:: Essays

Images, Text and Modern Feints: Dongyoung Lee’s I can’t and the Material of Meaning published 01/07/2020

One is of course tempted to suggest that Lee’s work constitutes a rigorous update of those Surrealist precedents that presciently if hastily staked-out the subterranean tell of structuralist intuitions. Lee’s work must surely be wondering what these supposedly old parlor tricks can do to the plausible differences between language, semiotics, art, philosophy, etc., after the dubiously permitted “language turn” redux of the 1960s. I can’t’s conceit about scientificity and textual hermeneutics is something of a send up, though it is meanwhile aboundingly rich. Material will not stop writing about itself; indeed, strictly, it will not stop writing itself.

Albe Harlow on I can’t give you an answer as matters stand by Dongyoung Lee.

»

Rumble in the High Himalayas published 24/06/2020

La means ‘a mountain pass’ in the Tibetan language. My first acquaintance with this two-letter word was the fictional place name, ‘Shangri-La’, in James Hilton’s novel, Lost Horizon. Kashmir is described as a ‘Shangri-La beneath the summer moon’ in an iconic Led Zeppelin song. I recently happened to bump into Robert Plant, the co-writer of the song, in the lift of the hotel where I work and mentioned to him that the lyrics of ‘Kashmir’ are always buzzing in my head. He told me it was a one-of-a-kind song and couldn’t be repeated. In fact, it was Lhasa, on the far side of the Tibetan Plateau, which conjured up the images of a Shangri-La for Kashmiri traders who travelled along the Silk Road. The name Ladakh is derived from the Tibetan word, La-dvags, which means ‘a land of high passes’.

By Iqbal Ahmed.

»

“The Work That Matters”: Seven Notes on Grant Maierhofer’s Works published 15/06/2020

As a whole, then, Works is a hybrid ensemble whose entirety exceeds any single perceptive process, an ever-shifting entity larger than any one reader’s (the present one included) consciousness can keep hold of. A bird’s-eye view of its entirety enables one to see its multiple genres reduced to their elemental forms; the whole assembled as a prismatic constellation of competing, mutually reflective discourses and discursive gestures. In Bataille’s conception of assemblage just as Maierhofer’s, the interplay of genres and forms becomes the interface of discourses and types of knowledge, wherein each type of writing brings with it a range of stylistic tropes and possibilities, as well as referential and epistemological assumptions and limitations. What can be said somehow in one form must appear otherwise in another, provided it can be said at all.

By David Vichnar.

»

Adult Education: My Restrictive Covenant published 08/06/2020

Maybe it was the one-two punch of it that took me out, spun my head, and made me soul-sick. Or maybe the most surprising thing about it was that I was surprised. First, to find myself snarled in traffic on I-96 near Lansing, Michigan on April 30 with more than a few pick-up trucks flying the Confederate Flag. They were on their way to protest our Governor’s response to the pandemic. I could feel their hatred burning through my windshield. Second, about a week later, I discovered these words in a document that described my own home, the very home whose kitchen I was sitting in at that very moment:

That the Grantees, their heirs, executors and assigns shall not permit any portion of said premises to be occupied by any person not of the Caucasian Race.

For as much as I had read about the topic, even immersed myself in it, talked about it in classes, I wasn’t prepared for seeing this, typed on parchment paper, in my very own home.

By Nicholas Rombes.

»

Melancholy and Exclusion: On Reading Kafka during the Pandemic published 03/06/2020

Mourning and grief bring with them an emphasis on inclusivity: we are all in this together, grieving the same loss. It is mourning that Sigmund Freud famously contrasts with melancholia. Mourning is the normal process of dealing with loss, and one we expect to emerge from on the other side. Melancholia is the absorption of loss into the ego, into the self. It differs from mourning in that it is more severe and more permanent. It is given literary form in the works of Franz Kafka, as we shall see. More so than mourning, melancholia carries an imagery of exclusion. Freud argues that melancholia brings with it a turn against one’s own worth. In this we see something of its exclusionary character: it is something that happens to me, in melancholia I retreat from a world that stands in contrast to my state of depression. We can collectively mourn, but I am not so sure we can experience collective melancholia.

By Duncan Stuart.

»

A Certain Sagan published 01/06/2020

Sagan had a particular talent for translating the members of her social circle, and by extension herself, onto the page, with seemingly little distance between the novelist and the novel. Whilst never overtly autobiographical, the characters in her writing are her spiritual doppelgängers, namely hedonistic, fashionable Parisians of a certain milieu, the haute bohèmes of Saint-Germain-des-Près. She once said, “It would be bad form for me to describe people I don’t know and don’t understand”.

By Sophie Jean-Louis Constantine.

»

All in the Family, or Of Fathers and Daughters published 19/05/2020

Father was torn between wanting to bring up the ideal version of an educated, provincial, small town girl, and the dominating, confident, independent woman with a mind of her own that he could see me transforming into. My gratifying confidence was his failing. I was precocious, given to boisterous tics and tantrums, looking for attention. From a young age, I had resisted his Brahmanical uptight paternalism and controlling cruelty. I had shown promise in academics and then had eventually failed to live up to expectations. While in college I had a string of boyfriends and shared the knowledge of their existence with him. I used to write in effervescent English, but my essays and poetry were too strong for his taste. I had the temerity not just to write, but also to share online links to my modern, obscure, strong-headed, pessimistic, bleak, gallows humor writing with him.

By Anandi Mishra.

»

Touching Is a Verb: The Hands of the Pandemic and the Inescapable Questions published 14/05/2020

The border of a home is its door, but the most interesting operations happen through the windows. That’s where what is perceived, but not reached, is. Desire is its other name. A window is a passage, often a secret passage. Discern is a verb that occurs through glass. Although many imagine Houston as a dry place because of its association with the Texan aridity, this place is, as Gabriela Wiener once rightly described it, the Amazon itself. The humidity and sultry air make it favorable for the proliferation of oaks and magnolia trees, vines and ferns, bougainvillea and bamboo. They were here before, of course, but they’re more noticeable now that the gardeners have stopped coming and the plants grow as they will. The variety of their greens explodes on median strips and gardens, empty lots and back patios. The shadows that the trees produce are cast, precisely, over the imperfections of the pavement.

By Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Sarah Booker.

»

Location Settings, or: the Death of the City published 07/05/2020

In New York City, the weekend before last, on Day 16,  the data showed me that we were dying at the rate of one every nine-point-five minutes. I’ve never been good at math but I know the number of the dead in New York City has more than doubled since then. It’s been five minutes since I began typing this dispatch. Six. Location, location, location. Every major city in the world is right now relevant; every resident of every city is right now being read as a statistic. I paused, just now, to account for us. Another ambulance barrels down the street; I try to picture its path from my window, which is open. Sunlight, a bare breeze.

By Chris Campanioni.

»

Real or Fake? Autofiction and The Hills published 05/05/2020

I started talking about The Hills, firstly, because, as I mentioned, the theme tune comes to mind when I’m asked about autofiction, which I recently was, yet again (“Staring at the blank page before you / Open up the dirty window / Let the sun illuminate…”), but also to demonstrate how it so casually and unapologetically did something the world of contemporary literature is struggling to get its head around, even now. In an age when the artists, the leading intellectuals, the people who are supposed to be at the forefront of avant-garde thought and experimentalism, whatever the hell that might be these days (sitting in a large room and holding eye-contact with people? Not using full stops? Taking drugs?), are clamouring about definitions between fiction, autofiction, and fact, The Hills managed to blur the lines entirely between fact and fiction, and to do so in a way that proved genuinely exciting, without having to have endless debates over what it actually was.

Lucy Sweeney Byrne reflects on the intersection between The Hills and autofiction.

»