Spring 2013, Web Issue 15
In this issue...
ROBERT COOVER has been a major American novelist for nearly 50 years. He has won many awards, but his great success has been in subverting and reinventing narrative, then vivisecting his reinventions to find new ways to put the same narrative together to tell a different story, and on and on. The objective is not so much formal experimentation with new ways to tell any story but the probing and eviscerating of folk tales, fairy tales, and mythologies people tell themselves and each other -- and institutions political, religious, commercial, and/or "cultural" tell everyone -- to explain what in the world cannot be explained. But I get ahead of myself. .
Coover's first novel, The Origin of the Brunists, recounts (largely in terms of Zola-like Naturalism) how a small Kentucky mining town recovers from a devastating mine collapse by starting a new post-Christian religion founded on the mutterings of the disaster's sole survivor. Since before that novel was published in 1966 Coover started preparing a sequel -- many times interrupted by new novels and stories. But in September 2013 that sequel, The Brunist Day of Wrath, will finally see the light of day.
Last spring Brown University celebrated Coover's retirement after 30 years of teaching with a grand finale of the several Unspeakable Practices festivals Coover has organized over the years for writers of all kinds, print and/or electronic, who engage their imaginations in "vanguard narrative." At the same time The Review of Contemporary Fiction published a " Robert Coover Festschrift" to complement the Brown celebration. With this issue FlashPøint brings together participants from both celebrations to throw our own, ongoing Robert Coover celebration.
For a quick introduction to Coover the writer there is "The Chicago Interview".
Looking forward to The Brunist Day of Wrath, Stéphane Vanderhaeghe, who organized the Coover Festschrift for The Review of Contemporary Fiction, examines The Origin of the Brunists as the end as well as the beginning of Coover's explorations of myth, both Christian and American, in "The End at L(e)ast, Perhaps ... ."
If Brunists is the beginning and the end (perhaps), certainly The Public Burning is Robert Coover's most notorious novel. Not only is it narrated by a Vice President Richard Nixon who develops an irresistible lech for Ethel Rosenberg that takes them both into the Sing Sing electric chair for a climax before the climax, but it also features a superhero Uncle Sam who develops a lech of his own for the Veep whose climax, no doubt, enraged the mundane Nixon's lawyers to try to kill the novel legally before it reached print. Coover tells his own tale of the misadventures of his manuscript, to which Elisabeth Ly Bell adds a publication chronology and a bibliography of critical essays and books on of "The Notorious Hot Potato".
German scholar Elisabeth Ly Bell has herself written extensively about Robert Coover's work, including essays here about the novels Pinocchio in Venice, Stepmother, and The Grand Hotels (of Joesph Cornell).
For a ravishing change-of-pace in the heart of this Robert Coover celebration, we wish also to celebrate the spectacular fiber art of Pilar Sans Coover, who has developed a unique art form of her own throughout the years of her marriage to Bob and the raising of their three children. We offer a few samples in this issue, and refer the delighted to much more displayed on her personal website.
Of Robert Coover's many works one of the funniest is his send-up of Agatha Christie mysteries – if murder at an orgy that doesn't quit can be called a "cozy" – Gerald's Party. The exuberant Larry McCaffery, one of the first to explore Coover's fiction critically, offers a sort-of back-channel collaboration with Gerald's creator called "Party Talk", with an introduction winking at a favorite novel by one of Coover's friends, William Gaddis, "THE RECOGNITIONS: An Editorial Collaboration with Robert Coover's "Party Talk (Unheard Conversations at Gerald's Party".
At the Brown celebration last May a number of writers saluted Robert Coover by reading from their own work passages that explore and play with fiction much in the spirit of Coover's fictions. Jonathan Baumbach reprises his salute here with the opening chapter of his novel, YOU, or The Invention of Memory. Carole Maso offers a chapter from Mother & Child. Michael Joyce's title, "Someone Else's Story (After Robert Coover)", speaks for itself.
Robert Coover has taught hundreds and hundreds -- well over a thousand, at least, probably thousands -- of writing students over more than 45 years. One of them, Maya Sonenberg, has been especially fascinated by one of Coover's short stories, "The Babysitter," which created a hypertext tale a good 25 years or so before hypertext fiction was invented online. So she tells us about it in , "Not-Knowing and the Proliferation of Plot, or On Reading 'The Babysitter' for the 34th Time".
Mary Caponegro was not a student of Coover's but he mentored her all the same (see her tribute). In "Spanking the Form" (a play on the title of Coover's novella Spanking the Maid) she explores more of Coover's short fictions.
While Coover taught in the University of Iowa's Fiction Writers Workshop, he experimented with film as well as literary form. One result is On a Confrontation in Iowa City covering an anti-Vietnam War demonstration against a recruiter from Dow Chemical, manufacturer of napalm, in December 1967. He deployed a number of cinematographers, himself included, then assembled and edited the coverage into a documentary that is quite a bit more than a mere chronicle. The film has been preserved by the University and also featured on YouTube. Access to both sources is provided here.
Film has long been a special fascination of Robert Coover. One of his collections of short stories is A Night at the Movies, or, You Must Remember This. He has also written novellas projecting Charlie Chaplin (Charlie in the House of Rue, also available in A Child Again) and his own Western, Ghost Town. The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Director's Cut" is an epic skinflick. And most recently he produced Noir, about a cheap private eye named Philip M. Noir, at which Toby Olson looks "Out of the Corner of the Eye."
As a special treat Stéphane Vanderhaeghe, in addition to his essay on The Origin of the Brunists, takes a fresh perspective on one of the least-discussed but most provocative titles in the Coover oeuvre, Dr. Chen's Amazing Adventure."
And not inappropriate for a celebration of a Robert Coover who delights in playing with fairy tale and Christian myth, we include the video of a 2012 Capital Fringe Festival production of JR Foley's 45-minute one-act "surcomedy" Jesus le Momo. It's 1970, D.C. A priest's "wife" – at odds with her husband – the priest, and communal housemates hold a prayer meeting, speaking in tongues. Dead mad poet-playwright Antonin Artaud suddenly materializes, demanding they assist him in his resurrection – without God!
From Rosalie Gancie we have Fish and Chicks, a surreal seascape of whimsical collages.
Carlo Parcelli has also contributed four new items.
First we have Five New Monologues according to the Gospel of Simon Kananaios which expand upon the 88 monologues published as The Canaanite Gospel by Country Valley Press in 2012AD (ISBN 9780982019627).
Included are an introductory monologue by Kananaios's scribe, Hilarius Grammateus and the lengthy monologue by Joseph Barsabbas the chemist behind the miracles, mass hallucinations and drug trips of the Apostles and their followers. The later monologue requires two and one half hours to perform and has only been staged once in its entirety in the holding tank at the Roxbury Correctional Facility in Hagerstown, MD.
Parcelli's second offering is an essay simply entitled Syllogism. It is an attempt to lay out in short form controversial theories that have perplexed and angered people who are otherwise ill-equipped to understand or comment on them. By elaborating more fully in the essay, Mr. Parcelli as he has stated in numerous affidavits hopes to be ridiculed by a better class of academic than in the past, at least by a few pedantic shits with a rudimentary knowledge of what he's talking about.
His third piece is a hagiography of the comic Doug Stanhope, quite simply the greatest comedian of his age: "I have hooker money and my life is still a shambles!", Doug Stanhope and the Drunken Grope for the Best of All Possible Worlds. There are also sidebars of unrestrained praise for comic greats Lenny Bruce, [Joe Ancis], Richard Pryor and Bill Hicks.
Lastly, Parcelli tells the forlorn and often violent tale, of the censorship of performances of the monologues comprising the Gospel of Simon Kananaios: The Gospel According to Simon Kananaois Gets the Bum's Rush: Literature in a World of Neo-Liberal Sissies.
Venue after venue controlled by neo-Liberal weenies found the monologues too radical and intellectually transgressive for the sissy culture that the self-censoring now institutionally dominate.
Lastest, but never least, Joe Brennan gives us the newest portion of his Work in Progress, entitled:
The first person who can pronounce that title gets to telephone Joe in Italy and recite it to him!
We are eager to hear from you, especially about this issue, so please tell us what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org!