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Memorial for Ronald Sukenick

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98.6: A Novel

The Death of the Novel

Doggy Bag

Endless Short Story

Last Fall

Long Talking Bad Conditions Blues

Mosaic Man

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As many of you already know, Ron Sukenick, co-founder of FC2, died eight days past his seventy-second birthday on Thursday, 22 July, 2004 of complications from inclusion body myositis, a rare degenerative muscle disease with which he had been doing battle for years.


The line by him I will always love most appears, not in one of his inimitably dissonant para-narratives, nor in one of his fiercely intellectually autonomous essays, but in a 1982 interview in response to a question asked by the Hungarian critic Zoltán Abádi-Nagy about the moral value of anti-mimetic fiction.


"If you don't use your own imagination," Ron replied, "somebody else is going to use it for you."


That perfect phrase captures precisely what he taught several generations of innovative fiction writers and readers of what we once upon a time called "postmodernism." Ron helped us become who we are by reminding us to celebrate the difficult imagination-the one dedicated to resisting the automatic, exploring the text of the text as a means of exploring the text of the self and the text of the world, and attempting to re-write (and so, the hope goes, begin to re-right) the dangerously banal aesthetic, political, and experiential narratives that are being thought for us and through us every second we believe we are awake.


One of the many ways Ron accomplished this which has always revitalized me was by testing the limits of "the technological reality of the page," as he put it, the fundamental assumption in Western writing that words must march from upper left to lower right in tidy and syntactically coherent paragraphs.


That may well be why my favorite pages in his project are the seven in 98.6 (one of the really great novels of the seventies, and one you should read tonight if you haven't already) primarily comprised of collaged excerpts appropriated from other sources and manipulated by Ron himself into a beautiful bricolage that forms a dissident nexus of formalistics, politics, and unending disturbance of the possibility space we once upon a time called "the novel."


Those pages are emblematic for me of Ron's Frankensteinian vision, his Mosaic Law, the deeply admirable lifelong pursuit for (as he wrote when he was 43, nearly thirty years ago, nearly a dozen before I first met him) "how to deal with parts in the absence of wholes."


It is, essentially, an extreme, unpremeditated, disjointed Nietzschean gesture: wanting a particle philosophy for a particulate self inhabiting a particulate world.


"Theory is the delirium of intellect," Ron wrote in an aphoristic essay that appeared late last year in the Electronic Book Review. "It makes life more interesting."


"I get a kick out of surprising myself," he wrote.


"It should be obvious: there is no intrinsic virtue in a quantity of readers," he wrote.


"Recognition is one thing; fame is another," he wrote. "The former concerns what's really there, which in the latter is irrelevant."


I saw Ron for the last time one humid rainy Tuesday afternoon this past April in his Battery Park City apartment. What was strange was we both knew it was going to be the last time, and we both knew there were no social conventions to cover such a meeting. The unsettling result was that each of our declarative sentences seemed anything but. Each felt like it was carrying within itself three or four meanings curled up inside another three or four.


The reason for my visit was, simply, to thank Ron, to recognize him, to let him know just how much so many people appreciated what he had done for them, for us-from writing those para-narratives and essays of his, to his teaching career that spanned more than forty years, to his founding the American Book Review and co-founding FC2-and, of course, to say goodbye.


We spoke mostly about the history and the future of FC2 and about his recently completed final manuscript, Last Fall, his engagement with 9/11 which he would pass off to Ralph Berry the following week and which FC2 will bring out next spring.


Every once in a while Ron stopped talking and shifted in his electric wheelchair and looked out the window at the Hudson for a while and then shifted back and we would pick up our conversation again where we had left off.


I was drinking bourbon, Ron tea through a straw. It was clear he was having trouble swallowing, and clear he became very tired very quickly. After a little more than an hour, I realized I should probably go. It was hard knowing exactly what to say, how to navigate such an intricate, radiantly sad moment.


I don't believe I ever experienced more difficulty shutting a door behind me.


Because, you see, the door both shut and remained wide open.


Because the only real closures come in mimetic fiction.


—Lance Olsen, Chair of the Board of Directors