Wednesday, November 21, 2012

the future of the conceptual novel: an interview with jeremy witherington

original illustrations by danny delacroix and eddie el greco

jeremy witherington's "conceptual novel" , outlaws of nothingness, was published a couple of months ago but has so far not generated the buzz its author had hoped for.

we caught up with jeremy and took the opportunity to ask her a few questions.

interviewer: has the publisher been promoting the work as much as they might?

jeremy: no, but i was not really expecting much from them. as it is a first work and all.

i: have they arranged for any signings? i almost said "book signings" but as there were no paper or digital copies produced what would they sign?

j: well i suppose i could sign anything they put in front of me. it is no big deal, after all many books are published digitally, what would the author sign there?

i: of course. well, why don't we cut to the chase, as they say. as there are neither paper nor digital copies produced how exactly is the reader - or audience or whatever - expected to experience "outlaws of nothingness"?

j: they can go to my website conceptualism unbound, or they can e-mail me at jerwith77 at gmail dot com.

i: oh. and they will find what?

j: a description, or outline of the concepts of "outlaws of nothingness".

i: is there a charge? a fee for this service?

j: no, the first one is free, ha ha.

i: and once the reader, or audience member -

j: or slavishly devoted fan

i: all right, or fan, has the concepts, what are they to do with them?

j: anything they like. as much or as little as they like.

i: so the reader does most of the work? pretty much all of it?

j: of course, but has that not always been true? what is more work, writing anna karenina or reading it?

i: very funny

j: seriously, suppose someone goes to a bookstore, or goes on amazon, and buys a copy of anna karenina. it is then theirs to do what they like with it. they can put their coffee cups or beer bottles on it, they can read a little bit of it here and there, they can daydream their own variations on it.

i: maybe even read it.

j: yes, but it also exists just as a concept, to zillions of people who have never actually read it. anna is young, rich, beautiful and happily married. then she has sex with a man who is not her husband and she gets run over by a train. what else do you need to know?

i: so that is what your conceptual novel is? just an outline - like a pitch you would make to a publisher?

j: oh no, i offer more than that - a little more anyway. options on the basic concept - stuff like that.

i: like the extras on a dvd.

j: exactly. what's wrong with that? it is moving literature into the new age.

i: so you call what you do literature?

j: you don't have to get snippy. literature is just a word. verbally-originated art, is that better?

i: sorry. let's get back on track. so moving literature into the new age, that is your goal?

j: it is already in the new age, like it or not. but it doesn't seem to like it much. william burroughs, or maybe it was brion gysin, said literature was fifty years behind painting. that was fifty years ago, and now it is about two hundred years behind.

i: "behind", how exactly? people still read and write books, maybe more than ever. just go on amazon and browse around in it for about fifteen minutes. it looks like everybody in the world has written a book . and there are all these genres and sub genres and sub-sub genres and it looks like somebody is buying them and reading them. christian mysteries, christian science-fiction, gay vampires, lesbian zombies, survivalist romance novels. did you know there is a whole genre of anti-gay books?

j: well, isn't that nice.

i: i just used it as an example of how much is out there

j: literature is dead. rub out the word.

i: if everybody in the world is writing a book and publishing it in lulu it may be a lot of things, but it isn't the word getting rubbed out.

j: no, maybe it is being drowned. this is all very well, but do you want to hear about my conceptual novels?

i: sure. sorry.

j: well, fifty years ago literature was behind painting but now "painting" has itself fallen behind and what is left is conceptual art. and what is the distinguishing feature of conceptual art?

i: i give up. what?

j: uniqueness. that has always been what separates painting - or sculpture - from literature or music. if you buy a copy of anna karenina or the great gatsby what you hold in your hand is considered to "be" the great gatsby or anna karenina. and if you hear someone playing a piano sonata by chopin no matter how they interpret it or how well or badly they play it it still "is" chopin.

but a reproduction of a famous painting is not considered to be the painting. and if you have photos or a video of an installation by somebody like jeff koons they are not considered to "be" the installation.

i: and what has all this got to do with literature in the new age, and rubbing out the word and so forth?

j: it has to do with where painting and other unique arts have been going for centuries - into currency. a piece of unique art has value - like gold - but a copy of don quixote or the great gatsby in your local library is only worth the paper it is printed on.

i: so you are going to sell your conceptual novels? i thought they were free on your website.

j: yes, the first ones will be. they are what you might call free samples. but if anyone wants a unique one - a hand-crafted one - they can contact me at the e-mail i gave you, and we can work something out.

i: and what might your starting price be?

j: twenty-five million dollars

i: ha ha

j: you think it's funny? it is what damien hirst or jeff koons would charge, and i am just as good as they are.

i: cash or check?

j: how about pay pal?

i: pay pal would process twenty five million dollars?

j: we could find out

i: i don't have that much on hand right now

j: no? but you must know people who do.

i: um - i am not sure i do

j: you don't? then what am i talking to you for?