Category Archives: Fiction and Poetry

Bolaño and the linked text(s)

Matthew Hunte via Twitter provides me this interesting examination of Roberto Bolaño oeuvre.

It was brilliant. I couldn’t stop laughing. It was a game but also a joke, a humongous joke. I felt gratified. I was anxious to read more from him. I needed a new hit, so I went to the library and took one of his first books at random, Llamadas telefónicas, a short story collection, and it didn’t suprise me at all when in one of the stories I met Arturo Belano once again. He looked younger but he was exactly the same. He was living at that time in Spain, near Barcelona. He was hiding, writing, and working as a watchman of a tedious camping club in the Costa Brava. He seemed unaware of what was waiting for him.

Thanks, Matt.

Submit to Otto: Poetry, Fiction, Non-fiction essay and more

Critical message from the Otto team:

OTTO, the Tunxis Art and Literary Journal, is seeking submissions from all members of the Tunxis community for the 2010 issue due out in April.

Submit your work by December 31 via email to otto dot tunxis at gmail dot com. Submit literature (creative or expository) as a Word or RTF attachment (please do not paste it into email). Submit art as TIFFs or JPGs (low res is ok for now). Please name your files with your last name and then a number or short title of your work: LastnameMystory.rtf or LastnameSelfportrait.jpg

The Moon in Poetry (and Code)

I was particularly taken by the poetry of Li Po and Du Fu after a recent discussion with the World Literature students. There’s something about “talking it out.” I’ve been involved in reading Chinese poetry over the last few years in an effort to see and hear better. The study of these poems is linked to the study of code, particularly with the new media students who are writing in the Inform 7 environment, and my independent study with Kristen, a student in fiction, who, at the moment, is examining Stanley Elkin’s technique of compression in A Poetics for Bullies.

Consider Li Po’s My Feelings

Facing my wine, unaware of darkness growing,
Falling flowers cover my robes.
Drunk I rise, step on the moon in the creek–
Birds are turning back now,
men too are growing fewer.

Li Po’s is a striking moon, as this moon is a reflection and, at the same time, written as the moon itself, the moon but not the moon, a perfect reflection or “not moon.” The poet steps on the moon and, of course, shatters the perfect reflection. In this vast but little poem, Li Po supplies a definition of poetry: poetry is “the moon in the creek.”

The moon returns in the poetry of Du Fu. Here’s Moonlit Night, the translations of which differ greatly and conflate interpretation (it’s always a little foolish to take translations too seriously):

The moon tonight in Fu-chou
She watches alone from her chamber,
While faraway I think lovingly on daughters and sons,
Who do not yet know how to remember Ch’ang-an.
In scented fog, her cloudlike hairdo moist,
In its clear beams, her jade-white arms are cold.
When shall we lean in the empty window,
Moonlit together, its light drying traces of tears.

The poet’s wife is drawn with memorial closeness or nearness, as if the poet and his wife are in he same room. The poet is, however, behind enemy lines, cut off from his family by An Lu-shan. In the poem, the poet isn’t thinking about his wife. He’s “with” her in the form of a poetic image. Rather, he’s thinking about “daughters and sons” who are too young to write poetry and thus “don’t know how to remember” him.

I can only imagine the chunks of marble and stone dust about their desks, even if Li Po could hammer them out quickly, as legend has it. But the process and the work reminds me of work the students are doing writing convincing worlds in Inform. These students, much like student poets, are trying to capture reality in their room work, creating objects in rooms that could be written in more compressed manner. Indeed, this is one of the links between poetry and code. The writer doesn’t try to recreate reality, but writes with an efficiency that they think best reflects the world. Consider John Timmons’ Arrest example in Inform 7

[Create a type of a person that can be applied to different persons.]
The guilty is a person that varies.

[Create a new verb for arresting persons.]
Arresting is an action applying to one visible thing. Understand “arrest [someone]” as arresting.

[As the game starts, we randomly select one of the persons in the game as being guilty – but not the player character.]

When play begins:
change the guilty to a random person who is not the player.

[This provides a clue to the guilty person simply by examining them.]
Instead of examining the guilty:
say “[The noun] certainly looks fiendish!”

The Foyer is a room.

The gun is in the Foyer.

Joe and Ed are men in the Foyer.

Sue and Mary are women in the Foyer.

[A new rule for arresting the guilty party and provide actions as appropriate.]

Instead of arresting a person who is guilty:
say “‘[The noun],’ you slowly begin, ‘you have the right to remain silent…'”

[A new rule for trying to arrest a person who is not the guilty person.]
Instead of arresting a person:
say “[The noun] is not who you are looking for.”

Timmons supplies four lines of code that create the world for the player: the foyer, the gun, Joe and Ed, and Sue and Mary. The gun, however, is the key image. The gun turns a potential evening out or return from a movie into a “problem.” It’s a clue that signifies something wrong in the world. But the gun doesn’t have to be held. The gun doesn’t have to do anything but provide a clue. We might add that Joe is tall and keeps touching his ear and that Ed has a monkey on his shoulder. But the monkey won’t have to be written into the code as an object, as the monkey merely gives Ed a little flavor, a little character. If we did want the monkey to do something we wouldn’t create a monkey in Inform, we would simply identify a monkey as an animal and give that animal a description as close to rhesus as possible or, as Timmons does with a dog in this snippet, write:

Ralphie is a male animal in the Kitchen. The description is “Ralphie, a black lab, sleeps quietly in the corner.” Understand “dog” as Ralphie.

In other words: follow the rules of Li Po and his moon.

Steps

1. Open export folder for Cadif
2. Open iPhone and story.css in editor
3. Open Tinderbox file for Cadif (it synthesizes poetry and prose)
4. Pick up on last action before leaving to blow leaves, which was to find individual poem spaces and crowd the stanzas
5. Click note and open html view and reduce tags to appropriate breaks
6. Continue till all spacing is correct (some tweaking must be done in the individual export files)
7. Go back to css and consider the aesthetics of color and font (1em or .9em?)
8. Persist
9. Remember to go back into html individuals and tweak whatever needs tweaking

Narrative Moments

When we open up Kalidasa’s Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection we’ll ask a simple but important question: what is the process by which the King enters the hermitage? It’s a pretty simple context: if the king doesn’t go into the “tranquil place” of the hermitage, he’ll never encounter Sakuntala. I won’t necessarily ask whether the hermitage itself is significant as a setting, though it may matter, as the hermitage is a “tranquil place.” As we all know from stories, tranquil places are a great places to get the heart thumping.

Wild rice grains under trees
where parrots nest in hollow trunks,
stones stained by the dark oil
of crushed ingudi nuts,
. . .

I’ll ask the students to consider how the king progresses from outside to inside.

I might ask about about the hunt, as hunts are great metaphors for conflict and narrative development. The hunt has a subject. The hunt has an object. The hunt has ritual. The space in Kalidasa’s work is ripe. The king is hunting at the top of the play and within the circle of the hunt is the grove wherein is the hermitage, which will be penetrated by the king, and once inside the hermitage the king will assume a different shape and he will penetrate still deeper into the circle taking us with him. Prior to entering, the king says, “We shouldn’t disturb the grove.” He tells his charioteer that he shouldn’t enter the hermitage with his hunting gear. At the appropriate time, the king says, “This gateway marks the sacred ground. I will enter.” Ah, the crossing.

Hopefully the students’ reading of the Mahabharata will assist them in their reading of the king’s thinking about entering the grove and his little twinge: ” . . . do I feel a false omen of love / or does fate have doors everywhere.” Sometimes we wonder about the significance of our actions, especially when we don’t know what’s beyond the door. If nothing of consequence occurs, no worries; if consequence follows, then we have narrative importance.

On Sleep No More

Mark Bernstein on Sleep No More:

This was extraordinary theater, an unforgettable penetration of the fourth wall. It is also extraordinarily difficult. It’s not improv: the story, it turns out, is scene 21 of Woyzeck. You’re acting across from a stranger. A different stranger every night. In a closed room. The rules are unclear, we’ve just started. It seems that anything can happen. And there’s no distance at all; the acting and the sets have to work from the back of the room and they have to work if you’re standing right there, reading the slip of paper someone left on the dresser, feeling the actress stroke the back of our neck.

This sounds really exciting.

2666 and Some of its Parts

2666.jpgRoberto Bolano’s novel 2666 is a turbulent structure. The reader may be interested after reading “The Part about Archimboldi” to go back to “The Part about the Critics” to rethink the timing of events–when do the critics venture to Mexico in their hunt for Archimboldi? And where is Archimboldi while the critics are in Santa Teresa, chasing ghosts?

In addition, The “Part about the Crimes” demands a re-read because we are re-introduced to Klaus Haas, Lotte’s son, and Lotte’s Hans Reiter’s little sister, and, of course, Hans Reiter is the great Benno von Archimboldi, whose story is told in The Part about Archimboldi.

2666 indicates its structure through titles. The novel is broken into Parts and Parts provide a frame for thinking about how each character, each section, and each story is associated. The reader can read 2666 as a history of accumulating relations. Appropriately, 2666 begins with Pelletier, the French critic, “discovering” Archimboldi. The Part about the Critics begins with a series of Archimboldi discoveries and these discoveries form the link between Pelletier, Morini, Norton, and Espinosa. The sequences of discovery goes like this: Jean-Claude discovers Archimboldi (Reiter) in 1980 at Christmas; Piero Morini in 1976; Liz Norton reads Archimboldi in 1988. Manuel Espinosa’s discoveries are treated differently. We know he wrote his dissertation on Archimboldi in 1990, but we aren’t told when he first reads Archimboldi, but we do know that he comes to Archimboldi by way of other failed enterprises.

Bolano wants the reader to consider dates, as he persistently glues the narrative with them. He also wants us to know context: what was the date, what was the circumstance. In “The Part about the Crimes” each revealed murder comes with circumstance, but these have nothing to do with solving murders (circumstantial evidence leads nowhere, typically) but everything to do with what detectives are doing day to day. This leads to an interesting question: how does one “solve” mass murder? In “The Part about the Crimes” finding the murderer or murderers comes off as a trivial expectation, as it does in “The Part about Archimboldi,” as the meaning of World War II’s murderous scope and all other mass murders in history become frames of reference not events “to solve.”

The reader is thus provided with a way of putting sequences of events together for later association. We can conclude that Pelletier’s Christmas discovery is a contiguous part of the world contained and developed in 2666. Each revealed part adds to the world’s puzzling complexity; they reveal more puzzles. This additional knowledge does nothing for the other characters, whose vision is limited by their own field. Take Lotte as a case in point and the reader. Lotte lives most of her life knowing very little about her son and her brother. Likewise Archimboldi knows very little about Lotte and his nephew. The critics, who are well versed in Achimboldi’s novels, don’t know the writer’s given name, Hans Reiter. This is only one of 2666’s great jokes. But it’s an interesting joke, as the joke is also on Reiter, who alters his identity to avoid charges for murdering a civil servant, who, during the war, dispassionately killed hundreds of Jews. The reader knows nothing about Archimboldi’s novels, though can infer much about them from his experience of the world in “The Part about Archimboldi.” The reader understands that the critics are members of an enamored academic club but that it’s their private lives that form the energy of this first part of 2666, which is entirely absent of romance conventions.

For a while, Ezpinosa and Pelletier wandered around as if possessed. Archimboldi, who was again rumored to stand a clear chance for the Nobel, left them cold. They resented their work at the university, their periodic contributions to the journals of German departments around the world, their classes, and even the conferences they attended like sleep-walkers or drugged detectives. They were there but they weren’t there. They talked, but their minds were on something else. Only Pritchard [a love interest of Norton’s], the ominous presence of Pritchard, Norton’s constant companion. A Pritchard who saw Norton as the Medusa, as a Gorgon, a Pritchard about whom, as reticent spectators, they knew almost nothing about.

After reading “The Part about Archimboldi, there will be no recognizing the Archimboldi of the Serb (The Part about the Critics) to the Reiter of “The Part about Archimboldi,” as these parts are causally indeterminate. 2666 is not a novel to read for deterministic plot. The very notion of causation is made strange in the novel, a curious human concoction.

We know when the critics becomes critics. We know when and the circumstances behind their meetings and movements. Norton’s and the other critic’s internal landscapes are rich, wondrous, and frightening. The critics won’t gain meaning from their studies, however, or from their professional connections. They can’t be intimate with Archimboldi, which is a privileged knowledge reserved for Mrs. Bubis; they have difficulty being intimate as friends. A reader may be left wondering what true intimacy might mean for them. We’re left at the end of “The Part about the Critics” with ironies so think, the puzzle is nearly impossible to solve:

“Archimboldi is here,” said Pelletier, “and we’re here, and this is the closest we’ll ever be to him.”

and Norton writes to her friends

I don;t know how long we’ll last together, said Norton in her letter. It doesn’t matter to me or to Morini either (I think). We love each other and we’re happy. I know the two of you will understand.

Pelletier and Norton are wrong on several counts. But this is exactly why they’re fantastic.

It bears more consideration, but Bolano, in 2666, has written a novel that’s a kind of opposing force to Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. In Marquez frail love and intimacy are ripe as fruit; in 2666, love is out there somewhere, but it’s escaped us.

Completed, 100 Days

The summer 2009 100 Days project is complete. The participants have been:

Carianne Mack, watercolor paintings
Jessica Somers, photography
Susan Ersinghaus, photography
John Timmons, sound composition and photos
Susan Gibb, hypertext fictions
Maggie Ducharme, meals
Neha Bawa, poetry
Mindy Bray, photography
Denna Hintze-Yates, verbal image
Mary Ellen Molski, character and story
Steve Klema, sketches conained in a flash interface, with Facebook work by Robert Wren and his Boracho Station reports, and with beginnings by James Revillini and David Pender.

And me,
Steve Ersinghaus, story

I want to express my thanks to everyone for their amazing efforts and their fantastic constructions. I think it’s going to take quite a bit of time to digest the totality, from Carianne’s infinite stuffings of things that should not be lost, to Susan Ersinghaus’s … at the moment I don’t understand the nature of honesty… to John Timmons’s 090810, to Susan Gibb’s Have You Heard the One About.

On my end, the project was about 100 stories in 100 consecutive days; it was about the physical act of writing every day with a specific goal. Every morning for 100 days I’d make coffee and sit down and write, and on the difficult days I banged and put up what came. When nothing comes, the trick is to extend and grab and go with the craziest idea you can imagine. I ended with The Receiver and began with The Backups, which seems a very long time ago. Out of the hundred, the types are many: mainstream fictions, stories about monsters and time travel; science fictions, horror fictions, and even some dabbling into mystery and thriller; and there were the parodies and the dips into surrealistic play. There were some formal and voice experiments. Withal, things got written that wouldn’t have been written without the project frame, which was to force the issue for 100 Days.

I wanted to write interesting pieces that were by definition “stories,” meaning that they introduced a problem and then resolved (not solved) the problem, developed character, and had an act or arc structure. But, best of all, I wanted to push my ideas, go places I hadn’t imagined the day before, and engage people who are interesting, strange, and dangerous.

Many of the characters recurred: Computer Leon, for example, Cruz and Maricela, and Pelgram. Many settings recurred: the desert, the city. Many of the themes: flight, technology, and fear.

There are some conclusions to make. I have no one method for developing a story, as each story will be different. Sometimes, as in Computer Leon, the premise drove the story. In my town, we have these lawn signs that advertise a certain computer person. How the story would resolve was a mystery, but when it did resolve, the resolution was tied to the premise. In another case, an image drove the story and the resolution of the story was tied to the image, thus came The Image, which was a story driven by an interpretation of an image I saw in a book my wife happened to be reading. Other times, as in The Night, I had the impulse to write something treating fear, and the outcome haunts me, as in this story nothing can be done to save the child, as the conditions of the story prevent this. The Night is surreal and horror.

And so, what the writer should do to write a story depends on the story being written. However, there are certain technical similarities. Typically, the stories that did not get posted faded to abstraction or I lost interest in the plot or the character. However, most of the successful stories were written quickly, without a lot of interruption, and the images, dialogue, and plots held firm. Brief, compact images are what I like to write, even though the story may be long or short, poetic images that rely on a compressed phrasing and grammar, not long descriptions of things or events, which is a technique I’ve acquired over time, heavily influenced by poetry and writers like Borges and Alice Munro.

Now, and over the course of the Fall, I’ll be using Tinderbox to study the output, to link commonalities, and to hunt down hidden elements.