The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2016

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MAY 2016 Issue
Books In Conversation

Reframing the Death of Art:
CHRIS CAMPANIONI with Giancarlo Lombardi

I’ve known Chris Campanioni for quite some time. We live in the same neighborhood, an area of Brooklyn that on the map might seem so vast, yet, a lot like much of New York City, is also like a small town. We teach in the same institution, and we’re both extremely committed to the mission of a public university that is charged with educating the large majority of the inhabitants of this incredible city. Although we’ve often talked about his work, this is the first time we do it in a formal setting, and we’re doing it to discuss his new book. In Death of Art (C&R Press), Campanioni re-evaluates intimacy and narcissism in 2016—not just its mode and function, but how we think about and value each—and he does so in unexpected and unusual ways. Much of the book, and his writing as a whole, reflects and re-frames a continuously shifting Brooklyn, which is where we’re meeting today (under the Brooklyn Bridge) to discuss the changing landscape of art, inside and outside of the text.

Chris Campanioni
Death of Art
(C&R Press)

Giancarlo Lombardi (Rail): Your new book is titled Death of Art; what is your definition of art? How do you define yourself within its perimeters and where do you stand in relation to its other practitioners?

Chris Campanioni: I try to constantly remind myself of the social and cultural divides between what we—I say “we” but what I mean is our cultural rule makers—define as “art” and what we call everything else. Divides dictate the degree of access for artists and audience. So one way to re-evaluate the model and democratize or equalize art is to dismantle it, by introducing pop culture into the discussion and the work of art itself. This is what I was able to do in my personal and professional life; stepping off the runway or studio showroom and stepping into the newsroom or the classroom. At a certain point, I decided the best way to force the conversation was to start a new one, and that conversation includes several different perspectives but also several different registers of language and areas of culture. The idea of “high” and “low” culture is as reductive and antiquated as any other binary, but for some reason, as artists we still hold on to this idea.
So I am only an artist as far as I can remove myself from art’s persona and practice, or at least the perception of it; one way for me to do that in fact and in fiction was to focus Death of Art’s plot point on self-erasure. But because we as writers, poets, artists, are always in conversation with one another, I am absolutely standing in relation to other artists, even if I am very conscious of re-evaluating the model and its means of production.

Rail: So what is the responsibility of the artist in such a difficult historical contingency? What is the political charge of your own art, and has it changed, or better, evolved over the past decade?

Campanioni: I think every work of art is different than the one that came before, and there should be a marked difference, or else what’s the point? Writing one book would be the same as writing a dozen. If you looked at my work, at least my published work, from Going Down (2013) to Death of Art (2016) the emphasis on political urgency and expression is explicit, but perhaps it’s also because Going Down was responding to issues that were largely ignored—the Latino male body and its commodification in the world of images and products—and still are. Today I am responding to broader cultural concerns that are no less important; they simply have more of a following in media and social media, and certainly more support from audiences and other artists. Language and literacy, intimacy, racism, privilege, polarization—these are things that everyone can identify with in their everyday lives because it’s the reality of our everyday lives.
Death of Art is my first “nonfiction” book, or at least the first book I’ve produced that is labeled as such. In an almost contradictory way, by reacting to many of the same issues I was reacting to in my earlier works, but in a broader cultural analysis, the work and the reception of the work has ultimately become much more personal. Everyone knows this is my story; essentially a summer in Brooklyn, what happened to me, and how I was feeling in a very specific place at a very specific time. The closest thing to metempsychosis one can ever get.

I had written before (in The Elm published in Pacifica Literary Review, June 2015) that you learn more about the novelist by reading their fiction than by actually meeting them, but I’m not sure if I believe that today. We are talking now and certainly we’ve met many times before. What do you think?

Rail: As a formally trained literary critic, I’ve always believed that the work itself comes before the artist, that it should speak for the artist. We’ve often joked, in conversation, about the fact that I’m one of those who totally buys into the concept of the “death of the author” yet, here I am doing this interview with you! [Laughter.] And in that sense or within that contradiction the age of Instagram and Snapchat is also the age of ultimate voyeurism: you expose yourself to addressees that have no face and that you probably never met and will never meet. This is also true of all art, destined to unknown addressees, and not to the ‘happy few’ of our intimate social circles. As an active practitioner of social media, how do you reconcile these thoughts in your writings and your own understanding of art?

Campanioni: Voyeurism has always interested me, in my personal and professional life, and of course in my writing. Modernity demands a constant accumulation of photographs. Taking photographs gives you something to do; it means that you no longer have to be idle, but it also dictates ownership. What can be imagined can be consumed and what can be consumed can be imagined. I want, I want, I want […] becomes I am I am I am […] a sort of wish fulfillment taking place every day of our lives, on our screens or through the lens by which we capture our experience or what we say is real. I think there’s desire and fantasy and a re-framing of reality that exists inside and outside of any text or work of art, or just our life—which is our greatest work of art?—whether we are producing it or consuming it. I often ask myself, “Haven’t we all turned into tourists of our own lives?” And I think inherent in that question is that idea that inevitably, what we make of art and what we make of our own life is destined to send out messages to unknown addressees, and there’s a kind of anonymous interaction there that is taking place. And anonymity seems like a prerequisite, or at least a very important aspect of voyeurism; the thrill but also the power and control and beauty of looking at something from afar and re-framing whatever it is you are looking at to match your own desires and your own reality.

Rail: You’re a very prolific writer. Take us through the steps of a new project: how does it germinate and develop? Where do you seek influence and inspiration? How much rewriting and polishing is involved? 

Campanioni: This new book came together at a breakneck pace. It began in the spring of 2015 and it’s ending—or starting, depending on how you look at it—this spring with the release of the book in stores. And I think the way the words move, how fast they move, from the opening line to the last one reflect that journey, which is less like a journey than that very specific moment in my life I’d mentioned earlier. And often, these vignettes, these prose poems, these “moments” begin on my own screen: the notes section of my iPhone, particularly because I do so much of my writing in transit. And I think you can never remove the setting of a work from the work itself, and maybe because so much of my writing occurs in subways, there is a stop-start, rapid-fire sort of rhythm and the language and what you’ve said before about the emotional resonance itself, which is euphoric—a kind of euphoria that I hope every reader feels as they read this strange, intimate book. And maybe they see their own summer and their own fall and winter through my own, and their own experience.
I’m not sure if I’m fully answering your question but I think by talking about where the actual writing almost always develops—on my screen, in the subway or bus—you may also get a sense of what comes first for me, between the story and the sounds, and it’s almost always the sounds which dominate and develop a story or poem. In other words, it’s almost always the sound of a line or a line break that captures me and forces me to write everything around it, and less about an image, or a scene, or a story, or especially, an end to that story. Which is why, maybe, I start Death of Art with the line, “This is the best part, the moment before it begins” and end the book with the line, “Honestly, that was never the point.” I guess what I’m trying to say is that, for better or worse, in my life and in my writing, I’m much more concerned with the questions, the process, the intersections and zigzags we experience to get to an ending, but I care very little for the ending or outcome itself.

Rail: In your writing, you often mash together old and new, history and literature, pop and technology, social media and high art. What is the intended effect on your reader and how do these practices define you as an artist?

Campanioni: [Laughter.] I was waiting for that question. On a very basic level, combining such disparate elements or cultures allows an open invitation for an audience that might not normally enter a dialogue with “poetry” or “fashion” or “memoir”—or any of those things. It broadens the perspective of the issues by re-contextualizing them. I’ve never actually believed that the deployment of pop culture compromises a work of art’s sustainability or potential posterity. Literature is about the history of human thought, right? What are we doing if not dating our work so that it might speak centuries later? And to do so, we speak through voicing our current reality.

As an artist and a person, I’ve always been completely opposed to binaries, so it made no sense for me to see myself as a journalist and not a model, or to later choose poetry over prose or vice versa when I entered Fordham’s Masters program. Why would I start choosing now? It made sense for me to write my first nonfiction book as an uninterrupted stream of prose and poetry, with close readings and analysis of 90210 and a narrative situated at the intersection of narcissism and intimacy in between each.

A lot of people like to say, “Write what you know” but I don’t think many people actually do it. I’ve never shied from my life and my life’s experiences in my work, in a completely narcissistic but also empathetic way. I see myself in everyone but the flip side to that hyper narcissism is that I see everyone’s multitude of different, often conflicting experiences and perspectives in my own, and in looking at myself on paper I can see that we are all so similar—the way art is always a conduit for something other than ourselves, greater than ourselves, and which teaches us so much about ourselves and others. The best part about the actual process of writing has always been the inability to understand what it is I’ve just written; that struggle to understand is also a striving to understand.

I worry about how polarized we’ve become as a people; how much more distant we will still become with every passing moment we spend with our tethered bodies instead of on our physical selves. It’s time to embrace difference and speak about it with singularity, idiosyncrasy, critical thinking, and infinite density, not an “us versus them” scenario. The feeling of being different is universal because difference makes us universally human. We can’t forget that or forget to celebrate it. In doing so, we might see the beauty in our differences as a way to come together, not as a means to tear ourselves apart, and I think that’s where empathy—or a striving for it—comes in. Yes, I see myself in you but it has less to do with narcissism and more to do with a striving to reconcile our inherent differences with what binds us together as brothers and sisters. Pop culture is a lens through which I endeavor to achieve that, because pop is the great uniter; everyone can relate to it and everyone relates to it in different ways.

Rail: Let’s talk a bit about the physical, corporeal elements of your writing, which are frequently inscribed in the fabric of your work. How does “body talk” change in the simulacral times of Instagram, Snapchat and social media in general?

Campanioni: It’s funny you ask. Every work begins with a question, and that was essentially my question when I began working through Death of Art last May. How has intimacy been re-formed in the age of wish fulfillment, mainstreamed pornography, and voyeurism? And is it still achievable? I think a prison term that I often lean on during my seminars is useful here: mushfake, which refers to making do with something when the real thing is not available. In the absence of the real thing, we turn to our hardware where the hard body once was. My writing is wholly concerned with technology yet I write about technology in very physical, sensual, language. Maybe that’s my way around admitting the obvious and unacknowledged: the Internet is a real, physical space filled with human bodies that make and unmake our virtual reality. There’s nothing “virtual” or “invisible” about it, even though we often think about the network as moving with the speed of light, and resembling a bolt of light blasting through the dark space.

But the emphasis on the body, and on being embodied, constantly and consistently is also a reaction to the underlying belief I still deeply cling to: it’s not data or hardware or the digitalization of so much of our basic human functions that will deny us our humanity; it’s the calculated decision to stop being human. Is my work utopic? I think it’s utopic because in critiquing our current culture I am imagining the possibilities of something greater.

Rail: And how is the very concept of art affected by its mechanical reproduction, as Benjamin would say, in the social media?

Campanioni: I think in beautiful and surprising ways. A screenshot re-contextualized for the masses could be a political statement. Re-appropriating cultural signs and markers is getting easier and more commonplace through social media and the Internet. The cut-up was around long before Brion Gysin “discovered” it and WSB popularized it, but in our cut-and-paste culture, it’s become easier to be inventive with form and content than ever before. Innovation is the upshot of a reappropriation that celebrates its origins and dares to reinvent them. But unfortunately, that sort of reappropriation is not exactly the norm in our cut-and-paste culture, and too often, the origins of a re-fashioned culture, item, product, or work is ignored or unacknowledged.

And very often it’s technology that dictates the sort of art we are producing and consuming, not the other way around. Short story collections weren’t big sellers ten or twenty years ago; today, they are popular as a mainstream genre and celebrated in literary circles. Flash fiction and hybrid prose poetry is in vogue, probably the most common submission I receive at PANK—one thousand words or less. Readers want the immediate and we want the immediate pay-off—the upshot of an instant-gratification culture—which is why many articles and essays have a “time it takes to read this” denotation alongside the title or author’s name. TLTR is a common acronym on message boards and comment sections of articles and stories: Too Long To Read. Bots are being made right now, the sole task of which is to summarize articles for us. TLTR. This interview is probably too long to read. [Laughter.]

But there’s always been a clash and a deep, prolonged, internal struggle—the struggle of the artist themselves—between commerce and artistic expression, and ultimately, artistic production. That sort of desperation has always driven my work, especially living and writing in New York City, where the rents rise every month, and I think my work is better because of it.

Rail: Artistic expression, desperation, commerce. This makes me want to back up a little bit to the title of your new book. What kind of art is dying? What kind of art is dead?

Campanioni: Our relationship to art maybe isn’t dying but it’s being completely re-evaluated. And something I was thinking about in my seminar today with my students at Pace, was our physical relationship to a work of art. In the past, people went to museums, people went to concerts, people went to art exhibits, people went to music venues because of that physical relationship with the art and with the artist. People still do all of those things, of course. But today, because of the access granted by the Internet, where you can see the Sistine Chapel in the comfort of your own home and with the time and the necessary solitude it takes to experience it fully and perhaps even savor it—whether it’s in your home or the bathroom of a Starbuck’s—this has changed our relationship to art. Could we even make the case that it is now better, that it is more powerful and beautiful to experience the Sistine Chapel via a video culled from YouTube rather than to go in person and be among a horde of people taking selfies and Snapchatting the experience? Does the fact that we devalue the physical aspects of art, the physical experience of the art, make us more inclined to experience art in a purely digital form? Have we gotten to a moment in our culture where art is actually better on the Internet than in real life? I find that really fascinating and I hope more of us are asking the same question.

Rail: So in the time of Selfies and social media, you have decided to ground your writing in self-effacement. You have actually actively canceled your face out and you’ve done so not only in writing but also in a photo. What is that gesture?

Campanioni: I think there’s sort of a tongue-in-cheekiness there that is also a marker of much Latin American literature; excess and absurdity as a natural response to a feeling of exile and exodus, whether physical or emotional. It is in talking about a culture of excess that we can find the motive behind the gesture—as though I want to be simultaneously showing off, and showing myself—which is baring myself through language. So within that self-contradiction is a sort of revelation, at least for me.

And naturally when you begin talking about not only the value and the function of art, but also the process of making art, you’re going to necessarily have to implicate yourself while criticizing the culture you participate in, because there’s no way you could know enough about a culture to be critical of it if you weren’t also contributing to it. So a lot of these things involve irony or self-contradictions that reveal themselves through the course of the text to myself and to my readers.

Rail: Implication of the self is particularly central to what you do, beginning with your first novel, a novel that had clear autobiographical overtones, something that exposed “Chris Selden” as a clear alter-ego of Chris Campanioni. We’ve seen it in your short stories too. But now we see it differently. You are implicating yourself altogether differently because you’ve chosen a new genre, and branching out into nonfiction and memoir. If you had to pick the table at Barnes & Noble where your book should sit, is it going to be sitting on the table of fiction or is it going to be sitting on the table of nonfiction?

Campanioni: Or even poetry, right? What would be the most subversive act there? I think I was very conscious, along with my publisher, C&R Press, about the decision to make it nonfiction. And we went back to that question: what would be the most subversive act? I don’t know the exact breakdown, but about half the book might be poetry, and half the book is probably made up of prose, but even the idea of binaries and subjecting it to a 50/50 split, or even any sort of split, would go against what this book is endeavoring to do, which is to dissolve markers, to dissolve binaries, to dissolve boundaries. Because that’s what I’ve been able to do in my personal and professional life, so I think it’s natural that the works I’ve been able to produce have also straddled very different genres and generic expectations. So in thinking of the nonfiction label, my publishers at C&R, particularly John Gosslee and Andrew Sullivan, thought it was not only a progressive and logical movement to actually say that the thing I’m writing in 2016 is specifically nonfiction, but that in doing so, I’m writing a nonfiction book in a very different way. And maybe readers who would readily enter nonfiction but never bat an eye at poetry can enter into a conversation with poetry too, and in doing so, understand what a poem is or disprove their idea of what a poem isn’t, allowing them to understand how explosive and powerful poetry can be.
Rail: Who is an artist in these times? How does the very role or voice or eye of the artist change?

Campanioni: The artist is the cultural cartographer, someone who bridges communities by mapping out spaces for creativity and then plotting their courses. In 2016, that means literally anyone with a phone capable of taking photos and a keyboard to produce meaningful captions, cultural narrative, and artifact all at once. Photography and photographs have always interested me but I think what’s happening in 2016 that wasn’t happening in 1936, when Benjamin first published “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” is that the world is literally a museum of moving images. How we navigate and negotiate this constantly accumulating gallery is through adding what a photograph can never add: context. Sensations of experience and feeling, and the memory that devalues with every screenshot that professes to capture it. 2016 is the year of the Street Artist. Go to the streets and show me.

Rail: In “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” T. S, Eliot established a peculiar connection between an artist and its precursors. How does your work connect, refer back, and possibly reframe that work of the artists who inspire you most?
Campanioni: My influences are explicit because I reference them explicitly in my work. William S. Burroughs, for one, and what I mentioned before about seeing myself in the work—and words—of another has been such a beautiful and transformative experience for me since I began to read at five or six years old and started a life devoted to literature. To that end, I see myself and my work in dialogue with so many authors, especially the Cuban writers Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Reinaldo Arenas; Argentina’s Manuel Puig (especially his absolute transliteration of cinema and soap opera); Genet and his ideas of performance and permanence; Julio Cortázar’s reinvention of narrative; the turn-of-the-century cultural observations of Edith Wharton, Olive Schreiner, and Jean Rhys; and the thoughts and expression of Benjamin and Adorno; as well as the playfulness of Antonio Tabucchi and Severo Sarduy. Really, there’s too many to mention in this conversation and the simple fact remains: I am always indebted to someone else. Like the data we use and proliferate, the list keeps accumulating.

Rail: Your first novel was selected as “Best First Book” at the 2013 International Latino Book Awards and you run a mentorship program that specifically aids underrepresented writers. How do you respond to the model and identity of a “Latino writer” or a writer writing “Latino Lit”?

Campanioni: The issue with “Latino Lit” is the issue with any other label or reduction. Latino lit as a genre is so sprawling; Latin America is comprised of twenty-one countries, each with very distinct traditions, interests, histories, slangs, and dialects. But readers, writers, editors, and agents—some of whom are Latino, too—expect a formula, and very often, ignore or criticize the work if it doesn’t meet these expectations. Since 2013, “Latino Lit” has become really popular, almost mainstream; especially voices from Cuba and Cuban-American voices. And it came as a big surprise—although maybe it shouldn’t have—when white editors and white publishers were starting to define what Latin American literature is and isn’t. But invisibility has its privileges—because the formula for the genre was alternately whitewashed and championed by a handful of the big presses, a hothouse of creative writing was able to develop among smaller presses and imprints, actual Latino publishers who cared about telling Latino stories instead of stories or poems or essays about “being Latino”—i.e. tokenism over real representation. Unencumbered by the reach of commercialism or a specific model to conform to, Latino Lit became better, stronger, more vibrant. Still those labels—Latino Lit, Latino writer—come with generic expectations that I hesitate to define my work with but which are also problematic for the reasons listed above. I never was conscious of writing Latino literature; I have only ever been conscious about writing about my experience.

And you know when we talk about how in vogue Cuban culture and identity is today, we often forget about, or maybe don’t understand how difficult it was for Cubans in the United States and elsewhere in the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties. When my father came to the United States in the sixties and found work in Manhattan, he’d often pass himself off as Italian. Isn’t that incredibly sad? And now we’ve had issues of various instances of “identity tourism” in our own literary world; instances of the majority appropriating minority cultures and identities for better “representation.” It all seems really cyclical and without solution or progress, this issue of identity and author within and outside of a work of art, whether we talk about the perils and pitfalls and how we negotiate generic labels and expectations of “Latino Lit” or anything else, or how we reevaluate the model. Do we kill the author? Do we remove their face too?

Rail: Look at the incredible success of Elena Ferrante, whose intentional invisibility has certainly stirred much controversy, reviving this debate in new light. That’s an invisible author who is very much alive, and whose self-effacement has only attracted further attention to her identity, and to identity questions in general. Most pieces on her writing begin with what we know about her, where she’s from, what she has studied, where she lives. And one could have thought that, given the size of her Neapolitan Novels, her work would be doomed to be labeled as TLTR, yet we’re truly witnessing a “Ferrante fever” these days. So yes, there’s no killing the author, ever! On a different, but not totally unrelated note, in recent years, you’ve done a great deal of college teaching, and you’ve just become the managing editor of a literary magazine. Would you say that these activities have influenced your recent writings, and if so, how have they affected it?

Campanioni: Teaching at the college level has been a rare opportunity for me to simultaneously become a better instructor and a better writer. The responsibility assigned to me to design and develop my theme-based Composition course in particular has stimulated so much of my writing about the issues it reevaluates—identity, image, and intimacy (among other things) in the age of the Internet—and allows me to learn daily from my students. I can say without hesitation that I would not have written Death of Art or given my first TED Talk if it weren’t for my experience in the classroom during the past year at the City University of New York and Pace University. And I think teaching at different colleges presents different challenges and different opportunities for growth. My development as an instructor has paralleled but also greatly affected my development as a writer because of these obstacles, rewards, differentiated instruction, and really, the vastly different makeup and environment of a campus and student body like the one at John Jay compared to Baruch or the College of Staten Island, where I began teaching in 2013.

My time as one of PANK’s three editors has also been incredibly rewarding and insightful, even and especially within the worst experiences. In December, poet Ashley M. Jones and I wrote our re-launch issue’s call for submissions, titled “Step Out Of Line.” asking for questions and a voice that won’t quit, making explicit that “we have an opportunity to re-evaluate binaries and reanimate those parts of ourselves that have been silenced” and almost immediately, the answers came from both sides of the political spectrum. Our call was meant to bridge communities, as I prefaced in my introduction to the “Meet the Editors” segment that was published a day earlier: “I believe that we can only create this sort of art together vis-à-vis a community of people who are fearless and vulnerable and not afraid to be anything but themselves—and to see themselves in one another.”

Yet in response we received every imaginable kind of abuse, including threats of rape and physical harm. Ironically enough, the viciousness of the attacks on PANK for daring to criticize both the left and the right, and facilitate a discussion that began with questioning our current cultural norms reinforced our original point better than the call itself.

Rail: Death of Art is critical of certain aspects of the literary community, particularly the one that you’ve found a home within New York City. So much of your work is about upending generic and cultural expectations, but what made you want to react against the environment in which you live and write?

Campanioni: It wasn’t an across-the-board criticism of New York City or its literary scene, and in many ways, the critique or its recognition depends on similar issues the arts—music, painting, literature—have always endured and probably always will endure, which is a sort of creative nepotism. This is a place where often, although unacknowledged and just as often unsaid, recognition flies in the face of quality. Access is limited, doors are usually closed, you read the same or similar work in several different journals and the same or similar point of views, and much of that depends on the perception of being aligned with certain people or presses or camps, a “one hand that washes the other” sort of thing that Dallas Athent wrote so eloquently and fiercely about in a recent report through VIDA. I came to the literary/art world as an outsider, a role I was used to,and one I feel has always stimulated my work. I was naïve when I began producing and performing; I thought that the literary world would be beyond namedropping, cliques, or tribalism. Of course, I was wrong. So I wanted to illustrate a small part of that, in the form of what a few people—myself included—call the “Cult of Ashbery.” It’s a thing, for sure, but I don’t believe that by pointing it out I’m exactly or at all being critical of Ashbery, his poetry, or people that enjoy both. I’m being conscious of it because it exists, and it surprised me that whenever I would do a reading, I would meet at least one person—often many more—who would namedrop Ashbery, even and especially in an introduction. It became funny; it became a hashtag #ashberycount, and so in the passages you refer to in Death of Art, the tone is definitely comic and absurd; cliques and tribalism within a community that produces a mode of art or expression that is meant to dissolve stratospheres in favor of skin and sensation, the blank space and imagination, seems totally ironic. That irony was not lost on me, and hopefully it won’t be for the reader.

I absolutely adore several members of the literary community within New York City and elsewhere, and I’m eternally grateful for their support, guidance, and wisdom. But, I mean, part of having a family is calling them out on their shit, right? And I expect the same in return.

Rail: What is the role of the reader in your texts? How do you envision their presence and response? Does that presence play into your writing?

Campanioni: Absolutely; in fact after the question that I begin a project with, the role of the reader is at the forefront of all the writing that will converge around that question and it’s the one thing I care about, or pretend to care about, while writing. Critics want to talk about plot, about sequence, about characters. But the only element that interests me in my work is the reader. And so I’m also interested in audience agency, which is just another aspect of art that has been heightened and intensified with the multimodal nature of the text in the age of the Internet. The emphasis on several different forms of accessibility, audience contribution, and increased agency is the foundation for the kind of art that will become the eventual norm in the twenty-first century. How can I tell a story and incorporate visual and aural elements into the text—not as a means of interruption, or at least not in the way we commonly think of as interruptions—but as an interference that is somehow more revealing and often even revelatory? I think all of these questions were the motivation behind all those footnotes that originally littered Going Down and Tourist Trap, and the manuscript for the final book of that trilogy, which I’m hesitant to name because I know the publisher (King Shot Press) plans to alter the title. The function of the footnotes isn’t to reference myself; it’s to point readers in a new direction, a narrative that they have control over. Do I want to close this book and turn to the chapter of another text indicated in the footnote? Do I want to keep going and travel outside the text later? Earlier? Do I want to re-write the narrative by re-arranging the order completely? These options are meant to empower the reader and heighten the experience of reading but also make explicit a point I believe about any text, which is that it’s permeable, breathing, and very much alive.

Rail: Much of your work is heavily interconnected. Context is everywhere: inside your other texts and in countless other cultural sources. What is the goal of such choices?

Campanioni: I think a lot of that interconnectivity is about the idea or goal of facilitating the reading experience or allowing the reader that expansive, permeable world to explore whenever they step into the text, but it’s also about winking, which I actually can’t even do in real life. In a culture of excess and dislocation, that staple of much of Latino literature has always been for me a sort of tongue-in-cheek hyper-referentiality that is also a staple of postmodernity. On another level, I’m also interested in building this world with very different characters and stories, and having them continuously move in and out of each other’s lives, placing them at odds with one another and seeing how perspectives and experiences diverge and how they might collide, too. And isn’t it nice to view the explosion from afar?


Giancarlo Lombardi

GIANCARLO LOMBARDI teaches Italian and Comparative Literature at the City University of New York. He recently edited a volume on Italian political cinema and is finishing a monograph on the rhetoric of fear in classic Italian TV drama.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2016

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