RONALD SUKENICK interviewed by JR
interviewed by JR Foley
Ronald Sukenick, born in
1932, grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and took his B.A. in English
from Cornell and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Brandeis, with a
dissertation on the longer poems of Wallace Stevens. It was the
highly charged yet extremely unacademic intellectual atmosphere
at the time which drew him to Brandeis. Determined not to pursue
a tweedy collegiate faculty career, he quit academia for the
Lower East Side of New York, about which he writes in his
American Book Award-winning Down & In: Life in the
Underground (Beech Tree Books, 1987; Collier Books, 1988), a
history of the literary bohemia after WWII. While expanding his
dissertation into Wallace Stevens: Musing the Obscure (New
York University Press, 1967), Sukenick also published short
stories and wrote his first novel, Up (The Dial Press),
whose publication in 1968 caused a sensation. Death of the
Novel and Other Stories (The Dial Press) followed in 1969 and
his second novel Out (The Swallow Press) in 1973. In 1974
he joined several other writers dissatisfied with the returning
conservatism of the publishing industry to found The Fiction
Collective. The Collective published Sukenick's next three books
-- 98.6 (1975), Long-Talking Bad Conditions Blues
(1979), and The Endless Short Story (1986) -- as well as
the more recent Doggy Bag (1994). Sun & Moon Press
published his Hollywood novel, Blown Away, in 1986. The
year before Southern Illinois University Press had brought out
In Form: Digressions on the Act of Fiction (1985), a book
of essays about "the ongoing struggle with the angel of
JF: Have you ever written poetry yourself?
RS: When I was pretty young.
JF: Because your prose seems to me to have the kind of control and precision, especially with imagery, very evocative, which one would associate with poetry. Not that you write like [Wallace] Stevens. But in your book of essays and other writings you've said you're trying to break through received 19th Century forms of fiction to make a closer contact with real life. You're not imposing an order; but it seems like you're doing something similar to what you see Stevens doing. Stevens facing the chaos of experience, seeing and abstracting, drawing connections.
RS: First let me say one of the most pleasing results
of Musing the Obscure was that a lot of poets have told me
it was their way into Stevens. Especially the ones I remember
were [A.R.] Ammons -- who I think is a lot like Stevens in
certain ways -- [Robert] Creeley, and [John] Ashbery. Three of
the major poets of that generation. They were probably just
flattering me, but it's a way I'm pleased to be flattered. It
was a very hard book to write, actually, but apparently very
useful. I still meet people who went through graduate school at
the time -- the book was in print for 19 years -- who say, "Oh, I
know you, you're the writer of that Stevens book."
JF: Which is what you call "Doggy Bag" [the title story of Doggy Bag].
RS: I finally got a chance to use it, right. I
remember I had a discussion with Ed Doctorow, who I was friends
with at the time. He said, "Don't do that because they won't
know where to put it in the store." And it's the same thing now.
Down and In had the same problem. They couldn't figure
out whether to put it in Biography or Cultural History or
Sociology. So money holds the genre distinctions up.
JF: You say your writing is not avant-garde but in a rival tradition, going back through Sterne and Rabelais to the Sophists.
RS: The rhetorical tradition, yeah.
JF: Do you see this rival tradition, through the ages, as always oppositional -- to use another term of yours -- to a mainstream or more dominant mode of art?
RS: I'm not enough of a historian to really answer
that question. I would doubt that it was always oppositional.
But I would suppose it was always contentious, because it's the
tradition of argument. Rhetoric is argument, and argument
implies two sides to things, criticism, dissent, and assent. I
think it's automatically a stance that questions. It's what the
legal tradition comes out of, and it's probably no coincidence
that people are getting interested in the connections between
literature and law now.
JF: You say, "There's no avant-garde in America, but there is an underground." Where do you see that arising from?
RS: I know there was a kind of bohemia in New York, based in beerhalls and a particular beer cellar, which I forget, that Whitman used to go to, in the second half of the 19th Century. So I suppose it begins after the Civil War. Then I would say, in a certain way, the Boston Brahmans and Transcendentalism would fit in this, especially Emerson, because this is not necessarily a movement associated with poverty. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. Stevens was in that tradition, and Stevens, of course, was a wealthy corporate lawyer. Personally, I find Emerson a great source of wisdom and support; my beginning essay in In Form is about Emerson. There probably should be a better name for what I mean than underground, simply because underground implies economic level. But everybody understands "underground," so that's what I've been using, a kind of shorthand. Maybe "shadow culture" would be a better term.
JF: Where does "Avant-Pop" come in? RS: That comes partly out of the Lettriste-Situationist movement. The Lettristes and the Situationists were a group in France -- I think the Lettristes were first, and it was more of a literary movement; then in the Situationist phase it became more of a movement of social criticism, something on the order of Surrealism or Dadaism. One of the important characters, especially in the early phase, was a guy named Isadore Issou. Anyway, the Lettristes-Situationists came up with the idea of "detournement," which was to latch onto the content of the middle class-popular culture and distort it. The translation of "detournement" would be something like "hijacking," maybe. Or diversion. It "hijacks" a phrase or an image from the commercial culture and uses it for other purposes. It's basically using the mass market against itself.
JF: How does the mass market suffer? Or does it?
RS: Hopefully what happens is it creates an audience for other modes than what the mass market is pushing. In that sense it might erode the mass market. It's an interesting question: how does the mass market suffer? You can't defeat the mass market; you can only alter it, change its center of gravity. Also I'm not so sure the mass market is bad, in any case. It's just a question of who's controlling the means to it; and it's usually forces I don't approve of. The music industry is the most sensitive part of it: rock-and-roll, Punk. The mass market will tolerate certain kinds of entertainers, give them a voice, give them a platform; and the audience will pick them up in ways that are unexpected, and movements will arise that weren't preplanned. The mass market has become our environment; and it's gotten so big and complex that you don't know what's going to happen. It's gone beyond anybody's control, even though some people, some groups have more control than others. It's, like, there are no outsiders any more. Because there's no outside. You can't get beyond the reach of the culture any more, especially the popular culture. Unless you're a hermit or something, totally hermetic.
JF: You and Larry McCaffery developed the specific notion of "Avant-Pop," a term he gives credit to jazz musician Lester Bowie for inventing. McCaffery has written about it in many places, especially his two anthologies, Avant-Pop: Fiction for a Daydream Nation [Black Ice Books, FC2, 1993] and After Yesterday's Crash [New York: Viking Penguin, 1995]. I understand the term as meaning two things: one, the tendency of popular culture since the early 1960's to co-opt and repackage avant-garde techniques from art, music, literature, and film; and, two, a highly unorganized but now self-conscious literary counter-movement to expropriate the expropriators and invade, rip-off, subvert, and explode mass market genres (like noir, sci-fi, porno).
RS: Avant-pop was always self-conscious. But this
line has been more self-conscious, or more conscious, than you
might think. As in the Punk phase. For example, Malcolm
McLaren, who was the entrepreneur of the Sex Pistols, picked up a
lot from the Situationists. I think the connection with McLaren
is outlined in a book by a music critic called Lipstick
Traces. [Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th
Century, Greil Marcus; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 1989.] I first came across this line of development when
I was doing interviews for Down and In; I was talking to a
lot of people in the music industry who were involved in the
beginnings of rock-n-roll or Punk. That's where I discovered the
influence of the Situationists on McLaren and the Sex Pistols.
He also picked up a lot from certain American groups. In other
words the beginning of Punk was anything but English, it just
happened to click in England. It was an international confluence
of influences. So this was a movement that was more conscious
than you think; and we're just picking up on its line of
consciousness, rather than its line of popular effect.
JF: The summer 1995 issue of Black Ice magazine is called "Degenerative Prose," which is now also a book from FC2. I haven't read it all, but I've read the exchange between you and Mark Amerika at the beginning. It seemed to me you were more interested in the word "interventive" than "degenerative," which referred to the break-down or interpenetration or dissolution of different genres into one another. I quote: "interventive: i.e., aggressive, interactive, ... leading to action or even itself overflowing into overt gesture, performance, theater, or practical organization, including its own production and distribution." So you seem to be talking about a movement of which "Avant-Pop" would be a mere part rather than the whole.
RS: The way to best understand my concept of "interventive" is as the end of a series of things. First there was the idea of holding a mirror up to Nature, the realist tradition. Then there was the idea pushed by Surfiction that writing could be, not an imitation of reality, but an addition to reality. The next phase is what I conceive of as interventive, meaning that writing can actually intervene in and change reality, or experience. I hate to use the word "reality." But these are labels, frankly, "interventive," "Avant-Pop." They come up at certain times because they're strategic, and they highlight certain aspects of what we're doing. But I know, as early as my first novel, Up, I was already writing this kind of thing. For example, I remember in Up, in the middle of some tirade or other I just stop and I say, "Look, why don't you just contribute $15 to the ACLU?" [Laughs] That's the kind of thing I mean, actually getting people to do stuff, or at least to think stuff that they wouldn't have thought of doing otherwise, wouldn't have done otherwise. That's what I mean by interventive.
JF: It also comes across as tongue in cheek.
RS: Right. But fiction's always tongue in cheek.
JF: But you actually expected people to do that.
RS: I didn't expect people to do it as they were reading that page, that's what's tongue in cheek. But I did hope the ACLU would benefit in some way, sooner or later, by somebody writing a check. [Laughing] That's a crude example, though. I can do an interventive pornographic piece in which I try to get people to behave sexually, for example. [Laughing] Interventive also has to do with interactive, because once you're trying to do something interventive, you're interacting with the reader. I guess that's why I thought of that, because my porn piece ["the burial of count orgasm" in Doggy Bag] is interactive.
JF: I suppose most writers would say they want to move the reader, make him/her laugh or cry, or get angry. What I'm listening for is how you expect interventive fiction might go beyond that.
RS: A writer like E.L. Doctorow would, I think, use
fiction like an editorial opinion piece to influence people to
think a certain way. I have nothing against that, except I think
there's a difference between what writers like Doctorow do and
what I do, inasmuch as the contract with the reader is quite
different. The whole grounds for reader-text interaction are
different. What I'm really trying to do is re-engage from the
position of the voluntary suspension of disbelief, which is at
the base of our Western fictive tradition. It's the heart of the
conventional tradition in Anglo-American fiction. (Even though
it's a poet's phrase, the Preface to Lyrical Ballads,
Wordsworth/Coleridge.) I don't put down Doctorow's writing, he
writes well. But he's still using that suspension-of-disbelief
kind of approach. My point is that you can't really come to
grips with the reader on a platform of suspension of disbelief,
because that's like a fairy story, or a children's
JF: Do you consider that what you have written fails if the reader doesn't do that?
RS: No, because it changes the basis of the contract between reader and writer. So that other things become possible, at another time.
JF: So that even if the reader doesn't write the check to the ACLU, you have succeeded in making him or her react in a way they're not used to reacting when they read.
RS: It's not a question of reacting, it's a question of changing the way people understand writing. And once that happens, much more is possible. You then take writing more seriously, like you take history seriously in a certain way, or philosophy, or physics. Because you have faith that these things are directly about experience. Whereas the way you take fiction, now, it's at several removes, it's make-believe. So you don't take it seriously.
JF: I can't speak for E.L. Doctorow, but I will play ventriloquist for somebody else. Tom Wolfe, writing The Bonfire of the Vanities. Did you happen to see that essay he wrote a couple years afterwards, "The Billion-Footed Beast?" Where he's telling writers, "Drop out. Go down, become a reporter. Learn society from the bottom up."
RS: Yeah, I seem to be his bete noir. He always likes to quote, with outrage, this writer Sukenick who claims he writes without any clothes on. [Laughter] He must have read Up. In Up there's a passage where I wrote, "You know what I'm doing? I could be writing without any clothes on. I always write my erotic scenes without any clothes on." Something like that. So I think that got Wolfe's goat. He takes that as the benchmark of, quote, "experimental writing."
JF: Wolfe sees himself in Bonfire of the Vanities as resurrecting the 19th Century novel, the one you say and many have said is dead. He would say that he is not just telling about bond traders but he's going from the top to the bottom of society; and that he's telling us things, not only about the judicial system, but that the U.S. is becoming a Third World country, etc., etc. So he would say, "I'm bringing the news about real life today, I'm doing exactly what the novel is supposed to do."
RS: The trouble is he's doing it in this castrated or self-castrating form. The novel loses its power as a mode of knowledge because, again, you read Wolfe's novel and you know it's only a novel. It's specifically not reality. If he wants to do that, why doesn't he do it as the kind of reportage he's always done, which he does well. I like his non-fiction, not all of it but I like a lot of his non-fiction books. He's very good at it, and I think that's very important. It's much more direct and has much more credibility, instead of this kind of cardboard construct, which is barely even up to the standard of journalistic writing, much less artful writing. I read part of that book; it's horrible, Bonfire of the Vanities. It's certainly not up to his own standards as a good writer. It's curious how much his style suffers from using that form. I mean here's a good writer who's suddenly writing pure crap.
JF: But it's what he's always wanted to write.
RS: I know. Tangerine Baby, or whatever it was called, Snowflake--.
JF: The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.
RS: Yeah, that's a really well-written book. By the
way, I thought it was a great irony that when Down and In
was reviewed by the New York Times Book Review on page
three -- that is, the second most important page -- Bonfire of
the Vanities was reviewed on page one, and I was writing like
Wolfe and he was writing like me! [Laughing] Maybe with
his non-fiction he wanted to write badly, but he couldn't quite
do it. That's his own fault. So I guess now he's a fulfilled
JF: Maybe Wolfe, in self-defense, would say your own books at times sound like conventional fiction. In 98.6, for instance, you set scenes, you have characters come on, there's dialogue, there's description. There is also some occasional editorial comment on the characters, but from the sense that this is Ron the character speaking, the one who brought everybody together to the commune, and is writing a book about them. If "interventive" means changing the contract with the reader, how does the argumentative dimension you're just describing apply to 98.6?
RS: First of all, language is referential. Sometimes
I've been criticized for saying I don't want to write
representational fiction, which is true, because you can't avoid
that in language, which is also true. The point is the basis of
representation. Language is referential and can hardly avoid
being representational in some sense. The question is really
whether there's the make-believe of conventional fiction, or
whether you can maintain a non-factitious relation with the
reader, by admitting precisely what the reading and writing
situations really are. This has been called self-conscious
fiction, or self-reflexive fiction; I would call it, simply,
conscious fiction. I always do something to point to the textual
quality of the book, to the fact that it is a written artifact.
I try to make the reader conscious of what the hell is going
JF: Especially in the last section.
RS: Especially in the last section. The first section
is quasi-documentary. The second section moves into something
like conventional fiction, although it's broken up in a lot of
ways. The scenes in California are impossible in California,
because they bring things together that couldn't exist together,
like the snowy mountains and the ocean. There are also
inventions of things that are slipped in, something like the way
Borges slips in bits of fabulous reality into his Library of
Babel. I slip in things like a vegetable I made up called squam,
that the people grow. But then the third section becomes nakedly
imaginary. That serves to point to the textual quality of what's
going on. But also paradoxically it points to the imagination as
a way of solving dilemmas, the saving power of the imagination.
Because in the last section Bobby Kennedy is still alive, and the
Arabs and Jews love one another in Palestine. Maybe a little
prophetic there? The book is resolved in the
JF: You concede language is referential and representational. You also speak of language as politics. In "Politics of Language," one of the essays in IN FORM: Digressions on the Act of Fiction, you speak of language as codes of authority, on the one hand, and, on the other, as subversive thrusts against those codes, trying to break them up.
RS: Well, I think it's really a question of
introducing a mode of thought that's more independent. Reader
Liberation, as I say. Teaching the reader to read in ways that
are not dictated, but which in fact are calculated to release the
reader's own thought processes and make the reader think for him-
RS: Maxwell. Before he jumped off the boat, was another one. The English Pearson Company, which owns Viking Penguin and ten million other things. A few German companies, which own American companies as well. How can anybody say this is not a major, major influence on politics at the moment? These people are totally invulnerable from the point of view of direct confrontation. There's just no countervailing power. The only thing you can think of at that level is there might be a technological revolution that will shake them. We have this hope, for a while, for the Internet. That's still up for grabs. So it may well have some kind of modifying and mitigating influence. Anyway, from the point of view of a writer, from my point of view, I see one of the ways of undermining that is to break the molds that are set by money.
JF: You break them for yourself as self-expression. As communication, if there are no readers -- of course, some people read. But let's say it's just a handful of people, like the motto of Black Ice magazine is "Not For Everyone." But if a writer writes, and even gets published, say by FC2, but nobody reads him, how does that cut the word lines?
RS: Well, you always start with small groups of
people. And it's better, I think, to have a real effect like
that on three people than have a hypnotic kind of masturbatory
effect, which, basically, nullifies and numbs the intelligence of
any number of readers. It doesn't make any difference in that
case. Suppose I had a best-seller, so what? If I had a best-
seller on my own terms, which is unimaginable, in my lifetime,
that would be significant. Remember the Henry James story about
this writer, who's a terrific writer, and every book he thinks,
"This one is going to be the best-seller," and it always turns
out to be a poor seller but a great book? I have a lot of
friends like that. [Laughing] My friend Steve Katz
always says, "I'm specifically writing a best-seller. This is
going to be my best-seller." But he can't do it because he's not
that kind of writer. Of course, you never can tell, and he may
prove me wrong. I hope so.
JF: My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist? [New York: Crown/Harmony Books, 1990.]
RS: Yeah. It was going to be a Fiction Collective book, and we let it go when Crown picked it up. Our version, I think, had no punctuation. According to Mark, Crown said, "Will you punctuate?" He said, "O.K., I'll punctuate." That really struck a note for me, because I remember, and I'm not trying to oppose myself to Leyner, he's a friend of mine, it's just that there are different kinds of writers and different kinds of careers. I was in the first issue of a fiction magazine published by an editor named Solotaroff.
JF: Ted Solotaroff, New American Review? A piece from Up.
RS: Yeah, New American Review, a piece from
Up. Solotaroff is a good editor, right? he's not a
sleaze-bag editor. But I went to talk to him, he said, "I want
to talk to you about the story." And he wanted me to change the
punctuation. [Laughs] And we argued and talked and he
was a very reasonable guy, and the reason he gave me was, which
made me feel sorry for him, he said: "Look, this is the first
issue of this magazine, I'm trying to get it off the ground. If
I don't have the correct punctuation, people will think I'm
stupid." So I said, "O.K., change the punctuation." Then I had
a sleepless night, and I called him up in the morning, I said,
"Look, I changed my mind, I can't change the punctuation."
[Laughing] So he didn't change the punctuation, but he
never would touch me again as a writer.
JF: And he does Nike commercials.
RS: And he does Nike commercials. You know, I think writers should be able to make money, but, what the hell, it's a matter of personal taste. But the fact is that Burroughs himself has become an icon. It's not Burroughs writing any more, it's Burroughs the Character. He had a bit part in some movie I saw the other day.
JF: Drugstore Cowboy.
RS: Yeah. And it was foolish. I mean he
wasn't foolish, he was good, he was playing Burroughs. But it
was foolish to have him in the movie, I thought. It was just a
kind of shtick.
JF: One last question about language. In 98.6, especially, but also in Doggy Bag, you have the Ron character, or his surrogates, looking for a "Secret Language" -- in 98.6 called "BJORSQ" -- which he finds more and more clues to but never quite finds the Rossetta Stone. What are you driving at?
RS: Well, they've discovered the Secret Language.
It's the genetic code, which is called Gnomic. Apparently
they're applying textual analysis to the genetic code. I don't
know with what success. I mention it in Handwriting on the
Another interventive, interactive bit, I say "Check out the
New York Times!" [New York Times, July 9, 1991,
page C1.] But I find it fascinating and the techniques they
discovered the genetic code uses are really much like Joyce's
techniques in Finnegans Wake. Like puns. My whole thing
about the Secret Language is a language that will connect body
and mind, or body and spirit. And that seems to be the key.
JF: Speaking of body and spirit, let's jump right into sado-masochism.
RS: Splash! Into the mud!
JF: From 98.6 until even the story you've given us, "life/art"--.
RS: Let me say something about sado-masochism. This is something that I've been hit with ever since I started publishing, and especially with 98.6. I'll tell you a little anecdote. First of all, you have to realize I have a bad reputation. From the beginning, from my first books. We were talking about this before. When I published the Wallace Stevens book, I was the darling of the New York Review of Books. Then when Up came out and The Death of the Novel, everything turned over. I was really surprised, and somewhat flattered, at the violence of the reaction -- on the basis of form -- to those books. It wasn't the politics, because my politics of that time were approximately the same as the New York Review of Books, which was much more radical, "How to Build a Bomb," that kind of stuff. But I was accused by the incipient neocons of trying to dismantle the whole tradition of Western Humanism. I mean I was really very flattered, I hadn't thought I was doing that. I probably got a big head from that. But the thing is -- I didn't understand until much later what was going on. It's like the E.D. Hirsch, the Great Books tradition, that whole debate, the "Something of the American Mind," what is that?
Carlo P.: The Closing of the American Mind.
RS: The Closing of the American Mind.
Carlo P.: Like, when was it ever open?
RS: Right, yeah. But these people have got a huge
stake attached to the forms of grammar, the forms of fiction, the
forms of this and that, because it's identified with the Anglo-
American tradition. Not even the Euro-, not even the
Western, but the Anglo-American tradition. When
you screw around with these, especially if you change the look of
the page, God forbid, they go crazy. They don't care what the
look of the page is, I mean, not really, because they can't read.
If they were able to read, they wouldn't have this kind of
reaction. But what they see is somebody's fiddling with the
Canon, you know. This was a debate that didn't really come out
into the open until about ten years
JF: Just to be clear: when you say sado-masochism, you mean, essentially, one dominates, the other submits, then they change roles?
RS: Yeah, that's what it is. And people find it very
JF: I think you've already answered the next question I was going to ask, which is: do you see this more as a symptom of what's wrong with the dominant society? Or is it more a rebellious reaction against, or is it both things, going back and forth?
RS: I think it's both things. It's an embodiment.
JF: You've said that as a writer you'd rather be a medium than a creator, "a (shaman-like) intermediary between the spiritual world, that is, the world of collective consciousness, and the world of the living." Andre Breton and his fellow Surrealists developed disciplines for inducing the dreamy state between waking and sleeping, which is where they wrote. In part I'm thinking of what you say in Doggy Bag about tuning in to the white noise, to what you ordinarily screen out when you focus on something. The flow of imagery and free association you display in a number of things, but especially in the "Fourteen" and "5 & 10" sections of The Endless Short Story -- when you're writing, in the old days at the typewriter or in front of the computer screen now, is there anything you do to attain that sort of negative capability to let the flow come through, and you behave more as a medium?
RS: I think negative capability is a key. I don't
dislike all parts of Western Romantic tradition, and negative
capability, Keats, was also picked up by the Beats, especially
Kerouac. It's a very aggressive culture, so the aggression
filters out a lot of stuff that you can retrieve by relaxing,
being passive, and letting it
JF: Let's talk about FC2. You were one of the founding members of the Fiction Collective in 1974, and you became a permanent director when it reorganized in 1988 as FC2. You had three books published by the Collective before you became a director [98.6, Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues, The Endless Short Story], and one since [Doggy Bag]. How does FC2 differ from commercial publishers? What reasons have commercial publishers given for rejecting any of your books?
RS: Because they supposedly don't make money, which is
not exactly the case. You never know till you try. But I think
the only function of the publishing industry, according to its
own proclamations, is not simply to make money; it's supposed to
be a culture industry. So they should pay a little bit of
attention to that. In any case, I guess they don't think I make
enough money. I don't think I've had a fair market test,
JF: You've mentioned some writers here, but what other writers do you find exploring language and experience as you do?
RS: The way I do? Nobody. [Laughing] I'm not a good person to ask about other writers.
JF: What other writers do you read, what writers feed you?
RS: Well I was about to say, for the last ten years
I've been reading almost nothing but manuscripts. Actually
that's not quite true, because for the three years ending this
year, happily, I was on the National Book Critics Circle Board,
which reads huge numbers of books. It's supposed to read
everything that comes out that's worth reading. In fiction I
found that there wasn't very much there, and everybody said that.
In fact last year I led a mini-rebellion, the point of which was
to get them to not award a prize for fiction, all the
books were so terrible. And the spectrum's getting narrower and
narrower. They finally awarded a prize to a pseudo-Victorian
novel, which wasn't even American Victorian, it was English
Victorian, written by a Canadian writer who had one foot in the
United States as far as official citizenship goes. I forget her
name, and I think everybody will in about six
JF: Are you getting tired?
RS: I got tired an hour ago. [Laughs] It's
all right, keep going. I'd like to have a beer to drink.
JF: Did you meet any writer in China this past summer who has done with Chinese written characters what you have done with words?
RS: I don't know what the contemporary writers do; I
don't think so. I met some of them. It was too much like being
at work and I was on vacation. But I got very interested in
traditional Chinese calligraphy because it specifically takes
advantage of the graphic side of text. I bought some while I was
JF: Have you written a number of these things?
RS: This is the third one. But now I'm getting fond
of it and I'm thinking of doing a series of them, like The
Endless Short Story, for a volume. Some combination of that
and the leaving things out bit, the interactive stuff. [As in
parts of The Endless Short Story and "the burial of count
orgasm" in Doggy Bag.] They really seem to go together,
because of the spacing.
JF: I'll wrap up with one last question. This one is more specifically about hypertext and computers. You call the Doggy Bag stories hyperfictions. StorySpace is the software, manufactured by EastGate Systems, that Michael Joyce, Stuart Moulthrop, Carolyn Guyer and other hypertext fiction writers play around with. Have you ever played around with it?
RS: No, I've never done real hypertext. Hyperfiction is another thing. I think the coinage is Coover's. I don't use it for that, for computer work.
JF: Have you read Joyce's Afternoon, or Moulthrop's Victory Garden, or any of those things?
RS: No. I'd like to. Right now I have on disk an
English magazine that publishes that kind of thing. But you need
more powerful equipment than I have to get into that and open it
up. So I guess I have to get some new equipment before I start
doing that. I wouldn't say that the medium is exaggerated in
importance, though; people may do very good things in it. But
it is another medium.
"Down as Up, Out as In: Ron Sukenick Remembers Ron Sukenick" can be found in FlashPøint #8.
a review of Ronald Sukenick's 98.6 and Matthew Roberson's update/homage, 1998.6,
appears in FlashPøint #6.