Monday, December 28, 2009


The Corresponding Society will be starting off the new year with a monolithic reading featuring some of today’s most incredible poets, assembled by Master of Ceremonies Lonely Christopher. The event shall be staged 7 January at 7pm at Chelsea’s P.P.O.W. Gallery under the rubric of the Hostess Project. The readers shall be Rachel Zolf, Rob Fitterman, Christian Hawkey, Rachel Levitsky, and, fuck yes, Richard Loranger. While you anxiously await this happening, please accept the following blog content to hold you over. Rob Fitterman (aka Rob the plagiarist) has generously filled out a loosely interpreted version of the Proust Questionnaire, which you’ll find below. There will be more Proust Questionnaire answers, perhaps from other featured readers and definitely from some members of The Corresponding Society, to follow in the new year.

An Introduction to Robert Fitterman

Robert Fitterman is the author of 10 books of poetry including: The Sun Also Also Rises, war the musical, Metropolis XXX: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Edge Books), Metropolis 16-29 (Coach House Press), Metropolis 1-15 (Sun & Moon Press), This Window Makes Me Feel ( Metropolis 1-15 was awarded the Sun & Moon “New American Poetry Award (2000)” and Metropolis 16-29 was awarded the Small Press Traffic “Book of the Year Award (2003)”. With novelist Rodrigo Rey Rosa, he co-authored the film What Sebastian Dreamt which was selected for the Sundance Film Festival (2004) and the Lincoln Center LatinBeat Festival (2004). He has been a full-time faculty member in NYU’s Liberal Studies Program since 1993. He also teaches poetry at the Milton Avery School of Graduate Studies at Bard College.
(from the NYU website)

Robert Fitterman Answers the Proust Questionnaire

Your favorite virtue.

Your favorite qualities in a man.

Your favorite qualities in a woman.

Your chief characteristic.

What you appreciate the most in your friends.

Your main fault.
Bad with money.

Your favorite occupation.

Your idea of happiness.
Lunch in the Italian countryside with friends and Kim and Coco.

Your idea of misery.
Not being able to do the former.

If not yourself, who would you be?

Where would you like to live?

Your favorite prose authors.
My favorite authors blur this genre distinction.

Your favorite poets.
What day is it today?

Your favorite heroes in fiction.
Not much, thanks.

Your favorite heroines in fiction.
These are the pants I was telling you about.

Your favorite painters and composers.
OK, great to see you too.

Your heroes in “real life.”
Call me when you get in, OK?

What characters in history do you most dislike?
Sure, but please don't worry.

Your favorite names.
Hector & Tula.

What do you hate the most?
Badly prepared or presented or cared for or corrupted food.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Poetry Project

Lonely Christopher and Rebecca Nagle will be reading this Friday at the Poetry Project. Here's more information:

The Poetry Project
131 E. 10th Street, Manhattan
LC & RN 11 Dec @ 10pm!

LONELY CHRISTOPHER writes across forms; he is a poet, playwright, director, editor, and unpublished novelist. His poetry has been collected in the chapbooks Satan (Small Anchor) and Wow, Where Do You Come from, Upside-Down Land? (No Know) and the first two installments of his Gay Plays, a trilogy of dramatic explorations into the queer situation, have been released together by Small Anchor. Withal, the Gay Plays have been staged internationally and published in China in a Mandarin translation. He is a founding member of the Corresponding Society, the manager of its blog, and an editor of its biannual literary journal Correspondence; he is the curator of the press’ second series of poetry chapbooks What Where (forthcoming in winter). He lives in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

REBECCA NAGLE is a performance, new media and community artist. She grew up in Kansas. After attending Interlochen Arts Academy, she studied at Maryland Institute College of Art. She is an internationally exhibited and collected artist with works in the New Museum, NY and Ssamzie Art Warehouse, South Korea. Nagle has shown at Current Gallery, Art in General, Site Santa Fe, Artscape, and Conflux Festival. She was hailed by Baltimore City’s Paper’s senior arts editor Bret McCabe as “Baltimore’s very own life-is-art-is-life performance maven…mingling the internet and performance into a fresh and vital new thing”. Rebecca’s performative, interative and community art projects challenge people around issues of intimacy, the body, power, boundaries and efficacy. She is currently trying to make the world a more open, equitable and creative place through community organizing and radical performance art.

THE FRIDAY NIGHT SERIES was born in 1991 & raised by poet/author Gillian McCain (Tilt, Religion, & co-author of Please Kill Me with Leggs McNeil); it been a bi-monthly forum for multi-media events & other “untraditional” literary going-ons. The Friday Night Series varies its programming with a combination of readings, presentations, performances, screenings & installations – theatrical, visual, textual, musical or otherwise. All events start at 10PM & end at/around MIDNIGHT, unless otherwise noted. The Fall 2009 - Spring 2010 season will be co-curated by Edward Hopely and Nicole Wallace.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Brother Lover

The new installment of Robert Smith's queer reading series featuring Damien Luxe, Devon Gallegos, Ryan May, Daniel McKernan, and Lonely Christopher! This Thursday at Envoy Enterprises! Read an interview with Robert Smith here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Revenge Hamlet!

Hamlet’s Dad from Hell
a terrific misreading
by Lonely Christopher

The villain of Hamlet is the ghost: a spectral dad beckoning his entire family to murder. Hamlet basically: a supernatural revenge thriller where some fancy-costumed royalty frown and yell in a haunted castle before they all kill each other. Every bad thing happens in the play because of the ghost, who is already menacing some poor sentinels at the very outset. Admittedly, the ghost (who undeniably exists, that is he’s not hallucinated, according to the play’s dramatic logic) happened to become so phantomy because he was murdered. Withal, the regicidal villain (his bro, ouch) forthwith assumed his victim’s crown and wife. Unfortunately for undead Old Hamlet, he was a prayer shy of heaven thus imprisoned as a disappointed wraith. Still, to apply a worn axiom, two wrongs don’t make a right. Demanding his melancholy son to perform unspecified revenge (hint: probably stabbing) has no nutritional value outside restoring nominal moral order to the court. (Restoring morality when nobody realizes the crime even happened would mean, for most involved, having to create the problem in order to solve it.) The ghost doesn’t think about the consequences and doesn’t want Hamlet to tarry either. His spooky instructions aren’t very helpful (not to mention delivered with Satanic theatrics that end up traumatizing his son) --- and even if Hamlet had immediately followed through in deposing Claudius (in such a way that was recognized as just by all), the political result would probably include being conquered by Norway. Claudius had to poison his own brother to achieve the crown, but he was diplomatically competent enough to do so in such a way that nobody suspected his crime; he also seemed to be expertly managing/resolving the threat of foreign invasion --- Hamlet doesn’t have very mature problem solving skills and, considering his mental illness withal (that is, melancholia not his fake antic disposition), his future as a leader is suspect. We know Old Hamlet was brave in combat, but if he was as reckless alive as dead, maybe Denmark ended up better off with Claudius. After “stealing” the vacant throne from Hamlet by being elected, Claudius is a little worried about further hurting his sensitive nephew’s feelings (hence telling him to drop out of school the better to be monitored at home), but otherwise he treats Hamlet like a stepfather who just wants to be liked. Meanwhile, Hamlet’s real dad is back from hell (okay, purgatory), lurking around battlements, and haunting his son screeching terrible, unfounded accusations and demands for revenge. Horatio warns that the ghost might be a disguised devil --- the kind that has fun driving melancholiacs to madness before pushing them off cliffs (it was a different time). Even if the ghost is honest that doesn’t stop him from causing a far bloodier end than a crazy leap off a cliff. Some claim that this is a play about skepticism. Olivier famously introduced his film version as a story about a man who couldn’t make up his mind. The thematic scope is larger, though, because Hamlet agonizes over more than critical indecision. The problem is so much more enormous than helping a ghost --- the problem is the nature of the ghost attack itself. When dad visits him from his nether-universe of negation, Hamlet’s brain comes unstuck from the dramatic context of this royal thriller and everything problematizes doing anything (he’s dissociated). Hamlet dearly hopes, once shuffled off this mortal coil, the rest is silence --- after his transfiguration into a failure hero, all the mental torture, and having caused the death of almost everybody around him (including two women he loved), there better be a universe of nothing but silence waiting because the joke just keeps getting worse if he ends up burning with dad in purgatory. We’ve Old Hamlet’s posthumous bad parenting to thank for the mess that makes up the play (without the ghost the action would be limited to Hamlet moping around Elsinore whining about how slutty his mom is); the revenge hungry spook is the foundational conceit of the narrative progression. Hamlet goes kind of crazy (offstage and hatless) over the problem of the ghost’s nature and purpose. He wonders if the figure of his father is a spirit of health or goblin damned. The former doesn’t really fit, considering the suicide mission the ghost pushes Hamlet into; whether demon or dead king the apparition has no concern for Hamlet’s wellbeing --- he wants to be remembered, damn it, and avenged! --- and only pokes his floaty head into the action once more to threaten to spank Hamlet for wasting time in killing more of the court (he’s not too happy about the boy slapping his mother around, either, more evidence of his selective morality). If he just slept on it another night maybe the ghost would have given Hamlet different advice: “I’m upset your uncle killed me for my wife and crown --- not to mention before my sins were forgiven, so I’m a damn ghost purging my misdeeds in flame most of the day --- but since we didn’t get to talk before brain-melting distilment was poured in my ear porches, I just want you to know I love ya. I realize you expected to be my heir when I died, but don’t let it get you down; first of all, the king is elected by popular vote, so you would have had to campaign (no fun), and also you’re still a teenager and way more interested in demonology and theater than international politics --- maybe one day, kid. And hey: I know she let us down, but take care of your mom, that slut, and be nice to your girlfriend because she’s fragile --- oh, and stay in school. Also, no big deal, but please at some point kill your uncle. Eye for an eye, right? But only when you feel ready.” Oh well! Old Hamlet wasn’t the only problem father of the play. Fortinbras’ dad was irresponsible enough to get killed (by Old Hamlet no less) in a macho land gamble and Polonius messed his daughter the fuck up and paid a spy to follow his son while spreading rumors he likes prostitutes. These hapless children, following Hamlet’s example, idolized their fathers even when doing so played directly into harm that the fathers were usually responsible for. Polonius is a real jerk to Ophelia (at least way overprotective), but she continues to love him so much that when he’s killed she goes crazy, falls out of a tree, and drowns. Fittingly, the bloodbath finale begins with a showdown between two kids with dead dads, both after bloody revenge. At that point Hamlet’s heart isn’t even in it anymore; he just wants to get it over with already. And: everyone dies. Except Horatio, he survives everybody and, coincidentally, never mentions his father the whole play.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Video Sample

Correspondence No. 3 shall arrive around the end of the year according to best estimates. Wise literates would do well to prepare for the delirious pleasure this document will bring. Really, it’s dangerous. Because we’re responsible please find below a sort of preview, which the reader might use as a patient does a flu shot to protect her body against a virus. In this example, the virus is words and also it’s a good virus. It’s just a little much and we don’t want readers to get hurt. Well, yes, emotionally we want to damage readers. We just don’t want to permanently injure them with the majuscule poetic force contained within this forthcoming volume/weapon. So here is a taste, which is a video record of Ray Ray Mitrano performing something to be found in the pages of No. 3. It is called “Italy When Three.”

Italy When Three from RAY RAY MITRANO on Vimeo.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Wide Eyes

Negative Nice
Trinie Dalton’s short fiction is darling and traumatic
by Lonely Christopher

The cover art of Trinie Dalton’s book Wide Eyed, put out aught-five by Dennis Cooper’s Little House on the Bowery series from Akashic, features author-drawn illustrations of flowers, rainbows, unicorns, and a bigfoot type creature. I remembered the cover from seeing it at a bookstore a while ago; when I asked a friend about it he told me the cover was a good indication of the content and now I agree. What’s funny is that the collection is so magnificent. It has so many conceptual strikes against it, worst of all being creative writing, viz. fiction, published this decade. The persistence of kitsch (unicorns, for a start), the clever randomness (whimsical unpredictability!), and the ironic cultural references (the Flaming Lips, 80’s slasher flicks, Disney) are techniques shared with hipster fiction of the most abhorrent variety (unimportantly plaguing the aughts, hipster fiction is something we’re going to have to go back in a time machine to prevent). Dalton proves the same things that we’ve seen so abused by a whole youth culture can be used without guilt with delightfully winning results. She’s too mature to ruin the form like younger kids are and too clever to ruin the form like writers her age are. This is a compliment and a joy.

Anyway, if the stories were all sugar, narrated as they are by a very similar voice and personality that’s almost a sort of Amelie from a negative dimension, this writing would be impossible to stomach. What makes it work is how a Cooper-like disgust or anxiety spoons in a frilly bed with the ingenuous cuteness. This is a pretty fucked-up book --- plus it’s adorable. The Ben Marcus blurb on the back, which only praises aspects of innocence, love, and wonder, makes me suspect either Ben Marcus didn’t read Wide Eyed or else he’s a pretty disturbed person. These stories are ugly/pretty: a sinister violence becomes the undertow in a sparkling sun-kissed lazy river. The quality of this sentence is representative: “When I was in elementary school and first learned about the realities of rape, I remember riding home on the bus from a field trip to Disneyland and wishing I had been dragged into Adventureland, then raped behind Thunder Mountain.” No other contemporary work I can think of so vividly captures a world where everything being so not okay hurts but can’t murder being a happy person.

Nobody can do anything right and even when that fact is benign it’s still a lurking threat. The obsessions with unicorns, elves, woodland and sea creatures, botany, childhood, and candy only prove the darkness of these stories, which are about the awkward pleasures of aloneness, the façade of normalcy being punctured by humanity’s underlying ugliness, and the pathological failures of people to negotiate each other cleanly. Try writing a story in pen pal letters between a lonely woman-child and an elf from the North Pole without making anybody with halfway-developed critical faculties find you and take some sort of revenge. Well, that’s not the strongest story here, but she pulled off okay the elf thing and I have no clue how (what sounds feasible about “pulling off the elf thing”?). Dalton uses the shorter short fiction form to her advantage. There was no story (most are about five pages in the largest font you can sort of get away with) I wanted to be longer. She knows how long something can go on for; depth accumulates, but each story is a few weirdly shallow gasps. The episode I found most arresting was part of an essayish triptych anecdotally describing how things, blood namely, can come to drool across floor tile. This particular section of the barely six-page piece is less than two pages; it depicts in careful/squirmy portraiture the event of a boy taking a shower in a scummy apartment and a “mutant salamander” emerging from the drain. The result is not hygienic or pleasant, but demonstrating an economy of discomfort and Lilliputian trauma.

The story of an attempt at throwing a house party begins ruined by a guest, missing a shoe, breathlessly approaching the host: “‘Your fucking friend just attacked me,’ she says. She was in my basement music room so no one heard her yelling through the egg-crate covered walls. I’m hosting a Hawaiian-themed party.” The creep who stole the girl’s shoe after harassing her is a total failure who can’t quite fit well enough into the way things go and who suffers from crippling social problems. The narrator, who herself has positive intentions (a nice luau, like what? the details of the music room being pretty heartbreaking, too), tries to understand the creep: “He didn’t seem dangerous, just fetishistic.” Another story begins similarly with the narrator and her boyfriend Matt having a “luxury” pork meal to celebrate his latest painting. The painting is “as long as a Honda, and as tall as our ceiling. Red-barked trees, squirrels, and naked women cover the canvas.” The constant miracle of this book is that it never slouches into lazy Napoleon Dynamite twee/preciousness; despite how close it comes it then swoops back into the realm of literary skill as assuredly as a stunt pilot pulling out of a nosedive right before hitting the water. The turn in this flash-length storylet is when Matt can’t stop himself from doing the “wrong” thing (he eats all the copious pork leftovers cold for breakfast: “I just ate a huge pile of lard, basically”), getting miserably ill as consequence, and the narrator can’t help but desiring him more for his disabled judgment. Elsewhere: the narrator imagining she is Snow White --- with glass coffin, singing chipmunks, and all --- during a sexual encounter in her backyard garden. The scene is tenderly pathetic and, ultimately, emotionally affirmative (hell, wide eyed). “Everything went white as I came, as if the moon suddenly got brighter.” Most of the characters in these stories act like high functioning autistics. When the simplest aspects of getting by in life are rendered as impossibly fraught, the result is highly unnerving as safety divorces from routine. The balance between childish awe and psycho nervousness is the best hit of Wide Eyed. There is no reason this book works more than that Trinie Dalton has a major handle on her craft and knows how to channel her bizarre fixations (is that me projecting?) into the kind of art that you appreciate as it makes you feel uneasy about the world.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Word's Way

From our friends at Republic Brooklyn:

REPUBLIC Worldwide Presents

Wednesday November 11, 2009
7 pm-11 pm
Bar On A
170 Avenue A (between 10th St & 11th St)

It is in the spirit of language arts that REPUBLIC presents the first installment of its recurring “Way of the Word” program at Bar On A.

WAY OF THE WORD is a unique evening of art, poetry, performance and music by emerging artists in the New York poetry world.

Visual Poets include: Edward Hopely, Brian VanRemmen and more
Slam poets: Khephran Riddick and Aldrin Valdez
Traditional poets: Davey Vacek, Katie Przybylski, Marissa Forbes, Peter Ford, and three founding members of a Brooklyn based poetry group called The Corresponding Society --- Lonely Christopher, Robert Snyderman, and Jason Tallon.

Doors open at 7pm with a visual and interactive gallery hour for the artists, poets, and guests before the poetry readings begin at 8pm.

Drink specials from 7 to 9pm. Bar On A

“Way of the Word” represents the idea that words take on wills of their own, depending on how they’re put on the page and how a reader perceives them. A short event anthology, featuring poets from the show and around the nation will be available for purchase online and at the door for $15.
Portions of the proceeds will be donated to Reading Excellence and Discovery (READ), a foundation that promotes literacy by pairing qualified high school tutors with elementary students who demonstrate below grade level reading skills.

For more information about “Way of the Word,” READ or REPUBLIC please contact or call 443. 528. 6761 or 917. 273. 2712

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Get Know!

Know: “No Know” is here --- The Corresponding Society’s premiere line of poetry chapbooks --- representing the following exciting verse collections contained in finely-wrought limited editions: “Elegies for A.R. Ammons” by David Swensen; “This Pose Can Be Held for Only So Long” by Caroline Gormley; “Wow, Where Do You Come from, Upside-Down Land?” by Lonely Christopher. Read more and see withal:

When, Why, How, Who, Know

The Corresponding Society was founded to publish our journal Correspondence, third issue arriving almost-presently, and for some time the moral, mental, and monetary expense of that undertaking alone distracted us from thoughts of multiple directions. Also, at an early meeting, somebody chanced to scream, “There is no way we are doing chapbooks!” and it took a while to schedule a review of that declaration. Around the time we went so far as to release the online chapbook The Gates Salon (Thursday) by (issue three cover artist and contributor) Ray-Ray Mitrano, readable here, the project of a series of single-author poetry chapbooks was being proposed by (one of the founding editors) Robert Snyderman. The chapbook, a sexily intimate object as far as vehicles for poetry go, presents quite a different form than the anthologizing hulk of a literary journal. The latter’s crowded gloriously with a noisy gymfull of different writers, voices rubbing around the pages in discursive concert (the order of the work has to be arranged carefully, like an arty mix-tape); the former’s singular and allows breathing room for a particular voice to stretch --- a single-source poetry architected to have space with itself between the folded cover pages. Also, whereas Correspondence releases in a perfect-bound, professionally printed version, the craft of the chapbook is intensely personal and susceptible to cultish attention. A finely-made chapbook is a fetish object in some literary circles. There was a tremendous argument for embarking on the adventure of a chapbook line and Mr. Snyderman initiated the effort by curating a triad of titles from poets he admired and wanted new published projects from. Almost immediately, Robert fled the country and became an illegal alien roaming Quebec and environs, working as a migrant farmhand and traveling/ditch-sleeping with a French-Canadian painter he met on a beach. Fortunately, Sonia Farmer and Caroline Gormley had accepted duties as the artistic directors of what Robert had named the “No Know” series; thus work was able to continue through the summer. Actually, the two art directors also fled the region presently --- on a protracted homeland visitation to the Bahamas and a relocation to Austin, TX respectively --- but not before covers were produced by letter press process, which makes for fucking handsome chapbook covers. The books came individually from terrifically disparate poetic sensibilities, yet from writers who had been working very closely as peers for many years. When presented all three at readings, the texts play strangely off each other, inciting formal resonances through elegiac examination, across the pages of modernist literature sweeping some words onto new surfaces, and around a legion of social voices stolen into new rhetorical contexts. The pitches of these poems range from conceptually personal, personally textual, and textually sociopolitical. The innocent editors, who volunteered the man-hours required to stitch and otherwise prepare these limited editions, were nearly destroyed by the fairly simple task of sewing paper, but everyone involved argues the sacrifice --- for what “No Know” offers, if the dear reader cares to discover, are important introductions to the writerly projects of three distinct young directions.

Know More No

The three titles are available at select NYC book merchants and, conveniently, here for purchase through our online store. For a limited time, orders placed online will enjoy free shipping.

Each title is published in a limited edition of 50 copies, is pamphlet stitched, and features a letterpress printed cover. Learn about them:

Elegies for A.R. Ammons by David Swensen

These are poems for the late Ammons written as the true elegy must be. They do not lament the lost poet, but attempt to wade into and harvest from his work. They integrate the landscapes of Swensen’s North Carolinian childhood with scenes from his more recent life in Scotland and New York, commemorating Ammons by constantly pressing at his colloquial --- at times ribald --- style, keeping alive Ammons’ work as it is pressed into new and vital forms.

This Pose Can Be Held for Only So Long by Caroline Gormley

A personal geography and map of the Texan Gulf Coast viewed through the eyes of youth. The poem strives to recreate that lost landscape by whatever means available --- at once using traditional poetic forms as well as combining the dissolving documents of childhood, with selected erasures of major 20th century American novels.

Wow, Where Do You Come from, Upside-Down Land? by Lonely Christopher

With the utmost precision and economy, Lonely Christopher addresses in Wow, Where Do You Come from, Upside-Down Land? the contemporary queer political sphere through questions of linguistics, conducting his subjects into a terse, wry, and ultimately operatic chorus of commentary.

"By eloquently rearranging the detritus of our national debate about gay rights, Lonely Christopher’s biting, anti-poetic poetry shows us the heights of pathos and the depths of foolishness around the issue, while delightfully mixing sexuality with textuality."
--- James Hannaham (author of God Says No)

Also know: the entire series is purchasable for fifteen dollars together. Get know.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Epistemology of Emo

Mae Saslaw was last month's guest editor. She has just gotten to writing her second post.

Her pieces have appeared in Correspondence 1 & 2, and more of her work is available at

Some months ago, The Correspondence Society and friends wrote a series of essays on the nature of the hipster and what constitutes hipster culture, if there is such a thing. We overwhelmingly concluded that there is no unified hipster culture, that they produce no unique or identifiable cultural artifacts, and this is one of the primary reasons for their failure—or, since perhaps they weren’t trying in the first place—to form a distinct movement of any kind. I’ve heard arguments along the same lines applied to emo: that there is no identifiable emo music, literature, or art; that emo kids themselves disagree on what aesthetics define emo; that “real” emo was over long before the word/concept ever really took off, and so nothing after maybe 1998 (the year is highly debatable) counts as emo; etc. I have no better working definition of emo than the next emo kid, but I will argue that—unlike hipsters, though the difference between the two is not especially what I mean to emphasize—there are coherent ideas and thought processes running through the whole of the emo movement/scene/what have you, that the lifestyle or, really, epistemology, emerged in the wake of punk rock and still persists in some form. I do not pretend that the authenticity and quality of what is popularly considered emo music has maintained the high standard it once had (you can laugh here), and the degradation and hence bad reputation emo music has endured is in no small part due to the inevitable effects of commercialization. The point I mean to make is one about shared experience: whether your canonical emo band is Sunny Day Real Estate, or Brand New, or Bright Eyes, or Dashboard Confessional, etc., your general worldview has a great deal in common with that of another emo kid from a different time or place, etc. along the emo continuum.

The condition of the emo kid is easy to write off as unfettered vanity and self-indulgence, the case for this view being that emo kids are, in the main, relatively privileged and unaffected by what most people consider to be real traumas of contemporary life, ie, they are situated (usually) well above the poverty line, and have never been exposed to or threatened with extreme violence. We find it hard to sympathize with adolescents and young adults who have grown up sheltered at a time when millions of children have real problems. And, during my own stint as a self-described emo kid, the guilt I felt around feeling dissatisfied with my life (guilt from the knowledge that others had it way worse and yet I found so much about which to complain, or, more accurately, to almost deliberately make myself miserable) was a significant part of the system of malaise I wove in my head.

That said, it’s as hard to convincingly argue that emo kids do have at least a few actual problems, and that these problems are the common threads between different versions or incarnations of emo. And I’ll concede that, even in hindsight, I can’t say that they even were real problems, but it sure as fuck felt like it: the certainty and gravity of the conclusions I drew about myself and other people trumped any remaining capacity I had for objectivity. Everyone really was unendurably vapid and insensitive, and I really was going to maintain my destructive habits unto lifelong loneliness. That’s how it seemed. Part of ceasing to be emo—rather, as emo—was my growing need to apologize for how absurd I sounded in pretty much every communicative act I made, how absurdly I behaved for several solid years. The other part was discovering better art, better music, and most importantly better literature, and realizing that there were far more comprehensive and sustainable ways to deal with the world than the thought processes I mired myself in. And, as has become apparent in this essay, I still continually apologize for emo—to anyone who has been emo, and to anyone who has had any sort of relationship with an emo kid.

With the apology must come the explanation of what it is I am apologizing for. The epistemology of emo, I have decided centers around the following emotional ideology: The emo kid sees in herself some pattern of self-destructive behavior and finds herself both unable to stop and unwilling to continue, but because she is unable to stop, she must continually question whether or not she really is unwilling to continue, and if she is not, she must question what intrinsic flaw makes her weak-minded or truly self-destructive or both. The self-destructive behavior might be a desire for romantic relationships characterized by severe dependence and/or “trust issues,” a desire for meaningless sexual encounters, eating disorders, cutting, repeated alienation of friends, drug and alcohol problems of a fairly minor order, etc. Her ability to question whether or not she wants to stop in the first place leads her to conclude that she is not truly, hopelessly addicted to anything, and indeed she usually is not, but draws her conclusion from an assumption that truly, hopelessly addicted people have already lost the ability to question want vs. need vs. un- or subconscious drive. But, at the same time, the fact that she continues whatever destructive behavior she likely knows she has chosen leads her to further question why she hasn’t totally destroyed herself—ie. she is not dead, or incarcerated, or in rehab, or pregnant. She has never reached and maybe never been close to total destruction, and she sees this as evidence that she is still in control of her actions, and therefore fully capable of “fixing” herself without outside help. Her ultimate self-analysis, and this usually takes at least a year to arrive at, is that she enjoys being somewhat—but, obviously, not entirely—self-destructive, enjoys the level to which she can predict what causes her pain. There’s no real way to tally how many emo kids slowly pulled themselves out of the emo condition vs. how many did go to rehab or join a religious organization or otherwise make some drastic life change that shocked them out of their particular self-destructive behavior more or less overnight. And I am fairly certain that members of the latter category are harsher critics of emo, and those most willing to argue that the emo mentality has no redeeming qualities for anyone. I don’t blame them. I only want to describe, as clearly as possible, the strategies common in every emo kid’s approach to thought and life in general. I call the totality of my conclusions the epistemology of emo because the emo movement, for all its fragmentation, describes a condition of the individual that is all-encompassing. The reason, I think, why former emo kids are so easy to spot, and why they tend to stick together, is that the whole tempest of skewed logic leaves its etchings on the walls of the mind. It’s why someone ten years older than me uses the same word to describe incredibly different artistic periods: ever since punk rock gave us permission to question our role and agency as adolescents, and grunge gave us permission to rage inwardly at whatever we happen to hate about ourselves, emo kids have been inventing and perfecting the cultural artifacts that feed the attitude and vice versa.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

No Wave

What Is Not Post-Feminism?
Some Questions and Problems
by Lonely Christopher

Feminism is a problem of the discursive relationship between theory and praxis. Feminism is simultaneously an academic/theoretical grammar and a sociopolitically applicable ideology. There’s much confusion about what being a feminist means right now; the concept oft languishes as an empty signifier mouthed weirdly by women stuck between third wave and post-feminist perspectives --- those of no wave. Where does the deconstruction of essentialisms become the eschewing or even denial of an affirmative and required praxis of and for contemporary women? Feminism: is institutionalized (theory divorced from praxis in academia), becomes a museum piece (in Brooklyn, where the feminist wing of the museum was founded a year or so back), gets erased by poststructural pluralism, (and/or) just sounds dirty because it can’t cohere as a system sufficiently balancing the pragmatic and existential. What does it mean for a male to identify as feminist or to write about feminism (the latter happening here)? How much room has been made for minority perspectives or is the problem of petit-bourgeois feminism, of a possible feminist hegemony, a bad framing device? Has second wave activism been too eschewed or is it poststructural subjectivities that have been overly ignored? Does a multiplicity of feminisms strengthen feminist thought/praxis conceptually or obliterate all efficacies? How much feminist discourse is today still articulated using the vocabulary of the second wave and does that make such discourse outmoded? bell hooks, decades ago: “Feminism is a struggle to end sexist oppression.” Where does Butler’s subsequent gender confusion and performative play fit in an oppositional/corrective conception of praxis-based feminism? Where fits art and thought designed to critique and explore rather than directly promote change? What is feminism without the concept of change, without being synonymous with the transformative influence of praxis? Is continued social change resulting in the promotion of women “more feminist” than Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” or isn’t the distinction between activism and art so clear? If, according to the “post” model, feminism is no longer relevant as a contemporary rubric, what now? There probably isn’t more feminism after post-feminism. The problem with post-feminism, its failure, is that is not so contemporary as premature. As a theoretical and socially inapplicable model, post-feminism reads okay as a subset of another post-positioned idiom (postmodernism?), but maybe it negatively closes discourses that should stay available so as to acknowledge the work remaining for change-oriented praxis. Perhaps it’s similar to pushing a post-gay perspective in a sociopolitical context of widespread inequality and subjugation (today, still). When somebody playfully says, “You’re here, you’re queer, get over it!” one wants to tersely respond, “You get over it!” The argument against oppression is declared falsely efficacious, allowing the problem to go on underhandedly. Is this the case with feminism? to what extent? These problems, arising decades ago and remaining unresolved, are some qualities of the no wave that troubles the idea of feminism as a coherent logic. Is this really all just about power or, if not, what else (and how much else)? Christine Wertheim recently writes: “The Subject of History may be dead, but all of the […] others⎯the women, blacks, the queer, and the poor⎯in whom power never resided, still don’t have their share of discursive space.” When does anti-essentialism end up privileging the sneaky normative that refuses being argued out of domination of power relations and ideological discourse? This is nothing more than a recital of problems and questions; unknown is how many questions are rhetorical and how many pertinent but unanswerable. The only likely conclusion in this context is that what and how feminism is represent problems to be addressed, positively, as points of centrifugal departure.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

This Is Going To Be Fun

Here is an announcement about an exciting event coming soon to Brooklyn’s Unnameable Books (one of the city’s best literature merchants, which, incidentally, stocks all three titles of the Corresponding Society’s “No Know” chapbook series, fyi):

Gay Play 3
a new play by Lonely Christopher
presented in a dramatic reading at Unnameable Books
25 September, that is Friday, 8pm, free and one night only!
600 Vanderbilt (at St Marks), Brooklyn

This is going to be fun. Lonely Christopher presents a dramatic reading of the third installment in his internationally produced Gay Play trilogy. Gay Play 3 is something like a closet opera about queer history, shortly before Stonewall, made into a soupy meal using leftovers of Beckett, “The Boys in the Band,” a textbook on structuralism, and Greek tragedy. One day it will be staged entirely in an inflatable pool. Each entry in the trilogy is a standalone piece; familiarity with the previous installments is not required for enjoyment. Gay Play 1 was first staged last summer at the Bowery Poetry Club, Gay Play 2 premiered in dual Mandarin/English productions this August in ChengDu, China, and this event marks the first ever presentation of Gay Play 3.

a dramatic reading featuring:
Jake Abrams
Taylor Derwin
Sam Kline
& Lonely Christopher

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Queer Kids!


Glittery! Only slightly misspelled! The event of the season!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A year without David Foster Wallace, a summer with Infinite Jest

Mae Saslaw is this month's guest editor. Her pieces have appeared in Correspondence 1 & 2, and more of her work is available at Her next post will be considerably more organized than what follows, and may contain a cogent argument. In the mean time, she will abuse this forum for reasons unapparent.

One year ago tonight, Lonely Christopher called me up to say that David Foster Wallace had committed suicide. I did what any friend would do and started to feed Lonely Christopher alcohol. About twenty minutes after he arrived, he got a call from Greg, whose appendix was near bursting. It was a weird night. But that’s not what this post is about.

I was one of the people who hadn’t actually read any of Wallace’s work—outside of an essay or two for class—prior to his death. I’ve spent the last twelve months catching up, and to date I’ve read Oblivion, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Girl with Curious Hair, and most recently, Infinite Jest. I started Infinite Jest intending to follow along with the Infinite Summer people and go to their meetings on Thursdays in the Village. That didn’t happen, but I did finish the book. What was extraordinary was the amount of attention I got just for carrying the thing around. One girl approached me on a subway platform and asked if I’d read an essay of Wallace’s that had appeared in the New Yorker at some point, because if I hadn’t, she was going to give me her copy.

Ordinarily, I have a pretty limited amount of patience for the general public and carry an admittedly larger-than-justifiable sense of superiority when it comes to my tastes in fiction. Example: I once saw a boy my age reading Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser on a subway car filled with screaming preteens. I wanted to lean over and tell him, “Don’t even try reading that book now; you won’t understand a damn thing.” I ultimately didn’t say anything, but only because I didn’t want him to think I was coming onto him. I am an asshole. To be fair, I also had the reverse happen to me: Last summer, when I was trying to read Gravity’s Rainbow, a heavily-tattooed gentleman (carrying a copy of The Confessions of St Augustine) interrupted me and asked, first of all, if I could possibly read on a sweltering train with headphones on, and second, if I was trying to read the book without a companion volume. I said something like, “I’m reading it for the sentences,” and then bitched about the heat and how I wanted a cigarette. I must have come off looking pretty fucking cool. That’s not what this post is about, either.

I have a hard time being direct about this, about what reading Infinite Jest this particular summer and finishing up last week was really like. I guess it was something like this:

It’s of some interest that the lively arts of the millennial U.S.A. treat anhedonia and internal emptiness as hip and cool. It’s maybe the vestiges of the Romantic glorification of Weltschmerz, which means world-weariness or hip ennui. Maybe it’s the fact that most of the arts here are produced by people who not only consume art but study it for clues on how to be cool, hip — and keep in mind that, for kids and younger people, to be hip and cool is the same as to be admired and accepted and included and so Unalone. Forget so-called peer-pressure. It’s more like peer-hunger. No? We enter a spiritual puberty where we snap to the fact that the great transcendent horror is loneliness, excluded encagement in the self. Once we’ve hit this age, we will now give or take anything, wear any mask, to fit, be part-of, not be Alone, we young. The U.S. arts are our guide to inclusion. A how-to. We are shown how to fashion masks of ennui and jaded irony at a young age where the face is fictile enough to assume the shape of whatever it wears. And then it’s stuck there, the weary cynicism that saves us from gooey sentiment and unsophisticated naïveté…Hal, who’s empty but not dumb, theorizes privately that what passes for hip cynical transcendence of sentiment is really some kind of fear of being really human, since to be really human (at least as he conceptualizes it) is probably to be unavoidably sentimental and naïve and goo-prone and generally pathetic, is to be in some basic interior way forever infantile, some sort of not-quite-right-looking infant dragging itself anaclitically around the map, with big wet eyes and froggy-soft skin, huge skull, gooey drool.

So we—myself, plus the people who approached me in the subway or in stores to say that they were reading or had read or had given up reading Infinite Jest—have this passage in common, this pretty profound slap in the face. I could read this as Wallace’s argument against reading his novel, since the act of reading is this same consumption of art that pulls us into anhedonic emptiness, maybe. Or it’s the interruption, the little piece of metafiction that jars us, alerts us to the fact that we’ve been reading for these instructions, and we’re getting what we asked for, and maybe we shouldn’t have asked for it, or maybe we definitely should have because being cultured and hip is the only way out of utter loneliness, unless it isn’t. In any case, he’s called my own personal bluff. Am I cool yet? Because I’m pretty fucking jaded. The point is that I don’t get to discount my fellow readers after this—we all just had our insecurities nailed down. Hard.

And I can’t ignore the shade that Wallace’s suicide paints over the experience of reading Infinite Jest. Wallace becomes even more like J.O. Incandenza, the figure whose ghost haunts the book and all its characters. If you’ve read the book, you know about all the parallels between the novel and Incandenza’s final film, also titled Infinite Jest, so I won’t go into those except to say that everything Wallace tells us about the film is true of the novel. There’s no literary or historical evidence to suggest that Incandenza’s suicide at all prefigures Wallace’s death any more than the deaths of any other of his characters. But still. The similarities are hard to ignore, and I wonder what it might have felt like to read Infinite Jest before Wallace died. One would have had the sense, for instance, that it might be possible to ask him what he meant, if passages like the one above were meant to destroy us in quite the way they did. Or, perhaps, if the side effect of uniting the unbearably cool U.S. youth was the point all along. Or, if we were supposed to realize that anhedonia and inhumanity are too closely linked. I can’t imagine that, if I’d read the book last year, I would have taken any particular solace in knowing that Wallace was, if nothing else, still alive—Infinite Jest leaves so little room for solace. But it hurt (maybe hurt is the wrong word: stung? cut?) more to know that he killed himself, that he couldn’t think or write his way out of a place where, according to him, we all are. (“By AA’s own professed logic, everyone ought to be in AA. If you have some sort of Substance-problem, then you belong in AA. But if you say you do not have a Substance-problem, in other words if you deny that you have a Substance-problem, why then you’re by definition in Denial, and thus you apparently need the Denial-busting Fellowship of AA even more than someone who can admit his problem.”)

One last anecdote: Last week, on one of the last days I spent reading Infinite Jest, I stopped at a bodega on my way to work. It was 8am, I was hungover, and I had to wait a couple of minutes for my bagel. A woman and her young daughter were waiting for their sandwiches as well, and after glaring at me for a couple of minutes, the woman noticed I was carrying Infinite Jest. What exactly we said to each other isn’t all that important, but I got the distinct sense that she hadn’t really considered Wallace’s death and what it had done to his readers. As far as she was concerned, he might as well have been dead for decades or more—the conditions of his life had nothing to do with the work. And I guess that’s a certain school of reading, to ignore as much about the author as you can. I disagree in any case, but I don’t see how anyone can exclude an author’s suicide from complete analysis of a work, or from the experience of reading it.

I think more discussion is called for. I think I failed in making a lot of points, partly because I need to spend more time considering exactly what happens in the thousand pages I spent the summer reading. But in the spirit of the commemorative blog post, here is another of my favorite (if I may express preference for something that leaves me devastated) passages from Infinite Jest. It happens around the middle of a list of things one learns at a halfway house.

That you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it. That loneliness is not a function of solitude. That it is possible to get so angry you really do see everything red. What a ‘Texas Catheter’ is. That some people really do steal—will steal things that are yours. That a lot of U.S. adults truly cannot read, not even a ROM hypertext phonics thing with HELP functions for every word. That cliquey alliance and exclusion and gossip can be forms of escape. That logical validity is not a guarantee of truth. That evil people never believe they are evil, but rather that everyone else is evil. That it is possible to learn valuable things from a stupid person. That it takes effort to pay attention to any one stimulus for more than a few seconds. That you can all of a sudden out of nowhere want to get high with your Substance so bad that you think you will surely die if you don’t, and but can just sit there with your hands writhing in your lap and face wet with craving, can want to get high but instead just sit there, wanting to but not, if that makes sense, and if you can gut it out and not hit the Substance during the craving the craving will eventually pass, it will go away—at least for a while. That it is statistically easier for low-IQ people to kick an addiction than it is for high-IQ people. That the metro Boston street term for panhandling is: stemming, and that it is regarded by some as a craft or art; and that professional stem-artists actually have like little professional colloquia sometimes, little conventions, in parks or public-transport hubs, at night, where they get together and network and exchange feedback on trends and techniques and public relations, etc. That it is possible to abuse OTC cold- and allergy remedies in an addictive manner. That Nyquil is 50 proof. That boring activities become, perversely, much less boring if you concentrate intently on them. That if enough people in a silent room are drinking coffee it is possible to make out the sound of steam coming off the coffee. That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness. That it is possible to fall asleep during an anxiety attack.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Fresh Evidence

We had a fun time at our celebratory chapbook reading at Brooklyn’s Outpost Lounge last week; thanks to Mae Saslaw (who, it is rumored, has agreed to be the blog’s guest editor this month), we also have some fun documentation. If you happened to miss this event, there’s some new pictorial evidence available on our website. Withal, below please find a video sample of the reading in the form of Lonely Christopher reciting his poem “His Lips Were on that Glass”:

his lips were on that glass from mae saslaw on Vimeo.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Chapbook Party!

The CORRESPONDING SOCIETY hereby invites you to come celebrate with us the launch of a brand new literary venture! The “Know No” chapbook series, months in the making, was curated by Robert Snyderman and designed by art directors Caroline Gormley and Sonia Farmer. The collection includes the following three distinct and exciting texts:

“Elegies for A.R. Ammons” by David Swensen
“Wow, Where Do You Come from, Upside-Down Land?” by Lonely Christopher
“This Pose Can Be Held for Only So Long” by Caroline Gormley

Please join us on 3 September (7pm), at local waterhole (caffeinated/alcoholic) Outpost, for an evening of revelry, libations, and poetry. Plus the chance to win fabulous prizes! Readers will include David Swensen, Lonely Christopher, and Adrian Shirk (satalite-reading for Ms. Gormley, who lives in Austin, Texas).

Venue: Outpost Lounge
Location: 1014 Fulton St (Brooklyn)
Date: 3 September
Time: 7pm
Featured Readers: David Swensen, Lonely Christopher, Adrian Shirk

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Straight Proust

Shelf Space
On Qualities and Locations of Queer Literature
by Lonely Christopher

What is queer literature? I think this is an important question and a stupid one. In the “gay fiction/non-fiction shelves at Barnes and Noble” sense, “gay lit” is a minoritizing concept. I have never plucked a title off the “gay fiction” shelf; to do so seems unfortunately tacky (considering my snobby bias re the quality of writing that is typically relegated there, possibly correlative to chick lit). About the only text I’ve taken home from the “gay non-fiction” shelf is Epistemology of the Closet. In that book, Sedgwick discusses “the contradictions […] internal to all the important twentieth-century understandings of homo/heterosexual definition,” which include “the contradiction between seeing homo/heterosexual definition on the one hand as an issue of active importance primarily for a small, distinct, relatively fixed homosexual minority […] and seeing it on the other hand as an issue of continuing, determinative importance in the lives of people across the spectrum of sexualities[.]” But, of course, we have all read Epistemology of the Closet --- which is why I find it so queer the issue of themes of non-normative sexuality in creative writing is treated with a minoritizing disdain, in casual conversation, by my closest friends. I am not arguing against the organization of texts by subject --- without which Mr. Dewey weeps and I get confused at the library --- but it’s undeniable that a social stigma is attached to what is essentially the ghettoization of queer writing. Notably, reputable queer authors do not usually languish in the “gay fiction” section: you’ll probably find City of Night and the oeuvre of Burroughs in regular literature. Although the pessimistic view might be that those guys became institutionalized enough to receive honorary-straight status, which comes with admission to the grown-ups table; just as reasonable, and more positively, it might also be that important literature is important literature. We’d love to claim the latter the case here in our progressive day. So why is it, then, that certain of my peers continually express concern that I am running the risk, in foregrounding queer themes in my own work, of losing their interest by esoterically going gay? I posit the answer relates to a kind of latent homophobia that’s ubiquitous in contemporary literary discourse. Despite familiarity with all the trendy texts of queer theory --- Sedgwick, Butler, Foucault --- straight-identified writers and readers (that I know) can’t help finding queer material in literature kind of boring and gross. Although I don’t feel comfortable organizing myself under the cultural rubric of the “gay” construct, my non-normative sexual identity (or: queerness) still came with implicit subscription to a rich and fascinating gay canon of creative texts and critical perspectives. My interest in certain dimensions of art and theory (that is, the gay dimensions) presupposes my access to queer tradition. I had to struggle out of a stuffy heteronormativity before I learned to love queer culture. This is the result of the minoritizing influence built in to normative discourse, which sets apart anything articulating a strong queer perspective. (Such values also make you straight until proven otherwise, so many queer boys and girls tend to be raised straight, which retards them culturally.) I mean to say: queerness isn’t implicitly just for gays, but cultural hegemony ignores this and enforces ghettoization. So friends squirm when my writing swerves into fag land. Most of what I’ve been doing for about a year results from a project of queer investigation. Previously, the attention of my creative writing has been more scattered. When peers began to notice the unfamiliar direction my work was heading in, the reaction was almost unanimously suspicious (turning negative). There was an audience for my chamber drama Gay Play when I staged it last year --- but when I wrote a sequel, kids started worrying. When I ended up with Gay Play 3, some reactions were outright hostile: I was turning into a “scene queen.” The primary response I’ve been getting is that I shouldn’t write about queer themes all the time because that runs of risk of making me a “special interest” writer. A friend recently complained over the intellectual poverty of art about same sex relationships; I pointed out my unpublished novel focuses on a straight married couple. He said, correction, he didn’t like any art about romantic relationships --- we went home and watched a Woody Allen movie, which we enjoyed. That is an irony of straight discomfort with queer lit --- it doesn’t go both ways: queers don’t seem to have much of a problem with appreciating all the fine heterocentric art in the world. In fact, I quite love Woody Allen, for example, even though I do not relate at all to his hetero treatment of love and sex. Weirdly, a whole bunch (most?) of the heroes of the normative canon, which have become the favorites of my straight peers, are total homos. I have another friend who used to really want to erase that unfortunate detail. When we were young we were crazy about Rimbaud. Despite the whole Verlaine fling --- which, you know, gave us some pretty good poetry --- and the evidence Arthur had a kept boy when he quit the writing game for business, according to this friend Rimbaud wasn’t “technically gay” because he doesn’t fit neatly under the contemporary gay construct; thus, his sexuality is unimportant in the consideration of his work. Next came Proust, which my friend tried to prove was actually straight because he wrote so well about heterosexual relationships and penned a few flowery letters to his women friends. Never mind, you know, the overwhelmingly queer bent of In Search of Lost Time or any of his fancy gay love. It went on like that --- I think Whitman came next --- although this fellow is very intelligent and his attitude might be different now. I think Sedgwick makes an important case for reading literature from a queer perspective, which is a practice often considered useless, extraneous folly by even those straights who’ve read Sedgwick. When arguing defensively against the validity of queer perspectives in art, my straight friends often resort to a few stances exampled in Epistemology of the Closet. The list of possible attacks is sort of lengthy, but it’s worth representing here in full: “1. Passionate language of same-sex attraction was extremely common during whatever period is under discussion --- and therefore must have been completely meaningless. Or 2. Same-sex genital relations may have been perfectly common during the period under discussion --- but since there was no language about them, they must have been completely meaningless. Or 3. Attitudes about homosexuality were intolerant back then, unlike now --- so people probably didn’t do anything. Or 4. Prohibitions against homosexuality didn’t exist back then, unlike now --- so if people did anything, it was completely meaningless. Or 5. The word 'homosexuality' wasn’t coined until 1869 --- so everyone before then was heterosexual. (Of course, heterosexuality has always existed.) Or 6. The author under discussion is certified or rumored to have had an attachment to someone of the other sex --- so their feelings about people of their own sex must have been completely meaningless. Or (under perhaps somewhat different rules of admissible evidence) 7. There is no actual proof of homosexuality, such as sperm taken from the body of another man or a nude photograph with another woman --- so the author may be assumed to have been ardently and exclusively heterosexual. Or (as a last resort) 8. The author or the author’s important attachments may very well have been homosexual --- but it would be provincial to let so insignificant a fact make any difference at all to our understanding of any serious project of life, writing, or thought.” To Sedgwick, this puritanical outrage at the canon being reconfigured along queer lines evinces, beyond sheer homophobia, a hegemonic ignorance necessary in sustaining the established order: “Don’t ask; You shouldn’t know.” There is the additional fallacy of misunderstanding the divisions between popular and literary writing when it comes to queer texts (like mine). My treatment of queer themes, its centrality in my recent work, gets conflated by friends with the production of the low paperbacks shoved out of the literary discourse to languish on the dusty “gay fiction” shelf. Thus, writing about queerness at all is the same thing as writing for the supposedly non-critical popular gay audience (and we know they don’t even read, pity). The situation is probably a little different right now in China, where the first two Gay Plays are being published and staged. The communal homophobia doesn’t seem to have been internalized and caked over with organized defenses there as it has here stateside. When casting the English production of Gay Play 2, I’m told it was impossible to convince noncitizens (expatriates and the like) living locally to participate because of the social fear that, I guess, ultimately implies the punishment of deportation for subversive activities. In climates of more direct sociopolitical repression, any conception of queer literature is disallowed from validation or even existence; in cultures of internalized homophobia the dominant critical discourse substitutes in the government’s role in authoritarian censorship. When it comes to the troublesome attitudes of my friends here in the US, I think I should make an important distinction clear because it’s probably not terribly considered from a straight perspective. Straight writers focus on themes of sexuality frequently and sans compunction --- this is because sexuality is fascinating and complex. A straight-identified writer has implicit access to her life of experiences parsing the complications of sexuality from her own vantage. This fundamental catalog of conceptualized sexuality is obviously available to the gay or queer-identified writer as well. There’s something else, though, that influences the queer writer, problematizing and inspiring his work: his subjugated position in a heteronormative social grammar. There is no aspect of the queer subject that’s structurally inherent (thereby inalienable) in our literary or social formations. This is evidenced in how a queer writerly focus is so easily suspect: there is no right to a gay literature within the intellectual framework we operate in as artists. A straight writer writing straight work writes literature; a queer writer writing queer work writes queer literature, which doesn’t exist. Maybe, to restart, the question is, rather: What should queer literature be? Does it belong outside the normative canon, within it qua subspecies, or should there even be a designation distinct for it at all? I know the gay canon did form outside normative discourse --- it had to because of where its subscribers were: the institution of the closet. I suppose I’d like to see something suggested by the “universalizing view” identified in Sedgwick: a queer literature different from the established and ghettoized gay canon, something that’s not as minoritized but in active conversation with our normative canon. When somebody picks up a volume of Proust from the “literature” shelf, for example, she understands the text simultaneously as a great novel and a great queer novel. I like the duality there. A critical engagement with queerness in treatments of literature is undeniably important --- not only from a gay perspective, or from wherever I’m located personally, but for all writers and readers of creative texts (that’s us). Queer has value. As Annamarie Jagose writes, “Queer is not outside the magnetic field of identity. Like some postmodern architecture, it turns identity inside out, and displays its supports exoskeletally."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Upstate Reading

If, for whatever reason, you happen to be upstate, or in the mood to travel upstate, this week, please note that some of us of the Corresponding Society are in the same position (for we have a reading). Also note that our chapbooks will be ready and available for the first time that day. Details:

Venue: the Dragonfly Café
Location: 7 Wheeler Ave, Pleasantville, NY
Date: Thurs, August 13
Time: 7pm
Featured Readers: Christopher Sweeney, Adrian Shirk, Lonely Christopher, David Swensen

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

All Warhol

A: a Problem
Warhol Speaks for Himself, Kinda
by Lonely Christopher

Andy Warhol is intellectual property to which we all share the copyright. After staging a play about Andy Warhol in a rural Pennsylvanian town, the local audience approached me with about the same ideas on the subject as articulated by anyone I’ve talked to about it within academia or bohemia. “Andy Warhol’s whole life wassis work, ya’know, so he became some sorta performance, an anti-human er anti-artist, like he turned everything he saw inta art so it done mean nothin. He took th’ image an emptied it all out, so it were just all on th’ surface. Like, he didn’t see no depth in nothin’ --- so his art was turnin’ everything inta culture, inta an empty signifier, doncha know. I’d say, shucks, Warhol has gone the furthest in the annihilation of th’ artistic and th’ creative act; he was uh simulacrum.” Andy Warhol is as egalitarian as Coca-Cola, a soft drink that he appreciated because its popularity meant some bum on the street drank exactly the same Coke as Elizabeth Taylor. Warhol is an American invention. Andy: “That could be […] the best American invention --- to be able to disappear.” A has disappeared into complete ubiquity. We talk about Warhol and mean nothing. I chewed up Baudrillard’s essay on Andy (“Machinic Snobbery,” from The Perfect Crime) and collaged its pulpy guts into my play, along with sources like Kenny Goldsmith’s edition of A’s selected interviews. I interviewed Kenneth once and we talked some about Warhol. LC: “How does that work? When I first started thinking about Warhol I was thinking about him actually in relation to the Situationists because I was studying the Situationists and I saw that they wanted to effect change but they designed their movement in a way where all their ideas were easily colonized and they really quickly failed. That failure made me think of Warhol because he seemed to have designed his work and life in a way where whatever the position it was put in it still retained its integrity.” KG: “You’re very astute; that’s a great point. But the real thing is that the secret of Warhol was he never intended resistance and therefore something that could never offer resistance could never be co-opted. That’s fucking brilliant. He was completely complicit and by being complicit he was subversive. It was a very brilliant strategy of his. He took a lot of shit for it, too. People didn’t understand.” My play, I Am Happy, is about a major problematic in studying Warhol: the man/machine dichotomy, which seems to be unresolved. The premise: an interviewer questions A, vomiting about the artist qua sign system before doubling back and suspiciously interrogating that position (receiving only vaguely bored and clever answers from his subject). He sits frustrated over A (who pushes pills across the surface of a mirror); frowns: “A lot of people are inclined to put you down because you operate at a certain distance --- mechanically, artificially. And yet it is claimed you are not, cannot be, truly a mutant. You are made of the same material as everyone else, you are not yourself a mirror or a machine --- but regular blood and guts (violence being your threatened reminder, ugliness your secret humiliation). Doesn’t this problematize addressing you as some sort of text, sign system, or an object? […] Is [your] mechanic affectation rather an adaptive mythopoetics?” A says, as usual, “I don’t know.” Upon studying Kenny’s collection of documents for the first time, the actual interviews, I learned a valuable lesson re the importance of not knowing (even if you do). I like reading theorists, biographers, and memoirists inscribing Warhol for themselves (and us) in various texts. Baudrillard denies biography, or the very embodiment of the idea of Warhol; Koestenbaum (in a monograph for Penguin) attempts to invoke a tortured and imaginative sexuality for his subject; Coacello often uses Warhol to define and validate his own narrative (Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up); Bockris (The Life and Death of Andy Warhol) constructs A as the classic biographer’s subject, portraying him historically like a dead president. I would love to read a book about Warhol written by a Midwestern housewife. As for Andy: “I would rather watch somebody buy their underwear than read a book they wrote.” Until I picked up The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: from A to B and back Again (1975, apparently), it had never occurred to me to peruse the material that the artist ostensibly wrote himself. It made more sense to read Warhol through a filter, like staring into the sun directly would burn and permanently damage me somehow. How much of Warhol’s writing is Warhol’s writing isn’t entirely important. He is the author of this book --- although it was ghostwritten (to whatever extent) by Pat Hackett (credited only as a redactor in the dedication) --- for the same reason he is the artist behind work he didn’t complete himself (or the same reason it doesn’t matter many of his movies are slowed down, for length, and looped instead of filmed totally). Andy Warhol is a novelist who wrote a book, A: a novel, that didn’t require him to write anything --- or do more than hand over a tape recorder to his friends and then employ transcribers. Yet in Philosophy a voice, usually absent or reformatted in other texts, distinctly Warholian, or distinctly anchoring the Warholian within a personal mode of expression, haunts the pages here and there. What does poetry written by a machine sound like? This book contains strings of anecdotes and aphorisms --- suggesting a wit akin to Wilde that A probably didn’t demonstrate socially. (It is hard to conceive of Andy awkwardly creeping around a party before suddenly charming a crowd of socialites with a bon mot, delivered with confidence and ease: “I guess that’s what marriage boils down to --- your wife buys your underwear for you.” A here is more articulate and slyer than in interviews. He defines the paradigm of Andy Warhol, which we all swim around in, with a self-awareness that presupposes many of the regurgitated insights of subsequent scholars and commentators. “I have no memory,” he claims. He taunts us: “I have to look into the mirror for some more clues. Nothing is missing. It’s all there. The affectless gaze. The diffracted grace […] the bored languor, the wasted pallor […] the chic freakiness, the basically passive astonishment, the enthralling secret knowledge […] the chintzy joy, the revelatory tropisms, the chalky puckish mask, the slight Slavic look […] the childlike, gum-chewing naiveté, the glamour rooted in despair, the self-admiring carelessness, the perfected otherness, the wispiness, the shadowy, voyeuristic, vaguely sinister aura, the pale, soft-spoken magical presence, the skin and bones […] the albino-chalk skin. Parchmentlike. Reptilian. Almost blue […] The knobby knees. The roadmap of scars, The long bony arms, so white they look bleached. The arresting hands. The pinhead eyes. The banana ears […] The graying lips. The shaggy, silver-white hair, soft and metallic. The cords of the neck standing out around the big Adam’s apple. It’s all there […] nothing is missing.” This is one of the book’s most flamboyant and decadent set-pieces; Warhol here offers us the gift of his persona, and then becomes it. The ingenious climax of the book --- a giant set-piece consisting of an exhausting rant performed by a friend over the phone, describing upsettingly obsessive cleaning routines she follows to tidy her apartment (naked and on speed) --- reads as contemporary a literary experiment as the noncreative writing of Kenny G and other conceptual poets. It is boring, artful, out of place in context, and weighs down the end of the text. Warhol sits on the phone and listens indifferently, wordlessly setting the receiver down only to occasionally replace the jam he’s eating with another snack. Warhol was probably a good listener. In this particular passage, he disappears into a frustratingly weird narrative of drug-fueled chores. He plays a trick by fading, chameleon-like, into the wallpaper. His friend has to make sure everything is totally sanitized and clean; he lets her wash him out of his own story. I squint, trying to detect the ego, superego, or id floating around within this Warholian matrix. Who would win in a match between A and Freud? Recent documentaries and studies of Warhol tend to sensationalize the ugliness of the man. Maybe the general public doesn’t know A suffered from tragically bad skin, baldness under his lovely wig --- or that he hardly ever enjoyed a fulfilling sex life, had to assemble himself in front of a mirror, with all sorts of pastes and products, before feeling presentable, or that he was scarred and damaged after being shot, having to wear a corset thereafter. Documentarians, filmmakers, and scholars have been trying to dramatically expose this side of Warhol; thus, I assumed it had always been hidden --- that A couldn’t stand such facts of his bodily failures, his monstrosity, incorporated under the public title of Andy Warhol. I was surprised, then, at what A, as author, was forward about when writing about his body in Philosophy. The angst of not being beautiful is typed across page after page. He wakes up and dials a number; into the phone he sighs, “I wake up every morning. I open my eyes and think: here we go again.” He wanted to look into the mirror and see nothing --- because he desired the erasure of his imperfections. He knew he didn’t really belong in the glossy magazines of the celebrities he adored, but he had to find a way to kidnap that glamour. He posits that addressing what he doesn’t like about himself is a way to erase the impact of those undesirable qualities on his life. So right away he is discussing his pimples and, as evidenced in above set-piece, many other examples of the freakish characteristics that plagued and defined him. It could have come off as a joke contemporaneously, but today we read the seriousness, and tragedy, in his comic remark: “I need about an hour to glue myself together.” Applying his artifice was time consuming. The way his wig was pasted or bound to his bald pate must have been painful; the obviousness of his weirdness and the futility to cake it over with make-up and creams must have been wholly embarrassing. Once, at a book signing, a girl grabbed off his wig and disappeared into a getaway car. Exposed, A was terrified; he later claimed that that event was equally traumatizing as being shot in the gut and almost dying. Yet, in retrospect, the details he waltzes around are telling. Although Warhol refers obliquely to his “wings,” I am unclear if that is even a fuzzy reference to his hairpieces. Anyway, in writing he claims that he has “gone gray” by dying his existing hair; he spends plenty of time turning this excuse into a demonstration of his “philosophy.” (Funny that the implicit intent of this book is to outline/codify a Warholian ideology when that concept, as such, was realized only as a mirroring of other cultural surfaces.) Was his “going gray” claim a joke or was Warhol unprepared to announce in print that the radical style of his platinum wigs was defensive in origin, meant to conceal? Before he switched to his trademark wig style, those who knew him were embarrassed for him because of how phony his more naturally colored hairpieces looked. Often, when somebody was mad at Andy, he attacked his appearance. A detail of Warhol’s biography that is contrastively ignored is his drug use --- it was easy for him to refer to taking his “vitamins” and “diet pills,” but those drugs should now be understood as amphetamines, which he was in habitual practice of swallowing (as far as I understand from my own research). The relationship of amphetamine’s grammar to the Warholian construct could benefit from further study. In Philosophy, he mentions taking pills only in passing, innocently refusing to discuss what they mean to him or his work, and he glosses the drug use that characterized his social milieu via playfully opaque euphemisms. When a “poke” (injection of drugs) is mentioned, it is unclear whether heroin or speed is the substance being abused. A also avoids bringing up his queerness, which I find incongruous considering the explicit (plus implicit) themes of queer sexuality in his art. He portrays himself as having monkish dedication to his career and, almost literally, married to his tape recorder (his “wife”); when the subject of romantic or sexual interaction arises he uses the feminine pronoun when referring to his partner. Although Warhol doesn’t seem to be able to fit within the developing model of postwar male homosexuality, he is definitely queer. He had same sex attractions and relationships, however problematic. Maybe Warhol would have made a profound contribution to queer literature had he addressed the subject in this text --- maybe he felt like he couldn’t (or did not want to). Anyway, A can be just about whatever we want; that’s why we love him so. He just can’t be himself --- not if he’s some form of simulacrum. A human subject can only be thought about in these terms abstractly. An agent like you, dear reader, can’t demonstrate yourself as a copy without an original, not in earnest (so I say, at least). That was Warhol’s project, nonetheless. He wanted to cake simulation in suffocating layers over his agency, thus creating the curtain to disappear behind forever. Advice from A: “If you can’t believe it’s happening, pretend it’s a movie.” I write about A all the time and never get any closer to solving anything; that’s the point. I don’t know, as they say. From I Am Happy: Interviewer, “What does human judgment mean to you?” Andy, “Human judgment doesn’t mean anything to me. Human judgment doesn’t exist for technology. I don’t like problems because you have to find a solution. Without judgment there can be no problems. What I try to do is avoid solving problems. Problems are too hard and too many. I don’t think finding solutions really adds up to anything --- it only creates more problems. Becoming a machine is a way of making things easy. And it gives me something to do. I like that.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Did You Know: The late submission deadline for Correspondence No. 3 has been extended indefinitely. We remain very welcoming of your work, please understand. Interested parties are invited to peruse the submission guidelines available on our (minimally designed) website for more details about what we’re looking for. Also, copies of Correspondence No. 2 are still available for purchase. Please consider spending a little of your milk money on this affordable collection of sophisticated new works of poetry, critical writing, fiction, and hybrid material (including a Möbius strip, don’t you know). This deal can be got through our online store. The Corresponding Society relies on earning enough money from the current issue to publish the next book. Helping us is a sexy way to support new writing and includes the bonus of an attractive perfectbound volume filled with uses of language better than a trip to Disneyland. We are beginning editorial work on issue 3 --- and are very confident in our ability to architect an even more engaging collection of letters --- but we feel slightly starved for different kinds of support from interested readers, writers, and correspondents beyond the team that manages and assembles the journal (and our immediate friends). We require activity from around places to eat like a meal. This is so because we undertake our labors to always expand creative discourse, rather than wallow in some private grumpiness. We want attention and money (read “want” as “need to continue this project”) but, more importantly, we want to expand the edges of our discourse through more participation, more conversation, more art. That is a lofty goal, but we try anyway. Beyond the publication of our journal, our public events, and website features such as the author catalog and library (not to mention the blog) we are developing in new ways --- including the release of our first chapbooks, from the No Know series curated by Robert Snyderman and built by a group of dedicated bookmakers. Please look forward to the birth, in the coming weeks, of three superbly designed collections of poetry by individual authors: “Elegies for A.R. Ammons” by David Swensen, “Wow, Where Do You Come from, Upside-Down Land?” by Lonely Christopher, and “This Pose Can Be Held for Only So Long” by Caroline Gormley. The Corresponding Society looks forward to developing and growing when we can. You learn something every day.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

James Hannaham interviewed by Lonely Christopher

James Hannaham (Culture Guy)

Gary Gray has a problem. The narrator of James Hannaham’s debut novel, God Says No, newly released from McSweeney’s Rectangulars, loves God and Disney World. The story opens in the late eighties --- Gary is a married, black, overweight Floridian student at a Christian college. Mostly, he gets on normally (even boringly), but, as his long-suffering wife tells him, “Sometimes one problem’s all you need, honey.” The book is defined by this central defect that plagues the protagonist: same sex attraction. Hannaham eschews the blasé implicitness of homosexual desire popularly demonstrated in contemporary media --- invoking something of the erstwhile pathology that characterized works like The Boys in the Band and City of Night --- and in doing so exposes something important about our present national perspectives on sexual identity: being gay remains a struggle. This is especially so for Gary, who is inundated by a fundamentalist Christian morality that portrays queerness as a hell-worthy trespass. The novel describes Gary’s tortured efforts to suppress his attractions, his failures, his desperate schemes to simultaneously maintain a secret sexual life and a family existence, his complete lapse into the “gay lifestyle,” and his complicated admittance into a religious recovery and reform program. As a paradigmatic shift disrupts our national value systems (possibly in ways as upturning as the post-Stonewall development of the gay rights movement) and a postmodern identity politics creeps into the general discourse --- sexuality is fluid and not totalizingly definitional --- Hannaham reminds us of the climate we are growing out of and how much complication we still face. God Says No provides likely one of the most vivid engagements, in recent fiction, with the personal turmoil experienced by subjects with sexual identities and/or attractions incongruous within a heteronormative patriarchy of lingering puritanical mores. As Jim Lewis (The King is Dead, &c.) suggests: Gary isn’t just gay, he’s “profoundly gay.” Withal, the book entertainingly introduces a narratorial voice so strikingly crafted the reader might feel she’s made an unlikely friend in Gary Gray. God Says No is perhaps a surprising release for the twee McSweeney’s brand; it’s a welcome one. Some more front-flap blurb copy, from Jennifer Egan: “God Says No is everything a person could ask of a first novel --- and twice that much.” James Hannaham has written for the likes of and The Village Voice; he was a founding member of the downtown theater company Elevator Repair Service, he’s also collaborated with artists such as David Levine (recently in the show Venice Saved: a Seminar at PS 122); he lives in Brooklyn where he teaches creative writing at the Pratt Institute. He was my thesis advisor during my senior year in the writing program, guiding me through my first novel, which subsequently won the annual thesis award for fiction. Busied by the release of God Says No and the requisite national book tour, he nevertheless agreed to let me record him in conversation.
--- Lonely Christopher

Lonely Christopher: I went to a bar on Gay Day, after the parade, and made some friends; eventually this Hasidic Jew, in full regalia, waddled in. He sat down alone and was looking really nervous. Immediately my night was ruined, he was giving off such terrible vibes. He seemed so full of fear, shame, self-disgust, and desire --- he was leering at the boys. And somehow he ended up very close to us. I don’t know, he just kept moving closer until he was sitting with us. And we were talking about literature. I felt bad.

James Hannaham: He was obviously religious.

LC: Yeah --- and he seemed so repressed. You could tell it took him a really long time to work up the nerve to come into a gay bar; now he didn’t know what to do. So I felt like I should try to include him in the conversation. We were talking about Shakespeare; I turned to him and asked if he liked Shakespeare. He looked as if I had just insulted him or something. So I asked if he had ever read Shakespeare. He mumbled he didn’t know --- and he pointed to my drink and asked if I was talking about the name of my beer. It was weird. I left around three am and he was still there. I don’t know if he picked up a boy that night or not.

JH: Maybe he was working his way up to that.

LC: It reminded me of your novel.

JH: Uh… thanks?

LC: Let’s start broad. What is your novel?

JH: I think this book is a little bit 19th Century. It’s just that --- when the major plot point happens --- that, to me, is the moment when, in a 19th Century novel or an early 20th Century novel, everybody goes to Europe. I’m thinking of maybe The Custom of the Country. I was in graduate school when I started this and I was reading a lot of late 19th and early 20th Century books. One could make the argument that my book is like a 19th Century novel about a 21st Century person.

LC: How does being a novelist relate to your role as a creative writing instructor?

JH: As an instructor, I tried to stay out of everybody’s projects to some degree, right? I feel like the way to get it done is to get it done. Whatever process you use to get from nothing to a novel --- that is your thing. All I can do is really tell you, “Well this is what has worked for me.” And sometimes I can look at somebody’s work, and hear about their process, and say, “Well, this seems to be what works for you, so why don’t you do X, Y, or Z?” But I really don’t believe in trying to teach fiction as a craft. I’m really suspicious of this sort of drift toward turning fiction into something that’s more like screenwriting. One of the things that I kept beating myself up about, while I was writing this book, was: “Well, it doesn’t really have a hook.” There’s nothing, in the conception of it, that I can describe to somebody who would immediately say it sounds like a great story that they want to read or it sounds like a great thing to make a movie out of. I think I kept resisting that because I was chaffing against the idea that it would have to be this packaged thing, this thing I would have to sell to people. I was much more of the opinion, when I started writing and thinking about what novels are good for, that they were just about people’s lives.

LC: God Says No is very well structured. I’d like to describe it as a triptych because its three parts are separate but very balanced, in a painterly way. How did that develop?

JH: Gosh! That is such a formalist question. I haven’t thought about it so much in terms of form. The form develops very slowly --- what I try to do is write the whole thing and then figure out what I’ve done and what it’s telling me. I think at a certain moment I realized it could be divided into these three sections pretty neatly. And then I was messing around with the chapters a lot: by the very end, the chapters changed. What I ended up with, I felt pretty good about.

LC: Can you talk about the voice of Gary Gray? It’s so successful to me --- maybe the most important aspect in committing the reader to the story. I am reminded of the ingenuous and unwittingly euphemistic voice of the narrator from Lydia Millet’s novel My Happy Life, which you taught in class.

JH: Oh, yeah!

LC: The idiomatic US plain-speak of Gary’s tone was, I suspect, crafted with a lot of intention to particulars of ordinary communication.

JH: Yeah. And My Happy Life was a pretty big influence on me. I wasn’t really trying to copy it, but I wanted something of that sense of cluelessness. I think at a certain point I thought that, because I’ve written so much nonfiction and I have all this specialized knowledge in cultural stuff, I thought that as a fiction writer I would be the sort who would write from a position of profound knowledge of the way the world works --- but I realized that it was more fun for me, and it felt more organic (I used the word “organic,” didn’t I?), more natural to me to write from a sense of complete confusion and wonder. I feel like I still don’t know what any of this is: life, why anything happens, why people behave the way they do. I mean, that’s a big one. There are some things you can know empirically, but you can only just guess at other people’s emotional states. My Happy Life was pretty important. I mean, the voice developed out of that feeling. Also, I wrote this book which made the rounds and never got published; several people commented that they really didn’t like the narrator. So I decided to invent this narrator whose big flaw, or one of his big flaws, is that he’s pretty desperate to be liked. And then I started noticing people that I felt fit that description. There is a poet, who will remain nameless, who I met at a residency --- he was just very sweet and obviously wanted to be liked, really friendly, but he was friendly to the point of being a little repulsive. I found that fascinating and tragic.

LC: Jim Lewis compares your protagonist to Candide. I agree, in the way that Gary Gray is propelled through social misadventure in an uncomprehending manner that, for the reader, ironically critiques the circumstances of the character’s plight.

JH: That’s a great observation. You learned well.

LC: You’ve stated that you didn’t have a religious childhood. The book is so drenched in a specific Christian culture that I guessed you had history with some churchy mores. I’m the opposite, actually --- brought up socialized religiously, but totally uninterested in addressing related themes as a writer.

JH: Yeah. Actually, the thing is: a lot of people in my family were reverends and teachers. My generation shifted to writers, artists, journalists. Because of that there’s been this sort of veil over the religious part of it. My parents were not religious. Although both of my parents, in very different ways, came to something that I would call Christian mysticism. My mother thought we were all telepathic; my father joined this science of mind group (kind of like Christian Science, with some eastern thought).

LC: Why were you drawn to centralizing a particular fundamentalist perspective?

JH: Do you mean why did I make Gary Gray religious?

LC: It’s such an important part of the novel.

JH: Yeah. Well, it’s because I’ve been fascinated with religious people --- it’s kind of in my blood. When I was on tour, just now, I was paying a visit to a church where my great grandfather was an itinerant minister in 1911. They were telling me that I might actually have to lead a prayer and that they would ask me what church I was with. I was asked, “Is it in your blood?” And I said, “Well, when I think about it, it kind of is.” I mean, there are a lot of transferable skills between doing a book tour and being an itinerant minister --- and also teaching and being in an experimental theater company. I feel like I’ve preached the gospel of art. The other thing is that I wanted to understand people who were that religious. Although, I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that there’s not all that much to understand. I’ve had a correspondence with this sort of odd Christian woman who got in touch with me through a listserv. She would send me these four-thousand-word emails. I couldn’t respond to all her points. I stopped responding to her because there was just too much and I got too busy. I couldn’t devote half my day to responding to her. I wanted to have a rational discussion, but at a certain point the discussion does not become rational for people who have that much faith. They are convinced. She wanted me to read some book that proved that Christianity was the only way. I was like: “No.” There isn’t a book that’s going to do that for me. This is the way that Muslim fundamentalists and Christian fundamentalists end up killing each other. There is just no common ground. They refuse to admit any common ground. So the only thing you can do, short of reforming somebody, is just kill them.

LC: The anti-gay and/or homophobic stances inundating the world Gary has to negotiate left me really nonplussed. I’m relatively unfamiliar with examples of foundational guilt, shame, fear, and furtiveness that terrorize your protagonist.

JH: You found them surprising?

LC: Yeah!

JH: Have you seen that video from that Connecticut church?

LC: Oh, you know, I did.

JH: Oh my god! Who dramatized a portion of my book?

LC: I don’t have a lot of experience with that kind of anti-gay ideology. Although a lot of weird stuff has been going down during pride month this year. You know, even on the day of the parade and the 40th anniversary of Stonewall: gay bashings in Manhattan and that bar raid with police brutality in Texas. For me, such things have been kind of fictionalized. I’m exposed to those situations mostly through art. At the same time I realize, maybe a little too abstractly, that these problems remain unresolved for queer individuals.

JH: That’s the reason why I wanted to write the book. I thought, “Jesus!” I kept hearing things like that. A lot of the events that happen in the book are sort of based on things that I heard or experiences that friends of mine, or ex-boyfriends, or my current boyfriend have told me about. I said to myself, “Aren’t we done with this? Didn’t we do this already? Why are we still dealing with these kinds of things?” I felt like it was a little unfashionable and therefore perhaps a little interesting. Sometimes unfashionable just means we haven’t dealt with it properly (not just that it’s tacky).

LC: I read an interview where you were asked if you did any research for the novel --- you replied saying you didn’t do any research and then you began to immediately describe doing a bunch of research. Anyway, your portrayal of the whole ex-gay ministry was very vivid; the creepy illogic of the recovery model that suppresses instead of curing, and the way the men struggle with that, was very convincing and pathetic. Maybe do you think a lobotomy would be more effectual to make ex-gays?

JH: Um… actually, I don’t know. Doesn’t a lobotomy sort of remove your ability to control your emotions? That would make you gayer, wouldn’t it? You’d be totally a needy homo all the time. I mean, I don’t advocate lobotomies. I don’t advocate pathologizing sexuality. That’s what I think is the bigger danger. “Let’s get everything that’s unusual about human beings and turn it into an illness.” I think that’s a larger problem than people trying to get rid of homosexuality through these ex-gay things. You know, anything that seems a little wrong with somebody --- like restless leg syndrome --- let’s turn that into a disease so that someone can make a pill. Isn’t that kind of where things always seem to be going with these people who want to know, “How does sexuality happen? What causes it?” As if, because it happens to only the lucky few, it is something to be gotten rid of --- because it’s not the norm. If you’re looking at somebody who’s different and saying because they’re different they’re inferior and how do we get rid of them --- it seems like there are all these steps that will lead you down a genocidal path.

LC: Can you talk about your use of the physical act of sex in the book? You don’t write terribly explicit sex scenes --- but the episodes are important and completely devastating in their stilted desperation.

JH: Well there are a couple of good sex scenes, scenes of good sex, in the book. But I think I kind of added those to balance out some of the awkward scenes. I feel to avoid writing pornography --- it always sounded more interesting to write about bad sex. Which is not to say that I think it’s better to have bad sex; it’s just more interesting to write about. It becomes dramatic in a way that good sex doesn’t always.

LC: About the only mistake I think you made in the novel is giving your protagonist a few religious epiphanies, including a vision of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, the story is very distinctly characterized by a giant lack of God. The novel is more defined by God’s silence or absence than by his judgment. You write about the subject’s conflict with a social system that upholds specific values, not about a direct struggle with God. It’s like in Angels in America, how God just up and left. What were your intentions here?

JH: One of the larger conceptual ideas was --- I was inspired by the testimonials of ex-gays. Have you ever gone to one of those ex-gay websites and read anything there? They’re like two-page biographies, basically, that are written in an incredibly plain, clumsy, layperson language. And you get the sense also that they have had the crap edited out of them --- by somebody who has an agenda. I found them really fascinating because these really odd things would happen in them: visions of Christ. There’s this really great moment in one of them where this woman was in a dance club, and everybody’s faces melted, and Jesus came off the dance floor and was like, “My child, I don’t want you to be a lesbian.” I thought, well, what if you took these two-page biographies and tried to connect all the dots and fill in the emotional interiority you would need in order to turn it into a novel? That was one of the major conceptual ideas I had when I was starting it. So I felt like the vision of Christ is kind of a nod to that, but it’s also sort of an odd vision of Christ --- and Gary interprets Christ’s message in a really bizarre way. “Yes, you should be gay. Go out and have a year of having sex and relationships with men.” I mean, it’s pretty odd that he sees it that way. I also thought it was kind of funny that he doesn’t recognize Christ when he sees him. So, I don’t know if that justifies it to you, but it’s ambiguous even though it’s a vision of Christ. It’s not like your average vision of Christ. He also kind of qualifies it right after it happens. He says some skeptical person later told him he was having a vision of Christ because of head trauma.

LC: God Says No is pretty newly out in the world. Do you have any sense of how it’s been received, critically or by a general readership, already?

JH: The reviews have largely been positive, which is great. Of course, as I think it was actually Sarah Manguso reportedly said, “It’s never enough!” I’m feeling that right now. What I would really like (and I think this is what a lot of authors want) is some high profile good review or something that will save the book from falling into obscurity too fast. But I’m pretty happy. As I was saying to you, it seems like people are interviewing me more often than reviewing the book --- but when it’s been reviewed it’s been pretty positive. There was one guy recently who gave us the option of not having him run a negative review, which was interesting because I thought: “Hell yeah! I don’t want you to run it.” I mean, when does that ever happen? It’s certainly not my way of doing things.

LC: You were talking to me earlier about the queer response and the religious response to your book.

JH: Right. I think that people who hate the book fall into several categories. One is extremely religious Christians and on the other extreme are gay people who have no sense of humor and believe that there should be lots and lots of positive images, whatever that means, of gay people in whatever one does. As a gay person you’re politically obligated to show the wonderful side of being homosexual and none of the angst. I feel like those are the two poles. I was trying to figure out if maybe this person who wrote the negative review was a crazy Christian with an agenda, because that would be fun to read, but instead I think he was of the opposite… camp.

LC: Finally, can you relate to me the story of how you were briefly a cast member on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy? Do you think you’d still have written this debut novel if you were busy giving style and culture tips to straight fashion victims?

JH: At the time, I had already started the novel. Queer Eye filmed in the summer of 2002 and I had started working on the book in 2001. Whether or not it would have gotten finished is a little bit up for grabs. But I was pretty determined this was something I wanted to do so I would have probably found the time --- and I wouldn’t have had to find the money if I was doing Queer Eye. Of course, I was a little worried that the show was going to be a hit, and that it would suddenly become my life, and that I wouldn’t be able to get away from being defined by it. Occasionally I would see posters of all the guys, sitting around in white suits on a set, and I would think: “There but for the grace of god go I!” I mean it was kind of a fun time. I took the job mostly because I needed some money and I thought it would be kind of a fun thing. It kind of fit a lot of my job skills, frankly. What they wanted from the “culture guy,” which was my role, was somebody who told the straight guy what to read and what music to listen to. But it’s hard to give somebody a CD and say they “have” culture. So they were having trouble with that idea. I also think it’s a little bit troublesome for television executives, except for Oprah, to tell people to go read books. There may have been a little bit of an issue with that. So they totally revamped the role after the pilot and I didn’t make it.

LC: Did you have a slogan?

JH: They all had slogans?

LC: I’ve never actually seen the show.

JH: It was sort of fun --- and I’m glad I’m not doing it.