"Are you sleeping with Stadler, or what?" writes J. D., who hates this column almost as much as he hates Matthew Stadler because Stadler's recent onstage conversation with Lydia Davis at Hugo House was, in J. D.'s words, "dull, boring, pseudo-intellectual, and completely self-absorbed." I happened to like the event and said as much in a column that somehow managed to anger both the people who hated the event and the people who organized it ["Plumbing the Surface," April 17].
According to another letter from one Tod McCoy, the audience members "stumbled over each other to find the exit throughout an agonizing and protracted 'conversation' about minutiae that only Stadler found fascinating." (In reality about four people left.) The column also provoked Hugo House writer-in-residence Emily White to call me "intellectually bankrupt" and to write, "Neither Matthew or Lydia would've been at Hugo House if I hadn't brought them there. How much have you done for your scene lately?" And all I did, keep in mind, was say that I actually liked the fucking thing, which is more than I ever say about much else. Anyway, not having done anything for my scene lately--aside from, of course, writing this flimsy column every week about events other book critics in town ignore--I'm happy to explain why I wrote what I wrote.
If you are just joining us, Matthew Stadler is an award-winning novelist, and Lydia Davis is one of the most thrilling and important writers alive. These are just facts. Because of her tremendous technical agility, Davis has been hugely influential on her contemporaries--namely in matters of structure, form, sentence construction--so there are far more interesting things to talk about with her than, say, who her five favorite writers are.
Stadler didn't give the interview Oprah Winfrey would have given. He stretched the audience (and Davis herself) and made things interesting, if academic, and to my satisfaction kept the conversation afloat--identifying the ways that mechanical nuances (namely punctuation) amplify meaning.
"What writer niggles about the placement of punctuation other than James Joyce?" McCoy writes, demonstrating his enormous ignorance. Every writer who lays down a serious sentence has to think about punctuation, Tod (although not many writers I know would ever use the word "niggles"). So what if they went on and on about italics and em dashes and a colon Davis used in a novel eight years ago: Colons are interesting, I say.
Since when did conversation about punctuation become so controversial? It was something you never see, and I'll be damned if I didn't love it. But to answer your question, J. D.--no, Stadler and I are not sleeping together. Nor will you ever find us "masturbating together," as you also put it. But thanks for asking.