Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues by Ronald Sukenick

Wednesday, February 2, 2011 § 1

The Unpunctuated Post(modern)ist Prose of Ronald Sukenick's Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues (1979) by Ronald Sukenick is an innovative novel written in unpunctuated prose, and is symmetrical in design. Unpunctuated prose enhances the polysemantic play of meaning in language through the juxtaposition of words in a free syntax, so that subtle wordplay will give more nuances to the prose while creating a sense of continuity.

In Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues the single unpunctuated sentence continues throughout the entire avant garde novel, as spaces are gradually added between the phrases. This is an expansive technique that Ronald Sukenick uses in Out (1974) where the novel increases the spaces between the paragraphs according to the equation 1/0 = 0, the design descending from chapters 9 to 1, with increasing space added to each chapter. This is a spatial metaphor for a stick of dynamite which is ready to be set off, and foreshadows the bombing trend of the early 21st Century.

In Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues the narrator writes with an informal style of prose, as he visits various place names in the city: his apartment at Ferrell Anderson Place, the quai called the Reiser, Newcomb Alley where Kenny Clarke is playing some jazz. He could visit his friends Veronica and Charleen, while considering his relationships which are written in casual descriptions. This exemplifies Ronald Sukenick's "poetics of experience," where the writing of a novel is a poetic expression of experience, the description of a city that he enjoys perceiving with a sense of esthetic pleasure.

While visiting this imaginary city the narrator could "digress into a gallery," or play some basketball at Robinson Square Park. He could head for Boulevard Lavaggetto, or The Walker where he might find Victor. Is this a futuristic city the narrator is visiting, where the currency is "five balls?"  Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues may be a futuristic version of an island that the narrator is describing, with a city that represents the urban landscape of his consciousness.

complaints of clams gesticulation of sea weed torpor of sidewalks hullaballoo of slugs gleam of jet planes smudge of stacks rain drops bridge work tin cans knees streets sighs curves sheets the clarity of persistent ellipsis the logic of lacunae the facile discords of discontinuity thinking at the same time the phrase 
                                                          Long Talking Bad 
                                                          Conditions Blues
                                                          Ronald Sukenick

The use of unpunctuated prose is a trend that has grown out of the final chapter of Ulysses (1922)  by James Joyce, the Molly Bloom interior monologue, that has inspired novelists Philippe Sollers in H (1973), and Paradis (1981), and Raymond Federman in The Voice in the Closet (1979), published the same year as Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues. Unpunctuated prose brings out the artistry of the novelist, and may represent a form of Abstract Expressionism, where the voice of the narrator is perceived expressing thoughts in an abstract innovative style: based on metonymy, where ideas are grouped together according to esthetic criterion with the characterizations of the novel forming a "smudged" painterly portrait, or a collage of abstract scenes.

he said good I'm going out for breakfast good she said           he went out for coffee smoked five cigarettes was furious wished he had a cat           but he told himself at least he knew he was at ground zero           where everyone else seemed to be 
                                                          Long Talking Bad 
                                                          Conditions Blues
                                                          Ronald Sukenick

With the theory of "verbal wholes" the narrator reveals the "flow" of "sectors," and a "sexual impasse" due to "accelerated shatter," and when he foreshadows the events at "ground zero" we are reminded of Ronald Sukenick's final novel called Last Fall (2005), which considers the destruction of the World Trade Towers, an event which occurred while he was living in New York City.

I'm thinking especially of modes like jazz, like Abstract Expressionism. These are forms that move sometimes in analogical, anti-linear, anti-syllogistic, improvisational ways. So this is the kind of rival tradition that, I would say, is coming to the fore. And it's not exactly avant-garde. It has deep, deep roots.
                                                          The Rival Tradition
                                                          Ronald Sukenick 
                                                          Interviewed by JR Foley

Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art have influenced American novelists, and the prose style of Ronald Sukenick reminds me of the non-linear improvisation that is a rebellion against the formal logic of the realist tradition in fiction, with a free flowing line of prose that is phrased in a jazz style, creating a painterly description of the modern city, and a design for the novel that is innovative, with visual typographic design, and the spatial expansion technique which is a form of futuristic shatter.

David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. He is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He is the editor of Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations.

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