As a writing student it’s been difficult for me to look at these texts as documents rather than as pieces of literature: as works of writing and as words put down on the page for the purpose of creating a story that at best will uplift the reader and at most engage him. That being said, I take each of these writers seriously and their tasks more seriously than them. Having sat through a maximum of writing workshops I’ve read some very poor writing from people both who don’t care much to try and from those who put in enormous effort but come out with less. Most remarkable about “Waiting for Nothing,” besides of course the well-earned content, is the fact that what this homeless man has written not one poor sentence but a good, declarative novel. It should not be compared with Steinbeck, but considering how it was written—for its own sake rather than the sake of being published and beloved—it nearly could. It’s a remarkably unpretentious work that provides great effect with few words and images.
Still, however, a novel is something that must be worked hard on. I don’t think anyone could produce something half-decent without at least a half-struggle. I have no doubt that Steinbeck and Anderson and Caldwell and Agee toiled over words and rearranged them and re-rearranged them in order for the architecture of their writing to give the effect it has today. After all, we’ve exhaustively noted that this was their job, that they were self-declared writers that had received checks and contracts in advance. Tom Kromer, on the other hand, has written his first and only novel with “Waiting for Nothing” and with no plans for publication.
There are inevitably two ways for us to consider his work: either foremost as a piece of literature—a work of self-reflection—or first as a journal and a document of the times. In the first category we must admit that that this is amateur work and that Kromer is a novice writer, writing as so many popular memoirists do today about his struggles and depravity. And of course me must remember the purpose for which it was written. To consider it a document of a hobo’s life at that time, we must recognize that it is still a piece of literature and a novel that was arranged to maximally engage its reader. Thus, in all, this is a unique piece of writing—the kind that’s usually forgotten, but shouldn’t always be.
For my museum visit, I rode my skateboard to the Bea Art Hall Gallery, which is actually the hallway of the Centro Cultural Brasil in New York. They are showing about 10 pieces, all of which are inspired by the writing of Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, a novelist, short story writer, and poet, who lived and worked during the 19th century. The pieces invoked images of Brazil, which is only natural since Machado de Assis never left Rio de Janeiro. One painting jumped out at me, because the whole canvas, about the size of my midsection, displayed two toucans. I could not fully translate the Machado quotation next to the painting, and so I asked for the only employee there to help me translate. The words read something along the lines of “God, you have given man a face or friendship. Devil, you have made men confused between love and friendship.” And the picture was of two toucans. The woman said that the toucans were specific to the Amazon, and represented Brazil. Another instillation piece had leaves strewn about on a shelf. All of the leaves were green, yellow, and black, which I took to represent the Brazilian flag. There were some portraits of Machado de Assis, one of which had lines of his writing spewing out of his mouth. To tell the truth, the art itself did not give me any particular impression of Brazil, or even of Machado de Assis’ works.