Interviews

August 15, 2010      

An Interview With Davis Schneiderman by David Hoenigman

Davis Schneiderman (Photo courtesy of Karen Larson)

Davis Schneiderman is a multimedia artist and writer and the author or editor of eight print and audio works, including the novels Drain (TriQuarterly/Northwestern) and Abecedarium (Chiasmus) and the forthcoming blank novel, Blank: a novel (Jaded Ibis); the co-edited collections Retaking the Universe: Williams S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization (Pluto) and The Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism’s Parlor Game (Nebraska); as well as the audio collage Memorials to Future Catastrophes (Jaded Ibis). His creative work has appeared in numerous publications including Fiction International, The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, TriQuarterly, and Exquisite Corpse. His Busted Books YouTube channel takes deconstruction seriously. His reading tour for Drain includes the University of Notre Dame, Binghamton University, Colorado State University, The New School, and the University of London Institute of Paris, among others. He is Chair of the English Department at Lake Forest College, and also Director of Lake Forest College Press/&NOW Books. He edits The &NOW AWARDS: The Best Innovative Writing. He can be found, virtually, at davisschneiderman.com

What projects are you currently working on?

First, I’ve been promoting my new novel Drain from Northwestern University Press, released in June, with a series of bookstore and gallery readings in the Midwest—Live from Prairie Lights in Iowa City, for instance—and appearances in the next months at places including the University of Notre Dame, Central Michigan University, the University of Buffalo, and the New School, among others. I’m thrilled to find so many welcoming locales for this very unconventional novel.

The book is about a near-future where Lake Michigan empties of water and a group of disenfranchised people move in—an end-of-times cult that worships a giant worm—and then, after some years, a planned community corporation, with towns not unlike Disney’s Celebration, Florida, tries to bulldoze the cultists out of the lakebed. Drain is about the conflict between the two groups, with alternating chapters that follow 1) a corporate employee called Washington Jefferson Lincoln Qui and 2) the leader of a paramilitary gang raised in the planned communities but set on revolt, called Dial-Up Networking.

Second, related to this, is work for my next novel, blank: a novel from Jaded Ibis (Feb 2011), which is just that, a 200-page blank novel. There are 18 chapter titles, though, and the book arrives in three forms: 1) as an e-book (have fun scrolling down through blank fields before arriving at the next chapter, 2) a commercial edition, and 3) an art-book edition, encased in plaster, which must be broken to reach the work.

Third, I’ve been working on a series of videos for my new but as yet-unannounced “Busted Books” YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/bustedbooks

This project grew out of several video projects over the last few years, including the students in my postmodernism course producing a video of me sawing in half Stephen Colbert’s I am America (and So Can You) and then, shortly after, boiling Raymond Federman’s novel Double of Nothing in noodles (along with my co-authored novel Abecedarium and Lidia Yuknavitch’s Liberty’s Excess).

This summer finally found the right time and support team to make additional videos, including a trailer for Drain and one for Blank, along with several other shorts—including a sloshing of a first-edition of Moby Dick into Lake Michigan. Look for these in the coming months. At some point I tired of simply discussing deconstruction and decided to do it.

When and why did you begin writing?

When? Just last week. It’s been a whirlwind.

Why? That’s more complicated. Have you ever felt an almost uncontrollable calling to do something in particular—something your friends and lovers and parents, hell, your mail carrier, all think is crazy—something so risky that the entire course of your life might be altered in the mere contemplation of the activity?

Just thinking about this astounding yet improbable possibility before you could transform, nay, transmogrify the mundane world thick with broken, feckless sycophants that surround you at work and get first dibs on the fresh coffee and the promotions into a shining city on the hill, as our Puritan forefathers believed, a shining beacon of civility in which you, the Bodhisattva of sorts, emerge each morning from your bed fresh and sharp like a dew-covered blade of spring grass, and so use your newly attained state of grace to help others see that their concerns are petty, trivial, transient, and that the true beauty of the human spirit lies in the contemplation of that which is beyond our daily, quotidian morass.

Well, David, that’s how I thought about becoming an astro-nought: Note, this is not an astronaut, but an “astro-nought.” I would convince NASA or perhaps a private space agency to let me undergo the rigorous training in extreme gravitational environments. I would perform advance calculus in a gyroscope and in doing so, prepare for the most fantastic space mission ever: my deliberate suicide rocket to Saturn’s moon of Titan. Why suicide, David? Well, I don’t think of it that way.

Let me back track: this planet is dying, David, and the sun is burning into nothing. Liberal estimates suggest that we have somewhere on the order of millions of years left before the sun goes nova and explodes. Conservative estimates, to which I subscribe, suggest that the entropic end of this planet’s 4.5 billion year lifespan may come as early as this November.

My mission, David, would be to race toward Titan, a possible terraforming candidate for future human habitation (although I envision humans eventually developing space gills of some sort. After all, did fish drag an aquarium onto land?). At the moment where I approach the celestial body, I fantastically crash my spacecraft into its surface with a billion-megaton payload of seedpods, organic soil, and various oxidizing chemicals. Thus becoming in my terrible disappearance an “astro-naught”—sacrificing myself to the idea of the future survival of our species or its successor creatures. Sure, we could let a computer steer the terraform football into the surface of Titan, but really David, do we want to create a second world for humans, or one for robots?

It was thus—in pursuit of this noble goal—that I was asked if Titan would also be destroyed during the explosion of the sun? I had to admit to my questioner, a local newspaper reporter, that I had not fully considered this possibility, and really in shock at the potential (and let’s leave it at that for now) miscalculation of my dream, David, the dream that would change the very course of my life and perhaps that of the evolutionary accident we call homo sapiens, I picked up a pen on the counter and began doodling a sort of asemic scribble: a characterless character that might allow me to express in glyph form some quintessence of the questions now consuming my life’s work.

That was the moment—last week as it were—that I began to write.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Well, I started writing last Wednesday, so, let me see….I have it: last Wednesday. Oh wait, no, that’s not right either, and that stuff above is just a put on. Here’s the real story:

It’s actually been many hundreds of years since the bibliomania captured the imagination of my clan, nomadic, left-handed European Jews that we were. Between Pogroms, my ancestors would drop their smithy work and instead scrawl overstuffed avant-garde novels that could really skewer their landed overlords, for instance.

When my more recent ancestors—my great-grandfather Fischel Schneiderman, arrived at Ellis Island in 1913 and settled in a tenement in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, his first thoughts were not focused on such base desires as food and clothing, but on poetry, and avant-poetry, damnit. When my grandfather, his son, left school at 12 to support his sisters and mother after Fischel’s untimely passing, he sold poems on the street—the family chewed on leftover news pulp—and in doing so, endeared himself to a ragtag world of art lovers.

I guess you might say this writer thing was passed down to me like a family heirloom—or a genetic disease like the clap.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I’m not sure you may call “inspiration” the really noxious prodding of my college friends to write once I began. That’s all I heard: why don’t you stop dreaming of getting an MBA and working on Wall Street as a Hedge Fund manager and start getting serious about your future. Go to graduate school kid, they would say, and spend 5 years with your nose in a book breaking language down into syllabic nothings and try, for once, to produce a text work that can insert itself into the materialist dialectic in a manner productive for the liberation of the enslaved working classes whose subject position has been eroded by the sharp lines of third-stage capital like the end of an eraser pressed fast upon a strip of sandpaper.

Who or what has influenced your writing?

Who? Vincent Price as the voice at the close of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” That is some scary shit.

What? Books, piles of unread books, all asking, nay begging, David, to be dismantled with a chainsaw.

How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?

I once held a leprechaun hostage over a difficult passage in one of my manuscripts. They do not have green blood at all let me tell you. That’s a damn lie. Racism, against the Irish! There, I said it.

Do you have a specific writing style?

Very specific. I try to always use real words or words I make up in or grammatical either formulations agrammatical.

What genre are you most comfortable writing?
Comic interview. Dear John Letter. Self-Eulogy.

Is there a message in your work that you want readers to grasp?

Yes, I want them to reach out onto the page and put their hand through my books, like ripping out the heart of a lesser creature put up for human sacrifice, or as a ninja type character breaking not so much a block of wood but the entire root-tree system of knowledge logos Cuisinarts Cortes etc. with their violent, discordant reach.

What book are you reading now?

I just finished the second book of Aristotle’s Poetics on Comedy, and also the really fantastic Keyhole Factory by William Gillespie at Spineless Books. I am also reading a lost Chicago novel, The Common Lot by Robert Herrick (not the old poet), that Lake Forest College Press, which I direct, is considering reprinting in an expanded edition.

This comes on the heels of our debut publication, Beyond Burnham, and the work I do as Director of &NOW Books.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

Yet, one that particularly comes to mind is the winner of Lake Forest College’s 2nd Annual Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize–Gretchen E. Henderson. I am at work editing her really wonderful deformative study of (dis)ability and the malleability of text, _Galerie de Difformité, which &NOW Books will publish during fall 2011. Check out some of her work on the project here: http://difformite.wordpress.com/

&NOW Books will also soon release, in October, the winner of the 1st Plonsker Prize, Jessica Savitz. Her Hunting is Painting is an exquisite, strange, and haunting poetry collection: http://campus.lakeforest.edu/press/&now/hunting.html

What is the most misunderstood aspect of your work?

Just because I’ve published in my scholarly guise on William S. Burroughs doesn’t mean my novels are all Burroughsian. Damn Mugwumps.

Any memories of particular works: the writing of, feedback, the thought behind…etc.

I remember writing much of Drain over many consecutive summer mornings. I’d sit down with a pot of tea around 8:00 a.m. and start by transcribing audio dream notes from the previous night into a 1951 Remington. Invariably, over this period of weeks, I would become overwhelmingly drowsy after an hour or so, and collapse on this wooden couch with funky paisley cushions. I would then dream the next sections of Drain, and proceed to wake and write, etc.

    2 comments to An Interview With Davis Schneiderman by David Hoenigman

    • Good luck with your BLANK project with Jaded Ibis.
      I believe the world’s first blank story (fiction) was four and half blank pages in Nemonymous Two (2002) headed Four Minutes Thirty-Three Seconds….

      Best wishes, Des

    • I think the conceptual novel Blank gives the reader more freedom. The freedom to write the innovative work myself! This becomes the dream of an intertextual novel, where the reader plays an active role in the writing of the novel, and challenges the authoritarian role of the novelist/lecturer. To become a character in Blank, to write the avant garde novel myself. I think I like this approach.

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