Dialogue Two: What is Momentitiousness
MMTN: We have reconvened with Jason Leclerc, the author of Momentitiousness, to continue our fascinating discussion about his book.
JL: It’s good to be back. Thanks.
MMTN: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask the simplest author question of all: Can you summarize your book in one to three sentences? Something tells me no.
JL: That is a challenge, especially when you consider that this is very clearly not a novel. I’ve already made it clear that it is not driven by traditional narrative, so that leaves me with three sentences about form. The book is not driven by narrative, it is driven by form; it flies in the face of traditional narrative in favor of form. Depending upon the way you approach the book–the order in which you read or omit the moments–it can be a grand narrative about first loves, anger and revenge, cutting edge scientific discovery, or a zombie war.
MMTN: These stories, of zombie war for instance, talk about “Semiotic Arbitrage?”
JL: No, they, taken in these groupings, use “Semiotic Arbitrage.”
MMTN: So, we have established where you’re coming from on an intellectual level? You’ve unpacked the term “Semiotic Arbitrage” for us, and I think it’s much more approachable than it was at first blush. How does this theory manifest itself in your book?
JL: You might imagine that you are reading the same story thirty times.
MMTN: Well, I’m not sure I get that. Surely, there are a few stories, like Obtuse, Acute, and Equilateral for example, that make that obvious. But how can we say that Juans is related to, say, Flag?
JL: Ah! The triangle stories. These are the most obvious example of our threes. I use these stories to lay it all out. They are, to use trigonometric terminology, a proof.
MMTN: If a reader doesn’t connect with trigonometry, can they still get it?
JL: God, yes. I never really considered this, but you raise an interesting point. Perhaps this can also be a “Math for dummies.”
MMTN: And also “Physics for dummies” and “Economics for dummies.”
JL: And, well, “Sex for dummies.”
MMTN: You are not shy about sex. Sometimes very explicit sex.
JL: I got in some trouble with the publisher on a couple of stories. “Too explicit,” they said.
MMTN: You had to re-write a couple of stories.
JL: Yes, I did. It was frustrating because I saw nothing wrong with them. Readers will understand that Bloom and Obtuse are truth-seeking, even if they do get a little raw.
MMTN: Before we talk about some of the particular stories, I want to challenge you on your statement that they are “the same story” from multiple perspectives.
JL: Maybe I should have been more specific. They “could be” the same moment thirty times told.
MMTN: Yes, but clearly some stories happen way in the past while others are way in the future. In totally different cities and with completely different characters.
JL: So, you are approaching the metanarrative from a linear perspective. You are trapped by the conventions of the novel and the cinema.
MMTN: With respect, Faulkner used shifting perspectives a century ago. Movies like Crash play with time and irony. They are nonlinear.
JL: Well, they are told non-linearly. They are linear stories that are clipped up and re-told in such a way that the story itself is narrated for effect. What I do is different. I imagine that, because of wrinkles in time-space, non-linear moments can occur simultaneously.
MMTN: So is this about perspective or is it about actual simultaneity?
JL: It could be both, because I play with the narrative voice as well. I almost want to believe that the same narrator exists throughout, shifting shape and dropping into moments.
MMTN: Sounds like Quantum Leap.
JL: In a way, yes.
MMTN: But in some stories, the narrator is first person. In others, omniscient.
JL: This narrator is a devious sucker. One of the things I like about this narrator is that we never know when to trust.
MMTN: You talk as though you’re not sure. Just to be certain, the narrator is not you, right?
JL: God no. The narrator is just a story teller.
MMTN: One of the things I had a hard time with was how some of the very disparate characters fell into the same, almost poetic, didacticism. If you expect us to believe that there is a singular narrator, that makes more sense.
JL: “Poetic didacticism.” I don’t know if I like that or not.
MMTN: I don’t know if readers do either. Although, I have to admit that it is easy to get sucked in by that poetic voice…especially as it ducks in and out of the form of the characters in the stories. For example, here’s a line from that story we’ve mentioned a couple times, Obtuse. Would you mind reading this part for me?
Though I wanted him in the most primal way, I wanted him more absolutely and completely into an eternity that spread unconstrained into the future and into even that future’s future. And, from that contrived imaginary future, I looked back again to the moment as the genesis that must have banged forth from this special first kiss: the kiss I expected, the kiss I desired.
MMTN: Now, that’s a thirteen of fourteen year old girl talking. Rather introspective for such a young person.
JL: Well, actually, it’s an adult woman looking back through time at the moment.
MMTN: I’m coming to understand the use of the word “moment” to describe these vignettes, but please continue.
JL: So, I admit that these aren’t necessarily all the thoughts of the thirteen year old girl. Nor are they the ruminations of a thirty year old woman, completely. They are thoughts of a young girl being recalled by an adult woman who is channeling the poetic voice of our devious narrator.
JL: Arbitrage! But translation is a fair depiction in a paradigm that lacks “Semiotic Arbitrage” to explain it.
MMTN: I should have seen that.
JL: But here’s another point. You don’t have to see it. You can see it if you want to.
MMTN: It’s a sweet story in the absence of these insights.
JL: Exactly. At least I think so.
MMTN: You tell a mean story. I found myself comparing you to Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
JL: I’ll take that. They’re pretty different types of authors with completely different methodologies, but viewing the stories–moments–as discrete units provides some of the qualities of these masters. In storytelling technique, I’m not sure there are two American writers that I would rather emulate.
MMTN: I see you try to give a go at Borges, too. Not sure you hit it square on, but you dance around it.
JL: Borges is my god. But, really, this form, this “Novel Collection” is about the oscillation between the parts and the whole, between the GUI and the contents. It can be nibbled in pieces with no regard for a larger narrative, or can be consumed in chunks to develop an individual read that is free of narrative “truth.” Meanwhile, the individual stories are entertaining as discrete units: touching, gripping, sentimental, erotic, joyful, and compelling. In a “soft pre-release” of the story Flag, thousands of online readers and critics from around the world consumed and acclaimed the unexpectedly sweet and complicatedly patriotic “moment.”
MMTN: We’ll talk about Flag in a minute, but tell me why you didn’t merely call the book “Moments” or even “Momentousness,” both of which are real words and both of which seem appropriate titles.
JL: Actually, neither is exactly right. It isn’t merely moments. It’s a collection of possibly related moments. It would be disingenuous to lead readers to believe that there are no connections. And “Momentous” implies something grand and spectacular. That is not really correct either.
MMTN: Possibly related? So, you’re saying that you haven’t written connections–you point out tangencies–into the collection?
JL: I’ve written in the possibility of connections, but some of them are spurious and inexact. Is the character from Borges the same as the one from Coma? There are a lot of similarities, but one goes to Southern Africa while the other goes to Western Africa? Wouldn’t a good narrator be more specific? More precise? So the reader gets to make that call, to make that connection when the narrator fails–for whatever reason–to make the connections concrete.
MMTN: Sounds noncommittal. Are you abandoning your responsibilities as an author?
JL: I’m ratcheting up the responsibilities of the reader to be complicit in the storytelling.
MMTN: Do readers want this responsibility?
JL: Mine do. Let me reiterate that Momentitiousness is not merely a collection of “related” stories. Instead, it is a collection of moments that may or may not be related, depending upon how the reader approaches it: A “Novel Collection.” The physical text is organized in one of 30 factorial (that’s 30 x 29x 28 x 27…x 2 x 1) ways that the book can be read. The points of tangency are intentionally spurious, allowing readers to wonder (perhaps decide) whether the jagged connections should be overlooked to strengthen the story they want to read or perhaps challenged as the deceptions of an untrustworthy narrator.
MMTN: Momentitiousness, then, is…
JL: The residue of a moment. A sense that something has happened and that it may have happened to you. That it may have happened just now. And in fact, it did. If nothing else, you just read it. It’s the aura of somethingness in time-space that you only know in recollection.
MMTN: Isn’t that what all story is?
JL: All of my stories.
MMTN: Do you think you’re taking something that belongs to everybody and claiming it as your own?
JL: I’m taking something that should belong to everybody and making that explicit. I would also argue that this is not what a novel does. The job of the novelist is to tell the story, to expose what she wants when she wants and how she wants. The novelist holds the power of narrative.
MMTN: You don’t expose and hide certain truths?
JL: My narrator may, but even my narrator provides freedom to the reader.
MMTN: Like a “Choose your own adventure?”
JL: Almost exactly like a “Chose your own adventure.” We haven’t talked about the organization of the book too much, but the way I present it in print is just one way of reading it. I would love readers to read it out of order, skipping around, randomly. I will tell you that if you read Juans-Blast-Briarpatch, you get a far different story than if you read Arbitrage-Blast-Briarpatch and differenter still if it’s Walden-Arbitrage-Briarpatch.
MMTN: And the tangencies?
JL: They take on different meanings in the absence of other pieces. The Arachne poem without the Fire story creates a completely different set of relationships.
MMTN: “Chose your own adventure?”
JL: If you approach the book that way, randomly, then you can look back and say, “here is the story that I created.” You aren’t active in its telling, but you are active in the connecting.
MMTN: Let’s talk about Flag, because you’ve had some success with that story independent of its place in Momentitiousness.
JL: True. That is a story that, like all the others, stands on its own. If this project were simply about telling great stories, I think I’ve nailed that.
MMTN: As an artist, you have to believe that.
MMTN: Some of the “moments” are rather opaque on their own. But I’ll agree that I can imagine reading these stories without regard to Semiotics or Arbitrage or time-space. Flag received some great press. It is sweet and tender and yet powerful. Where did this kid come from?
JL: Honestly, there might be a little bit of me in him.
MMTN: Memoir? I knew it!
JL: NO, NO, NO! Don’t even try to pin that label on any of this, it’s all fiction. I had other readers respond very sweetly that they felt I was writing about them.
MMTN: You capture this child’s thoughts with such precision. Would you read this section from Flag for us?
As a twelve year old, his concept of metaphor was yet undeveloped, so the flag did not merely stand for an America that he loved, it was an absolute object of adoration, like his dog, tater tots, and his mother. This is not to say that he didn’t also love America or Ronald Reagan in the same way, but they all had the same intrinsic value. One was not merely a symbol of the other; they all stood in a pantheon of things patriotic, not simply representing, but being. Too, his sense of love was nascent yet, and there was no distinction by the type of care or profundity with which he addressed the objects of his seemingly excessive adoration. Thus, he was bound by the same rules and expressions of intemperate love that he rained upon his dog, tater tots, and his mother.
MMTN: This was not you? Our little fledgling conservative lover of Ronald Reagan? And, the way he stands on the precipice of developing this idea called “metaphor,” which is really to one day become “Semiotic Arbitrage?”
JL: Fiction. To deny that an artist does not draw upon experience is to lie about the author’s craft. But to assert that an author writes only what he knows is to deny the artist of his craft.
MMTN: Fair enough. So, does this character–he has no name–recur?
JL: Do you want him to? Is he the same kid in Doritos? Or Merry-go-Round? Is he the adult in Blast? The boy in Words? The protagonist from Borges?
MMTN: He could be, I guess.
MMTN: So let’s talk for a second about your masterful use of pronouns in place of character names. I found this annoying at first.
JL: I don’t want to limit your read, the possibilities of connections. Names necessarily do that.
MMTN: But you do name one character.
JL: He is only a vessel for the imperfectly omniscient narrator to take form. The main character is the fully empowered reader, the “you” first introduced in One Cent in Manhattan: the foil to the narrator who carelessly shifts in and out of bodies and over time to present the moments that comprise the full text. The blurred lines between subject and object make “main characters” a redundant and unnecessary construction.
MMTN: By the time you finally give us a name, I have already come to accept that I don’t need names. But the name and the character you do finally give is somewhat disturbing. You put the narrator in blackface. You pull the voice of the actual character in and out, as though he is fighting to tell the story himself.
JL: My homage to Joel Chandler Harris.
MMTN: Would you mind, another section? From Briarpatch?
I know, you aren’t supposed to know my name because it shatters the “universality of the anonymous.” In a thorny world where we have adopted the compulsion to name everything, you’ve made it all this way without knowing who anybody in this whole damn book is. Must have driven you crazy, wondering, “Is that the same guy in those six stories?” and “How dare he talk that way about women,” and “That is the worst, most offensive black dialect I have heard since Joel Chandler Harris.” But Lawdy be, you don’ been throw’d in that briar patch, so you may’s well stick it out sin’ you already don in her’.
MMTN: You may get some angry press over that.
JL: So be it. I think this masking and unmasking is absolutely critical to the storytelling on the micro level. It is absolutely essential to the project and as a key to the accessibility of “Semiotic Arbitrage.” Without this moment within this moment, there is no tacky glue holding the text together.
MMTN: The last thing I’m going to ask about is the footnotes. This is where I really see Borges.
JL: Do you find the footnotes distracting?
MMTN: At first I did, then I just ignored them. When I arrived at Tangency Four, they made sense. I went back and reread them, disembodied from the stories they pretend to clarify.
JL: Beautiful. I’m not sure I could have asked for you to have treated them any differently. Truly, they are the text. Everything written large above them is fluff.
MMTN: What do you know about Dark Energy?
JL: It’s not what I know, it’s what the text knows.
MMTN: So the text has a life of its own?
JL: As much as you or I do.
MMTN: Getting rather metaphysical here.
JL: I’m not sure you can disentangle what the footnotes do from metaphysics any more than we can disentangle the sign from the signifier or the signified.
MMTN: Or the chair?
JL: Or the loonies.
MMTN: Jason Leclerc, Momentitiousness. Thank you so much for your time.
JL: Thanks again for having me. This has been a blast.
MMTN: Best of luck. Jason Leclerc, author of Momentitiousness.
You can blast through this book, or you can savor each carefully wrought word in this lyrical bootcamp for the mind. Either way, you will emerge on the other side banking more than you started with. Truly an adventure, from Arbitrage to Zombies.