Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Auras or I am being retarded

Inundation is a day. I drank no coffee. There are 4 people gmail chatting me. I am getting txt msg'd. Phone sometimes rings but my voice can't go into it unless I hit it one certain way. My gmail tab is variating between inbox and the ___ says... of 3 different people. I am considering coffee at 11:30 pm because I feel like I got socked with a sock: sandwich eater.

Twice tonight I have posted a blog about Aura. It didn't feel right the way I had it and kept taking down. I am slurred a little. I don't think I can say what I mean the way I mean it and make sense to anyone even myself which would negate typing which would negate sitting in chair half-sweating because I took a bath and did not put on deodorant after and then began to sweat in the heat and put on deodorant and now feel disgusting in this weird shirt.

I am going to post parts of the earlier post of the blog to see if I can make sense out of it. My gmail IM is going nuts with the donk noise. I am going to mute it.

Oh I deleted the old one. Okay I'll try again. It is below. (I was going to edit and chop it up and fix things I'd thought but I feel removed.)

A thing I can't stop thinking about as I am putting final edits on this novel is how the presence of a popular and/or iconic entity effects the aura of a work. There are a couple of major instances in the book where well known names appear: not simply to be name-checked or made as a loose reference, but as a function in the book. For instance, these occurrences aren't used in a way like: "Jon went to Starbucks and bought a mocha Frapucchino." I think that kind of namecheck, brand insertion has been done and done to death. I wouldn't want to include that in new work. I am thinking more of the way an influence of other works colliding or being contained by other works and how that affects a work's reception.

For instance, I'm reading Michael Earl Craig's YES MASTER! right now. In it he has a poem where references are made to Tom Waits's ALICE and Klaus Kinski, and those images are used not as placeholders, but as things for the images in the poem to bounce off of. They accrue the energy or something. So there is the moment of recognition, and then the poem builds off that recognition, and molds it, and assumes the energy a little, rather than using the words to create the topography of the piece. The piece does not exploit the cultural reference, it rebends it. I think that's what I mean.

Another work that successfully uses these kind of ideas without exploiting them I think is Derek White's POSTE RESTANTE, which I have written about before. His book has figures like Johnny Rotten and Madonna and music references to bands like Love and Rockets, and they do not feel like sore thumbs, they seem to absorb the aura.

There are surely many books that also do what I'm talking about, but I can't think right now.

Though there are plenty of ways this kind of careering can leave a bad taste. The Starbucks example, for instance, where it serves no purpose except to be a place, or where it is done in a way that feels like a mimicry of what Delillo did in WHITE NOISE or what Bret Easton Ellis did, or what have you. I want to avoid these repercussions, but I think there is something still yet to be harnessed in the idea of what I've talked about on here a few times, and in the instances above, where you take a cultural figure and bend it to your uses, absorb its aura.

Culture worship, culture attention, culture look-at-me is ill-gotten, but we exist in this world and this world is made of these things, and these things have terrain, I think.

I'm thinking all of this now because the introduction to my novel, and another certain rather key section the book later on, includes a couple of these type things, where names of cultural icons are included (in my instance, they are people). In my instance they are important not because of topography, I think, but because of aura. There is a specific feedback caused by their presences, I think. And yet the majority of the book does not include these kind of terms, and stays in a more dreamlike, word-to-word kind of dreamlike rhythm. Does the introduction then throw the rest of the book off? As I'm getting close to finishing, I am starting to worry a little, though, that having those kind of things in key moments like an introduction could throw a reader off. Could put them in a mindframe where they are expecting these cultural references, and can not view the work on a word by word level, via which most of the book is built. (What's the difference between saying CREST and toothpaste? There is one. Sometimes I like one and sometimes I like the other. Even Cormac McCarthy says coke instead of soda.) I am wondering if I should go through and neutralize the elements so to speak, to render them more organic, though I know something would be lost if I did it. I still can't help but think about it.

Do I even care about this? I probably don't. I am overthinking, I know, because I worry, but I wonder what other people think about the function of these kind of energies.

I am sure in the end I will go with what I have created as it is, but I just want to continue to mull, and typing this out is actually making me feel better about it.

I will probably delete this post later, but if anyone has thoughts, think.

This is precisely why I do not sleep.



from Bryan Coffelt, via email from when I deleted this the first time, after which I deleted it a second time:


I couldn't post a comment on your blog so I thought I'd send an email instead. (I read the blog because RSS feeds don't care whether or not the post has been deleted.)

Anyway, I agree that there is a lot of culture worship in writing these days, and I also agree with you that there is something to be said for taking a cultural icon and bending it - absorbing its aura. I guess what I'm trying to figure out is whether you think the bulk of writing that "bounces" these things around is doing so self-consciously (pointing to the arbitrary nature of the signifier) or just using it in order to sensationalize the writing?

I guess this post kind of triggered an impulse to respond because a lot of my writing tends to revolve around "pop culture." I've always kind of assumed writers have a temperance for using something like "Tom Waits" or "Crest" and that it's not just impulsive. What do you think?


my response to Brian, before I deleted it the second time, which I then emailed to him:

i think there are lots of ways references get added.

the way i see it most commonly now is: 'George went to Starbucks.' The name Starbucks is used not because it HAS to be a Starbucks, but because that's the name of a coffee shop. It could just as easily be Seattle's Best or 'George went to the coffee shop.' It does not affect the work in any way, except to add that label makes it applicable to a certain time period, which old school writing teachers will say is bad, to be dated, but I just think, oh look, it says Starbucks, now I'm thinking about Starbucks more than George or what's going on.

It's a distractive element more than an additive in a lot of writing.

I guess to me if it benefits the work, it should be there. For instance, there are other ways the name can be additive. Chris Killen's story in the most recent LC talks about 'Quality Save'. I think that adds to the story, both in the sound the name QUALITY SAVE adds as a opposed to grocery, and the way he layers it. So that's another way it can be used. There are ways it can be used, but I think a lot of the time it might be just employed for shock value or to modernize the piece or because somebody really likes AMERICAN PSYCHO.

I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about.

May 13, 2008 9:58 PM
Blogger BLAKE BUTLER said...

i feel dumb and tired i didnt drink coffee today

May 13, 2008 10:01 PM
Blogger BLAKE BUTLER said...

i would say a greater percentage of authors use it to sensationalize rather than as a signifier. i guess that's what i am trying to say.

May 13, 2008 10:02 PM
Blogger BLAKE BUTLER said...

fuck this i'm deleting this post again


posted by Ryan Call somewhere before the second deletion

it is distractive...

ok, i ate dinner, watched a bad movie, and am now thinking about this.

ok i thought about it:

i dont usually include references to specific things in my writing. i dont have any popculture sort of comment on any of it, like, i enjoy coke, for example; rather, its simpler, maybe too stubborn: i dont like how capitalized words, especially proper names look on the page, in my sentences, etc. (though the no caps thing right now is laziness) something about elevation of certain letters, the blockiness of them in a sentnece makes me feel weird. i dont know. this is a dumb reason to not put names of things into stories. i will seek help.


i am now posting this again, i am not going to look at it again except the comments


from Peter Cole, before I deleted it the second time also:

I saw your post before it got deleted about Crest. I vote for Crest. We're in the information age, that shit will most likely always be on Wikipedia if nowhere else...people like products. If it fits in with the rest, I say fuck it and let it ride. On another left, if in 80 years society as we know it is no more and someone somehow finds your novel, I like the idea of speculation on what Crest is. I realize that might not be what you're thinking about, but it's what I thought. I'm proud to say I've got 6 or 7 beers in me and we got second place at trivia tonight.

Lately I've been more interested in celebrities more than I've ever been before, mainly because my wife always watches Best Week Ever and reads all the celeb gossip. It's fascinating in some ways...especially today when I saw a guy in the parts department of a Cadillac dealership who looked just like Russel Crowe, and I thought, shit dude, you could have been somebody if you weren't a redneck. Anyhow, that's as deep as my interest in celebrities goes...I like the sociological aspect of it all.


from Josh Maday via email after I deleted it the second time:

hey, i saw your post about iconic entities/names as reflective/textural elements in writing. you know from my blog alone how obsessed i am with the concept of naming names -- people, products, brand names, etc -- and what kind of work they do. i read the preface of the novel and the first couple of chapters, and i really like what you're doing so far. i haven't read enough to say yet how the preface acts on what follows, but i know what you were talking about in your blog post. it's a sticky thing, this name business, as you know. i think i told you about the story i wrote about the celebrity body parts dealer, which is a more literal take on the celebrity worship and mixes it with a catholic sort of religious ecstasy; and the phoebe piece is another example of my seeming inability to escape using icons as a sort of background, where Georges Bataille is a sort of subtext to the piece that i hope is not completely necessary for it to work. although most people are unfamiliar with Bataille and his work, i took the aura i felt from what i know about him and his work and tried to invest that into the piece itself, trying to create an atmosphere with language and image (whether or not it was successful that way is another thing). i think you're right that there are tired, cliche ways like the starbucks example to use names/icons, and then there are ways that lend texture and aura to the piece in ways that cannot be replaces with an equivalent sum of other words. it's a weird thing and i'm looking forward to hearing your further thoughts on this. i will keep this in mind when considering the preface and its relation to the rest of the novel. how did you come up with the quote from antonin artaud at the opening? good choice. artaud's name carries the perfect aura for the dream/nightmare-like atmosphere in your work. hey, have you read any Lautreamont? i think you might dig Maldoror. it's 19th century, but it's crazy and has its own weird inner logic.


ok those are comments, i am tired of posting right now

daniel spinks said...

blake i do not sleep either. and now i'm thinking about what you've said. i remember reading yes master and being struck by those references. i like the way you describe them in terms of feedback and energy.

i agree with you that the reference HAS to be there. i think it's pretty arbitrary for me though. like i see huge differences between 'waffle house,' 'huddle house,' 'ihop,' 'steak n shake,' 'diner,' and 'restaurant.' i couldn't use any of those interchangeably. but i would see no reason to ever write 'mayfield' instead of 'milk' or 'parmalat' or whatever is a 2nd famous dairy brand name unless mayfield dairy products were important to the character. like maybe the character was seduced by someone who wore a red bowtie like scottie mayfield.

i think even if the majority of your book didn't have specific cultural terms/names, if they function like the tom waits/kinski references with the sort of attention to energy you've described, then they'll work out and generally be pretty awesome. at least according to my tastes.


those are good thoughts daniel. yeah, it seems arbitrary, which references works and which ones takes away. i think its pretty clear when an author is just inserting something for the fuck of it and when it actually adds resonance. maybe brands names added for no reason is a major kind that tends to seem not to work, whereas place names and people names have resonance because they are more uniquely a destination/personality.

ryan call said...

what is nice about your piece on bataille, josh, is that even without readers knowing bataille's work (i certainly am not as familiar, etc) his figure, his rotting corpse, the decayed roots of his body still add a feeling to that story. you could not have that devastated feeling, this feeling of wrongness, come from another person, from say, including oprah in that piece.
you also could not have written that story without bataille.

so, these references work the other way? not just on the readers, but on the writers?

like how steaknshake might make daniel spinks feel one way, write one kind ofthing? but a wafflehouse might make him feel another way, write another kind of thing?

back to grading

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

ryan, i think yr right, the references do affect the writers, as they are sapping that energy, knowing where it comes from, what it associates with in their head.

when i think of tom waits's ALICE it carries with it all the ways i've felt about that record, the details of who waits is, what presence he brings, as opposed to say, britney spears, who has no relevance in my life other than as a media dump.

which comes to packageinsert's remark: pop icons vs timeless icons. that's a really good point to make, whether the presence of the entity serves just a placeholder of the time and more media shitting, or if it is an entity that actually evokes and holds on its own, and yes, will in 30 years.

barthelme's collagist and philosophic pieces are a great, great example of that. thank you packageinsert.

i also mentioned to josh that norman lock does this out the ass in HISTORY OF IMAGINATION, wherein he pretty much tours the world in his mind (he's never been out of the states) and has all sorts of timeless media icons doing weird shit, which seems to work for him.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

haha yeah, sometimes i like the intentional generic making, when it seems funny, like there. it can be well done, though i think it is hard to pull off unless you are obviously making fun in that way and it is not kitsch.

but though when someone inserts Burger Land for Burger King, that kind of annoys me. just say it, we all know what you're saying, and you're not making a point by saying it differently.

Ken Baumann said...


Keep it. I liked it's feel in the preview chapter.

It came out that way for a reason. And I really don't give a shit when a book is 'dated' by a pop culture reference. It rarely distracts me.


daniel spinks said...

tom waits glitter and doom tour
tickets go on sale friday
just saying
i think he is going to arm wrestle scarlett johansson
and debut a song with a cultural reference to tony scott and/or francis ford coppola


i saw him last tour in atlanta, it was that fire, i am going to try to get them here again, it's going to be hard through since it is the fox

matthew savoca said...

lorena bobbit

Josh Maday said...

good one, matthew. she will remain in a nightmare in the collective subconscious for many many years, for those who remember that story.

ryan, i think you're right, that piece wouldn't have worked without Bataille's presence. i thought about what would be left if i edited him out to avoid any of the pitfalls of using a name that have been discussed here, and i couldn't see there being anything left; but, like you said, it works without having to know much at all, if anything, about Bataille, which maybe doesn't make sense or can't be the case. that's how i imagine it, anyway. i think you're right.

too bad packageinsert deleted their comments. they were good ones. yes, those pieces by Barthelme are superior. the Kierkegaard/Schlegel piece works perfectly without having to know anything about Kierkegaard; i think the dialogue fills in anything the reader needs to know. it builds and the end is pow.

it seems like the pop-culture riffs were all over the place -- i did some myself -- but they quickly got old, just like any given phase of pop-culture itself.

i think i'm kind of late getting in on this, and i'm not sure i haven't just repeated other people's words. but they're good words. i don't know.


shane jones has a story in the new update of elimae that works its references well.

i am inclined to delete this post again since for the most part who gives a fuck but i won't this time cause for the most part who gives a fuck

Mike Young said...

I want to add something maybe boring or duh: sometimes pop culture references can do their work on a linguistic level, expand your sound palette. "Chex Mix." "La-Z-Boy." "WCW." These let readers know how people in a particular cultural movement are moving their mouth, which is an important and fitting part of the writer's record-keeping role.

Mike Young said...

*particular cultural MOMENT, not movement


mike yes that is important. i think i made a version of that comment in one of the times when deleting post. thank you

Mike Young said...

Hahaha, it's quite possible you did. I got scared and didn't read everything.

Josh Maday said...

hey, i forgot that michael martone did this bending of auras in his dan quayle pieces. of course, quayle isn't exactly a timeless icon, but martone bent the aura against the thing everyone thought/thinks about when they hear quayle's name, bad spelling = categorically stupid idiot. martone talked about this after he read the dan quayle goes snipe hunting piece, saying that he purposely did not mention potatoes or spelling or anything to do with the quayle aura and just let his pieces portraying a philosophical veep work in juxtaposition to that bit of cultural feeling; of course, since the crowd martone was reading to was pretty youngish, they might not have remembered the hilarity of spelling bees. i've lost this thought and i'm not sure what i'm saying anymore, but i think martone did a good job of bending aura with this. just saying.


i havent read marton's quayle stuff. i think i actually skipped it because it was about quayle. which is an example of cultural referencing putting someone off before you even get the chance to do it well. i should go back. martone has a lot of stuff that could probably fall into good examples of how it can be done right.

Josh Maday said...

the only quayle piece i've heard/read is the snipe hunting piece, which i heard martone read. i'm with you though, dan quayle isn't a very enticing fictional character. i think martone fictionalized him because quayle is from indiana, and he could satirize him, interestingly, by writing him smarter and deeper than the public perceived him to be.

jorge luis borges and franz kafka show up in a lot of fictions and poems, i've noticed. look through the the archives at web conjunctions and you're going to find a few fictions or poems about borges, i promise. i'm not complaining at all, just observing.

Matt Walker said...

It's also interesting to think about how people use brand names in life, not just writing. Kleenex is the obvious example. Who really says tissue? You see that little papery white square and you think "Kleenex!" (not always with the exclamation point).

There are some parts of the country where people say Coke even when the can they're holding is a Pepsi.


matt, so true. i always say coke. but i live in atlanta, i think its in the air.