Vanishing Point/Ander Monson: Reflections

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"Am currently in the middle of Ander Monson's VANISHING POINT," Carl Klaus wrote to me, a few weeks ago, "and find it such a venturesome work of literary nonfiction that I think it might be of considerable interest to you and your students."  Since Klaus is himself the author of the venturesome The Made-Up Self, not to mention the founding director of the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program, I didn't much hesitate in making my purchase.  Yesterday and early today I've been reading Monson's essays (a Graywolf publication) through.

It's interesting stuff—quotable, inventive, daggered, asterisked, me-dominating and me-avoidant, not quite memoir, though Monson himself would be the first to count all the sentences beginning with (or featuring) that wily single letter "I."  Monson, like Klaus, like many of us teaching and writing personal pieces today, is full of rue and half-steps, full of self-disclosures that may or may not reveal the actual self.  Full, most of all, of the questions:  Can the actual self be revealed?  Can the we be known?  Is the I a reliable story? (Not a bankable story; that question, in the wake of so many bestselling memoirs, does not have to be asked.)

Monson is thinking out loud, in these pages, about truths and dares, about how the technology we write with may or may not shape what we write.  He is thinking about solipsisms and (magnificently) assembloirs, and he gets us thinking, too.  Perhaps the most powerful pages of this book are Monson's asterisk asides.  For example:

If we choose to represent our lives as story, it's no surprise that our stories converge, that we all want highs and lows, the reckonings with our pasts and flaws and loves that we are otherwise incapable of in real life.  Maybe we are the same, we are telling ourselves, no matter how much we try to invent our way out of this, and that's the thing we can't stand to hear or know.

I also like this:

The snap of art onto life is bothersome, too, a delinquent, a troubled fit.
What do we teach young writers, I kept wondering as I read, about truths and dares?  How do we talk about the flawed veracity of the assembled self without turning each and every one of them either to despair or to some version of David Foster Wallace (not that he was a bad thing, of course, but he was and should remain his own one thing)?  I want to speak honestly, want to teach truly, want to leave my students with something that means something.

Monson—playfully, insistently, self-defeatedly, self-aggrandizingly—puts even more at stake.   



Anna Lefler said...

Okay, I have many (many) thoughtful and some might even say deep responses to this post, but I'll try to condense them into a single, piercing query.

Here goes:

Why did you drag your TV out into the yard?


  © Blogger templates Newspaper II by 2008

Back to TOP