Guest Post: Governor General’s Award-winning Author Peter Behrens Talks autoliterate

Yesterday I reviewed Peter Behrens’s latest novel, The O’Briens, released just this month. Today, Peter stops by to tell us about his blog autoliterate. The novelty of blogs has never worn off for me, not since I first (belatedly) came to know of their existence in 2006. There are millions of people writing! Not all the blogs are interesting to me or good quality, but many are, and the fact that people create them, ultimately as an extension of themselves, fascinates me. They’re kind of like…tattoos, in a way, in that they’re personal, they’re expressions of oneself, though less permanent, of course, and also changeable. They’re a reflection of people using another medium to belong.

So what does the award-winning Canadian author of The Law of Dreams have to blog about? Hint: it’s not books. What interesting spot has he carved out for himself on the internet to share? Please welcome Mr. Behrens: I turn this post over to him—he will tell you.


Why autoliterate?

It surprises some people that my blog, autoliterate, isn’t about books or the literary life. Instead its subjects are “trucks, cars, highways,” and the aesthetics of these things.

One of the reasons it’s not a book blog is there are so many good ones already out there. I started autoliterate soon after reading Everyday Aesthetics by Yuriko Saito, who makes the point that everyday aesthetic experiences and concerns occupy a large part of our aesthetic life. Because of their everydayness and mundane nature, we tend not to pay much attention to these, let alone examine their significance. We usually only apply the aesthetic discourse to art.

Now this may sound very highfalutin, but it’s simple, really. Why not apply the aesthetic discourse to the exploration of everyday things, especially elements in our culture as dominant and powerful as trucks, cars, and highways?

That’s what autoliterate tries to do.

When I write the blog I find myself using the royal “we,” which some people find tiresome. I’ve never minded it, myself, and I still regret that the New Yorker dropped the style, and Talk of the Town pieces are now signed and runneth over with writerly reputation and personality. I like the anonymous cloak of that we. Perhaps I need a different voice than my novelist voice.

I’ve been crazy about old cars and trucks since I was a little boy. When I was five years old I could tell you the difference between a ’58 and a ’59 Chevy: I don’t know why. There’s an essay—“Love Cars”—where I try to explore this. My father had a European upbringing. He couldn’t have cared less about cars. And I grew up in Montreal. It is not an auto-centric city. Montreal probably has the highest proportion on non-drivers on the continent, except for Manhattan. Was I being a rebel, or a conformist, sniffing the (smoggy) air of the culture at large? I know I was bored with the European style of my family’s Montreal life—in our apartment, in our neighbourhood. I wanted a taste of that great North American open road.

So the blog is where I explore and play around with this interest. I’ve always been drawn to the symbolism, the powers, and the conflicted meanings of highways in North American life . . . at eighteen, my first major literary crush was Jack Kerouac. The title of my first collection of stories was Night Driving. But my novels are not at all interested in cars: The Law Of Dreams happens in 1847, and many of the crucial scenes in The O’Briens happen on trains. Autoliterate is the garage where I keep my car/truck obsession.

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