C. Bard Cole - So insufferably dense and weird and intolerable and amazing "crazy book"

C. Bard Cole, This is Where My Life Went Wrong (BLATT Books, 2008)

«In his first novel, C. Bard Cole weaves a delirious web of invented fragments of American literature with the language of nursery rhymes, school books, encyclopedias, advertisement, pop music lyrics and TV listings. A frantic field guide to a mental landscape shaped by literary allusion and littered with pop culture detritus, This is Where My Life Went Wrong is autobiography as anti-novel, placing the universal story of an artist's coming-of-age in the context of American history, politics, and culture at the beginning of a new century.»

«A master of confused longings, clear-eyed chronicler of ambiguous desire, purveyor of desperate acts of love. He charts the course of badly lived lives with great economy and wit.» - Paul Russell

«In this associative road trip through Americaville, Bard internalizes the true history of our literature. Playful, intense, filled with leaps off of various cliffs. A tribute (high and low) to the thought/sentence - how its preserved secrets and blurted truths operate in daily life.» - Sarah Schulman

«While linear narrative remains the bastion that maintains the prestige of the author - of commodification, of the promulgation of a capitalist ideology (does it?) then the fragmented novel, or novel collected in fragments, (reminiscent of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project), representing the steady pooling then flow of thoughts rather than a false stream of consciousness, perhaps might reflect with silvered clarity the labour of being human.
This novel, fragmented – decentred – uses twisted, further broken imagery, the shards of the language exceed the penetration of direct meaning, the works tangled in a trans-historicism (we land in 1789 before being shifted to 1987, in a leap of 2 pages), not to mention, the not quite, but almost science fiction or maybe better to say slipstream in its shirking of a required acquisition of a ‘novel’ vernacular.
Better yet, rather trans-modern, is its lack of a protagonist or author controlling the material, the submerged subjective, non-particular. It mines a seam, picked at by Gertrude Stein in Tender Buttons, its salty word play, peppered with neologisms and conjunction of opposing images, not quite conceits, but devices that conjecture at image.
Bard Cole butts the material with a biographical declaration (itself contra the lack of singular subject of the text/s) - That he ‘witnessed the two great urban disasters of twenty-first century America in New York City and New Orleans’ This parenthesis of prologue and biography, the lips that join and enclose the work to come, that then intervenes, in breathy eruptions, (as Levinas writes ‘the significance of the ‘real’ world is exhausted in its appearances… and in which one must be ‘realistic’), speaks, and in exhaustion cannot exonerate the ‘real’… A post-trauma text, a post-coital text that in its ragged breath speaks in short bursts, in order to regain unity and cohesion.
High Post-Modernism? Who can answer? Isn’t that the point?» - Heidi James

«One wonders upon encountering This is Where My Life Went Wrong how Mr. C. Bard Cole sleeps at night. This is not to imply that Mr. Cole is morally bereft but rather that Mr. Cole’s new book is evidence of such a restless and remarkable brain that one worries Mr. Cole cannot turn it off long enough to rest.
This is Where My Life Went Wrong is a long bright rant in 106 parts, a vague chronology of prose, poems, rhyming couplets, plays, lists, even a two-act opera. All told, it’s too much—too baroque, too witty, too imagined, too obscure, too full of folly, too winking with devices and ideas and leaps in logic; the literary equivalent of a Terry Gilliam production—and one doesn’t so much read this book as dips one’s toes into its immensity and hope for the best.
Upon withdrawing said toe, one may do what this reviewer did: close book, possibly exhausted; rub eyes; shake head and laugh while rubbing eyes; shake head and laugh and rub eyes while wondering why so few writers can produce work remotely this alive, that enjoys itself this much, that wallows in language with such porny relish; then sigh at the thought of reading a lesser writer. (Compared to Mr. Cole, we may all be lesser.)
Case in point: “Cortizonally he had a skin disease of the foot. Opalikely or not, they had to get married, b/c you know. Frankly this hot dog is weakly salted. Charmingly he played the snake flute. Anally he penetrated her complicated & confusing regime, a cheerful look, a miasma of confusion, a pan-hellenic monstro. A lesbionic woman. A fat slut. God Love A Flat Slut.”
The whole book’s like that, on and on. So reliably, insufferably dense and weird and intolerable and amazing, one can spend days unpacking one paragraph until one suffers the same insomnia that Mr. Cole must have surely endured to produce this gleaming pile of a book.
The reviewer understands that in this current economy one’s personal budget for books may not allow for such fare. But perhaps? One may consider? Supporting one lone marvel? In a world so needing such marvels?» - Philip Huang

«After publishing Briefly Told Lives (2000), a collection of short stories which focused largely on punks and queers and queerpunks in NYC’s East Village, author and zine-maker C. Bard Cole did the unthinkable: He moved from the East Village to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in order to pursue an M.F.A. in creative writing. His new book, This Is Where My Life Went Wrong is the strange and hilarious outgrowth of the work he did while at the University of Alabama. Pressing hard on the boundaries between short fiction and prose poems, TIWMLWW is a collection of 106 short vignettes that range, stylistically, from the perversely obscene to the archly literary while gaping at the grotesquely alluring spectacle that is early 21st century life in the American South.

TIWMLWW was composed after you moved to Alabama. Before that move, you’d lived in New York for a long, long time. What were some of things you found most shocking or difficult about life in the South and how, if at all, did those things influence TIWMLWW?
- Nothing was shocking to me, per se. To me, you have New York City and you have America, and the difference between Alabama and the North Jersey suburbs is just a matter of degree. It’s not that anything is really unfamiliar, but the proportions are different, and that feeling of imbalance wears on you. There was the Alabama stare, for instance. That so many people really do feel completely at ease absolutely gawking at strangers who are just a tiny bit different looking—dyed hair, a funny t-shirt—stuff no one in most places would even think of noticing. Maybe it really does shock them so much they can’t help it, who knows? Besides that, I was shocked by how Republican government works out in practice—it really seemed like a magic land of rich white people down there, because the poor people, especially poor black people, were rendered completely invisible and completely outside. For me, it stirred up childish feelings of rebellion and spite that hadn’t been activated inside me since I was a teenager, and I duly put them in the book. It did help me get to a certain state of mind where memories of past feelings came flooding back.
You published Briefly Told Lives when you were living in the East Village, and that book was very much about the East Village and punk kids living in it. And TIWMLWW, which you wrote in Alabama, is filled with southern scenes and images (The Waffle House, small town beauty pageants, etc.). Are you conscious of place exerting a big influence on your writing?
- It’s the opposite. I write about places in a story and then I end up moving there accidentally. I was on a path to live in the East Village and have a dysfunctional relationship with a junkie boyfriend since I was in seventh grade. I don’t know why. I started writing a New Orleans story when I still lived in New York, and I asked [novelist] Poppy Z. Brite to make up the name of the bar where Squire got a job. She gave me the “Imperial Bar & Grill on Decatur.” I didn’t even know where Decatur Street was when I started writing about it.
For some time, you referred to the book that eventually became TIWMLWW as “The Crazy Book.” Why?
- Because I didn’t know what it was, or what good there’d be in doing it, but I kept putting this stupid amount of work into it nonetheless.
What’s your answer when people ask you, “What’s TIWMLWW about, Bard?” How do you describe the book?
- I say it’s more or less poetry. Or I say it’s a silly book. I’m sure my poet friends hate that I conflate the two things. Sometimes I say it’s about Alabama.
Within TIWMLWW’s short sections, there are a tremendous number of different genres on display. There are what we might call literary short-shorts, murder mysteries, treatises on Christian hypocrisy in Alabama, a reworking of the song “America, The Beautiful,” a celebrity profile of Willa Cather written in the voice of Truman Capote, and even an opera. How conscious of genre were you as you wrote and revised the book? Were you aiming to work in a bunch of different genres, and if so, why? And what genre was the most difficult for you to work in?
- I just recently saw a short film from the mid-80s, Made for TV, by the late Tom Rubnitz, the East Village videographer, with Anne Magnuson. The concept was it was a TV and someone kept changing the channel. And in every scene, there was Anne Magnuson doing something in a different character, a different voice, a different wig – in a talk show, a soap opera, an old noir movie – every kind of random program you could see on TV, filmed perfectly in its genre, but fragmented, shown for only seconds. Made for TV wasn’t about creating TV shows, it was about remembering watching TV. And that’s what I did, I think. It didn’t feel hard. It wasn’t about writing, it was about remembering reading.» - Interview with Harry Thomas
C. Bard Cole, Briefly Told Lives, short stories (St. Martin's Press, 2000)

«With obvious nods to gay literary icons Dennis Cooper and John Rechy, alternative zine author Cole's aggressive, uneven first collectionA16 stories set mostly in and around New York CityAintroduces an assortment of hapless characters on the margins of the gay community. Gay, straight, but for the most part somewhere in between, Cole's protagonists live sexually charged, unstable lives. Many of the stories are named after their major characters. In "George Gordon Plowhees," 19-year-old Geordie moonlights as an exotic dancer. He is "more or less a gay boy but he doesn't like older men, he likes guys his own age and he likes them to be his friend and not so much boyfriends. Geordie loves his girlfriend too." Drugs, sex and hustlers rule in many of these tales, and those looking for love often wind up taking a beating. A young porn star survives Hollywood, only to overdose in New York in "Darin Brock Holloway." In graphic, laconic "Mitch Huber," the 18-year-old protagonist helps 16-year-old Ted dismember Ted's parents, in return for oral sex. An unexpected note of hope is sounded in "James Loughlin Childes," in which a spirited paraplegic falls in love with a man with cerebral palsy. Cole is at his best when he writes about relatively ordinary men and boys. Three teenagersAtwo are gay and one is straightAdiscuss their sexuality in matter-of-fact terms in "On a Railroad Bridge Throwing Stones." In "Young Hemingways," ostensibly straight Jon has a long-term crush on his literary college roommate, Dale. Cole's uninflected prose is sometimes artfully affectless, but his deliberate lack of stylistic flourishes eventually just sounds flat. The author's own computerized line drawings preface each tale, and are as intentionally crude and faux-na?f as the stories themselves.» - Publishers Weekly

«Cole's debut collection of short stories, some previously released in anthologies such as Men on Men, presents a refreshingly new slant on the gay experience. Although the stories are limited in focus, with many of the characters sharing similar backgrounds, people like the average, beer-drinking guy who happens to be gay are not usually represented in other collections. Often, the characters! sexuality has little to do with the actual plot: some of the told lives include an Asian American trying to fit into a society that interned his parents as children; a paraplegic looking for love; an interracial couple consisting of an older, educated black man and a twentysomething white gang member; and an Irish immigrant storing weapons destined to be smuggled to Ireland. Cole has been publishing fiction and cartoons in underground presses for quite awhile. By joining the mainstream, he is sharing something original with us. Let!s welcome him. Recommended." - Library Journal

«C. Bard Cole's Briefly Told Lives is fresh, sweet, lucid, raucous, and amazingly free of the corner-cutting, soft-peddling, pseudo-literary tropes that constitute most of contemporary fiction. The way these stories face fucked-up music of lies, sex, loss, and social injustice, and maintain their curiosity and style, is a really new, rare pleasure.» – Dennis Cooper

«One of the most exciting debuts I've had the pleasure of reading, by a young author whose eye for squalor and tenderness are equally authentic. The characters and voice were so compelling that I literally didn't want Briefly Told Lives to end.» - Poppy Z. Brite

«No one writes more compellingly about sex than C. Bard Cole. He is a master of confused longings, clear—eyed chronicler of ambiguous desire, purveyor of desperate acts of love. He charts the course of badly lived lives with great economy and wit. If this book doesn't stir you, then maybe you should consult your doctor. If this book doesn't make your heart ache, then the situation's probably hopeless.» — Paul Russell


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