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Top Reads of 2016: Mark de Silva

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Yuri Herrera’s novels seem to me not merely good or even very good, but something much more rare: consequential. Signs Preceding the End of the World (2015) and The Transmigration of Bodies (2016) are metaphysical noir exhibiting intense allegorical compression—both come in around 100 pages—while remaining convincingly grounded in the borderlands of this world. These books, particularly Signs, must be some of the most important recently published in English.

The Buried Giant might be another. Ishiguro is at his most transgressive here,treating evil dragons and questing knights without even a trace of whimsy. Rather, for him it is the stuff of high tragedy and metaphysical rumination. I would put this next to The Unconsoled as Ishiguro’s greatest achievement.

Jordan Zandi’s debut poetry collection Solarium is a balancing act through and through: it’s certainly not short on whimsy, but it’s also never cute. The language is simple but never the thinking or feeling. And it’s personal and lyrical yet free of forced intimacy.

Equivocus is an unparagraphed essay by the artist and writer Angie Keefer, published in pamphlet form by Moma PS1 earlier this year. It seamlessly links art history to lexicography to poetry to religion to mathematics to philosophy to. . . . It’s a short work, thirty-some unnumbered pages, with narrow margins, and it covers an enormous amount of ground. Somehow it revels through it all in extreme specificity. It is terribly impressive. With a bit of luck, the new year will bring some of her work to 3:AM.

The Restless Supermarket was published a couple of years ago. It’s served as my introduction to Ivan Vladislavic. It offers a joyously caustic portrait of Johannesburg that reminds me of Money-era Martin Amis. I’m not normally one for satire but this one is very good. And I’m told it’s not even his best book.

I’ve learned a lot about the novel form from Alain Robbe-Grillet over the years, so I thought I’d try one of his last works, A Sentimental Novel, which is very much not. In fact, it so lovingly and relentlessly describes the author’s brutal sexual fantasies, often involving very young girls, that some have questioned whether he was all there in his final years when he wrote this. It’s hard to say, though the French do have a long tradition of fiction that treads this territory (Sade, Blanchot, Bataille, and the like). So I suspect not. In any case, though the substance of the book can be difficult to stomach, the baroque elegance on display in the writing should get you through it all the same.

A tiny pocket-sized book from Princeton Architectural Press was a real pleasure: Unlearning to Draw by Peter Jenny. It’s a free-form how-to book full of off-the-cuff wisdom on art and other matters: most of all, about how courting misunderstanding is just part of what being an artist involves.

Finally, my favorite work of aesthetic theory I read this year is Giorgio Agamben’s The Man Without Content. Agamben is most well known as a social and political thinker, so it’s fascinating see how those ideas ramify on his view on art. It may not surprise you to know that museum culture and the principle of disinterested pleasure that undergirds it are not to his taste. Nietzsche before Kant.

 

Mark de Silva is a contributing editor at 3:AM Magazine.

First posted: Thursday, December 22nd, 2016.

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