Week Six: Renee Gladman
Introduction to Renee Gladman’s reading
Renee Gladman lives in Providence, RI, where she is the publisher of Leon Works, a press for experimental fiction and cross-genre writing. She also teaches in the Program for Literary Arts at Brown University. She is the author of four collections of prose (Juice, The Activist, Newcomer Can't Swim, and most recently TOAF) and one book of poetry (A Picture-Feeling).
In her newest work, Gladman examines the somewhat illusory categories of life and fiction. She asks what accumulates, beyond thought to create a narrative about another very elusive narrative, that being the narrative of writing the narrative in question. It is telling that this book was published by Atelos press, edited by Lyn Hejinian and Travis Ortiz, in which each text is specifically commissioned for publication and deals in some way with crossing traditional genre boundaries. The book back text reads: “Though she has been exploring multi-genres and hybrid spaces for almost fifteen years, she has no idea how to categorize this book.” And of course, nor do I, except to say that there is something to articulate here about the uncategorizable. For Gladman, fiction, life, and place (in this case more specifically the urban street), are related processes that are demonstrated in her work. The project of writing is not separate from a body walking down a street, or a sensibility struggling with say, the common cultural conundrum of a cell phone. What does it mean that an object we once lived in utter harmony without now dramatically absorbs public space to the extent that we now find navigation unimaginable without it?
She writes in her newest book, TOAF:
“My work is easy, it seems to say, walk along here happily, but what I’m attempting to do is to make the reader suspect this progression. . . .That’s what I want, to move and go nowhere.”
“In this kind of writing it is hard to know how much you want to say about a thing that you are calling a failure.”
In the recent publication Notes on Conceptualism, Vanessa Place and Rob Fitterman write the following:
“Failure is the goal of conceptual writing.
Note: failure in this sense acts as an assassination of mastery.
Note: failure in this sense serves to irrupt the work, violating it from within.
Note: this invites the reader to redress failure, hallucinate repair.”
Gladman is one of the few writers of her generation clearly carving out a new space for fiction, for others to newly approach the “novel” as a form in flight, a form to be examined and reimagined. A form for which to hallucinate and execute repair. Gladman works with a delicacy and a deceptively smooth surface which penetrates assumptions always just beneath the veneer of the daily.
And that is perhaps why her work is such a reassuring combination of enjoyable reading and provocative sifting of thought which gently though persistently prods and uncomfortably probes. While reading Gladman’s work I’ve found myself asking: What is an activist? What is a victim? What is public space? Where does one body end and another begin? What is the responsibility/responsiveness of the witness? What is the responsibility of the writer? Her work swims between descriptive and emotive. She creates fictive portraits, like captioned pictures, cinematic scenes, in which the culmination of action is always coupled with calamitous thought, and leaves the reader free to interpret her rendered scenes. She offers photographic exposures, seemingly untouched landscapes of language. We are invited to tint, light, zoom, develop, compose and ask as we read.
Renee Gladman reading at The Drawing Studio, Tucson, Feb 2009