Blake Butler vs Chris Burden vs the Paris Review

by on Mar.10, 2011

There’s an interview with Blake Butler in the new issue of The New York Observer, “Blake Butler and What Happens When a Writer Lives on the Internet.” It struck me how this article touches on both my recent post about Chris Burden and my post on the New York Times’ article about Lorin Stein, the new editor of the Paris Review.

Something I’ve always loved about Blake is the way he approaches all art like a Chris-Burden-like performance art piece. Reading something he likes seems to contort his body (in a convention of criticism that for me evokes those old catalogs for B-movies and foreign imports: “this horror show will tear out your eyeballs” etc). Or this description of writing a novel:

“I am going to see how fast I can write a novel,” Blake Butler wrote on his blog, gillesdeleuzecommitted – suicideandsowilldrphil dot com, on April 14, 2008. “I am going to write nonstop on it until I am done. I started today at 12:30 p.m. and now have 4,500 words at 8:18. I hope to have a draft of a 30,000-word novel in 10-15 days. I am going to try to blog about it while doing it as a form of motivation. I am going to minimize my eating and only drink coffee/water. Tonight I am going to watch INLAND EMPIRE again if I stop writing long enough.”

Like Burden, art has to do with a bodily mutilation which seems to enact the body’s mediation (by the internet, by the movies, resulting in an “inland empire”). But unlike Burden there’s no anxiety about the “versioning” of media, the production of doubles, the contagion of media. It is a body in media; that’s part of the power. It’s the positive version of The Ring.

Although the interview follows the format of the Lorin Stein article – a young man on the make – there are some significant differences. While the Stein article emphasized print culture, the authentic genius of writers who “matter”, and the virility of Stein (serial dater, the women come in duplicates but not Stein), the interview with Blake seems almost an inversion: young man not out partying and dating, but young man obsessed with his computer; it’s not the model of the writer who “matters” and then influences all others, but the writer as a participant of contagion, of masses, of duplication rather than influence. The writer as a pathological “sharer”:

“The novel could only come out of the mind of someone whose full-time job is to be on the Internet, another collection of words and images with no conceivable beginning or end (and definitely no answers). Mr. Butler, who earns his living as a freelancer, mostly writing about poker online, articles akin to ones such as ‘Japanese gambling and it’s future‘ in the same vein as those, etc. He has said he’s “basically been in front of the computer for 10 years.” He broadcasts himself through a variety of mediums, from his personal blog to his hilarious, often uncomfortable Twitter feed, which sometimes recalls the hazy, nightmarish sentences of his fiction (“Burped so slow & deep just now it was like vomiting into a cave full of vomit, which is what a day is”). Like Mr. Butler, his contributors have been experts at sharing and over-sharing their thoughts publicly for years, creating their own communities of followers, which helps explain HTML Giant’s quick rise since Mr. Morgan’s email less than three years ago.”

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Nick Demske

    thanks for posting, jhan.