A Catalogue of Possible Forewords to the Selected Stories of Cris Mazza

  1. Cris Mazza, Shinobi Warrior

Cris Mazza, estimable polymath, trombonist, teacher, dog enthusiast, memoirist, novelist, and unparalleled master of the short story form, is also skilled in the martial arts, though this is not widely known. The training began when Mazza was an undergraduate, but accelerated significantly during her early adulthood, when she had reason, for a brief period to travel to the kingdom of Bhutan, in which nation certain Shinobi warriors from an earlier epoch had kept bright the flames of secrecy and bedazzlement over generations, maintaining a small elite training facility in Himalayan caves. Mazza’s instructor in the arcane Shinobi arts, whose name does not come down to us from the source material, was especially interested in nunchaku (ヌンチャク), and in the venerated ahimsa interpretation of nunchaku in which the one stick is breath and the other is the giver of breath. Mazza’s use of the nunchaku, according to this tradition, does not involve bodily harm in the foe, but rather stuns the foe into reflection, through the illusionary appearance of such unseemly amounts of force that any foe would come to know in a paroxysm that resistance is foolhardy. Mazza, though not of outsized physical stature, has adopted, with only minor alterations, the dazzling of ahimsa, and on one occasion used nunchaku in a dispute with a minor experimental writer, at a certain celebrated writing conference which was held that year in Chicago. During a tedious cocktail party, the experimental writer disparaged (in a fashion he believed witty) writing by women, and Mazza calmly exhumed the nunchaku from her attaché case, tore off her modest and unprepossessing pea coat, and dazzled the fuck out of the experimental writer, who retreated underneath a coffee table, after which he left the conference, that very night, claiming migraine, for his assistant professorship at Eastern Kentucky State, where he wrote a minor prose poem sequence entitled Ahimsa.

  1. Cris Mazza and Lacan’s Feminine Sexuality

The wry simplicity of the prose style in question, the Mazza style, is especially winning, as is her tragicomedy, as is the way that irony tucks itself into the lines again and again (an irony that comes from knowing well both narrator and antagonist and the ways that power might be transmitted dialectically between them). And because of the sometimes devious openness of the language, it is surprising to note that Cris Mazza has taken a keen interest Lacan’s seminars, and has even translated a passage from “Intervention Against Transference.” Yet this is one of the unlikely twists and turns of her excellent career. In her published diaries, which are every bit as electrifying as is this wonderful compendium of her short fiction you hold in your hands, she notes that this particular sentence from Lacan has long transfixed her:

A second development of truth: namely, that it is not the only on the basis of her silence, but through the complicity of Dora herself, and, what is more, even under her vigilant protection, that the fiction had been able to continue which allowed the relationship of the two lovers to carry on.

(Italics in original.) Mazza’s conception of truth in this fine translation recalls Derrida’s argument about Lacan in “Le Facteur de la Verité,” from Cartes Postales, in which the idea of possession of truth is revealed as an anthological compendium of delusions. Truth, in Mazza’s translation of Lacan, as in her own work, is a thing of context. It is the truth about which we should be worried, truth as implacable construct, empiricism as the ultimate conveyance system of the simulacrum. Mazza’s preoccupation with “fiction” in the lines above concerns fiction as a constitutive and original modality of consciousness, an autonomic function, in which, as in the mirror phase, the oscillations of imagination, the commitment to the unveiling of the imagination create the self. The true self, which is a false self, and for which there is no other.

  1. 41 Mazzaria

The recently identified comet known 41 Mazzaria, possibility originating in the Ooalt cloud, out beyond Neptune, is in fact a twin comet, of a kind not normally seen among icy planetisimals of our own solar system. Initially it was called Heliotrope 13, but recent observations by the team at the very large array operated by the University of Nevada, using radio wave transmission against measurements by the Hubble Space Telescope, have noted that Heliotrope’s wobbly progress is indeed that of two comets, whose gravitational influences upon one another perturb their progress through the heavens. Sharif Qazi, PhD, took the lead on the paper in Scientific American that heralded this fascinating discovery. Even stranger than the fact of the twin comets, however, is the fact that Qazi is an obsessive reader of American literature of the independent press variety, and, when the naming commission came to him to rename the comet known as Heliotrope, now revealed as two, he referred to the consistently inventive short fictions of Cris Mazza, in particular the truly electrifying story known as “Is It Sexual Harassment Yet?,” which appears in two columns, two different versions of the same sad tale, bound together like tropic and temperate, like sweet and savory, like Apollonian and Dionysian. Qazi proposed naming the twin comet, that icy planetesimal, in honor of Cris Mazza and her short story, remarking in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that “Mazza’s career is no less striking for being conducted with the espionage aforethought with which it has been conducted, our admiration must be acute, for the variety and scale of the work, for its intrepid qualities, for its commitment to the unflinching, and the naming of a comet seems fit celebration.”

As you know: if the statistical modeling is correct 41 Mazzaria will, alas, collide with the planet Mercury in the year 3047.

  1. Cris Mazza and the Masculine Shame Pheromone

Have you heard? The theory of the masculine shame pheromone has been all the rage in the peer-reviewed psychiatric journals lately. The idea is this: certain pheromones rectify a sense of masculine privilege in the male of the species. Snediker, et al., in Journal of the Proceedings of the American Psychoanalytic Society, refer to the cultural productions that can cause a flooding of these pheromones as reality enhancers. According to Snediker, et al., the first reality enhancer, statistically measured by Eastman and his team at Yale in the late nineties, was the novel entitled Nightwood, by Djuna Barnes. Horses, the album by Patti Smith, is also often referred to. Recently, volunteers dragooned at a local World Gym in the San Diego area, many of them habitual users of anabolic steroids, were plied with reality enhancers and were then asked to assess films of road rage incidents, noting their own limbic activity. Among the reality enhancers employed in this particular double-blind survey (some control-group respondents were given novels of Anne Tyler) was the story “Former Virgin,” by Cris Mazza, from the collection of the same title, a story that deals with the ramifications of an exceedingly painful teacher-student relationship. Indeed, “Former Virgin” is among the few such stories to entrap the grim complex of feelings of those relationships effectively, where all the acute nuances and transferential moments are correctly rooted out, where remorse and chagrin are evenly distributed. Using galvanic skin response monitoring and E.E.G.’s the aforementioned users of anabolic steroids were plied with copies of “Former Virgin,” or at least those who were sufficiently able to read were given the story, and then measured as regards their reactions to films of road rage events. In a statistically valid seventy-three (73%) of cases, “Former Virgin” had the effect of negating the priapic and narcissistic emanations from the sweat glands and the kind of clonus that we associate with masculine self-regard, which, in the aftermath of “Former Virgin,” we see mitigated to the point where universal child care and the Family Leave Act suddenly seem like reasonable ideological positions for the men in the study. Further testing, at intervals of three, six, and nine months, after the consumption of “Former Virgin,” and the reality enhancement that follows on from contact with the work of Cris Mazza, indicate a surge of what clinicians are now referring to as the masculine shame pheromone, wherein former anabolic steroid juicers eschew some of their previous behaviors, up to and including road rage, binge-drinking, convulsive explaining to women, support for fringe gun rights organizations, etc. While Mazza’s work has been swapped out with other reality enhancers, the GSR testing has indicated that few other literary artifacts are quite as effective. A collected or selected stories volume by Mazza, such as this one you hold in your hand, would make possible a ten- and twenty-year test horizon, in which results might be duplicated and cross-checked and referenced, assuming funding can be procured.

  1. The Image of the Fish in the Work of Cris Mazza

In Cris Mazza’s revolutionary memoir, Something Wrong With Her, (1) Mazza mentions, in passing, her avocational interest in fishing:

In the Midwest’s remote north woods, where I go to fish . . .

(Italics mine.) There are photographs of Mazza displaying examples of her fishing prowess to be found online, for those who wish further evidentiary demonstration. As it turns out, excepting exactly one story known to this writer, “Not Here,” fish are a decidedly suppressed image in the shorter work of Cris Mazza, and there are moments when her dogged unveiling of cross-currents of power in gender and relationships, for example, are simply attempts to distract a reader who is perhaps bent on teasing out a frank discussion of Mazza, the complete angler. Mazza somewhere in Minnesota, in one of those ten thousand lakes of Minnesota, Mazza in hip waders, Mazza bargaining over the price of night crawlers, Mazza tying her own flies. Would Cris Mazza be a catch-and-release type of sportswoman, or one who eats what she catches? Exactly how successful is Mazza with regard to fishing? Does she prefer live bait?

Fig. 1, Fishing Effectiveness of Cris Mazza as measured in number of catch-and-release events.

The above chart, constructed with data provided to me by various parties in a position to know, indicates that by concerted effort, Mazza has become one of the premier female sport fisherpersons in the American literary landscape. We can probably project annual expenditures in the hundreds if not thousands of dollars spent on fishing trips, and fishing trips that simultaneously involve her other pastime, dog ownership and breeding.

If fishing occupies such an outsized place in Mazza’s life, why just the one story?

I asked a Jungian analyst of my acquaintance to speak to the fish image in Mazza’s work, and he responded as follows:

“Jung has much to say in the Liber Novus (also known as The Red Book) about the image of the fish. For example, there was the day in 1916 when an entire day in Jung’s life was given over to repeated hauntings by fish.

That evening, someone showed him a piece of embroidery filled with fish. The next morning, a patient he hadn’t seen in ten years, described a dream she had the night before about a large fish.

“Later, there were repeated reiterations of the fish image in Jung’s researches, including, for example, a fish laboratory, in the 1940s, which appeared in a Jungian dream; his studies of the “fisher king” and the Holy Grail; Christian mythology, with its fishing imagery, all of which prompted his observation that we are living in an ‘Aeon of Fishes.’ Which is to say in a time of soul investigations.

“Mazza eliminates the fish image from her very best stories so that we might analyze an absence of fish as a reification of fish, especially as fish are subliminal in her keenly observed and trenchant investigations of power and gender. The forms of these stories are restlessly rediscovered, and surely in this way, though she very nearly suppresses the entirety of the marine community, especially, in fact, those species that are liable to be caught in a Midwestern lake or stream, she is sketching out a kind of Jungian self-investigation, for which the fish serves as emblem.”

I’d put it this way: with Something Wrong With Her, her “real-time memoir,” Mazza offers us a decoder ring for the psychosexual dynamics that, in her own journey, undergird stories like “The Second Person,” “Former Virgin,” “The Cram-It-In Method,” “Her First Bra,” et al. The forms, the differences of structural intent, the tremendous ingenuity of the forms, are the sign that a symbolic of fish is being worked out in substratum, which is to say a soul investigation.

  1. Statement on Quality by Biel, Kreutzer, Millbrook, and Sanders, LLP

To conclude my catalogue, I thought I might secure an external evaluation by a duly certified evaluator from the venerable Chicago firm of Biel, Kreutzer, et al. Jennifer Strout who is a senior cultural evaluator (and a former paramour of mine, but that is another story) was engaged for a tidy sum to speak to the overall effect of the stories in Cris Mazza’s Charlatan, and Moses’s evaluation is herewith:

As a nationally registered four-star evaluator of cultural products, I have reviewed the selected stories of Cris Mazza, and I have concluded that here is the work of a major American writer, whose fearless and bold investigations of love, sexuality, dogs, music, and the form of contemporary fiction are such as to be admired by writers and readers the world over. Mazza has been doing what she does for more than thirty years now, and her journey is no less urgent now than it was in Animal Acts, her very first collection of stories (which, in fact, I read and admired deeply when I was an associate editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, in 1987), and, accordingly, her career looks from this vantage point to be one that has been conducted with great ferocity and purpose, not to mention astounding consistency. This retrospective volume anneals the base materials of Mazza so that they are more apparent, more completely persuasive even than in the originals, which were and remain important, incisive, and inventive contributions to the art of the contemporary American short story. By any barometer of literary success, therefore, these stories constitute enduring American art; they speak of things incompletely spoken about in American literature, and therefore they speak where there has long been silence. Cris Mazza is an American original. Hers is a vital, engaged, imaginative presence in American letters, and this volume crystalizes and secures that reputation, which she has long deserved. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the firm on this matter, or for any further evaluations.

Couldn’t have said it better myself, and Jennifer Strout has done a great job here don’t you think? And now may you find way into the complexities, and convolutions, the deeply moving investigations at the heart of the work of Cris Mazza.

(1) There are very, very few memoirs as daring and honest as Something Wrong With Her. It mocks, through tenacity, a certain kind of light, triumph-over-adversity memoir that continues to be popular these days. You should throw out all those memoirs and read this one instead.

Rick Moody is the author more than a dozen books. His work has been anthologized in Best American Stories, Best American Essays, and the Pushcart Prize anthology. He is also the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship.

From Charlatan: New and Selected Stories by Cris Mazza. Reprinted with permission from Curbside Splendor Publishing.

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