Brenton Woodward’s piece “Aesop and the New Criticism” appeared in our first issue, Spring 2015.
1. I’m curious about your intentions for steering the reader between the main text and the footnotes, and what you intend or hope the reader gets out of those transitions as they’re bandied about. Could you tell us a little about that?
I wanted the piece to be coherent, more or less, whether the reader chose to read each footnote as they came to it in the main text, or to treat the main text and the footnotes as separate entities. And they are two separate entities in some ways. They’re companion narratives, and they illuminate one another in different ways depending on the reader’s approach to the piece as a whole. Or that’s the idea at least. It’s also a performative thing in that there’s a satirical element to the piece, obviously, poking fun at the academic way of dissecting a text to get at some greater truth or significance of it. Like what we’re doing now. So the reader is forced to reevaluate that kind of approach, they’re given a text and then confronted with a sort of wild interpretation of it that is probably completely different from their own interpretation, and hopefully that makes them more mindful of that very act of interpretation.
2. Can you describe your approach to developing dueling third-person and first-person voices in this piece?
I started getting into this a little bit in the above answer, but basically I wanted the two voices to be polar opposites. The voice of the text is supposed to be the anonymous, evenhanded fabulist type you find in oral tradition or whatever, while the footnotes are the voice of a hyper-opinionated, didactic, slightly-unhinged literary theorist. Or student of literary theory. Or student who read a Foucault essay once and thinks they know everything now. Anyway, it’s the general versus the specific, so again that’s part of the performative reader-baiting: the reader will (probably, maybe) accept or identify with one voice more than the other, and maybe they’ll think about why that is.
3. “The superficially-ironic-yet-substantively-aching-with-earnestness canon of postmodernism”: examples, please, if you have them. For science.
I was hoping that line would pass as another of the footnotes’ outrageous unsubstantiated claims, but I guess the essential truth of it shines through. There is a whole movement called the New Sincerity, of course. David Foster Wallace is the one I was thinking of specifically when I wrote that line. It’s more about a general sense of postmodern literature I have than any particular novels or authors, though. What I mean, I think, is that behind the cynicism and absurdity of people like Pynchon or DeLillo or Roth there is a deep and terrifying vulnerability. Irony in the hipster sense is important to postmodernism: it’s a reaction against cliche by embracing and subverting it, but when that becomes the cliche, what do you do? That’s where the fear starts. The anticipation of becoming what you’re trying to make fun of. Whoever you think of when you think of the “postmodern canon,” just take their work and look at it through the lens of this fear. Thomas Pynchon (for example) isn’t just satirizing consumerism or mind-numbing TV or burned-out Cali nouveau riche or whatever, he’s sincerely afraid of those things, afraid that he is subsumed by them and contributing to them and perpetuating them, that he IS them. Maybe that’s a starkly obvious surface reading of things, I don’t know. But I was trying to express something sincere and vulnerable by couching it in this haughty ironic context, the same way I feel that the big postmodern writers do.
4. Which writer(s), alive today, do you admire?
Cormac McCarthy. He definitely informed the main text of “Aesop.” A lot of short story writers: Nicholas Montemarano, Annie Proulx, George Saunders, William Gay, Lydia Davis. David Markson for his weird anti-novels. Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood.
5. Do you have any other writing projects in the works you’d like to tell us about?
I have a vague idea that I’m going to write a postmodern Choose Your Own Adventure novella, so I’ve been collecting scraps to put towards that for a while. Nothing cohesive, but that might be the point. I don’t know what a postmodern CYOA novella entails yet.