Wednesday, May 10, 2017

155. Author of } museums.

Yesterday, in the Chicago Tribune: “American Writers Museum sneak peek: far-reaching, dramatic”; and in The New York Times: “An Everyman Museum to Celebrate American Writers”—the museum is the American Writers Museum. It opens next week. More from the Times
…Mr. [Malcolm] O’Hagan incorporated a nonprofit dedicated to the project. He soon hired Mr. Anway, founder of the Boston-based firm Amaze Design, who organized brainstorming sessions with writers, publishers, scholars, teachers and booksellers in various cities.
I’m one of the “writers, publishers, scholars” hired by Mr. Anway. I wrote thirty-four author stories, twenty-five for the “85-foot long interactive wall [that] highlights 100 notable writers…” and nine for the Chicago authors room. The Times quoted from one of my texts, about Vladimir Nabokov: 
Those who skip Ms. [Maureen] Corrigan’s video commentary on literary experimentalism, for example, may not realize that “Lolita” is more than a novel that “hinges on a road trip — a classic American genre — and riffs on motel and teen culture,” as the brief wall text dedicated to Vladimir Nabokov puts it.
Note the use of dashes—a mark of my prose, for sure.

It was a challenge to write lives of famous authors in 100 – 190 words. What do you choose to say about Melville? About Hemingway? About Cather? I was meanly grateful Flannery O’Conner died when she was 39. Some of my favorites to write were the (slightly) lesser-knowns. Here's my bio for Margaret Wise Brown:
Is “In the great green room,” as famous a first line as “Call me Ishmael”? Quite possibly. Margaret Wise Brown wrote dozens of children's books, including The Runaway Bunny (1942) and Goodnight Moon (1946). Brown’s stories are about the everyday life of children (often represented by animals), written in a subtle—but instantly recognizable—verse that lends itself to being read aloud. Brown’s whimsy extended to the home she refurbished for herself on an island off the coast of Maine; she called it “The Only House,” though it was not.
Though it was not. Though it was not! Put that on my placard when you add me to your museum.

[The Times piece included photographs of the museum taken by Whitten Sabbatini; pictured above is the 85-foot long interactive wall where much of my work appears.]

Friday, May 5, 2017

154. Of our studies } impossible to speak.

W. Scott Poole speculates in his book about H.P. Lovecraft In The Mountains of Madness (sent to me by the publisher, Soft Skull Press) that “the classic stories ‘The Call of Cthulu,’ ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth,’ ‘The Haunter of the Dark,’ and ‘The Colour Out of Space’… will not be the horrific things baristas and bartenders of the next generation… will want to talk about with middle-aged patrons pondering over Lovecraft books….” He proposes that “more readers will begin to discover the haunting vision quests [Lovecraft] wrote between 1918 and 1923.”

After Poole identifies the “haunting vision quests” he means (“Celephais,” “Polaris,” “The Quest of Iranon,” “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” “The Nameless City,” and “Hypnos”), he writes, “I wonder, and worry, that ‘Hypnos’ might even become a standard college reading for the hip classroom.”

Why worry? He explains:

If this occurs, maybe the idea of “Hypnos” being on a college syllabus will acquire the same outré patina as reading Naked Lunch in the 1970s, or seem as exciting as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” in the 1990s. Maybe its reputation will say to future college students what it says to them today when they read a David Foster Wallace essay or check out one of Chuck Klosterman’s more incisive and less opaque essays. An adult who “gets you” has given you this VERY RELEVANT work that will change your life and open the gates of perception. 
I say I worry as well as wonder about this because canonizing means domesticating and containing the power of such texts and their histories.

Oh my. Where to begin? Poole is a college professor (see his faculty page here). As a professor, he can’t really believe that canonization = domestication. If he does, he’s failed to understand that there’s a difference between the belief that you know a work and actually knowing a work. A work may seem domesticated because it’s well-known, but when readers cast aside what they think they know and pay attention, that perception dies.

A student might assume a canonized work is by definition stale. That’s why you put a professor in the room—because the professor knows otherwise.

Canonization does nothing to the power of a great text.

And to what canon does Poole refer? The imaginary canon that includes Burroughs, Gilman, Wallace, and Klosterman? Maybe he means a more conventional canon? Say, the Norton Anthology of American Literature? Is there a poem or an essay or a novel in the Norton Anthology of American Literature that’s domesticated and contained? And if you think so, ask yourself: when did you last pay attention to that work?

Poole adds (specifically regarding “Hypnos”), “It’s a tale that deserves something better than such a fate. Hopefully, to quote Stephen King writing about Lovecraft, ‘the chickenshit academics’ won’t get their tenured mitts on this one.” It’s easy to understand why King might bear animus toward academics, but why does Poole? He is an academic. To what end does Poole perpetuate trite clichés about intellectually timid professors? Is this a manifestation of self-hatred?

What kind of professor hopes a text stays out of the classroom?