Panel on Experimental Prose at CUNY’s Grad Center tomorrow, 11/14/08

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A Time for Prose, a special event sponsored by the CUNY Graduate Center Poetics Group, will address the present of avant-garde prose, along with essential related questions: why experimental prose seems eternally suspended between narrative and language, between affect and the social, between history and the present. Montreal novelist and essayist Gail Scott will present “The Sutured Subject,” followed by responses from New York writers Douglas A. Martin and Rachel Levitsky. The conversation will address the influences on contemporary prose of such writers as Victor Shklovsky, Kathy Acker, Renée Gladman, Taylor Brady, the New Narrative group (Robert Glück, Camille Roy, Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian), and the Language poets.

Friday, November 14th, 6 pm – 8 pm

The CUNY Graduate Center.

365 Fifth Avenue @ 34th Street, New York NY

Room 9206

Biographical Information

Gail Scott is the author of five works of fiction, including My Paris, which was named one of the top ten Canadian novels of 1999 by Quill and Quire and was published in the US by Dalkey Archive Press (2003). Her essays, in English and French, are collected in Spaces Like Stairs and la théorie, un dimanche. She is a co-founder of Narrativity, an online journal of contemporary experimental narrative, and she also co-edited — along with Robert Glück, Mary Burger, and Camille Roy — Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative (Coach House, 2004). Gail Scott teaches Creative Writing at Université de Montréal but is currently living in New York while she completes a novel and works on a new collection of stories. Her  essay “The Sutured Subject” will appear in the fall issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction.

Rachel Levitsky is the author of five chapbooks of poetry and Under the Sun, her first full length volume, published by Futurepoem books in 2003. She also writes poetry plays, three of which (one with Camille Roy) have been performed in New York and San Francisco. Levitsky founded Belladonna, a publisher and series of events, in August 1999. She teaches at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Douglas A. Martin is a poet, novelist and short story writer whose first full-length prose work, Outline of My Lover, was selected as an International Book of the Year in The Times Literary Supplement. His most recent books are Your Body Figured, which consists of three novellas, and In the Time of Assignments, a collection of poetry. Martin is currently a visiting professor at Wesleyan University.

main brides by gail scott

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the female gaze. lydia sits at a bar and describes what she sees and imagines, most often: herself, other women. (how’s that for a plot!) a book of portraits, maybe a self-portrait, or maybe a book about portraiture–the ambiguity intentional and often successful as a statement about our success in ever describing completely an identity.

this book’s project as defined by its narrator:

“Lydia (having trouble focusing) returns to her portrait: anecdotal fragments organized–but not too rigorously–with a little space around them to open possibilities” (167).

what saves the book from disintegrating into just fragmentary observations is scott’s fearless and idiosyncratic style. the writing’s syncopated and richly arch music reveals a persistent conflict between empathy and judgment, between a wish to define and a desire to stay open.

some of the best parts of the book come during a chapter whose content is the most traditional: the story of a springtime love affair. besides the quickly flaming and guttering of an april love, the chapter reveals rather strikingly the conflicts within the narrator: anecdotal versus analytical modes; english versus french (“You hate the way being with her makes you think so much in English, you lose the capacity for immediate abstraction that comes with speaking French”); a willingness to be self-critical or vulnerable versus a need to be defiant and judging.

and: the beauty of the writing. scott’s a singular, fierce and unapologetic stylist. at its most courageous it can invoke and then overcome sentimentality. here’s a passage again about that april love affair–a straightforward description of the sweet and deadly swiftness of it:

“Still April. You step outside. The sky is so blue you sense the infinity of dancing air. Around you the jonquils are laughing. Granted, this image is slightly sentimental. You can’t help it, she’s getting you so drunk with the caresses of her big hands, you feel like a giant. You rock your warm crotch against the cold cement, hoping that, with all that affection, she won’t be pressuring you for commitment.

The truth is, already you feel a little trapped. Because of that day she, sitting on the brown sofa in the living-room of that tacky hotel apartment she temporarily rented, knees up to chin, talking on the phone to her lover from Alberta, suddenly declared: ‘I’m in love, Betty.’ You didn’t intend to listen. You couldn’t believe she was putting her main relationship in jeopardy: by no means had you said anything about commitment. Yet, grudgingly, you wondered what makes these young dykes so courageous. Always taking chances. The way she kissed you in that bar, until both of you were floating. Definitely, no fear of flying” (108-9).

 find at a library or buy from small press distribution

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