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Ten Walks/Two Talks Paperback – January 15, 2010
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Like the propositions of Brainard, Schuyler, or Wittgenstein, Andy Fitch's declarations of ambulatory fact--of "mere" observation--are barbed with genius: clever, defamiliarizing, cushioned by a hum of meditative stillness. His sweetly Oulipian sentences give back to the ordinary its modicum of glow. And when he starts talking with the profound Jon Cotner, a latter-day Plato, we remember that philosophical inquiries have every right to take root in daily curiosities and drolleries, like the "smell of hip-cream," or the metonymic relation of "my first oral sex experience" to the "mace flavor" of a cup of tea. Neurasthenia never had finer spokesmen. --Wayne Koestenbaum
Perambulating with Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch in TEN WALKS/TWO TALKS makes me wonder if conversation leads anywhere, nowhere, or everywhere. Their meandering is an aesthetic and intellectual stretch, since they walk and think artfully, poetry in motion. Maybe 21st century dandies or rootless homeboys, they observe the unexpected in urban landscapes, notice people stunned or easy. Their weirdly astute dialogues flirt with being a novel or a play of manners. What stops them in their tracks or starts them? Why are they fascinated by what fascinates them? Their boasts, vulnerability, and modesty presume a profound and unusual friendship, itself in motion, treading on and between the lines. --Lynne Tillman
Perhaps it was in the 5th century--I know this for a fact--that a certain government official in China chose to drop out of public life and devote himself to music and poetry, drunkenness and pure conversation. Soon he had a group of friends who had also left their "lives" and this group became poster children for the ideal life in Asia for a very long time. Even today. When Jon and Andy walk around Manhattan talking about things I feel like they are a moving page from that very fine idea in which small talk is large and nothing is more interesting or full or more entrancing than allowing the city to model for you--and walking among it too, becoming it. --Eileen Myles
About the Author
Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch are the authors of TEN WALKS/TWO TALKS, which was chosen as a Best Book of 2010 by THE WEEK, THE MILLIONS, TIME OUT CHICAGO, and BOOKSLUT. They recently completed another collaboration called CONVERSATIONS OVER STOLEN FOOD. Cotner and Fitch have performed their dialogic improvisations across the United States and internationally. Fitch's book NOT INTELLIGENT, BUT SMART: RETHINKING JOE BRAINARD is forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press. Cotner teaches in Pratt Institute's Creative Writing Program. Fitch teaches in the University of Wyoming's MFA Program.
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The four parts (Early Spring, Early Winter, Late Spring, and Late Winter) alternate between promenades and conversations. The conversations were recorded and later formatted into an alternating dialogue, which, formally, doesn't do justice to the sometimes-simultaneous talking. There are points when the authors' sentences collide, and I wonder what other layout could have better reflected the movement of the conversation. That aside, (or perhaps partially as a result of the way the two's sentences fold into each other in this alternating, democratic way) when these guys are talking to each other, the "I" becomes indistinguishable in a productive way. This melting-pot of the first person pronoun in the talk sections, combined with the ambiguity of the first person authorship in the walk sections, furthers New York as the principal figure. Cotner and Fitch are in the city and a part of it--both the seer and the seen. In this way the book is almost Whitmanian in its expanse and envelopment of every man, except that the purpose of this book is not to name a new America, but rather to record the haphazard events that make up two people's lives as they move through busy streets (or sip tea at W. F.)
The book is poetic, eclectic, meditative, and revealing. I am left feeling like a voyeur--eavesdropping on a friendship. And I feel strangely a part of that friendship--like I've made two new friends whom I can't wait to hear from again soon.
The book does what poetry as its best can do: make you experience the world anew. For weeks after I read it, I walked through New York with a delightfully heightened awareness of its many small wonders and I imagine that would be the effect wherever you live.
My only complaint is that I wish the book were longer, so that it wouldn't have to end so soon.
[Excerpted from the Wikipedia dictionary.] 'Oulipian' is an acronym from the French phrase: ''uvroir de littérature potentielle;' roughly translated: "workshop of potential literature" ...it is a loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians which seeks to create works using constrained writing techniques.... The group defines the term littérature potentielle as (rough translation): "the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy."
I don't know if author's Cotner & Fitch consider themselves Oulipians, but '10 Walks/Two Talks' does offer a "new structure and pattern"' for authors with its intimate, free-flowing language positing around the NY landscape, and this makes for a curious, interesting read. It reminds me of other experimental works (Movies: Swimming to Cambodia, My Dinner with Andre - Literature: assorted stream-of-consciousness works, Shanks Mare.) This approach (walk/talk, consider) is loose and enjoyable, offering visual/poetically descriptive evocations of the New York landscape, flavored by the casual intimacy of old friends.
Yet in the end the work comes off as driftless - unanchored. Snippets of philosophy, but only a dollop, and context isn't easy to follow. I wish (being a geographer, and unfamiliar with New York City) that the book included a map of the jaunts, and had more dialogue between the participants regarding the landscape and their free-flowing thoughts. This book references New York for New Yorkers, and non-NYC'ers will find it hard-going to visualize and understand some of the NYC references.
My larger issue: a work like this is dependent upon the good humor and intelligence of the authors ~ and both seem capable and curious. Yet the book doesn't go far enough in the conversations between these intelligent authors. Much light patter and good humor, but only a smattering of insight, consideration, or awareness of 'self' within the landscape/philosophical world. Mind, it's a good read, but I wish they'd kept the tape recorder going for a few monologues, a few rants, and trusted in both themselves and the reader in taking it further.
Final thoughts: The idea behind the book is clever, and the execution pleasurable, but as an intellectual exercise it falls short of the goal ~ the authors pulled back when they needed to go further. That said, this is one of the more interesting books I've read this year.