David Ohle’s Motorman (Book acquired, 23 Dec. 2022)

The nicest gift I received this season was from a reader of this blog, J.I.M., who sent me a 1972 hardback first edition of David Ohle’s cult classic, Motorman. The Knopf title features a design by R. Scudellari featuring an illustration by Alan E. Cober. Like a few other Knopf titles from the seventies I have, there is no dust jacket—the title and cover art are right there on the physical cover. J.I.M. included a note with this kind gift, explaining the possible provenance of the book:

For more on Motorman, check out David Green’s big fat essay on the fiction of David Ohle at Big Other.

My biggest fattest thanks again to J.I.M.!

Fifty years after the appearance of Motorman, the strangeness only seems all the more believable | David Green on David Ohle

At Big Other, David Green has a nice big fat essay on the fiction of David Ohle. The occasion for Green’s piece is the publication of Ohle’s latest novel, The Death of a Character, which again features his cypher Moldenke, the hero (?) of Ohle’s 1972 cult classic Motorman (“Fifty years after the appearance of Motorman, the strangeness only seems all the more believable,” writes Green).

Opening bars:

Readers encountering David Ohle’s work for the first time through his most recent novel, The Death of a Character (2021), will indeed find the depiction promised in its title, but those familiar with Ohle’s previous books, especially his first and eventual cult favorite, Motorman (1972), will know that the character whose dying the narrative chronicles is the protagonist of that novel as well. Called simply Moldenke, he makes additional appearances in the long-delayed follow-up to MotormanThe Age of Sinatra (2004), as well as its successors, The Pisstown Chaos (2008) and The Old Reactor (2013). (In The Pisstown Chaos, Moldenke turns up as a minor character in a story focusing on others, but The Death of a Character marks the fourth time his picaresque existence has been the focus of an Ohle novel.) Moldenke has been the principal conduit to the singularly bizarre and often grotesque world Ohle invokes in his fiction, and thus his demise seems more a consummation of that world’s creation, its full achievement perhaps, than merely the portrayal of a fictional character’s death.

Read the rest of the essay here.

From Motorman:

Subtraction from reality

At The Reading Experience, Daniel Green reviews David Winters’s Infinite Fictions. From the review:

Reckoning with literary qualities is something Winters does exceptionally well. Most of the books discussed in the first section of Infinite Fictions (“On Literature”) are complex, unconventional works of fiction, and Winters is painstaking in attempting to describe the strategies the author at hand seems to be using, to account for the effect of reading the work as registered in Winters’s own experience of it. As he says in the introduction to the book, “As a reviewer, all I can do is try to stay true to the texture of that experience. . . Strange as it sounds, each of these books briefly allowed me to subtract myself from reality. In this respect, when writing reviews, I’m less intent on making prescriptions than on exploring the space left by my subtraction.” Thus Winters attends to the specificity of the reading experience itself, something academic criticism generally abjures, while also avoiding the superficial approach of the most “trivial” kind of book reviews, the kind that aim merely to “make prescriptions.”

“Subtraction” from reality perhaps seems like a version of being “immersed” in a book, but I would presume Winters means something closer to what John Dewey called “pure experience,” which Dewey believed becomes most accessible to us as aesthetic experience.  According to Dewey, aesthetic experience is “experience freed from the forces that impede and confuse its development as experience; freed, that is, from factors that subordinate an experience as it is directly had to something beyond itself.” The reader truly receptive to the kind of experience art, in this case literary art, makes available is not in some kind of mystical trance but is fully engaged in an act of what Dewey calls “recreation,” perceiving the writer’s conceptual and expressive moves thoroughly enough that the reader in effect replays those moves. Literary criticism then becomes in part the attempt to communicate the tenor of this reading experience through the most felicitous description and analytical insight the critic can muster.