Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Native Son

I don't know anyone who has read Gilbert Sorrentino.

This is not exactly true.

A college professor introduced me to Sorrentino's work when I was a sophomore.

I was always looking for avant-garde fiction. I liked fiction that was formally interesting. I didn't want Richard Ford stories, middle age men going through divorce, amorphous stories about boring middle class life, etc. I didn't want clogged, embarrassing, senseless Updikean prose, with his "newsletters and quarterlies that pour through a minister's letter slot like urine from a cow's vulva." I wanted a sophisticated novelist for once. An intelligent novelist.

Sorrentino's right up your alley, my prof says.

I read Aberration of Starlight, Red the Fiend, The Imaginative Quality of Actual Things, Mulligan Stew, and Blue Pastoral over Christmas break.


Mithridates, who is, like Sorrentino, from Bay Ridge, speaks of a writer visiting GS in Bay Ridge and goes on (I am dropping the italics to preserve the italics of the original)

But the moving thing had to do with his being from Bay Ridge. I thought native son? How did I not pick up on this until now? How did I not know he was from Bay Ridge? The heartbreaking thing isn't what this writer says about Bay Ridge, but simply that Sorrentino was from Bay Ridge at all. Because Bay Ridge is my hometown. I used to bowl at Leemark Lanes (which became Mark Lanes and then went out of business). I eat regularly at Bridgeview - natives drop the Diner - most recently with George. I went to high school there, lived there for twenty-three years. (Not the diner, although, OK, sure: I went to high school at Bridgeview Diner and lived there for twenty-three years.)

I wondered what it was about being from Bay Ridge that makes Sorrentino's artistic needs so similar to my own:

In his 1983 literary credo "Genetic Coding," Sorrentino states, "my own artistic necessities . . . are: an obsessive concern with formal structure, a dislike of the replication of experience, a love of digression and embroidery, a great pleasure in false or ambiguous information, a desire to invent problems that only the invention of new forms can solve, and a joy in making mountains out of molehills." Elsewhere he refers to "the joyous heresy that will not go away . . . that heresy [that] simply states: form determines content."

Was it the faux marble and silver mirrors that gave me the same artistic needs as Sorrentino?

[the whole post here]

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