Year-End Report: 2005

Last year I opened this annual missive with “everyone asks about progress” on my new house.” My architect Alan Patrick Bruton I characterized, you might recall, as a stealth incompetent, because you never knew where some default would surface next, though always one did. Last April, he proclaimed us “close,” as he took more money and we met with the contractor, to hook up the gas, which was delayed for a year through the architect’s incompetence, much as hooking up the water had been delayed for a full year before that. However, once again Bruton’s paperwork was faulty, the plumber was sent home, the contractor finally quitting the project, leaving me and only me holding Bruton’s bag. (His strategy has testing how much incompetence a chump can stand before quitting, implicitly leaving me the champ, which is to say his biggest fool.) Then in applying for a temporary CofO, Bruton learned that 140’ of his cinderblock building wall was three feet too close to the public park, requiring that we petition the Queens building department to detatch the current building from the future construction that was meant to provide a continuous structure. Once that problem was solved, we learned that the building was several inches too low in the “flood plane” to be acceptable for FEMA, evil FEMA, which had been an obstacle before. To solve this problem, Bruton proposed building a retaining wall 8” high around the entire structure. I then asked advice from an experienced Rockaways architect who advised that Bruton’s building was actually a few feet too low because of likely water back-up in the Rockaways, eventually flooding my house through its drains. The only solution is rebuilding from scratch, which I cannot afford. Never underestimate Alan Bruton’s architectural incompetence, I would repeatedly tell people; but the amount of disaster resulting from my hiring him was unimaginable.

What will happen? I offered Bruton the opportunity to rebuild at his own expense, thus preserving his reputation as an architect; but with the arrogance-over-incompetence typical of a congenital slob unable to clean up behind himself, he refused, preferring to incur expenses of litigation. Indeed, since his malpractice has been so egregious, I expect to pursue him until “made whole” after legal expenses. If sufficient funds quickly become available from Bruton’s insurance, I might be able to commission from a more experienced builder a correct structure for the Rockaways site which I still find desirable. If not, the property will probably be sold. In both cases will Bruton’s monument to his own incompetence be destroyed. Out of this five-year nightmare I hope to write a cautionary extended essay, if not a book, titled, simply, “There Is No Such Thing as a ‘No-Cost Delay.’”

The cost to me in aggravation has been beyond measure. What I can count is the cost of supporting two properties while Bruton pretended to be professional (which he wasn’t); and that’s well over one hundred thousand dollars. My own professional income has also declined while working tools have been buried. Need I add that this human lemon, this menace, has never expressed gratitude for my supporting his continued fantasy of himself as an architect. Instead, am I scarcely alone in wondering how anyone so predisposed to arrogant incompetence ever obtained a license?

Now that my library and much of my art is stored in unmarked boxes, I still need more space. I liked what I saw in Paterson, NJ, but it’s too far from cultural Manhattan, and expect to look in S. Ozone Park. Suggestions for obtaining over 5000 square feet of open space around NYC are welcomed.

Otherwise, unable to use my annotated library, I’ve mostly been writing from memory (and my computer). One major project was remembering everyone I’ve ever met, mostly in a few sentences, the implicit constraint being that each memoir had to be significantly different from all others. This manuscript runs over 50,000 words and is often critical, respecting these principles announced in the preface: “Though many of them are still alive, may I judiciously assume that we’re all mature enough to accept truths about one another? (People whose names never appear in print are often surprised, if not shocked, to read anything about themselves.) While my interpretations of experience might strike some of my subjects as askew, I doubt if I made anything up; that’s not the style of a writer educated, like myself, not in Literature or Philosophy, say, but in History. If some now regret that I recall they treated me badly, let memoirs such as this serve the beneficial function of warning everyone not to treat anyone peculiarly if they can’t stand testimony about their poor behavior showing up in print. (This last truth is so obvious I’m pained to repeat it.) One repeated theme is that not only failures are politically inastute. As I appear severe with others, so am I also not more severe with myself?” Though formally alternative autobiography remains unfashionable, I hope that this will appear soon. Also in the vein of avant-garde autobiography, I published a CD-rom of my side of emails with a provocative former teacher, Dennis H. Wrong, who always managed to get a lot out of me, as Intellectual Correspondence in the 21 st Century, which is my initial publication in that new medium, extending my ambition to publish my words in all the available contemporary media (not only books but audio, video, film, holograms, installations, the wireless web, etc.). Diane Radycki, an art historian teaching at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA, asked to mount in 2007 a retrospective of my art, which is probably larger and more various than anything comparable ever done by an established American writer, only to evaporate. Hopefully, this will begin elsewhere. Please look in my website (www.richardkostelanetz.com) under Proposals for an earlier version of “Wordsand Again,” should any of you know of an institution that might want to mount it.

Most of my richest creative writing recently has been one-word poems, which is a constraint I’ve been exploring for nearly four decades by now, beginning less consciously with single words visually enhanced, such as my much-reprinted “Disintegration” from the late 1960s. More recent one-word seemed to fall into four groups: “Ghosts” I call those in which a resonantly complimentary word is boldfaced within the host word, as “host” ironically is within the title word here. Alan Brilliant’s Unicorn Press (Byram, TX) published an elegantly produced sample under that title. “Multiple Ghosts” have two or more boldfaced words within the host word, such as “ASSEMBLED” or “NEWSPAPER.” A third move, collectively titled “po-ems,” comes from dividing a single word with slashes to discover other words: “to/get/her” or “sign/if/i/cant.” A fourth, closely related, but no quite redundant, involves physically separating the shorter words within a longer word, so that automaton becomes auto ma ton. The fifth and perhaps most fertile is “Fulcra,” in which the boldfaced letters belong to the word between and the word following, discovering two words within a longer English word. Some of these appeared as a chapbook from Bob Grumman’s Runaway Spoon Press (Pt. Charlotte, FL). Some of these one-word poems are scheduled to be published in other books that, always cautious about announcing publication in advance, I won’t mention until they actually appear.

Finally the most remarkable Kosti book to appear in the past year was not by me but about me, a kind of “assembling” about me done for my 60 th birthday only to falter as it was tossed from publisher to publisher until my colleague Doug Puchowski took charge and with design collaboration of Josh Carr, who had taken my experimental writing seminar at the Atlantic Center for the Arts four years ago and some financial support from an old admirer of my writing. Some 13’ wide, 19’ high, on heavy stock, Big Birthday Book, is quite magnificent. Thank you, guys. Anyone wanting to obtain a copy from the limited edition should contact puchowski@comcast.net. Among the new recognitions consider this from one claiming to be “tracking the entire world”: http://search.nndb.com/search/nndb.cgi?type=unspecified&query=Richard+kostelanetz

Years ago I believed that everything of mine deserving support would eventually win it, especially from book publishers; but that is no longer true. So it seems appropriate now to put some of these unpublished manuscripts, especially those I still respect, on my website, some perhaps designed imaginatively by ambitious interns, simply because it is better for all, others as well as me, that their information and insight be publicly available, rather than buried in my files. This would make my own website (URL above) yet another medium for my publishing. Among those titles that should be appearing on my website soon—watch for them—are “The Maturity of American Thought, 1945-1958,” my intellectual history of post-WW America that was begun over three decades ago; “The Art of Radio in North America,” which is based upon talks produced for German radio over two decades ago; “A Special Time,” my symposium about the 1960s; “On Sports & Sportsmen,” a collection of my essays; “Home & Away,” which collects travel writings (mostly about New York City); “Book-Art & Alternative Publishing,” “Person of Letters in the Contemporary World,” which gathers literary essays mostly since 1990 (when the last collection of my literary criticism appeared). One incidental advantage of putting these book on my website is that none requires an index, given the capabilities of the “search” function. The website should also contain larger samples of my unpublished fiction books: More Minimal Fictions, More Openings & Closings, Openings, 1001 Single-Sentence Stories, Epiphanies, Lovings, More Portraits from Memory. I should also do another collection of Experimental Prose, which I continue to do, more recently with a collection of aphorisms no more than four words in length. And then, of course, my poems.

Someone once asked me to explain succinctly how I have managed to receive so many elite recognitions in literary histories and encyclopedias without gaining much financial rewards or institutional power. I think I finally have the answer. I’m NOT “a niche writer” or artist, which is to say someone whose totality can be defined in familiar terms. “A niche writer” characterizes someone whose activities had identifiable predecessors, which is to say that Susan Sontag could be understood as a successor to Mary McCarthy, etc. Without intending to be so, I’ve become someone without precedent in American cultural history—the writer/media artist/critic, a combination of Edmund Wilson, L. Moholy-Nagy, John Cage (all of whom were once important to me), and perhaps a few others. If you consider that one measure of a culture is how well it rewards prestige, then perhaps I’ve been set up to be an unwitting poster-boy for American failure.

Now that my father is declining at 94, his mind remembering little either past or present, it is painful for me to report that I can’t attend any family gathering at which my security cannot be insured (as it can’t be, so aware is my family of their inability to control a rogue element whose only known activity is screwing relatives). This refusal to insure my security accounts for why I was unable to attend my mother’s funeral and internment. As no one risks dangers without satisfactory insurance, don’t be surprised by my continued absence.

Until further notice, know that the Prince St. PO Box will necessarily be the best permanent address.