I FIRST READ Antoine Wilson’s “Notes on ‘Hack’” in this publication. Like Susan Sontag, who in her “Notes on ‘Camp’” identified an aesthetic phenomenon that had yet to be articulated and defined, Wilson takes up a neglected idea, the Hack, a designation we often use but, as he shows, haven’t adequately thought through. The result is both illuminating and entertaining and offers a good introduction to Wilson’s subtlety as a thinker.
Wilson’s new novel, Panorama City, contributes to the secular humanist tradition of the wise fool whose simple gullibility is proof of his incorruptible goodness. His narrator-protagonist, Oppen Porter, is the Don Quixote of the Central Valley, The Man of Madera. Yet Wilson's novel is no simple parody or pastiche. His forms and procedures have their obvious literary precedents, but he adapts them to his own ends. The result is a novel that derives from a rich, personally-selected tradition but is in no way derivative.
What also becomes clear is that Wilson is a California writer who has written a California book, but one that eschews all we have come to expect of Southern California literature: corruption, brutality, anxiety, racism, Hollywood, disaster, pornography. Instead, Wilson tells a quieter tale that takes us from a small town in the Central Valley to a small city in the San Fernando Valley, one you probably haven’t given much thought to, even as you may have passed it countless times in your car.
Borges remarks somewhere that before Cervantes’s great novel in Spain La Mancha was roughly equivalent in stature and prestige to, say, Kansas City (he didn’t specify which one). Perhaps Panorama City will no longer be known as the racially exclusive planned community laid out by industrialist Henry J. Kaiser, where Coffee Mate was invented and Kirk Cameron was born, where the largest GM assembly plant once stood and the LA Kings have their practice rink. Now we have Oppen Porter, a six-and-a-half-foot tall, binocular-wearing “man of the world” to finally give this neglected American city a literary habitation and a name.
Doug Browne: The narrator of Panorama City, Oppen Porter, is so preternaturally decent that I’m reminded of what Nabokov said of Don Quixote: “There is no malice in him; he is as trustful as a child.” And like the Knight of the Rueful Countenance, Oppen often misperceives his world, though in a way that makes us see him as innocent rather than insane. What compelled you to create a character with these qualities?
Antoine Wilson: Yes, I've read that line. Is it from Lectures on Don Quixote? I wanted to look at the world, especially in all of its fallen forms, with fresh eyes, or at least not through the veil of reflexive cynicism. It's not only Oppen's naiveté that nudges him in this direction. Being illiterate, he's immune to all the text thrown at us. His is not the saturated media environment many of us navigate daily.
Also, my son was born right around the time I started this novel. When I wasn't writing I was spending an awful lot of time around toddlers. I've enjoyed the company of many illiterate, malice-free, trustful individuals, most of them under four feet tall.
DB: Of course, for Quixote, literacy is synonymous with naiveté...read more