‘Author Robert Coover says he is committed to “obsolescent print technology,” but his fiction reads like a harbinger of novels to come in the era of new technology. Born in Charles City, Iowa, on Feb. 4, 1932, Robert Coover always thought he would be a journalist. And although his career has been one of words, it has not been as a hack. Coover is widely regarded as one of America’s most influential living writers. He’s a prolific one, too, with 15 groundbreaking works of fiction under his belt.
‘Coover has been lauded as an “old school postmodernist.” The New York Times Book Review has called him the “master of hypertext,” ” a one-man Big Bang of exploding creative force” and attributed to him a “striking gift for language, his ability to create a narrative tone in perfect harmony with the universe of his story.” Time magazine, meanwhile, has described him “as an avant-gardist who can do with reality what a magician does with a pack of cards: shuffle the familiar into unexpected patterns.”
‘But Coover doesn’t care much for the label of literary experimentalist. “Most of what we call experimental actually has been precisely traditional in the sense that it’s gone back to old forms to find its new form — to folk tale, to pre-Cervantian, pre-novelistic narrative possibilities,” he once told Publisher’s Weekly.
‘Coover’s usual literary trick is to mix fact and fiction, fusing fantastical illusion with morbid reality to create an alternative world of his own making. He can often be found reworking fairy tales, as in his book Pinnochio in Venice, or playing with fables, as demonstrated in the book Aesop’s Forest, which he wrote with Brian Swann.
‘Coover’s novel The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: (Director’s Cut) — a wild and weird tale of a city where everything revolves around sex — was the result of almost a quarter-century of work and is also no exception to the author’s style. Lucky Pierre is nothing less than a phallic adventure, with a protagonist with an unbuttoned fly who moves from one pornographic interlude to another in a fictitious city called Cinecity. The book is written to feel like a cheap porno film, offering the reader “reels” instead of chapters. After a string of accidents, Pierre starts to believe that his life has become part of a scripted film and that his fate — as dictated in the script — won’t be kind to him. He desperately seeks a way out.
‘But sex isn’t the only area where Coover is intent on pushing buttons. The narrator of his intensely political tome The Public Burning raised eyebrows because a young Richard Nixon serves as the tale’s narrator. Despite being so prolific and having covered such diverse range of genrés, Coover does not align himself with any real literary circle. “I have close friends many of whom are writers … but I’ve never belonged to any particular literary circle or movement,” he wrote once. Coover may have grown up in the American Midwest, but he didn’t stay. His work is to a greater or lesser degree inclined by European sensibilities.
‘”Europe is my study,” he wrote in an essay titled “My Europe” in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. “I’ve spent almost half of my adult life here, primarily in Spain and England, but also in France, Germany and Italy. And I can say, without exaggeration, that about 90 percent of what I’ve written has arisen here.” But today Coover lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where he keeps a day job as English professor at the prestigious Brown University. He’s been teaching creative writing there since 1980 as a way to supplement his income as a writer.
‘There, his new passion is teaching students to write non-linear, non-sequential fiction using the Internet markup language hypertext — a technology he has spent the past decade studying. “I must confess (. . .) that I am not myself an expert navigator of hyperspace, nor am I — as I enter my seventh decade and thus rather committed for better or worse to the obsolescent print technology — likely to engage in any hypertext fictions of my own,” he wrote in his 1992 paper, The End of Books. “But interested in the subversion of the traditional bourgeois novel and the fictions that challenge linearity,” Coover wrote. “I felt that something was happening out (or in) there and that I ought to know what it was.”‘ — Inspired Minds
Robert Coover’s Wikipedia page
Robert Coover’s Twitter
Robert Coover @ Dzanc Books
Robert Coover @ Grove Press
Robert Coover @ goodreads
Video: ‘Robert Coover: The Read Around
Robert Coover interviewed @ Bookslut
Audio: Robert Coover @ Penn Sound
‘Robert Coover prefers to write in cafés — in other countries’
‘Robert Coover: ‘Where it takes me, I have to go’’
Book: ‘Robert Coover and the Generosity of the Page’
Audio: Robert Coover interviewed in 1986
‘Author Robert Coover battles fundamentalist fervor’
Robert Coover’s ‘Nighttime of the City’
‘Myth and Carnival in Robert Coover’s The Public Burning
‘What Pretentious White Men Are Good For’
Robert Coover’s ‘The Goldilocks Variations’
‘Dream Eaters of the Apocalypse’
‘Fictional Self-Consciousness in Robert Coover’s Pricksongs and Descants’
‘Robert Coover Criticism Generator’
Robert Coover’s ‘The Reader’
‘In Which We Visit Robert Coover’s Gingerbread House’
‘Following Robert Coover’s “Suit”’
Podcast: Robert Coover reads Italo Calvino
Podcast: ‘In the Obama Moment: Robert Coover’
‘Postmodernism as a problematics of the suspension of difference: Robert Coover’s “The Phantom of the Movie Palace”’
Meet Robert Coover
Robert Coover answers the question “Why Write?”
Robert Coover on Bookworm
Robert Coover discusses the mainstream
Gout Pony – Robert Coover Doesn’t Give a Fuck (demo)
Literary Hypertext: The Passing of the Golden Age
by Robert Coover
A decade or so ago, in the pre-Web era of the digital revolution, a new literary art form began to emerge, made possible by the computer’s ability to escape the book’s linear page-turning mechanism and provide multiple links between screens of text in a nonlinear webwork of narrative or poetic elements.
The early experimental writers of the time worked almost exclusively in text, as did the students in our pioneer hypertext workshops at Brown University, partly by choice (they were print writers moving tentatively into this radically new domain and carrying into it what they knew best), but largely because the very limited capacities of computers and diskettes in those days dictated it. Now and then, a black-and-white line graphic was drawn (or, later, scanned) in, perhaps as part of the “title page” or a navigational map, but audio and animation files were virtually nonexistent. These early hypertexts were mostly discrete objects, like books, moved onto low-density floppies (this was before the Web and its browsers, remember, even before CD-ROMs), and distributed by small start-up companies like Eastgate Systems and Voyager, or else passed around among friends by hand or snailmail.
This was, in retrospect, what might be thought of as the golden age of literary hypertext, for with the emergence of the World Wide Web, something new is happening. For those who’ve only recently lost their footing and fallen into the flood of hypertext, literary or otherwise, it may be dismaying to learn that they are arriving after the golden age is already over, but that’s in the nature of golden ages: not even there until so seen by succeeding generations.
Silver ages are said to follow upon golden ages as marriage and family follow upon romance, and last longer but not forever. They are characterized by a retreat from radical visions and a return to major elements of the preceding tradition — while retaining a fascination with surface elements of the golden age innovations, by a great diffusion and popularization of its diluted principles and their embodiment in institutions, and by a prolific widespread output in the name of what went before, though no longer that thing exactly. This would seem to be the sort of time we find ourselves in with respect to literary hypertext.
So, does this mean that literature is dying on the Web? On the contrary. If anything, true to the nature of silver ages, we are into a miniboom as electronic magazines and prizes proliferate, new electronic publishers emerge, organizations spring up to develop online readerships and bring them into contact with the new writers. No, though most of the world’s literati continue to shy away from this new, increasingly dominant medium, and so continue to drift further and further from the center, the new literary mainstream is being carved here. And if I am mistaken and it is not, then literature itself is adrift and slipping even further into the backwaters. There is, as we know, a new generation of readers coming along, an audience trained from primary school on to read and write — and above all to think — in this new way, and they will be the audience that literary artists will seek to reach, else perhaps have none at all.
And will the new literature look like the old literature? No, it will not. Changing technologies continually reshape the very nature of the artistic enterprise. The dominant narrative forms of our times, the novel and the movie, for example, would not have been possible without the technologies that created, not so much the forms themselves, as the new audiences toward whom artists directed their endeavors, some translating the classic modes into the new technologies, others exploring the new technologies for new forms appropriate to them. This emergent expressive environment provided by the computer and the WorldWide Web is impatient with monomedia and simple self-enclosed sequences. Rhetoric, in this Age of the New Sophists, is still the route to power, but the hypertextual link and all the visual and aural media are now part of its grammar. Like composers, artists, and filmmakers before them, writers will learn to battle through the new tool-learning tasks, or to collaborate with other artists, designers, filmmakers, composers, and the tools themselves will become easier to learn and use and will interact more smoothly with other tools.
Poetry has indeed prospered in this new medium, even more than fiction. Or to put it another way, since the genre distinctions are breaking down in this new medium: the narrative mode, being a literary gesture that typically moves from A to B — the “nextness” of story — has had to cope with the paradoxically contrary nature of the multidirectional webworks of hyperfiction, while the lyrical mode, in which typically a single subject becomes the center of many peripheral meditations, has often found those webworks most congenial. With hypermedia, a whole new poetic movement has emerged, called kinetic poetry, or poetry that “moves,” in which the text of a poem undergoes ceaseless transformations on the screen, emerging and disappearing, evolving into shapes and motions and patterns that “imitate” the poem itself, interacting visually with other elements of the poem or aurally with overlaid sound files. Visual artists sometimes even insist on calling their own hypermedia works “poems,” though they may contain few words or none at all, keeping poetic structures intact but displacing language with visual images.
Many of the more beautiful and ambitious works of kinetic poetry, such as “Spy v. Spy” by Jay Dillemuth and Alex Cory, “Captain, My Captain” by Judd Morrissey, and “After Lori” and “Saccades” by Paul Long, are not yet available on the Web, but some sense of the form and its potential can be glimpsed in Australian Jenny Weight’s suite of sixteen short poems about Vietnam, which uses hyperlinks, kinetic text, music, artwork, photographs, newscasts, live poetry readings, recorded street sounds, animation, found objects, Shockwave graphics, and much more, in a kind of personal anthology of the formal and technical means currently possible. Other examples can be found at The Electronic Poetry Center at Buffalo, UbuWeb, Turbulence, Multimania, Eastgate Systems (see, for example, pioneer hyperpoet Rob Kendall’s “Dispossession”), and Dia. These works can be quite beautiful, at least visually, even if kinesis does sometimes seem like a way of draining a poem of its meaning; this of course is the constant threat of hypermedia: to suck the substance out of a work of lettered art, reduce it to surface spectacle. But then, nothing is ever mere surface, mere spectacle, is it?
It will be obvious by now that I am still in love with the word, still faithfully wed to text, and especially literary text. Reading such text remains, for me, the most interactive thing that we as humans do, converting these little black squiggles on white backgrounds into vast landscapes, ancient battlegrounds and distant galaxies, into events more vivid than those on the news or the streets outside with characters we know better than we know our own families and friends. That’s what writers invented: this enlargement of our imaginative powers. And I continue to feel that, for all the wondrous and provocative invasions of text by sound and image, all the intimate layering of them and irresistible fusions, still, the most radical and distinctive literary contribution of the computer has been the multilinear hypertextual webwork of text spaces, or, as one might say, the intimate layering and fusion of imagined spatiality and temporality. In my workshops I continue to insist upon text, often against the wills of students, eager to abandon the slow but demanding word and rush into sights and sounds.
But then, maybe this is where I am stuck in the past and becoming dated, for one might well ask, are not these golden age narrative webworks mere extensions of the dying book culture, as retrotech in their way as eBooks? Could it be that text itself is a worn-out tool of a dying human era, a necessary aid perhaps in a technically primitive world, but one that has always distanced the user from the world she or he lives in, a kind of thick inky scrim between sentient beings and their reality? Even alphabets, clever little tools in their time, are fettered now by the unlinked nature of the times of their origins, and are already giving way to new multilingual alphabets and pictograms called icons. In the beginning was the word — but maybe only for writers, for scribes, a class with special skills, brought into being by the Sumerians and perhaps no longer relevant to the electronic world we live in, or are about to. It may be that it will be the image, not the word, that will dominate all future cultural exchanges, including literature, if then it can still be called that. Text, so far anyway, can reflect upon itself more directly yet complexly than can the image, and so curb its own excesses, but we do not yet know how subtle the language of the image might be. We do know how forceful it can be. Silver ages, you will remember, are generally followed by iron ages wherein the hammer is the hammer and the head the head…
But this is still the silver age, or perhaps even merely the tag end, as some would have it, of the dark ages, that sweet wordy time. Certainly, the world is full still of subversive and obstreperous writers and they will not take being made redundant lying down. Text at the outset of this new millennium remains our traditional source of content, of meaning, imagination’s primary trigger, and writers will continue to use it as their tool of choice, if not their only one, even if readers do not. Even as we of this time, astraddle the ages, continue to fuse text with all the hypermedia at our disposal, we also continue to hunger for the old reading experience, until either (the generations come, the generations go) it is forgotten and becomes a legend of the past, or this magical fusion of image, sound, and text, and perhaps of aroma and tactility as well, really happens, and the golden age, thought past, begins.
Robert Coover’s Briar Rose in Hypertext
Welcome to the home page of the hypertext version of Robert Coover’s novel, constructed by Robert Scholes for users of Text Book. Briar Rose is being made available in this form by permission of Robert Coover and his publisher, Grove Press. We are grateful to both. Click here for some things to consider as you proceed through this hypertext. Before you start, or if you have trouble hearing the sounds that go with our image pages, please consult our technical page. To enter the text of Briar Rose at the beginning, please click here.
7 of Robert Coover’s 10 novels
The Brunist Day of Wrath (2014)
‘West Condon, small-town USA, five years later: the Brunists are back, loonies and “cretins” aplenty in tow, wanting it all—sainthood and salvation, vanity and vacuity, God’s fury and a good laugh—for the end is at hand.
‘The Brunist Day of Wrath, the long-awaited sequel to the award-winning The Origin of the Brunists, is both a scathing indictment of fundamentalism and a careful examination of a world where religion competes with money, common sense, despair, and reason.’ — Dzanc Books
‘” is, at heart, an indictment of America’s current marriage of religion and politics… The novel’s vast networked vision of the way biblical stories lead us to violence and political subterfuge urgently prods the reader to share Sally’s late recognition that stories are the “most dangerous things there are.’ — Stephen Burn, New York Times
‘Robert Coover’s The Brunist Day of Wrath is a boisterous, bloody, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring—for any writer, humbling—sometimes painfully, but always expertly, protracted ride… The Brunist Day of Wrath reflects a decade’s worth of labour and attention; it is a book that should, and does, take time to read, a book that, through mysterious means, nonetheless feels pressed on by some urgency. It seems feverish—serious and self-committed—though it is also pun-funny and clever-funny, daffy and delirious. And yet its eye, casting itself around like a billiard ball, picking up small-town grit and gossip, is uneasy, and should be, for it is accountable for its thousand crimes, self-conscious of its own apocalyptic imaginings…’ — Natalie Helberg, Numéro Cinq
The closer he gets to the center, the worse the damage is, the thicker the smoke now clouding out the sun. The post office is a smoldering shell. He hobbles in on his crutches for a look. There are people on the sorting-room floor covered with gray mailbags and other people carrying on over them. Bo wants to ask them what’s been happening, but they are mostly too hysterical. “Everybody’s dead!” one of them screams, shaking her fist at him. An older cop he doesn’t know stands guard over the place and Bo asks him what’s up and the guy says he doesn’t know, he just got here himself, something to do with a bunch of religious fanatics. He says he hasn’t seen anything like it since the last war.
That’s what it looks like. An old war movie. Main Street lit up with burning cars and trucks and many of the buildings on fire, their windows smashed, black graffiti sprayed on them. Fire trucks, police cars, ambulances parked at whatever angle, mostly empty inside, their lights whirling. Flat water hoses snaking about underfoot. The helicopters are pounding the old hotel for no clear reason. One of them is parked on top of Mick’s Bar & Grill. The old moviehouse marquee is down, which makes the building look like it has dropped its pants. The bank has also been hit. Seems to have lost its front door, the whole corner just a big hole. Some of the police cars and motorcycles rev up their motors and pull out. Bo asks one of them where they’re going. “Out to the mine hill! The ones who did it are out there!”
Robert Coover reads his short story “The Frog Prince” and his new novel THE BRUNIST DAY OF WRATH.
‘With impeccable skill, Robert Coover, one of America’s pioneering postmodernists, has turned the classic detective story inside-out. Here Coover is at the top of his form; and Noir is a true page-turner-wry, absurd, and desolate.
‘You are Philip M. Noir, Private Investigator. A mysterious young widow hires you to find her husband’s killer-if he was killed. Then your client is killed and her body disappears-if she was your client. Your search for clues takes you through all levels of the city, from classy lounges to lowlife dives, from jazz bars to a rich sex kitten’s bedroom, from yachts to the morgue. “The Case of the Vanishing Black Widow” unfolds over five days aboveground and three or four in smugglers’ tunnels, though flashback and anecdote, and expands time into something much larger. You don’t always get the joke, though most people think what’s happening is pretty funny.’ — Overlook
It’s a perfect night. Wind, rain, gloomily overcast, the puddled reflections more luminous than the streetlamps they reflect. Cars and buses crash heedlessly through the puddles, forcing you against the wet buildings and blue-lit window displays. You’re sucking on a fag, hands in your trenchcoat pockets, your posterboy face (your mug glowers darkly on wanted posters throughout the city) hidden behind the upturned collar, thinking about Flame’s betrayal, if it was one, about Blue’s dark machinations, the mysterious widow, her unknown whereabouts, about all the bodies you’ve left in your wake. Your tattoo is itching. You reach back under your coat to scratch it with your middle finger erect, just to let whoever’s behind you know that you know. What’s Blue up to? Maybe he’s in Mister Big’s pocket, the chalk drawing of the alleged corpse part of an elaborate cover-up of a heartless murder. Thus the rush to hide the body. Blue figured he could scare you off the case, underestimating your obstinacy, your restless need to know, and what the widow had come to mean to you. Or was he using that obstinacy for some covert purpose of his own? And is Snark a pal or Blue’s agent, his underling and co-conspirator, sending you off on wild goose chases and setting you up to take the fall for others’ crimes? If so, whose? Blue’s? His and Mister Big’s? But why would the big man want to waste a smalltime ivories tickler like Fingers? Because he sent you to an ice cream parlor? Maybe. Message: Helping Noir is not good for your health. Correspondence by cadaver. Body bulletins. Nothing seems to make sense, but why do you expect it to? Shouldn’t you just take Mister Big’s dream warning to heart and stop trying to figure something out when there is nothing to figure? You glance up at a third-floor window over a drug store where shadows play against a drawn blind. Looks like some guy stabbing a woman. But what can you know? And why (though it will do no good, you stop at a phone booth, call the cops, give them the drugstore address, hang up before they can ask any questions) do you want to? Because the body has to eat and drink so it can stay healthy long enough to enjoy an agonizing death, and the mind, to help out, has to know where the provisions are and how to get them and who else is after them and how to kill them. Then, once it gets started, it can’t stop. Gotta know, gotta know. It’s a genetic malignancy. Ultimately terminal. Your secretary Blanche, who reads the Sunday papers, calls it the drama of cognition, or sometimes the melodrama of cognition, which means it’s a kind of entertainment. Solving crimes as another game to play; conk tickling, not to let it go dead on you. Murder providing a cleaner game than most. You start with something real. A body. Unless someone steals it. Is that what happened? Who would want it? And what for? Blackmail? Or did Rats snatch it to use as a stash bag? Happened on his turf. Is that why he was nabbed? But why that one in particular? There are bodies all over the city. Up over that drugstore, for example. It’s a deranged town. A lot of guns but few brains, as someone has said. Did the widow have one in her little purse? Probably. Nested amid the bankrolls. Did she ever use it? If she had one, she probably used it. Put a heater in someone’s hands and it’s too much fun to pull the trigger and watch your target’s knees buckle. Did she use it on her ex? It’s possible. What isn’t? Taxis pass, their wipers flapping, but they all seem to be driven by guys in leather jackets with goatees and granny glasses. Can’t take risks, not enough time for that, must get to Snark, hoping only it’s not a trap. Blue could be waiting. But you and Snark have done each other enough favors through the years to create a kind of mutual dependency and you figure Snark will want to preserve that. You squeeze the widow’s veil in your pocket for luck, then remember you don’t have it anymore. Must be something else.
But though you’re hurrying along, running against the clock, it seems to take forever. Everything’s stretching out. The blocks are longer somehow, the soaked streets wider and packed bumper to bumper with blaring traffic. You have to double back, take shortcuts that aren’t short. You know the way and you don’t know the way. You find yourself on unfamiliar corners, have to guess which turn to take. Racing across a street at the risk of having your legs severed at the knees by clashing bumpers, you catch a glimpse of the pale blue police building glowing faintly in the wet night. You shouldn’t be able to see it from here, but you do. The city can be like that sometimes. Especially when you’re dead on your feet and in bad need of a drink. Joe the bartender has a story about it which he regaled you with one day over his ginger ale. This was in the afternoon before Happy Hour—what Joe calls feeding time at the zoo—so Loui’s Lounge was quiet. Serene. You were in mourning, not just for the widow, but for Fingers, too, so the atmosphere was right and you had more than one. More than three in fact, who was counting? Joe was not always a teetotaler, and when you asked him why he gave it up, he told you about the night the city turned ugly and nearly did him in. I know you love her, he said. But watch out. She’s big trouble. Flame, as you recall, was rehearsing a song in the background, something about a stonehearted bitch who drives her lovers mad, in which hysteria was made to rhyme with marry ya and bury ya, but later she came over and asked why you two always called the city “she.” Well, we’re guys, said Joe. That’s the way we talk.
The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Directors’ Cut (2002)
‘Lucky Pierre is the most famous man in Cinecity, where pornography is the basis of social norms and the mayoral motto is “Pro Bono Pubis.” He walks to work (the studio where his films are made) in the winter cold, icicles tipping his constantly exposed and engorged penis, and every small interaction provides another opportunity for exercising his prurient art.
‘This vision of a sexualized universe is unique in that social power (and the power to direct, rather than merely appear in, these sex-films) belongs entirely to women. Each chapter (or “reel”) of the book is headed with the name of one of nine women (so, in reality, they are muses, but they are also the artists), and each bears her aesthetic stamp—whether the dominatrix mayor, the experimental avant-garde filmmaker, the ribald cartoonist who “reanimates” him with her pen when he has been left by the mayor in a snowbank to freeze, the wife who makes tender home sex movies, etc. Lucky Pierre himself seems to have no free will, indeed, no existence outside his films. He is commanded by these women, and by the overwhelming impulses of his prodigiously endowed organ.
‘The book is a collection of fantasies—a man entering his office instantly begins acrobatically copulating with the receptionist on her desk; a piano teacher administers discipline to his nubile young female students; a castaway discovered by the Nine Muses, who have never seen a man before and quickly begin to test his unfamiliar parts; an engagement party turns into a frenzied bacchanal; a wedding into a sadomasochistic ritual and then a chase scene. But satisfaction is complicated. Pierre is often made ridiculous, a clown as much as a leading man, and always, everything that happens to him is seen; there is no part of his life that is not, potentially, a film. Several times, he attempts to escape, but he is always recaptured and punished—or his “escape” is proven never to be real in the first place. For example, he joins up with the Extars, a guerrilla group of squatters who adopt him as “Crazy Leg,” their leader; with them, in particular Lottie, their young leading lady, he rediscovers the vivid joys of life as a sexual outlaw—including copulating with her on the trapeze of a circus. But he can never escape the tentacles of the mayor and the “legit” industry of Cinecity. Later he is offered the chance to rejoin the Extars, his internalization of his new status won’t allow it—if it was ever a real choice.
‘Are these Pierre’s fantasies? But in a world in which he does not own his own life or his body, where the past can be rewritten as easily as the dialogue can be faked in a redub of one of his scenes, his thoughts are not even his own. Even so, L.P. continues his perhaps futile attempts to define his own destiny. In the end, grown old and decrepit, he learns his next film is titled “The Final Fuck”—i.e., it’s the end of his career. Morose and attempting to avoid the inevitable, he flees to a showing of his own work, which ends up leading him, now resigned to his fate, back to the soundstage—where, in the end, he rediscovers ecstasy, and the closure of his destiny.’ — Grove Press
By luck, the movie showing today at the Frivoli as he passes, lost and far from the little honeymoon cottage that he has abandoned, is his wife Constance’s most famous home movie, Our Wedding. The one he’s always wanted to see! When it was sent out on first release, it was retitled by the producers Here Cums the Bride: The Wedding of Lucky Pierre, but after its spectacular success, she was able to insist on its proper name and it’s been known by it ever since. The Greatest Story Ever Told! it says over the doors. Your Life Will Be Changed Forever! He’s broke, but there’s no one in the ticket booth so he goes on in, passing through the famous circular lobby with its crimson and gold decorations, now looking tattered and abandoned, drawn by the muffled strains of the wedding march which explode exuberantly upon him when he opens the inner double doors and enters the darkened theater.
The opening titles and credits are already rolling as he takes his seat. He sees himself up on the big screen dressed in scarlet top hat and tails riding in a bright green convertible with a carload of women, sisters of the bride, down sunny city streets-yes, sunny: old Sol is out for the first time in recent memory, everything is thawing out, even the old silted-up and frozen canals seem to be running again! It’s a kind of tickertape parade-the glowing city canyons are filled with millions of strands of chopped-up audio and video tape and old 8mm film, fluttering down upon him and his companions (Connie is not among them, nor are there, for once, any film crews) like a kind of anointing, glittering like ribbons of gold in the amazing sunlight. Oh, he knows he’s going to like this movie! Happily ever after: that’s his future! And it’s about time! The crowds are out and cheering, parading musicians are blowing shell trumpets and reed flutes and playing tambourines and kettledrums, dancing girls in wispy chemises are throwing flowers at the multitudes, the polished convertible is sliding along, bright as an emerald, and everybody’s smiling. It’s a great day! The camera holds its fixed position as he rolls into the frame and out of it again, waving at the crowds, then cuts to another vantage point. Though he drifts in and out of focus as the convertible enters and exits the picture at different angles and distances, one can see in the expression on his face-he seems to have just woken up-a conflict of joy and terror, which causes a nervous twitching of the eyes and mouth and suggests he might not know whether he’s on his way to a party or his execution. Evidently it’s a surprise wedding.
The procession pulls up in front of the High Church of Hard Core as the illuminated marquee over the faux-Gothic doors declares it to be. Massive crowds have gathered. He stands on the seat of the convertible to peer out over their heads, looking around in some amazement, or alarm, and discovers, as does the viewer, that he’s dressed in only the top half of the scarlet tuxedo. He sits back down hastily but the convertible door is already open and he is being bumped out onto the pavement. An aisle forms between car and church, lined by tonsured monks and wimpled nuns, dressed in black and white costumes honoring one of his most famous movies from the monochrome era, and, glancing uneasily back over his shoulder, he proceeds up it, still trailing streamers of tape and film, prodded along by the women whenever he hesitates, his progress watched from the rear by the camera until, still glancing back, he disappears through the gaping doors into the darkness beyond.
Abruptly, there is a view of the interior of the church as seen from the back of the auditorium. Nothing has begun yet. The wedding guests, studying the numbers on their ticket stubs, are entering and locating their seats in front of the static camera. The effect is of someone dozing in the back row with her eyes open. There is a hum of low friendly chatter under a sound composition made from grunts and groans and shrieks of orgasmic pleasure which is either playing overhead on the church’s public address system or is part of the film’s soundtrack. The room is filled with plaster of Paris gods and goddesses, saints, martyrs and prophets, all displaying their aroused private parts, as they were called in the old days when religion was still a force in the city, or engaged in pious fornicative and bestial acts. The stained glass windows depict classic images, now colorized by the glass, from the days of the eight-page comics. With the bright light behind them, they look like giant magic lantern slides. There are large fringed mandalas oozing pearls, confessionals for sacramental fellatio and cunnilingus, holy water fountains with fat squatting gods emitting endless sprays of jism from their laps and seven-branched flesh-colored candelabra spurting gouts of blue fire. There is time to observe all this from the back of the church while waiting for people to take their seats and things to begin. In fact there is not much else to do. Now and then the image is shaken by someone bumping the camera while squeezing past, giving the viewer an authentic sense of being present at a real moment in time. Some of the wedding guests wear sequined Fuck Me! skullcaps, winged phalli dangling from gold necklaces, and mantillas woven from pubic hair, and there are cum-stained prayer rugs unfurled in front of the bloodstained altar, which is in the shape of a four-poster bed with stirrups. Standing there before it, tall and haughty, is the High Priestess herself, dressed in traditional body-tight black leather canonicals, gold ornaments, and the ancient black velvet scapular of her office embroidered with the seven sacred erotic tortures, as defined by the Holy Script, which she holds in her hands. On the screen behind her, pale anonymous bare bodies fuck one another endlessly in looped overlapped montages, imitating the quiet turmoil of the cosmos.
The Adventures of Lucky Pierre (1961)
Pinocchio in Venice (1991)
‘Internationally renowned author Robert Coover returns with a major new novel set in Venice and featuring one of its most famous citizens, Pinocchio. The result is a brilliant philosophical discourse on what it means to be human; a hilarious, bawdy adventure; and a fitting tribute to the history, grandeur, and decay of Venice itself.
‘Arms and legs askew, puppet with a nose problem and a yen to be human, Pinocchio is back, and Coover–wordsmith par excellence, sly storyteller, master maker of such fictions as Pricksongs and Des cants, The Universal Baseball Assoc., and The Public Burning — has him in his crafty, string-pulling, postmodern mitts. Poor Pinocchio, his wish granted, is an aged, much-honored scholar who returns home to complete a book on the Blue-Haired Fairy and to die: He is returning to wood. In Coover’s version, anything can, and does, happen, as Pinocchio’s human self relives its twig-hood adventures. Coover is at his best in this wildly comic fable.’ — Grove Press
The Neverending Story of Pinocchio: on Robert Coover’s Pinocchio in Venice
by Elisabeth Ly Bell
In order to see how comprehensively and at the same time how maliciously Coover makes comic use of his material, it is a must to read the original Pinocchio. Kitsch versions should be disregarded, including the Disney adaptation. All the latter suppose that children cannot deal with absurdity, incongruity, and subversive fun, and instead should be fed only a watered-down, extenuated version which must be pedagogically constructive. It is the original story of Pinocchio that Coover continues and enlarges, and only knowledge of the original Collodi childhood tale allows the reader to appreciate fully what Coover accomplishes in his sophisticated version. In the opening scene of Pinocchio in Venice, and in verbatim quotations throughout the novel, as well as in the protagonist’s academic development, Coover uses another archived classic, Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella Death in Venice. Gustav Aschenbach’s infatuation with and description of young Tadzio is paralleled in Prof. Pinenut’s longing for the Blue-Haired Fairy. All of Pinenut’s books are titled after publications by Mann himself, or by Aschenbach, and, as always, Coover renders these titles in most ironic ways.
Collodi’s Pinocchio starts as an artifact and becomes an artist. This is probably most apparent when he meets other artists, when he appears to the marionettes like a long-awaited savior (and does save Arlecchino from death), when they welcome and celebrate him. But then Pinocchio leaves the theater to make the whole world his stage, only to give up his freedom in the end, after so many pranks and adventures, in order to become a real boy: nice and good. Collodi’s technique of portraying the final stage in Pinocchio’s development less as a culmination than as a painful loss breaks up the outer structure of this “educational” novel and undermines it from within. Thus, despite moralism, sentimental and even kitschy pedagogy, the lure of shenanigans and adventure, the totally unreasonable experience of primal joy have for more than a century seduced children of all ages, among them director Federico Fellini and writers Italo Calvino and Robert Coover. The latter picks up the story of Pinocchio with the question children worldwide have pondered: what happens after the wooden puppet becomes a real boy? And Coover answers this in detail through over 300 insinuating pages.
When the novel begins, Pinocchio is almost a century old. Having gained artistic inspiration from his father’s mural in that tiny natal hut, Pinocchio becomes an art-history professor in the United States. He also briefly tries out his talents as a painter, but aborts this career because of metaphysical and physical happenings at his office. From that point on, he better understands “the tragic decline of art”. In 1940 he assists a Hollywood film-team shooting a “semi-autobiographical” version of his life. Honored with two Oscars—as was the 1940 Disney film Pinocchio, which Coover exploits exuberantly—the movie’s success brings Pinocchio into the company of movie stars and actresses. In spite of all the celebrity, he remains a literary man and his life’s goal—after seven “classics of Western letters”, seminal studies, and numerous other publications and lectures—is to complete his eighth book, Mamma. This is to be his capolavoro, his all-encompassing masterpiece.
Basically, Coover’s novel relates Pinocchio’s adventures with these old acquaintances (enemies and friends) and his attempt to complete the missing chapter for Mamma. The story’s first two parts, “A Snowy Night” and “A Bitter Day,” describe the old gentleman’s initial two days in the streets of Venice, mainly in the quarters San Polo and Dorsoduro. Only later does he leave these areas for the better part of town, San Marco. Before the book’s third part (“Palazzo del Balocchi”—the Palace of Toys) picks up, there is a temporal interruption caused by the Professor’s blackout and the resulting fever dreams. He is sheltered and cared for by Eugenio, who owns and inhabits the Procuratie Vecchie. Cured and restored to consciousness, he next experiences ever more traumatic events from Sunday morning to late night on Monday, one week before the climax of the carnival festivities. The narration skips this whole week. “Carnival” then, is the fitting title for the fourth part, which spans the period from Monday morning to just before midnight on Mardi Gras. Finally, the conclusion, “Mamma,” has just one chapter, “Exit,” and takes place during the early hours of Ash Wednesday.
Gerald’s Party (1986)
‘Robert Coover’s wicked and surreally comic novel takes place at a chilling, ribald, and absolutely fascinating party. Amid the drunken guests, a woman turns up murdered on the living room floor. Around the corpse, one of several the evening produces, Gerald’s party goes on — a chatter of voices, names, faces, overheard gags, rounds of storytelling, and a mounting curve of desire. What Coover has in store for his guests (besides an evening gone mad) is part murder mystery, part British parlor drama, and part sly and dazzling meditation on time, theater, and love.’ — Grove Press
PARTY TALK: Unheard Conversations at Gerald’s Party
” …And it’s a knockout!”
” …And the lusty impression they have exercised on the popular imagination, but…”
“…And then there’s her rather unusual childhood. ..”
“…At the synapse…!”
“…But of course it was Orpheus who looked back, wasn’t it, not…”
“…Frozen into senseless self-contradictory patterns.”
“…It is the effect that seeks always the cause.”
“…Once you—heh heh—get the hang of it…”
“…That got such a rise…”
“… The unbreathable silence…”
“…To shut things down…”
“… Was the hush just before…”
“—But the way that it whistled when ris!”
“—Got our first piece a tail together!”
“Ass my boy!”
“‘Ass our Janny!”
“‘Ass Big Glad’s baby brother.”
“‘N Hoo-Sin. ‘N so on…”
“A bit tight…”
“A busman’s holiday…”
“A long time ago, long ago …”
“A star is born and all that!”
“A unique adventure!”
“Above all else, they should be trained to the point of self-confidence and have a professional pride and interest in work.”
“After what he said to me?”
“Ah. Is that so…?”
“Ah! That young man! Well, it wasn’t its size, you know…”
“Ah! Well! Well!”
“Ah, baysay my feces, Hugly!”
“Ah, the plot grows a complication.”
“Ah, when will we ever learn?”
“Ah, you dumb twat! Pick ’em up yourself!”
“Ah, Fats, when you gonna get some learnin’?”
“Alas, a soft file cannot clean off ingrained rust.”
“All style and no substance.”
“All that running around in the streets—I just couldn’t keep up!”
“All I mean to say, is that Ros was about the only person in the world who didn’t treat me like a dummy!”
“All I want is for you to find true happiness, with all my heart I do!”
“An hour! We had to wait longer than that for the goddamn fuzz to show up!”
“An …an accident, my mother—she broke her legs, her collarbone, her jaw, front teeth, one wrist…”
“And then she’d get confused and say it was for darts and all you had to throw were beanbags!”
“And they’re filming it all on some kind of portable TV!”
“And I’m not sure I haven’t done it again!”
“Any that shit left?”
“Apparently, while they were going over a bridge at fifty miles an hour, Ros just opened the door and stepped out.”
“Are you feeling better, Miss?”
“As I thought, a complete mystery.”
“Assume the worst and … and …”
“At least there’s no mystery about that one.”
“Aw, hell, Ger, I’m on a, you know, a cunt hunt for some class ass!”
“Bande de cons, grand meme! Tout le monde s’en fout …”
“Beautiful from front, wormeaten behind.”
The Public Burning (1977)
‘A controversial best-seller in 1977, The Public Burning has since emerged as one of the most influential novels of our time. The first major work of contemporary fiction ever to use living historical figures as characters, the novel reimagines the three fateful days in 1953 that culminated with the execution of alleged atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Vice-President Richard Nixon – the voraciously ambitious bad boy of the Eisenhower regime – is the dominant narrator in an enormous cast that includes Betty Crocker, Joe McCarthy, the Marx Brothers, Walter Winchell, Uncle Sam, his adversary The Phantom, and Time magazine incarnated as the National Poet Laureate. All of these and thousands more converge in Times Square for the carnivalesque auto-da-fe at which the Rosenbergs are put to death. And not a person present escapes implication in Cold War America’s ruthless “public burning.”‘ — Grove Press
Robert Coover reads from ‘The Public Burning’
The Origin of the Brunists (1966)
‘Originally published in 1969 and now back in print after over a decade, Robert Coover’s first novel instantly established his mastery. A coal-mine explosion in a small mid-American town claims ninety-seven lives. The only survivor, a lapsed Catholic given to mysterious visions, is adopted as a doomsday prophet by a group of small-town mystics. “Exposed” by the town newspaper editor, the cult gains international notoriety and its ranks swell. As its members gather on the Mount of Redemption to await the apocalypse, Robert Coover lays bare the madness of religious frenzy and the sometimes greater madness of “normal” citizens. The Origin of the Brunists is vintage Coover — comic, fearless, incisive, and brilliantly executed. “A novel of intensity and conviction … a splendid talent … heir to Dreiser or Lewis.” — The New York Times Book Review; “A breathtaking masterpiece on any level you approach it.” — Sol Yurick; “[The Origin of the Brunists] delivers the goods . . . [and] says what it has to say with rudeness, vigor, poetry and a headlong narrative momentum.” — The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)’ — Grove Press
ps. Hey. ** H, Hi. Sorry again, and I hope you’re feeling massively less gloomy today. Oh, I don’t think there was one bubblewrap incident in my youth, just fun with it at every given opportunity. You’re near Coney Island? Wow, that’s really far out there. Well, that assumes NYC is the center, which is weird. Nice. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Yeah, I think I would tag Bowie’s Warhol as the very worst. ** Steve Erickson, Without a doubt. I’m hoping to get to Toledano’s stuff today. Yesterday a Facebook friend posted a photo of him with a gun to his head and a big ruckus ensued which it became clear was his intention. I get why The National is respected. The realm they work in is totally solid. They’ve never done much for me. As I think I might have said before, Bonello is much more of a known quantity in France, and opinions on his work are more cemented by now, so ‘Nocturama’ isn’t the bolt from the blue here that it seems to be in the US. Bernard’s in NYC! ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Bubble wrap is like chocolate without the calories. I wouldn’t worry about the photos, but I swipe photos from everywhere and use them. I’ve only ever had one problem in all the years and it was from this obviously psycho guy. Of course I think the job working with troubled/ marginalized teenagers is a really important job, and I imagine you would be great at it. It would obviously be a very involving job, i.e. not really a job you can turn off when you’re off work. My day was spent in the studio editing sound. It’s really laborious but, of course, very interesting. Our film is very quiet with lots of silences, so the locations (rooms, yard, street, park, nature, etc, etc.) are very present in the film. The viewer is asked to listen to the characters’ surroundings a lot. So the sound of those places has to be very carefully organized and interesting, and doing that involves such meticulous work it kind of fries your brain. But I love it. How was Tuesday on your end? ** Kyler, Nice little profile. Everyone, multi-talent Kyler got profiled mostly about one of his talents — tarot card reading maestro — on the Washington Square News site if you want to know a little more about him. Here. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Me too. Exactly. ** Sypha, How can’t one? I’m sure I’ll see ‘It’. Friends of mine are making ‘It’-interested noises, so I’ll no doubt tag along. Oh, boy, about the resurrection of that Coil stuff. Do you think it will lead to outrage addiction and recriminations and so on. Is outrage addiction a problem at the Ligotti forums too? ** Misanthrope, Big M! Well, I’m kind of like you. I suppose there must be people who aren’t compelled to pop those tiny suckers, but it does seem like one of those a activities that is to fingers what coffee is to throats or something. I really want to try this Patti LaBelle macaroni and cheese. There’s one strange store here in Paris that concentrates on selling American food products that you can’t buy in France. Maybe just maybe. ** Thomas Moronic, Thank you, T-ster. Ooh, such an awesome structural proposal for your book. I’m gonna have to make Michael slip me a preview version straight away. ** Bill, Truly one of the great inventions, right? You saw Puce Mary! I love Puce Mary. Assuming I get to LA in October, she and I have plans to do some haunted house hunting together. Oh, god, no, please don’t vocode Burroughs. Please. ** Okay. I usually just do posts concentrating on a single book when I cover writers, but something made me to an overview on Robert Coover, and there it is. See you tomorrow.