Fillip 10 — Fall 2009

Re: Fictions

Maria Fusco and Joseph Mosconi

Joseph Mosconi: I have no idea if your story “The Penalty for Perfidy”__is based on actual events—it seems plausible that a “bored, smug boy” would decide to simulate a bank robbery with a replica revolver; that a “ruddy-faced bank customer,” believing the heist to be true, would keel over and die of a heart attack; and that the boy, carried away by his simulation, would abscond with the bank’s money only to be shot down by a police officer. The story neatly demonstrates the implicit pact of trust assented to by an audience and performer—different from, but similar to, the trust that the public places in one another as they go about their daily affairs. 

I was reminded of two real-life simulations that ended less tragically if not less perfidiously. The first is Re-enactments (2000), a video performance by Francis Alÿs and Rafael Ortega. After buying a 9mm Beretta handgun in Mexico City, Alÿs walked down the streets of the city with the loaded gun in his hand for nearly twelve minutes until he was finally stopped and arrested by police officers. The following day he convinced the arresting officers to join him in a re-enactment of the event, this time with a replica handgun. Both performances were videotaped by Ortega and are projected side by side when shown in galleries and museums. “I wanted to question the rapport we have today with the medium of performance,” says Alÿs, “the ways in which it has become so mediated by other media, film, and photo in particular, and how they can distort and dramatize the immediate reality of the moment, how they can affect both the planning and subsequent reading of a performance.” In a sense, the Alÿs piece is an inversion of your story. Your version: boy creates simulation, gets taken seriously, commits crime, and gets shot. Alÿs and Ortega’s version: man commits crime, gets arrested, creates simulation, gets taken seriously, and ends up creating a work of art. And yet, somehow Alÿs had it figured out from the start; whether or not he actually carried a loaded gun in the first action, he seems to operate more openly under the rubric of performance than your character does, as the presence of Ortega’s video camera indicates. Of course, Alÿs’s performance could easily have been tragic, a possibility which is central to its significance. 

The second simulation is a bit more obscure. In 2004, Joseph Deutch, a graduate art student at UCLA [University of California, Los Angeles], walked into his performance art class with what he claims was a replica handgun, put a bullet in the chamber, spun the cylinder, put the gun to his head, and pulled the trigger. The gun did not go off, of course, but Deutch proceeded to walk outside the classroom and let off a firecracker or a blank, causing confusion and panic among the students and teacher remaining in the classroom. Deutch “wanted to test whether, in this seen-it-all age, an audience still could have an indelibly shocking experience and be left wondering whether what it had witnessed was make-believe or real,” wrote Mike Boehm of the Los Angeles Times.[1] Partly in response to the UCLA’s reluctance to punish Deutch, longtime faculty members Chris Burden and Nancy Rubins resigned, comparing the performance to “domestic terrorism.” Burden told the New York Times: “I’m sure the student was referencing the work I did. He was also trying to co-opt and demean it and parody it.”[2]

How do you see fiction figuring in all of this? If simulation is a kind of fiction, to what extent can artists intervene in everyday life to create fictional spaces or scenarios?

Maria Fusco: 
Sorry for the tardy reply. I’ve been in Dublin, talking about fiction and contemporary art publishing: What’s there to read, and how should it be read?

“I Dream of Drella” pulls many strands of interest together for me, and, whilst I was initially disappointed to see Smithson and Warhol together, now, when I look at them again, I picture Smithson looking down from a helicopter at Warhol’s wig, a small white beast in the distance.

Some more specific thoughts below:

In the beginning was the word. In the beginning was the word. The word hinted at the mystery of the original. The understanding was that it would never be the same. Everyone felt able to comment. No one really knew what was to come. Nevertheless, they have continued to want to see what the written word looks like. And so, the journey from the first to the second and even to the third, and so on. 

All forms are similar, and none are the same / So that their chorus points the way to a hidden law. The page. The street. The screen. Perhaps. 

... To make the dream a fact.... The recognition that successive outputs have the potential to improve upon the last. The realization that sometimes, the first stab is the cleanest. The audience. Once more, the intense desire to consume. 

The complexity of a total apprehension of a work is such that the experiencing ego has too much to do at once, as it were, and thus cannot give itself equally to all the components.... The literary work is never fully grasped in all its strata and components but always only partially, always, so to speak, in only a perspectival foreshortening. Linearity versus spatiality. Lending precedence to plot—knowledge acquired via accretion. A special place, many audiences at the same time. A process of titration until meaning becomes clear. Loss of meaning as a result of prolonged repetition. 

Praise first animates the spirit, which then desires to deserve it. Morning. Work directly, else slippage may occur. Defying the inbuilt obsolescence of works of a seemingly low order. Thereby performing an affirmative action in the public realm. To the front, labour of a seemingly wholesome nature, behind, not. Begin again.

Mosconi: It’s funny that you were initially disappointed by Saul Anton’s conceit to put Warhol and Smithson into imaginary dialogue—nearly all my colleagues rolled their eyes when I mentioned the book to them. Still, I respect the breadth of Anton’s research. It’s not a simple task to pull off a credible simulation. But facts and data, however well strung together, however neatly appropriated, however dreamy, do not necessarily make a compelling fiction. Perhaps that’s why Warhol’s Dream is best read as a work 
of criticism.

I find it interesting that you emphasize the written__word. In the beginning was the word, but the word was also made flesh. The written word is the residue of flesh, sure, and I don’t intend to proffer a refutation of early Jacques Derrida. I just don’t want to forget about the spoken word. Wow, I surprise myself: this, coming from someone who loves poetry but dislikes the drudgery of readings. As a poet, I often try to create poems that exist only on the page or only in the mouth. 

The page, the street, the screen—but what about the tongue?

In some forms of rap, a speech-centred discourse, conspicuous consumption appears first as a form of sympathetic magic (I owe this point to the poet Stan Apps). The rapper narrates a desired relationship to money, status, cars, and bling long before he or she actually acquires such objects. To make the dream a fact....

Ultimately, the audience narrates just as much as the performer (or the storyteller). In your story, the boy “knows just about as much about bank security as we do (from programs on television and films in the cinema),” but it is his audience, the frightened captives at the bank, who are afraid to move, afraid to help the ruddy-faced bank customer whose lips have turned blue. Like the boy, they’ve seen the films and television shows; their knowledge of the situation is as overdetermined as the boy’s is lacking.

I don’t think I was disappointed by Anton’s project, more by the actual sight of them together. It looks a bit like a super-group, and that never works, does it? 

I love your phrase “the drudgery of readings”—is that like experimental fiction that experiments only with the reader? What is it that is like work? Is it the boredom of repetition, or the expectation of going home?

I’m shy but I like speaking.

The tongue is very interesting to me, the place of words upon it, the space of words in front of it. This interests me more as an aporetic procedure, in that the tongue always asks more questions than it can ever answer (reminded here of the title of Louis Althusser’s posthumously published autobiography, The Future Lasts a Long Time), and surely this is a good thing, keeps the conversation going, so to speak.

Mosconi: You’re absolutely right; super-groups never work.... The Plastic Ono Band may be 
the exception that proves the rule. And I have a weakness for Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy’s collaborative works.

By “drudgery of readings” I was referring to live readings, in front of crowds, with introductions, recitations, and applause. It is actually work to sit through them sometimes. Part of the problem is that there is a format that people rarely deviate from: this is my novel, these are my poems, I’ll read from my manuscript for awhile, and then, you’ll buy my book when it’s over. Writers could learn a lot from artists in this respect—how to engage an audience, upset the format of an event. A local Los Angeles artist named Shana Lutker recently hired two actors and hooked them up with ear-pieces; members of the audience spoke whatever they wanted into a microphone, which transmitted the words silently to the actors, who repeated the received language deadpan. It was a small gesture, but it kept the audience active and engaged.

Fusco: I find endings and beginnings very difficult; it’s the bit in the middle where I feel I get my best work done, where I’m most active. Maybe for that reason I rarely read forewords or afterwords: they dull you, they tell you how to read rather than show you, and maybe there’s something in that with the artist’s proclivity for CHANGE. I agree about Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy, but maybe that’s because I can’t tell them apart anyhow....

  1. Mike Boehm, “The ‘shot’ heard ’round UCLA,” Los Angeles Times, 9 July 2005, 
Entertainment section, Online edition.
  1. Jenny Hontz, “Gunplay, as Art, Sets Off a Debate,” New York Times, 5 February 2005, Arts section, Online edition.

Image: Plastic Ono Band, Give Peace a Chance, 1969

About the Authors

Maria Fusco is a Belfast-born writer and academic based in London. She recently edited Put About: A Critical Anthology on Independent Publishing produced out of a conference at Tate Modern that she organized. She is currently developing a new journal The Happy Hypocrite for and about experimental writing within visual arts.

Joseph Mosconi is a writer and linguist who lives in Los Angeles. He has work forthcoming in the poetry journal Primary Writing. Excerpts from an essay on the OuLiPo and their influence on contemporary writing will appear in a collection entitled The nOulipian Analects, forthcoming on Les Figues Press. He currently works at Google, Inc.

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