J. Robert Lennon
A few years ago, a colleague in the English department told me she was vexed by her son’s addiction to, and incessant chatter about, a video game. The implication was that his time would be better spent reading. I asked what the game was. ‘Braid,’ she said. ‘Dude,’ I said. ‘You’ve got to play Braid. It’s awesome!’ It wasn’t long ago that many of us in academia regarded video games as little more than the violent and misogynist recreational pursuits of our least attentive students, things that our children should be protected from. But games have matured as an art form in the past decade, and are now among the most vital and quickly evolving cultural phenomena.
Russell Edson, who died this week, wouldn’t have minded if you hadn’t heard of him. A self-described hermit, he was content to hoe his row outside the public eye and prevailing literary taste, ‘just happy to be writing’, as he told Mark Tursi in 2004. Best known as a prose poet, Edson also wrote plays and novels, and often illustrated his own work. But he came to my attention, in the early 1990s, via a cassette tape: a friend’s copy of A Performance at Hog Theatre, a recording of a 1979 public reading in Amherst, MA. In his precise, wry baritone, Edson recites a few dozen poems to a small, attentive audience, playing against the crowd’s uncertainty: is this poem funny? Or is it serious? Should we laugh? (They should, and do.)
I have to admit that I felt deeply irritated by the website for Bret Easton Ellis's novel Imperial Bedrooms, by its very existence. (It's a casting-couch choose-your-own-adventure game.) If you listen closely, you can hear every exhausted literary writer in American saying, very quietly to themselves: 'So this is how it's gonna be now? I have to code my own flash game?' One half expects to find action figures of the novel's characters at Wal-Mart. But of course then I played the thing and, like most people, I'd imagine, immediately started trying to get the actress high, naked and into bed.