In advance of this Sunday's 40th anniversary marathon reading of Frederic Tuten's avant-garde novel The Adventures of Mao on the Long March (more information about the event can be found here), we thought it might make sense to say a few words about the unique novel.
First, it's by no means a novel in the traditional sense. The over-arching plot is what the title suggests: a history of the Long March, with Chairman Mao as the central character. But it isn't linear, and there are several sections that break away from the plot entirely, many of them parodies of other writers, including Ernest Hemingway and Jack Kerouac.
The book was originally published in a shorter form in a magazine, Artist Slain, in 1969. It first appeared in its final format in 1971, published by Citadel Press. And part of their agreement included a requirment that the cover be designed by Roy Lichtenstein, a friend of Tuten's.
The book's many fans include John Updike and Susan Sontag.
But back to the writing itself. My favorite section is the final, in which the writer interviews Mao at his home (where, in addition to a staggering number of books and magazines stacked on tables, he has a poster bearing the infamous Che image on his wall). They discuss all sorts of things, with Mao proving himself to be very well-read and even tempered, if a bit firm in his opinions. It's a sublte characterization, one that can be read and re-read over and over.
I've always particularly loved the discussion on Jean-Luc Godard, which comes up because of his 1967 film La Chinoise. One little pearl is this exchange, beginnning below with that is the tail end of a long response from Mao to a one-word question about which Godard movies Mao has seen and liked:
Mao: Godard’s contradictions are wholesome and accurate with regard to his condition in bourgeois culture. But films like Made in U.S.A. or La Chinoise show him uncertain in his instincts. He is now the Oscar Wilde of cinema imagery.
I: Do you object to the satire on youth in the film "La Chinoise"?
Mao: Yes. For satire must never be directed against the class whose aspirations you share—only the enemy.
The Oscar Wilde of cinema imagery. Interesting. I'd also like to add that Made in U.S.A. happens to be my favorite Godard movie, so Mao and I disgaree on this point (among many others). I could go on an on about this section, but will stop here and instead say that I hope to see you all Sunday afternoon at the Jane Hotel for the marathon reading. Rumor has it that a Mao puppet will make an appearance.