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Here's Why Denis Johnson Was the Last Truly Great …

Notice the ellipses. Johnson begins Jesus’ Son with a barrage of anti-chronological flashes of dream-like images, and introduces our narrator immediately as someone coming out of sleep—half-awake. The entire book, then, is framed within the gray area between dreams and reality. But why is that important?

Denis Johnson Essay Examples | Kibin

I loaned Sue three or four of Denis’ books, and when I asked her about teaching Jesus’ Son instead of Train Dreams, she said, “Too grim.”

professional essay on Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son Stories

Denis Johnson

Al, the best friend of my sister’s then-boyfriend, was a writer. I knew him in my early years in college, just when I was beginning to write my own first attempts at stories. Six years my senior, Al had studied with Joyce Carol Oates—one of my early idols—as an undergraduate at Princeton, and went on to earn his MFA at Columbia, where he’d written a collection of stories I never read but assumed were masterpieces. Naturally, I looked up to him. I asked about his novel-in-progress, and listened to him expound on the importance of writing in long-hand. (Instant messaging, he said, had taught our generation to use computers strictly as an anti-thought communications tool.) In the end, I didn’t learn much from Al about the art of writing fiction. But the best thing he ever did for my writing was he bought me my first copy of Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson.

I taught both. In fact, I created an entire unit—the final unit of the year—called Denis Johnson. I photocopied five stories from Jesus’ Son and assembled hundreds of pages in the front seat of my car across the street from the University, like some deranged pamphleteer. If I’d made enough money to buy them their own books I absolutely would have.

Remembering Denis Johnson, Gwendolyn Brooks …

155, features “Hippies,” an essay by Denis Johnson on the Rainbow Gathering festival

Still, Fuckhead wants something—anything—to understand the dream. And what Bill says next is what Denis Johnson wants the reader to underline a thousand times when considering why these stories could only work in that space Roland Barthes would call the seam:

My first contact with Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son was reading “Steady Hands” when it came out in Esquire. As you know, the story is just a couple of pages of dialogue, almost completely free of the other elements of scene. There is no viewpoint character, which means that we get no personal history, no thoughts, no memories, and no context. Simply put, a man in some kind of rehab facility shaves a fellow patient because he has the less-shaky set of hands; while he’s at it, the man getting shaved talks a little bit about getting shot by his wife. The story reads like a lost scrap of transcript from some larger investigation into human bewilderment.

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Emergency by Denis Johnson | The Homework Gurus

And what about the flip-side? What if Johnson had written Jesus’ Son exclusively on the subconscious end—the hallucinatory dream end—of the spectrum? Reading the flying woman and the drive-in angels as no more than dreamed symbols of divine salvation—wouldn’t that be the cheapest tip of the hat to every armchair psychologist in the world?

Denis Johnson (Author of Jesus' Son) - Goodreads

The beginning writer doesn’t get it. (Surprise: that beginning writer was yours truly.) But Denis Johnson does, and to prove it, he’s got a direct response to that beginning writer in the book itself.

A Reading by Denis Johnson | Poets & Writers

Well, it didn’t start off so good. Jesus’ Son is one of those books that makes beginning fiction writers take one step back before taking two steps forward. I was no exception. It’s the style, the tone, the subject matter—I loved all three, and because Johnson is such a master, I got the idea it was simple to do. I was wrong, of course, and I ended up writing cheap imitations for some time before letting the influence reside somewhere deeper in my own consciousness and voice.

Denis Johnson had ruthless honesty and transcendent …

In spring of 2007, in central Texas, I taught one section of Composition II while finishing an MFA in creative writing. Denis Johnson had spent the year as our program’s endowed chair, teaching a graduate fiction workshop and putting the finishing touches on Tree of Smoke, which would win the National Book Award.

The Archives: Denis Johnson and Train Dreams – Work …

So I promptly stole the idea for Treehouse. As Picasso said, “Good artists borrow; total bastards steal.” Due to the theft of this total bastard, Treehouse now has six great essays for you over the coming week that investigate what it is that makes Denis Johnson’s life-loving mess of a book so damn good.

Denis Johnson Gets Lost - The Texas Observer

“It is an illusion, and you can poke at it once, and then after that you’re just poking the ripples.” Denis Johnson died on Wednesday, at the age of sixty-seven.

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