Lish, affixationally, replenishings, Barthes, Michelet, blunderheaded,
disrupture, overthrowal, fussbudgetry, Fellini’s, Cabiria, punctuational,
suss, undire, writing-programmese, paragraphic, sequentiality, vocality,
limital, paginal, tenantry, writerly, DeLillo, Lipsyte, perishability,
peculiarizing, manifestoish, upcroppings, unignorable, chorings
Gary Lutz’s past is a bit vague, which is how he likes it. He grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and has lived much of his life outside Pittsburgh, where he builds tight, unusual stories in an unfurnished apartment. He studied with the highly respected editor and educator Gordon Lish “for twenty-six days between June 1992 and June 1997” and considers himself “fortunate just to have been present.” Under Lish, he developed a unique voice, using compression and aphorism to cohere narrative fragments into untraditionally beautiful shapes. His characters spend their time enduring the weight of everyday life, dwelling on the minutiae of their own neuroses. In a story titled “Slops,” a college professor with colitis maps out all the campus bathrooms in a small notebook. In another, a man passes out pamphlets and gives forty-five-minute presentations (with charts) in search of a prospective wife. Lutz labors at each meticulous sentence, word by word, to create a language of striking insight, peripheral emotions, and reinvented vocabulary.
Lutz has published two short-story collections—Stories in the Worst Way and I Looked Alive—both of which should be read by anyone even mildly interested in the capacity of language. He also edits fiction for the online experimental journal 5_Trope.
This conversation took place over the summer of 2005, with the help of many computers.
THE BELIEVER: You have called film “the perfect storytelling medium” and have said that you “don’t read fiction for the story.” In a certain sense, I completely understand your point. But in another sense I wonder: if language is the only driving force behind fiction, why not just abandon fiction for something purely language-driven, like poetry?
GARY LUTZ: I think that movies are the ideal medium for getting characters from one place to another without making a big deal out of routine movement, and at the same time you can get the colors of the rooms or the neighborhoods, the weather, and emotionally convenient music on the soundtrack. Nobody has to come out with dulling declarations of “Then she got into the car” or “There he goes to the bathroom again.” How-to books on the short story instruct writers to block out scenes as plays in miniature. Something in me wants to counter: Then why not just write a play or movie script instead? Why not try to do in a sentence or paragraph what can’t be done in a shot or filmic sequence? Anyway, I am not one for plots—I think I recall somebody having remarked that the word “plot” itself gives off a whiff of burial dirt—and I find the concept of “cause and effect” to be tediously overrated.
As for fiction versus poetry, the border between the two seems less secure than ever. A lot of writing passes back and forth without anyone summoning the authorities. Some people have told me that what I write is poetry, that it could be laid out as such. But I am a sucker for the old notions of poetry and would never think of my paragraphic jitter in that light. Besides, regarding my stuff as prose is a much more cost-efficient use of paper. The reader gets a full page.
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