As hosts of &Now 2009 in Buffalo, we looked back at the festival’s prior iterations and saw that what began at Notre Dame in 2004 as a showcase for fiction and cross-genre writing had evolved to welcome the arts and performance more broadly. For instance, Miekal And at &Now 2006 (Lake Forest College) launched a mixed-media theremin performance that transported the audience into a hum-hive of sound and sense. &Now 2008 (Chapman College) introduced us to Andi Olsen’s “Scar Project” and Tim Guthrie’s experimental animations. Every festival has made a mark by asking artists and small press writers from around the country to take part in a lively exchange about the changing appreciation for words on paper, screen, canvas.
For &Now Buffalo 2009, we made a decision to give a free, unthematized space to a unique, grass roots festival, to give in completely to the impulse to push the boundaries of literary and performance art that &Now guests had shown with courage, intelligence, and flair. It seemed to us that &Now events were crystallizing around several significant issues: that in fiction, essay, poetry, and performance, &Now artists were asking what happens when we make art in a world in which the condition of artifice increasingly exerts a great deal of pull on public discourse? What kind of power does art have to critique the cultural sphere from which it arises, or when the domain of the arts has been increasingly colonized?
Reflecting on reactions to his (banned) fiction, novelist Thomas Bernhard remarked “They will never forgive us this Somewhere Else,” going on to elaborate that he was made to feel as though—by writing fiction—he had committed a crime. If Bernhard’s “Somewhere Else” can be understood as a fictional space, or even a space for daydreaming and the imagination, it might be said that the area of that fantastic, threatening space is now increasing, its power intensifying, in the mass produced cultural narratives that now exist alongside our vivid virtual worlds.
Against the backdrop of our current political and economic climate, astonishing phrases seep from the mouths and minds of public figures: politicians and economists whose craftsmanship resonates with the metalepsis of a fictive encounter. Karl Rove warns us (not unlike a character from a Philip K. Dick novel) that “While you're studying reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out.” Meanwhile, economist Robert Lucas (taking a lesson from Gertrude Stein) serenely reflects that our “[economic] crisis was not predicted because economic theory predicts that such events cannot be predicted.” Our representatives in government arguably are students of language, not its abusers, and we (artists, fiction writers and poets) have our work cut out for us. Art is being created all around us. But the general awe and optimism surrounding its creation can no longer be simply taken for granted.
Art deforms us as much as it forms us.
So at &Now Buffalo 2009, we paid keen attention to Brian Evenson, H.L. Hix, Joseph Conte and Dave Kress as their panel grappled with what it means to create innovative art post-9/11. We listened intently to Shelley Jackson’s spectral voices tonguing their ghostly, aural language. We gazed in awe at Steve Tomasula’s presentation of TOC, one of the most ambitious digital literary works to ever grace a screen. And, finally, we were reminded at Nathaniel Mackey’s keynote reading—where Mackey introduced us to “paracritical hinge,” a language that sits in with and riffs off of multiple discourses such as fiction, jazz, criticism—that new writing is still possible.