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Aesthetically beautiful in its coherence and toned-down palette, wonderful in its evocation of a noirish New York, It’s not all cerebral and filmic, enjoyable as those aspects of the show undoubtedly are.By the end, as Quinn loses everything in his fanatical quest for the truth, the image of a naked man, alone in an uncaring world, is a powerful moment of human compassion and a reminder of our essential solitariness.It’s an enjoyably tricksy, postmodern novel in which Daniel Quinn, a detective-story writer, becomes a freelance investigator after answering a mysterious telephone call, in which a guy called Peter Stillman asks to speak to a private detective named Paul Auster (yes, I did say tricksy).
But what you remember most is the seedy set, designed by Jenny Melville, and the video work by Lysander Ashton, in a genuinely thrilling and enthralling evening.
A truly collaborative piece, “Courting the Peculiar: The Ever-Changing Queerness of Creative Nonfiction,” began as a co-written conference proposal for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) National Convention in Seattle, Washington, February 2013: What do we mean when we claim that creative nonfiction is a queer genre?
I suppose I still mean all of this, but I’m more interested now in thinking about queerness as an angle of observation.
By this I mean perhaps we can further turn inside-out common notions of the “normal” in terms of not only how we narrate our own lives but also how we narrate the life of the world.
This time, the effect is a stunning visual and verbal experience, with long passages of narrative illustrated with superb, often entrancing, video imagery.
Projections, light changes, moments of stage magic and the use of two actors to play Quinn create a dizzy effect of plunging down the rabbit hole, as literary allusions chase philosophical ideas deep into the underground.The reading/performance lasted about an hour and was seen as a whole.We each chose images to accompany our written answers.Four queer-identified panelists collectively position creative nonfiction as a genre welcoming of writers and writing that embraces the peculiar, courts the unconventional, and opens to forms yet to be imagined.At the turn of the 20th century, Gertrude Stein in proposed: “Act so that there is no use in a center.” How can practitioners of creative nonfiction today use language to express truths still to come?This requires us to engage in a deep revision of self-understanding, seeing our own lives, with our full voices and experiences honored and intact, as life itself rather than an “other” life.What then do we see when we look back out on the larger queer and not-queer world?Positioned within a Power Point, using design frames of an old movie theater proscenium and silent movie placards, our images highlighted the interconnections between genres and the simultaneous ancestry/history/legacy of artistic work. Using the questions as the organizing principle, we read our responses back-to-back as a four-part single answer, so the audience could hear and appreciate the differences (and traces of similarity) in the four writers’ perspectives.Then, to embrace Stein’s challenge to “Act so that there is no use in a center,” we rotated the order of readers, round-robin style, as we moved through the questions.What we have for you here is a digital reconstruction of that AWP presentation.We read aloud to you, via audio files that accompany our visual images, our responses positioned here in the order in which they were originally read.