Smells like Avant-Pop:

(Re)published, 2008 for Nictoglobe with the kind permission of Mark Amerika

Smells like Avant-Pop:
An Introduction, of Sorts

Mark Amerika & Lance Olsen
"Terrorism is a way to health. Health is the lusting for infinity and dying of all variants. Health is not stasis. It is not repression of lusting or dying. It is no bonds. The only desire of any terrorist is NO BONDS though terrorists don't desire. Their flaming jumping passions are infinite, but are not them."
--Kathy Acker, Blood and Guts in High School

"May Road Runner cartoons never vanish from the video waves, is my attitude."
--Thomas Pynchon, Slow Learner


Subject: Avant-Pop & Dada's Doorstep

Cybergreetings Amerika! Listen, I've been totally psyched about this *In Memoriam To Postmodernism* collection we've been working on and wanna open up a short e-mail rap with you about it. Namely, what I'd like to know, is do you really think that the Avant-Pop is that which supersedes pomo, as you've suggested, or is it rather a subset of pomo?

Subject: No Mo Po Mo

Freelance! Great to hear from you! Hey man, please, No Mo Po Mo! I mean there's no question that Avant-Pop grows out of many rhizomatic lineages and traditions including the weird pomo fictioneers like Barthelme, Pynchon, Madeline Gins and Steve Katz (whose _The Exagggerations of Peter Prince_ is *the* Avant-Pop novel par excellence). But somehow the metafictional strategies of postmodernism got totally absorbed by the mainstream media marketeers who took pleasure in rooting out whatever avant-garde spirit may have resided in the best work. This, of course, led to the neutralizing or neutering of pomo's potentially liberating effects. The thing about Avant-Popsters is that we're putting the *avant* back into the equation. Besides, wasn't it you who said the more one reads a pomo text the less pomo it becomes?

Subject: Same Old Same Old?

Absolutely. Remember that first head-jarring ride you took through a book like Acker's _Empire of the Senseless_? All that near-hypertextual aesthetics of trash, the broken-backed sentences, the high-grade anger, the mind-bending exploration of and delight in taboo, the extravagant pla(y)giarism, the lollapalooza lambasting of plot? Only then, when you went back and reread it, you realized that the language somehow seemed more transparent the second time around. The narratological anarchy gave way to the tight tripartite discipline of three sections which explore the different pre- and post-revolutionary universes of a world where gender and identity are fluid and heading toward terminal transformation. Writers like Acker (and Burroughs before her) have taught our generation of writers that we have to wake up in the midst of all this reality-studio dreaming. Let's face it, our society is run by control freaks like Dr. Benway whose reason for being is the manipulation of our addictions. Addictions he and his cronies create *for* us!

Subject: Onwards & Outwards

Yeah, right! So the Avant-Pop, then, becomes a way to turn Benway and his cronies back against themselves so that they self-destruct! Sort of like one of those Jean Tinguely or Survival Research Lab experiments. Use the media to subvert the media. Become subversive *mediums*. This Avant-Pop scene still seems very much in development, which I really like. So many people want the regurgitated soundbite in order to go out and repeat the party-line. Well, there may be an Avant-Pop party going on, but there sure ain't no line! Still, though, we seem to have had a blast tracing it's possible lineage and strategies. This has been mindblower! But let's get to the meat of the matter and put this *Smells Like A-P* spirit on-line! Catch you on the fast loop!


Even though artists like Richard Brautigan, Andy Warhol, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Rauschenberg, and the Velvet Underground spoke what we would later realize was the language of Avant-Pop, there was still, in our minds, something missing from much of the postmodern work produced in the sixties and seventies, something that didn't quite click with our tele-visual, compu-corder, audio-digitized viewing habits. It wasn't until the eighties, with the emergence of such edge-runners as Kathy Acker, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer, Sonic Youth, and Mark Leyner, that we really began to recognize texts with which we felt directly connected. The result? The appearance, or the reappearance, or the continuation (depending on your perspective and your sense of aesthetic history) of the Avant-Pop.

"This blurring of the traditional distinctions between 'high' and 'pop' art becomes a central, defining feature of postmodernism itself. Today such distinctions are, if anything, even more difficult to maintain than they were only a quarter of a century ago. Should rock videos by Madonna, Peter Gabriel, or Laurie Anderson be considered mainstream simply because they are enormously popular--even though they employ visual and poetic techniques that twenty-five years ago would certainly have been considered highly experimental? Is William Gibson's 'cyberpunk' novel, Neuromancer, 'avant-garde' since it employs unusual formal techniques (the use of collage, cut-ups, appropriation of other texts, the introduction of bizarre new vocabularies and metaphors)? Or does its publication bythe genre science-fiction industry establish it as pop? Are television shows like Max Headroom, the early Saturday Night Live, or David Lynch's recent Twin Peaks 'underground' works because they utilize so many features associated with postmodern innovation---or 'pop art' because they were, in fact, 'merely' television shows?"
--Larry McCaffery, "The Avant-Pop Phenomenon," in ANQ 5.4 (October 1992): 216.
"The fact is that every writer creates his own precursors," Borges writes at the conclusion of his famous essay on Kafka's retro-influence on Browning and others. "His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future." In retrospect, things shift in such a way as to make perfect sense. Turning up the amp, we can hear the first sonic chord of the Avant-Pop's buzz-clip in Eliot's vogue use and abuse of ragtime rhythms and cinematic montage in his plagiarized and pastiched The Waste Land. Or, one major tweak of the fuzz-knob and we hear Joyce's schizophrenic daydream bliss unwinding at the end of Ulysses. The feedback loop is alive and well and we can see it in dada, surrealism, Sergeant Pepper, Dos Passos's newsreels in The Big Money, Faulkner's lurid genre fiction in Sanctuary, Ginsberg in his quintessentially hip Howl, and the acidic metacommentary of Lenny Bruce. Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Nam June Paik, Gilbert and George, Joseph Beuys, David Bowie.

Similar to cyberpunk, beatnik poetry, Generation X, and every other label you've seen hit the market in the last forty or so years, the Avant-Pop is suddenly appearing everywhere you look, like a new word you've just added to your vocabulary and now see on every page you read, or a new viral strain, one that is the genetically-engineered fusion of these two extremes: 1) the avant-garde's impulse to push the aesthetic envelope, and 2) a specific sensibility's addiction to (and usually ambivalence with) pop culture in all its manifestations--especially electronic realities. Every day, as the boundaries between those extremes blur even further, many artists who've grown up teething on TV, the computer, the camcorder, the CD, and now the hypertext, CD-ROM, and VR, find themselves increasingly exposed to an aesthetically experimental lineage found in the material taught in college courses, on the increasingly accessible databanks converging on the Internet, and through a thriving underground network of zines and performance-happenings that introduce to the always-in-formation cultural nomad a surprisingly rich variety of altered perspectives grooving in pleasure-ridden situations.

That lineage, interestingly and appropriately enough, has its metaphorical origins in the military. The term avant-garde first surfaced at the end of the eighteenth century to designate the elite shock troops of the French army whose mission was to engage with the enemy in small, intense battles so as to pave the way for the main body of fighters. By 1830, it was appropriated by utopian socialists to refer to those people of vision--artists, philosophers, scientists--who would help usher in the new ideal society. And by 1870, it had morphed out of the realm of warriors and pure politics, become commonly used to identify successive movements of writers, musicians, artists, and other performers who, with typical in-your-face elan, were intent on developing their own formal opposition to everything mainstream.

During the next few decades, especially from the beginning of World War I through World War II, the term became readily associated with such revolutionary streams as expressionism, futurism, and constructivism, and, in the late fifties and sixties, as many of the Avant-Popsters were just being born, and such premier postmodernists as John Barth, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, Raymond Federman, Ronald Sukenick, and Thomas Pynchon were beginning or continuing to mine this radically opulent vein, widespread cultural and political upheavals fueled vanguard-ideas like the Death of The Novel, the Death of the Author, and the Death of the Critic--anything, in other words, that might signal the clarion call of the avant-garde tradition whose calling-card obstructionism ran the risk of stabilizing, neutralizing, petrifying, and devolving under the ever-present pressure of capitalist commodification (cf. Avant-Guard, product-name for that screen protecting you from all those evil rays emanating from your computer; or Avant-Card, the Hallmark-like gift shop in downtown Boulder).

Instead, though, a certain group of artists who never conceived of themselves as a group of artists appropriated, embraced, pla(y)giarized, and subverted that commercial pop thrust, emblem of the extraordinary influence mass media has had over the development of myriad minds in our generation. Growing up . . .

"It won't do, then, for the literary establishment simply to complain that, for instance, young-written characters don't have very interesting dialogues with each other, that young writers' ears seem tinny. Tinny they may be, but the truth is that in younger Americans' experience, people in the same room don't do all that much direct conversing with each other. What most of the people I know do is they all sit and face the same direction and stare at the same thing and then structure commercial-length conversations around the sorts of questions myopic car-crash witnesses might ask each other. . . . So now whose literary aesthetic seems dated?"
--David Foster Wallace, "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," in Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.2 (Summer 1993): 168.
"There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing. . . . I am a recording instrument. . . . I do not presume to impose 'story' or 'plot' 'continuity.'"
--William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch (New York: Grove, 1959): 221
"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."
--William Gibson, Neuromancer (New York: Ace, 1984): 1.
"In this book you get such a sense of the reality of the main character that he seems to get off the page and sit down with you on the bus."
--Steve Katz, from "Trip," in Moving Parts (Brooklyn: Fiction Collective, 1977): 10
"'But our beauty lies,' explained Metzger, 'in this extended capacity for convolution. A lawyer in a courtroom, in front of a jury, becomes an actor, right? Raymond Burr is an actor, impersonating a lawyer, who in front of a jury becomes an actor. Me, I'm a former actor who became a lawyer. They've done the pilot film of a TV series, in fact, based loosely on my career, starring my friend Manny Di Presso, a one-time lawyer who quit his firm to become an actor. Who in this pilot plays me, an actor become a lawyer reverting periodically to being an actor.'"
--Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (New York: Harper & Row, 1966): 33.
"Soon signs started appearing. THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. We counted five signs before we reached the site. There were forty cars and a tour bus in the makeshift lot. . . . Murray maintained a prolonged silence, occasionally scrawling some notes in a little book. 'No one sees the barn,' he said finally. A long silence followed. 'Once you've seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn. . . . We've agreed to be part of a collective perception. This literally colors our vision. A religious experience in a way, like all tourism.'"
--Don DeLillo, White Noise (New York: Viking Penguin, 1985): 12.
"So, starting in around 1974, we the disappointed started getting jobs. Countercultural as all get out at first, to be sure. But eventually it was hard not to see that what we'd also almost inadvertently acquired in the universities--organizational skills, knowledge and capacity for insight--the auto-, techno-, and bureau-crats were willing to pay really a lot of money for."
--Curt White, The Idea of Home (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1992): 146.
"In the distorting mirror of the camcorder everyone was a star."
--Stephen Wright, Going Native (New York: FSG, 1994): 134-5.
"I mean, you don't bitch about Madonna or Rambo or all those awful sexist violent/racist television shows, you colorize 'em, re-narratize em, give 'em a new sound track, you supply a new non-sexist, -racist ending that won't offend you. You sample the parts you like, you lay down a drumtrack! (literal narrative), you become your own conductor! The technology's out there if people will only learn to start using their own imaginations rather than relying on other people's."
--Larry McCaffery and Takayuki Tatsumi, "Graffiti's Rainbow," in Science Fiction Eye 12 (Summer 1993): 49.
. . . growing up as a kid in America in the fifties, sixties, and seventies provided us with a unique window on the world: the television screen reflecting a vast array of simulated constructs from network TV. Now that the promise of five-hundred channels and on-demand interactive television are soon to become realities,

a) our culture seems limitless;
b) our culture seems doomed;
c) our culture seems unchanged;
d) our culture seems on the brink of something dazzling;
e) our culture seems more alive than ever;
f) our culture seems to be thriving;
g) our culture seems to be idling;
h) our culture seems rooted in psychasthenia;
i) our culture seems to be going nowhere fast;
j) our culture seems desperate for libidinal synchronicity;
ok) our culture seems . . . our culture seems . . .


Some of Avant-Pop's most utilized techniques can best be summarized in the word heteroglossia, or A MULTIPLICITY OF NARRATIVE VOICES HOUSED IN A SINGLE "FORM." In this case, a subset thereof could be called FRICTION, i.e., various creative discourses fused, interfused and confused with various critical ones.


Another subset thereof could be called FACTION, i.e., various creative discourses fused, interfused and confused with various facts-oriented writing that typically gets labeled non-fiction.

FICTION = "I" + F (A) C T.

We will not attempt to do a post-structuralist decoding of the already written so as to (supposedly) help elucidate an otherwise indeterminate text (which most PoMo fiction is said to be). What you see as fact may be the next person's fiction. Or, if the fact that what you're reading now is a self-described fiction that claims to be everything but made-up makes you feel the friction of fictional events from the past rub up against you the wrong way (theoretical frottage), maybe sometime in the near future you will create an entirely Other kind of Avant-Pop reading strategy. For example, we're already wondering about the possibility of Non-Diction.


Most so-called "postmodern" theorists discuss discursive subversion in discourses that are (ironically) tight-assedly Cartesian. The whole purpose of this sort of intro to the Avant-Pop attempts to discuss discursive subversion in a form that is itself discursively subversive, yet (we hope) readable. A question to ask ourselves is: What was postmodernism?

a) a menu
b) dispersal
c) mutant forms of play
d) decenterment
e) polymorphous metanarratives full of themselves
f) clever misreadings
g) demystification of the self (whose Identity became plural and perverse)


Attaching oneself to popular culture is one of the easiest things in the world to do during these last handful of years left in this millennium. Many in our generation would prefer to usher in the next thousand years reading Kathy Acker and Jean Baudrillard simultaneously; a copy of Nobodaddies in our laps; fictional hypertexts published by Eastgate Systems on the computer screen; television surfing through MTV, CNN, HBO, PPV, Bravo, televangelist after televangelist; a tape of Mystery Train, or True Stories, or Slackers, or Wax: or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees looping on the VCR; windows wide open to the sounds outside: look! up in the sky! is it a bird? a plane? no, it's a freelance TV cameraman in a helicopter chasing down the next prime-time victim! And so what do we do? Do we take out our fire-retardant corrosion-resistant nickel- base alloy robo-enhanced methyl isocyanate flamethrowers and blow the fucker up? What will we be listening to as we make this crucial decision? The Breeders' latest, turned up real, real loud?

Generation-Xsters have accepted their fate in this world, and at least one niche community within this emerging generation of artists is seeking ways to metamorphose this virtual ghetto called The Present, turning to Avant-Pop strategies as both a refuge and a resource of provocation. Even someone as dead-set on becoming a commercial success as Mark [A fan calls 1-900-T-LEYNER and--using a touch-tone phone, of course, dials "1" to hear an excerpt from your upcoming book, "2" for your most intimate thoughts about weightlifting, "3" for dating advice, "4" for an upclose-and-personal tidbit from Arleen, and "5" for a cute anecdote about Carmella. --Mark Leyner, Et Tu, Babe (New York: Harmony Books, 1992): 75.] Leyner employs many of the devices we used, not too long ago, to think of as being in the domain of the avant-garde. His sound-bite imagery and speed-metal rhythms, emblematic of much Avant-Pop writing, are constantly sampling the fictioneers, artists, and performers of the avant-garde, not to mention the rest of Western culture's dreck-machine. By doing so, his work enacts the great Creeley-Olson dictum--that form is never more than an extension of content. In this case, "content" is what the media-conglemerates deliver into one's home via the TV screen and form is the ability to level out or flatten the meaning of all things.

"Do you know the commercial where the heavily mustached old woman in a black shroud drinks strawberry Nestle's Quik and turns into this buxom bombshell in pasties and g-string, and she squats down for a second in a mud puddle, and when she gets up, her buttocks are covered with leeches, and Jesus appears holding a Barbie, and two beams of sparkling particles shoot from the eyes of the Barbie and vaporize the leeches, and the bombshell gets on her motorcycle, and pink florets of exhaust spurt from its tailpipe spelling out the words 'Be All That You Can Be'?"
--Mark Leyner, Et Tu, Babe (New York: Harmony Books, 1992): 69.
Here are the progeny of Donald Barthelme's backbroke sentences, the project of a gomi no sensei, master of junk, who builds from the detritus of contemporary culture, collecting in his dented shopping cart the heterogeneous mixture of leftovers from the pop hypermart, embracing pomo polyphony, adoring the idea of undifferentiation, cramming a whole short story, perchance a whole novel, into the confines of one syntactical unit, appealing to the attention-span of a gnat. The consequence is what David Foster Wallace calls "less a novel than a piece of witty erudite extremely high-quality prose television. Velocity and vividness--the wow--replace the literary hmm of actual development. People flicker in and out; events are garishly there and then gone and never referred to." It's a fiction that's "both amazing and forgettable, wonderful and oddly hollow"; "hilarious, upsetting, sophisticated, and extremely shallow" ("E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," in Review of Contemporary Fiction 13.2 Summer 1993: 192.) It's also an echo of and genuflection to the sentence that Pynchon built: crammed with as much information as its syntax will bear; packed with as many images, references, colors, smells, as an artist's talent will allow; prose that rumbles and thrums for five hundred, six hundred, a thousand words at a clip, till by the utterance's end you can no longer remember its beginning. Hence language presses to the foreground, becomes another character (sometimes the only one) to watch and admire, and an info-linguistic webwork springs forth that parallels the computer's hypertext, gives life to a kind of hypertextual fiction, as Brooks Landon dubs it, which encourages us to view it "as the tip of an iceberg of information, a hypertext inviting, if not demanding, exploration" (ANQ 5.4 [October 1992]: 213).
"In case you're thinking, Well, Avital, fuck her, she just lives inside her own head, this work reveals a growing concern over the finite figures that comprise our shared experience. As long as there is something like experience, it is not entirely mine."
--Avital Ronell, Infinitude's Score: Essays For the End of the Millennium (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska, 1994): xi
"Our embodied imaginations of ourselves and others are increasingly vulnerable to being ritually relayed or mechanically pre-processed through complex networks of bio-technological feedback, video-loops, stereophonic sound- systems, Sony Walkmans, and talking cars. All within a solid liquidity of CAPITAL, a fast thick ocean of white noise."
--Stephen Pfohl, Death at the Parasite Café (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992): 43


The roots (routes, tracks, lineages) of the Avant-Pop are manifested in many texts from the past. In a sense, they've been here all along: in Tristram Shandy, in Moby Dick, in The Chants of Maldoror, in Finnegans Wake; in Apuleius, in Rabelais, in Gravity's Rainbow, in Slaughterhouse Five. This blatant acknowledgment of A-P's connectivity to the tissues of text that inform much experimental writing will inevitably cause a knee-jerk reaction by certain cultural critics who will try to trivialize it as so much peripheral Modernism/Postmodernism ... and who can blame them?! There's a lot of time-money management invested therein. But think about those artist/critics who are just beginning to invest their hard-earned reputation-dollars on the potential market value of the just-gone-public Avant-Pop!

Or do we, in retrospect, come to understand how aesthetically naive and historically shortsighted it would be, in the standard manifesto two-step, to claim the Avant Pop, a term first appropriated from a Lester Bowie jazz album by Ronald Sukenick and Larry McCaffery in 1992, is something radically new? Does it not, from a certain perspective, grow out of the postmodern? Does it form a subset of the postmodern in the same way metafiction, surfiction, cyberpunk, magical realism, and minimalism do? Does it have less to do with a rupture in history than with a state of mind that can be found throughout the ages, and has perhaps only come to the fore in the eighties and nineties of this schizoid century (thanks, alas, to the Big Digital Wink)? Haven't we, from a certain perspective, simply rediscovered the antinarratological wheel? Or is it none of the above?

To test your ability to think through this yourself, especially in light of all the info we've given you up to this point, we'd like the navigator to please take part in the following Avant-Pop Quiz! [SPECIAL PRIZES AWAIT THE PERSON WHO CAN CORRECTLY ANSWER ALL THE QUESTIONS!]:

Avant-Pop Quiz

1. Postmodernism is Dead because a. we say it is
b. you want to believe it
c. it was never really alive, it just "simulated" life!

2. Avant-Pop will never die because

a. we say it won't
b. you need it too much to see it all end so soon
c. it's The Real Thing(TM)

3. Avant-Pop, which claims itself to be The Real Thing(TM), is actually

a. an umbrella term to protect you from all of those harmful postmodern rays
b. a dark, existentially mis-fit community of artists and theorists inviting you to consume them
c. a consortium of writing strategies deployed by a new wave of artists bred on the tainted bosom of mass media
4. Writing strategies usually associated with Avant-Pop would include which of the following: a. appropriation of other texts and characters
b. the continuous inmixing of neo-logisms, designer vocabularies, and pseudo-genres
c. automatic word and sentence cut-ups producing radical mind-altering experiences similar to channel-surfing and Internet navigating on LSD
d. an infinitely hot and dense series of connect-the-dots disguised as a sprawling syntax that proactively engages the participant in a "psychogeographical becoming" causing the participant to imagine themselves a "revolutionary consumer" (activist shopper, eager pla(y)giarist, ephemeral do-me anarchist, etc.)
5. If it's true that A-P is just another catch-all phrase that attempts to depict our contemporary cultural sensibilities, then what is it about the false consciousness of postmodernism that causes us to believe that its immediate future looks so bleak. Is it a. its total absorption by an out-of-touch academic elite
b. its total liquidation in commercial TV news & entertainment
c. its well-tempered provinciality
d. its inability to radicalize subjectivity
e. all of the above
6. Which of the following terms could be considered a subset of Avant-Pop? a. surfiction
b. metafiction
c. cyberpunk
d. friction
e. faction
f. non-diction
g. all of the above
7. Who invented the term Avant-Pop? a. Lester Bowie
b. Larry McCaffery
c. Ron Sukenick
d. Iggy Pop
8. A Mutant Fictioneer approaches you as you're walking down the street. She reaches into the inside pocket of her leather jacket and pulls out something she calls Avant-Pop. Is she pulling out a. a sheet of windowpane
b. a home-made porn video
c. an alternative trade paperback book
d. a floppy disk
e. a loose body part
f. a new contraceptive device
g. a soft-drink made of recycled theory
9. The End Is Nearing. Karmageddon has stuck its androgynous lollipop-head inside your window. Do you a. blow its head off
b. stick your tongue on it
c. feed it some Avant-Pop
d. suck it, tongue it, feed it, suck it again
10. Taking an Avant-Pop Quiz is like a. being manipulated by the mass media (which is losing its mass this very moment)
b. riding the new wave of hope that incites the latent dissident inside you to think of something like revolutionary action
c. watching Persian Gulf War reruns on 27 pots of strong coffee
d. listening to more of that raising-consciousness crap we heard in the Sixties


A. Whereas it's true that certain strains of modernism, structuralism, poststructuralism, surrealism, dadaism, futurism, capitalism and even marxism pervade the Avant-Pop sensibility, the major difference is that the artists who create Avant-Pop art are the Children of Mass Media (even more than being the children of their parents, who have much less influence over them). Many of the early practitioners of postmodernism, from Beckett to Vargas Ilosa, Borges to Silko, Davenport to Lessing, Gaddis to Garcia Marquez, who came into active adult consciousness and textual production in the forties, fifties, sixties and early seventies, tried desperately to keep themselves away from the forefront of the newly powerful Mediagenic Reality that was rapidly becoming the space where most of our social exchange was taking place. Despite its early insistence on remaining caught up in the academic and elitist art world's presuppositions of self institutionalization and incest, early postmodernism found itself overtaken by the popular media engine; out of such extremely diverse writers as Abish, Ballard, Barthelme, Burroughs, Coover, Pynchon, Vonnegut, and even Nabokov, whose Lolita is one of the first fictional Avant-Popsters, the A&P began its move toward increasing recognition.

B. Avant-Pop artists have had to resist the avant-garde sensibility that stubbornly denies the existence of a popular media culture and its dominant influence over the way we use our imaginations to process experience. At the same time, A&P artists have had to work hard not to become so enamored by the false consciousness of the mass media itself that they lose sight of their creative directives, the single most important one of which is to enter the mainstream culture as a parasite would, sucking out all the bad blood that lies between the mainstream and the margin. Avant-Popsters thus turn into Mutant Fictioneers, it's true, but our goal is and always has been to face up to our monster deformation and to find wild and adventurous ways to love it for what it is. We have acquired immunity from the Terminal Death dysfunctionalism of a Pop Culture gone awry and are now ready to offer our own weirdly concocted elixirs to cure us from this dreadful disease that infects the core of our collective life.

C. Whereas Avant-Popsters are fully aware of their need to maintain a crucial avant-sensibility as it drives the creative processing of their work, and attaches itself to the avant-garde lineage from which they spring, they are also quick to acknowledge the need to develop more open-minded strategies that will allow them to attract attention within the popularized forms of representation that fill the contemporary Mediascape. Our collective mission is to radically alter Pop Culture's focus by channeling a more popularized kind of dark, sexy, surreal, and subtly ironic gesture that grows out of the work of many twentieth-century artists like Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Lenny Bruce, the two Davids (Cronenberg and Lynch); movements like fluxus, situationism, lettrism and neo-hoodooism; and scores of rock bands including the Sex Pistols, Pere Ubu, Bongwater, Slint, L7, Pavement, Stereolab, Meccanormal {this list of bands constantly changes everytime the manifesto is read aloud}...

The emerging wave of Avant-Pop artists now arriving on the scene find themselves caught in this struggle to rapidly transform our sick, commodity-infested workaday culture into a more sensual, trippy, exotic and networked experience. One way to achieve this goal is to create and expand virtual niche communities, many of which already exist through the zine scene and Internet. By actively engaging themselves in the continuous exchange and proliferation of collectively generated electronic publications, individually designed creative works, manifestos, live on-line readings, multi-media interactive hypertexts, conferences, and so forth, Avant-Popsters and the alternative networks they are part of will eat away at the conventional relics of a bygone era where the individual artist-author creates her/his beautifully-crafted, original works consumed primarily by the elitist art world and their business cronies who pass judgment on what is appropriate and what is not.

Literary establishment? Art establishment? Forget it. Avant-Pop artists wear each other's experiential data like waves of chaotic energy colliding and mixing in the textual blood while the ever-changing flow of creative projects that ripple from their collective work floods the electronic cult-terrain with a subtle anti-establishment energy that will forever change the way we disseminate and interact with writing.

D. Avant-Popsters welcome the new Electronic Age with open arms because we know that this will vastly increase our chances of finding an audience of like-minded individuals with whom we can communicate and collaborate. The future of writing is moving away from the lone creator sitting behind a keyboard cranking out magical, mystical verse so that one day he or she may find an editor or agent or publisher who will hype her or his work to those interested in commercial literary culture. Instead, the future of writing will feature more multi-media collaborative authoring that will make itself available to hundreds if not thousands or tens of thousands of potential associates around the world actively internetworking in their own niche communities. Our audience will be both immediate and global, and our identities will remain forever in flux as we develop self-designed nodes of operation from which to distribute our multi-media litware. As Hakim Bey, author of the ontologically-anarchic book of guerrilla aesthetics, Temporary Autonomous Zones, recently said in the magazine Dreamtime Talkingmail, we're exploring "the possibility of an art which is by no means 'sensible' in the Civilizational sense of the word, but which is nevertheless devoted with PASSIONATE INTENSITY to COMMUNICATION, and thus to a certain kind of situational clarity and accessibility" ("Anarcho-Aesthetics and The Problem of Clarity," Dreamtime Talkingmail [Winter 1994]:12.)

Can you imagine what The Futurists would have done with an Information Superhighway?

E. The distribution formula will radically change from: Author --> Agent --> Editor/Publisher --> Printer --> Distributor --> Retailer --> Consumer to a more simplified and direct:

Author (Sender) --> Interactive Participant (Receiver)

Avant-Popsters and their pirate signals promoting wild station identifications are ready to expand into your home right now, just log on, click around and find them. For example, check out Mark Amerika's electronic publishing enterprise, Alternative-X on the World Wide Web.

F. One of the main tenets of postmodernism is: I, whoever that is, will put together these bits of data and form a Text, while you, whoever that is, will produce your own meaning based on what you bring to the Text. One of the main tenets of Avant-Pop writing is: I, whoever that is, am always interacting with data created by the Collective You, whoever that is, and by interacting with and supplementing the Collective You, will find meaning.

In a Data Age where we all risk suffering from Information Sickness, one cure is a highly potent, creatively filtered tonic of (yes) textual (or multi-media) residue spilled from the depths of our spiritual unconscious. Creating a work of art will depend more and more on the ability of the artist to select, organize and present the bits of raw data he or she has at her or his disposal. We all know originality is dead and that our contaminated virtual realities are always already readymade and ready for consumption!

G. The future of the book is happening now. True, the idea that books as hard or paperbound products coming back from the printer so that they can then go to the distributor who will try and convince retailers that their consumers will want to buy them is not in danger of becoming obsolete any time soon.

Nor is the lone author, cranking out her or his writing wares at home only to send them off to distant agents/editors/publishers so that his/her work can then take part in this Author-->Agent-->Publisher--> Printer-->Distributor-->Retailer-->Consumer formula. Books will remain books and bookstores will continue to sell them. Writers will continue to get single-digit royalties and the distributors and bookstores will continue to reap most of the profit. The Best-Sellers list and the New York establishment will continue to maintain their rockhard hegemony.

BUT: now there's more to communication, more to language, more to text production, than the book. There are all manner of videos, graphic novels, dissident comix, CD-ROMS, computer hypertexts, earplays, and, soon, in a universally-accessible location near you, a small black box that will sit on top of your reconstructed soon-to-be-a-computer TV that will bring into your private space all kinds of fireworks created by (yep, it's true) writers. Electronic writers. Which, it ends up, most of us already are.

H. Technology is becoming more accessible and software is getting better. Soon we can start thinking seriously of publishing ourselves in our home offices, virtual brain centers--without being accused of vanity, thanks to the growing Do It Yourself ethic that's grown out of the underground scene. Soon we'll be able to create and send multi-media non-linear narrative over the wires and into computers all around the world. And, yes, it's true, many artists will continue to depend on the institutionalized system to nurture them through their careers. The comfort of the old system will keep a lot of artists happy with things the way they are. We can hear them already saying something like "but I'm a writer, I don't have time for all this other stuff." To which we'll respond: "You can't afford NOT to find the time . . .

"Reading through a hypertext, one senses that just under the surface of the screen is a vast reservoir of story waiting to be found."
--Robert Coover, New York Times Book Review, August 29, 1993: 1.
. . . for all this other stuff lest you be left behind."

I. The Avant-Popster is a nomadic voyager, a cultural terrorist, whose identity is constantly in flux. He/she secretly "becomes" something like Woman or the open-endedness of feminine imagination, reclaiming the terrain vis-a-vis the enactment of subliminal postures/gestures that sabotage the system's rigidity. Our strategy is to deterritorialize the institutional effects so as to generate a new level playing-field where the action of bees and bodies buzzing can once again ignite the language of our spiritual unconscious.

Our dilemma then becomes how to make the Electric real while simultaneously making the desert of our souls virtually inhabitable.


The following is a highly selective, sometimes arbitrary, surely biased, briefly annotated, and alphabetical checklist of interesting Avant-Pop sites. This list makes no claims toward completeness (Tim Ferret, Richard Meltzer, David Matlin, Stacey Levine, Harry Polkinhorn, Jill St. Jacques, and William T. Vollmann, for instance, aren't mentioned, though they certainly could be), but it does acknowledge that any checklist on such an amorphous topic as the Avant-Pop entails myriad hidden judgments and decisions.

Nonetheless, it's a start, a sketch, the delineation of a relatively uncharted space to begin to explore for those coming to this subject for the first time; those wishing to test their opinions of what's Avant-Pop and what's not against ours; teachers out to design courses about this rough new beast; libraries checking up on their stocks of the current.

Kathy Acker. Empire of the Senseless (1988). The most cyberpunkish text (parts of which are actually pla[y]giarized from Gibson's Neuromancer) by the dominatrix of the Anglo-American A&P. No discussion of the A&P can begin without a brief genuflection in her direction. If Acker captures your imagination, you should also check out her brilliant Blood and Guts in High School (1978), Don Quixote (1985), and In Memoriam to Identity (1990).

Alternative-X. An online publishing network created by Mark Amerika that features many of the fictions, manifestos, essays, and on-line culture columns by many of the writers mentioned herein. Located at

Mark Amerika. The Kafka Chronicles (1993). Less novel than formalistic and theoretical pyrotechnic exploring the instability of selfhood in an electronic culture by one of the editors of Black Ice Books, editor of Black Ice magazine, and Director of the GRAMMATRON project, a multi-media writing-machine soon to be installed at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Donald Barthelme. Sixty Stories (1982). One of the original pop cultural linguistically brilliant dreck-machines, his stories are little works of big genius. If you're interested in something longer, try The Dead Father (1975), more about killing off the aesthetic past than about moribund parents.

Richard Brautigan. The Abortion (1970). The simplicity of life becomes more than surfictional as Brautigan's use of language begins to unravel the cacophony of countercultural voices that invade his hyperreality. Also see Trout Fishing In America.

William S. Burroughs. Naked Lunch (1959). Short, perhaps, of Pynchon, no one writer has wielded more influence on post-war avant-garde writing both here and in Europe that WB. NL is a cut-up text that probes various addictions, from opiates to media, control, and sex. A pivotal work.

Robert Coover. Pricksongs & Descants (1969). Prototypic A&P, particularly the dazzling tele-visual, hypertextual story "The Babysitter," by one of the most significant post-war stylists.

Douglas Coupland. Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991). A first-novel A&P cult-classic chronicle of the McLives of the McGeneration by an original voice for the nineties.

Ricardo Cortez Cruz. Straight Outta Compton (1993). McCaffery says: "As we move into the nineties, rap music's slice-and-dice (and then bring-the-noize) approach has been this country's most effective and original strategy for providing outsiders with a sense of the urgency, anger, and sheer exhilaration produced by the collisions of sounds, sights, and people in our urban jungles. Now, in Straight Outta Compton, Ricardo Cruz has succeeded in writing the first major rap novel."

Don DeLillo. White Noise (1985) and Mao II (1991). Two of the most important novels of the last decade by one of the masters of contemporary fiction, these books explore the Baudrillardian infusion into our lives of media and other information technologies.

Eurudice. f/32 (1990). Funny, energetic, schizoid text that begins when a woman's vagina decides to run away from home. How does one write beyond Kathy Acker at the fin de millennium? Read this and find out.

Lauren Fairbanks. Sister Carrie (1993). This one reads as if Dreiser said 'I love you' but didn't mean it and went to bed with Donald Barthelme and William Burroughs. The payoff is an aesthetics of rotting zoobies, hair-tearingly funny samples on sex and the city, the art of commerce and the commerce of art.

Raymond Federman. The Twofold Vibration (1982) and Take It Or Leave It (1975). Founder of the Surfiction movement, he has been a major influence on the young avant-set for years. Both his fiction and hypertextual theory are widely translated for a growing international audience.

William Gibson. Neuromancer (1984). The white-hot prosed, gritty-futureworld cyberpunk classic. Also check out Gibson's collaboration with the abstract expressionist painter Dennis Ashbaugh, Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) (1992), an amazingly expensive nostalgic electronic prose poem about Gibson's childhood and the development of several key technologies that self-destructs after one reading--available on the Net newsgroup alt.cyberpunk.

Harold Jaffe. Eros Anti-Eros (1990). Extreme experimental f(r)ictions about a media-manipulated society by one of the most significant and underrated fringe writers in the United States. See also his upcoming Straight Razor (Black Ice Books) with illustrations by Norman Conquest.

Darius James. Negrophobia (1992). A wild novel written in screenplay form, where James uses hyperreal racial stereotypes as the best logical weapon to do away with those same stereotypes. Part Ishmael Reed, Terry Southern and Richard Pryor, this one will make you look in the mirror.

Michael Joyce. Afternoon (1987). The granddaddy of hypertext fiction about a man who may have just seen his ex-wife and son die in a car crash, but is too scared to find out. Interesting fusion of traditional psychologically motivated plot and cutting-edge form.

Steve Katz. The Exagggerations of Peter Prince (1968). Katz's first novel is everything you wanted in an Avant-Pop novel and more. There are enough innovative narrative devices here to spawn numerous generations of Avant-Pop progeny. One can only wonder what would have happened if hypertext-pioneer Ted Nelson had gotten together with Katz back in the late Sixties and started formulating the future of multi-media texts. See also his wild and wonderful Creamy & Delicious.

Mark Leyner. My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist (1990). Short, hilarious, cyberdelic linguistic explosions that formed an instant A&P classic. Followed by Et Tu, Babe (1992), a "novel" about a Warholesque writer who becomes a living god through media hype.

Larry McCaffery, ed. Avant-Pop: Fiction for a Daydream Nation (1993). The first A&P anthology, featuring work from many of the key players, including Kathy Acker, Ricardo Cortez Cruz, Eurudice, Harold Jaffe, Mark Leyner, Stephen Wright, and others. Followed in 1995 by a large version from Viking. Both are excellent introductions and overviews of the fiction.

Larry McCaffery and Takayuki Tatsumi. "Graffiti's Rainbow: Towards the Theoretical Frontiers of 'Fiction': From Metafiction and Cyberpunk through Avant-Pop." In Science Fiction Eye 12 (Summer 1993): 43-49. Fine introduction to the A&P phenomenon by two of the best critics of the contemporary.

John McDaid. Uncle Buddy's Phantom Funhouse (1992). A hypertext whose premise is that the narrator visits his dead uncle's house and begins rifling through his things. The result is a multi-media extravaganza about the shifting nature of selfhood.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen (1986). The mother of all graphic novels, pure A&P with a healthy dose of cyberpunk, set in a near-future world without heroes.

Lance Olsen. Tonguing the Zeitgeist (1994). Info-dense imaginative fire set in a rock'n'roll near-future world that investigates the commodification of the arts at the end of the millennium by the critic-fictioneer who wrote the first full-length study of William Gibson.

Lance Olsen, ed. Surfing Tomorrow: Essays on the Future of American Fiction (1994). Overview of the current and future states of American fiction, with contributions from Janice Eidus, Brooks Landon, Larry McCaffery, Lewis Shiner, Alan Wilde, and many other important writers and critics.

Derek Pell. Assassination Rhapsody (1988). One of the aces of the collage-text deconstructs the Warren Commission Report's investigation into the assassination of J.F.K. through the use of pastiche, quotation, and (re)appropriation.

Thomas Pynchon. Gravity's Rainbow (1973). The most crucial post-war novel, period. Pynchon exerts more influence over the new generation of innovative writers than anyone else except, perhaps, William S. Burroughs.

Doug Rice, ed. Nobodaddies. An A-P zine whose first issue reads like a who's who on the scene, with work by Eurudice, George Chambers, Raymond Federman, Mark Amerika, Rob Hardin, Michael Hemmingson, Derek Pell, Steven Shaviro, Curt White, and many significant others. Three other zines with an A-P twist are Jasmine Sailing's wild Cyber-Psycho's A.O.D, Brian Clark's ultra-kewl Puck and, of course, Black Ice, which has continuously published many of the emerging A-P writers.

John Shirley. New Noir (1993). A wealth of sick pomo Poeian fictions like "Jodi and Annie on TV," about two teens who'll do anything to appear on the six o'clock news.

Art Spiegelman. Maus I and II (1986, 1992). Just when Jewish fiction went comatose, content doing paler and paler imitations of itself (Bellow, Wiesel, the late Malamud, et al.), along came this A&P graphic novel about the Holocaust in which Jews are portrayed as mice and Nazis as cats, and everything is dynamically possible again.

Neal Stephenson. Snow Crash (1992). Cyberpunk with a sense of humor, A&P with a sense of electronic media, here's a novel that believes there are four things the U.S. does better than anyone else: music, movies, software, and high-speed pizza delivery.

Ronald Sukenick. Doggy Bag (1994). An answer to modernist Eliot's The Waste Land by one of the father's of A-P, prolific surfictional co-founder of the Fiction Collective and publisher of American Book Review. This book confirms Sukenick's uncanny ability to transcend generational differences and keep his underground finger on the pulse of American culture. See also his earlier novels Out, Up and especially Blown Away.

Gerald Vizenor. Griever: An American Monkey King in China (1987). A "novel" by the most disruptively experimental Native American on the writing scene.

Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse Five (1968). Time-tripping, anyone? Hybrid genres, new vocabularies, metacommentary, and a political edge that clearly marks the terrain for more formally assaultive A-P texts to tread and move beyond.

David Foster Wallace. The Broom of the System (1987). A great comic A&P narrative worthy of Pynchon which begins when Lenore Beadsman's grandmother and twenty-five other residents mysteriously disappear from their nursing home in Ohio. Full of brain-buring style and intelligence.

Bruce Wagner. Wild Palms (1993). Cyberdelic graphic novel with so much pop-will-eat-itself-referentiality that you might miss the avant buzz that drives it. Originally published in the mainstreeam magazine, Details, and eventually produced by Oliver Stone for a TV mini-series, great for the intellectually stoned. Illustrated by Julian Allen.

Stephen Wright. Going Native (1994). Superb A-P novel in which the protagonist one evening just walks out of a suburban cookout, away from his family, and begins a long, dark, vampiric drift across a drug-stunned America; and yet, as in the algebra of subatomic physics, almost all we ever see of him is his effect on others.