Jason Schwartz Interviewed at 3:am Magazine

3:am Magazine has published an interview with novelist Jason Schwartz. Schwartz’s latest, John the Posthumous, is my favorite book of 2013.  In the interview, Jason Lucarelli talks with Schwartz about John the Posthumous, his experiences with Gordon Lish, and teaching writing. The final answer of the interview though is my favorite moment—it reads like a wonderful and bizarre microfiction. Here it is, sans context:

This comes to mind: long ago, in New York, I taught middle school for a year. Rough and tumble sort of place. Lots of mischief, and no textbooks, as these had all been lost or destroyed or thrown out into a courtyard, where—I may be revising the memory slightly—there was a great pile of books, a pile nearly one story high. So it was upon the teacher to scratch out lessons on the blackboard. This was transcription, the transcription of many items, all these chapters from the absent books. And once this had been accomplished, once the blackboard had been covered with words, first thing in the morning, it was upon the teacher to guard the blackboard all day. So what to do when the fistfight breaks out? You know how people gather around. The teacher now fears the press of bodies, and the tendency of bodies to smudge, or even erase, words. Stop the fight or protect the blackboard? This seemed to me, at the time, the central educational dilemma. If you’re lucky, the fracas is close by, and you might arrange things accordingly—one hand here and one hand there, finding yourself in various complicated postures. I never managed that to successful effect. And perhaps all this explains why, in the old country, contortionists were always thought the best schoolteachers. Anyway, Mr. O’Riley’s room has been set afire in the meantime, or Mrs. Wilson has been trampled in the stairwell. The day would pass in that fashion, and then I would go home and write about postage stamps and Judas Iscariot.


6 thoughts on “Jason Schwartz Interviewed at 3:am Magazine”

  1. fascinating quote – quite hilarious, and I imagine that many recent college grads who go into Teach for American could relate. I’ll have to read Schwartzman’s book! It’s like “Bored to Death” come to life. :)


  2. Very quickly getting tired of all the Lish epigones. They did a great service to themselves by learning from him and a tremendous disservice to themselves at the same time. Schwartz’s new book is great if you dig impenetrability. I know a lot of people do. I am not one of those people. I’m not interested in adopting the posture of awe when reading someone. Schwartz is obviously a wizard with language. But wizards are interested in mystification and I’m too old to for it.


    1. I think his stuff is very different from Lish’s, for what it’s worth (the “it” here is my opinion). But I also think that some of the people that Lish taught/worked with were really good at writing really clear stuff (Carver, obviously, but also Barry Hannah).


  3. I’m talking about the new, 2nd Gen Lishies. Every time I read an interview with one of them it sounds like Lish is talking. Schutt, Schwartz, Lutz, Lipsyte, etc. They sound like cult members. And the thing of it is is that I think Lish is the best writer of them all, even better than Carver and Hannah. Extravaganza is one of my favorite books ever, as is Mourner at the Door. I think the epigones are vastly overrated and the original vastly underrated. I tried to read A German Picturesque. I think Schwartz writes with absolutely no thought of the reader. When I was younger I thought that was cool and tough and now that I’m older I just think it’s indulgent and show-offy. John the Postumous, the excerpts I have read, strikes me as an epic wank, and not just because of the opaque nature of the language. I’m trying to slog through Richard Powers’ The Echo Make right now and I feel the same way. There are some writers I just want to grab by the lapels and say, “Cut the shit.” Schwartz is now one of them. Same with Blake Butler. It’s all white man scat, and when I say scat, I mean scat as in, like Scatman Crothers scat, not the other kind. Pleasant sounding gibberish. But gibberish all the same. I know I’m in the minority about this, but so what.


    1. If you’re in the minority, you’re in the minority of a minority. I’ve never read Powers but I’ve read people compare him to Evan Dara (other way round, really), whose novel The Lost Scrapbook is probably the best thing I’ve read this year. Have you read Dara?

      I appreciate your viewpoint (and your comments over the years, which have been instructive), but I think that JtP is very tight, very controlled, a closed system—but yes, it’s hermetic and particularly ungenerous to the reader.


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