Response to Ronald Sukenick
David Matlin

The first time I saw Ron Sukenick at a literary festival at Brown University standing before the jeers of younger writers and the last time I saw Ron Sukenick when he was in the last stages of Inclusion Body Myositis he reminded me of the painter Barnett Newman. And I mean by that the artist who raised the life and death issues of modernity, who demanded of himself and his art that both be radically informed by the world; that one must be cosmopolite, full of intellectual action, ready to be first at the barricades with a regard and care for the crisis of humanity we have all been born into, and to live face to face with nothing else. And when I read the last writings printed in this magazine, the writing he struggled to get down before his death I am reminded of one of Newman's later paintings, Who's Afraid of Red Yellow, and Blue 1 where Newman writing about the great piece said, "Why give in to these purists and formalists who put a mortgage on red, yellow and blue, transforming these colors into an idea that destroys them as colors?" The opening three word phrase of Newman's statement Why give in· certainly to any of the imprisoning mortgages waiting around the corners of any of our lives ö and the last wonderfully challenging question of the painter's statement, Why should anybody be afraid of red, yellow and blue? invokes the attraction, the puzzle; the pulling, drastic, watchfully alert light of these four stories. In turn these pieces remind me of Newman's statement, one I have never forgotten, about exactly what age we are living through, one now lying beyond "the primitive world of terror":

In this new tragedy that is playing itself out on a Greek-like stage under a new sense of fate that we have our-selves created, shall we artists make the same error as the Greek sculptors and play with an art of over-refinement, an art of quality, of sensibility, of beauty? Let us rather, like the Greek writers, tear the tragedy to shreds.

    The tragedy of Newman's reference is Hiroshima and the war, the one whose permanence has so thinned our minds and our being alive Newman wrote has robbed us of our hidden terror, as terror can only exist if the forces of tragedy are unknown.

    The four stories Never, 77, The Cat, Running on Empty are each made of as the author says:

Just a few words. With objectivity, without despair. The vultures of.
Jerking at the longish neck, eyes still blinking.

    And tearing what needs to be torn to shreds with these stanza-like paragraphs which draw the prose at each turn of line toward something just able to be known, precisely retained, then wrapped in a veil of almost inexplicable placidity with its hushed undercurrents of inviolate gentleness, brutality, and a patient, generative clarity, or what Henry James called the close, the curious, the deep - shooting straight from the planted seed.

    For me, Ron Sukenick, defined what an artist might be and there is no comedy I know so distinct, so telling in its scope, which so gently and oddly phrases the solitudes, and unleashed blanknesses draining the world; articulated, timed, and felt as in the lines of this single author casting himself into these ransoms, and coming to, in the face of it, the rarest qualities of the most alert artist and, even as here, Tikkun, a man struggling with the highest tasks and helping to form the artistic communities necessary for the shared visions so essential in this time.

He persisted. Lucky for me. By letter after he was drafted. I love you
in big print. From a small town in Alabama. Where as a dentist they had
him pulling mules' teeth and mopping the floors. Until one day he
spilled the pail on the floor and said, You do it! He came to enjoy
working on mules.