Monday, March 13, 2006

More n+1: Readings

One of the first things to catch my eye in the two back issues of n+1 was a short piece about literary readings titled, "Cancel Them."

Cancel them? Yes, establishment readings are completely lame. This fact, with n+1's reaction, illustrates the complete decline of contemporary literature.

"Cancel Them"? I can appreciate where n+1's editors are coming from, but let's recognize that writers once knew how to put on great readings-- Charles Dickens the outstanding example. Let's remember that literature was spoken FIRST; that The Iliad, greatest of epic poems, was performed and passed down orally for generations before it was ever written. Let's recall that Shakespeare himself, greatest of all writers, lived in the netherworld between oral and written culture, the power of his language attained because he thought in terms of spoken language first. Marlowe and Shakespeare were poets who turned their poetry into performance. Literature without performance is partly dead; I fear our intellectual class which n+1 lauds has reached an evolutionary stage of brain without body; words without voice. A science fiction movie of murmuring disconnected brains in jars of fluid.

This is a point at which ULAers are revivalists.

I agree with n+1 that most literary readings suck. It's a point I made in my New Philistine zeen throughout the 90's. This was the first point on which the nascent ULA asserted itself-- for instance at a drone-a-thon reading by Tom Beller in June 2000 at which I sat conspicuously reading a book. My frustration at witnessing an endless parade of fakirs explains my outraged behavior at KGB the next year (for which I'm still castigated); my attitude akin to that of an impresario in an old movie who explodes at the prospect of an art, which to him is a religion, performed by the untalented.

The criticism n+1 makes of literary readings is true-- except they place the fault in the wrong spot, with literary readings themselves, when the fault lies with the the writers. If those who publicly read are no good (as much because of their limpid words as their voices), then let them give up the stage to those who know what they're doing!

These days I make my living with my voice, employed afternoons and evenings in the lowly role of telemarketer. I have much time to ponder and practice the effectiveness of words, as I create stories and magical images to people over the phone.

A recent night I sat next to an elderly caller named Sandy who like all of us works the demanding low-pay job because she has to. She's one of a calling room of voices.

Sandy is a difficult person to sit next to. She requires a cane to help her fragile crippled body to walk; she's half-blind, and eternally disorganized, fumbling with her list of prices or in her disarrayed purse for a calculator while a potential sale waits changing his-or-her mind on the open line.

I'll sit listening in my chair in frantic suspense wondering if she's about to blow another sale; she clearly needs the commission bucks. "Sandy, Sandy, Sandy," I think to myself. "Get yourself organized."

She's merely a memory of what once was. All that sustains her on the job is a still warm and supple voice. Everything else is going on her-- she's in a state of total collapse (not unlike establishment lit). However, when it's needed for the phone, she still has the sound of her perfect voice.

One evening Sandy was more disorganized and cranky than normal, so much that it affected my own calling. A bad night for me; I hadn't made a single sale. In desperation in the closing minutes of the shift I called on all my own voice's resonance; I prodded and cajoled, but was still unable to persuade people. The shift ended.

Sandy, forever confused about everything, blinking at me behind her distorted eyeglasses, asked when was the last day of a particular offer, even though our boss had mentioned the deadline a dozen times.

"Tomorrow," I said as I put away my leads, with difficulty maintaining my patience.

"Tomorrow?" Sandy asked again.

"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow!" I said with exasperation.

The fragile old woman sat straight with rare strength in response to my bullying. "Creeps in this petty pace from day to day," she shot back proudly with perfect enunciation.

I rose and spoke as if on a stage. "Til the last syllable of recorded time. And all our yesterdays have lighted FOOLS the way to dusty death!"

"Out out brief candle!" Sandy returned magnificently, drawing the words from the dust-bin recordings of a long-ago high school education. "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player who STRUTS and frets his hour upon the stage, then is heard no more."

I smiled, because I had the last line of the wonderful solilquoy. "It's a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and FURY," I thundered, "signifying nothing."

The other callers stared at us open-mouthed. I've done open mics and know when I'm on-- I was never more "on" than this evening. At least as impressive was Sandy. She clattered out of the calling room with her noisy cane, head back, exiting on a dramatic high to silent applause.

Literature is powerful and invigorating when spoken properly.

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