Remote: Reflections on Life in the Shadow of Celebrity
was my first work of nonfiction — the first work in which I forged a form that felt entirely "my own" and in which my voice felt unmistakably my own. Not to say that I wasn't proud of my three novels, esp. the latter two — Dead Languages
and Handbook for Drowning
— but I've always loved that line of Coetzee
's in which he articulates what literary greatness is for him: when someone deforms the medium in a way it's never been deformed before in order to say something that only he or she can say. I'm not talking about greatness here, but I do think that Remote
, whatever its strengths and weaknesses, does push the form forward for myself. I found a form (collage) that released my best intelligence, or so I see that book now. And yet where to go after Remote
In some senses, Dead Languages, Handbook, and Remote are a bit of a trilogy — looking at my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood from different points of view: verbal, familial, televisual. I had no new experience I could or needed or wanted to write about. The novel as an operating system was not firing for me. I had become a weirdly fanatical fan of the Seattle Sonics in the early to mid-'90s, and I thought I needed to either kill the habit or do something with it. I spent a year going to Sonics games and keeping a journal of how white men, inc. myself, projected their fears and fantasies on black men's bodies. All of this was at the time of the Rodney King video, Clarence Thomas hearing, O. J. Simpson trial. I could feel racial tension in so many social interactions in my life in Seattle. Through the theater of the NBA, I wanted to write about race and the way in which all of us project what they can't understand in themselves onto a demonized other — men/women, east/west, parents/children, Jew/WASP, black/white, spectator/star.
Sports are to me an amazingly rich canvas on which to explore virtually every aspect of American society, since the issues are so manifest, and yet they are constantly airbrushed/suppressed, which makes them that much more toxic. All the soldiers die on an imaginary battlefield, getting up to live another day, at least for the nonce. Black Planet led to another "sports book," Baseball Is Just Baseball: The Understated Ichiro — Ichiro is so opposite to Gary Payton that he is Gary Payton; there's a point at which Ichiro is so aggressively unaggressive he's aggressive — and that book led to yet another sports book, or a book that was perceived to be about sports: Body Politic: The Great American Sports Machine. I like some of the essays in this book (e.g., my essay on Howard Cosell) as much as anything I've written. I'm proud of these three works "about sports"; they are about so much more than sports — American myth, race, masculine vicariousness, etc. etc. — but I never wanted to be the go-to guy for deep-think sports pieces. That was never my goal in life. Sports had gotten me out of myself, but I needed to figure out a way to write about larger subjects that were not televised on the sports channel.
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