George Saunders on Performance Art and Stories

by Nick Arvin

cover225x225Maybe you've wondered to yourself, What is the relationship between George Saunders's collection of stories, Tenth of December, and performance art?

Funny you should ask! On Saturday, I spoke alongside Jessica Brunecky for Art+Lit, a series of discussions about the intersections of art and literature, cohosted by the Lighthouse and the Art Students League of Denver. I provided some background on Tenth of December, and Jessica, who is a curator at the CU Art Museum, gave an overview of performance art. We had some ideas about areas where the two overlapped (humor; a sense of social consciousness; no one gets into short stories or performance art for the money). It seems an odd pairing of topics, but it gave us an intersection of intriguing ideas to discuss that might never have occurred otherwise.

As we were preparing for the talk, I had a thought: Why not ask Mr. Saunders himself about the relationship, if any, of his stories to performance art? So I sent an e-mail. And he graciously replied (shared here with permission):

I can't say I've given much though to that relation - but I will say that I hate the idea of a story just being...typing. I really want it to galvanize something undeniable in the reader - to effect some sort of (temporary) transformation. And that's similar to what certain performance art pieces can do - I am thinking of that one...can't remember the artist's name but she's quite well-known - anyway, she sat at a table and people were brought in and the idea was, the two people would sit there silently. Then (this is the moment I loved) they brought in a guy she'd had a passionate love affair many years before and hadn't seen since. He comes in, sits down, they both abide by the rules of the game - but the looks they were exchanging (so deep) and then tears start rolling down her face - she's happy, she's broken. THAT'S what a story should do.

The performance artist that Saunders refers to is Marina Abramović. Here is the moment that he describes:

Here you can hear an interview I conducted with George Saunders in October, 2014.

Look out for a new Art+Lit series to start in the fall of this year.