Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Deb Olin Unferth unfurled

There is someone in Missouri who thinks Deb Olin Unferth is a fuckup...

One of my friends let me borrow Deb Olin Unferth's short story collection Minor Robberies. It sat in my window sill until this week when I had some free time between grading papers and reading other books. I was interested because I've heard her name more than a few times and I heard she used to teach at KU not long ago. Anyway I picked the book up and read a couple stories. It doesn't take long because they're all really short, by design I guess. I was really stoned when I read the first two (La Pena, Frank Lloyd Wright), so I attributed the headache they gave me to the state of mind I was in. I put the book next to my bed and told myself I'd give it another whirl the next day.

The second whirl was as bad as the first. Once the stories were done I was confused and had immediately forgotten whatever went on in them. Everything is so circular and blase that there's nothing there. I can't identify with any of the characters, because they all appear to have been created as exercises in futility. I'm not even sure you could call these stories, they're more like anecdotes that have no intention or direction.

I googled her, she looks like a real nice lady but for the life of me I can't understand why anyone would want to read this. I'm not exactly sure what circle she moves in, but I'm thinking this might be the more academic wing of alt-lit. Her stories are about nothing, but they're not really nihilistic. I think I'd call it tedious  minimalism. I bet Tao Lin loves it.

Anyway, I put the book down after reading the story named in the title of the book. One of the problems with current trends in lit is that some of the work is immediately forgettable. Will people be reading these stories in 30 years and trying to dissect them or ascribe any ethos or meaning to them? Not that everything of importance has to be created with longevity in mind, but how can a piece of writing be of worth if it has no content? I just can't imagine anyone ever reading one of these stories and feeling inspired to do anything but...sell the book.

This is one of the reasons modern literature is such a niche community. Can we start writing for people that don't have MFAs again? Must there be two extremes, schlock like Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey that appeals to the masses at one end and abstruse, sterilized minimalism at the other?

We get it, you're very intelligent and you understand and can break all the traditional rules of story creation. The only problem is that doesn't lead to a story that I (or many others) would want to read.

I'm giving the book back to my friend and telling her SHE'S A FUCKUP.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lost In Translation and Josh the Rapping Pizza Hut Cook

I'm tired of having my writing rejected at 80% of the places I submit to. This is my platform and I will publish whatever rubbish comes into my head. In a few days I'll have some fiction and poetry up here, and I'll be waxing esoteric about alt-lit like every other blogger who wants to be relevant to the self promoting sycophants of the community. Until then, I leave you with two things...

1. I watched Lost In Translation again last night for about the 40th time. Even though I fell asleep for a few minutes during the middle, I still managed to make light of the constancy of the main motif of miscommunication. It culminates (of course) in the final scene when Bob Harris whispers into Charlotte's ear something that the audience is not explicitly let in on. The motif is so present throughout the film that some might be tempted to call it heavy handed, but I think it's about as subtle as it could be with it appearing so often. It never detracts or distracts from the story much and seems fairly organic throughout. BUT the end flies in the face of that and is a directorial manipulation that is both wonderful and frustrating. I think I know what he actually says to her (there's a consensus "translation" on youtube), but it's no more revealing and somewhat vague.

As its originally presented, the scene hints at an inner life for the characters that extends beyond the roughly two hours we see them on screen. That's not to necessarily say that they meet up again and continue where things left off or that we're even lead to believe that, but rather that the characters know something the audience doesn't and therefore are more than just a voyeuristic/vicarious playground for viewers. Our privileged position as viewers in most film is that we remain aware of things that the characters do not and are granted a sort of omniscience, or conversely, plot points are specifically kept from the audience in order for later dramatic payoff (a la the Sixth Sense). The end of Coppola's movie is neither, however; it leaves the audience struggling for answers and also allows them to take part in the story by creating their own interpretation of what was whispered. This is the larger result of the entirety of Charlotte's and Bob's interaction, when we are never sure whether they are friends, lovers or something else.  

Hearing the digitally enhanced version is a form of cheating, but surely Coppola knew this would be a likely outcome. Still, because the words are somewhat vague and a bit of a private language, you have to feel she built that into the writing of the dialogue for the whisper. She could've opted to include no audible or at least interpretable dialogue but she put some in for a specific reason. It provides little clarity for the viewer, but you can't help but feel that both Bob and Charlotte know full well what they are communicating with one another. The audience is still left in the dark as the ultimate form of personal communication is left to be misinterpreted by the outside world: that is, the secret and privileged language of two lost souls. 

2. I've discovered (or re-discovered on my hard drive) the future of alt-lit. His name is Josh and he worked at Pizza Hut circa 2010. He was a shitty worker. This piece, which I've titled "Animals, Eagles and Llamas" contains the first known rhyme of the words "level" and "shovel."