The Believer, Steve Erickson & the "Postmodern"

Here is an essay on Steve Erickson that Brian Evenson wrote for The Believer in 2003. I just found it, read it, thought I'd share it, write about it. There's DeLillo, Pynchon, Lynch.


"...the problem with the term 'postmodern' is that people don’t really agree about what it means anymore (if they ever did). It gets tossed around to describe writers as varied as chaotic Kathy Acker and sober Don DeLillo, as cyberpunk William Gibson and Oprah-supported Toni Morrison."

What does the term "postmodern” mean? We're taught, but the word has inflated. Is it the importance of the sentence? The tight description of waste and decay. The beautiful Russian winter. The “experimental,” a term that's as widely used/ abused as “postmodern.” The separation and removal of story. The importance of narrative. Sound alone? Only images. Only language.

Do you know it when you see it, hear it, read it?

I don't have the answer.

"Postmodern," "genre-bender," "fabulists," etc.

Is Evenson "postmodern," or is he a "genre-bender?" Both? What is Steve Erickson?

Is it the fuck between flesh(s)?

What is the distinction between "experimental" and "postmodern?" Do they go hand in hand? Is Peter Markus both? Is The Singing Fish experimental? I'd recommend it.

I read William Gibson's Pattern Recognition and loved it. It's intelligent, "genre-bending," thought provoking, beautifully written, timely (he invited the word cyberspace). "Postmodern?” Maybe it's just Sci-fi.

"What do readers expect? It may be that having a Pynchon blurb on your first book is as much a curse as it is a blessing. For Erickson, the result was certainly mixed; it categorized him as 'postmodern' and ensured that wherever he was mentioned, Pynchon’s name wouldn’t be far behind."

Do blurbs associate authors with one another like parasitic twins? A tall shadow like the Twin Towers photoshopped into your recent trip to NY.

Example: I only had a passing interest in Peter Straub until I read Evenson's blurb for his novel A Dark Matter. I'd been aware of their association for along time but never gave him a read until then. What does that mean? Did I expect Straub to be similar to Evenson? I think I did. And they are, in tone, but not so much in approach. Both are literary, dark.

But that's not always the case.

"And, since the term ['postmodern'] is general enough, it allows for Erickson to be seen as the successor to DeLillo and Pynchon, two writers as different from one another as each is from Erickson."

What does "company" matter anyway?

And here is the problem:

"Literary culture likes its artists, particularly the artists that it elevates to the status of cultural icons, to be particular sorts of creatures. Erickson is a few years too young to fall into the DeLillo/Pynchon generation—he’s the secret heir, after all, and the heir only gets the inheritance once the monarchs have been deposed. At the same time, Erickson, fifty-three, is too old to be part of the generation that includes Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace, writers equally likely to be seen as the heirs of DeLillo and Pynchon. Erickson may well have had the bad luck of being born too close on the heels of his predecessors, so as to seem an upstart younger cousin rather than a groomed successor."

Literary culture. Literary Internet culture.

Born at the wrong time. Generational intersections, loops, connective skin sharing. Writers feeding off each other, or born under the same moon. More labels.

"As a result, Erickson defies reader expectation more thoroughly than DeLillo ever does. If he’s the secret heir of DeLillo, he’s also the not-so-secret heir of Doctor Who, Jean-Luc Godard, and David Lynch."

Between the influences of your peers, or transmogrifying those influences into not just your voice, but into your own.

"'Where do we go from here?' is the question Erickson asks from book to book, though the question he asks first is, 'Where exactly
is here?'"

From book to book. I find a lot of writers carry thematic questions from novel to novel, or story to story. Is that a sign of the "postmodern?" The unanswerable question?

"Erickson is expert at creating places where familiarity is slowly gnawed away."

This is something I'm particularly interested in. The waste-away of McCarthy's The Road.

In Lynch's Inland Empire the viewer experiences a distortion of time, light, body-- all of which I believe are part of the "experimental" and the "postmodern." It's a sinking feeling that tugs at the viewer. The "slowly gnawed away." In Philip K. Dick's Scanner Darkly, the drug culture, the confusion, the paranoia, and the “genre-bending”-- all slowly gnaw away at the characters and the reader. Or in Beckett, sound-fueled-- the reader experiences emotional tugs in flowing non-sentences, “experimental” and “postmodern”-- language all gnawed away, elevated.

If you were to peel away the odd surroundings, what remains is a story of love, family, and belonging. Erickson’s brilliance is his ability to create a fantastic world that influences and becomes integral to human relationships. At once a romantic and a futurist, Erickson seamlessly manages to fuse real emotional concerns with an odd landscape. The result is haunting, unironic and authentically human.”

This is essential. This sort of family, belonging, love, sinking and blending the real and the unreal. The authentically human is key in creating a story that can resonate with the reader, however surreal or experimental. When a person can bleed, we can relate. When surrounding is stripped away there is still, fear, sadness, paranoia, love, whatever.

No comments: