Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Short-Short Storyteller

November 30, 2013 -- Before the year is out, a few pictures from this month's biannual John R. Milton Writers' Conference, hosted by the University of South Dakota English Department in Vermillion (above), and the 2013 Western Literature Association Conference held in Berkeley in October (below). RBM presented a critical paper, "The Short-Short Storyteller: Walter Benjamin and the Rise of Brief Prose," at both conferences. He also read from The Land of Infinite Variety, a nonfiction manuscript in progress, at the Milton Conference's panel on the genre: "'Traveling from Here to There': The Empathy of Writing Geography and Self," chaired by Dr. Fred Arroyo. Here's an excerpt from "The Short-Short Storyteller" along with a few slides from Berkeley:
Thus proceeds the magic, the aura, the spellbinding peculiarity of Benjamin’s essay. Its glimpses of the future of narrative prose and enduring proposals about its history continue to prompt vigorous dialogues that circle back upon themselves--testing out agreements, then proposing new theories of artistic production that collapse at odd moments, like an extended metaphor. And running parallel to this discourse is another, even stranger way of thinking about Benjamin: the counterfactual imagination, which has the doomed German critic showing up at a Dairy Queen in West Texas to diagnose Americans with collective memory loss, or moving to Los Angeles with contemporaries Adorno and Horkheimer to help write the history of urban decay. Perilously, we have embarked on yet another such inquiry, one that acknowledges the influence of Benjamin’s last days on literary criticism, but attempts to recover from the industry more valuable aspects of the cultural apprehension that foregrounds “The Storyteller.” My own essay undertakes a demonstration, more specifically, in stories by Etgar Keret, Sherman Alexie, and Brian Doyle, of certain enduring elements of narrative prose: brevity or compactness; accumulation, or the piling up of multiple tellings; practical wisdom derived from experience; and another feature we might call "indeterminacy," a kind of preservative against sudden extinction. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for any expatriate who finds his way of conversing with the world confined to the page: orality, that "told out loud" quality of so many stories and novellas, from Robert Louis Stevenson ("the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island"), to the Russian masters ("each of us in turn had to tell something fantastic from his own life," begins Nikolai Leskov), and beyond.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The View from Mystic Lake

March 23, 2013 -- This year's Native American Literature Symposium wraps up today at Mystic Lake, a casino, hotel, convention center, golf course, and RV park outside Minneapolis. The complex is owned and operated by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux community. NALS 2013 featured a conversation with filmmakers Alex Smith and Chaske Spencer, a performance by world champion fancy dancers, and screenings of video essays, among other events. On Friday, RBM read excerpts from "The Land of Infinite Variety," a critical essay on tourism and travel writing in the Dakotas. Here's one of those excerpts and two slides from the presentation:
A scenario charged with appearances and a certain sense of wonder—that's where I want to begin this inquiry, recognizing that the men who hold sway On the Rez (2000) and across the Infinite West (2012), like their predecessors in “Indian Warning,” cannot help but regard the Other, to some degree, with ambivalence, that “troubled dream” which haunts Conrad, Naipaul, and Homi Bhabha’s other exemplars. I am to examine the traveler’s gaze, then, and also to show, as David Spurr has done in reference to Bhabha with The Rhetoric of Empire (1993), that such “terms of authority, once given voice, are far from having a direct and unambiguous effect”; that “colonial discourse in general is, at some level, always divided against itself”; and that this quality might even grant the postcolonial travelogue a measure of redemption.
On the left: Ian Frazier and Fraser Harrison

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


Join RBM and friends for a reading tonight at the Festival of Language, now in its fifth year, at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference in Boston. RBM will open the off-site event at Dillon's, 955 Boylston Street, at 5:30 p.m. Also on the roster: Halvor Aakhus, Christopher Allen, Janee Baugher, Tom Bligh, Laura Bogart, Jane L. Carman, Ryan Clark, Ewa Chrusciel, Larry O. Dean, Debra Di Blasi, John Domini, Kate Dusenbery, Andy Farnsworth, Sarah R. Garcia, Ani Gjika, Rebecca Goodman, Steve Halle, Stephen Hastings-King, Quintus Havis, Gretchen Ernster Henderson, Deborah Henry, Lily Hoang, Tom Hunley, Len Kuntz, Anna Leahy, Michael Mejia, Martin Nakell, Kirk Nesset, Daniel Nester, Alissa Nutting, Theresa O’Donnell, Doug Rice, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Anita Schmaltz, Leona Sevick, Rob Stephenson, Ayara Stein, David Stevenson, Monica Storss, Yuriy Tarnawsky, Holms Troelstrup, Meg Tuite, Robert Vaughan, Sam Witt, and Bill Yarrow, with Dakota D. Carman providing music at intermissions. There's more information over at Facebook and

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

500 Words on Arbor Day

January 29, 2013 -- RBM has new flash nonfiction, "500 Words on Arbor Day," featured online this week over at Hobart. So as not to give too much away, here's a (five-word) excerpt:
... There is talk of lightening ...
For more from Hobart, consider subscribing, buying a good book by a friend of this blog, or reading some of the journal's fine fiction in The Best American Short Stories 2012.

Monday, January 07, 2013

The View from Indian Beach

January 6, 2013 -- The view from Indian Beach and Oregon's Ecola State Park, where Lewis and Clark visited a beached whale in 1806, and later, Steven Spielberg's crew filmed much of The Goonies.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The View from Wind River

December 30, 2012 -- Pictures from a perfect day along Washington's upper Wind River, where recreational access has returned to "normal" this season.