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1998.6 by Matthew Roberson

Sunday, April 29, 2012 § 2

Scholarly Obsession in 1998.6: Structuring a Novel on Ronald Sukenick's Master(narrative)

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

1998.6 (2002) by Matthew Robersonpublished by Fiction Collective Twois a parody of 98.6 (1975) by Ronald Sukenick, as a young novelist obsessed with the works of Ronald Sukenick rewrites his innovative novel using the same structure, and even the same poetic diary format in the first section of the novel entitled: Frankenstein. Matthew Roberson has written an innovative novel that at moments verges on insanity in a humorous way, and is inspired by the writings of Felix Guatarri on schizophrenia. 1998.6 (2002) by Matthew Roberson is an example of the new trend in fiction where one author takes on another in an overzealous approach to follow in the footsteps of his model: a form of unresolved Oedipal complex where the young man is contending with the writings of the authoritative father figure. Young writers may go through this stage of development when they are seeking their own literary voice, and in 1998.6 (2002) Matthew Roberson has written a work of innovative fiction which he calls "A rewriting of Ronald Sukenick's 98.6," exemplifying the new trend in humorous interaction that verges on the exact replication of a favorite book.

In the first section called Frankenstein the youthful narrator sets out to write like Ronald Sukenick, even structuring his novel exactly like 98.6 (1975) by Ronald Sukenick, and it seems he has given in to the temptation to rewrite. Is this a form of scholarly devotion which has become an obsessive theme for the impressionable young mind of the narrator? Or is this a challenge to the domination of the father figure? A challenge which verges on plagiarism?

9/12 a shadow solidifies in the mist. The beach perfect in size and shape a half moon with white white sand. The sloop tacks struggling into the harbormouth wallowing in the swell a jagged open wound on its front port side. 
                                                           1998.6
                                                           Matthew Roberson

This is an exact replication of the poetic style of 98.6 (1975) by Ronald Sukenick, and is it worth emulating for a young writer who is setting out to write an innovative novel? This is the procreative desire to create a novel just like your father, and may also be a subtle way of becoming a son: thus the resemblance in style reveals an unconscious desire to follow the model work. The generation of the Children of Frankenstein have had their own children making this novel the grandchild of the larger narrative tree.

Although 1998.6 (2002) by Matthew Roberson is a re-writing of 98.6 (1975) by Ronald Sukenick, it is still a sincere novel with a good hearted narrator who has a sense of responsibility, and while he lives in the Mansion in a communal living situation he is focusing his attention on novel writing and grad school. The character Cloud is trying to be productive, one of the main themes of 1998.6.

First things first Cloud's got work to do he's got a chapter due he's got books to read he's got email to write he's got to keep his focus. Cloud's got a thing about focus he thinks that if he keeps his mind at all times one way or another turned towards one end his project his ideas then he's focused he's devoting his every available energy to a specific goal.
                                                          1998.6
                                                          Matthew Roberson

The narrator's strategy is to become established in his career as a novelist, a teacher, or a property manager. Goose feels a sense of intellectual responsibilityso that his desire to finish the novel properly is not defeated by the idea of grad school. As a metafictional novel the narrator shows a sense of self-reflexivity in this passage:

...Goose can't have the Children of Frankenstein end this way. It's not finished and if it's not finished then there is no chance that he can finish. Graduate school that is he'll  have to pack it all in and start a whole new chapter no pun intended. Really thinks Goose this is not funny this is very serious. There's a lot at stake here so. Fine. No more livecam he'll go back to writing the kind of novel he was writing in the first place. So. This is it. This is the novel.
                                                          1998.6
                                                          Matthew Roberson

The sentence structures show the charm of the narrator, who is like a father guiding his family members towards success: a quality similar to Dada, yet with the individuality of style that has become the informal prose of the innovative American novel. According to Jerome Klinkowitz this is a way of "testing" reality with the use of acquired stylistic structure, and perhaps even a way of expressing an unconscious desire.

This testing prompts Roberson to use fomal elements from Sukenick's subsequent work, including the propulsively run-on sentences of Out (1973) and other momentum-building devices from The Death of the Novel and Other Stories (1969). Revolutionary back then these methods are commonly accepted now, and Roberson can use them quite naturally.
                                              The Resettling of Sukenickland
                                              Jerome Klinkowitz

Each sentence in 1998.6 (2002) by Matthew Roberson is a development of Ronald Sukenick's style with the lovable "run-on" sentence structures, and the use of a "live cam" to record events at the Mansion: a technique similar to the tape recorder in Roast Beef: A Slice of Life from The Death of the Novel and Other Stories (1969) by Ronald Sukenick. As a re-writing of 98.6 (1975) by Ronald Sukenick, 1998.6 (2002) by Matthew Roberson is a lesson in creative writing in which the young novelist has developed stylistic techniques as a humorous approach to re-writing. Why re-write a novel in the first place the reader may ask? If this novel is a narralogue, defined as a narrative with a conceptthen what is the esthetic theory that guides each sentence of 1998.6 (2002) by Matthew Roberson?

Part memoir, part novel (you see the parallels building), this earlier novel is like much of Sukenick’s writing, an experiment in free expression: a text that proclaims writing, as Sukenick did himself, to be a liberating impulse where spontaneity was the only rule. 
                                                    The Modern Word - 1998.6
                                                    Steve Tomasula

The sense of freedom to write a novel with creative names like: Goose, Cloud, Branch and others, is a form of literary abstraction similar to Abstract Expressionism in painting, where the characters are simplified abstractions of concrete nouns. This is a way of giving an exact concept to each character, so that to imagine the novel is to create a visual canvas of abstract characterizations.

1998.6 (2002) by Matthew Roberson also seems to be a form of Pop Art where a brand name object like the novel 98.6 (1975) by Ronald Sukenick becomes the subject of the novel: like the painting Campbell's Soup Can (Tomato) (1962) by Andy Warhol: an object like any other to be admired, re-written, emulated in the context of innovative fiction. 

Is there also a challenge to the authorial rights of Ronald Sukenick that is inherent in the re-writing of his novel? We find the trend of appropriation—originating in the philosophy of Jacques Derridawhich is defined as the idea of developing themes from other novelists, a concept that Lance Olsen has followed in his recent work.

My novels were atypical, in that they both started with clear forms. The first book rewrites a brilliantly weird period novel by Ronald Sukenick, so I knew already what my book would look like: formally, at least, it would look a hell of a lot like his. 
                                                           The Collagist
                                                           Matthew Roberson

Reading 1998.6 (2002) by Matthew Roberson I am reminded of my own novel-in-progress The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending which was inspired by Ronald Sukenick's Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues (1979), and there is a moment where the paranoid critical perspective of Salvador Dali occurs, as the events of contemporary history interact with the novel writing experience.

There are moments when 1998.6 (2002) by Matthew Roberson seems to be a parody of my own efforts at Ronald Sukenick scholarship, and with the use of long composite words which reveal the characters of 1998.6 (2002) possibly looking in on my novel-in-progress: the novel has become a happening of intertextuality where everyone is hanging out.

1998.6 (2002) by Matthew Roberson is a new genre of novel based on the idea of re-writing, and I read it with appreciation for the sense of humor of the narrator, and there is an original novel being narrated here which I enjoy for its cool characterizations, and stylistic phrasing. I think Matthew Roberson has written a modern American classic of innovative fiction that shows the potential of a novel to become a work of abstract characterization, with the desire to replicate not only a place and time, but another novel in exact likeness.

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. This year 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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