Monday, July 31, 2006
(9:24 AM) | Adam R:
My Serial Novel: Chapter OneThis is how I imagine the beginning of my movie: I will strap a camera to my bike and record my ride home, through the bright streets of downtown Baltimore into the grimy, ramshackle neighborhood where I live. I imagine it will be an effective way to document the bizarre, I dunno, duality of this town, the vast rift between the rich and the poor. It will show the protagonist as a person who can navigate through two distinct dimensions of one world.
But all that comes later in the process. It occurs to me that first I ought to plot the movie. This can be done in a short story (or novel?) format. It should go like this:
Five minutes, he thought as he sat typing at his desk. People were rising all around him, heads popping from cubicles like turtles out of shells, snappers and painteds discussing their plans for the weekend. The Yankees were in town. Families were due for dinner. “Happy hour,” one tortoise pointed out, “must be getting close because I can’t stop smiling.” Adam Robison kept his head tucked low and wrote that The appeal for experimental artists is that their work can't be evaluated with a glance, a misfortune other media is doomed to face. A photographer doesn't just take photos, for example; photographers also take risks in ways that are unknown to conceptual artists or experimental novelists. A picture, an unassuming poem, a painting can be given a once-over, but conceptual art happens on the inside – he typed out the code for italics – so that it can demand the viewer’s familiarity with the back, the inside, story. When the viewer invests himself like that for a work of art, he is more likely to appreciate it, less likely to discount it, shrug and walk away, as he might with a picture that does not suit his taste.
There, he thought as he posted his reflections onto the Internet. And there: five-oh-one. The office was mostly empty by now, so he gathered his bag and shut down his computer. Even at just one minute after five, the elevators would not be crammed full with worker turtles scrambling out to their ballgames and families and happy hour; almost everyone had cheated out a few minutes early. The doors slid open. He worked on the 25th floor of a forty-story building, which meant that the other people riding the elevator down with Adam were the literal higher-ups in sharp-looking suits. I like those executive striped shirts, he thought. I like working where the suits are sharp and intimidating. I like that the people wearing them are younger than I am. Twenty-nine. I like that I am riding this elevator down to the garage, because some of these people might think I am allowed to park there. Only very well connected people can park their cars in the garage.
Anyone was permitted to park a bike. Adam strapped his radio to his arm and climbed onto his Schwinn and pedaled away. He swung onto the jam-packed street and maneuvered through the Audis and BMWs. He arced around a bus and between cars at the intersections. He passed SUVs on the narrow, leaning to avoid their side mirrors. I'd be flattened like a pancake if I fell. The German cars turned Japanese as he cruised out of the harbor's inner glitter. He concentrated on the potholes as he drove his bike past the strip clubs, up a shallow hill and to where the cars turned American. They turned into dented pickups and miniature motorcycles. He struggled up the last hill and climbed off his saddle, clicked off NPR, and took a deep gasp of air. Different people were about. He stretched his arms then dug into his pocket for keys.
Adam Robison worked happily as a temp at the main office of a huge mutual funds corporation. He was employed there indefinitely – his supervisors liked him because he worked hard when they asked him to, and he always seemed to be busy. In fact, he was always busy. The assignments he was given usually only took him a few minutes to complete, and he spent the rest of his time writing. He kept a few journals on the Internet, which he updated during the workday; he was midway through a play, and he was just beginning a novel. This last effort he grabbed at loosely, thinking his idea (which, like his play, was only half-formed) might be more successful as a movie. The important thing, equally as important as the work he did for the company, was that he wrote with diligence. Writing for him was carving. The world was filled with beauty and intrigue and hope, and if he sliced at it he could carve out the right story, and the right story ought to afford him an apartment in Mexico City, or Morocco.
So every day he arrived at his beige cubicle ten minutes early and left a few minutes late, and was paid by the company to work on his writing. The situation could not have suited him better. Had he been at home, he would have been less inclined to write. He had fashioned a nice office for himself there, but he spent his free time watching movies or baseball games on the Internet. He lived with his girlfriend, who owned the house. Tiffany had bought it the summer before, picked it at random from a long list of cities, and moved into it from across the country. He followed her, madly in love. Their relationship was just beginning, and, like their work on the house, progressed with a lot of banging.
For months they spent every day at work on the house. They shredded nasty walls and put up new ones; they stopped leaks in the roof and installed windows. Hauling in over a ton of topsoil, they landscaped a garden in their cinder block backyard. They tore up miles of linoleum; there was so much linoleum piled on top of linoleum that they could have floored their way to the moon. All of their work was done with recycled parts and hand-me-down tools, so they managed to live and work with few expenses. When finally it was time to earn more money - sheetrock ran low - Adam slipped easily into the temporary employment world.
He loved the trip to work. Usually he would ride his bike (really it belonged to Tiffany), but sometimes he’d catch the subway. He could read on the train, but the trip only took a few minutes. What he enjoyed most was the big-city feeling he got from mass transit. He liked watching the people and he also liked ignoring them out of urbane sophistication. There was always criticism of society’s coldness in public spaces, but that remove was what he liked. And then he liked riding escalators out of the station and walking the short blocks to his office, past banks and upscale clothiers. A line formed outside the doughnut shop, which he liked. There was a concierge in the lobby of his sky rise. One time he asked her where he might find shoeshine service. He was thinking of arranging newspaper delivery through her, too. It’s likely that he was the only temp who wanted to use a concierge in order to get a newspaper.
Adam took his lunches in a busy downtown park, where he fed pigeons, watched tourists and read for an hour. He would contemplate the huge corporate sculptures that rose from the sidewalks, thinking about if he should fit them into his novel. Sometimes he would browse the new releases at the bookstore. Sometimes a guitarist would play in the park, and Adam would listen for a while as hundreds and thousands of other office workers swarmed through their lunchtime. Water from the harbor lapped at the docks.
Adam felt strongly that he didn’t fit in with the downtown environment, even though he was interested in observing it. He didn’t have any friends at his company, although he liked the people who worked there and they seemed to like him. Occasionally he would join a conversation about baseball, but other than that he shared no common ground with his colleagues. He didn’t own a television or a video game system. He found it remarkable how many adults actually played these games, but he made no remark. Adam was not judgmental. For one, not watching TV didn’t mean he was immune to cheap escapism; he watched plenty of movies on his computer. Also, Adam was interested in video game development, although he was not personally a gamer. He marveled at the future, and greeted every technological advance eagerly.
Not as eagerly, however, as he greeted every five o’clock.
Great, that’s fine. The gist is that I sort of live in two places with more or less equal happiness. I certainly don’t want the movie to convey that I despise either environment or its inhabitants. In fact, I had initially started the writing with my character named “Adam Tyler,” because Tyler is so close to my middle name, Tyner. I have always been partial to that name, as it is my maternal grandfather’s, whom I deeply loved and respected. But after Chuck Pahlaniuk’s success with Fight Club, the name Tyler is strictly evocative of that novel’s nihilistic protagonist. A writer can’t use the name Tyler anymore unless he wants to suggest that movie, but Fight Club is so far from the direction I want to follow with this story that I realized right away I had to change it. I realized this thanks to a comment my friend Randy made after reading the first two pages.
I had asked both him and my girlfriend, Stephanie, to peruse the early 1,500 words to get their impressions. I am not confident in my writing ability anymore. Also, I am a little reluctant to use my neighborhood as a subject for art (I’ll be exploring that idea quite a bit). I was ready to leave off the story but Stephanie said she was impressed by the beginning and Randy said I have a responsibility to the world to finish it. Randy also said something about how I had made it clear that I disdained my colleagues, and that I should focus on the inanity of my office, not my neighborhood.
In fact, my intentions and sentiments are pretty much the opposite. While it’s true that I don’t have friends in my office, I still think that my co-workers are admirable and lead meaningful lives. However, this movie is more or less finished with them. I have used the office and downtown to its full effect, I think, simply by leaving it. One addition did occur to me, though – namely that as I ride through the streets on my bicycle, the soundtrack ought to be not the chatter of car horns and bus engines, but how about a baseball game, piped through the headphones of my sport radio?
And at five, when he had made his final updates to his writing, he left the office, having spoken less than a handful of words to anybody the whole day. He clicked a baseball game onto the radio strapped to his arm, and by 5:30 he was riding into his neighborhood, which was night to the daytime of his downtown. The streets around 1818 – the name he and Tiffany had given to their home – were improbably crowded. Many of the rowhouses were boarded up, dilapidated buildings with caved in roofs. Eight out of every ten of them were vacant, crying lots. Still, in the three blocks between Wolfe and Broadway, the major avenues that surrounded 1818, a hundred people seemed to be forever loitering about the cracked and littered sidewalk.
Adam was slowly adjusting to this neighborhood. He knew it was a dangerous place to live, and imagined that he and Tiffany were the only straight - as in non-drug using, mildly square - white people who had lived there for probably fifty years. They stunned people when they moved in. Drivers would stop their cars, roll down their windows and curse in disbelief at the sight of them. Everywhere he walked, he overheard people speculating about him, the white boy. One group of men stopped him to lay odds - how long would it be until he moved out of the neighborhood? Six weeks seemed to be the consensus. Police officers frequently halted him and Tiffany, supposing that white people had only illicit intentions on these streets. One officer told him that “all the white people in the neighborhood were either criminals or victims.” The only time he felt more out of place was when he spent two weeks traveling in China, but even there he was welcomed as a tourist. Here, most people didn’t know what to think of Adam and Tiffany.
That China comment should suggest, on one hand, my interest in traveling but should not indicate a similar “passing through” mentality behind living in this rougher territory. Also, I should note that were I writing this story as a story (and not a story-board for my film), then further revisions would show the disgust Adam Robison felt at hearing the cop’s despicable “warning.” This ought to be made explicit through a flashback of the incident, perhaps, which means I need to consider using a narrator. Now, back to the story:
It wasn’t that he wasn’t accepted in his neighborhood. But unlike his neighbors, he never spent more than a few seconds on the street at a time. He had never lived in a place where he
Stephanie pointed out that the phrase “lazed about” is perhaps too charged up. I don’t disagree, but I leave it in as a place marker that shows “here I proved to be a racist.” I believe racism is as ubiquitous as breathing is, and that we all ought to note offensive instances in ourselves in order to weed them out. I tried to discuss this idea with Randy, who told me that while he knows something he says might be offensive, he’ll say it anyway if it’s what he thinks. I appreciate that we ought to be true to who we are, but I don’t think self-censorship prohibits that, or is a weakness.
But you know what? Had I not veered into unseemly wordage, I would have deleted that whole paragraph. I left it intact only to bring up the issue of racism, and to show for the future that when it comes up, I am aware of it. Or hopefully I am. At any rate, I imagine these constant asides inhibit the storytelling, and I will try to refrain from them for a while.
When he first moved in with Tiffany, about two weeks after she arrived in Baltimore, Adam Robison felt terribly out of his element and didn’t know how best to get along with his neighbors. One day, for instance, he was picking grass that grew between his sidewalk when a man approached, offering to help. Adam suspected that Eugie (as the man had introduced himself) wasn’t offering just to be neighborly, but would expect payment. Tiffany and Adam didn’t have money to spare, and Adam didn’t need help anyway, so he thanked Eugie but declined.
“Well, it’s easy work if you have a shovel,” Eugie said, “I just did it up at my own place the other day.” He pulled at his whiskers with stubby, calloused fingers. Eugie hadn’t shaved recently and his face was furry with gray hair. His slacks were as dirty and worn out as his hands, but his eyes were kind and vigorous.
“Oh, okay. I have a shovel.”
“You got to use a shovel with a flat head and that makes it real easy going. I could go get mine.”
“Nah, I don’t mind doing this,” I said, but I didn’t really like the job. 1818 has no yard, and the sidewalk between the building and the street is only a few feet wide and about forty feet long, but there was plenty of weeding to be done.
“Well, I don’t mind getting my shovel.”
“Okay.” Eugie hobbled up the street. Like a great percentage of the men in the area, he was lame in one leg. Adam reflected on that and went back to work, hoping that he could continue alone, but a minute later Eugie returned with a busted spade.
“Neighbors help each other out, you know what I’m saying? Maybe I help you a little with this work, maybe you show a little appreciation.” Despite his limp, Eugie attacked the weeds zealously. The shovel made a loud racket against the pavement and soon a wide man named James came up to give Eugie a hard time. Maybe he wanted to case up Adam Robison a little bit, too.
“What are you at, Eugie?” James said, then turned to wink at Adam. “Hey, how you doing, man?”
“Man, I’m just helping out my new neighbor here,” Eugie said as he continued to strike the ground with his shovel.
“Where’d you get that shovel?”
“From up at my place, you know? What are you doing?”
James said, “I’m just talking to my new neighbor here.” Adam had absentmindedly stopped working and was staring as he listened to the two men. James wore huge, cracked glasses and, like Eugie, had flecks of gray in his hair. He said, “You live here, man?”
“Uh, yeah. My girlfriend bought the place.”
“You going to open it back up?” Until Tiffany moved in, 1818 had been “C & S Grocery,” a corner store not unlike the half-dozen other corner stores within three blocks of where they stood. Despite the number of other stores, though, people seemed to miss C & S.
“Nah. We’re sort of converting it into a gallery, you know. We’re going to make art in there.”
“Art? What, like paintings?” Eugie pronounced it “pennings.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Eu,” James interrupted. “You just use that shovel.”
“Now I don’t like that,” Eugie said. “How come he’s gotta talk like that?”
“People . . . I guess some people like to argue,” Adam fumbled around for a while with a pocket full of words. He didn’t know what the score was, whether the men were really escalating a fight, but he was paying more attention to not getting scammed by fast talk than what the men were saying.
“Look here,” James said, “some people don’t know what they like.” For some reason, James was trying to aggravate his friend, but Adam felt loyal to Eugie, whom he had already lent his confidence, so he just shrugged and went back to the weeds. This gave James plenty of time to sputter.
“I’m saying, some people just don’t think about anything, day-in and day-out. I’m not saying I know it all, but I’ve led a good life and I got a daughter who’s getting married tomorrow and she’s a lawyer, or going to be, so,” he paused and let the thought drift away. “I mean, I may have spent some time in jail, but I still think about things, you know.”
“That doesn’t mean you know anything,” Eugie argued.
“See, you’re not thinking,” James said emphatically. Adam couldn’t make out the argument and hoped James would leave. People wear jail like a badge of honor, he thought. But instead of leaving, the man pulled out his wallet. It was old and thick from wear, but Adam supposed this usage wasn’t from a hectic financial life. He pulled a picture from the folds and offered it to Adam, who looked at it. It was a Christmas photo that showed a mother and daughter in front of an artificial white tree.
Oh, they were bonded, the pair, in mutual hope. This was clear past the creases in the photo, and past the photographer’s index finger which partially blocked the lens and created a shadow in the picture’s upper right-hand corner. The mother-daughter unity was evinced in the way that the daughter sat cross-legged on her mother’s lap, in the way the mother reclined on a torn duct-taped barcalounger. The girl’s eyes, the daughter’s, she was six maybe, zoned in on a trail of smoke that had lifted from her mother’s cigarette. The trail, traced down, ended at a long ash which verged on dropping to the floor. The floor showed up as a shaggy and worn carpet, orange, where the mother’s eyes fixated. Adam could visualize her hatred of the rug. The woman in the photo hates the rug because that’s where all the gifts should be, dozens of them, there before the girl who cuddles against the mother who sits before the tree. There were plenty of presents around the tree when Adam was six. Come to think of it, Adam came to think, that’s the same wallpaper we had in my living room in those days. The paper was originally white, with a light blue pattern, but in the photo it was stained beige. It had a tactile presence, more so even then the Christmas tree, which boasted only a few measly decorations. But presently Adam stopped and changed his reflections: there’s no disappointment in either of their eyes, and no resignation, and the hope that unites them isn’t a hope for better times, but for the same times. Adam wished the photographers finger could sweep down from its corner and across the image and brush away the wear, the creases and the smudges from the weight of James’ empty wallet. It’d be nice, he thought, if I could pass to James the clarity with which I view this picture, the poor mother’s placidity, so he wouldn’t need to invent successes. Then he amended his thought. It’d be nice if the photographer’s finger could reach out and pick my nose and rid me of my preconceptions: I have no way to know that this family home smells of the sweat and mold I ascribe to it.
“Is this your family?”
“That’s my daughter and her daughter.”
“She’s getting married?”
“Yeah, she’s getting married tomorrow. She doesn’t have anything to worry about, you know what I’m saying? She’s all set. And you know why?” He directed his question at Eugie. “Because she thinks. She’s smart.”
Eugie looked up from his work. “Hey, all I’m saying is I’m the one working. You’re just standing in the street.”
Adam realized he was just standing in the street, too, and he appreciated Eugie’s work ethic. But he could tell that James was going to attack Eugie, so he asked, “She’s a lawyer?”
“Yup. She just has to take the bar exam real soon.” Adam doubted him, and was frustrated by the falseness of their conversation, but it continued as long as there were weeds in the ground. So he put up with James’s and Eugie’s bickering and returned to the work himself. He pulled at the weeds with renewed vigor, and when he was finished Eugie said slyly, “You know what to do.”
“How much, uh, did we agree on?”
“I was thinking this was like seven dollars.” Although Eugie did most of the work, it had only taken fifteen minutes.
Adam never made $28 for an hour of yard work, and said “I was thinking more like five.” In truth, he just wanted to show Eugie that he wasn’t a pushover, even though he had been nothing but pushed over the whole time.
“You do what your heart tells you, man.” Adam went inside and returned with seven dollars, which he slipped into Eugie’s palm.
“I really can’t afford to do this anymore.” Adam said, feeling foolish for handling Eugie’s bid for help so poorly. Throughout the coming months he would see Eugie only rarely, and they seemed not to know each other. He never saw James again. There were plenty of people in the neighborhood who claimed to live there whom Adam would only see once and then never again. There was a man who approached while Adam was getting off his bicycle in front of 1818.
“Whooey, that’s a nice bike,” the man said.
“Thanks, it’s a little small.” It was an old mountain bike that Tiffany had since she was a teenager.
“Looks really nice. I wish I had a bike like that. Let me roll it.” The man gripped the handlebar as he spoke. Adam didn’t want to be rude, and he pushed the bike only tentatively toward the house.
“I’m not going to steal it. I just want to see how it feels. I’m just going to roll it.” A few months earlier some teenagers broke into 1818 and stole Tiffany’s Schwinn cruiser, a cheap bike that a friend had fitted especially for Tiffany. She was depressed about it, so Adam was protective when the man asked again.
“Gee, uh, okay,” Adam said, but he held onto the seat as the man pushed it a few feet.
“That’s real nice.”
“Do you live around here?” Adam asked. He hoped the man did not. He had never seen him before, but he immediately disliked how loud and pushy the man was.
“Yeah, man. This where you live?” he said when Adam stuck his key in the lock at 1818, his hand still holding the saddle of the bike.
“Whoa. This used to be a corner store way back.” The man’s surprise made Adam confident that he had been lying about living in the neighborhood. Everyone knew it wasn’t a corner store anymore. A couple times a day, however, people would come and pound on the heavy red door at 1818 expecting to be let in to shop. Whenever Tiffany or Adam answered they would say, “It’s not a store anymore.” The words became a mantra.
Pound, pound, pound.
“It’s not a store anymore.””Oh,” and the person would usually curse.
“There’s one on the other corner.” But suddenly the person was either too upset to shop, or they didn’t need anything anyway, and they would grumble as they left. It seemed to Adam that people frequently went to corner stores at their whims, and only to bother the Korean owners. They didn’t necessarily need to buy anything.
When Tiffany’s Schwinn was stolen, the couple were in the house. At that time they were lackadaisical with locking the red, outside door because there was another, lighter door in the entryway. But that door was on a remote lock so that the store owners could buzz customers in when they needed and maintain light security otherwise. A hard push would break the lock open, which was how two teenagers managed to creep in and steal the bike. It was clear who did it; Tiffany had named one of the boys “Barky” because he teased Adam’s dog, Lightning, by barking at her. Barky had broken in on another occasion and stolen a pair of boxing gloves and a Super-8 projector (which he left on the sidewalk). The kid was really the terror of the neighborhood. Tiffany caught him one time threatening Sky, the Korean man who owned the nearby corner store, with an electric taser.
So Adam was hoping he wouldn’t be shocked when he saw the Schwinn on the street a week later. Barky stood a few feet away from it, outside Sky’s, with his friends. It was a wet evening in the late fall, and dark. Adam was heading to the store for a pack of cigarettes when he saw the bike. He thought quickly about retrieving it, and then stopped thinking and took the bike. He hopped on and realized the tire was flat immediately as he rode over the curb. He climbed off and started to push it away instead. Adam was quite scared.
“Hey!” Barky hollered. “That’s my bike!”
“It’s my bike,” Adam retorted, and absurdly thought he should clarify, “well, it’s my girlfriend’s.” He stayed quiet, however, and continued walking with his back turned. He listened for footsteps, but there were none, and he parked the bike safely at 1818. Then he went out again for the cigarettes, walking past Barky and his friends without saying anything. No one said anything.
Don’t you know I could go on all day with stories about Adam Robison’s life in depressed Baltimore – but that wouldn’t get me any closer to developing a story for my movie. I saw a preview for an independent film the other day. I don’t remember what it was called. If I did, I would tell you. Maybe, actually, it wasn’t an independent movie after all. Snoop Dogg is in it. I can simply look it up on the Internet. . . .
Okay, it’s called The Tenants, and in the preview I remember seeing Dermot Mulroney discussing race and writing with Snoop Dogg (who looks really good in overalls). They are both writers. Their conversation seems very meaningful and intense. I would like to address issues like that in my movie but, after all, that’s not really a plot. I ought to address the issue in the plot.
All I have for my movie so far is me riding my bike home, listening to a baseball game. The baseball game won’t have anything to do with the story, but it ought to relate to the story somehow. For instance, it could be my favorite team playing (the Milwaukee Brewers), and they could be losing badly, but finally they come back to win; then, in my story, I could start to lose badly but triumph in the end. Or, they could be winning but then lose, and I could do the same.
What could I win or lose? Who knows? My email address is adamrobinson -at- gmail.com; drop me a line.
Say, here’s an idea. The plot ought to focus on the writing of my movie. So, like, say at the end of the story I have either found a publisher or not found a publisher? This is dangerous territory, because it’s something that Charlie Kaufman did well in Adaptations. I certainly don’t want to be derivative, even if it’s derivative of something I like so much. So I have to consider how my story will differ from his. I can make those considerations in a brief comparison of this work (as it will be in its final form) to Adaptations.
When You Trickle Through Performance Art You’re Bound to Overflow:
A Brief Comparison of This Work to Other Experimental Writing
by Adam Robison
edited by Adam Robinson
On a particularly sunny evening recently, my girlfriend and I were entertaining a couple friends, Terry and Bob. I say, “We were entertaining,” but it would be more correct to note that Terry was the amusing one. She stood on our landscaped patio and performed an act she had spent months developing. Although it was often hilarious, the piece struck me as discordant and confusing, and to be honest, much of the time I thought she was either making it up on the spot or not concentrating well. She made constant asides to us, the audience, saying, “Okay, this is the part where I am going to tell you about how I was living in . . . wait. Okay, I was going to tell you about how I was living in a basement, but now I’m going to go ahead and sing a song.” And in the song she would sing, “This is the time when you love me.”
The four of us discussed the act together, and it seemed natural that the film Adaptations would be discussed. Like Terry’s piece, viewers watch the protagonist in the film develop his story, or more accurately, the adaptation of a story written by another author. Charlie Kaufman, the author of the screenplay, makes himself the main character and chronicles his struggle to develop Susan Orlean’s novel, The Orchid Thief, into a movie. So the film switches between what the book is about, the way that the author researched her book, and Kaufman’s writing process. Adaptations, like Terry’s performance, is discombobulated in many other ways, but here we are concerned with attempting a brief comparison of my play with Charlie Kaufman’s role in his film, stopping at other experimental literature on the way.
In the beginning of the film, Kaufman – who gives the character his own name and casts Nicholas Cage to portray him – is considering projects to work on. He is discussing the possibilities with producers and friends and his brother (also played by Nicholas Cage). There is a similarity between the directions he and I seek in our work; while I am looking for a story to create, Kaufman searches for one to adapt – and we both have written about it in the final product. That is the essential element. It is also relevant that Kaufman addresses the way the screenplay of the film that he is writing in the film ought to be written about. He wants it to be real, not burdened by the “Hollywood” tendencies toward burdensome plot devices and special effects. His asides on this subject are not unlike my own – take, for instance, the paragraph in which I didn’t completely eradicate a comment that could be construed as racially inappropriate. Then, after setting up these guidelines, Kaufman finally ignores them. As for my project, we’ll have to wait to find out.
Those are the similarities, and they are there. And like Terry’s performance, they bounce so far off the wall that we risk being struck in the head. But this meta-stylism is not new with Kaufman, despite his genius and originality. One might also care to reference Nabokov’s Pale Fire, a “novel” that is written in the form of a poem with an introduction and endnotes. It is a masterful work, but its real genius, like Kaufman’s, happens off the page. A reading of Pale Fire is hardly complete without a discussion of the reading, at which time readers can discuss how they navigated the book, whether it was read straight through or with continual reference to the (bizarre and exhaustive) endnotes. Likewise, one might refer to Kurt Vonnegut’s huckstering in Breakfast of Champions, during which the author, within the pages of the book, invites his characters to a barbeque and then sets them free. This trick is made more astounding when Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout, Vonnegut’s fictional author, is actually published, you know, in the real world. And what should we make of Kierkegaard’s corpus, wherein we find the books he wrote with numerous pseudonyms actually lodging serious objections to each other?
Tricks like these make creating art safer. They create a cocoon around a piece that protects it from that abstracted predator, scrutiny. The cocoon, when it is beautiful, pulls in the predator and initiates a relationship. The appeal for experimental artists is that their work can't be evaluated with a glance, a misfortune other media is doomed to face. A photographer doesn't just take photos, for example; photographers also take risks in ways that are unknown to conceptual artists or experimental novelists. A picture, an unassuming poem, a painting can be given a once-over, but conceptual art happens on the inside so that it can demand the viewer’s familiarity with the back, the inside, story. When the viewer invests himself like that for a work of art, he is more likely to appreciate it, less likely to discount it, shrug and walk away, as he might with a picture that does not suit his taste.
That is precisely what happens with Adaptations, which like Pale Fire, demands a cup of coffee and a casual discussion to complete. And The Book of Laughter and Forgetting plays the same game, as Kundera vacillates between his narrative, his literary criticism, and his own experiences. Ultimately, the goal of work like this is to become an event, an unforeseeable something that even Derrida himself could not have predicted. Don DeLillo or Jürgen Moltmann might posit this event as the eschaton, DeLillo with his nuclear fears and Moltmann with his coming hope, but experimental authors envision this event quite differently, as something that happens over coffee, or beer. To influence the dialog of history, that is the end of all human struggle, and the sole goal of experimental art.
As a consequence of this universal objective, it is unfair to draw a comparison between this work and any particular work, like Adaptations or Terry’s performance art piece. Therefore it is not inappropriate to make elastic this quote, from Theodor Adorno:
In the multiplicity of stimulus and expression, [great music’s] greatness is shown as a force for synthesis. Not only does the musical synthesis preserve the unity of appearance and protect it from falling apart into diffuse culinary moments, but in such unity, in the relation of particular moments to an evolving whole, there is also preserved the image of a social condition in which above those particular moments of happiness would be more than mere appearance. Until the end of prehistory the musical balance between partial stimulus and totality, between expression and synthesis, between the surface and the underlying, remains as unstable as the moments of balance between supply and demand in the capitalist economy.
Adam Robison didn’t have an overwhelming amount of faith in his writing ability, which made him insecure at his job. He wrote when he should have been phoning software manufacturers to request backup copies of the media for which his firm owned licenses, and he didn’t communicate well with his managers. This was an unhappy reality for him, for even as he doubted the quality of his writing and the extent of his talent, he knew that he could be performing far better in the business world than he was, and he worried that the business world would always be his sole source of income. If that was to be the case, Adam thought, then his writing was seriously inhibiting his real life. (He was not deluded into thinking that financial growth constituted real life, but he wasn’t convinced that writing poorly did, either.)
Nevertheless, Adam and Tiffany instituted a writing night. One evening, after a productive day of adding to his play at work, Adam was excited to share the developments with Tiffany. They sat at their table in the kitchen, eating a rice dish that Tiffany specialized in, and drinking wine. It was a sticky table, and cluttered, and the wine cost a buck and a half, and although he was bursting at the seams with excitement, Adam couldn’t find an angle with which to bring up his play. He thought it was greedy to talk about himself all the time. Discussing someone else’s work in progress is a sensitive matter, and tasking, and often very boring for everyone but the creator. Adam was aware of this (he took the same position with sharing dreams, which he considered to be impolite), and was accordingly reluctant to impose on Tiffany.
But Tiffany was an extremely sympathetic girl, and managed to take constant interest in other people if they were at all interesting, and was often considered a favorite audience member at shows. She never shied from a casual hoot mid-performance, and her ability to rouse an audience from the back of the room was uncanny. Furthermore, she had excellent taste and a keen eye, so Adam trusted her evaluation of art highly, and was anxious in seeking it. He was anxious because he wanted to hear it, but he feared he wouldn’t like what he heard.
As I was writing this I was listening to the Cubs play the Brewers in Chicago. Bill Hall, Milwaukee’s utility player, just hit a tie-breaking home-run in the seventh inning. Nothing gets me more excited than that. One time, Stephanie and I went to a baseball game at Camden Yards. It was the first time Stephanie ever went to a game, and she had a remarkable skill in watching it. She noted, for instance, that Bartolo Colon, the LA Angels’ pitcher, consistently put his foot in the exact same spot on his follow- through; it is an extremely rare and remarkable ability to pay attention to the pitcher, the batter, and the ball, but Stephanie managed it.
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 Interestingly, my father’s grandfather, if I have it right, was a bigamist named Kinsey, and that’s why someone decided to change our last name (to Robinson). This is something that happened in real life.
 There is a fairly successful writer named Douglas Rushkoff who wrote an entire novel, Exit Strategy I think it’s called, as an Open Source experiment. That means that he posted the work online and allowed readers to make revisions. It has since been published by Softskull, a fine independent press.
 The other night I mentioned to Stephanie that I don’t like books that shift fonts with narrators. I was reading Scott Turow’s popular new novel, Ordinary Heroes, thinking what a wonder it is that Faulkner ever got published, seeing as he only used one typeface. Of course, how many people who read Turow also dig Faulkner? Any successful business people who want to respond know my email address. (ed.)
PS I did greatly enjoy Mark Z. Danielewski’s horror novel, House of Leaves, which must have been a typesetter’s nightmare more than anyone else’s. As a footnote to the footnote, I rather disliked DF Wallace’s Infinite Jest for it’s rampant footnoting, and will break off here. (-ed.) | Main Page