Rail: With the exception of a catharsis and resolution, I believe there are many similarities between American Genius, A Comedy and Aristotle’s notion of “comedy.” I don’t say this with disappointment, as I value the contributions of the Greeks (even as I like to undermine classical structure). But I want to say/ask if you feel that writing it in the first person sometimes is a deliberate stylistic choice of mimicking autobiography to create a feel of intimacy, even as it is more of a Steinian composition (as I cannot in this moment in history dare call it postmodern)? In fact, this brings me to another question. In today’s present, the comedians, who speaks in the first person, are considered the leaders of the resistance. In many ways, your book can be reinterpreted not as postmodern Tristram Shandy but extended stand up absurdist comedy. What do you think of this interpretation?
Tillman: I like your idea that I’m toying with autobiography. It’s not. But it can be read like that. Autobiography and memoir are also fictions, they have to be, to some extent, because memory isn’t reliable, and, certainly, writing them the narrator is even more unreliable than anywhere else. It is that one POV, only. Using “I” creates intimacy, don’t you think? It has that immediacy. “I” is anybody’s “I.” But it is also not only the narrator’s or specific to the narrator.
As for comedy and stand up, your question is so cool, because recently my editor/publisher/friend Richard Nash asked me, after I did a reading from AGAC, about stand up and my relationship to doing it. That night, the way I read some sections struck him as funnier than he had found them when he read them. Maybe the narrator of AGAC could have done stand up if she had more confidence or a different sensibility. I’m not sure about Aristotle’s ideas about comedy and AGAC. I’m no expert. From what I’ve read, which is not much, they’re less clear than his ideas on tragedy. Comedy happens to ordinary people, not kings and queens, and, in a comedy, bad fortune turns to good. Something like that. In part it’s a class distinction, ordinary people don’t experience tragedy, because it needs to be on such a grand plane. Or that the great can’t be funny. Which is at base base. I often think about Propp’s idea that any narrative entails a reversal of fortune. Think about Schitt’s Creek. Rich to poor. That tragedy could happen only because the upper class denies the humanity of the majority of the world, and that kind of belief might be why the lower classes are regarded as if they are not human. A disgusting reality.
The ending for my narrator in AGAC is neither good nor bad, it’s indecisive. Her fortunes are uncertain, and she’s left in medias res. Unsettled. I do think she is funny, or more that the novel’s funny. I laughed a lot while writing it. Being serious can be very funny. Actually, it can be hilarious.
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