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Posts Tagged ‘Lynne Tillman’

Finding the Question That Hasn’t Been Asked: An Interview with Lynne Tillman

September 11, 2014 | by

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Lynne Tillman, Second Avenue, New York City, 2013. Photograph: Mark Alice Durant.

Writing a short introduction about Lynne Tillman isn’t easy; her singular and visionary writing covers a great deal of territory. The author of twelve books, she is adept at fiction, short and long essays, cultural critique, and interviews. A sampling of just three of her books conveys the scope of her work: her novel American Genius: A Comedy follows the obsessive inner monologue of a single character for almost three hundred pages; This Is Not It is a compendium of twenty years of witty and risky novellas and short stories, some as short as a paragraph; and Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co. weaves together the voices of Susan Sontag, Fran Lebowitz, Paul Auster, Calvin Trillin, and many others to tell not just the story of the rise and fall of the iconic, well-loved Books & Co. but that of the changing landscape of publishing.

Her new book, What Would Lynne Tillman Do?, is a collection of recent essays—on Andy Warhol’s a: A Novel, on the lives and work of Paul and Jane Bowles, and on Edith Wharton and architecture, to name just a few—and interviews with Harry Mathews, Paula Fox, Lebanese-American writer and visual artist Etel Adnan, and German painter Peter Dreher. Each piece, whether essay or interview, is illuminated by Tillman’s wit, intellect, and curiosity. When the book was released earlier this year, Jason Diamond of Flavorwire declared 2014 to be “the year of Lynne Tillman.”

I spoke with Lynne Tillman at the New School, as part of the university’s Summer Writers Colony. Fiction and nonfiction students had spent three days reading What Would Lynne Tillman Do? and the questions I posed reflected their curiosity, as well as my own, regarding the processes and practices that allow her to transition easily between genres. Tillman was eager to answer, and the qualities that characterize her writing shone through in her answers.

In your 2009 essay, “Doing Laps Without a Pool,” you write, “I don’t want to take a position. Not taking a position is a position that acknowledges the inability to know with absolute surety, that says: Writing is like life, there are many ways of doing it, survival depends on flexibility. Anything can be on the page. What isn’t there now?” All those interesting negatives—“not taking a position,” “the inability to know,” “what isn’t there now”—reminded me of Keats’s famous letter in which he used the term negative capability. When you begin to build an essay, do you feel as if you’re exploring what you don’t know, precisely because you don’t know? Or do you begin with a firm idea or a mystery that you want to explore more deeply?

I begin nonfiction essays in a similar way to fiction. I have some questions in my mind, things that I’m interested in writing about, and in fiction I find a voice through which to do that. On the other hand, in an essay, I assay some of what I think I know, and then, as I go along, I realize that I don’t know what I thought I knew. Read More »

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Contingencies

January 9, 2013 | by

To celebrate the sixty-fifth anniversary of Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, New Directions is relaunching this classic text as an expanded edition. In addition to exercises by Queneau making their English-language debut, this edition also includes new exercises penned by contemporary authors. The following, in the spirit of Queneau, is by Lynne Tillman.

At dinner with so-called intelligent people, during our discussion of the Marquis de Sade, I recognized a common lunacy: the fairy tale of absolute and complete freedom. People don’t know what to do with the freedom they have, I announced, and trounced off, as if insulted. Today, I took a bus, a random bus, no particular number, a white and blue bus, or pale green. No matter, it was a bus, and I took it. First I stood in line, with everyone else, a citizen of a city standing peacefully, waiting for public transport, a condition of urban life. I heard two men, no particular men, or maybe very particular men, but not to me. I took the bus, anyway. The men were discussing their office, where they seemed mad about a woman, and I listened because I could. They described her in broad terms: “She’s got big tits…. OMG, that ass. Shit!” I entered the bus, paid my fare, the driver said nothing, and unencumbered, except by my hopes and dreams and desires, I walked to the back of the bus, my eyes roving, checking for free seats, and there were good reasons why I kept moving, and took the seat I chose, but these are insignificant reasons except to me. I found a seat all to myself, sat down, exhaling freely, and happily, because I celebrate public buses, especially when I have my own seat next to a window, but then the two men, still exclaiming about the woman’s ass and tits, took the seats behind me. Now I felt hindered also by their bulk and hulk, as well as their boisterous voices, bellows about asses and tits, and if I hadn’t known myself as myself, if I didn’t understand the invisible boundaries in which I existed, with my freedom, I would have assaulted the men. I was bigger than both, and freer, and a black belt in karate. Before I had the chance to pummel one or both, because I was at liberty to do what I wanted, even if it meant imprisonment for a day or two, the two men stopped their bellows, and instead turned to watch two other male passengers nearly come to blows, one jostling the other for a seat. Now the three of us, the tits and ass men and myself, alarmed by this altercation, became a community of sorts. Suddenly I heard a rip, certainly a rent of some kind, which made a decided sound in the air. The man, who had jostled the first for a seat, now watched by the newly formed society of the three of us, took that prized seat. Oh, I thought, oh, and wondered what my two companions thought. It was a strange day, and one has such strange freedoms; for I could have ridden that bus the entire day—until it ended its journeys, or until the bus driver informed me that I had to get off. Any number of possibilities presented themselves to me, I could even have fought him to remain! But thinking it over, I watched all the people I had known, in a sense, on the bus, as they removed themselves from it. I was alone again with my thoughts, not bothered by anything, and, when the bus stopped near a park, one I had never visited, I leaped off violently. Again, the driver said nothing, but now I took his silence to mean assent and even understanding, and walked toward the park and into it through its wide gates, and sat down, this time at a café, where I discovered that the man who had been jostled on the bus, earlier in the day, was being advised by another to patch his overcoat, a dark brown parka, the same one he had worn on the bus. A piece of fabric hung on its hem. It may have come down during the altercation. Now I thought, he’s having an alteration, and wondered if this linguistic association occurred to him as well. Here we are, I remember thinking, in a great chain of being, and he could think whatever he wanted. I pretended not to notice him, naturally.

© 2013 by New Directions.

Lynne Tillman is the author of several novels and short story collections, most recently Someday This Will Be Funny.

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An Event in the Stairwell

May 2, 2012 | by

The Milan Review—or, to give it its proper title, The Milan Review of the Universe—is an egregiously handsome literary magazine published in English, in Milan, under the editorship of the improbably named Tim Small. The second issue includes work by some of our own favorites, among them Amie Barrodale, Chiara Barzini, Francesco Pacifico, Lynne Tillman, and, not least, Clancy Martin, whose story the Milanese have kindly let us reprint below, in a spirit of international fraternità, and in light of the patchy trans-Atlantic distribution that our two journals have in common. Auguri! —Lorin Stein

Randy knocked on my door and when I opened it I expected he would attack me with the tennis racket in his hand. I had only bought pot from him before. He had no reason to hate me. But in his mind I am a rich white person.

“Emily’s not home,” I said. Emily is my girlfriend and I suspect, though do not know, that she has had sex with Randy at least once, or perhaps lots of times. He is younger and lither than I am. Probably better hung.

“She’s not home?”

“Right.” I kept my eyes on the racket. Also on his eyes, because you can anticipate a blow that way. Everyone narrows his eyes and looks where he’s going to hit you before he strikes. This is the first lesson of boxing.

“She promised she’d buy this racket from me. I got this racket special. From my daughter.”

Randy, Emily had told me, had a high school–age daughter who was expected by many people to be the next Serena Williams. She lived with her mother in the Bronx and was sponsored by Puma. I noticed the tennis racket had a broken string. Emily was hiding in the bedroom all this time and had instructed me to tell Randy that she was out. I could not decide whether that was reassuring or suspicious.

Emily had had her infidelities.

“How much does she owe you for the racket?”

I took the racket from his hand which he gave me without hesitation, although he looked down and away from me when he said, “Thirty dollars,” which meant he was lying. Probably he had told her he would give her the racket for free. But who knew what more tangible price she had promised to pay. Perhaps eagerly.

I briefly considered beating Randy on the face, head and shoulders with the very light and surely durable racket. We have tile in our stairwell and blood would mop up easily without staining. Randy was not the type to come back with a gun. That would be the last we’d ever see of him. I should have done it. Read More »

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