken the occasional seeker who has looked for this articulation to explain her tastes. Thirdly if you're a bit of a wordsmith than it's likely that the congressman will plagiarize you -- and you've released an important meme. Release enough and keep the pressure on the world, and the world will change. This is a great secret of magic.

  9. Learn to use the word Weird correctly and as a compliment. This is actually a way of changing the word-map of the worlds through remanifestation. It is hard to shift a paradigm, because it requires subtle continuing work. Weird in the language of our ancestors' ancestors meant a mysterious Becoming -- something happening in accordance with a hidden pattern. Nowadays we use the word merely to indicate something odd as in "Man that was weird!" One guy killing another guy with a sword is not weird. One guy happening to find his heroic grandfather's sword on the battlefield and killing twenty guys is weird. That pattern of the hidden becoming manifest was the source of wonder in ancient tales, it still powers modern folklore -- and it is the power which in its most artful refined form creates the writing of the mysterious school. It is a powerful feeling when you withhold certain parts of the message and meaning. It pulls the other in. If you want to experience that hidden power as well as bring about more mysterious school writing, here's your chance to shift some paradigms. Only use the word weird when it applies. Talk about those things which have a truly weird happening. Forsake the use of the word when talking about the odd. This is a very difficult exercise, don't berate yourself or others for failing. Merely try. And when you have reclaimed that word, and (through your hidden persistence) begin very sparingly to use it as a complement for certain kinds of writing. Do this magic my fellow kings/priests/magicians, and we can create that truly mysterious thing -- the Weird tale.

That's What Zipper-Bustin' Avant-Pop[Mom] Is All About

by Harold Jaffe

Her Targets? White and Off-White Males.

With the porn industry under assault, Marco made an offer Joe Stag couldn't refuse: direct Tonya Superfreak in a filthy vid for big $$. Called No More Ms.Nice Gal, this is a fanciful little number in which Tonya, dick invisible between her legs, plays the perennial female victim. Finally, following yet another date rape, she's had it up to here, and after her oppressor falls asleep (just like a man!), she slices his dick off and has it surgically re-attached to her own body. No more Ms. Nice Gal. On the contrary, Tonya herself becomes a vigilante rapist, only her targets are white and off-white males, including Stallion Sal, Boy Toy, and Super Hombre Axl Rose. This last bit of casting was a coup--the first time Super Hombre Axl Rose has ever taken it up the chute. In fact Super Hombre Axl Rose is the pony-tailed surgeon who reattaches the penis and, with arterial blood still on his latex gloves, becomes Tonya's first victim.

Amber Viper, Jade East, Whoopi, Jack Hammer, and Shlomo the Israeli stud make up the rest of the impressive cast.

To indicate how hot a loop it was, the shoot took five days and Joe Stag had a woody the whole time. After the shoot Joe Stag spent some quality time with Tonya Superfreak. The next morning he was sore all over.

Employing His Dong As A Sort Of Third Arm

Joe Stag had everything ready. The deal was shoot three loops featuring Tonya Superfreak and Super Hombre Axl Rose called Love Freaks. In the first, Tea Room, Tonya enters the stall of a Ladies Room of a gentrified restaurant and is about to pee when Super Hombre disguised as a brutal pervert locks her in. Tonya screams lemme out of here, but nobody hears her, the restaurant closes and she's left alone with the brutal perv. Next he unlocks the door to the toilet and starts to wrassle with Tonya, but she is stronger than he expects, she gets away and locks him in the toilet. Except she can't get out of the locked restaurant with its state-of-the-art security and shatter-proof windows. Meanwhile Super Hombre, now in a brutal sexual frenzy, has broken out of the toilet by employing his dong as a sort of third arm to prise open the lock. He finds Tonya, they scrimmage, he drags her into the toilet, has his pervy way with her, then lays on his back and lights a Marlboro. Which is Tonya Superfreak's cue to bind his hands and feet with a tablecloth, fuck him in the ass then shower him with gold. This is a dynamite scene and super-raunchy. It is, both in the loop and in "real time," the only time Super Hombre Axl Rose has ever been fucked in the ass and peed on. And he is pissed. But what's he gonna do, right?

Anyway, with both of them well-reamed, they kiss wetly and high-five each other. Turns out they've been married seven years, got the itch, and the whole scope was just a sex game, an avant-pop[mom] psychodrama, to keep their marriage fresh and charged.

I won't bother with the narrative line of the next two loops. Each runs thirty minutes.

Is It True She Pees Rosé?
Absolutely. Plus It's Opiated.

This is a vid that almost didn't get off the blocks. Princess Di is a young, willowy, torrid M2F with super plants and a seven-inch magic wand between her slender soft-skinned thighs. A golden showers freak, she'll agree to a loop only if she could pee on the other actors: male, fem and indeterminate. That is her signature, sort of like Hitchcock's cameo appearances in his own movies, or people dancing the tango in a Bertolucci flick. Anyway Princess Di's proviso is nearly always fulfilled because she is a superfreak and her pee (so the story goes) is sweet as Rosé wine and a mild opiate to boot.
Did Joe Stag try "her" out? Funny that you ask . . . Well? It 's all true. Rosé wine, the mild opiate. Opiates tend to inhibit sex as you know. But not Princess Di's which had the opposite effect. You're saying that her pee tasted like Rosé, was an opiate and also an aphrodisiac? You sound skeptical. Not at all.
Called Superfreaks Do Disney, the plot, conceived by Joe Stag and coyrighted by Marco, features Tonya and Princess Di as frisky adolescents in pinafores making their first trip to Disneyland with their parents: Jack Hammer and Jade East (Tonya); Shlomo and Amber Viper (Di). Cher plays Bambi, Boy Toy plays Pluto, and Super Hombre Axl Rose plays Pinocchio. Whoopi? She plays an accomodating, smiling, African American guide with a nametag on her tit-plant which says Whoopi. A star-studded cast, but, hey, it was costing Marco to get Princess Di, so he wanted to go for the cojones on this one.

Here's the monkey: A California earthquake, six-something on the Richter, strikes suddenly and all the principals take refuge in the Walt Disney mausoleum where the great originator is himself interred. Pervy sex ensues. Tonya and Di get into it when they both want to swing on Pinocchio's nose. They start by wrestling and segue into sexing and, golly, Joe Stag hadn't seen such double-jointedness since that miniature Rumanian teen gymnast--what was her name?-- won the world's heart at the Olympics.

You want to know how Princess Di gets into her signature peeing mode? I don't mean to be coy. Let's just say she showers the whole cast including Tonya Superfreak with vintage opiated Rosé without any prima donna bitching or moaning.

Whoa! Doubleboning Stormin' Norman!
I thought He Had a Virgin Asshole.

With Meese in the slammer, Roseanne violated her contract and signed with Marco. Which meant Joe Stag had his cast: the two superfreaks, Tonya and Roseanne; Super Hombre Axl Rose; Shlomo; Cher; Boy Toy; Stormin' Norman Mailer; Jack Hammer; and Jade East.

The loop, called Rock the Casbah, is an anti-war deal, and, specifically, a commentary on the Corpgov war against Pan Islam. Set in a luxurious "integrated" love-not-war barracks in an Arabian desert, it features the light-skinned Afro-American Tonya as a joy-loving Arab bellydancer who brings Shlomo the Arab terrorist and Roseanne the American Marine Sergeant together for the purposes of peace and lust. After Tonya establishes the tone with a torrid belly dance, the Arab and American fuck each other top, bottom, front, back and sideways.

While this is going on, virtuous Marine captain Axl Rose and his resourceful driver, lance corporal Boy Toy, stumble onto the mirage-like barracks, hear the belly-dance music and park their hummer. Stiff with xenophobic honor, Axl Rose readies his M-16 while Boy Toy fixes his bayonet.

The problem is they have to go through the shower area to get into the barracks proper and in the showers they stumble on Arab enchantress Tonya Superfreak and American Jack Hammer having some wet and pervy fun in ways that hardass Axl could never have envisaged. Though he's rapidly getting into the spirit.

Anyway tit leads to tat and soon enough the entire cast is orgying in the barracks and spilling into the rich desert itself (the loop was shot in the Sonora Desert, south of Tucson).

Jade East is Chinese, right? How does she figure? She's Arab enchantress Tonya's lady in waiting. And Cher? She's a fem GI. You're not against gender integration of our Armed Forces, are you? Far from it. So what happens? Axl takes it up the bung? Ha. That scene between the two superfreaks and Super Hombre Axl Rose is probably the hottest Joe Stag ever shot. And the Superfreaks do each other? Big time! The actors that weren't in the Supes-do-each-other scene and the techs on the set said it was an amazing mix of aggression and lust. Like in one configuration Roseanne is sticking it to Tonya who's boning Super Hombre who's boning Jade East while Cher is milking Jade East's plants. In maybe the weirdest bit, Tonya and Roseanne double-bone Stormin' Norman while he's rocking Cher. Whoa! Doubleboning Stormin' Norman Mailer! I thought he had a virgin asshole. Exactly. He just cottoned to it. He was a natural. After they plugged him, they slapped him around a little. Then they showered him with gold. You mean the Superfreaks? Right. So the Supes got along okay? Tonya and Roseanne?. Yeah. A little bit of mindfuck. Plus the aggressive lust in their scenes together. But, hey, that's what zipper-busting avant-pop [mom] is all about.

Where'd You Find the Nazi Skins?
On the Mean Streets of Portland.

Always on the scent of avant-pop [mom], especially when it's straight from the bung and steaming, Joe Stag spent several more days in Portland. Shot another loop called Skinned, in which two burly, booted, scab-assed Nazi skinheads are captured at gunpoint by Tonya Superfreak and Princess Di . The skins are forced to scarify then scarf each other. That is, after they cut swastikas and iron crosses into each other's flesh, they bite and suck each other's flesh.
Where'd Joe Stag get the Nazi skins? On the streets of Portland. Took some time to separate the real skins from the fashion flunkies. What do you mean? Skinned heads, camo, Doc Martens, kickass sneers, fascist tattoos. That's the young white male look. Paramilitary couture? You got it. Then once he found the real Nazi skins he had to pick two who could keep it up without tipping their cream. You'd be surprised how many these dudes suffer from premature ejac. But finally he got his brace of Nazis, one fat, the other lean, and they were more than willing to go down on each other for the Sony. Uh-huh. What else? Guess who plays the fat Nazi? Zhirinovsky, the Russian ultranation-alist. They call him Zero. What about his atomic pistol? It fires blanks. Anyway, the fatty, Zero, is sodomized by the other Nazi just like the gays they claim to despise. Sounds hot. What else? Tonya and Di rain on their parade. Golden showers? Exactly. Anything else? Doo-doo. You mean . . . My lips are sealed. Buy the loop, support your local avant-pop [mom] purveyor.

Displaying Her Hurts.
Hurtling through Cyberspace.

Tonya Superfreak was in the Big Apple. She'd sent 40 invites to the movers and shakers of that hyperreal city to attend a formal-dress premiere "installation" in Conundrum Gallery in SoHo. Guests included pols, CEOs, mafiosi, rock promoters, and media bigs.

The name of the installation was Hurt so Good and consisted of Tonya wearing a couture-designed tutu, crucified on a teflon cross, within reach of the guests who stood slightly beneath her, around a large round glass table. The table contained the following implements: pruning shears, four rubber dildos, three anal plugs, assorted razor blades, two cigarette lighters, half a dozen candles, three serrated kitchen knives, a single razor-sharp pink iceskate with broken laces, a length of steel chain, three pairs of faux-ivory Ben Wa balls, a Beretta nine millimeter semi-automatic with full magazine, and a Sony high resolution monitor with remote. Also a Mason jar containing Tonya's relics from previous performances: skin, tears, blood, mucus, urine, discharge, assorted teeth, toenail parings, matted clumps of hair.

When everyone was settled Tonya Superfreak said just six words: "Give me pain. Give me pleasure."

In English? No, Puerto Rican. Of course, in English. Where was Joe Stag? Operating the concealed vidcam. So what happened? Not much at first. A few cuts and burns, her panty hose cut away, dildo probings. Close scrutiny of her penis. Tentative sniffing of the relic jar. Actually three or four of the guests tried to leave but the doors were bolted from the outside. After an hour or so they got into the spirit. Meaning? They ripped and cut off her clothes. Administered razor cuts to the tender insides of the thighs, candle burns, penis palpations, liberal use of the anal plugs, sniffing and licking the relics. Pressing the buttons of the Sony remote shocked the nerve endings in her tit-plants and prick. Tit-plants! I thought those were her own boobs. Common misperception. A quarrel broke out when one of the guests forced the loaded Beretta into her mouth. Someone tried to keep him from killing her? No. Someone argued for killing her by degree. What happened? The one who wanted to shoot her in the throat ended up shooting the one who wanted to kill her by degree. Which effectively terminated the installation? On the contrary, the distinguished guests ripped off their clothes and took it to the next level. Took "it"? The action, asswipe. Tonya Superfreak. You know what it means to channel surf through 180 sectors then just fix on something, collectively? The killing grooved them, they jacked into overdrive. What I'm saying is Tonya Superfreak is doin' her shit bigger than ever, bustin' kneecaps, bungholing white and off-white males, displaying her hurts, hurtling through cyberspace, double/triple/quadruple axels. Even as you finger your mouse. That's what zipper-bustin' avant-pop [mom] is all about.

The Rebirth of the Author--A Celebration of the "Young Writer"

by Martin Schecter

There's a change going on out there in the world of writing and art, especially for young people---a change in thewhole conception of what writing is and could be---a change that no doubt builds upon the revolutions of the past, but nonetheless operates nothing like them.

How else would you explain the now two-year-old explosion of alternative music, poetry slams, and bookstore/'zinestore proliferations, totally blowing away the stultified academic-Boomer literary scene, except as Jim Shelley has in a recent article in Details that reasons the comingling of poets, avant-garde theorists, and information hackers with club mongoloids and techno DJs by saying that "London's new hedonists want more than good tunes and strong drugs; they want `ideas, weird cults, and philosophies'"?

Or take this incident as an example:

When the new vegetarian restaurant opened near the campus I was teaching at last spring, I was there two days later, meeting the owner---a twenty-something who'd just moved back to Des Moines from San Francisco---and getting into a discussion about the "new youth culture." For those of you who don't keep up with such things, the "pop" culture we were talking about involves the unlikely combination of earth- consciousness, MTV video, deconstruction theory, rap and "rave" music, international culture, queer fashion, cyberpunk science fiction, computer networks, avant-garde performance art, smart drugs, and William Burroughs. The young entrepreneur was surprised that I, at that time a professor at a university, would be conscious of such things as rave parties, vegan dietary restrictions, or William Gibson (the science fiction writer who coined the term "cyberspace"). I was equally unprepared for a twenty-six-year-old restaurant owner versed in William Burroughs, signification theory, or the science fiction writer William Gibson. But we had an instant connection: even if we didn't know everything the other did (he'd read more Burroughs than I had), there seemed to be a common culture that we shared.

This feeling of connectivity between younger writers, readers and others is a part of what I'm talking about. For older (over 36?) writers, critics, and scholars (they still seem to want to preserve these distinctions, which younger folks have mostly abandoned), the predominant occupation is the culture wars between various alienated camps. Academic "critics" castigate the academic "writers," professors demonize pop culture, and everyone seems preoccupied more by the institutional demands of their careers than by any sort of fresh discovery of vision. The only thing they all seem to agree upon is the mediocrity of today's youth: they're "slackers" who do nothing but "eat Doritos" and "watch TV" and have no sense of _____ (fill in the blank with whatever party's shibboleth), or else they're "over-ambitious" zealots with no feeling for "craft" and short attention spans. They work with us every day, but their only ideas about the up-and-coming set of creative thinkers is that...besides being different...we're somehow not on board with their plan to Sell us What We Want to Hear. Why don't those damn kids just stop grumbling and Buy Our Nostalgia? Why, we even take fifteen minutes out of every hour to create some Nostalgia especially for Them!

One sees the anxiety over the change heralded by this youth culture reflected in, among other things, the culture debates over the academy. One side lines up on "ideological demystification" and the other on "free expression," generally along the lines of whether they consider themselves "critics" or "writers." Scott Russell Sanders sums up the expressive "writers" attitude when he wrote in the Associated Writing Program's Chronicle that

The university has become a still more hazardous home for writers because of the Great Awakening now spreading from campus to campus under the banner of Theory.... Rightly or wrongly, many of us who make stories and poems feel that the net effect of recent theorizing has been to turn the writer into a puppet, one whose strings are jerked by some higher power---by ideology or the unconscious, by genetics, by ethnic allegiance, by sexual proclivities, by gender, by language itself.
The critics' general reply is usually some institutional permutation of Roland Barthes analysis of the state of affairs in 1968 France: "linguistics has recently provided the destruction of the Author with a valuable analytic tool by showing that the whole of the enunciation is an empty process," so everyone shut up and listen to me. But underneath this anciently stupid tennis match and creativity-numbing careerism reflected on both sides, one notices that the subtext increasingly has to do with an emerging anxiety about that Odd Inscrutable Uncouth Scene represented by those students and "twenty-somethings" and "young writers" who are meant to be the receptacles for all the product that keeps the older generation employed, and who, for some mysterious reason, just don't seem ready to brightly choose one Moral High Ground or another and eagerly swallow someone's Big Plan. In some cases, the anxiety about youthful creativity becomes quite explicit. Just listen to some of the invective written over the past few years:
My students often want to achieve instant success and gratification without benefit of a craft. As a rule, these new writers are more ambitious, competitive, and entrepreneurial than their predecessors; they are also less patient and less experienced both in artistic sensitivity and sensibility. The typical aspiring poet one tends to meet in post-Reagan America, usually on campus, is a wiener from Planet Mall, someone who should be teaching junior-high civics or merchandising wholesale linoleum. All those heads in the audience are full of visions of a Mort Janklow super-package deal involving the sale of movie rights, a big paperback reprint sale, and translations into seven foreign languages. I would guess that it is this legend (not the dream of publishing in the Paris Review and winning the Aga Khan Prize) that inspires most people to enroll in creative writing courses. Weaned on MTV and video games, moreover, these young people have grown up with minimal attention spans and hardly any intellectual self-discipline, and thus simply don't have the patience to read a novel...And yet one sign of the narcissism of the age is that while fewer young people are reading literature, more of them than ever want to be writers.
I could go on and on. And it isn't just limited to tenured creative writing professors. Edward Hoagland's tirade, unleashed in his introduction to The Pushcart Prize XVI, illustrates the general attitude against this "new generation" perhaps the most succinctly:
There is a feeling of entitlement among many new writers: budding novelists who want lifetime job tenure at a college somewhere and a Volvo in the garage. The particular angst, anguish, poverty or precarious circumstances they describe in their minimalist fiction should never be visited upon them.
This from people who can't even figure out where the "Start" button is on their PC, let alone how to "read post-structural jargon" or "upload" a computer file. See, I can generalize too. Seems to me that there's plenty of anguish to go around in any age, both inside the academy and out. All right, so let's agree up front---every generation produces its fair share of incompetence, artifice, and sycophantic babbling. But the way these established writers characterize their younger colleagues and wannabe's, reaching automatically for such limp stereotypes as "instant gratification," "minimal attention spans," "entitlement," and "entrepreneurial"-- -besides being revealingly defensive and unjustifiably Romantic- --also reminds me of the current ongoing media construction of Generation X (a.k.a. "Busters," "Post-Boomers," and the "13th Generation"). And that's the current common-sense media generalization going on these days, both inside the academy and out: While "Boomers" romanticize their formative years of wanderlust and reverie from their comfortably tenured positions on college faculties and New York editorial lists, admonishing the kids for not imitating their Morrisonesque journeys of "dropping out" to be "real writers" so they could later come back and take over the plum elitist positions in the Establishment they once railed against, "Busters," admittedly only tenuously attached to a "Eurocentric" cultural history that has jettisoned itself from American life, at least yearn to recreate a more contemporary intellectual community, take no solace in the hypocritical admonishments of their elders, and see themselves with a realistic clarity, struggling to survive in a world of increasing competition.
They have been entering the work force at a time of prolonged downsizing and downturn, so they're likelier than the previous generation to be unemployed, underemployed, and living at home with Mom and Dad. They're alienated by a culture that has been dominated by boomers for as long as they can remember. They're angry as they look down a career path that's corded with thirty- and fortysomethings who are in no hurry to clear the way.
The quote from a business magazine seems more than appropriate. Born in an era when everything was bequest to them---both a rebellious youth and then, when the time came, a place at the table---the generation who told itself "you can have it all" generally retained their pre-1950 Romantic notions of the world in tact, because these notions were never really tested against the changing aesthetic realities channeled by rapid economic and technical upheaval. They still think that "business," "science," and "art," like "pursuit of happiness" and "freedom of speech," are discrete concepts that can exist pure and whole in the world, handed to you after the requisite years of service if you Play Nice with the Powers that Be. Those who came of age in the post-Reagan, post-Atari years of shrinking horizons and instantaneous back-lash learned well that nothing was guaranteed, or guaranteed not to be different tomorrow.

That doesn't mean that Boomers and Busters both aren't part of the same "establishment." But there really is a decided difference, I think, in gross attitudes between people of these different intellectual and creative eras. Although the Busters, whoever they are, have little access to the media that are controlling their image, they know quite well from whence comes such control: cultural interpolations, identity constructions, economic constraints on artistic form. And they know, as well, which eternal verities need most to be given new form today. But most established writers, in control of the medium and worrying about the next problem---recognition--- are in no position to notice the youthful explosion, cross- pollination, and struggle now going on with form. Since I'm thirty-two years old (the same age as Douglas Coupland, Generation X author), and have spent time in the trenches teaching groups of 20-year-olds myself, I'm somewhat in the hiatus of these generational constructions. Yet every time I hear one of these generational invectives being launched at us from their corporately controlled cyberspace, it makes me want to reach for my Nintendo zapper. It's as if our planet's intellectual/creative spirit has been mind-locked into some janitorial time-slip, every week hauling itself down the road to the next Mr. Ed re-run, never stopping to ask if where it's going is actually interesting to someone living with the problems of today.

I admit, some people do seem to get it. There's Matt Groenig, for instance. And Larry McCaffery. Or Greg Tate. Or any number of faculty/artist/hacker/movie-producer/information- secretary/freelancers. But it's come to seem that the last people holding onto the myth of a Romantically "pure" literary "artiste," whose work, language, and narrative convention remains uncontaminated by concerns of economics, class, or cultural positioning, are those who call themselves, ironically, "Creative Writers" (their caps)---that is, the majority (though certainly not all) of institutionalized professors, writing stories of small, unthought, heartbreak published in little college journals that nobody (except other creative writing professors) reads. Fiercely holding the guns on the "Best Of..." and National Endowment grants, insisting on the "irrelevance" of theory and the philistinism of pop, minority, computer, and contemporary culture, they keep complaining about the same bland, insipid, white-washed stories over and over from their students. As if they had nothing to do with whatever it is that their students produced: a perfect example of Boomer Blindness. No wonder, to them, creative writing appears to be dying, and the barbarians are at the gate.

With such condescension dripping from pens of these Guardians of Nostalgia, it isn't surprising that some of the disillusioned students and ex-students, as well as those "outside the writing-academic circle," have taken to firing back.

Last year when Tom Wolfe kicked up a storm with his self-serving essay about the malaise in American fiction, he failed to find any smoking gun that would explain the death of the social novel. But there is one: a vast industry devoted to imaginative writing whose participants are holding one another hostage to mediocrity...the malaise in American fiction comes factory-direct from those very M.F.A. writing mills. As more people want to write, the programs become financially beneficial to the universities; and as less people want to read what these people write, the authors increasingly depend on academia for their livelihood.... This process produces a distinctive type of fiction. Reacting against academic English departments, it is vigorously anti-intellectual.... Because of the workshop format, it tends heavily toward the short story, and in keeping with America's tidal wave of literary and artistic egalitarianism, it is the sort of fiction that anyone can, or ought to be able to produce. Universities and colleges provide havens for writers who can't make a living at their chosen occupation and give them an opportunity to help others become more skilled at writing poems and stories that, to say the least, are not in demand.... Whether in anthologies or in literary quarterlies, today's "chosen" fiction, more often than not created with the support and security of grants, is tightly circumscribed by the pitifully limited experiences of the writers...they all learned from each other, and what they learned is how to adopt a winning pose, how to, in effect, write the same story. It's a story meant for the circle and not one I want to read, no matter what individual touches might be added for its latest incarnation.
Look, I have nothing against writing programs, per se. But as they exist right now, the only real argument for most of them is...writers are somehow able to survive them. Not much of an endorsement, if you ask me (it doesn't say much for the "teaching" that goes on there), but their proliferation does tend to create a certain amount of institutional gravity. It's not that these programs don't teach "the avant-garde." They don't even teach Aristotle! The most useful knowledge they deign to teach, in general, is how to ignore uninformed criticism. You don't need to pay tuition for that. What harm could it do to teach some kind of informed content about the history, theory, innovations, and struggles surrounding American (or any kind of) art, culture and writing, rather than table-talk lackadaisical "workshops"? What harm could it do to study the craft of a single novel in painstaking detail, or construct group experiments in various theories of hypertext? But creative writing teachers aren't generally hired based on intellectual criteria---they're hired because their name (or award) recognition pulls the necessary bodies onto the enrollment rosters, and what they the rest of more writing time, not teaching requirements. But isn't teaching simply another form of writing, another aspect of constructing the text of the literary/cultural life-plan? No...not to the Romantic Purist Boomers. What they want, in their heart of hearts, is to go off and live all alone on a ranch in Montana, with a stipend of $30,000 a year, and no obligations at all to their potential group of readers (to either educate, inform, seduce, outrage, or entertain them). Which is certainly not unreasonable---writers deserve $30,000 a year---but hardly realistic payment for "self expression" alone. Thankfully, there seem to be enough young writers who know that official "awards," "workshops," and "degrees" do not an artist make, and who have enough sense to blissfully ignore all the admonishments to "correct their language" and "wait their turn in the small-press line." For all that this criticism of the Buster's TV/computer/minority/theory culture serves to do is cut an entire generation off from their muse---but then, to our generation, such whining from the elders just seems like yet another example of the general white noise.

Despite all the brouhaha, I think Blanchot's assessment of the writer's dilemma applies just as well in America today as it did a generation ago:

The Greek myth says: one cannot create a work unless the enormous experience of the depths--- an experience which the Greeks recognized as necessary to the work, an experience in which the work is put to the test by that enormousness---is not pursued for its own sake....
Sure, most young people, in general, have not experienced the depths enough to create a work. But some have, despite all the claims to the contrary. And Blanchot reminds us that for the sake of the work, the depths must ultimately not be pursued---the artist must still, somehow, exist in the world, which in this day and age involves making a living.

There's the rub. For it's in their attempt to avoid being swallowed by the enormity of the depths that second-generation MFA grads and culture crazies, computer hackers and amateur social theorists and self-promoting 'zine editors and youngsters of all sorts, are constantly getting accused of "selling out." Of not having the "proper mental ascetic writing attitude" or the especially flavorful method of social (read Socialist) activism and "personal poverty." Of wanting to---gasp---make money. ( the M word...anything but that.) Especially by their NEA-funded, Institutionalized, O' Henry-Award collected, unionized, medically insured elders. This is another fine example of the hypocrisy being laid on the doorstep of "young writers." "I was living on the Lower East Side of New York...on $2,500 a year, as was commonly the case among writers thirty years ago, before big book contracts and university writing programs had been invented to boost their incomes," brags Edward Hoagland, who recently appeared telling Christmas stories in the New York Times Magazine. Allowing for inflation, that's just about how much a graduate student earns while working her way through MFA school; so where's the difference, Mr. Hoagland?

Personally, I have nothing against making money, or doing what it takes to survive (I guess that's just the practicality of my quote unquote generation). What I wish, however, is that the village elders would stop acting so guilty about it, and projecting all that guilt and derision on us younger folks. What these Guardians of Nostalgia need most is to come down from their Romantic high horse. What's so special about the activity of writing that you have to be poor to do it? Why do they think that their story is the only version of artistic angst and anguish around? I suppose it's all that projection of unwarranted guilt about money that makes me so upset about such ill-disguised condescension as from the well-intentioned Mr. Hoagland and his many cohorts. Sure, $300,000 advances can be outrageous (keep an eye on those extra zeros). Ethnic cleansing in Bosnia is outrageous. We all need to keep our sense of outrage. But we're writers. Have a little sense of humor about life. Why can't these writers just pocket their $5000 fees and their corporate paychecks and be happy about it? Enjoy themselves. Go on a little vacation to Bermuda, dig up something more exciting to read about than middle-class alcoholic divorces in dreary college English Departments, or the first tremulous kiss with Suzie on the frozen pond in Upper Watsits, Michigan. Yet we never stop hearing, from all these people who've "made it," just how aesthetically "pure" and "uninfluenced" their aesthetic is, and how "competitive" and "entrepreneurial" the youngsters are. Right. Let them write a language poem or a surreal dissociative escapade and see how fast they fall off the pages of the New York Times Magazine. Really---just what language do they want us all to speak in those Mail-Order Garrets of theirs?

The "not-commercial little press" language of easy-to-teach and easy-to-do staged sighs and epiphanies, or the "commercially viable" language of Ha Ha and Big Plot? Or maybe the "self-interrogating self-actualized deconstructions" of the New Canon? Maybe all of it, if you want to, if you know how to make it spin. But that's the secret, isn't it? William Gibson or rapper Eazy-E could beat the pants off of nine-tenths of the stuff jetting around on the "Creative Writing reading circuit" with their eyes closed. I admit that it isn't easy to invent a new language amongst the constantly deteriorating cliches and jargon of our over-manipulated reality, a constantly shifting language of Life, and then to advocate that language as a remedy to mechanization and inhumanism. But it's the writer's job to try.

Maybe books aren't in our future. Maybe writing as we knew it a generation ago isn't in our future either. So what? Something is; it's our job as artists to find out what. But I can hear them out there now, the Guardians of Nostalgia, telling us all't give in to the Siren call of that veil of illusions around you. Stick to tradition. Preserve standards. Beware of those who extol technological and conscious thinking, especially computer nerds and literary theorists. Arrange deeply intuitive and visionary glances instead. Focus on the dim campus of the underworld with all its great spirits of yesteryear. Speak the language of your "true self." Listen for the "quiet moment." Purify away your "non-literary" influences. Seek the "universal." And just what does this "literary universal" look like? It looks suspiciously a lot like them. And of course, for their small entry fee, they'll smilingly hand out a million form-printed rejections of a universe-full of nearly identical "true selves," copied scrupulously from their models, and not even stop to question the contradictions.

Their "universal" also, of course, constructs a convenient history for itself (paging Chekhov! paging O'Henry!), while ignoring writers from Mallarme to Stein, who have had, arguably, an even stronger influence on our general culture. In that introduction of his, Mr. Hoagland talks about wanting to find today's future Emily Dickinson (another familiar Icon) writing in her atelier, stuffing poems in her drawers to be discovered by some future English professor one hundred years from now reviewing methods for the New New New Old Criticism. Yeah, sure. As if we'd even recognize today's tomorrow's canon, when we're overwhelmed already in 1994 with millions of Emilies and Emiles writing...goddamn it...graffiti on the street, yet, and it's getting taught to college students as poetry! And what will all us thousands of M.F.A.-er's be doing as we all talk eternally self-expressively to ourselves, leaving millions of bits and bleeps of unerased binary code on our disk recording media? Who'll ever bother to read them? (As Al Gore says, "vast amounts of unused information ultimately become a kind of pollution.") At least rap music, science fiction, Virtual Reality, computer instruction manuals, telephone books, soap operas, advertising jingles, MTV, snuff porn, anarchist fantasies, Detective Comics, resurrected Beat journals, Queer Theory---these things create a community beyond the creators...and therefore communication.

Hell---why fight it? What sort of self satisfaction does that get you? Why not join them? Throw away your mannered meter and M.F.A.'d point of view and find yourself a booth at the carnival to set up shop. Hell, you don't have to have been born between 1961 and 1981 to consider yourself one of Strauss and Howe's recessive reactive "13th Generation," growing up as an underprotected and criticized youth and maturing into risk-taking alienated rising adulthood. So why not join us?

Join us and have fun and make money and not worry about it. What more can a writer ask? No, I think economy, economies- --supply and demand---are as good a sorter of priorities as any. "Economy," in the sense of saving space, clearing off the desk, and knowing what to salvage. Of course economies sometimes clear off the wrong things, or get taken over by spiritually deprived people with malignant agendas. But how will we ever keep them on track if we don't study how they work? If we don't interrogate our own spirits? If we don't participate? It's a startling thought to some, but maybe pop culture is literary. Occasionally. And what's so wrong with that?

You see, what's missing in all this analysis of the "young writer"---besides a sense of responsibility for the situation---is any kind of accurate description of the young writer's contemporary social reality. What has changed drastically over the last thirty years are the terms of creativity, and anyone looking down the barrel of a potential writing career has to contend with not only a "postmodern" fragmented-yet-media- fused culture and readership, but a whole change in production ---there aren't simply one or two notable books a year written by select white male masters, but 800 (for poetry) and something well over a thousand (for fiction), streaming from mainstream and semi-mainstream and institutionally supported presses of all sorts. Simply "publishing" as a "writer" doesn't make you a "writer" like it did these lucky Original Iowa Workshop grads. Now Being a Writer is something you can Buy on TV (with a lifetime subscription to Our Magazine)--- You get the Super-Duper paint-by-numbers Romantic version--- or else win at one of the various Lotteries. Or perhaps carefully craft with a real, if specialized, community. It takes a special kind of shock-resistant bullshit detector to cut through the hype today, plus the guts to go through wrenching hyper-transmogrification something akin to the self-commodification of Andy Warhol, until one becomes synonymous with one's "name" (Mark Leyner demonstrates this process quite convincingly), or else erased (but at least regularly paid) under the grueling service of some monolithic institution (the academy, television, Hollywood, mass market trade) that maybe, if you're lucky, gutsy, and pig-headed enough, you can milk for some writing time. That isn't to say that writing today isn't exciting---personally, I think it's more exciting to sell your juice for a few bucks, where at least you know exactly what you're worth (hey, this is America!), than to pine away writing some kind of self-deluded post-mortemism: fantasizing about the day after your funeral when HISTORY discovers your abundantly hidden INEFFABLE yet ESSENTIAL and PURELY EXPRESSED GENIUS. Bah.

If you ask me, genius is for losers who want to sell their story to television. I want to be television, the New Television--- and I think that's what every real writer should want. What with more 'zines, books, information streams, articles, and xerox art being published than ever before, a whole new realm of creative aesthetics being accepted by the "other side" of the academy, and the whole idea of the "writer" dissolving under the winking cursor of the computer screen, I simply wonder how anyone these days can conceive of a zero-degree writing, untouched by culture and quaintly bequeathed to our uncomplicatedly, unpolitically "best" writers---especially since that zero-degree reaction is the most culturally contaminated, the most uncomplicated, of all. I'm just not interested in it. That doesn't mean that only "theory" is interesting. Dale Peck's simple, shocking statements of loss can be just as powerful as Mark Leyner's hyperbolic rants. It just means that all writing operates out of some theory or other. Some economy or other. I just want people to be up-front about theirs.

But in general, established writers continue to displace their guilt and paranoia by characterizing younger writers as obsessed with TV, Pop-Tarts, and money. Maybe they're the ones with the delusional fantasies. It's practically cliche to point out that these former drop-outs are the dominant culture now, the guiding unexamined myth, paying off refinanced mortgages while recreating a nostalgic Big Bad Military-Industrial Complex they're still trying to find a way to rail against...summing a Mythic Moment a Minute, hoping we'll just line up for their hand-me-down "originality" without holding them to any kind of reality check. At least if they admitted the whole thing was all a scam, we'd have something in common with them---and we could shake hands, and go about our business as pals. But noooo...and so instead of discussing what gets altered in the process, they go on debating Multiculturalism and Artistic Freedom and Critical Integrity as if these intellectual McNuggets were actual choices that get decided by actual citizens, rather than merely Corporate Thought Control entertainment designed to keep us distracted from the apocalyptic digestion of the planet by the soulless whirligig of transnational capital. It's a co-dependency scheme-out, and the Boomers have Bought it, charging it to our tab, and that's why the latest "avant-garde movement" gets written up as a new marketing segment in Business Week two weeks after it's invented, and the Newest Fashion Wave, as we all know, travels from SoHo to Midtown in a matter of a few seconds, usually over one of their faxes. You can't even create a neologism without it being out of date before your coffee gets cold. As Mark Amerika writes in The Kafka Chronicles, "we can put out your story faster than you can dream up a new name sister." Staying one step ahead these days takes Extra Energy, Real Sacrifice (as rare these days as Real Dollars), and a hearty Supply of Wheaties (for the death of the planet's generating the only vitamins around)---plus the vision to see that the true artistic choices are about how to get into the channel to fuck with the signal, not whether or not we should have TV! And that ain't easy. Today, in the instantaneous world of e-mail, electronic bulletin boards, and fax machines, there simply isn't any "real writing" that takes place outside the system (poetry has its own mini-economy of teaching positions, conferences, and AIDS benefits). One is either hooked up or one is written off. For a writer, we're not talking "success" -- we're talking survival. And thousands of young folks are doing it! Hurray!

I suspect that established writers must sense these increasing economic constraints, this change in the game; yet most are too competitive (their complaint, remember?) to care about a genuine writing community, or nurturing rather than exploiting their readers, students, and the next generation of artists (most likely to be all one in the same). Or maybe it's that they're secretly afraid they'd expire from heart attacks if they seriously tried to keep up. These days, one is treated constantly to the spectacle of established writers such as Philip Roth decrying the lack of readers for "literary" fiction---without bothering to wonder whether mega-phenomena such as Terri McMillan, Toni Morrison, Art Spiegelman, or even something as outlandish as one of The WELL's special-interest discussion groups, called simply "WEIRD," might not be considered "literary." Perhaps what's on the wane is the interest for an outdated sensibility. (Although I personally wouldn't say this about Roth, whose sensibility, I would say, is still quite alive. It's just that he's got, for a change, a little competition in the market, something that young writers are quite used to, but that the older generation can't seem to deal with very well.)

Actually, I think a call to theoretical and economic arms, blazoned by young writers, would be good---not bad---for literature. If there is a death of "social novel," at least among the M.F.A. crowd, maybe it's because not enough people in writing programs are receiving an education about the world they live in. But there are plenty of great sources out there. You just need to go out and look. You just need to get in tune with your audience. And that's what this new generation is doing. Young people tend to exist in all of these worlds, both high culture and low, academic and "real," technological and literary, the worlds of "theory" and the worlds of "pop," without having to wonder why. Mr. Fenza, in launching a call in the Associated Writers Programs Chronicle to address the problem of "theory" on campus, inadvertently made the connection, comparing the lure of theory to the empty jingle of Madonna.

Like Madonna, academic critics are self-involved with their own fabulousness, gratifying themselves with their own inter-textual prowess, their etymological riffing, their eclectic thievery of fashionable styles. The resulting style, however, is really the awful antithesis of style, like Madonna's: practiced manipulation and self-advertisement.
That's why the Guardians of Nostalgia hate Theory---it's threatening to win the academic ratings war and even further marginalize the Romantic set. But I wouldn't be so quick to write off either theory or Madonna. Who knows---maybe she's the one who's today's tomorrow's Emily Dickinson. Then again, maybe not. Maybe it'll be Cathy Schwichtenberg, editor of The Madonna Connection (a sort of theoretical elegy to Madonna, in which several critics attempt an explanation of what E. Ann Kaplan calls "the Madonna phenomena"). But what does it matter to us new folk? Theory, like Doritos, William Faulkner, Aristotle, and "The Simpsons," has to be approached with the right attitude, that so-called "generation X" attitude: it should be an experience to be ingested, perverted, and enjoyed---not another God-damned Advertisement for The Sanctioned Point Of View.

All this is simply to say that what matters---as it always has, I suspect---is whether it works for you---the writer's carefully cultivated ability to pierce through the numbing veils of platitudinous existence that are constantly being laid upon us, from the right, left, and center, from intellectuals and anti-intellectuals both, from Official Writers and well as Official Critics. And it seems to me that the point at hand---as Ben Satterfield suggests---is that a lot of what fails at that task is hyped, institutionalized, and rewarded (the very definition of "platitude," I suppose), while a lot of what succeeds is kept out of the media and out of the academy (except, perhaps, where theory and capital let it back in)---the perfectly paradoxical postmodern movement. And yet, the powers-that-be continue to market a nostalgic "literary" formation for contemporary writing, packaging work that is simultaneously "classic" (and institutionally acceptable) and yet also "new, hip, and relevant," while the critics train future critics to do nothing more than repeat the now-cliche insights of yesteryear. And then they blame the younger generations for failing to buy into their idealized nostalgic visions with all their hypocrisy and self- defeating contradictions.

It's just that we've got to get beyond the old debates and the old Nostalgia. The ideas that the Old Standard is somehow naturally selecting Today's Art from the pristine slate of our Youth...or that all writing gets equally and effortlessly squirted out of the collective subconscious by tectonic shifts of runic just, well, insulting---something that Time, thankfully, will correct. Take Bruce Bawer, for instance, writing in The New Criterion:

Even smaller than the literary world, these days, is the number of people in it to whom literature itself is a cherished---indeed, an indispensable--- concept.... People...profess not to like the word "literary," which they claim to find elitist, exclusionary, fascistic.... Such writers...frown at the word "discrimination," whose political connotations make it unacceptable even when prefixed with "aesthetic"; and they shake their heads at any reference to critical standards, for "standards" is a reactionary code word....
He's got the parody of the theorists down pat, but come on: Cherish literature? What century is this guy from? Who's arrogant enough these days to claim they're familiar with everything going on enough to lionize The Literary? And, as the theorists would say, by whose standards are we supposed to choose? Why are his any better than theirs? Or, on the other side of the coin, who today can still claim seriously that the human need for an at least temporarily transcendental art was conclusively disproved as an ideological illusion in Paris in 1968? Or that the unwieldy jackhammers of critical vocabulary have the exclusive patent on social insight? At least exhibit some awareness and subtlety for the complexity and ever- changing truth of the question. To me, that's what makes "greatness"---not "universals," and not capital L "Literature," especially in a world that for all intents and purposes has already destroyed the whole category. Hell---you're not supposed to frame literature and put it on the wall. You're not supposed to make a fetish of going to its funeral. You're supposed to EAT IT! But the established critics and writers both have failed, increasingly, to take a bite. The critics continue to insist that there's no such thing as an author (When You Look for Him He Disappears!---how convenient for them!), while the Guardians of Nostalgia lament that in these post-Barthian "Death of the Author" times, no one's interested any more in the self-absorbed expressions of their poor little suffering isolated souls. Awwww. What died twenty years ago wasn't Literature, it seems to me, but a particular, generational sense of what's literary: the idea of an autonomous, essentialized individual Author who Makes Important Classics for the rest of the world to Cherish Slavishly---from a sanitized and respectful distance---with the distant furtive hope of eventually, as the gangsta slang has it, getting "paid in full" (by the great Literary Tally in the Sky). If that's Literature---or if Nothing is Literature---who needs it? To me, it's young writers who are doing all the hard, exciting work, and what's being reborn out of the deconstructed ruins of this overcriticized and abused Romantic notion is the idea of a writer who belongs to and transmits the culture she an authentic, contemporary life amongst the parallel dimensions of our constantly rocking/shifting world in order to create the refracted and distended and super-duper New Stuff. A writer/reader who surfs the memes of the culture of other writer/readers, interacting, challenging, changing, creating, somehow managing to Earn a Living. And sure---what gets hailed by the Machine as the Newest Wave is always the really a reductive, latest Old News. That's what makes it so interesting: the platitudes are always shifting. But how can you be getting off the bandwagon when you never got on it in the first place? Time never marches backward, deciding, like a changing political administration, to rescind the edicts of its unfolding history, but builds on the periods preceding it. Those who refuse to catch up to the Nineties are destined to be living in the Sixties debates forever.

It's not really so much a matter of age, or when you were born, but outlook, honesty, and courage. Writing, it seems to me, takes care of itself---and although the living literature of a culture is always underrecognized and misnamed, reports of our generation's demise are being, I must gladly say, roundly refuted.

One story: present tense spaces of the heart

by Michael Joyce

"There is one story and one story only," --Robert Graves
"...the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly" -- Donna Haraway
As I get older I am convinced I have only one story and that it is multiple. The forms of things mean.

as much as.

in the same way.

(Do not fill in theblank)

(There is no blank.)

There used to be a colon in the first sentence. The colon in the first sentence formed a polarity, or so I thought. (Donna Haraway: "the relationships for forming wholes from parts, including...polarity and hierarchy are at issue.")

At issue (this issue, as in this issue "on-line about 1 October on the Alternative-X Press", the internet as amniocentric publication medium become briefly the secularity of the cyborg body of christ(ine) (olson's proprioceptive); or (also?) the procreative issue (also this issue, cf. Walter Benjamin) from which we must escape. Haraway, for instance, joins her argument to a "utopian tradition of imagining a world without gender" which also requires imagining "a world without genesis." The cyborg offers a convenient and frightening option, "embodied in non-oedipal narratives with a different logic of repression." There is no blank.

When I was younger I was convinced of a story which became for me multiple. When I was younger I was a story which became me multiple. When I was younger I read the making of americans, the maximus poems, a poet in new york, the blood oranges, each one beginning with an article.(Do not fill in theblank) Indefinite, definite, infinite.

It is not the comparative, the whole (from) part, which is the missing limb from the first sentence, it is rather the report of the action of the thing, the how. I/know/nothing/new. (Olson in "GRAMMAR- a "book," Additional Prose, Bolinas: Four Seasons, 1974, charts it, typographicallyindefinite, definite, infinite, who, how, like, as, a, all:


of lic (who-like?)

of what sort or


Among the Mexica the good scribe, it is said in the Codex Florentino, "knew very well the genealogies of the lords" and of him it was said "He links the people well; he places them in order." Sister stories know a different order, they link not by placing but by finding places within which to be. They know very well what, in The Making of Americans Gertrude Stein called "all the kinds of ways there can be seen to be kinds of men and women." Hypertext, a linking technology, tells of (and with) different orders. Carolyn Guyer, Rosemary Joyce and I have collaborated on a multimedia hyperfiction (Sister Stories,Cambridge, MA: Eastgate, 1995 forthcoming) which explores ways to be women and men. Building from the mythological story of Coyolxauhqui sister to Huitzilopochtli, the text itself explores the nature of telling and of reading, of being inside and outside a story, a place, a field, a history, a text. That is, how things mean or/as the body: one story: multiple.

For the Nahuatl speaking Mexica (who we have come to know as Aztec) the boundary of text and image was artificial. They wrote in highly pictographic ways, providing specifics of when, where, who in text, and specifics of action through images. Similarly in hypermedia the image again takes its place within the system of text, the word again takes its place within the universe of the visible and the sensual. For the specifics of action in Storyspace (our hypertext software) the unit of linking is at the moment a four pixel square (the smallest possible "region" link in a graphic) or the single letter (character) in text. The formal organizations, how the forms mean, are multi-level networks across an underlying hierarchy, networks which (despite their primitive box and lines graphics) we find writers increasingly exploiting as visual-semantic entities and readers claiming as the emergent, dynamic form of the texts they create in their readings. In Sister Stories the word as image and action is meant to implicate readers and writers alike. The collaborative reading unfolds on the assumption that "in a history of many men and women," as Stein says, "sometimes there will be a history of every one."

The forms of things mean. The story my archaeologist sister sees in this story of sisters is formed of shards distributed across the fourteen volumes of the codices. Likewise the shards of worn glass washed up on the beach in the novel by my heart's sister, Carolyn Guyer (from her hyperfiction, Quibbling, Cambridge, MA: Eastgate, 1992.):

Seeing the afternoon's harvest there in a pool on the bed made her catch her breath. These shards looked so much like the Lake to her, the angles and curves of the surface beat, sharp and dull, blue green umber light merging, blending, overlapping. As with the Lake, she could not take her eyes away. She had with her a square, shallow cigar box, bought on a whim for its bright, ornate decoration. She'd been keeping pencils and odds and ends in it. Removing them, she poured the beach glass into the box. The inside of the lid was golden and hot as midday. She opened it wide, and the color of the Lake shifted musically beneath it.
What's found is not buried there as code but rather shines through: not Hansel's strewn breadcrumbs but rather Gretel's persistence of vision against the coming night. Light as transmission, the forms of things. Decades of Mexica informants responding to the old Jesuit Sahagun's proto-ethnographies successively learned from these questions themselves how to tell him the stories in the forms his culture could hear . My sister points out in the codex illustrations how the figure of the madwoman- she is merely unmarried and so a threat, a storyteller- is moved out into a landscape the Spanish will recognize, the pictographic and narrative space constructed by negotiation: the woman pictured sitting in an open landscape, isolated and iconic as an exotic bird. Likewise Dwight Conquergood explained to me how in the refugee camps the Hmong constructed a new aesthetic for their paj ntaub ("flower cloth") whether adapting encoded motifs of stitchery to more pictographic (comic strip panel) camp narratives complete with embroidered captions, or on the other hand churning out Peaceable Kingdom tree of life scenes, in each case shifting from traditional psychedelic circus colors to muted yuppie tones of blue and grey- all to suit a market they learned about in camp stories of blooming dales and Pier One. Yet the stories remaining there still for one who traverses the encoded stitches, she who unearths the different shades within.

Rosemary Joyce (in email, what we used to call- the templates, MLA or Sahagun- "a personal communication":

"Blue and green are without a doubt the most prized and significant color(s). Technically, the Aztecs did not separate as we do the entire blue-green range. So all those color terms are associated--with water, vegetation, growth. (Green feathers are described as like new plants sprouting, and in some Mesoamerican cultures stand for the springing forth of new children.) Of course, like all humans, Aztecs could see the difference between different shades of blue-green. They made these differences concrete by using gem names for them: turquoise, xiuhuitl; jade, chalchiutl. Blue then was associated with sky, and with sacred fire. Jade with vegetation and sweet waters of the earth."
There is a language of feathers, a language of glass, a language of stitches, a language of contours, a language of story spaces, a language of each of us and of every one of us. You cannot describe it, you can only see it (in memoriam is not postmortem, however avant). "That's why," Charles Bernstein in (aptly) Content's Dream, LA:Sun&Moon, 420-21, 1986, "That's why I object when you say it makes sense 'to me' as opposed 'to you.' Why talk about making sense to anybody and not of something."

We are trying to see a truly participative, a multiple, fiction and so for the moment at least peer into the ultramarine depth of the computer, our eyes moving over the flickering text as snorkelers along the coral reef, floating there without the anchor of the book. As in reading (with/in) the body, Olson's proprioceptive or as Janet Kauffman has it (The Body in Four Parts. Greywolf Press, St. Paul, 1993)

Underwater, things are not what you think. There is no confusion, first of all, no one-way traffic, no solid or dotted lines, your sense of direction is exact, irrefutable, whether you go with the current or against it, whether you cut at right angles to it, or sit stock-still, footed in mud, clammed shut. This is the lost and found knowledge, the assurance of touch, head to foot. This is buoyancy, hazard, and waywardness-what it is to be at home, unhoused, ongoing. Elsewhere, alert, you have to admit, nothing surrounds you, not air, no, it's out of hand. We've pushed it off, walled it in, walled it out. However it once was for a person's body, moving around, when it was creaturely, thoughtless, is a recollection that comes back only in lapses, when we lose track- in lovemaking when it is ranging, sweated, benumbed; or when we fall on the ground as children, dizzy from spinning, and feel the ground under us careening.
Indeed I conceived the "words that have texture" ("words which yield") in afternoon as something of the "recollection that comes back only in lapses, when we lose track," discovered in places where the reader literally could press against, caress, tease out (extrude) the language. Yet the aim of hypertext (multiple) fiction is one story (the story of its own telling), "the assurance of touch, head to foot". How when
even if you go into a cafe and tape somebody's normal conversations, it's full of non-sequiturs and little bits and pieces that are really discordant and even contradictory- and that to me is part of the nature of human thinking and of people's relating to each other. It only seems discordant because we've been trained to read or listen in a certain way, and the lyric poem, too, the narrative poem is constructed in order to coincide with the conventional notions of reading and, you know, who are those serving? The interests of newspaper advertisers...The reader has to switch too, has to be prepared to say, 'Okay there's more than one kind of reading...'"
Erin Mouré, "And Just Leave Them There, and Let Them Resonate": an interview with Nathalie Cooke" ARC31, Autumn, 37-38, Ottawa, 1993.

Okay there's more than one kind of reading. A similar realization propelled my oft-quoted impetus for afternoon toward "writing a story that would change each time you read it." The forms of things mean. My interest has always been on the development of multiple narratives as whole forms (i.e., neither self-reflexive nor ironic, not exhausted possibilities), but where the whole exists in something like Donna Haraway's situated knowledge ("simultaneously an account of radical historical contingency for all knowledge claims and knowing subjects... and a non-nonsense commitment to faithful accounts of a 'real' world ") as present tense spaces of the heart.

Its insistence on the wholly formed multiple reading makes hyperfiction's connection with socalled "postmodernist" fiction seem to me unfortunate. Postmodernist (fabulist, metafictional, etc.) in that sense suggests flatness, lackluster bubbles from day-old champagne. (Avant at least restores the pop [shubopshubop] over black ice.) "Postmodernist" is as inadequate to describe hyperfiction as it is to describe Robert Coover's claims (to Larry McCaffery in Anything Can Happen:.Interviews with Contemporary American Novelists, 1983) for the how form means: "I'm much more interested in the way that fiction, for all its weaknesses, reflects something else-gesture connections, paradox, story."

Yet now that the mirror's gone what's that reflection of something else? What seems to me most interesting about hypermedia now is the inherent tensional opposition (to use Carolyn Guyer's phrase) between image and text. Haraway similarly identifies as "a map of tensions and resonances between the fixed ends of a charged dichotomy...[in which] knowledge [can be] tuned to resonance not dichotomy." This calls to mind what Coover has called the "vibrant space between the poles of a paradox...where all the exciting art happens."

What you cannot describe but you can only see is the inverse of the simulacrum, the real for which there is no fixed representation, or what elsewhere I've called the contour :

how the thing (the other) for a long time (under, let's say, an outstretched hand) feels the same and yet changes, the shift of surface to surface within one surface which enacts the perception of flesh or the replacement of electronic text.
It's this surface, how the forms of things mean, that makes me less willing to throw over (in memoriam is not post-mortem, however avant) the other postmodern, the one we've been summoned here to bury not to praise. Or at least not the postmodern of what Jane Yellowlees Douglas has called "the genuine postmodern text, rejecting the objective paradigm of reality as the great 'either/or' and embracing, instead, the 'and/and/and'."

Avant pop, and apres nous, is always (and, and, and always will be) situated where Douglas situates hyperfiction, i.e., a space in which the "third or fourth encounter with the same place, the immediate encounter remains the same as the first, [but] what changes is [our] understanding." ("The Act of Reading,"Writing on the Edge, 2 (2),, June, 1991).And so avant-pop seems to me the shift from carbon-copy to a process of carbonation in both its (dictionary) senses (American Heritage indeed). In the first sense a well-spring (Canada Dry: a virtual landscape) reenergized with sparkling industrial bubbles, colorless as diamonds, soft as pixels; in its second, darker sense nonetheless the carbonized mark left behind by life, pencil or Hiroshima's (for example) ineffable, horrific, cataclysmic, (and/and/and) late millennial imprint, fossil's scream as virtual lifescape. We are surrounded by the marks of ghosts, the face which shines through the charred coals, the flesh of Aliquippa hills gouged by the 737, in each case writing in light, the technology not making us any less, in Rothenberg's fine title for it, Technicians of the Sacred, i.e.,

Within this undifferentiated & unified frame with its open images & mixed media, there are rarely "poems" as we know them- but we come in with our analytical minds and shatter the unity
(Rothenberg,"Pre-Face" in Technicians, xxii)

I flew out of Pittsburgh by chance on September 8th at exactly the same time, more or less (7:10pm) that USAir 427 went down. I saw nothing. I saw the whole thing.

[among] the ways in which primitive poetry & thought are close to an impulse toward unity in our own time, of which the poets are forerunners [is]... 4) an 'intermedia' situation, as further denial of the categories: the poet's techniques aren't limited to verbal maneuvers but operate also through song, non-verbal sound, visual signs, & the varied activities of the ritual event: here the 'poem'= the work of the 'poet' in whatever medium or (where we're able to grasp it) the totality of the work
(Rothenberg,"Pre-Face," xxiii)

Outside the hills around the city ran with a gold river of houselights twinkling like a bedded fire below the grey blue ridge of pumpkin-edged clouds as the sun set. Just ahead the horizon glowed melon, copper, cantaloupe fading to a paler blue grey sky above, etched upon the cocoa hills and horizon's edge below. Off through the gap of gilt grey clouds Venus lay in the moon's thin, white arms (as the world-mapper Van Allen long ago said it calling us all out from the party into the Iowa City night to see).

"Why don't you write," I say, "a sentence like that?" Margaretta refuses to write. "I read," she says, "I'll read the sentence." Her desire, she says, is to leave no trace.
-Janet Kauffman,The Body in Four Parts.

"There was a hand with a ring on it," a minister said in the wire service story, "they think it was a stewardess because her uniform was nearby." It will not do to correct his terminology. No longer a flight attendant, the trees strewn with awful fruit beneath a cantaloupe dusk. "When we arrived," a rescue worker said in the same story, "There was no one to save."

What we read in the difference between the desire and the trace is how the forms of things mean, more than one kind of reading, the totality of the work, the inverse of the simulacrum, the contour, the multiple story.

Raymond Federman:
Avant-Pop: You're Kidding

The Real Begins Where The Spectacle Ends

[a manifesto of sorts]
Si la litterature est la silence des significations, c'est en verite la prison dont tous les occupants veulent s'evader. --Georges Bataille

What are the forms of representing the world that today parade before us? The cynical or frivolous precipitation of the spectacular, the triviality of trash(c)TV or the obscene tautologies of TV docudrama into which the real subsides without a trace. Now, and without any doubt more than ever, the derealizing flux of media images runs away with our powers of discernement, our conscience, our lives, and of course our writing. It forces us to surrender to what can only be called, in a strict sense, the fabulous and seductive a grasp of spectacle. It bars us from a simplified representation of the real. It educates us in the dazed distrust of what is there in front of our eyes -- those eyes that have been overfed with icons. But despite our embittered submission to the charm of these icons, despite our willing servitude to the spectacle, we know very well that it is all false, that it is nothing but a theater of shadows that exhausts our sense of the real in its emptiness, and teaches us nothing, nothing but a mythology custom(c)made for a new breed of savages.

But the world is far more complex, far more chaotic, far more confusing, far more inaccessible than the false images we are offered daily. And the experiences that create the world for us are far more complex, chaotic, confused and confusing than THEY think. By THEY, I mean those who falsify OUR WORLD for us. OUR WORLD, the one we as writers deal with everyday, is a static-filled screen, a fuzzy image agitated by emotions a hundred times more voluptuous, but also a hundred times more painful than those THEY are trying to make us feel. Even the quickest move on the remote control cannot relieve us of the vertiginous bombardment of information to which the world subjects us. Its space is infinitely more profound, more decentered, more polymorphous. And the time we spend in its flow never aligns itself according to the monochrome scenarios that supposedly symbolizes its passage.

How to react? How to reply? How to write today the world in which we live and write? How are we to symbolize differently and more truly (I did not say, more realistically, but more truly) our experience of the world?

It will most certainly not be in the mode of an easy, facile, positive literature written in an industrial high(c)tech prose, it will not be a literature which has sold out to the Spectacle whose rich territory it wants to enter by any means, by compromise or by prostitution, but especially through simplistic cynicism, or with an ostentatious kitsch. This pseudoliterature, which is becoming more and more drab, more and more banal and predictable, more and more insignificant, functions beyond the pale of our anguish and desire.

When literature ceases to understand the world and accepts the crisis of representation in which it functions, it becomes mere entertainment, it becomes part of the Spectacle.What is the antidote to this unreflexive and lazy precipitation of what still pretends to be literature? It is the kind of writing that resists the recuperation of itself into distorted or falses figures and images. The kind of literature we need now is the kind that will systematically erode and dissipate the setting of the Spectacle, frustrate the expectation of its positive beginning, middle, and end, and cheap resolution. This kind of writing will be at the same time frugal and denuded, but rhetorically complex, so that it can seize the world in a new way. This kind of writing must create a space of resistance to the alienated devotion to images (c)(c) to the refining and undermining of the world by images. This kind of writing should be like an ironic free tense within the opacity of the Spectacle.

If this kind of writing wants to call itself Avant-Pop, or Future Fiction, or Post-Pomo, or Popomo, or Critifiction, or, better yet, I-Don't-Know-What-To-Call-Myself, or New-New-Pot-, or New-Age, or The-Revolution-of-Writing-Number-70, or simply Writing, or What-The-Fuck-Do-I-Know, personally I don't give a shit. It don't bother me. It's fine with me. But enough fucking around. [Stop playing Federman. This is serious]

Anyone who persists in doing literature without acceding to the fact that doing literature can only be an intra-worldly diversion, a career path, a subjective confession, anyone who does not assent to the idea that literature today can have no possible social impact, is today urgently confronted with the lacerating questions? What end does it serve? What good is it? What meaning, in the world and for the world, can the pursuit of this activity have? An activity that society has definitely marginalized, an activity reduced to a sort of deliciously and pleasantly outmoded form of survival, an activity performed beyond the bounds of serious self-reflection.

When literature becomes a surplus of culture, a supplement of culture, it can no longer call itself literature. When fiction becomes a product which can be bought in supermarkets next to the tomatoes, then it no longer deserves to be called literature, or even to be created.

But now one must ask, is it possible for fiction, for the serious writers of fiction (I assume there are still a few writers among us who think of themselves as serious writers) --is it possible for these writers to escape the generalized recuperation that is taking place in the marketplace of books? Is it possible for fiction to survive the kind of reduction, the kind of banalization that mass media imposes on contemporary culture? Is it possible for fiction to escape the way publicity and advertising ingest and digest culture? Is it possible for fiction to survive the hypnosis of marketing, the sweet boredom of consensus, the cellophane wrapping of thinking, the commercialization of desire? In other words, can fiction escape conformity and banality, triviality and obscenity, and yet play a role in our society, have a place in our culture? And finally, are there still people out there willing to turn their backs on the SPECTACLE and find time to write and read works of fiction? These are urgent questions that demand immediate answers.

Il n'y a plus moyen d'avencer. Reculer est egalement hors de question. --Samuel Beckett
[a manifesto of sorts]

The Real Stops When The Spectacle Begins, or

Avant-Pop: Why Not?
:Raymond Federman

or, Why I Love Dean Martin

by Steve Shaviro

How we love to recycle and replay the Fifties--even those of us who weren't around then. Fifties fashions, Fifties hairstyles, Fifties cars and motorcycles, Fifties music, Fifties personalities: these still define what we mean by cool. Think of James Dean, think of Marilyn, think of Elvis. Elvis, especially, eternally returns to haunt us: he's forever at the center of the American psyche. More people have encountered him dead than ever saw him when he was alive. Rumors abound: of assassination conspiracies, faked death certificates, secret cloning programs, reincarnations, preternatural singing from closets or bathrooms, sightings on UFOs. It's all gotten so baroque, so multilayered and self-referential. Even the Elvis impersonators have their own impersonators now. After all, wasn't Elvis, in the latter part of his career, when he performed in Vegas wearing that rhinestone-studded white jumpsuit, already a simulacrum of himself? Daniel Clowes, in his comic book Eightball, envisions a time, in the not-too-distant future, when "there will be nostalgia for the nostalgia of previous generations: `I'm not into The Fifties per se; I'm into the Fifties revival of the Seventies!'-- `Bah! I'm into more of an Eighties Fifties!'" The Fifties are the fulfillment of the American prophecy: the age, not of Aquarius, but of the Emersonian self-made man, and of Zarathustra's Eternal Return. Now, as the millennium approaches, our culture is deliriously awash in clones and replicas of the Fifties, citations and allusions, everything always carefully encased "in quotation marks." Maybe we aren't into Elvis per se, so much as we're into the idea of "being into Elvis." Elvis is rather like the mythical phallus of psychoanalysis: there but not there, a simulacral shimmering, present precisely in his absence. Sometimes we want to have Elvis, and sometimes we want to be him: but in either case we fail, since he remains a virtual image, visible but intangible, always ever so slightly beyond our reach. Elvis's talent, beauty, and grace--the sound of his voice, the ease of his smile, the swaying of his hips--are things you and I can only dream of.

Or maybe catch them at the movies. Clarence (Christian Slater), the hero of Quentin Tarantino's film True Romance, sways between fantasies of being Elvis, and of having him. He learns daring, courage, and devotion to his true love from conversations with Elvis in the bathroom. He marches in to piss like a man, and there's the King staring back at him from the mirror, giving him words of encouragement and big-brotherly approval: "Clarence, I've always liked you." If this carries a charge of homoerotic attachment, well, so much the better. After all, Clarence's standard pick-up line is to tell a woman that he's not a fag or anything, but still he wouldn't mind going to bed with Elvis. That's how cool Elvis is. That tells you just how much Clarence adores the King. Wanting to sleep with Elvis is in fact the American dream: it's precisely what Clarence and the women he meets have in common. And so all the rituals of traditional male rivalry--locker room pranks, pissing contests, comparisons of size--turn into something goofier and finer. The toilet, rather than Robert Bly's backwoods, is the site of Clarence's initiation into manhood. Under Elvis's benign guidance, he's transformed from a lonely nerd, who works in a comic-book store and obsessively watches martial-arts movies, into the real-life hero of his own true romance. He runs off with his girlfriend Alabama (Patricia Arquette), survives confrontations with Hollywood and the Mob, finds health, wealth, and happiness in a nuclear family of his own, and ends up on a sunny beach not far from the site of Elvis's 1963 movie, Fun in Acapulco.

Elvis, now and forever, is totally cool--as the protagonists of True Romance never tire of reminding us. It's not so much what Elvis means that is important, as the sheer fact of his ubiquity. What has he done to multiply himself--even and especially after his death? Just how many of him are there? These are questions, not for hermeneutics or semiotics, but rather for population genetics. Like rabbits released in virgin territory, Elvis replicas and Elvis impersonators have wreaked havoc on our cultural ecology, overrunning and overturning the entire postmodern landscape. As soon as Elvis appeared, all the earlier crooners were driven quickly to near-extinction. Good-bye Perry Como, good-bye Bing, good-bye Frank. And no one subsequently has really been able to compete: not Mick, not Michael Jackson, not even Axl Rose or Eddie Vedder. I mean, would you trust one of them to be your bathroom confidant? As any evolutionary theorist will tell you, adaptive "fitness" is defined, not in terms of quality of life or innate value or even longevity, but solely in terms of reproductive success. It's of no concern to the Elvis meme that the later recordings are boring, or that Elvis himself put on too much weight in his later years, and led such a miserable, lonely, and unfulfilled life. Andy Warhol once said that "Picasso was the artist I admired most in all of history, because he was so prolific." The greatest artist, in Warhol's view, is the one who has left the greatest sheer quantity of images behind. Picasso, of course, was a master in this respect: he went so far as to doodle on the backs of checks, hoping this would induce the recipients not to cash them. But even Picasso couldn't impose his replicas upon our culture to anywhere near the extent that Elvis did. Warhol understood this perfectly: that's why he never bothered with painting mock Picassos, as so many lesser artists have inadvertently done, but went right ahead and silkscreened multiples of the King.

Of all the other crooners of that era, none has vanished so utterly and so precipitously as Dean Martin. Throughout the Fifties, and all the way into the late Sixties, his singles and albums reached the Billboard Top Forty, his TV specials were close to the top in the Nielsens, his nightclub act was the biggest draw in Vegas, and his movies were huge blockbuster hits. And then, all of a sudden, nothing. Dino seemed to have dropped out of show business altogether--aside from hosting an occasional Celebrity Roast. It was as if some Big Brother had retroactively erased him, not just from the airwaves, but from the memories and dreams of the American psyche. We know all there is to know about Elvis and Liberace, not to mention such living fossils as Sinatra and Bob Hope and Don Rickles and Wayne Newton--but Dean Martin? Not a trace. Fifties nostalgia skips right over him, and Andy Warhol never silkscreened his portrait. Scarcely anyone under the age of 30 even knows who he is. It's as if he had disappeared as suddenly and as totally as the dinosaurs; or worse, as if he hadn't ever existed in the first place. We recycle nearly everything else, but there aren't any Dino impersonators around. Dean Martin's story is not the traditional one of a star's rise and fall, not the familiar case of inferior adaptive fitness and lost evolutionary battles. Think rather of Dino as a singularity, a limit point, a supernova collapsing into a black hole: a fractal discontinuity in the warp and woof of American culture. Think of his disappearance into a haze of alcohol and Alzheimer's as a silent and almost invisible catastrophe: like the disaster of which Blanchot writes, that "takes care of everything," that arrives without ever arriving, and whose violence consists precisely in effacing those very traces that any actual cataclysm would leave behind.

So what happened? Merely to ask such a question, say Deleuze and Guattari, "plays upon a fundamental forgetting... it places us in relation with something unknowable and imperceptible." Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, Nick Tosches' brilliant biography, doesn't restore Dean Martin to collective memory, or place him anew in American cultural life: rather it affirms the inaccessibility of his character, and recapitulates the irreversible erosion of his image. For nothing can bring Dino back: his relaxed, sleazy charm is out of sync with the moment, insensible to nostalgia. The man who cynically crooned "Memories are Made of This," Tosches writes, "hated memory itself." Dino instinctively sought out that primordial oblivion that exceeds and ruins all remembering. "Underneath the feeling in his voice, underneath the weaving of those colors, there was always lontananza," the immemorial distance of a past that never has been present, and never can be made present. Elvis may well be the phallus; Dino just "pissed ice water," a less exalted symbolic use of the masculine organ. No matter what he was doing, Tosches says, Dino "never had much interest in this world"; he was "a menefreghista--one who simply did not give a fuck." Even in his glory days, the Fifties and early Sixties, he seems barely there, a gorgeous, unworldly apparition: the Zen master of the Rat Pack, as Lee Graham calls him. "No one knew him," Tosches writes. "The smart ones took that for granted. To [golfing buddy] Nicky Hilton, Dean was like a beautiful poem that he loved but could never understand."

What Andy Warhol was to the hip New York art and fashion world, Dean Martin was to rootless, suburban Middle America. Martin and Lewis started out playing to sophisticated nightclub audiences in New York and Chicago, but Dino the solo performer flourished in the pleasure palaces of Southern California and Las Vegas. There he unerringly sought out, and slyly, lazily pandered to, whatever was the most "anti-serious, anti-art... Dean would become the personification of tastelessness itself, projecting the image of one in whose scale of aesthetics a single good tit joke would outweigh all of Sophocles and Shakespeare." The story is indeed much like Warhol's: Martin, too, is a self-made man, born of immigrant parents, who anglicizes his name, and who achieves fame and fortune through an art that embraces and celebrates American culture at its most commercial and derivative. And Dino, just like Andy, refuses either to redeem this culture or to critique it. Martin and Warhol both rather embody the vulgarity and anonymity of mass culture--in the precise sense that a mirror indifferently embodies whatever has been placed before it. They take all the images offered them and reiterate them to infinity, uncritically, but at a curious second remove. Dino the singer had nothing to express. He was perfectly willing and ready to record any song whatsoever, depending on what the market would bear. Just like Warhol, he let others choose his material for him. He never spent time rehearsing, and never troubled himself to listen to the finished product. Often, in his stage act, he couldn't even be bothered to finish singing a song that he had started. But no matter what the material, no matter how ludicrous, corny, fake, or inconsequential, his smooth, easygoing voice always "wove it into a lie of gold." The effortless detachment of Dino's singing and acting could well be regarded as a sleazy American version of the spiritual discipline depicted in Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery. An art is performed to perfection only when it is unclouded by restless desire, freed of anxiety and of forethought. This can only be achieved, Herrigel says, "by withdrawing from all attachments whatsoever, by becoming utterly egoless... by a readiness to yield without resistance." The pupil of Zen "must learn to disregard himself as resolutely as he disregards his opponent," until "the last trace of self-regard vanishes in sheer purposelessness." The only difference between West and East is that Dino didn't need long hours of practice to attain this state. He had no worldly entanglements to overcome. It just happened naturally. Sinatra, it seems, was an egomaniac and a control freak. But Dino "was not like Frank. He got no thrill from this shit, being onstage, hearing himself on the radio, seeing himself ten feet tall on a screen." Since he really didn't give a fuck, everything just came out right, all by itself.

Dino's songs, therefore, aren't about desire: at least not the desire that in our culture is commonly figured as `lack.' They are too relaxed, too casual, too blithely aware of their own insignificance. They have none of the urgency and tension that are the marks of sexual desperation. And they enact none of the melodramatics that typify ungratified yearning. The careless lilt with which Dino suggests "let's fly way up to the clouds" ("Volare") is a rebuke to Romantic myths of the ironic infinitude of desire. And similarly, the deadpan blandness with which Dean in the role of Matt Helm tosses off dumb one-liners in the face of imminent death nullifies all the old claims for high seriousness in art. Forget the castration complex, or the Hegelian struggle for recognition between master and slave. There is no hint of transcendence, or even of longing for it, anywhere in Dino's act. His songs are suspended rather in the idle hedonism of a blank, dimensionless present: a blurry, contextless realm devoid of antecedent or consequence. They express a sensibility that is perpetually jaded, perhaps, but without any trace of bitterness or disappointment. That's what makes these songs so sensuous and caressing, but also so oddly impersonal and indifferent. Booze and Percodan may have helped, but from the very beginning such was Dino's way. All Dean wanted out of life, Tosches writes, was "a bottle of Scotch, a blowjob, and a million bucks." Nothing else was worth striving for. In Dino's own terms, "that's amore": all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

This sublime disinterest is Dean Martin's glory--just as it is Warhol's--and the source of his powers of seduction. It accounts for our sense that, although Dino (just like Elvis) is a pure product of American culture, he's somehow (in contrast to Elvis) not altogether in it. We desire Elvis because his taut young all-American body seems to contain the living force of all desire. But if we desire Dino--or if our parents did--it's precisely because he doesn't desire us in return, because he seems to be beyond desire and beyond responsiveness, because clearly he doesn't need us to validate his existence. He has none of Elvis's ambition, none of Elvis's craving for admiration and approval. Dino is the quintessential early-Sixties swinger, carelessly consuming booze and broads, because the spectacles of excess through which he stumbles leave him utterly detached and unaffected--even bored. Say that his leering `drunk act' is a glitzy, postmodern, Las Vegas update of Baudelairean dandyism. Or better, say that Dino is the original slacker --so perfectly so, that today's slacker generation has totally forgotten him. Elvis is retrospectively cool because he was once so hot; his restless soul is always being called back. But Dino's cool is at so low a temperature as to be immune to revivification. Tosches describes it as "a preternatural cool, as divorced from the passing modes of the day as he himself was from the world that in turn embraced and discarded them... Dean was an effulgence of the warp between the square and the fashionably cool; and as such, somehow always would elude the fate of the cool, which invariably was to become the square." Dino belongs, then, neither to dialectical History with its ever-evolving fashions, nor to the Eternity that idealist aestheticians imagine to transcend mere fashion. Rather, he moves in another dimension entirely, that of the Nietzschean untimely: a "now" too evanescent to be contained by any form of presence, an "unhistorical" stylization that affirms itself at once within and against the ideologies and fashions of the current moment. "This deliberate, difficult attitude consists in recapturing something eternal that is not beyond the present instant, nor behind it, but within it" (Foucault). Dino wondrously combines a suave, refined aesthetic detachment with a calculated wallowing in whatever is most crass. Such an oxymoronic hybridization of sensibilities is his way of expressing the "apotheosis of that which is perishable" (Bataille), or the play of "becoming, the innocence of becoming, forgetting as opposed to memory" (which is how Deleuze and Guattari define the "untimely").

This untimeliness is the key to the mystery of Dean Martin's sudden disappearance. If Elvis, with all his clones, is the triumphant product of processes of natural selection, then Dino is the anomalous, ephemeral, and sterile expression of an illicit counter-movement: of what Brian Massumi calls the forces of "unnatural selection." Memes, like genes, are potentially immortal replicators. But immortality ain't all it's cracked up to be, as Elvis has undoubtedly discovered by now. Timeliness and fame are their own punishments. Your very ubiquity guarantees that you will never again enjoy the thrill of fresh conquests. The hordes of screaming fans no longer bolster your ego; they are just another irritation from which you find it impossible to escape. You can beef up your security, and lock shut the gates to Graceland, but that just makes you feel like a very expensive prisoner. In any case, you've grown bloated and ugly, and every surface you look at turns into a mirror. There's nothing left to do, except sing the same songs to the same crowds in the same casinos, night after night, suspended in an eternal present. Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens. But what's the alternative? Surely nobody believes in the old Romantic myths of damnation any longer. Maybe Elvis OD'd because he thought it would offer him a way out, or at least refurbish his image. But there's nothing more banal than a drug suicide--even that of Sid Vicious has lost whatever transgressive allure it may once have had. If damnation and salvation are binary opposites, this only means that they are virtually indistinguishable. According to Nicole Hollander (Sylvia), damnation is indeed a fate worse than death, since Hell is a place "where a medley of Andrew Lloyd Webber tunes is repeated for all eternity." But the distance separating that ultimate horror from a steady diet of Late Elvis is, alas, far less than one would hope or imagine.

Evolution is a dead end, even and especially for the survivors. The greater your domination, the more exquisitely fine-tuned your adaptation, the more surely you will stagnate. Lamarckian theories (which assert the inheritance of acquired characteristics, and thus the possibility of continual self-improvement) are wrong: for even the most advantageous mutations only come about in spite of a species' genetic and cultural `striving,' rather than because of it. In nature as in Hollywood, the big money is always being invested in sequels and remakes. Remember the words of the sage in the Borges story: "mirrors and copulation are abominable, because they increase the number of men." The problem is not that we live in a world of simulacra, as Baudrillard so naively thinks. No: the problem is that nothing is ever simulacral and inauthentic enough. The copies, the impersonators, remain all too loyal to their models. What would it take to imagine a simulacrum that, as Deleuze wishes, "denies at once both the original and the copy, the model and the reproduction"? Not a faithful rendition of Elvis, nor a critical parody of Elvis, but a performance that is more "Elvis" than Elvis himself ever was: only this can release the singer from the torment of his own identity. But what could it mean to will--to select, in a Darwinian sense--your own divergence, your own alteration, even your own extinction? "Man is something that must be overcome," Zarathustra cries; "what have you done to overcome him?" And according to Severo Sarduy, the "hidden goal" of camouflage, in fashion as in combat, in humans as much as in insects, is less adaptation and survival than "a kind of disappearance, invisibility, effacement and erasure." Zarathustra thus praises those who "want to perish of the present," whose very "life is a going-under." But doesn't Dean Martin embody such a counter-teleology, both in his life and in his art? Isn't his sterile hedonism a rebuke to the horrors of infinity and eternity and an all-too-faithful reflection? Martini in hand, let us then embark on Dino's way, and embrace his strategies of disappearance. After all, as Tosches suggests, that's what we Americans do the best: "Dean was the American spirit at its truest: fuck Vietnam, fuck politics, fuck morality, fuck culture, and fuck the counter-culture, fuck it all. We were here for but a breath; twice around the fountain and into the grave: fuck it."

What more is there to say? Elvis may well be the Savior;but Dino offers us no redemption, not even one in quotation marks. Now, in his retirement, he is more untimely than ever, exiled as he is from the New Hollywood of cellular phones and 12-step programs. Why, the last time they reviewed him in Variety (1988), they even complained about his lack of "social consciousness over the unfunny aspects of intoxication"! Can you believe it? Don't look to Dino for lessons in temperance, or foresight, or heroism, or any of the other virtues. You won't find him singing on a UFO, or giving advice in the toilet. But isn't that precisely his greatness? As his ex-wife Jeanne sums it up for Tosches: "Dean can do nothing better than anyone in the world. He can literally do nothing... He was always content in a void." Dino's very untimeliness makes him more postmodern than any of us. That great decentering, that crumbling of the foundations, so often approached with anguish and loathing--well, Dino has lived it for years, no problem, without a trace of anxiety. Tosches gives us a final picture of Dean Martin in old age, watching Westerns on TV, and sipping glass after glass of wine: "every swallow brought breath that bore neither memory nor meaning nor even deliverance from them--he no longer needed that deliverance--but rather the strange sweetness of something that may or may not have ever been." Redemption, or the lack thereof, just isn't an issue any more. Yes, the world has receded into its own flickering image, and nothing is true or false any longer, and it's very late, and the TV has been on for hours. But what's the matter with that? Images proliferate endlessly in the void, regardless of whether anyone is there looking at them or not. You don't watch programs on TV; you simply watch TV. Turn down the volume and go to bed, there'll be something else in the morning.

Creative Masochism As An Approach To Comparative Avant-Pop

by Takayuki Tatsumi, Ph.D.

Keio University, Tokyo

The year 1993 began with the death of Kobo Abe who died at age 68 on January 22. Abe was one of Japan's great post-WWII avant-garde writers whose works included the novels The Woman in the Dunes (1962) , The Face of Another (1964), and The Ruined Map (1967), which were all adapted into internationally acclaimed films. To many Japanese intellectuals who grew up in the years of Japan's occupation period, the death of Abe signified the death of avant-garde itself.

In retrospect, however, Abe's notion of the avant-garde had already begun to seem less and less radical by the 1970s. Abe had initially achieved renown in a mass-productions age when it was still possible to conceive of a writer as a producer of fiction. Today, however, the writer-as-producer has been replaced by the concept of the writer-as-consumer of other texts. Thus most Japanese readers are less likely to feel a sense of identification with a writer like Abe than with younger writers like Paul Auster. Auster, of course, is well-known as being an author who wrote the New York Trilogy by rereading, updating, appropriating--that is, hyper-consuming--the works of his precursors like Poe, Hawthorne, Kafka-- and Abe. However "authentic" Abe used to seem to Japanese readers and however similar Abe's presentation of the urban maze was to that of Paul Auster, contemporary readers prefer Auster's version to Abe's simply because the hyper-consumptive aspect of Auster's work seems more timely. This ironic situation, whereby readers prefer marketability to authenticity, perfectly demonstrates the logic of the relationship between art and business in a postmodernist culture driven by hyper-consumption: everything is permitted in avant-gardism, but everything also gets quickly dated --including "avant-garde" styles that only recently seemed very extreme.

Let's look at how this applies to the literary philosophy of Kobo Abe. What made Abe seem so admirable was his renunciation of all forms of ritual. This renunciation was so total that, for instance, at the 1986 International PEN conference held in Manhattan, Abe was able to announce without any embarrassment that he had actually skipped out on his daughter's wedding just to avoid the near-occasion of any form of ritual. But whereas Abe's willingness to sacrifice his personal feelings out of allegiance to an abstract principle was once seen as the source of his artistic success, today this same attitude is the key to why he's increasingly seen as being irrelevant. That is, in the 60s Abe was able to establish a reputation as a charismatic figure utterly committed to the creative production principles of the avant-garde by refusing to adhere to the accepted literary conventions of his period; but by the 1980s, such a reputation seemed less a bold challenge to orthodoxy than an somewhat embarrassingly tame gesture of a Quixotic rebel making threatening gestures with his fists at enemies now armed with laser guided nuclear weapons. Of course, the fact that Abe's almost miraculous change in status occurred during the 1980s is extremely revealing. It was this decade that saw Japan, which was riding along on an economic escaltor that had been gradually accelerating to near-warp velocity by its newly installed super-charged engine fueled by postindustralism capitalism, suddenly found that it had arrived at the Hyper-Consumption Level. Here literary shoppers--indeed consumers of just about anything--discovered that rare items like literary radicalism which used to seem very shocking were now in the height of fashion.Thus, the advent of Japanese hyper-consumerism in the 80s transformed the most radical renunciation of literary convention like Abe's into one of the major literary conventions.

This ability of hyper-consumption to transform the radically innovative into the radically chic strikes me as sobering paradox that needs to be at least seriously considered by all contemporary artists who still wish to be seen as still belonging to the tradition of the avant-garde. But how can we incorporate this paradox into a theory of postmodern avant-gardism? One of the most potent strategies is the argument that Larry McCaffery has recently introduced under the term "Avant-Pop" (It's perhaps worth noting that McCaffery's avant-pop concept was only made available to American readers in the Fall of 1992 [ in the ANQ issue on The Future of Fiction], nearly two years after Japanese readers first began consuming it following its appearance in Positive 's "Post-Pynchon American Writing" issue in 1991). The key to McCaffery's recipe is that its central ingredient--"the blurring of the traditional distinctions between 'high' and 'pop' art"--is not merely used to add some spice to the main entree but it now becomes a "central defining feature of postmodernism itself." Viola: put the garnish or anchovies in the center of the plate, and reader=consumer will be leaving the table with a completely different set of after tastes. Or possible heart burn. McCaffery illustrates his point by citing the rock videos of Madonna, Peter Gabriel, or Laurie Anderson, cyberpunk novels such as William Gibson's Neuromancer and Mark Leyner's My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist and television shows like Max Headroom, Saturday Night Live , and Twin Peaks --all of which promoted the "Avant-Pop" tendency towards a deconstruction of the difference between high art and junk culture, and the elevation of the "underground" art to a position of ascendancy.

This concept was of great use to me in understanding what had sent the reputation of such a venerated figure of the old-style avant-garde as Kobo Abe into such a free fall; it also helped explain the forces responsible for propelling a number of post-Abe postmodern Japanese writers up to such lofty heights. Or since that spatial metaphor isn't quite accurate, Abe's position had not so much "descended" as remained stable--he was now simply "hovering" down below in an outdated literary equivalent of a piper cub as newer literary pilots whizzed past him heading upwards, trailing sonic booms behind, their crafts fueled by the logic of hyper-consumerism.

At this point the introduction of the discourse of S&M into our discussion of Avant-Pop will supply a means of understanding how changes dictated by the logic of hyperconsumption--whereby what once provided pleasure and admiration is discarded or devalued, while what was previously considered shocking, unpleasant, painful is now actively desired and valued precisely because of its disgusting qualities--produce a deconstruction of the set of bi-nary oppositions which had provided a kind of balance to the structure of meaning and power. Originally the avant-garde artist was the producer-sadist who gained pleasure from inflicting cruel and unusual artistic punishments and humiliation on his unwilling victim. The feature of"unwillingness is essential in this structure; to the extent that the victim qua victim seems actively cooperating in the reception of pain, the sadist's pleasure is correspondingly diminished. In other words the complete state of enjoying sadistic pleasure requires an unwilling victim--i.e., its condition is not self-sufficient. In contrast with avant-garde sadism, however,the relationship between artist and reader in Avant-Pop's hyper-consumerization reverses the role-playing, so that the artist who formerly played the role of the torturer now stands over a reader=(willing)consumer who has now seized control in the relationship by not only welcoming the blows that will soon descend but who has even paid for each blow in advance--a payment which could be analyzed via the usual Marxist terms as a substitution of use value for exchange value, fetishization, etc. The point is that if the formerly "sadistic" avant-garde artist DOES inflict the punishments under these circumstances, he will find himself transformed into another masochist since he has violated the law of sadism--yielded to the desires of his hyper-consumer=(willing)reader who is a hyper-masochist. Thus, the Avant-Pop phenomenon described by McCaffery--one in which reader=consumer coaxes the artist into supplying him what he asks for is an example of what might be termed "Creative Masochism" which thoroughly deconstructs several of the key binary oppositions--for example, between avant-garde and popular culture, production and consumption, and sadism and masochism. Even more significantly, this process reveals that, since the very act of deconstruction has itself been naturalized in our times, we are finally able to recognize that deconstruction itself is not a post-(or anti)-ideological tactic but another form of ideology. That is to say, in our post non-ideological era of instant co-option, reification, deconstruction becomes merely a prodigy of hyper-consumerist discourse. Reinterpreting Avant-Pop as a form of what I've termed "Creative Masochism" will lead us to reconsider the potential existence of S&M metaphorics which is always lurking within international politics generally--and especially within the Japan-US relationship. For now, rather than speculating further on the abstract theory of "Avant-Pop," let me present an example that can illustrate it.

Consider a comparison between Kobo Abe, who was born in 1924, and a younger Japanese writer, Masahiko Shimada, who was born in 1961. Though both share interests in urban self-fashioning , the generation gap separating them clarifies their critical difference. A contrast between Abe's famous drama Friends, (1967, tr. Donald Keene, New York:Grove Press, 1969) and Shimada's novel Dream Messenger (1989, tr. Philip Gabriel, Tokyo:Kodansha International, 1992) will make my point clearer. Abe's Friends is a story in which a young man is visited one day by a strange family whose members claim to be his friends trying to save him. Those strangers gradually invade his apartment, torture him mentally, and eventually deprive him of everything, including his housing, fiancé, and work. Abe's theme is existentialist by definition--the fear of the other, the loss of identity, and the alienation of an individual. Shimada's Dream Messenger , on the other hand, begins not with the loss of identity, but with the hyper-capitalization of identity. The main characters of the story are "rental children," who earn money for playing the role of blood children for those who lost or want to have their own. Since Shimada also published a quasi-cyberpunk novel , A Town called Rococo (1990) that was largely influenced by William Gibson's cyberspace trilogy as well as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner , readers might initially assume that his "rental family" concept is very science-fictional. However, the heroes in Dream Messenger are not replicants in the near future, but real human beings in our times or, to be more precise, the Japanese representations of cyborgian subjectivities. Indeed, the publication of Dream Messengers coincided with the actual growth of the "rent-a-family" industries in Japan around 1990, which came to be featured in the early 90s in major weeklies--a growth that soon made its way into a soap opera, and was taken up in Misa Yamamura's latest detective fiction Mysteries of A Rental Family (Tokyo: Bungei-Shunju Publishers, 1993).

Certainly, the concept of "rental family" is likely to seem amazing and even disgusting to most American readers, especially those who were born and raised in the mass-productionist age of Pax Americana, for, at first glance, an idea like rental family defaces human respectability, degrading people and making them seem masochistic enough to sell the inalienable as well as the alienable. But, think twice and you might well find such a "rental family" business very convenient--at least "convenient" in the hyper-consumerist sense. If you feel obligated to join a family reunion on ritualistic occasions like weddings or funerals, and if you don't feel like attending them without being accompanied by someone else, you need only to ask a rent-a-family company for a rent-a-child, a rent-a-spouse, a rent-a-fiancé, or an all-purpose rent-a-sweetheart . In fact, a recent report on a rent-a-family company, which might be translated as "Japan Social Improvement Association," tells us that if you can afford approximately $1,200 per 3 hours, the company will send you professional "entertainers" trained in psychology, conversation, and social relations. One of the male entertainers hopes the day will come when rent-a-family restores human relationships so skillfully that no one will need rent-a-family anymore. ("Rentertainers," SPA! Special , April 6, 1993 [Tokyo:Fuso-sha Publishers], p.87). To reiterate, then, this is not a well-fabricated scenario for hardcore science fiction but a typically "realistic" fragment of Japanese postmodern life that not only naturalizes the loss of identity but also capitalizes on this loss.

Thus, the difference between Abe's Friends and Shimada's Dream Messenger corresponds with that between avant-garde and avant-pop. While Abe has, since the 40s, attempted to describe the ontological predicament caused by the rise of consumerist society from the viewpoint of a writer as a producer, Shimada in the 90s created a narrative of "rental children, " with the hyper-consumerization of identity as self-evident, from the perspective of a writer as a consumer who resembles his own readers to a great extent.

This relationship between Abe and Shimada is analogous to that between William Faulkner the avant-pop hyper-capitalist visionary, Steve Erickson. For, while Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha saga centered around the multi-racial predicament from the existentialist viewpoint, Erickson's nocturnal novels, which were deeply inspired by Daivd Griffith's films like The Birth of a Nation (1915), have envisioned contemporary romantic love in terms of pseudo-slavery (Days Between Stations, his first novel), as well as aristocratic romantic love in hyper-consumerist terms (Arc d'X , his fourth novel, Poseidon Press, 1993). Despite the Faulknerian influence, Erickson provides an alternate portrait of Thomas Jefferson, who learns to sell himself to his own house slaves, becoming a slave of the slaves at the novel's conclusion. Here we can witness a postmodern, or "avant-pop" synchronicity between Shimada's narrative of rental children and Erickson's representation of Thomas Jefferson as the slave of the slaves. Despite the different nationalities, both have written novels that present the perverse logic of "Creative Masochism," which is endorsed by their deepest concern with the "capitalization of identity." Thus, rather than interpreting Erickson's alternate portrait of President Jefferson as a purely surrealistic metaphor, it should be seen as resulting from the author's keenly international consciousness of politico-economic realities --specifically the post-80s hyper-consumerist society of Pax Japonica. Rather than remixing Kobo Abe (the way Paul Auster does, for example), Erickson gives an insight into today's multi-ethnic problems--an insight not lineated along the black-white contrast found in Thomas Pynchon 's Gravity's Rainbow (1973 ), but the way we have recognized the S&M metaphorics in the recent revival of nationalism. This revival can be seen in the ideological conflict between the discourse of "Japan Bashing" rejecting the rise of Japanese capitalism and the discourse of "Post-History" (Francis Fukuyama) appraising Japanese economic hegemony. Whether Japan should be bashed or not depends upon whether you accept its hyper-consumerist development or not. Whereas the mass-productionist age made it possible for us to liken the US-Japan relationship to that of a husband and wife, our hyper-consumerist age encourages a different comparison--that between a man and femme fatale. This is exactly the analogy used by Michael Crichton in his bestselling novel Rising Sun : "Japan is like a woman that he [John Connor] can't live with, and can't live without, you know?"(Knopf, 1992, p.34). What seems evident is not so much that US and Japan have recently exchanged their respective S&M roles, but that exposure to hyper-consumerism has led both nations to deconstruct the difference between creation (writing) and consumption (reading) --thereby opening up the possibility of becoming creative and masochistic at once. This is one of the potential topics that Avant-Pop will outline in the field of comparative cultural studies.

Then, let me reread several critical texts from the perspective of "Creative Masochism." Alexandre Kojéve, a key precursor of Post-History philosophers, originally published Introduction to the Reading of Hegel in 1947 and then re-footnoted his study after trips to several countries between 1948 and 1959. These visits made him conclude that Post-History had been realized in the postwar way of life of the American people, who seemed to have returned to animality. But later, after his voyage to Japan in 1959, he felt the need to radically revise the opinion. Regarding Japan as a country that "has for almost three centuries experienced life at the 'end of History' , " but finding Japanese people "anything but animal," Kojéve states in a well-known passage:

"'Post-historical' Japanese civilization undertook ways diametrically opposed to the 'American way.' ... T[t]he peaks ... of specifically Japanese snobbery--the Noh Theater, the ceremony of tea, and the art of bouquets of flowers--were and still remain the exclusive prerogative of the nobles and the rich. But in spite of persistent economic and political inequalities, all Japanese without exception are currently in a position to live according to totally formalized values--that is, values completely empty of all 'human' content in the 'historical' sense. ...This seems to allow one to believe that the recently begun interaction between Japan and the Western World will finally lead not to a rebarbarization of the Japanese but to a 'Japanization' of the Westerners." (tr. J. H. Nichols Jr., 1969;Ithaca:Cornell University Press, 1980, pp.161-162).

In reading this commentary, some Japanese intellectuals tend to boast of the "historical" predominance of Japanese postmodernism. But, when Kojeve inserted such a footnote, he must have been rather aware of Japan's amazingly rapid recovery after the fatal defeat in WWII, that is , what Kenneth Boulding called "creative defeat" in 1984 (IHJ Bulletin, Vol.4, No.2, Spring 1984, p.6). As Shigeto Tsuru explains Boulding's notion lately, "The defeat in the last war brought about, of course, a far greater scale of devastation in the economy of Japan, necessitating a fresh renovating start in almost every aspect" (Japan's Capitalism : Creative Defeat and Beyond, Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 67). More accurately, then, Kojéve's notion of the "Japanization of the Westerners" should be read as a form of hyper-consumerization; as I implied above, in this form the reader=consumers' desire for punishment makes it impossible for producers=writers to be sadistic in the original sense; in the state of hyper-consumption even producers=writers are transformed into meta-consumers who are always responding masochistically to new commodities such as the "rent-a-family" but in a highly creative manner, in much the way the Japanese people have accepted ritualistic values "completely empty of all 'human' content in the 'historical' sense."

In this context, it is tempting to locate a similar recognition of the postmodern society in Walter Benn Michaels. In his New Historicist book on American Naturalist writers, Michaels declares: "What the masochist loves is only the freedom to be a slave. ...To put it another way, the masochist loves what the capitalist loves: the freedom to buy and sell, the inalienable right to alienate. In this respect, the masochist embodies the purest commitments to laissez-faire..."(The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism [Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1987], pp. 132-133). Michaels gained this insight by closely reading Frank Norris's McTeague (1899), but, if this passage is considered with the citation from Kojéve above, it becomes obvious that at this point Michaels is talking about a typically Naturalist novel around the turn of the century not as a traditional Marxist but as a hyper-consumerist, who must have been keenly conscious of Pax Japonica in the 80s, and whose own most masochistically creative tool of consumption was a "literary criticism" that could read the S & M metaphorics into capitalism as such.

Now we are confronted with the significant paradox that to emotionally promote the Japan-Bashing discourse is to logically accelerate "Creative Masochism" within hyper-consumerist society represented by Japan, while to believe in the advent of Post-History in the post-Cold War age is to endorse the rise of the global hyper-consumerization, what Kojéve called "a Japanization of the Westerners," in which Japan will continue to be creative enough insofar as it remains content with the economy of masochism. This is why Shozo Numa, one of the most idiosyncratic writers in Japan, still keeps writing and revising his one and only mega-novel Yapoo the Human Cattle (1956-, Tokyo:Kadokawa Publishers, Million Publishers and others ). Much more inventive than Michael Crighton's Rising Sun, Numa's Yapoo had already conceived, almost forty years ago, a far-future "Japan-Bashing" utopia, in which Orientals, especially Japanese people, are re-figured not as Homo Sapiens but as "Simias Sapiens," not as human beings but just as cattle called Yapoo; here Japanese people are altered surgically or biotechnologically into living furniture and "appliances," such as the walking lavatory, the walking vomitory, the walking vibrator for cunnilingus, and so forth. From our vantage point today, Yapoo the Human Cattle can be said to have predicted the fate of postmodern society, one in which the more advanced our consumer-capitalistic society gets, the more difficult it becomes for us to distinguish between ideology and sexual sado-masochism.

It is in this type of hyper-consumerist atmosphere that the concept of Avant-Pop becomes most convincing, and where the hyper-logic of economics has demolished the distinction between aesthetically radical, politically subversive art (the traditional role of avant-garde) and MTV pop songs, and between what is realistic and what is anti-realistic. It becomes necessary to rethink how art might resume its important "sadistic" role of "punishing" its audience in order to re-awake it to a life of "real " pleasure and fulfillment. At this point, however, Mark Poster's remarks in his latest article are inspiring ( "The Question of Agency: Michel de Certeau and the History of Consumerism," Diacritics , Vol.22, No.2, Summer 1992). However objectivistic one's approach seems, Auster claims, it is the myth of objectivity that we should recognize as another rhetoric, another metadiscourse fashioning our sense of "reality." If avant-gardism has long been believed to be a metafictional rhetoric displacing reality, we should not forget that it is the framework of reality that has been constructed rhetorically--whether ontologically or hyper-consumeristically or creative-masochistically. Therefore, if we want to speculate more on the fate of Avant-Pop arts and literature now, we should question first the current historical status of anti-realism or progressive metafiction, to see if these now function as liberating devices or as merely another trendy style or marketing device that uses the image of rebellion or radicalism to encourage people to continue to participate in hyper-consumerism. By calling attention to the need for new methods of countering the deadening forces of pop-culture and hyper-consumption, McCaffery's avant-pop concept makes "Storming the Reality Studio" less important than storming the "anti-reality studio."

The Rise of Avant-Pop

by JR Foley

It's not new. It's been happening for more than a generation, accelerating every year, we breathe it and know it, yet not till now has it been named, that is, clearly perceived. Avant-garde art has always thrived at the margins of public consciousness. But with the advent of Pop Art, the Beatles, writers like William S. Burroughs, and the explosion of the "Counterculture" in the 1960's, radical experimental styles invaded American pop culture. Widespread and growing acceptance of such styles has resulted in the phenomenon San Diego State University professor Larry McCaffery calls avant-pop.

But avant-pop, according to McCaffery, is not the phenomenon alone; it's also a creative political stance in opposition to it. Because multinational corporate capital seizes upon the popularity of radical styles to sell products with very unradical, even trivial content. It's the chic new face of bread and circuses for the masses (particularly the staples sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll), while the power centers go on about their business unchallenged. Substantive protest was marginalized by the Reagan '80's, but rebellious voices are making themselves heard again.

Avant-pop, says McCaffery, means to turn pop culture inside out. He and the editors of Black Ice Books, a new venture of Fiction Collective Two, describe his anthology, Avant-Pop: Fiction for a Daydream Nation, as "innovative fiction, comic book art, unique graphics, and various unclassifiable texts written by the most radical, subversive literary talents of the postmodern new wave." It's a rare book that lives up to its hype, but this one does. Not everyone is in it who could be, it's neither prescriptive nor exhaustive, but no matter. The book bursts at the seams.

Take, for instance, sex. Samuel R. Delany contributes an unnerving meditation, in two-column moebius strip form, on the Everyday and the Unspeakable as acted out by the mid-day patrons of an NYC porn theater. Further downtown, Kathy Acker pulls the action out of the balcony and onto the stage in a dizzying stream-of-consciousness account of man-woman politics in a 42nd St. sex show. Doug Rice tries to out-Acker Acker with a tragic farce of sexual identity that bounces back and forth from Caddie, who is both inside and outside her brother-lover-other self "Doug," and transsexual Granny Mugwump Torgov, all involved in happy, carnivorous family incest, with gender switching every heartbeat, frequently in the same sentence. In a slightly broader vein, there's an episode from Eurudice Kamviselli's novel f/32, concerning a young woman's mock-Homeric quest to recover her severed vulva, which is running amok all over the East Coast. Things can go from very disturbing to very funny on the same page.

The book also samples work from such rising stars as William T. Vollmann, Mark Leyner, Harold Jaffe, Stephen Wright, and David Matlin. It's like a CD compilation with no fillers. From the explosive rap comedy of Ricardo Cortez Cruz to the straight-faced Ojibway whimsy of Gerald Vizenor to the Tex-Mex cyberpunk of Harry Polkinhorn, the hallucinatory gritty realism of Rob Hardin to the comic book nightmare violence of Tim Ferret, from the stoned lyricism of Jill St. Jacques to Richard Meltzer's beery improvisations to John Bergin's voluptuous death dream art, there's no slack.

Easily the most vivid and emblematic offering of Avant-Pop, however, is Derek Pell's mixed media subversion of a well-known school and office text, The Elements of Style by The Marquis de Sade, With Revisions, an Introduction, and a Chapter on Writhing by E.B. Whipe. It's a howl, with 18th Century French woodcuts you will not believe.

For more Pell, check out Assassination Rhapsody, his evisceration of the Warren Report. Even readers sick to death of the You-know-what of the Century are likely to find Pell's irreverence fresh and disarming. If the Report and its supporting volumes smother the diligent needle- hunter in haystacks of trivia, Pell with mischievous deadpan tosses more antic hay on the stacks. In plain bureaucratese he recounts, among other things, a catalogue of Oswald's 35,169 different gestural patterns, a biography in 28 aptly irrelevant woodcuts, the premonitory dreams of Marina Oswald's neighbors, a concrete bullet-theory poem, and an eight-fold textual deconstruction of Oswald's revolver into a "small important thing or person."

To demonstrate that avant-pop is more a complex of perceptions and attitude than a program, Fiction Collective Two has issued along with Avant-Pop three other Black Ice Books that extend its range.

Cris Mazza's Revelation Countdown is the most beautifully written and poignant of these, and also, in its craft and style, the least postmodern. It does address one strong theme of American pop culture, though, and that is the romance of the road, from Whitman through Kerouac to Thelma and Louise. Its men and women hit the road in all directions, fleeing dead-end relationships or flying in desperate hope toward the relationship to end all dead- ends. Or escaping a relationship that was not dead-end at all, driven by impulses barely understood but no less overwhelming.

An Indiana lawyer, who every summer leaves his second wife for three weeks of fishing, detours from his customary river to New Orleans in forlorn hope of finding again the rude lively fishing-girl for whom he'd failed to leave his first wife ten years ago. A groomer on the show dog circuit pleads her love by letter to a wildlife photographer who's left her for another woman, and also left the other woman after finding both women in bed together. The book plays eight variations on the theme of male/female sexual alienation. While Mazza's characters are deftly individualized, they are less important than their relationships, and it is the revelation, especially the texture of the revelation -- of the precise shape and dynamic of a relationship, in its skein of images and animal associations -- that these stories are all about. The prose has lyrical sinew and the situations, for all their hopelessness, are taut with wry humor, warmth, and great erotic energy.

The stories in John Shirley's New Noir are quite different. Shirley has actually tried to create a new popular form, crossing 1940's-style film noir with supermarket tabloids. Indeed, it is a tabloid interview, in one story, that unites a 28-inch actor -- "the world's smallest man" -- and the crackhead hooker who answers his appeal for a wife "to share his success." In another story a junkie college grad through the "lens of heroin" enters the mind of the mosquito sucking blood from his needle- tracked arm and with her he attacks the sleeping neighbor woman for whom he lusts. In the collection's most explosive story an unemployed rock guitarist and his girlfriend cruise the L.A. freeways causing accidents and shooting bystanders to get on the TV news and "be Huge."

In one way or another Shirley's people are trapped city creatures for whose media-charged imaginations violent crime is an almost sacramental means of transcending despair. But it is Shirley's amazing talent to spotlight the lurid with such merciless intensity the grotesque dissolves into the human-all-too-human. At their best his stories cut beneath their own cruel ironies to bare nerves of what Faulkner liked to call the "human heart in conflict with itself."

Of the four initial Black Ice Books, the one most obviously rooted in the 20th Century avant-garde is The Kafka Chronicles: A Novel by Mark Amerika (yes, it's his legal name!). But up through the Dada typography, Burroughs-like cut-ups, and some new contributions to the Tradition of the New, there is also a steadily mounting emotional charge.

The book might more appropriately be entitled, after Kafka's fantasy bildungsroman, simply, Amerika. It is a bildungsroman of sorts, not the story collection it seems at first glance. It acts out the bildung -- the education or formation -- not of a character but of a persona composed of narrator and protagonist both -- sometimes named Mark, Alkaloid Kid, or Gregor Samsa, but always "Amerika." Post-punk boho, male whore (to women young and old), rock musician, performance artist, "Amerika" is struggling with language to determine who he is (productive "I" or pleasure-giving "it"), what he's doing in the world, and especially what he should be doing.

References to "Gregor Samsa" and "Franz" notwithstanding, the Kafka connection is more general than specific. "Kafka" signifies the individual fighting to exercise erotic and creative freedom in a society bureaucratically organized (by business even more than by government) to suppress that freedom in exaltation of drudge work by the masses to enrich an invisible mighty few. In this respect, actually, The Kafka Chronicles is more a portrait of the artist as a young Juvenal. Juvenal himself might find "Amerika" enjoys life (and especially sex) too much, but he'd hear a familiar savage note in the sociopolitical satire. Halfway through, the novel repudiates narrative, with good result. For all their street savvy and surreal frolic, the anecdotal early parts seem relatively detached from their material ("Iris" notably excepted). On the other hand, the completely non- narrative, abstractly schematic pieces like "Fifty Ways to Market Your Lover," "Multiple Choice," and "Amerika at War: The Mini-Series" feel much more closely engaged with their subjects, the surreal flights more natural because they spring more from what's said than the way it's said, the sarcasm growling with a much more experienced edge. The satire gets richer, tougher, and funnier as it matures, and the avant-pop protest against Americ(k)an pop culture finds a most articulate and inventive voice.

Curtis White's The Idea of Home is not a Black Ice Book, but it belongs here. Autobiography as pop history, it has chapters entitled "Tales of the Hippies," "Four Theses on the Fate of the Sixties," and "Remember John Lennon," as well as fantasies of Willie Mays, Mme. Nhu, and peyote shamans. But White is not content to skate familiar surfaces, and in fact relates very little about "Curt White's" boyhood. Instead he imagines himself into the heads (and other body parts) of the entrepreneurs who built the prefab tract suburb of San Lorenzo, CA, across the bay from San Francisco. Acalane Indians, gamblers, politicians, hoteliers, and developers, they are "real people, living or historical," about whom his witty meditations are "in all ways false." It is the imaginative intercourse (including sexual) between the founders and the heirs of American pop civilization that he's engaged in.

In his most haunting encounter White grants a wealthy turn-of-the-century businessman who has just lost a son to typhoid a vision of a black hole, a baseball and the moon. The man does not recognize the fly ball and the moon as "his own energy sporting in space's companionable void;" even less so the black hole, with its possibility of giving birth to new universes with no memory of predecessor universes and with new physical laws "freshly given for each fresh cycle." Yet the man is refreshed anyway and able to go back to work building the early community his author will grow up to love and hate.

It has hardly taken until now, of course, for writers to grapple with American pop culture. (The Avant-pop anthology itself samples twenty years of writing.) But the news of avant-pop is that the invasion of the mainstream by the avant-garde is accelerating, with great transformations ahead. If these six books are any indication, it will be one hell of a ride.

Avant-Pop at the Border

Harry Polkinhorn


When you and I, my dear Gloria, first studied Professor Logopod's monograph on the excellences of avant-pop art, we gave it, as you may recall, scant attention, feeling it was a subject little worth our while and therefore anything anyone said about it would be pointless. Relatively. Surely the author of a text should take his or her readers into account, first and foremost. This was the sine qua non. Two things we expected of a learned treatise: that it "clarify" its subject; that it tell us how to "incorporate" it into the very fabric and core of our daily lives. Now Logopod does make the attempt to define avant-pop---how well we have been reminded, and how repeatedly!Qand gives us a plethora of shiny examples all buffed up from the three registers of discourse, but he dismally fails in the second requirement and no wonder. It is simply ignored as if superfluous.

Which is why you requested that I, as a man of parts, should lay out my own schema, something potentially useful for public speakers. I trust that you, as a woman of no small talent in this arcane area (i.e., eloquence), will subject the following to your usual perspicacity. It has been well said that what we share with the government is a sense of the powerlessness of the common man, and the urge to deny that this is the case. Governments equal borders.

Therefore, and in writing to a discerning eye such as your own, my close friend, I can pass over the common opening wherein multitudinous passages are cited on the basis of which some cold and cutting abstraction is launched. No. My target is both less ambitious and more so, for what will appear like a thunderbolt in an artist's repertory (or "bag of tricks," to use the vulgarism of the day) cannot be facilely grasped, appropriated, deeded over in fee simple, or otherwise. This you can of course ratify against the rich arras of your own life experiences, my friend. And so I begin.


There is no such thing as "style" . . . only styles. And so, as one might expect, style becomes our first problem. Am I so bold as to suggest that I, among all those much more worthy, have hit upon a solution? Proponents of this view will chortle with glee, asking themselves, and us ipso facto, to what the avant-pop melange could possibly be owed if not a certain classy kind of dress, coded semiotically if not semantically as high culture parading (charading?) as low. "My, my," I seem to hear echoed from the woods themselves, a kind of magnificent, pregnant ellipsis which in seeking to contain everything contains nothing. It is without meter, without a doubt, but more than that, a prose writer's thought, unlike that of a poet, may be set apart from his particular words and thus can accurately be summarized or even translated into the babbling tongues of the heathen. Hence the avant portion of our operator. A phallic penetration, as it were, of the enemy future.

Some will nevertheless continue to assert (blind though they may be, which it only remains for history to determine) that we have forever left behind the age of greatness, both of expression and impression. This may be. You who know me can attest to my general openness on the score of what the philistines so uncritically call "quality" in their ridiculously reactionary discussions of culture. And although I don't need to remind you, dear Gloria, there may be others within earshot whose doltishness forces me to belabor the obvious: fringe behavior in the arts has nothing to do with quality. In fact, prose itself is a baggy category and not the converse of verse. "Quality" belongs to the rulers.

Art, so these cretins would maintain, corrodes nature, which we stumble upon pristine, pure, and morally whole. But I say that if one consider the rule of law, all too often inebriated by a sense of its own power over the lives of slaves, the petty fabrications of mere mortals pale by comparison. Great thinkers and artists become enfeebled, the blood sucked from their veins by those utter destroyers of fine literature and elevated culture. Is further proof necessary? Then look back over the course we have come and ask yourself in all honesty if savages and barbarians could have achieved such heights? There is no one style suitable to all ends. Neither the modern (ask not after its pedigree!) nor the post. Much less the avant.


These expressions practiced by public administrators, therefore, are not comical but ironic, appearing before popular audiences in a strictly didactic mode. The ancient rhetors refused to assert, preferring to sweeten their pill with propositions that met the following criteria: subject-copula-predicate. Why? Well might you ask, my trusting friend, since these were the very concerns which during our Wanderjahre impelled us to seek through the great libraries of the world. In addition, there were preachers, who as if by chance made it a rule never to work openly, brazenly for autocratic governments other than their own.

That which is naturally dignified and befitting of our condition as upright, brachiated proto-androids apparently never entered Logopod's head, but it certainly did ours! Yes, the politician admits that it can hardly be tolerated in a discourse that would make some modest claim to factuality, that outmoded punctum. Thus people rightly howl at the bloopers committed by fools such as the lawyers and scientists or their stooges spread strategically throughout the bureaucracy. They have learned to assert, not to argue; to dictate, not to converse.

Some writers, you will say, mar their otherwise admirable constructs through the mistaken desire to be unusual, elaborate, and of course pleasing. The twin drives for money and pleasure being what they are, an election crowd or a jury would be hard put to find any of this appealing and would join ancient precedent in attributing the decay of eloquence to unbridled lusts. Concupiscence of the eyes. The work of the world remains to be done, and a practical defense must be established. Above all. What is the result? Increased vigilance along our national boundaries.

Flirting childishly with emotion constitutes the gravest of sins. Whether of the falsely ratiocinative or crassly descriptive type, it has been known to carry away writers on a tide of fake enthusiasm. Better put, even if the writer talks himself into a classical swoon, must we feel obliged? It is akin to being around someone who drops his drawers at a cocktail party.


My next topic I hestitate to introduce--frigidity. Another is prophecy, oftentimes highly fused with the world at large, even including Asia Minor. In a writer such as Sophocles, who is otherwise not without touches of greatness, the occasional descent into buffoonery can be positively dizzying. Oracular as these treatises might be, and sometimes seemingly addressed to a crowd of thousands, the use of the second person remains a fixed feature, or marker, as the linguists would say. But I say that a more or less commercialized idiom has been issued in the form of a warning, both brassy and dogmatic, and seeping with self-pity. "Beat me," is the hidden message, which turns out to be not all that hidden, "and if you don't, then I will myself."

But why waste precious space mentioning Horace when such giants as Pliny and Leonard Cohen stand forth? Indeed, characters who defile themselves by decorating their native wit in homespun positively invite their city counterparts to flex their native-born muscle. Brawling has become the onus of proof. Yet another is a very old transaction as recorded in the form of the personal letter, much like this to you, my cherished compatriot.


The contemporary mania for the new has inserted itself throughout. Testicles suggest ways of avoiding the pitfalls, but only the pluckiest of sorts will be able to rouse their acquired discernment. To put another construction on it, I am referring to taste. Hyperbole and inversions be damned!


Nevertheless, it is possible. A long night journey. Weeping. The fatal law that lies buried deep within each of us.


By way of summary, the forward-pointing manner, my friend, much as in everyday life, is neither noble nor despicable but highly organized and presents different types of evidence or other support in a common and pure diction. The trilling and limpid syllables that delight the educated bore the ignorant into a coma. Should this seem odd? I think not, if we consider that throughout there remains the visceral urge to knit the whole firmly together.

So a word of warning: we must shy away from mere semblances of the beast if it is the beast itself which is of interest. And you know better than I that this is no mere hollow conceit or feeble display of wit.

Which brings me to the heart of the matter, namely, in what the purported greatness of our contemporaneity consists, if anything. It makes an impress which transcends the particularities of its unconditional manifestation in this vale of tears, satisfying all men for all time.


Having been forced by circumstances to abandon surfaces, we may fairly and justly claim five sources productive of the true essence. All assume a base in expression, as it was once somewhat quaintly called, without which there is neither pop nor avant. First and most important, there is the conception itself. Next comes strong emotion, especially that which stems from a kind of frantic possession known as inspiration. These two are innate and cannot be acquired, although culture always helps. Then we have the ability to come up with proper figures of speech and thought, a certain noblesse oblige (not to be mistaken for the preferable droit du seignor) when it comes to one's choice of words, and their hoity-toity arrangement. Language and force lie down together on the Procrustean bed.

Who can quibble over the fact that the encomia, ceremonial, and display speeches of our best spokespersons (male or female created he them) are jam-packed with weighty turgidity but completely devoid of real passion? On the other hand, if Logopod thought passion unworthy of his attention, then he was simply deceived by the case at hand.


But let us not become bogged down in details, the sheer accumulation of which naturally proves nothing but is tacit witness to the salaryman's fear of the big picture. How can one not marvel over the unique way he brings his mind, body, ears, tongue, eyes, and complexion under one overarching frame, all congealed in a single moment of raw experience? In phrases that are only apparently contradictory, he describes himself in one and same breath as hot and cold, bursting with life and dying, seeing more clearly than ever before and completely insane. Lovers do pass through these straits, which have an outstanding quality.

Here, then, even a casual perusual reveals that there is more froth than terror. The language becomes trivial, the conception blas instead of frightening. The writer's line is tortured into the basis of merit although massive stones spoil the whole if chinks and fissures take the very shape of peril.


Our only hope is across the border, that is, in being jarred loose from the ties that bind. Here vivid representation and graphic asyndeton count for nothing, since we come to realize, my sweet and patient friend, that our way is one of several, perhaps many. The overall effect proves the point that at its best art is mistaken for nature, but whose nature? Whose art? Like a changing wind that whips around when you least expect it, flinging dust in your eyes, some products on being driven into foreign lands metamorphose under the true stamp of living passion. Just as in so-called real life we come across persons who are angry, resentful, jealous, and the like, so it is with a freshly arranged sentence.

What was the razor's edge now becomes a rose. We are humbled. Hyperbaton when uncontrolled can lead to trashy ostentation if not outright panic on the part of the audience. Precarious and tentative, as regards number we must not for a moment forget that quantity continues to bear an inverse relationship to quality. We cannot even call this ornamentation. When you speak a foreign tongue, it speaks you. Do you not see, my friend, how our minds are seized and mastered, how power and not exhaustion strikes at the animal's belly? This makes the situation both completely real and shockingly unreal, in effect rendering us null and void as speakers.

Now just as the charm and politesse contain nothing but swollen or discordant sounds when properly understood, so funeral speeches if punctuated by sufficient proof are revealed for the shameless, bawdy fellows that they are. Hence the designation so beloved of our forebears that the edge or border is a zone of danger. "A hazardous business" was their exact denomination. Hazardous indeed! We are wonderfully moved and bewitched, and yet we cannot fail to notice that they are toting iron and the likelihood that they will use it seems high. In some such a way are we kept in line, that is, behind the line,in our proper place, be it grand, plebian, or middling.

The best time for the use of these symbols is when naked feeling sweeps us away, which they then both imitate and embody. The spleen is the napkin of the inner parts, or violently coursing blood fixed as under a rigid hinge. Finally, it departs in freedom, off to sober up the gods. But this point of view will not be shared by the majority.

If we avoid risks, dear friend, we shall at the same time risk avoiding. Mutatis mutandi. For which reason I have always felt it the wiser course to assess nobility of mind by the highest possible standards of impeccability, beauty, elegance and flamey illumination. To these are added abundance of ideas, tense and lofty speech, an alert mind, rapidity, and the massive deployment of military strength along the border. One language, one culture, one people.