Elders Series #3 by Chris Kraus and Tisa Bryant
(Belladonna Books, Brooklyn, 2009)
Belladonna* has long hosted a lush, challenging conversation at the limn of the new avant garde. The Elders Series is structured for teetering push and force – a writer chooses an admired writer, and excerpts of their work are printed alongside their mutual interview/conversation; it is a hell of list (http://Belladonnaseries.org/eldersseries.html).
The Elders Series # 3 features Tisa Bryant hosting Chris Kraus. Both write fiction, both identify as autodidacts and work from a rich grounding in theoretical and experimental work (Kraus edits the Semiotext(e) series, Bryant ascribes much of her education to the Dark Room Collective), both pull from noir with the urgency and eerie sense surrounding their narratives.
Tisa Bryant's XXX plots a series of encounters in the city space of a brain town. Going into Boston to a film, the narrator navigates buildings, memories, the habits of girl watchers, the talking head audience of a Q and A, strangers on the street. These are adversaries of Looking and Judgement. “The crowd beckons and invites and terrifies; she allows for every possibility, walks aimlessly towards something she didn't know she'd find, but yet expected.”
Retaining an openness to encounter is the narrators' main battle, and stays open by sustaining an energetic language of response. She is taking everything in – (she is named Iris, and she is indeed all I's and Eyes) – and what the story gives us is the joyous perpetual churning of how she processes it.
So how'd you know about my birthday, sweetness?”
... I must bash. I am a basher. Gutterance and quell. Quarry.
“How did i know? Let's just say, I saw you coming. Now could I please just see you go?” Everything. About. Me. Hardening.... This repartee is the best of public art.
Bryant's chrome descriptions let setting as character give voice to the questions -- who is shown and who is acting? who gets to build the connective tissue? at what point is intellectual sparring play, and at what point is it defense?
Chris Kraus's story "Catt: Her Killer" is austere and gorgeous in its conventions:
"Since meeting her killer, she spent several weeks in this delirium. And when she woke up she fled."
Kraus is a good foil to Bryant here because you can both feel where they share concerns and witness a totally different approach. Through noir stylings and a sifting expository time frame, her stylized investigations sneak through the lines with a major technical grace. The story has to do with shifting real estate and shifting power, and with the buying and selling of artists, and with fish farmed on cheap soil. No character is more interesting than the narrator, and this might well be the very reason the narrator pays them so little attention. Kraus's interests are slippery. The story overall is so airy and well executed that it mostly hits home as sense memory, after it is finished.
Belladonna* has caught flack for the elders series (see Kate Eichhorn at http://Belladonnaseries.org/eldersseries.html). But I think it provides an interesting answer to some of the most aggravating conventions walling off Contemporary Fiction – those arising from a shift in book review journalism towards biographic investigation. (witness this disaster.... http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/authorinterviews/6256085/Lorrie-Moore-interview.html)
If reviews are now celebrity profiles, the record skips again and again on the chinked groove of biography and rarely reaches as far as experimentation or authorial intent. But these investigative pairings might offer a solution. Bryant and Kraus makes for an exciting duo, especially in the glow of their conversation, because they are trying for things in such different ways and able to grill one another. Their stories grill each other, too, through their proximity, and the scrutiny bisecting the little white book is all kinds of refreshing.
Denise Dooley lives in Rogers Park, Chicago. She writes poetry and fiction; recent work can be found at http://www.shampoopoetry.com/, http://www.sundress.net/wickedalice/, and http://www.tacks.freehostia.com