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Smash Cuts and Non Sequiturs: Christopher Higgs

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Writers On Writing

Smash Cuts and Non Sequiturs: Christopher Higgs  Christopher Higgs curates the art website Bright Stupid Confetti. He is the author of the chapbook titled Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously (Publishing Genius, 2009). Other of his belletristic prose exists in past/present/future editions of many esteemed literary organs, including, but not limited to: AGNI, Conduit, Quarterly West, Salt Hill, Post Road, No Colony, and Action Yes. He is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in literature and critical theory at Florida State University, where his primary research involves theorizing a rhizomatic approach to understanding transnational and transhistorical avant-garde/experimental literature. The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney (Sator Press, 2010) is his first novel.

Michael Kimball: The issue of authorship needs to be addressed. When that first email announcement of The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney went out, a few people emailed me asking if I were Marvin K. Mooney. I have used a bunch of pseudonyms over the years, but I am not Marvin K. Mooney (nor am I Christopher Higgs), and I’m pretty sure that you, Christopher Higgs, are Marvin K. Mooney. I’m basing this on the fact that Christopher Higgs claimed authorship of Colorless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously (Publishing Genius) and the fact that I published a piece of yours called “Photo Album” about 8 years ago in Taint Magazine. So talk to me about the decision to strike “a novel” and “written by Christopher Higgs” on the first title page and then the inversion of the attribution – The Complete Works of Christopher Higgs” and “written by Marvin K. Mooney” – on the second title page.

Christopher Higgs: Authorship gave structure to this novel. Before Mooney: no glue, no breath, no raison d’être. Before Mooney, only a bunch of loose words. Some of those words seemed meaningfully contained—like the chapbook you mention, or even that short piece you published in Taint Magazine—but ultimately, they needed Mooney to reach their fullest capacity. This may seem paradoxical but Mooney is not me; I am not Mooney. As fingers type those words, the desire arises to put that pronoun in quotes: “I” am not Mooney; Mooney is not “me” – this may sound/look silly, but it underscores a salient point, namely that which Deleuze and Guattari sketch out in the introduction of A Thousand Plateaus: the notion of a univocal subject is completely fallacious. “I” am not singular; I am plural, I am many. (Whitman: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”) Mooney wants to erase Higgs as much as Higgs wants to take credit for what Mooney has made possible. So which is the author: the one who made the novel possible or the one who made the novel possible? Higgs is the former and Mooney is the latter.

Kimball: Let’s go back to the beginning of your answer: “Authorship gave structure to this novel.” The book begins with multiple title pages, then a conference paper, praise and critique from at least a dozen sources, quotes from other fiction writers and lit-crit theories, a section where Mooney seemingly argues with Higgs, drawings, then a new title page—“The Life & Opinions of Marvin K. Mooney, Gentleman”—that is a reference to Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. That doesn’t even convey the full scope of what you do in those first 48 pages, but it is at that point, 48 pages in, that we get the first piece of Mooney’s writing that is identifiably his. Could you talk a bit more about the structure—that is, what it allows you to do?

Smash Cuts and Non Sequiturs: Christopher Higgs  Higgs: Mooney’s work actually begins on page three, with the strikeout of “a novel written by Christopher Higgs.” Despite the explicit claim on page fifty that “This is the first sentence in this novel,” Mooney’s work actually begins on page three – no, wait, strike that, Mooney’s work begins on the cover of the book–no, wait, strike that, Mooney’s work begins at the moment when you first heard or read about it, which is to say that there really isn’t a beginning, per se, or at least the whole idea of beginnings should come into question. Purposefully, the structure resists Aristotelian notions of unity, of demarcating a clear beginning, middle, and end. In place of those conventions, the novel plays with startings and stoppings, difference and repetition, discursivity and intertextuality, large and small openings, escapes, detours, tangents, deferments, digressions, obsessions, etc. Mooney’s work is a construction, an assemblage, it is porous, malleable, dynamic, active, and at the same time it is an object. This is important because objects don’t begin and end. If you were to consider a lunchbox, you would (presumably) not ask the question: where does this lunchbox begin and where does it end. Likewise, the novel.

Kimball: The reader doesn’t get story, in the common sense, until Page 55, though there is plenty happening. I don’t know if that makes sense. Anyway, this is a piece of fiction that has its own untraditional structure and was adapted from the piece in Taint, “Photo Album” (“Molly” becomes “Mooney”). What I’m wondering is if telling stories pisses you off, as it does Mooney?

Higgs: Haha. Yes. Stories, in literature, tend to bore the hell out of me, as a reader and a writer. For one thing, stories imply a teller who wants to tell someone something. As a writer, I’m not interested in telling anybody anything. I don’t go to literature for communication or entertainment or escape. I go to literature (as I do all art) for aesthetic gratification. This, as Kant reminds us, exists solely at the formal level. Content is beside the point. If I want a story I call my friend and ask him what he did over the weekend or else I watch a romantic comedy. Literature, for me, is about form and structure, the way stories are told rather than what is being told. I believe I acquired this approach back in my late teens/early twenties upon reading (completely by chance, as I recall) a mind-altering, paradigm-shifting, über-empowering book by Alain Robbe-Grillet entitled For A New Novel: Essays on Fiction (1963). One of the many things it taught me was this dirty secret: chances are, no one has ever nor ever will invent a story I have not already myself considered. (Take Joyce’s Ulysses, for example: a story about two dudes going about their day and in the end the wife of one of the dudes can’t fall asleep. That story is not very interesting, even if you throw in some seemingly provocative plot elements like having one of the dudes masturbate at the beach after eating a gorgonzola sandwich. It’s just not that interesting.) What is much more likely, and promises to be much more interesting, is that someone has invented or will invent a way of telling a story I have not considered. So that is what I desire, both as a reader and a writer. I want to read literature that has been produced in a way I have not read before, and I want to produce literature in a way that has not been produced before. That’s one of my goals, at least.

Kimball: OK, form and structure, I keep thinking about the Hawkes quote from Page 14: “The true enemies [of the novel are] plot, character, setting and theme, and having once abandoned these familiar ways of thinking, totality of vision or structure [i]s really was that remain[s].” What would you (and also Mooney) say that the totality of the vision is in The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney?

Higgs: Paradox, maybe? The tension created by the paradox between multiple (seemingly incompatible) genres, between multiple (seemingly incompatible) voices, between chaos and cosmos, creation and destruction, open and closed systems, clarity and confusion, sense and nonsense, legibility and illegibility, communicability and incommunicability, desire and repulsion, want and need, etc. Mooney, I think, desperately wants attention, to be liked, to be esteemed, but at the same time he does everything he can to make it difficult to be liked and esteemed. He begs you to continue reading the book in one moment, when in the next moment he dares you to put it down. He needs validation while simultaneously dismissing the need for validation. He wants acclaim while simultaneously doing nothing to deserve it. So contradiction and consonance battle, rage, intensify, and, I think, create a kind of structure and vision. Maybe?

Kimball: Yeah, definitely, maybe. That’s what I liked all those various elements and how they fit (and don’t fit) together—including the interruption halfway through, the place to insert music, and the way the book ends, with encore. I’m curious about that. Tell me about the encore.

Higgs: Well, the quick (uninteresting) answer is: I’ve never seen an encore in a book before, so I had to do it. The longer (hopefully more interesting) answer is twofold: first, it is indicative of my desire to push formal boundaries, to really push them beyond what I’ve encountered in my readings—and I say that as someone passionately dedicated to the study of innovative literature. This novel is experimental. Purposefully, consciously. And I mean that in a very literal sense: one of the things I am trying to do is conduct an experiment to determine the legible boundaries of the novel as a form of artistic expression. Like Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, this novel is an amalgam of seemingly disparate parts (“from the slaughterhouse and the dissecting table”) or more precisely, an amalgam of seemingly disparate forms: the encore you are more likely to find at the end of a Fleetwood Mac concert than the end of a novel, the hand-drawn self portraits, the mathematical equations, the biographical and faux biographical stuff, the historic and faux historic essays, the surrealist stories, the letters, diary entries, notes, quotes, etc., etc. It’s all there to create a purposefully exploded (yet somehow contained) form. As for the second part of the longer answer (sorry I’m so longwinded!) the encore is indicative of the specific inspiration from which I drew upon during the construction of the novel. The most significant, aside from my obsessive fascination with philosophy/critical theory, being the thirteen films made by Jean-Luc Godard between 1961-1967. Over the course of the three years I spent working on this novel, I studied those films intensely, taking from them (among many other things) the smash-cut editing technique, the vital potential of randomness and the non sequitur, the disharmonious juxtaposition of image and sound which I translated to literature as the disharmonious juxtaposition of emotion and information, and perhaps most importantly of all, the audacity to embrace singularity.

The Believer calls Michael Kimball’s third novel, DEAR EVERYBODY, “a curatorial masterpiece.” His three critically acclaimed novels are (or will soon be) translated into many languages. His work has been on NPR’s All Things Considered and in Vice, as well as The Guardian, Prairie Schooner, Open City, Unsaid, and New York Tyrant. He is also responsible for Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) and the documentaries, I WILL SMASH YOU (2009) and 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES (2010).

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