Third Factory/Notes to Poetry

art is autonomous

Attention Span – Jed Rasula

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Esther Leslie | Hollywood Flatlands | Verso | 2004

The cover image of Eisenstein shaking hands with Mickey Mouse sums it up. A smart and sassy book about the brief intersection of European avant-garde art and Tinsel City Toons.

Peter Wollen | Paris Manhattan: Writings on Art | Verso | 2004

The sheer brilliance of each essay overcomes the smorgasbord effect of a collection like this. Try “Tanks,” “Magritte and the Bowler Hat,” “The Myth of the West,” and the somewhat autobiographical “Fridamania.” Intimidatingly sensible.

Wolfgang Schivelbusch | The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the 19th Century | California | 1986

All the lively anecdotes and tidbits you’d expect on such a subject, but presented with a quizzical intelligence similar to Walter Benjamin.

Roberto Calasso | K. | Knopf | 2005

Like a crosseyed attempt to read both columns of Ashbery’s “Litany” at the same time, this scrupulously informed and highly original foray into Kafka feels like a visionary recital by Ibn’Arabi as examined by Sherlock Holmes.

Kazuo Ishiguro | The Unconsoled | Vintage | 1996

The perfect read is like the proverbial perfect storm, and in this case involves parallel travels: mine to the old Flemish city of Ghent, the protagonist’s to an unnamed but eerily similar place for a piano recital. Harrowing and disorienting in an oneiric sense, it’s also very funny. A sleeper with a kick.

John Banville | The Untouchable | Vintage | 1998

Banville has a penchant for populating several books with the same characters—e.g. Eclipse and Shroud (which, by the way, is a roman à clef based on Paul de Man)—but not here, as The Untouchable is a barely veiled novel about Sir Anthony Blunt, the art historian revealed as a spy for the Soviets. Banville writes such juicy sentences I can’t help reading a lot of them twice in succession, so this 367 page book seemed, in memory, at least 600.

Vladimir Nabokov, read by Jeremy Irons | Lolita | Random House Audio | 2005

I think James Mason made a much better Humbert in Kubrick’s film than Jeremy Irons in the remake—in part because the subject matter helplessly evokes Irons’ creepy gynecologists in Dead Ringers—but as a performer of Nabokov’s full text, he’s really perfect, and perfectly insinuating. This rendering is so intriguing that it’s tempting to recommend it over the “original.”

Leonard Schwartz | A Message Back & Other Furors | Chax | 2008

I find I’ve been reading Schwartz with same rapt attentiveness I associate with reading Oppen back when he was still alive and writing. Both seem to have some preternatural access to words purged of casual or vernacular associations, yet bearing the weight of everyday usage. Accessible and esoteric at once. “Bewilderment / is the only ark.”

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More Jed Rasula here.

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