One of the things I love about three day weekends is they afford me some time to not only read new books, but to revisit old ones. Having read One earlier this year, written by Blake Butler and Vanessa Place and edited by Christopher Higgs, I wanted to revisit The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney by Higgs. MKM, along with Evan Lavender Smith’s From Old Notebooks, was my first introduction to experimental works, and both are incredibly fun and challenging reads. For Marvin K. Mooney, I loved the creativity of the prose and the playful exploration that pushes the boundaries of what constitutes literature. In some ways, Marvin K. Mooney captures the frenetic nature of the mind, seemingly random thoughts connected by the meandering nature of philosophical inquiries. Linearity is an artificial construction that receives electrifying jolts throughout what is constructed as the narrative. “It comes then as little surprise to find out that Mooney’s last piece of writing, which, fittingly, was not completed before his disappearance, dealt with the issue of time. (Time and completion were Mooney’s greatest enemies).”
In some ways, the term “experimental” and even “metafiction” doesn’t do service to the writing. Take for example the list of faux reviews at the beginning from pseudo-critics that serve as a preface. There’s one bit that I found hilarious and yet so true:
“Once, when asked in an interview to share his thoughts on posterity, Mooney quipped, “I want to be famous or I want to be forgotten. This is what it means to be an American. Mediocrity is utterly unacceptable. Extremity is the only viable ontology remaining.”
Take that critics of Miley Cyrus! I mean, Marvin K. Mooney! There are all sorts of commentary on writing, exploring its very nature, and yet poking fun at itself. In Higgs’ attempt at reexamining the life of MKM, he is also applying the microscope to literature and fiction, an epistemological and ontological probing of truth in all its sordid glory.
“My story decided to asserts its independence. I tried to rupture all vestiges of received form, but my story fought back. It wanted to go live with its Aristotelian parents.”
“The irony- I must use communication to communicate to you the fact that I do not value communication in works of art-”
The book had more poignancy for me in this second revisit because I’ve loved reading Higgs’s thoughts on book reviews. Some of you may know that I’ve been doing video reviews, and though they were an evolution of wanting to work with my wife, I found his thoughts provocative, providing focus, even a deeper understanding of what I was aiming for. To quote him directly from HTMLGiant:
“…I wonder how or if it would change a reviewer’s habits to think about their reviews as extensions of the work being reviewed. Like if I, as a reviewer, thought of myself as, in a way, co-author. Or if I, as a reviewer, felt an obligation to make my review a worthy extension. What if there was a simple shift in perspective from thinking about writing a book review of a book to writing a book review that magnifies the book, makes the book bigger, helps to actually create the book? Would this kind of interactivity lead to more book reviews? Would more people be willing or interested in writing reviews, if they felt like they were a part of the creation?”
It’s a fascinating take on the role of a reviewer. Furthermore in a separate article, Higgs highlights different takes on reviews, commenting: “Notice how they interact with the text, how they avoid interpretation, and resist a desire to find meaning. Instead, they simply participate.”
The question of the role of the critic, creator, and artist has been on my mind a lot. The blurring boundaries between them is a fascinating topic and while this discussion of Marvin K. Mooney is more to marvel over the work itself, what I loved most was how it caused me to question and question some more and wonder about my own approach to writing and the arts.
I’m going to end off on a total non sequitur which is part of Marvin K. Mooney and a hilarious series of questions to ask of a good neighbor:
“Could you not fuck so loudly? Could you stop slamming doors? Could you smoke less weed? Could you turn down your t.v.? Could you tend to the wounds of your children so their infections don’t burst on the sidewalk? Could you mow your lawn? Could you take down the Christmas lights… Could you stop giving me the finger? Stop mooning my children. Stop asking my wife if you can investigate her boudoir. Stop misusing the word boudoir… And above all, could you please stop showing up at my work to beg for money and/or forgiveness.”
It’s almost as though Christopher Higgs is telling us, you’re forgiven. What’s the sin though? That’s for us to figure out.