By Andrew J. Hogan
Literary Critique of
Kyholm Shipwreck Saved from Incognizance
The Epic Short Story by
A. Jacques Houggen,
The Father of
A. Jacques Houggen was born to Edythe and Frederic Houggen in Passaic, NJ on July, 27, 1946. Houggen’s parents fled persecution in Andorra just prior to World War II. Houggen’s father found work in military production plants during the War and later in Ford automobile assembly plant in Edgewater.
Houggen graduated from Rutgers University with a B.S. in Agricultural Journalism in 1965, after which he bummed around Europe. While attending the Gertrude Stein festival at the University of Copenhagen in July 1966, he helped his girlfriend move into Skindergade 38, where he saw Kierkegaard’s ghost—this was a time of widespread psychotropic experimentation among Danish university students. Returning to the US in 1970, Houggen enrolled in the creative writing MFA program at Cal State Long Beach, but left without completing his degree.
In 1995 Houggen sold his Red Balloon Realty agency in Tucson and retired to rededicate himself to writing. After attending the Pima Writers’ Workshop in 1996, he enrolled in the Advanced Fiction Workshop at Tucson Community College, where he honed his skills as a genius of the short story.
Houggen’s Contribution to Neopostmodern Fiction
“Kyholm Shipwreck Saved from Incognizance” embodies the retractive swash of the postmodernist wave of literature set in motion by Gertrude Stein and cresting in "Robert Kennedy Saved from Drowning” by Donald Barthelme, the Father of Postmodern Fiction. Houggen’s opus refines and elevates Barthelme's masterpiece by:
Increasing the mean length of the twenty-four vignettes by 26%, while simultaneously reducing the coefficient of variation of the length by an equally remarkable 25%.
Expanding the emotion complexity of the story through the introduction a couple of sexually active seniors, an historical figure, and two ships.
Augmenting the time spectrum to include past and future as well as present events.
Excerpt of an Interview with
Tucson Community College Creative Writing Instructor Peg Folder
Q: A. Jacques Houggen was a student in your creative writing workshop for some time?
A: Too long. I tried unsuccessfully to get him to transfer to the MFA Program at Arizona.
Q: What was he like as a student?
A: He was a pain-in-the-ass. He kept trying to get me to run my workshop the way his idol, Donald Barthelme, ran his. Barthelme had no set assignments. He allowed no one to hand in copies of the stories a week in advance. He did not even want copies handed out the day of class, to read along with. Barthelme thought students needed to learn how to hear stories and respond to them only that way. His method was to have the student read the story, and then he would ask tough, leading questions of one specific student--never the student writer.
Q: What was the reaction to Kyholm Shipwreck when you workshopped it?
A: Not very favorable. Most of us couldn’t figure out what the story was trying to accomplish.
Q: How did Houggen respond to criticism of the story?
A: He said we didn’t understand it, that it was an example of socially instrumental art.
Q: What does that mean?
A: As he explained it, socially instrumental art not only identifies a social problem or issue, but also engenders a social response. He gave the example of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the growth of the anti-slavery movement in the North.
Q: What social problem does Kyholm Shipwreck address?
A: According to him, the failure of the world to take cognizance of the Kyholm Shipwreck. Houggen thought his story was remarkable because it not only identified the social problem but also completely resolved it.
Q: How so?
A: Again, according to him, the celebrity of the story, being the Magnum Opus of the father of neopostmodern literature, would lead to its being read by countless students of contemporary American literature. In the process of reading the story, these students would take cognizance of the Kyholm Shipwreck, thus resolving the social problem.
Q: How did he know he would become the father of neopostmodern literature?
A: I guess he knew no else one wanted the epithet.
Q: How has being an instructor for a famous writer like Houggen changed your perspective on writing and literature?
A: It calls to mind something Gertrude Stein said.
Q: What was that?
A: “The minute you or anybody else knows what you are you are not it, you are what you or anybody else knows you are and as everything in living is made up of finding out what you are it is extraordinarily difficult really not to know what you are and yet to be that thing.”