Brooklyn Book Festival 2012!
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Tony Danza. Colson Whitehead. Edwidge Danticat. Fake Walt Whitman. 100+ Vendors. This is what happened over the weekend in Downtown Brooklyn, and it was called the Brooklyn Book Festival. I stepped out of the train and was immediately caught in a sea of Brooklyn’s devoted literary citizens perusing vendors, waiting in massive lines for panels (some getting turned away due to capacity), and Tony Danza speaking about teaching high school English. As such, I only got to make it to one panel, so after you look at pictures of very pretty people who love books, you can read about BookForum’s panel on money in fiction.
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BookForum’s theme for their summer issue was “Money in Fiction.” Six months deep into the Occupy Wall Street protests, editor Michael Miller and his crew began to ruminate on the presentation of money in fiction in the 21st century, or the lack thereof. To discuss the topic, Miller invited Clancy Martin (How to Sell), Christian Lorentzen (London Review of Books) and Elissa Schappell (Blueprints for Building Better Girls) to discuss the near-absent presentation of money in contemporary fiction.
After icebreaking questions, the panelists got down to business. Martin kicked off the meat of the discussion, observing that William Gaddis’ JR explored “the corruptive effects on both Money-Creator and those without money.” He contrasted this with Zadie Smith’s NW, which treats money “as not a straight-forwardly evil thing… unlike the 19th/20th century.” His question: “Can one write about money as a good thing?” “The majority of people are more comfortable telling you their weight than how much money you make,” Schappell noted. “Money is linked to identity. Once you starting talking about money, you reveal your values.”
Lorentzen buttressed Martin’s and Schappell’s conversation with a more critical language, observing that an “artificial classlessness” had passed into 21st Century novels, and cited David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. The IRS agents enter a “holy state of boredom” as they rifle through everyone’s money, it’s treated as an abstract force that passes through the building, then the country, inhabiting both tangible reality and abstract projection. The best highlight was Schappell’s observation towards the end of the discussion. “As artists, who are not supposed to have money, we are validated by not having money, it makes it hard to talk about money because it seems we want money,” invalidating them as hypocrites. Martin followed up, noting that the “question of money stages, but the money is never addressed… Unless it’s a fall from nobility, no one’s going to like it.” In fiction today, “Insufficient funds = sufficient character,” Schappell noted. It made me think: if abstract pain can be relative, can one man’s lost investment equal the existential strife and humility of another’s foreclosed home? Is this a fair question? Are the standards of ‘fair’ morphing along with the economic climate in the 21st Century, are people investing more of their values against the dollar? That I left with questions means it was a damned fine panel. Even if Tony Danza wasn’t there.
— Kai Twanmoh [photos] is a sometimes contributor to The Outlet. You can find her here.
— Elissa Goldstein [photos] was born and raised in Melbourne. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College and is the Online Editor of Electric Literature. You can find her here.