‘Was it Chris Kraus’s Aliens & Anorexia or Dodie Bellamy’s The Letters of Mina Harker? Maybe Great Expectations by Kathy Acker. I can’t say for sure which was my first encounter with New Narrative, but I remember the thrum of exhilaration I got from it. I was twenty-five, studying fiction at Temple. Acker, Kraus, Bellamy—and later discoveries like Laurie Weeks, Kevin Killian, Lynne Tillman: whatever I thought I knew about writing, these writers challenged all of it. I didn’t quite grasp exactly what I’d read—fiction? memoir? theory?—but I came away reeling and raving, and itching to write.
‘In their new anthology, Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative 1977–1997, editors Bellamy and Killian gather what they consider the first generation of New Narrative writing—though in keeping with the movement’s suspicion of linear, coherent narratives, they are quick to shrug at this marker. Formed in the late 1970s in San Francisco, New Narrative was a transgressive, queer-leaning, self- and body-obsessed literary avant-garde that took shape in part against the dominance of anti-narrative, self-evacuating Language poetry at the time. Combining the confessional with the conceptual, it experimented with the possibilities of loosely autobiographical storytelling to produce an exploded and unstable “I.” Gossipy and uninhibited, its breath is hot in your ear. It wants to tell you everything, and it wants you to overshare back.
‘Bellamy and Killian’s project is first and foremost a historicizing one. Writers Who Love Too Much charts a literary history that grew out of punk, second-wave feminism, and the gay rights movement and covers the Reagan era and the HIV/AIDS crisis to close just about where the Internet and Semiotext(e)’s Native Agents book series take over. The anthology compiles generous selections, many of them excerpts, from more than forty writers, as well as talks, interviews, and other valuable, otherwise out-of-print ephemera from the period. The book has been built with deep feeling, and the title is right: including the thick appendix of chatty notes, we’ve got a haul of five-hundred-plus pages, a hefty chunk of which are given over to the urgent tug of infatuation of every conceivable stripe. Kathe Burkhart declares, “I love you. I’ll obsessively worship you as long as you’ll let me”; Dennis Cooper reflects, “I loved him. I should have said so less often.” The final selection, an excerpt from Kraus’s abject, swooning I Love Dick, culminates the movement’s central concern with the ways in which desire reconfigures and amplifies the self.
‘With its exposed asshole and eager grin, the toy lamb on the book’s cover gaily describes the New Narrative aesthetic. Dodie Bellamy’s own “Dear Gail”—effusively citational, frankly sexual, and slyly confessional—is a case in point. This excerpt from her epistolary Letters of Mina Harker perhaps best represents that slippery New Narrative “I.” The novel’s premise is that Bellamy has been possessed by Dracula’s victim-turned-vampire Mina Harker and is writing to Bellamy’s friends about the affairs she is having. “Quincey stuck his thing in my hole and gossip trembled along the telephone lines . . . ,” Mina starts. “Is this what it means to live in a writing community?” Then she launches a zigzagging tour through her sexual encounters, dreams, and reflections underpinned by passages lifted from other writers such as Georges Bataille, David Wojnarowicz, and Sylvia Plath.
‘Bellamy’s Mina is a catty, often merciless narrator, her observations about her/Dodie’s life bubbling over with mirth. This campy playfulness is shared by other selections, especially those adopting a more avant-pop mode, such as Matias Viegener’s “Twilight of the Gods.” Originally published in 1990, the story proposes a love triangle developing between Rock Hudson, Roy Cohn, and Michel Foucault as they receive experimental AIDS treatment at the American Hospital in Paris: “Each of them knew he was dying, and it was time for them to settle their scores with each other. They had to answer the Big Questions.” While this outlandish scenario brings a nervous levity to a crisis that casts a long shadow over the anthology, the philosophical exchanges imagined between these three very different public figures are as meaningful as they are absurd, and Viegener ultimately grants the lovers a “blissful” last few weeks.
‘It’s true this school of writing was made up of mostly white writers, at least this first generation. One of several notable exceptions is R. Zamora Linmark, whose raucous excerpt from the (recently reissued) novel Rolling the R’s uses avant-pop strategies to construct a 1970s-era Hawaiian world populated by mostly queer, mostly poor, mostly immigrant kids channeling fantasies of American whiteness through the figure of Farrah Fawcett. The next wave of New Narrativists would bring more diversity, with writers like Pamela Lu and Renee Gladman joining its ranks, among others. (A New Narrative Now conference in the works is likely to address the movement’s relationship to race and identity and other minoritarian avant-gardes.)
‘The editors describe the anthology as a “definitive sampling.” While it can be frustrating to encounter so many excerpts not meant to stand alone, these selections achieve a vibrant coherence. Gathered together, they accumulate a heady velocity, the sense of roving, unstoppable minds bending narrative through an unfailingly complex prism of the self. Given the recent turn toward autofiction and new experiments in memoir, it’s clear this movement has ongoing relevance. What has made it so influential, I’d argue, is not a flavor or style, but an energy that redirects interiority into a potently outward-looking charge. Put another way, New Narrative is not only a citational mode, but an inciting one; and Writers Who Love Too Much should incite an abundance of writing to come.’ — M. Milks, 4Columns
Dodie Bellamy & Kevin Killian
Dodie Bellamy & Kevin Killian, editors Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative Writing 1977-1997
‘At last a major anthology of New Narrative, the movement fueled by punk, pop, porn, French theory, and social struggle to change writing forever.
‘In the twenty years that followed America’s bicentennial, narrative writing was re-formed, reflecting new political and sexual realities. With the publication of this anthology, the New Narrative era bounds back to life, ripe with dramatic propulsion and infused with the twin strains of poetry and continental theory. The reader will discover classic New Narrative texts, from Robert Glück to Kathy Acker, as well as rare supplemental materials, including period interviews, essays, and talks, which form a new map of late 20th century creative rebellion.’ — Nightboat
Contributors: STEVE ABBOTT ** KATHY ACKER ** MICHAEL AMNASAN ** ROBERTO BEDOYA ** BRUCE BENDERSON ** CHARLES BERNSTEIN ** NAYLAND BLAKE ** BRUCE BOONE ** LAWRENCE BRAITHWAITE ** REBECCA BROWN ** KATHE BURKHART **MARSHA CAMPBELL ** DENNIS COOPER ** SAM D’ALLESANDRO ** GABRIELLE DANIELS ** LESLIE DICK ** CECILIA DOUGHTERY ** BOBFLANAGAN ** ROBERT GLUCK ** JUDY GRAHN ** BRAD GOOCH ** CARLA HARRYMAN ** RICHARD HAWKINS ** ISHMAEL HOUSTON-JONES ** GARY INDIANA ** EDITH A. JENKINS ** KEVIN KILLIAN ** CHRIS KRAUS ** R. ZAMORA LINMARK ** EILEEN MYLES ** JOHN NORTON ** F.S. ROSA ** CAMILLE ROY ** SARAH SCHULMAN ** GAIL SCOTT ** DAVID O. STEINBERG ** LYNNE TILLMAN ** MATIAS VIEGENER ** SCOTT WATSON ** LAURIE WEEKS
Communal Presence: New Narrative Writing Today, will be held at UC Berkeley October 13-October 15, 2017. All events are free and open to the public.
Emerging in the late 1970s of San Francisco, New Narrative originated at the crossroads of an aesthetically and politically radical poetry scene and the new publics fostered by various social movements of the era, most notably Gay Liberation. New Narrative writing places a frank engagement with sexuality and the body at the center of its creative itineraries, and considers what roles writing can play in articulating and thus politicizing sensual experience and embodied knowledge. By directing attention to the social and political possibilities of fiction and narrative, New Narrative moves between genres as much as between voices and discrepant histories. The effect of such maneuvering was often to self-reflexively thematize the position of the narrator and the impulse to narrate as itself a category of visceral experience, in order to demonstrate the mutual imbrication of self and community. In this way, the writings of New Narrative are importantly in conversation with both contemporary forms of expressivist movement writing, and critiques of signification and the lyric. Today, the study of New Narrative is vital for understanding the history of Bay Area avant-garde literature, particularly in relation to other insurgent literary and artistic movements like Language Poetry, the Black Arts movement, and radical feminist poetics. New Narrative continues to exist in relation to broader national conversations regarding the relationship between writing and sexuality, and between literature and community. New Narrative writing poses the question of fiction’s relation to poetry and the other arts, and to illuminate the existence of writing communities constructed at a distance from the MFA “program era” or New York publishing centers.
The conference will provide the opportunity to reflect on the history of New Narrative, and to consider its legacy for the future. Spanning three days, the conference will include academic papers, readings and Poets Theater performances, film screenings, and exhibits of art and ephemera related to the New Narrative movement. We intend to foster a conversation that keeps questions about literary and social history open by generating new resources and programming for anyone interested in New Narrative writing.
Some of them
R. Zamora Linmark
Walking to the Ocean This Morning
The truth of the matter is I like to be beaten and then fucked like a dog. I don’t just mean on my hands and knees, I mean hard and carelessly. I want someone relentless. When I was with Tom, before, saying no in the morning could easily be followed with a slap in the face and a spanking so hard it would send me crawling from room to room looking for escape in fear of even being touched on my now-burning ass, until he would decide to catch me and fuck me roughly on the floor. I’d start out whimpering and end up moaning within minutes. Once he had me in that place, he liked to threaten to stop just to hear me beg him not to. Tom loved to create situations that would totally turn what I thought I wanted at that moment to the opposite, from saying I didn’t want to have sex that morning to begging him not to stop fucking my spanked ass. He didn’t force me to do anything, he just created situations in which I wanted what he was going to give me anyway. Sometimes he’d fuck me real hard and then pull out, holding my legs straight up in the air in a flying V, looking at my enlarged asshole sucking air to fill the vacancy, begging for his cock to return. I loved being so vulnerable. I loved it when my tits or my cock or my asshole would destroy my own ego with their needs. If your body wants something bad enough, you can’t say no no matter how humiliating. He could say anything, call me anything, make me do anything, after which I would immediately start begging for his cock. At those moments I didn’t matter, only my ass did.
New Narrative @ Wikipedia
New Narrative and the Making of Language Poetry
Realism and Utopia: Sex, Writing, and Activism in New Narrative
New Narrative writer and poet Kevin Killian showcases work
Colonized on Every Level: An Interview with Dodie Bellamy
Robert Glück Makes You Blow Him
Strategies of Deviance: Studies in Gay Male Representation
New Narrative: A Queer Genealogy – LLSL 2415 A
Contestatory Writing Practices in the San Francisco Bay Area in the Seventies–New Sentence, New Narrative
The Small Press Traffic school of dissimulation
Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative
Long Note on New Narrative
To talk about the beginnings of New Narrative, I have to talk about my friendship with Bruce Boone. We met in the early seventies through the San Francisco Art Institute’s bulletin board: Ed and I wanted to move and Bruce and Burton wanted to move—would we all be happy living together? For some reason both couples dropped the idea and remained in our respective flats for many years. But Bruce and I were poets and our obsession with Frank O’Hara forged a bond.
I was twenty-three or twenty-four. Bruce was seven years older. He was a wonderful teacher. He read to transform himself and to attain a correct understanding. Such understanding was urgently political.
Bruce had his eye on the catastrophic future, an upheaval he predicted with a certain grandeur, but it was my own present he helped me find. I read and wrote to invoke what seemed impossible–relation itself–in order to take part in a world that ceaselessly makes itself up, to “wake up” to the world, to recognize the world, to be convinced that the world exists, to take revenge on the world for not existing.
To talk about New Narrative, I also have to talk about Language Poetry, which was in its heroic period in the seventies. I treat diverse poets as one unit, a sort of flying wedge, because that’s how we experienced them. It would be hard to overestimate the drama they brought to a Bay Area scene that limped through the seventies, with the powerful exception of feminist poets like Judy Grahn, and the excitement generated by movement poetry. Language Poetry’s Puritan rigor, delight in technical vocabularies, and professionalism were new to a generation of Bay Area poets whose influences included the Beats, Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, the New York School (Bolinas was its western outpost), surrealism and psychedelic surrealism.
Suddenly people took sides, though at times these confrontations resembled a pastiche of the embattled positions of earlier avant-guards. Language Poetry seemed very “straight male”—though what didn’t? Barrett Watten’s Total Syntax, for example, brilliantly established (as it dispatched) a lineage of fathers: Olson, Zukofsky, Pound, etc.
If I could have become a Language poet I would have; I craved the formalist fireworks, a purity that invented its own tenets. On the snowy mountain-top of progressive formalism, from the highest high road of modernist achievement, there was plenty of contempt heaped on less rigorous endeavor. I had come to a dead end in the mid-seventies like the poetry scene itself. The problem was not theoretical—or it was: I could not go on until I figured out some way to understand where I was. I also craved the community the Language Poets made for themselves.
The questions vexing Bruce and me and the kind of rigor we needed were only partly addressed by Language Poetry which, in the most general sense, we saw as an aesthetics built on an examination (by subtraction: of voice, of continuity) of the ways language generates meaning. The same could be said of other experimental work, especially the minimalisms, but Language Poetry was our proximate example.
Warring camps and battle lines drawn between representation and non-representation—retrospection makes the argument seem as arbitrary as Fancy vs. Imagination. But certainly the “logic of history” at that moment supported the idea of this division, along with the struggle to find a third position that would encompass the whole argument.
I experienced the poetry of disjunction as a luxurious idealism in which the speaking subject rejects the confines of representation and disappears in the largest freedom, that of language itself. My attraction to this freedom and to the professionalism with which it was purveyed made for a kind of class struggle within myself. Whole areas of my experience, especially gay experience, were not admitted to this utopia, partly because the mainstream reflected a resoundingly coherent image of myself back to me—an image so unjust that it amounted to a tyranny that I could not turn my back on. We had been disastrously described by the mainstream—a naming whose most extreme (though not uncommon) expression was physical violence. Political agency involved at least a provisionally stable identity.
Meanwhile, gay identity was also in its heroic period—it had not yet settled into just another nationalism and it was new enough to know its own constructedness. In the urban mix, some great experiment was actually taking place, a genuine community where strangers and different classes and ethnicities rubbed more than shoulders. This community was not destroyed by commodity culture, which was destroying so many other communities; instead, it was founded in commodity culture. We had to talk about it. Bruce and I turned to each other to see if we could come up with a better representation—not in order to satisfy movement pieties or to be political, but in order to be. We (eventually we were gay, lesbian, and working class writers) could not let narration go.
Since I’m confined to hindsight, I write as though Bruce and I were following a plan instead of stumbling and groping toward a writing that could join other literatures of the present. We could have found narrative models in, say, Clark Coolidge’s prose, so perhaps narrative practice relates outward to the actual community whose story is being told. We could have located self-reference and awareness of artifice in, say, the novels of Ronald Firbank, but we didn’t. So again, our use of language that knows itself relates outward to a community speaking to itself dissonantly.
We were fellow travelers of Language Poetry and the innovative feminist poetry of that time, but our lives and reading lead us toward a hybrid aesthetic, something impure. We (say, Bruce Boone, Camille Roy, Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy, Mike Amnasan, myself and, to include the dead, Steve Abbott and Sam D’Allesandro) are still fellow travelers of the poetries that evolved since the early eighties, when writers talked about “nonnarrative.” One could untangle that knot forever, or build an aesthetics on the ways language conveys silence, chaos, undifferentiated existence, and erects countless horizons of meaning.
How to be a theory-based writer?—one question. How to represent my experience as a gay man?—another question just as pressing. These questions lead to readers and communities almost completely ignorant of each other. Too fragmented for a gay audience? Too much sex and “voice” for a literary audience? I embodied these incommensurates so I had to ask this question: How can I convey urgent social meanings while opening or subverting the possibilities of meaning itself? That question has deviled and vexed Bay Area writing for twenty-five years. What kind of representation least deforms its subject? Can language be aware of itself (as object, as system, as commodity, as abstraction) yet take part in the forces that generate the present? Where in writing does engagement become authentic? One response, the politics of form, apparently does not answer the question completely.
One afternoon in 1976, Bruce remarked on the questions to the reader I’d been throwing into poems and stories. They were self-consciously theatrical and they seemed to him to pressure and even sometimes to reverse the positions of reader and writer. Reader/writer dynamics seemed like a way into the problems that preoccupied us, a toe in the water!
From our poems and stories, Bruce abstracted text-metatext: a story keeps a running commentary on itself from the present. The commentary, taking the form of a meditation or a second story, supplies a succession of frames. That is, the more you fragment a story, the more it becomes an example of narration itself–narration displaying its devices–while at the same time (as I wrote in 1981) the metatext “asks questions, asks for critical response, makes claims on the reader, elicits comments. In any case, text-metatext takes its form from the dialectical cleft between real life and life as it wants to be.”
We did not want to break the back of representation or to “punish” it for lying, but to elaborate narration on as many different planes as we could, which seemed consistent with the lives we lead. Writing can’t will away power relations and commodity life; instead, writing must accept its relation to power and recognize that at present group practice resides inside the commodity. Bruce wrote, “When evaluating image in American culture, isn’t it a commodity whether anyone likes it or not? You make your additions and subtractions from that point on.”
In 1978, Bruce and I launched the Black Star Series and published my Family Poems and his My Walk With Bob, a lovely book. In “Remarks on Narrative”—the afterword of Family Poems—Bruce wrote, “As has now been apparent for some time, the poetry of the ’70s seems generally to have reached a point of stagnation, increasing a kind of refinement of technique and available forms, without yet being able to profit greatly from the vigor, energy and accessibility that mark so much of the new Movement writing of gays, women and Third World writers, among others. Ultimately this impasse of poetry reflects conditions in society itself.”
We appreciated the comedy of mounting an offensive (“A critique of the new trends toward conceptualization, linguistic abstraction and process poetry”) with those slenderest volumes. My poems and stories were set “in the family,” not so antipsychological as they might have been given that we assumed any blow to interiority was a step forward for mankind.
We contended with the Language Poets while seeking their attention in the forums they erected for themselves. We published articles in Poetics Journal and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, and spoke in talk series and forums—a mere trickle in the torrent of their critical work. If Language Poetry was a dead end, what a fertile dead end it was!
New Narrative was in place by the time Elements of a Coffee Service was published by Donald Allen’s Four Season’s Foundation in 1982, and Hoddypole published Bruce’s novel, Century of Clouds in 1980. We were thinking about autobiography; by autobiography we meant daydreams, nightdreams, the act of writing, the relationship to the reader, the meeting of flesh and culture, the self as collaboration, the self as disintegration, the gaps, inconsistences and distortions, the enjambments of power, family, history and language.
Bruce and I brought high and low together between the covers of a book, mingling essay, lyric, and story. Our publishing reflected those different modes: stories from Elements appeared in gay anthologies, porn magazines, Social Text, and Soup. Bruce wrote about Georges Bataille for The Advocate.
I wanted to write with a total continuity and total disjunction since I experienced the world (and myself) as continuous and infinity divided. That was my ambition for writing. Why should a work of literature be organized by one pattern of engagement? Why should a “position” be maintained regarding the size of the gaps between units of meaning? To describe how the world is organized may be the same as organizing the world. I wanted the pleasures and politics of the fragment and the pleasures and politics of story, gossip, fable and case history; the randomness of chance and a sense of inevitability; sincerity while using appropriation and pastiche. When Barrett Watten said about Jack the Modernist, “You have your cake and eat it too,” I took it as a great compliment, as if my intention spoke through the book.
During the seventies, Bruce was working on his doctorate at UC Berkeley. His dissertation was a structuralist and gay reading of O’Hara, that is, O’Hara and community, a version of which was published in the first issue of Social Text in 1979. He joined the Marxism and Theory Group at St. Cloud which gave birth to that journal. Bruce also wrote critical articles (especially tracking the “gay band” of the Berkeley Renaissance). Bruce introduced me to most of the critics who would make a foundation for New Narrative writing.
Here are a few of them:
Georg Lukacs: In The Theory of the Novel, Lukacs maintains that the novel contains—that is, holds together—incommensurates. The epic and novel are the community telling itself its story, a story whose integration becomes increasingly hard to achieve. The Theory of the Novel leads to ideas of collaboration and community that are not naive, that is, to narrative that questions itself. It redistributes relations of power and springs the writer from the box of psychology, since he becomes the community speaking to itself. I wrote “Caricature,” a talk given at 80 Langton in 1983, mostly using Lukacs’ book, locating instances of conservative and progressive communities speaking to themselves: “If the community is a given, so are its types.”
Louis Althusser: His essay, “Ideological State Apparatuses,” refigures the concept of base/superstructure. Terry Eagleton rang the following change on Althusser’s bulky formula: Ideology is the imaginary resolution of real contradictions. By 1980, literary naturalism was easily deprived of its transparency, but this formula also deprives all fantasy of transparency, including the fantasy of personality. If making a personality is not different from making a book, in both cases one could favor the “real contradictions” side of the formula. If personality is a fiction (a political fiction!) then it is a story in common with other stories—it occurs on the same plane of experience. This “formula” sets those opacities—a novel, a personality—as equals on the stage of history, and supports a new version of autobiography in which “fact” and “fiction” inter-penetrate.
Althusser comes with a lot of baggage. For example, he divided science from ideology, and ideology from theory. Frankly, Bruce and I pillaged critical theory for concepts that gave us access to our experience. In retrospect, it might be better simply to “go with” cultural studies. To the endless chain of equal cultural manifestations (a song by REM, the Diet of Worms, Rousseau’s Confessions), we add another equal sign, attaching the self as yet another thing the culture “dreamed up.”
Georges Bataille: Bataille was central to our project. He finds a counter-economy of rupture and excess that includes art, sex, war, religious sacrifice, sports events, ruptured subjectivity, the dissolution of bodily integuments—”expenditure” of all kinds. Bataille showed us how a bath house and a church could fulfill the same function in their respective communities.
In writing about sex, desire and the body, New Narrative approached performance art, where self is put at risk by naming names, becoming naked, making the irreversible happen—the book becomes social practice that is lived. The theme of obsessive romance did double duty, de-stabling the self and asserting gay experience. Steve Abbott wrote, “Gay writers Bruce Boone and Robert Glück (like Acker, Dennis Cooper or the subway graffitists again) up the ante on this factuality by weaving their own names, and those of friends and lovers, into their work. The writer/artist becomes exposed and vulnerable: you risk being foolish, mean-spirited, wrong. But if the writer’s life is more open to judgement and speculation, so is the reader’s.”
Did we believe in the “truth and freedom” of sex? Certainly we were attracted to scandal and shame, where there is so much information. I wanted to write close to the body—the place language goes reluctantly. We used porn, where information saturates narrative, to expose and manipulate genre’s formulas and dramatis personae, to arrive at ecstacy and loss of narration as the self sheds its social identities. We wanted to speak about subject/master and object/slave. Bataille showed us that loss of self and attainment of nothingness is a group activity. He supplied the essential negative, a zero planted in the midst of community. His concept of transgression gave us lots of fuel, as did his novels of philosophic pornography.
Now I’d add that transgressive writing is not necessarily about sex or the body—or about anything one can predict. There’s no manual; transgressive writing shocks by articulating the present, the one thing impossible to put into words, because a language does not yet exist to describe the present. Bruce translated Bataille’s Guilty for Lapis Press when I worked as an editor there. We hammered out the manuscript together, absorbing Bataille gesturally.
Five more critics. Walter Benjamin: for lyrical melancholy (which reads as autobiography) and for permission to mix high and low. V.N. Voloshinov: for discovering that meaning resides within its social situation, and that contending powers struggle within language itself. Rolland Barthes: for a style that goes back to autobiography, for the fragment, and for displaying the constructed nature of story—”baring the device.” Michel Foucault: for the constructed nature of sexuality, the self as collaboration, and the not-to-be-underestimated example of an out gay critic. (Once at 18th and Castro, Michel pierced Bruce with his eagle gaze and Bruce was overcome!—he says.) Julia Kristeva: for elaborating the meaning of abjection in Powers of Horror.
Our interest in Dennis Cooper and Kathy Acker produced allegiances and friendships with those writers. Kathy moved to San Francisco in the fall of 1981; while getting settled she stayed with Denise Kastan, who lived downstairs from me. Denise and I co-directed Small Press Traffic. Kathy was at work on Great Expectations. In fact, Denise and I appear in it; we are the whores Danella and Barbraella. Kathy’s writing gave Bruce, Steve Abbott and myself another model, evolved far beyond our own efforts, for the interrogation of autobiography as “text” perpetually subverted by another text. Appropriation puts in question the place of the writer—in fact, it turns the writer into a reader.
Meanwhile, Bruce and I were thinking about the painters who were rediscovering the figure, like Eric Fischl and Julian Schnabel. They found a figuration that had passed through the flame of abstract expressionism and the subsequent isms, operating through them. It made us feel we were part of a crosscultural impulse rather than a local subset. Bruce wrote, “With much gay writing and some punk notoriously (Acker the big example), the sexual roots of aggression come into question. There’s a scream of connection, the figure that emerges ghostly: life attributed to those who have gone beyond. So in Dennis Cooper’s Safe there’s a feeling-tone like a Schnabel painting:the ground’s these fragments of some past, the stag, the Roman column, whatever—on them a figure that doesn’t quite exist but would maybe like to. The person/persona/thing the writer’s trying to construct from images—”
In 1976, I started volunteering in the non-profit bookstore Small Press Traffic and became co-director not long after. From 1977 to 1985, I ran a reading series and held free walk-in writing workshops at the store. The workshops became a kind of New Narrative laboratory attended by Michael Amnasan, Steve Abbott, Sam D’Allesandro, Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy, Camille Roy, and many other writers whose works extend my own horizon. I would start by reading some piece of writing that interested me: Chaucer, Robert Smithson, Lydia Davis, Ivan Bunin, Jim Thompson, a book of London street games, Thomas Wyatt, Sei Shonagon. We were aspiring to an ideal of learning derived as much from Spicer and Duncan as from our contemporaries.
Most writers we knew were reading theory. Later, guided by Bruce, we started a left reading group at Small Press Traffic, attended by Steve Benson, Ron Silliman, Denise Kastan, Steve Abbott, Bruce, myself and others. The personal demolished the political, and after a few months we disbanded. From that era I recall Ron’s epithet (which Bruce and I thought delicious) The Small Press Traffic School of Dissimulation.
More successful was the Left/Write Conference we mounted in 1981 at the Noe Valley Ministry. The idea for a conference was conceived in the spring of 1998 by Bruce and Steve Abbott, who sent letters to thirty writers of various ethnicities and aesthetic positions. Steve was a tireless community builder, and Left/Write was an expression of New Narrative’s desire to bring communities together, a desire which informed the reading series at Small Press Traffic, Steve Abbott’s Soup (where the term New Narrative first appeared), Michael Amnasan’s Ottotole, Camille Roy and Nayland Blake’s Dear World, Kevin Killian and Brian Monte’s No Apologies, and later Kevin and Dodie Bellamy’s Mirage. We felt urgent about it, perhaps because we each belonged to such disparate groups. To our astonishment, three hundred people attended Left/Write, so we accomplished on a civic stage what we were attempting in our writing, editing and curating: to mix groups and modes of discourse. Writers famous inside their own group and hardly known outside, like Judy Grahn and Erica Hunt, spoke and read together for the first time.
Out of that conference the Left Writers Union emerged; soon it was commandeered by its most unreconstructed faction which prioritized gay and feminist issues out of existence. At one meeting, we were instructed to hold readings in storefronts on ground level so the “masses of San Francisco” could walk in!
During this decade–1975-1985–Bruce and I carried on what amounted to one long gabby phone conversation. We brought gossip and anecdote to our writing because they contain speaker and audience, establish the parameters of community and trumpet their”unfair” points of view. I hardly ever “made things up,” a plot still seems exotic, but as a collagist I had an infinite field. I could use the lives we endlessly described to each other as “found material” which complicates storytelling because the material also exists on the same plane as the reader’s life. Found materials have a kind of radiance, the truth of the already-known.
In 1981 we published La Fontaine as a valentine to our friendship. In one poem, Bruce (and Montaigne!) wrote, “In the friendship whereof I speak…our souls mingle and blend in a fusion so complete that the seam that joins them disappears and is found no more. If pressed to say why I loved him I’d reply, because it was him, because it was me.”
In using the tag New Narrative, I concede there is such a thing. In the past I was reluctant to promote a literary school that endured even ten minutes, much less a few years. Bruce and I took the notion of a “school” half seriously, and once New Narrative began to resemble a program, we abandoned it, declining to recognize ourselves in the tyrants and functionaries that make a literary school. Or was it just a failure of nerve? Now I am glad to see the term used by younger writers in San Francisco, writers in other cities, like Gail Scott in Montreal, and critics like Earl Jackson, Jr., Antony Easthope, Carolyn Dinshaw, and Dianne Chisholm. Bruce and I may have been kidding about founding a school, but we were serious about wanting to bring emotion and subject matter into the field of innovative writing. I hope that these thoughts on our project—call it what you will—are useful to those looking for ways to extending the possibilities of poem and story without backtracking into the mainstream, or into 19th-century transparency.
p.s. Hey. This is a really fantastic anthology and highly recommended, and I don’t say that because there are a couple of works of mine in there, although I’m happy and honored to be included. ** H, Hi, h. Everything is pretty good, very busy and good. It was too warm here yesterday, but today seems a bit chilly (and better) so far. Great and exciting about the Akerman piece! I only saw ‘Beau Travail’ once when it was originally released, but I definitely liked it. She’s a very interesting filmmaker. ** Dooflow, Whoa, hi there, Dooflow! I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing you here in ages! You good, much better than good? Thanks about the movie. Hopes are very high. Take care, sir. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Eek, your internet rebelled against you again! Are things good and fun with your brother? Thank you very much about the hair post. Yes, we watched the movie, although, technically, it’s still the assembled, initially edited footage. There definitely is a lot of work to be done, but we were and are very happy. Everything is there for it to become the film we dreamed it would be, we just have to refine it into place as best we can. The opening and middle and end are very strong. In between those it still gets a little disjointed, but I think we started solving that problem yesterday by relocating some scenes and either lengthening or shortening some of them. It’s exciting. We’ve only had to cut one whole scene so far because it just doesn’t work, sadly, but I think the film will work fine without it. We really need some extra time to get the film ready before the professional editor comes in, especially since we were informed yesterday that Monday is a fucking holiday and we can’t work that day. So we’re trying to get our producers to give us at least an extra couple of days, and I hope they will because we desperately need one more time. Anyway, yes, watching the very raw film for the first time was pretty great. What are your weekend plans, my friend? Or I guess I mean what actually happened? ** David Ehrenstein, Wait, it was your birthday yesterday? Congrats for hitting the scary 70 in such fine form. One would never, ever know. So, I guess I can gather that you’re not a David Lynch fan then. ** Rewritedept, Hi, Chris. Always good to see you, buddy. No, we knew editing would extremely involved, and it certainly is. There isn’t much otherwise stuff right now. Editing is pretty much my life other than breathing and eating occasionally. I’m glad to hear things are good on your end. I went to a firing range once as a teen. I can’t remember whether shooting a gun interested me or not. Since I never did that again, maybe not so much. Love back to you! ** Jamie, J-J! Yes, as I told Dora, the rough cut viewing was a success. We knew there would be many issues, and there are, but I think we know how to totally solve the issues, and I think, as I’ve thought, that it’s going to be an amazing film when it’s ready. Oh, shit, about the order to move out right away. That’s terrifying, man, even though I’m sure it’ll all be okay. But, as you probably remember, my having to move not even with the rush you face, was very stressful. And, yeah, I love the place I had move out of too, but now I have a new place. and you just get over it and learn to dig the new digs, you know? But that sucks. I’m so sorry. I like the new apartment like I said. I’m not wildly into the area, the 8th arr. It’s too upscale — a block from Paris’s trendiest high-end street Rue St. Honore — and too non-neighborhood-y for me, but, location-wise, in terms of getting around, it’s good. Pretty interesting mum, that one, for sure. Yeah, Burroughs’ comedy and his whole ‘uptight guy with a dirty mind’ image is pretty central to his thing. His novels are kind of like crazed out comedy routines in a way. This weekend I’m gonna meet with some visiting musician friends — the experimental music ensemble Golden Fur — whom Zac and I are collaborating with on a music/performance project. Last night the great Japanese fog sculptor Fujiko Nakaya, whom Zac and I are making a documentary about, did a giant piece/ performance with KTL on and covering the facade of the Centre Pompidou, which was really amazing, and they’re doing it again tonight, and Zac and I are going to film it as best we can. Other than that, just work and chill and think about film editing ideas for next week. I guess your weekend will be partly taken up by home hunting, and, gosh, I hope that goes easily, and I hope you get to do bunch of interesting stuff otherwise. How was it? ** Steevee, Thanks for the link to the Lynch article. I’ll check it out. And, of course, I’ll read your review of the Terrence Davies. Interesting. Everyone, do go read Steevee’s review of Terrence Davies’ new film ‘A Quiet Passion’ about Emily Dickinson here. Yes, totally agree about that great strength of Cheap Trick’s work and their work’s outlook. No one else was doing that with that kind of convincing savvy. Their tone is so complicated and exciting when they’re really inspired and hitting the mark. ** Tosh Berman, I found and read Burroughs as a teen too. It’s a good age to come to him. I only really like his run of novels from ‘Naked Lunch’ to ‘The Wild Boys’. The earlier and later stuff doesn’t do much for me. And I have zero interest in his dangerous kooky grandpa persona and his cranky mystical quotable societal seer/critic schtick. Thanks about the hair post. Cut hair ages really weirdly. It becomes kind of alien or something. ** Bernard, Bernard! So soon we shall embrace or kiss cheeks or whatever variance on the classic French greeting we choose to enact in the spur of the moment. If you’re free on Monday, the 5th, that would be optimal because that’s a rare weekday off from film editing, which otherwise occupies me from 9 am to 7 pm week-daily, so that would be great. Otherwise I could meet in the evening on Tuesday. I don’t have WhatsApp. So … FB message or, well, the best would be text message if your phone’s behaving. Or email. I can check my email on my phone, but I don’t have FB on my phone because that’s a bridge too far for me. Rick’s already there? Tell him to go see the Fujiko Nakaya fog piece on the facade of the Pompidou tonight at 10 pm. And we can talk about the other stuff. Busy I am. Yes, the intense shooting happened, and now the intense editing and post-production will pretty occupy much of my summer. I’ll be here in June because we’ll be editing in the 11th arr. for all of June. You know I recommend the Loire. Whoa, can’t wait to see you! Give me the word when you want and we’ll sort that first meeting in a flash. Safe trip if I don’t confer with you before. ** Sypha, Hi. I did see that you started that band, and you can bet the I’m most excited to hear what that will sound like. Oh, you already have a single up. I’ll go grab that with my ears shortly. Everyone, the mighty Sypha aka author James Champagne … well, I’ll let him tell you. Sypha: ‘This year I started up a new band, +Passover-. As you can imagine by the title, its aesthetic is somewhat inspired by Joy Division (hell, it’s even named after a Joy Division song). It’s kind of an instrumental post-punk, dance-rock, noise-rock, electronic pop affair. Much more sonically accessible and song-orientated than my Sypha Nadon project (with some exceptions). This summer I hope to release an album under that band name (to be entitled “Hostile Architecture”), but today I released a single from the album on my Mauve Zone Recordings netlabel. To anyone who might be interested, this single (entitled “Menacing Earthworks,” with the b-side entitled “Pandemonium Matrix”) may be listened to/downloaded for free here‘. ** Nick Toti, Hey, Nick. I reread ‘The Wild Boys’ a couple of years and I thought it held up quite well. See what you think. I’ll hit your link, thank you. Everyone, Nick Toti hooks us up with his favorite Burroughs-elated thing here. ** _Black_Acrylic, Huh. ‘Best argues that Andrea Dworkin and Burroughs were each imagining different apocalypses: hers a world without men and his without women.’ I like that idea. Good old Philip Best. Thanks! And congrats on the great driving lesson. And sorry the future ones will involving robbing your own pockets. But, mainly, congrats! ** Jeff J, Hi. Thanks about the post, Yes, I knew about the Abstracts, or I have for a while. As I think I’ve mentioned, I had a brief job in the early 80s helping to organize Burroughs’ archive when it was still owned by a collector in Santa Barbara, and so I found a lot of quite obscure stuff of his that way. I don’t believe they’ve been printed other than in those journals originally, but they and a bunch of other behind-the-scenes Burroughs stuff is online at that site I linked to. Next is refining and polishing and organizing the rough cut. We started yesterday, and we have next week to finish that, although we’re asking for more time because we really need more time. Then we’ll work with a professional editor for two weeks, and we want the film to be as close to being clearly what we want it to be as possible before then because we want her to help us do what we want to do skillfully. We don’t want her to have any opportunity to try to talk us into normalizing the edit. So the closer to polished that we can get our initial cut of the film the better. So that’s next, and then a short break followed by more editing, and then into the post- stuff (grading, color corrections, inputting effects, sound editing and mixing, and etc.) Yeah gotcha about the lyrics writing. The rings totally true to me. ** Joseph, Hi. Yeah, I think the last time the name Myrna Loy came up for me was in a conversation with my mother too. I like watching blockbusters. I’m always interested to see what a lot of people like enough to warrant costing $100+ million. But with extreme exceptions, I save them for planes. I like watching movies that are supposed be seen gigantic and with perfect sound and so forth on tiny, crappy plane screens with shitty headphones. I suspect it’s easier to tell if they’re any good that way, whatever ‘any good’ means. If it (Ok Cupid) works, hats completely off to it. I hope so. ** Bill, Hey. Someone told me Friendster still exists but that 95% of its members are in Asia. I would go reopen my account and check things out if I had even the slightest memory of my password, etc. ‘Pulse’. Heard the name. Shame, that. When do you go to Berlin? Whoo-hoo! ** Okay. You already know what’s up there in the post section so please have at it in whatever way you want. Have fine weekends. See you on Monday.