you dont get much more pop art than mao zedong.
Frederic Tuten’s novel was fun, and even though the Long March has been romanticized to death, it still made me pine for some kinda Vollmann style historical novel about it.
Imagine all these events concentrated into one year, in one army, under one leader: Washington and his tattered men crossing the Delaware and the agonizing encampment of the foot-bleeding, frost-bitten troops at Valley Forge; Columbus’s voyage to America; Napoleon’s wracked winter retreat from Russia; the flight of the Armenians from the Turks; the Seminole Indian Florida swamp resistance; the Lewis and Clark expedition; Hannibal’s passage over the Alps; the Watts uprising; the Oklahoma migration of the 1930s; the partisan activities throughout Europe in World War II; Che’s flight in Bolivia; the Confederate General Mosby’s guerrila war in Virginia, 1863; Moses and his followers fleeing the Egyptians; Castro’s eighty-man invasion of Cuba, his stay in the Sierra Maestra and the subsequent military struggles; the parade of the Barnum and Bailey circus through the main street of Chicago, 1903.
i believe the hype. it’s funny, because im literally 20 pages away from finishing INFINITE JEST, and i have a critical paper to hand in about BROOM, and Wallace’s work so aware of itself having come late to the pomo party — how to write when the exhaustedness of literature has itself been exhausted? Tuten and Barthelme were in a similar position after high modernism. MAO ON THE LONG MARCH is slim, has wide side margins, and is in a ugly-ass bold sans seriff print. no maximalism. It’s a very granulated mix of prose summarizing the Long March; long quotes from Melville and Hawthorne and others, usually about art; Barthelme-like dialog scenes with Mao and surreal or historical figures that debate politics and aesthetics; and a long interview with Mao at the end. it’s not cut-up, more like copy-paste (with sources in the back). i think citations are an obvious distinction between the hardcore Burroughs/Acker technique and a looser collage work like this. the lack of cites and risk of plagiarism in the former is part of the ambiguity it plays up.
but my favorite components are the parodies. Tuten makes a great example of making fun of your biggest role models.
Then it rained hard on the dead wet leaves. And you knew that if you said it all truly there would be enough there for a long time. Enough of the olives and Baked Alaska when the air conditioner blew at you hard in the fine little room behind the zinc of the bar at Sardi’s. Nick stood up and hit the waiter hard just below the temple. The man went down. The cool red borscht flew from his hand and spilled into rivulets. Three waiters came at us and you put the empty champagne bottle to your cheek and popped them down as they moved fast at you with a sudden rush. Hi ho, said Mary, as you counted the saucers and left a tip although you were poor. If it were true enough it would all be there. It would all be there if you said it truly.
that’s Hemingway. ive no clue how broad or subtle this is, since i havent read that guy since high school. there’s also Kerouac, Dos Passos, Malamud, and Steinbeck. notice the 20th century guys get riffed while the great USen 19th century writers are quoted in large intact chunks.
ive never really been that into pop art, but i respect it as part of the abstract channel to which Duchamp belongs. it smothers story with situation(s), which is quite an achievement here given the Long March — things are placed so that this obvious through line still gets lost within the equally distributed weight of all the other material.
this is one for the avant-garde index. and what a blurb from Sontag! “Soda pop, a cold towel, or a shady spot under a tree for culture-clogged footsoldiers on the American long march.”