Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch: The TNB Self-InterviewBy Cotner and Fitch
October 30, 2010
How did you two meet?
JON COTNER: One summer I visited Boston, and met mutual friends of ours who’d rented a sprawling apartment with a screened-in porch. I was 19 and broke, didn’t really have a place to stay, so I moved into the porch. Boston was different from New York—apartments were larger, more conducive to extensive crashing. The following winter I returned to that apartment and met Andy as I stretched on a bedroom floor, shortly after the room’s official resident had left for work. It was 7 a.m. Andy entered the bedroom from the living room (where he must’ve been trying to sleep), hoping to gain a few more hours’ rest, but the bed had already been occupied by another scavenger. Standing above me, Andy looked down. He seemed a bit shocked. It was “love at first sight” in the sense of instantaneous and irrefutable friendship.
Who, or what, inspired Ten Walks/Two Talks?
ANDY FITCH: The book contains excerpts from two projects: my Sixty Morning Walks (sixty-minute walks through Manhattan for sixty straight mornings, each described in sixty-sentence entries), and our collaborative Conversations over Stolen Food (transcripts from forty-five-minute conversations recorded in public, across New York City, over thirty consecutive days). In Ten Walks/Two Talks, Jon and I decided to fuse these projects, based on our admiration for Ed Ruscha’s hybrid photographic books—such as Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, Various Small Fires and Milk, among others. Previous philosophers and poets, among them Socrates and Basho, often combined talking and walking into an interrogative, interlocutory, aesthetic and athletic practice. Here we try to do the same.
Utagawa Hiroshige’s prints appear before each section of Ten Walks/Two Talks. Why did you select his work?
AF: Hiroshige’s preference for idiosyncratic views on familiar places taught us much about how to enjoy city life. For us, he is the consummate urban philosopher if philosophy amounts to a careful picking-and-choosing of attention, a selection designed to prompt enthusiasm and engagement with everyday life, in the face of inevitable death. We didn’t want to adopt such abstract language in this book, however. Instead, we wished to put into practice Emerson’s assertion that “the glance reveals what the gaze obscures.” The rhythmic appearance of Hiroshige images is meant to remind readers of the glance’s immediacy, just when the undeclared prejudices of a sustained narrative gaze begin to solidify, and to seem “true” or “objective.”
Your talks sound more like a performance than how regular people speak. How much were they edited? Do you two talk this way all the time?
JC: During the early years of our friendship, we would meet for walks at night—following semi-frantic private attempts to read and think. Those initial dialogues had the performative aspect of two guys who, through their stammers, sought to create meaning or a language-world. We were both motivated in part by the consciousness that we misspent our adolescence. I’d lost irreplaceable hours in a refrigerated living-room watching The Golden Girls and Wimbledon. Somehow I wanted to regain time, to at least slow it down and inhabit its flow more fully. Perhaps my dialogues with Andy sound different from “regular” conversation because of a shared, almost physiological need for engagement with the insights and moods of passing moments. Not to say the two talks in Ten Walks/Two Talks, as well as those making up Conversations over Stolen Food, haven’t been tightened. Readers will still find leaps, stutters, oscillating narratives and dialogic rhythms, but we’ve compressed the original transcripts to provide a livelier readerly experience. Editing the thirty talks took years of painstaking work. Yet surprisingly, many people believe the edited transcripts are verbatim.
Ten Walks/Two Talks is classified as Poetry/Nonfiction. How did this come about? And finally, any thoughts on “genre”?
JC: The day before Ten Walks/Two Talks got printed, Andy and I exchanged emails with Anna Moschovakis, our editor at Ugly Duckling Presse and founder of its Dossier Series. Anna asked how we wanted to categorize this book (she had to put something on the back cover). It’s funny: the three of us had been discussing the project for months, but only at the last moment did genre arise. That’s one reason UDP is so wonderful. Since the Dossier Series features cross-genre work, we decided on “Poetry/Nonfiction.” But are the Walks poetry, and the Talks nonfiction? Or vice versa? Or do both forms partake of both categories? To me “Poetry/Nonfiction” indicates the irrelevance of genre. Andy and I have, for example, published dialogues as poetry, drama, nonfiction, fiction, ethnography, literary criticism, even feminist criticism. Conversation doesn’t have its own genre. It might belong to all genres.
AF: I teach creative nonfiction in an MFA program, but I mostly assign philosophy, poetry and films to my students, and Dalkey Archive soon will publish my critical study of the artist-poet Joe Brainard. In each of these media, there is a perverse, low-affect aesthetic that I love. Within literature, this aesthetic often verges on creative nonfiction since it considers mundane existence the most overlooked of possibilities, and on poetry, since it achieves its effects through charm, elision and implication rather than faithful attention to the fact. It makes use of whatever lies ready at hand, yet remains, first of all, exciting.
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