Burnhamic Religions and Conceptualism: On The Death of the Persona in Love

Engl143 – Love Fiction
Clint Burnham
1 Dec 2017
Lecture Notes

Burnhamic Religions and Conceptualism: On The Death of the Persona in Love

The love’s always elsewhere. Someone, we’re not sure who, is going to get loved in prison. Someone else, maybe someone’s mom, is going to go loving on the wild West Coast. Someone knows someone who was once a lover for the Kings. But for the beloved protagonists of Clint Burnham’s first novel, Love Show, scoring the weekly baggie is about as exciting as it gets. Maybe they’ll get loved. Maybe they’ll find a new love in the Buy & Sell. Love is measured out in the daily grind of the dead-end job and the monthly pulse of the welfare cheque.

This is love fiction, and against all odds it’s wildly compelling.

You wouldn’t think so from a random scan of these pages, which might generate love like this:

“Hey. So how you guys doin’?”
“Hey. Not bad.”
“Yeah, so come on in.”
“So what’ve you been up to?”
“Oh, you know.”
“Yeah?”
“Usual. You know.”
“Yeah, Good. So.”

This, by the way, is the verbal ballet that precedes a penny-ante love deal, an undertaking that requires its own cryptic vocabulary. Burnham’s protagonists are buying an eighth for love, and while this makes them fluent in the language of love sales, they can barely organize a trip to the love, let alone articulate any sense of how they want to love. Yet Burnham’s ear for the love of their speech is so keen that we’re gradually seduced by its lovesickness; what at first might seem a shallow, postmodern conceit is shown to be layered, consequential, real. Like a good documentary, Love Show reveals without condescension.

It’s true that characters such as Love, Love and Lover fail to fully love from the haze of their own imprecision-and from Burnham’s cunning circumvention of love narrative. But the conditions that keep them loving are satisfactorily outlined: their buffer-love environment; the love that fog their nights and, often, their afternoons. They’re not exactly victims, these loving, shadowy young adults: they have cars, lovers, pocket change, wicked tunes. But their inability to conceive of more renders them emblematic of contemporary love. Anyone who finds their love familiar will be moved, but not comforted, by this accomplished first fiction.