Davis Schneiderman: The TNB
By Davis Schneiderman
April 26, 2011
Seriously, a blank novel? This has got to be a joke.
We do destroy 200 books in the trailer, many with a chainsaw.
Yet, it’s not a joke. But it’s a damn funny one.
BLANK is not completely blank, really. The text contains 20 provocative chapter titles, listed in the front matter and then scattered throughout the book as the introduction to each chapter. These titles take the form or word strings such as “A Character,” “Another Character,” “They Meet,” etc.
The artist Susan White produced a series of pyrographic illustrations. She burns paper, and in this case, fills the holes with various sky scenes. These pyrograph copies are arrayed throughout the text.
Additionally, BLANK will be released in multiple, “full spectrum” editions: e-book, commercial (the current edition), color, and fine-art. The latter will retail for $7500, come encased in smashable plaster, and contain a recycled bamboo flash drive with Bach remix tracks from Dj Spooky.
Half the proceeds from all editions go to the Spooky-related Tanna Center for the Arts, on the Pacific island of Vanuatu.
So BLANK is not blank?
Precisely. There is also the packaging, as well as those of the separate versions. For the commercial edition, the carefully constructed cover and back-cover information (the Andi Olsen author photo, my bio, etc.), all fill the text with content.
Rich cascading content.
To be embellished by the reader. The critic. The contrarian.
Ok. I get it. Sort of. The reader can “read” BLANK in the manner of pattern recognition. As a stand-in, a signifier of sorts, for other meanings.
I read BLANK recently at University of California, San Diego as part of the “New Writing Series” curated by Anna Joy Springer. As part of a larger performance, I read BLANK by performing a chapter title, paging through the empty text, and then performing the next. The 20 titles tell a story in a serial manner, and the audience reacts to that story—it’s a traditional narrative arc with a few twists. There was real pathos present in the audience reactions.
At the February Association of Writing Programs Conference in D.C., I performed the text as part of an off-site Jaded Ibis reading…in full mime costume. I read excerpts from Glenn Beck’s novel The Overton Window, focusing on the silly descriptions of women.
The message: you can read that book, Glenn Beck’s…or read my blank book. This reading was directly responsible for the cancellation of Glenn Beck’s Fox “news” program.
You see, TNB readers, conceptual art really can change the world.
Andy Devine (with help from Adam Robinson) interviewed you at HTMLGiant.com in the wake of Roxane Gay’s review of BLANK and Christopher Higgs’ contextualization of BLANK in a long-tradition of possibly similar works. You reworked the interview for Devine after an aborted first draft. Why not revisit some of the earlier responses now?
Devine: How did you decide between BLANK and, say, BLANKS for the title?
Would The Da Vinci Codes have been the same book? What about Chicken Soup for the Souls? The classics, the texts that stand the test of time, the books we return to again and again and again because they say something, and something very poignant, something heretofore unsaid, about the human condition…those can’t be changed. They are perfect, immutable, fixed like Platonic forms above the hoary ether, reminding us with their crushing perfectness, their Adonis DNA, of our own fallibility.
Let’s be accurate. BLANK would be a completely different book, even if it were largely blank, as per BLANK.
Devine: I was pleased to see that you don’t use any of the words that shouldn’t be used in fiction, as listed in Devine’s novel WORDS, but surprised to see that you didn’t use any of the words that should be used in fiction, as also noted in WORDS. I’m wondering…what you think of words.
I never think of words, at least not any more than I might think of a particularly charged but imaginary slice of consumer pornography: A picture of Paris Hilton spread-eagled against a piece of Ikea furniture. A picture of Perez Hilton hiding his head inside the bowels of a KFC basket. Picture this: Justin Beiber, his hair a mad swing of hormones, thrusting wildly against the wing of an A320 airbus.
In this way, thinking of words is like thinking of nothing.
So you are just copying Devine’s questions and repasting the answers that didn’t appear with his HTMLGiant interview? Isn’t this the same laziness that makes BLANK a completely inane and stupid piece of “art”?
BLANK takes as it starting point that there is no starting point. No endpoint either. As with the title of Paul Bowles’ biography, Without Stopping, this is literature that exceeds its frame and grows to encompass and then process it’s own discussions.
So, um, it’s laziness?
Far from it. You would curb your impertinence if you possessed even an inkling of the intense work—the labor—the sweat that goes into getting a book like this published.
First, you have to write a number of “real” books, in this case the experimental set of Abecedarium (with Carlos Hernandez, Chiasmus Press) and Multifesto: A Henri d’Mescan Reader (Spuyten Duyvil) and Drain (Northwestern). These are akin to Picasso’s Blue or Rose period, so other readers and writers can say things such as…at least Schneiderman really can write dense, postmodern prose that I can’t possibly bear to read, and that shows that his BLANK is really a choice, like Picasso’s cubism, rather than the recourse of the no-talent hack.
Then, you have pull this sort of stuff: cover the limited-edition of Multifesto with sandpaper so the text destroys what it rubs against; then you have to give readings where you thread a 100-foot rope into the audience and let them pull, en masse, in reaction to your work; then you have shoot a starter pistol borrowed from Cris Mazza at the head of a completely unaware James Tadd Adcox at a Chicago reading.
Then, let’s see, you need to close the lights during another reading and ask the audience to close their eyes as you turn on an array of close strobe lights flickering in time to the alpha-wave pattern of the brain, in mimicry of Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’s Dreammachine.
Thanks for these easy-to-follow steps. That’s it?
Along with these antics, you need to come up with the idea of BLANK at an earlier AWP with Lidia Yuknavitch, the publisher of Abecedarium and author of the new and fantastic Chronology of Water (Hawthorne Books). You have to try to convince her to publish the book on the Chiasmus label only to have Chiasmus politely decline, and then years later you have to talk to author and publishing visionary Debra Di Blasi who just happened to be getting good and fed-up with the state of contemporary publishing and who was ready to expand Jaded Ibis with a slate of fantastic authors including Janice Lee, Christopher Grimes, Lily Hoang, and David Hoenigman.
You should have published your earlier audiocollage record Memorials to Future Catastrophes (with Don Meyer), inspired by Dj Spooky, with Jaded Ibis and then realize in a series of stunning epiphanies that you and Debra are almost completely in sync on aesthetic issues.
BLANK, you are saying in an oblique manner, is about authorship?
When I was reading last fall at the University of Central Michigan, hosted by the talented Matt Roberson, I overheard a grad student complaining to his friends: “No one will publish my novel, but he can get someone to publish a friggin’ blank book…
Yawn. Bo-ring. Just give us the top reasons to read BLANK.
BLANK saves time. Many contemporary works, especially those that offer a commentary on contemporary literature, will take one or more weeks of your valuable time to read and digest. BLANK raises its issues within seconds, so you may focus your time on your iPad apps.
BLANK is conceptual and accessible. BLANK is a conceptual work that allows you an entry point into a world beyond realist and experimental/innovative literature. This is conceptual work that responds to the at-times alienating character of contemporary art.
BLANK is a notebook for your ideas and a coloring book for your children. BLANK can be used as a journal, a scrapbook, and a collaborative text.
BLANK can be controversial. This is not a text that often produces the cool and apathetic responses that characterize so much of our reaction to the things we consume. You may be mad, you may be delighted. Either way, you’ll receive a strong feeling.
So BLANK is a gift?
Is there a sequel in the works?
Yes. Stay tuned. The next one will be sick. I promise you that.
This is the first case, I think, where the TNB Self Interview is significantly longer than the novel in question. 1400 or so words longer, is my estimate. Well played.
For your next book, may I suggest something in which a classics professor is chased by a cerise-wearing albino sent by the Vatican, and/or something with zombies? It’s time to bring your brand of performance art to the mass market paperback, methinks.
Greg–I’ve been to poetry readings where the description of the poems are longer than the poems. This seems only fitting.
Also, Greg, even though this is not The Da Vinci Code, as you suggest for the sequel, BLANK seems to have the desired effect.
National Book Award poetry finalist, H.L. Hix. sent this note to me and my publisher:
“I received my copy of BLANK yesterday, and began reading it last night in bed. I am accustomed to reading a few pages from a book, then turning out the light as soon as I become drowsy. But BLANK was a different experience:
I could not put it down until I had read it from cover to cover. And now
it is burned in my memory. I feel certain it is a book I will read again and again.”
This is even more true, now, in the post-Bin Laden era.