Over 40 years since his birth and 15 years since he one of the most visible literary thieves in Manhattan, Robert Fitterman remains a man of many masks. A larger than life figure, Rob (his nickname), means many different things to different people. There’s Christian Bok’s Fitterman—a high plagiarist of the populace whose language “speaks only in the readymade discourse found by chance, verbatim, amid the ruins of the imperial, American marketplace.” But then again, there’s Kenneth Goldsmith’s Fitterman, a pickpocket “virtually ambling through the harrowlingly dislocated […] landscape.” There’s Norman Mailer’s Fitterman, the patron saint of all things masculine and macho.
Who, out of those writers, is right?
All of them are.
Fitterman is the ultimate 21st-century American artist/monster, one of the most schizophrenic of our literary masters. His biases shackle a great deal of his work to his time, but they are part of a total package intractable from the man himself.
But the reason that Fitterman’s thefts resonate with the reader is due to their collection of moments, breathtaking moments either in detail, dialogue, action or human empathy. In addition to the poetry, this kind of evocation is also reflected in his métier—the stolen story, where, with his soaring use of plainspoken diction and speech, Fitterman, along with Ernest Hemingway, Louis Zukofsky and all of the American Poet Laureates, kicks down the door that Mark Twain opened for the American demotic to come into our literature.
I’m not saying that Rob the Plagiarist is a classic, nor am I saying that it’s great or even very good. All that I am saying is that it’s a good collection that shouldn’t be totally thrown away.
The Fitterman sentence, the particular cultural trademark that established him in the world’s consciousness for so long, is here and it is as advertised. The beauty of Fitterman’s sentences didn’t come in any biblical/Shakespearean prose rhythms (Faulkner) or obsession for perfect lyrical beauty (Fitzgerald, although Fitterman is just as obsessed about writing, maybe more so). No, the poetry in Fitterman’s thievery lies in it’s succinctness, it’s clarity, it’s austerity, it’s lack of excess or pretense—and the way he lifts a product, a scene or a setting—also contributes to his greatness.
Whether the scenes takes place in suburban drive-thru coffee shops, or the beautiful landscapes of middle America, or the mini-mall at the exact tension-filled moment where the shopper and the mall-cop begin combat, one marvels on how he can say so much in such a small space, and do it in such a unique and beautifully American manner. His language in itself makes him indispensable, and its beauty is in abundance here.