March 10, 2006
REPORT FROM THE WORLD FEDERATION OF DISPLACED WRITERS
Yes now I premember, it was in Sofia Bulgaria, Moinous exclaims, when he kicked a guy in the ass, a critic, and then punched him in the mouth.
That’s right, it was during a literary conference, a huge international conference on the future of literature, in Sofia, Namredef confirmed, The World Federation of Displaced Writers, the WFDW, we were there with him of course, and the Old Man too.
All the literati in the world were present, some already dead, others half-dead, others on their way out, they had gathered urgently in the Dimitrov Great Hall of the People to discuss the critical situation of contemporary literature at a crucial moment in history when literature was seriously and painfully questioning its raison d’être, was on the verge of becoming a mere supplement of culture, when the very act of writing was being challenged and displaced from all sides by technological substitutions and all sort of creepy gadgets and artificial languages and computerized intelligence, as the western civilization was dwindling away into scientific technocracy and pseudo-mystical fantasy.
The critic in question, the guy who got kicked in the ass and punched in the mouth, was some pitiful entremetteur of literature, for every cliff there is always someone to jump off, Moinous cut in, a pushy pimpled juvenile cacademic critic in his early twenties, an embryonic mind from John Hookers University, at least that’s what the name tag on his lapel said, a typical file-card PMLA scholar, yes PMLA was still going on, can you believe that, who stood up in the middle of an animated argument about the present and future morality of the novel, that stubborn moribund genre which was still, even then, refusing to die.
John Gardner and his clique and Larry McCaffery with his clan were tackling each other, moralizing on the one side and demoralizing on the other, when that pushy asshole of a critic jumped right in to take side with the moralizers and complain, in twisted xylophagouscacademic terms, that fiction today has become totally unreadable, that it had lost touch with reality, imagine that, as if that dead horse, that carcass of reality was still something to be concerned with, because, he went on, too many writers are indulging in egocentric logomachy.
He was obviously referring to Federman’s work and to the little speech the old man had made earlier, quite eloquently, in defense and illustration of what Federman called the leapfrog technique in digressive fiction, yes definitely referring to Federman and to some of his contemporaries even though he did not mention names, that little shit pot, writers such as Ronnie Schlunick, Clarion Vapor, Stove Klotz, Warner Abolish, Dave Plush, Morbid Caillou, Ludovic February, Bill Gasoil, Phillipeau Soleil, Tudor Les-Oies, Oswal Bartender, Johnny Vulture, Giorgo Bedroom, to name only a few, and others of that generation with whom Federman had been associated for decades as a daring disruptive subversive experimentalist, all of them present of course that day in the Great Hall of the People, and who were still at the center of the lively controversy about the validity and superiority of post-future fiction versus neoantediluvian fiction, that endless quarrel of the post-ancients and the supra-postmoderns.
That dumbass critic was complaining, whining rather, that all these so-called sursurfictioneers are masturbating their futile experiments without any regard for communication and existential gestalt, wallowing instead in self-conscious solipsism, destructuring and desyntaxing language for the sake of playfulness and dislogotraction, ludique laughterature, oh he had some vocabulary that puny critic, he paused a moment to admire his little pun, and consequently, he went on, these superegoisticalnarcissists are deserting their moral responsibility toward Man, with a capital letter he emphasized, and Society, also with a capital letter, can you believe that, one still argues on such a pathetic basis, in 2028, doesn’t that little fizzle of a critic understand that these avant-garde writers neither think a kick because they feel a kick nor feel a kick because they think a kick.
But he went on, that intellectually retarded paraplegic parasite of mediocrity with his squeaking effeminate voice which kept rising as he spoke, saying that the concern of most of these elitist collectivists today is only with language, language and nothing else, but a theory of fiction as mere logos doing its tricks is an outlandish notion, I am quoting him verbatim, Namredef pointed out, and he continued, he was endless that criiiitic, explaining that reading fiction should not merely be an act of looking at words distributed on the pages, but rather should be like falling into a dream that foregrounds reality, and that after reading a few pages of a novel the words should simply disappear, what an idiot, language disappear, yep vanish, just like that, pssitt, muscade et voila, what a cretin, and only images should unfold pleasurably in the mind of the reader, unbelievable, like a private television show, mental cinema.
Roland Barthes was sitting a couple of seats away from us and I heard him mumble, how stubborn these illusionists can be to still want to peddle leur cinéma intérieur en 2028 as the primary function of the novel, but what about l’émotion, pourquoi serait-elle antipathique à la jouissance, c’est un trouble, une lisière d'évanouissement, quelque chose de pervers, sous des dehors bien-pensants, c’est même, peut-être, la plus retorse des pertes, car elle contredit la règle générale, qui veut donner à la jouissance une figure fixe, forte, violente, crue, quelque chose de nécessairement musclé, tendu, phallique.
At this point Federman stood up, he was sitting directly behind that constipated critic from John Hookers University whose name of course will not be revealed here, and turning to Roland Barthes he said, t’as raison Coco colle-lui ton phallus dans le cul, and as he said this he kicked the critic in the ass, and I mean hard and right on target, the critic almost fell forward over the people sitting in front of him, you pompous pederastic pedantic punk, he shouted letting his lips explode scornfully into the alliterations, don’t you understand that a concern for the dignity or decrepitude of language is, after all, a concern for the dignity and decrepitude of man, for a writer to disdain to do anything more questionable with his art than explore relentlessly the nature of his own medium, in this case words in extemporaneous arrangements, the question of human dignity can not present itself in any other terms than those of the dignity of human language, even if language was originally une erreur de la nature, and as he said this Federman waved to Antonin Artdaud who was seated a few rows back.
Half of the audience applauded with dignified enthusiasm while the other half booed and hissed nervously, it was indeed a very mixed literary crowd representing many tendencies and movements and schools and cliques and clans, from all extremes, passionate avant-gardists, breakthough fictioneers, surexperimentalist, paracritics, social neoreligiousrealists, antipostsymbolists, neoprehistorians, superpastirrealists, and even a few aposteriornaturalists.
The pushy critic meanwhile turned toward Federman fuming with rage and still rubbing his ass shamefully, he tried to grab Federman by the neck, and that’s when Federman punched him in the mouth, a perfect solid right uppercut to the jaw.
Immediately the participants split into two camps, the postanciens with their critics and their theoreticians on one side, and the postpostmoderns with their paracritics on the other, and everybody started punching, scuffling in the aisles of the Great Hall of the People, throwing books at each other, pamphlets, dictionaries, even unpublished manuscripts, pens and pencils, portable typewriters, laptops, scriptodictos, erasers, anything they could get their hands on, they were spitting at each other, pulling each other’s hair and beards, yes there were many bearded participants as is always the case at literary conferences, scratching each other’s faces with overgrown nails.
It is well known that writers are noted for being dirty fighters, as when Charles Perrault and Nicolas Boileau scratched each other’s eyes out during the famous Querelle des Anciens et des Modernes in 1693, amazing how the world of littérateurs vibrates in a twofold manner every two or three hundred years, or better yet when Norman Mailer gave Gore Vidal one of his resounding knee-in-the-crotch publicly at a fancy literary cocktail party in 1977, what a scandal that was, we were there that day, the four of us, the Old Man, Federman, Moinous and I, Namredef, standing only a few feet away from Mailer and Vidal when the blow happened, and we even heard what Mailer said, My dear Vidal there are those who kick balls and those who get kicked in the balls, I am sure you know in which category you belong, and when Gore Vidal tried to scratch Mailer’s face, the latter shoved his knee up Vidal’s testicles who folded at the waist and shrieked, Oh you animal, big brute, it was quite a scene indeed, amazing how history always repeats itself, as it was happening in the Great Hall of the People, but on a much larger and much more violent scale.
And so here in Sofia Bulgaria we were in the middle of another historic brawl, the battle was raging, Namredef et I were watching from a corner of the conference room standing on top of a table, trying to duck the blows and the flying objets d’art, cowardly as we are we preferred to stay above the melee, fantastic Moinous said as he caught a copy of The Divine Comedy in full flight, we had lost sight of Federman in the commotion, but finally caught a glimpse of him buried under an angry pack of neo-classic gothic novelists, he was flat on his back and these burly fellows were pounding at him with their fists, but it was impossible for us to go to his help, all avenues of approach were blocked, so we remained on our observation table, keeping track of the skirmishes, recording individual and collective victories.
Finally someone managed to crawl to a microphone which had toppled over on the floor and screamed into it, in Polish, I think it was Polish, or perhaps Slavonic, the official language of the conference, Hey you idiots, stop that, we are translating here for the commodity of this report what the person said, we didn’t come here, he continued, to have a literary riot, especially now when half of the planet is still starving for knowledge, obviously the speaker was an erudite social realist, but it was useless, and now the sirens and whistles of the Bulgarian militia were screeching in the streets and in the corridors of the Great Hall of the People as the battled raged on until a raucous authoritative voice came over the loud-speakers in the ceiling.
Achtung, Achtung, it was the voice of Günter Grass who was then President of WFDW, Bitte meine Damen und Herren ... I must say the women participants were just as active and belligerent in this confrontation as the males, using their innate feminine agility to overcome their more loutish male assailants, at one point Moinous and I watched Joyce Carol Oates flip Gabriel Garcia Marquez over her back in a neat judo move while next to her Margaret Atwood was twisting Alain Robbe-Grillet’s arm behind his back.
Bitte meine Damen Und Herren, the voice of Günter Grass insisted, behruhigen Sie sich, lassen Sie uns mit Würde, besonders jetz wo die ganze Welt uns behobachted, besonders wenn did Bletchtrommerl des Opposition heult wie dis Hundejahrsoldaten der Vernunft must standhaft beliben un nich umfallen nich Katze und Maus spielen, ja, muss nich flappen, Btte kehren Sie zu ihren stühlen zuück und lasse Sie uns in Ruhe fortsetzen, and these powerful rational words worked like magic, instantly everyone stopped fighting, there was an embarrassed moment of silence while the audience regained its composure.
Then Harold Pinter, who had just been awarded a second Nobel Prize for literature, and well he deserved it, approached the microphone on the main platform, he stood there for a full minute staring at the audience while shaking his head in a gesture of reprimand.
Behind us we heard in a Japanese whisper someone say, Amenokado hitotsu hirakete mae ni ari utsukushiki kana yama ni tatsu niji, Moinous turned around, Sssh, he said, Oh so sorry, so sorry, my name is Yosano Hiroshi, I am a poet, who is that speaking now, can you tell me, so sorry.
That’s Pinter, Harold Pinter, the famous British playwright, the only one to ever receive two Nobel Prizes, I informed the Japanese poet, Ah so, there before our sight one of the gates of heaven swung wide and how beautifully stands the bright rainbow on the mountain brow, recited the Japanese Poet in broken English which is impossible to imitate here, Can you please be quiet, Moinous said, and skip the poetry,
Oh yes yes, ah so. So sorry, the Japanese poet said bowing to Moinous.
Pinter began to talk, pointing to Federman while marking each word with deliberate Miltonian emphasis:
I do not know this gentleman personally, or perhaps yes we did meet once, a long time ago, in a pub, but that’s not important, I have read his books, I have read and reread them, and let me tell you, the farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement, he is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him, he’s not fucking me about, he’s not leading me up any garden... Right on that’s the way to go man, someone shouted from the back of the conference room, Ah shut the fuck up you jerk, someone else shouted back, Pinter banged his fist forcefully on the podium and continued, he’s not slipping me any wink, he’s not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he’s not selling me anything I don’t want to buy, he doesn’t give a bollock whether I buy or not, he hasn’t got his hand over his heart, Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely, he brings forth a body of beauty. His work is beautiful... he paused and stared haughtily at the young critic who had been the cause of the disturbance, the room grew restless, Pinter leaned forward over the podium, beaut-ti-ful, my dear Sir, he repeated detaching each syllable, even if it is un-read-able.
Samuel Beckett who was sitting quietly in a remote corner of the great hall stood up and started applauding, all eyes turned to him in deep reverence, honni soit qui symboles y voit, he said in a soft tone of voice and he sat down.
Federman was deeply moved, visibly moved, he had difficulties holding back the tears of appreciation, and we did too, it was the first time, as far as we know, in the many many years he had been scribbling words, working uncompromisingly in the lonely semi-darkness of unrecognition, that someone, no not just someone but a world-renowned writer whom he greatly admired and respected had praised his work in public, he stood up, blew his nose in a large handkerchief, walked over to the platform tipping his head slightly to Samuel Beckett as he walked past him, and shook Harold Pinter’s hand with marked emotion, Pinter embraced him while half of the audience applauded its warm approbation and the other half whistled and hissed its vicious objection, and so it goes with literature, always split down the middle.
It was May 2028, now some people might say that such a report is not very encouraging, but one must replay that it is not meant to encourage those who say that, after all literature is an engendered species.