Since you've identified yourself as a formalist, I'm interested in how you define formalism in relation to your own stuff. Just because, reading the textbook definition of "formalism" there seems to be a real resistance to even being conscious of the extrinsic, in terms of the historical, etc. You don't seem to operate that way.
MM: No. When it comes to prose writing. There seem to be a lot of ways prose writing organizes itself, structures itself, gets itself into forms. And there are certain critics, say Bakhtin, who would say that there is no prose form called the "Novel." Instead, it's really made up of a kind of pastiche of all these other forms. You look at the early novels and they're made up of letters, or a diary of man whose trapped on an island, or they're autobiographies, or they're memoirs, or they're histories, or they're travel guides, or they're travel narratives. There's no thing, that is the novel, that is unlike every other kind of prose writing. That the novel itself is made up of all these different kinds of prose writing. So to me to be a formalist is to recognize these various modes of the human organization of language into prose styles. And be able to switch back and forth from one to the other depending upon the context of what you want to do.
So does your work typically evolve from content to a revelation of form? Or do you usually find yourself more fascinated with a particular form?
MM: That's a good question. A chicken-or-egg question. You know, right now a lot of what I'm working on is this book of fours. I was always interested in the four for a quarter pictures, the photo-booth pictures. I had my students do the photo-booth pictures and try to use the four shots to make some kind of narrative. And I began thinking about various fours. So I guess the form itself, or the arbitrary form, sort of leads for me and I'll find ways to connect it. One form, of course, is the narrative form and it has its own structure of ground, situation, vehicle, rising action, etc. etc. If you make the decision that you're not going to tell a story, or be narrative, how you organize becomes more prevalent.