Friday, August 6, 2010

M.T. Anderson's Break Out Session, or Why My Head Exploded at SCBWI


I promised I'd do a post on M.T. Anderson's breakout session for Experimental Fiction at SCBWI. 

Here he is practicing his speech in a corner before the class. We thought that was so cool. 

He started things off by discussing a poem by Kurt Schwitters.
It's probably not a surprise that this man wrote Experimental poetry. Anyway, we discussed his "Poem 25". I tried to find it on the stupid internetz, but no luck. So, I'll do my best to recreate what I remember.

25, 25, 26
26, 26, 27
27, 27, 28
32, 34, 36, 38
33, 35, 37, 39
9, 9, 9
8, 8, 8, 
7, 7, 7, 
6, 6, 6, 
3/4, 6, 6, 
4, 4, 4, 
3/4, 4, 4,
4, 1/4, 

Okay, so that's not the precise poem, but it's something like that, and it is weird for two reasons: 

One: this poem happens to be my exact answer when somebody asks me my age.
Two: I don't know if you noticed, but this poem is made up entirely of numbers. 

Somehow when M.T. Anderson read it aloud, though, it made perfect sense, and I started thinking, "Duh, of course 59 would be followed by three 6's. It's an inevitability! And the third line is just foreshadowing the triumph of the number 4."

Thankfully, M.T. hit on something closer to my own reading level next. 

He's all, "Notice how Seuss goes from counting the fish to discussing the colors?"

I start nodding my head emphatically. "Yes! Yes! I get that! I totally noticed that!"

At one point, Matt Kirby (or He Who Shall not be Named on the Blog) wondered how to translate experimental examples like these into longer works, like novels. 

Matt has a point. I wouldn't want to read an entire novel written in numbers.

I'm a little unclear on the concept, and I'm not familiar with large works of experimental fiction, but the lecture reminded me of how much I enjoyed the movie Brick.

The movie uses words in a new way (to me), where the dialogue means what it sounds like spoken aloud, even if the words don't make sense by their lonesomes. 

For instance, after the main character Brendan gets beat up by a thug, he confronts the gang leader "The Pin". Read it out loud. Don't be afraid. Even if you're at work:

Brendan Frye: Your muscle seemed plenty cool putting his fist in my head. I want him out.
The Pin: Looky, soldier...
Brendan Frye: The ape blows or I clam. 

And later, telling his friends he doesn't want to involve the authorities:

Brendan Frye: No, bulls would gum it. They'd flash their dusty standards at the wide-eyes and probably find some yegg to pin, probably even the right one. But they'd trample the real tracks and scare the real players back into their holes, and if we're doing this I want the whole story. No cops, not for a bit. 

Cool, huh? 

I wish I could compose some conclusive sentence, summing it all up, but I lack the brain cells. Maybe Matt Kirby could. He seemed to be on the same level as M.T. 

Leave a comment, so I know I'm not the only one going... Wha??? 

Or just tell me what y'all are up to this weekend.


  1. what is great about the example is that even tho' you don't know what's going on--the dialogue conveys both the situation and the sense of the "otherness" of the language without the reader being confused. Hard to do.

  2. Carol- Exactly! In a way, the dialogue creates the setting, and we know we're on slightly unfamiliar territory.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Okay, so I'm utterly unused to not finding information I want on the internet! So, trying to show you up, I've spent an inordinate amount of time looking for the text--or, um, numerology?--of Gedich 25 (and discovering that I love Google Translator!). I've failed, but find that M.T. Anderson has been delivering that speech for several wonderful years now (see, though he hasn't seen fit to include it on his website ( Perhaps you could use your book inscription to blackmail him into compliance? Perhaps an audio recording?

    So sorry I missed it!

    On dada in general, I rarely understand it, but am still strangely fascinated. It makes my head hurt if I read it too much. I didn't, however, get the specialness of the dialogue at all....

  4. Robin- You didn't think the dialogue was special?

    That's probably because it was my own example of experimental fiction, and I don't understand the concept.

    I don't think the dialogue is an example of Dada, necessarily, but just a way of taking a unique language device and making it work over a long period of time, like a movie, so it doesn't get tiresome.

    And it's totally foreign to me! Like, it took me a good 20 minutes to get used to the language. Maybe I need to get out more.

  5. Okay, so I read the dialogue again and now I'm trying to decide if I just understand it because of my job or because I'm reading it real slow, or if I don't really understand it at all (which is what I first assumed) and I'm missing a whole hidden meaning. This is why dada and its ilk makes me crazy--I want to understand everything and I hate the feeling of unplumbed depths. More fluff, please!

    For example, my Word Verification is wablynom. Can we get M.T. Anderson to weigh in on that one?

  6. When it comes to poetry, I'm on the same level as you--Dr. Suess. I just don't get poetry. I have such a hard time understanding the literal meaning, not to mention the figurative meaning. Ugh!

  7. Robin- I think it's definitely more an example of how much I don't understand Dada. Especially since I had to look up "Dada" when you used it in your comment, and then I'm all, "I seem to remember M.T. using a word like that." But he'd say "dadaism" and I head it as "Dottism" and then I started thinking of polka dots.

    See? Unclear on the concept. :)

    Jenni- You and me both. I don't understand poetry, but sometimes I'm fascinated by it. And who knew Dr. Seuss was being all "Dada" about his poems?

  8. My mind is blown right now...I have no clue what just happened there, I get 1 fish 2 fish but beyond that, no idea.

  9. That was a great session (I was there). As for the Dadaism, M.T. Anderson also mentioned the wonderful Daniel Pinkwater novel, "Young Adult Novel." It's about a group of kids who call themselves the Dada Ducks...strange, irreverent, and marvelously effective. Well worth reading.

  10. Kristin- I know what you mean. I wrote the post, and I don't even understand it.

    Steph- I need to track down that book! Didn't you love M.T. in person? Part of what made his lecture almost understandable is the animation with which he spoke. Excellent.

  11. Sorry, my brain is broken. I have no idea what this post was about.

  12. Britt- I don't either. Would you believe me if I said someone hacked into my blog and wrote this senseless post today? Yes?

  13. Sorry, Brodi, your voice is too strong for me to believe your hacker story.

  14. The curse of a distinctive voice!

  15. Um. My brain was just as blown as yours (and everyone else's in the room). I don't think anyone is on the same level as MT Anderson.

    But thanks for the compliment.

  16. Matt- I just meant you two speak the same language.

    English, right?

  17. I so don't get it. I understand modern art better than I understand this! Of course that doesn't stop me from trying to understand it and thereby just driving myself nutty. Maybe that is the point of it?

    I had a great weekend, how was yours?

  18. I thought of Brick during this talk as well! I thought both of his talks were so interesting. I also had to write a post about it. :)

  19. Una- You and me both.

    Amy- I'm so glad I'm not the only one who thought of Brick! Thanks for the comment.