Questions and Topics for Discussion  

We hope the following questions will spark discussion for reading groups and provide a deeper understanding of Neck Deep for every reader, should you want to read Neck Deep, for which you will be richly rewarded. Of this there is no doubt. The contents of this book (and this reader’s guide) will show up on the final exam, which will be in every way comprehensive and very likely incomprehensible.

greatness: Neck Deep is a tour de force in every conceivable way. Monson is really a fucking awesome writer, don’t you think? (See also Pretense.) Unfortunately, no one has used those terms exactly to describe him in published reviews. What the fuck, members of the press, the critical apparatus, or reviewers? What do you like best about the book? Is this a question? Maybe you should read it first. Or not. Who am I and why am I here, face-down, on your lawn?

gothic: The New York Times Book Review called Other Electricities a unique brand of "mudroom gothic." What do you think that means? Does that apply to this book as well? In what ways is this book gothic? Does it make you want to buy some shit from Hot Topic? Does it make you want to drape yourself in black? Who are some other gothic writers? Do you like the Sisters of Mercy as much as Monson does? Does anyone?

profanity: Monson, in person, is a pretty profane guy. What do you think he hopes to accomplish with all these bad, bad words set here in a semiclassy font, using the traditional rules of typography and all the authority that carries with it? What is his purpose? What is the purpose—socially, technologically, linguistically—of swears? Or is it just his lack of imagination? A failure of language? Show your work for full credit.

form: Why does Monson insist on using all these different forms throughout the book (see also Sincerity)? What advantages does it give him? Who is it meant to annoy or to stick it to? Maybe it is cheating, and in that case, what's up with that? What problems does it create? Is it beautiful, is it annoying? What does it do for you as a reader? What work (work = force times distance, as a reminder) does it accomplish? Does he really dislike Robert Coover all that much? Does he loathe himself?

originality: Monson—like pretty much every other writer—has been described as an "original new voice" in publicity materials. Do you think he really is all that? Is it possible to be an original new voice? Do we even want to read original new voices? I kind of like familiar voices, which is why I revisit books a lot. Is it necessary to be both original and new? Or has he cribbed from those who have come before him? And in that case (see also Readings In) what should we make of his attempts to conceal this from us?

clever: The real fear with this sort of book (and with Other Electricities) is that it will come off as gimmicky, as (just) clever. Which means: what? Many critics mean this sort of comment as a critique. But what's wrong with cleverness? It sounds like a virtue to us; does it to you? And is it informed by, or caused by, anything? If so, what? What desperation lies behind the screen, the scrim? It’s a scream, but what’s the secret buried underneath it?

ethics: Since this is nonfiction, do you think it’s fair for Monson to have obviously fictionalized some of the contents of these so-called "essays"? Should we refer him to CNBC, to Oprah, to Judge Judy, to Rick Moody?


People have described
Monson’s writing as poetic.

But people don’t seem to like
poetry very much in the world.

Why not? And if so, why does Monson
persist in writing in couplets?

Also who cares about beauty, anyway,
wouldn't we prefer truth?

science and mathematics: There’s a lot of talk about science, engineering, physics, mathematics in here. Is it important to understand all this stuff? If not, what is the point slash why is it here? Do you really think Monson knows what he’s talking about? Do you care?

douchebag: Monson kind of seems like a douchebag, don’t you think? Do you know anyone in your life who is also a douchebag? Why don’t you kick their asses? They deserve it. They really do. As soon as you're done reading this page, go forth and just start booting.

student evaluations: His students have referred to him as:

  • "hate him as a man, but respect him as a player"
  • "poor excuse for a human being and even worse excuse as a teacher"
  • "useless"
  • "horrible"
  • "fuckwheat"
  • "one of those professors you will want to get a beer with after class"
  • "very nice guy"
  • "good sense of humor"
  • "not as bad as I thought"
  • "stupid and lame"
  • "VERY in touch with his students"
  • "humerous" [sic]
  • "fine"
  • "bewildering"

technologies: why is Monson so in love with technologies? Why is the word plural? Is he a geek? Does he love or hate geeks? What are some of the technologies discussed in this book? What does it mean for something to be a technology? How is Monson using the word? Is a question mark a technology, too?

artifacts: are they important? Do they contain art or is that just a leftover from linguistics?