One of my smaller resolutions for this year is to renew my interest in more experimental work. I have to read a lot of pretty commercial stuff, a lot of it good, for the mag I review for, but I have felt more than a little out of touch with the fringe movements in fiction. I'll be trying to read at least one book a month that's a bit more out there, either through its concepts, its ideology or its technique. My first dive back into it was the Conjunctions issue I blogged about earlier, and now I move on to the next reading.
In a way, my foray into experimental fiction for the month hits all of those above areas. Issue #29 of The Journal of Experimental Fiction (JEF) titles itself The Literary Terrorism of Harold Jaffe, and focuses solely on his work and career in one form or another. Prior to this mag, I was not too familiar with Jaffe. I know him primarily as the editor for the avant garde lit mag Fiction International, although I've read a piece or two of his in the avant pop anthologies.
Not surprisingly, criticism comprises a large part of this issue. But it's criticism turned slightly on its head. Most of the authors are friends and/or former students of Jaffe, and that brings some interesting color into their comments. His work's compared to punk rock, dadaist and postmodern theory, and some of the essays include personal stories along with them. The best of these are Michael Hemmingson's attempts at producing and directing Jaffe's texts as plays and Carissa DiGiovanni's stories on how helpful he was in inspiring and giving aid when she organized protests against the war in Iraq. A few people attempt some imitation, the best of which seems to be "Countdown" by Trevor Dodge and "Towers of Babel" by Andrew Koopmans. The interview with JEF editor Eckhard Gerdes opens the issue, and provides general but solid background necessary for the other essays and fictions in the issue.
From what I gather, Jaffe likes to take real news stories and spin them on their head in different ways. Two obvious examples are popstar Madonna having a raucous sexual affair with Henry Kissinger, and talk show hosted by Dr. Kevorkian. In some cases it appears he (re)uses the text straight from the newspaper or television, using a variety of techniques to manipulate it in a more controlled Dadaist fashion to create some of his outlandish, over the top, bizarre stories.
What's the point, you might ask? Well, at least according to the critics, Jaffe pretty consistently deals with the idea of the media and how they manipulate what we think of news and how this shapes the way we think both as individuals and as a nation. It's definitely coming from the far left side of things politically (in the interview he dubs himself a subtle anarchist), and race and gender issues seem to be of particular interest to him. Many of the pieces seem to end right at the climax, or even just before, often jarring the reader who's used to western standards of dramatization and structure.
He shares sensibilties with avant pop purveyors, particularly Kathy Acker and the great theorist of artistic terrorism, Hakim Bey. Yes, I realize I'm using a lot of links here, but it's probably better that I let these people speak for themselves than my trying to describe their work in pale, partially informed tones.
Anyway, I give high marks to the issue of JEF if you're feeling adventurous and want to shake up your style a little. Although not difficult reading, it still manages to hit on a lot of pomo and experimental ideas. I'll definitely be checking into Jaffe a little more as well.