Spineless Books.

Literary Avant-Criticism by Larry McCaffery at Spineless Books

AUTHORIZED MCCAFFERY ARCHIVE EDITOR'S PREFACE: When I met Larry McCaffery, I cannot recall what impression I had of him from his work in publishing - Black Ice Books (Hogg!) - interviews - Across the Wounded Galaxy and others - and criticism - multiple contributions to the Review of Contemporary Fiction, treating science fiction writers as legitimate authors. I am pretty sure the work of his that made me a devotee came earlier in life: the Cyberpunk anthology Storming the Reality Studio, picked up at a Johns Hopkins University Press remainder sale, and read during a dizzy and vaguely hallucinatory bout of mono nucleosis. Whatever was happening, Larry was making something else happen. Prior to meeting him I had helped write and publish a fairly loose narrative of meeting him, in which it was expressed that, if writers need critics or critical theorists, then Larry was the cat I wanted to achieve symbiosis with. It does not detract from his credibility in my eyes either that he hangs out with the writer who seems most voracious for experience—William Vollman—or that Larry retired to the desert to dwell on that horizon where imagination meets reality instead of continuing to add to the textual compost of English Studies.

To put it one way, Larry embraces literature past, present, and future. While extremely well-read in the ghosts of the canon, his most earnest love is for potential literature, the new, the awkward, the yet unwritten.

I found him charming and that we broke a number of laws in a short time to me is a testament to that which cannot be discussed—the brazen soul that infuses the work. If writers are outlaws, rebels, users of exquisite substances, then it is crucial that the critics follow the writers into the zone of experience, rather than remain three footnotes removed from life lived.

From the Reality Studio to the Vollman Reader, Larry drove me 100 MPH through cacti.

This is some of why I find Larry canonical but cool, and why yesterday's future was better than the present.—2020



The 20th Century’s Greatest Hits: 100 English-Language Books of Fiction

Avant Pop 101!

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: Here's a list of works that helped to shape Avant-Pop ideology and aesthetics, along with books, albums, films, television shows, works of criticism, and other cultural artifacts by the Avant-Pop artists themselves, in roughly chronological order.]


[AUTHOR’S NOTE: “Tsunami” is the critifictional preface I wrote for Avant-Pop: Fiction for a Daydream Nation (FC2, Boulder, CO, 1993), an anthology of wild (and wildly different) fictions by authors who shared an interest in using the avant-grade’s innovative formal methods to engage, disrupt, collaborate with and generally FUCK WITH the massive array of media-generated pop culture that was transforming American citizens into somnolent zombies. This anthology was one of the books that launched the FC2’s Avant-Pop imprint, Black Ice Books , which I co-edited with Ronald Sukenick, Mark America and Curtis White during the 1990s. In developing “Tsunami,” I aimed at creating a text that would not merely describe or categorize the “avant-pop sensibility” but that would also display or perform its central impulses. 30 years on down the road, I would like to take this opportunity to gratefully acknowledge for the first time the following writers and musicians whose works were sampled in “Tsunami”: Lester Bowie (who coined the term “Avant-Pop”), Sonic Youth (whose Daydream Nation CD is alluded to in the anthology’s title), Dashiell Hammett, Margaret Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg, Bruce Springsteen, Raymond Chandler, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and George Lucas. Special thanks to my collaborator, the late, great Kathy Acker for giving me permission to use her name and persona as “Tsunami”s unlikely damsel-in-distress—and for providing the eloquently outrageous, hilarious, and pitch-perfect monologue that turns “Tsunami’’s entire narrative trajectory topsy-turvy.]

“Towards an Aesthetic of the Aesthetics of Trash: A Collaborative, Deconstructive Reading of ‘Barthelme’s Snow White: The Aesthetics of Trash.”

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This text originally appeared in The Review of Contemporary Fiction--Donald Barthelme/Toby Olsen Number, 11, 2 (Summer 1991): 36-49.]

Danielewski Interview

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Larry McCaffery and Sinda Gregory’s “Haunted House: An Interview with Mark Danielewski,” originally appeared in Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction, Winter 2003. In case any readers are wondering, I wasn’t able to include House of Leaves in my list of the 20th Century’s 100 greatest English language books (see “The 20th Century’s Greatest Hits,” also posted on this website) because HOL’s pub date (2000) made it ineligible for inclusion. But if it WERE included, I would have placed it very high indeed (higher than any other novel published since 2000), probably in the top 10.]

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man(ic)-Depressive, or Journey to Chaos Theory as a First Principle of a New Realist Literary Aesthetic: An Epistolary Drama in Four Acts

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: A somewhat different version of this epistolary drama originally appeared in The Journal of Experimental Fiction Raymond Federman Special Issue 23 (Spring 2002): 275-348.]

Cyrano of the English Department

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: “Cyrano of the English Department” originally appeared in Larry McCaffery, Thomas Hartl, and Doug Rice, eds., Federman: A to X*X*X*XĂ, A Recyclopedic Narrative,   San Diego, San Diego State University Press, 1998.  For readers unfamiliar with Federman’s work, this current text is a kind of homage or playgiarized version of Raymond Federman’s “Cyrano of the Regiment”,   chapter in his novel, Take It or Leave It (1975).  Federman’s chapter is itself a kind of homage or playgiarized version of Edward Rostard’s 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac; although Rosnard’s play borrows its title and a number of incidents from an historical figure,  Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac (1619-1655), the plotline from his play involving Roxanne and Christian is entirely fictional.]

The Final Measurement: Guest-Editor's Remarks Prefacing Postmodern Culture's Special Issue Devoted to Postmodern Fiction

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: A somewhat different version of "The Final Measurement" appeared as my preface to the "Postmodern Fiction" special issue I guest-edited of the online literary journal,  Postmodern Culture, in the Spring of 1993.]

On the Road (not Taken) with Raymond Federman's Take It or Leave It

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: A somewhat different version of “On the Road (not Taken)” originally appeared as the preface to the reissue of Raymond Federman’s  Take It or Leave It, Normal, IL: FC2, 1997; Federman’s novel was originally published by the Fiction Collective in 1976.]

The Recognitions: An Editorial Collaboration with Robert Coover's "Party Talk"

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one of the most deliciously confusing but on point piece of textual criticism I've read. The revelations about Coover are difficult to digest but the path taken to get there is like a Disneyland ride in which famous texts pop up and are revealed to be props. When I first read this, I had to drive to Barnes and Noble to figure something out, which I did, but which I'm not revealing.]

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: The original version of this essay—which did not include the full text of Coover’s “Party Talk”— appeared as ”An Editorial Collaboration with Robert Coover's 'Party Talk’" in Delta: Special Robert Coover Issue 28 (June 1989), 117-132. An expanded versions of this essay that included the entire text of Coover’s “Party Talk: Unheard Conversations at Gerald’s Party” appeared as "The Recognitions: An Editorial Collaboration with Robert Coover's 'Party Talk'" in Fiction International 18:2 (1989), 176-189. The Delta version was reprinted in a collection of academic essays about Coover’s short fiction, Short Story Criticism—Criticism of the Works of Short Story Writers, SSC 101. Detroit, MI:Thomson/Gale, 2008, pp. 153-159.] 

“I d:dr't lnow E~,n,~lish!–Ways to Fail, Dub Mix, Part I”

Re-Double or Nothing

The Velvet Rims of Derek Pell's X-Textual "Hod Rod"

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: A somewhat different version of “The Velvet Rims of Derek Pell’s X-Textual ‘Hot Rod’”} originally appeared as my critifictional preface to Derek Pell, X-Texts (NY: Semiotexte, 1994)m pp. 7-18.]



[AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’ll admit that what I always REALLY wanted was to be a sports writer. Actually, my very first publication was an article I wrote for my 6th grade newspaper about the Fred Merkel’s famous “bonehead” play that cost the Giants the pennant in 1908—a monumental screw-up that forever afterwards caused his name to be listed as Fred ‘Bonehead’ Merkle. At any rate, in 1978 my wish came true when I began a two-year stint writing a weekly sports column—“Sports of All Sorts”—for the SAN DIEGO READER. Later on, my scholarly books and anthologies received a fair amount of awards and praise from reviewers, but by far the most ATTENTION my writing ever received was for those sports columns. During those couple of years, whenever I was attending parties in San Diego (which was fairly often in those distant days), I always introduced myself NOT as a literature professor (who really would have cared?) but as “the guy who writes the sports column for THE READER”; and for the only time in my life, people actually knew who I was, had read what I had written, and were anxious to talk about it. So satisfying! At any rate, what follows is the first sports column I wrote for THE SAN DIEGO READER, which appeared in the Fall of 1978.]


Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town (1978)—Study Guide

Twisted Longings: Terry Allen's Avant-C&W Masterwork, Juarez

[In which Larry McCaffery explicates the "/" in "C/W" and argues for Juarez as experimental, postmodern masterpiece.]

White Noise / White Heat: or How the Postmodern Turn in Rock Music led to Nothing but Road


Interview MS. Found on a Floppy Disc: Some Reflections of "Processed Narratives" and David Blair's Wax, or the Discovery of Television Among the Bees:A Sign-Processed Hypertextual Critical Narrative





Preface to Paul Remeika’s Hidden in Plain Sight (PDF)

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: One of the greatest honors of my life was receiving Paul Remeika’s invitation for me to write the preface to his monumental work-in-progress, Ancient Lands—Discovering Anza Borrego’s Geology. Remeika has been working steadily for over 20 years on Ancient Lands, which will supplement—and correct and greatly expand—his earlier landmark study, Edge of Creation Anza Borrego Geology, which has been widely recognized as the definitive study of Anza Borrego’s fascinating geological wonders ever since its original publication in 1992. Remeika hopes to complete his new study by the end of 2021.] 



[AUTHOR’S NOTE: A slightly different version of “Dust Devils” originally appeared as my critifictional preface for Michael Hemingson, ed., What the Fuck—The Avant-Porn Anthology. NY: Soft Skull Press, 2001, pp.i-xi. Here “Mac” reprises his original role in “Tsunami” (1993) as a bizarre mashup of hard-boiled dick and pretentious (and thoroughly politically incorrect) literary editor and postmodern academic specialist. Since “Tsunami,” Mac has moved on from his days in San Diego and for reasons never clarified is now living in a small isolated desert community, where he scrapes by financially by writing prefaces for small press publications and making cheap homemade porno videos.]

Anza Borrego.

Larry's Credentials


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