Archive for October 2009
Suheir Hammad | breaking poems | Cypher Books | 2008
Paul Martínez Pompa | My Kill Adore Him | University of Notre Dame Press | 2009
Sesshu Foster | World Ball Notebook | City Lights Books | 2009
Eduardo Galeano | Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone | Nation Books | 2009
Maiana Minahal | legend sondayo | Civil Defense Poetry | 2009
Adrian Castro | Handling Destiny | Coffee House Press | 2009
Bay Area Filipino American Writers, eds. | Without Names | Kearny Street Workshop | 1985
Frances Chung | Crazy Melon and Chinese Apple | Wesleyan University Press | 2000
Walter Lew, ed. | Premonitions | Kaya/Muae | 1995
Dean Francis Alfar | The Kite of Stars | Anvil Publishing | 2007
Linda Hogan | Dwellings | Norton | 2007
More Barbara Jane Reyes here.
Ludovico Ariosto, trans. Barbara Reynolds | Orlando Furioso, Parts One and Two | Penguin | 1975 and 1977
Lit up by rare flashes of gunfire, a hundred characters fly every which way in the twilight of the middle ages, in stories as ragged as the back of a tapestry. It’s ridiculous fun—The Faerie Queene as told by Rabelais—made perfect for bedtime by the rhymed translation, which aims to be as rubbery as Don Juan. Making me wish Byron had been born in the Renaissance.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Harold Bloom and Paul Kane | Collected Poems and Translations | Library of America | 1994
What finally won me over is the pulse of composition: an engendering rhythm urged forward by rhyme, lifting the flower out of its seed, delivering into consciousness what gets delivered into script. No other poet of the nineteenth century gives me the same sense of scribble as bioproduct. To be sure, the poems I like best are much more than that, but it’s the bioproduction that defines the overall experience, a fitting expression of Emerson’s commitment to nature.
Flarf and Conceptual Poetry | various websites and presses | 2008-2009
Perhaps the one indisputable achievement of conceptual poetry is its radicalizing of the old truism that being is inferior to becoming, that one should prize thoughts less highly than thinking. In works like Kenneth Goldsmith’s Fidget (a list of every body movement made over thirteen hours), it’s the completeness with which the initial inspiration is carried out that matters, not the result. The heft of the book matters more than anything said in it. Even a project as magnificently crafted as Christian Bok’s Eunoia (a set of lipograms, each highlighting a different vowel) is of little interest in what it says; what we admire, finally, is the fact that anything gets said at all. The being of such projects is not simply inferior to becoming; it makes us yearn for a dissipation of being, for a conceptual project that would free us from the burdens of consumption altogether; a project that could marshal all the obsessiveness of Fidget, all the ingenuity of Eunoia, but in pursuit of nothing tangible…of nothing at all. Wait. I think I just discovered the death drive.
Flarf is the opposite. It cares not a whit for becoming, though it responds to change, and reproduces. Like an amoeba, growing and splitting, splitting and growing. Except that flarf is hardly single-celled. It’s a whole culture, decaying matter newly charged with life, responding to stimulus. In flarf, any stray word or phrase can become an organ of feeling, obeying the pleasure principle, luxuriating in its being. Which is why consciousness ripples through it so confusingly: with consciousness comes intention, reflection, concern for becoming. Ripples, however, are unavoidable: consciousness, or its influence, is irrepressible, except through the rigorous application of a method. Which is really a conceptual thing.
Rob Halpern | Disaster Suites | Palm | 2009
In which the lyric I is a materialist project and language the flood setting the wreckage adrift. Flood, however, is not the disaster, only its means of becoming manifest. Transcendance? A survey of the wreckage from above.
Rachel Loden | Dick of the Dead | Asahta | 2009
Pleasure and disgust are modes of understanding. Humor, a pedagogy that relies on them. Which is why Rachel Loden’s history is so effective. Its lesson? A reawakening of sensation. Call it proprioception, but of the mind.
Mel Nichols | Catalytic Exteriorization Phenomenon | Edge | 2009
Flickers of happiness like red lights from tapped brakes, driving into northern Virginia, immersed in music and the passing view. It all made so much sense when I learned that Mel Nichols used to live on the same road toward which I careened nearly every day. A historic city split open by highways, bandaged with strip malls, unexpectedly hospitable to foreign substances. “I kiss you city // and melt into your dangerous tongue.” Or drip into you, as through a feeding tube. However evoked, a very particular experience of place. Which these poems reproduce, in calming flashes.
Kit Robinson | The Messianic Trees: Selected Poems 1976-2003 | Adventures in Poetry | 2008
If craft, poetics, and experience form a triangle, the area they enclose is ruled by artifice. And no poet has succumbed to that rule as winningly or knowingly as Robinson, who appreciates with cheerful horror the larger mandate: to remake the world in our own image.
Susan Schultz | Dementia Blog | Singing Horse | 2008
Family and caretakers, bent by love or duty toward the ultimate abjection: cognition after twilight. According to Susan Schultz, all of us are likewise bent relative to authority, making this six-month report essential reading.
Jonathan Skinner | With Naked Foot | Little Scratch Pad | 2009
It’s waaaay better than slow poetry. It’s Skinner! (With apologies to Wendy’s.)
Peter Weiss | Auschwitz auf der Bühne: “Die Ermittlung” in Ost und West [Auschwitz on Stage: “The Investigation” East and West] | Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung | 2008 | DVD and DVD-ROM
Like Charles Reznikoff’s Holocaust, The Investigation is based on trial transcripts. In this case, the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials of 1963-65, which Weiss briefly attended, breaking away from the rehearsals of Marat/Sade to hear the testimony of the victims and perpetrators. Subtitled “an oratorio in eleven cantos,” the resulting text is an exhumation of the past, not a reconstruction of the trial; it moves didactically from ramp to camp to gas chamber and ovens. Overshadowed now by other exhumations, most notably the film Shoah, Weiss’s play deserves to be remembered. On October 19, 1965, it was performed simultaneously in fifteen German cities, including both parts of Berlin, no small feat in the Cold War. Coming twenty years after Hitler’s defeat, and twenty years before the West German president pronounced that defeat a liberation, the performances marked a turning point in Germany’s coming to terms with its National Socialist past. Really, one of the great moments in political art ever, documented on these DVDs.
Philip Whalen, ed. Michael Rothenberg | The Collected Poems | Wesleyan | 2007
The skills needed to read a poem are specialized enough that acquiring them was at one time what people meant by acquiring an education. In the twentieth century, the old skills became curiously inapt; what was needed instead was a reeducation. The modernists approached this problem with a ruler-to-knuckles kind of fanaticism. With Philip Whalen, we arrive at the public schools of my childhood: the ruler is used to make straight lines, and there are penmanship classes, and sleepy moments in the afternoon when we study ancient dynasties. And recess, and lunch, and doodles, and the joy of the bell, and dispersal home.
More Benjamin Friedlander here.
Kevin Davies | The Golden Age of Paraphernalia | Edge | 2008
A model book. A sort of anti-book. The whole, in its jostle and jag, its loud call to attend, to refuse to allow one’s attention to plummet into the usual listlessness, functions with impeccable formal force, enacting the cacophonous compendium it musters. . . . What it posits is a supposed world of “radiant connectedness,” a world beyond narrative ploys (“your life has no plot so stop narrating”). Except: it refuses to mete out the necessary credence in that world, the connectedness is a foil, a spark-spitting short in the circuitry, sign of dystopia.
Kent Johnson | Homage to the Last Avant-Garde | Shearsman | 2008
Is Kent Johnson a nervous Nellie, or what? I think he positively thrives on yatter and scorch, that version of the lyrical big itch that accounts for Art and Trouble (two manifestations of one compulsion) amongst all us humankind. He’s always looking to “mix it up a little,” flinging down the fat puff’d up old-style boxing gloves of ego for a little delight in exchange and engagement. Man least likely to consider (or care) about the possibility of looking a little foolish. Besides, he likes people, in all the muddle and mayhem and mopery. Endearing crazy vulnerability and that obscenely huge grease-slick of high ambition. And all of it highly nuanced and terrifically “up front.” . . . What Kent Johnson does—unlike anybody else—is interrogate (badger) that place, that “situation,” its ways and functions, how its writers behave and misbehave, lie to others and themselves, trade favors and insults, pose, vindicate, prance, vilify.
Richard Owens | Delaware Memoranda | BlazeVOX | 2008
Proper care of the materials, human, historic, and natural, a respecting attunement: that’s one place to begin. Everywhere in Owens’s notes and accumulations that make up the six sections of Delaware Memoranda, a poem of the river that pours through the eponymous Water Gap, there is the insistence: “to strike an appropriate key.” Or: “the dire need / to repurpose the trash so rightfully ours.” There’s something supple, all-including, and, most rare, highly moral about Owens’s work here in Delaware Memoranda: unhesitant witness he is, turning up the river’s sluice and item with measure and respect, all the while refusing to make a bright something where there is nothing: “Not to fetishize the fucking river / but to think through the transformation / —how we come—to be to mean / encountering others along the banks.”
Forrest Gander | As a Friend | New Directions | 2008
A kind of skinny roman à clef, a version (with all the fat skimmed off) of some part of Arkansas poet Frank Stanford’s short life. Which is, admittedly, probably the “wrong” way to read anything. And, I admit, it made me itch a little—even in my admiration for the way Gander so deftly turn’d that life into art. . . . I read it in a gulp, one sitting. It is prose pump’d up to a high pitch with no release—a gusto-prose.
C. S. Giscombe | Prairie Style | Dalkey Archive | 2008
Giscombe is entirely capable of shuffling the terms, reassigning the scores, mocking the tune, all in a disturbing sleight-of-hand way that leaves one pop-eyed and shiftless and itchy, wondering if the train’s pull’d out or the stationmaster’s slipped one a mickey, and what about the music?
“Trim paragraphs of uninflected speech hung over the prairie, sound’s origin. Eros came up out of its den in the embankment—came out tawny, came out swarthy, came out more ‘dusky’ than ‘sienna.’ The sky was a glass of water. White men say cock and black men say dick. One gets even in the midwest, one gets even in the midwest, one gets even in the midwest. Eros was a common barnyard pest, now coming to be seen in suburban settings as well, a song with lyrics, clarified and ‘refined’ both . . .”
Distill’d into that signifyin’ fox, “Eros” and “pest” and “song”—“Mistah Fox” elsewhere—is a hugely rich—complicated—history of racial and sexual and geographical attitudes; what’s astonishing is how deftly Giscombe sounds—utters and penetrates—that history.) . . . There’s a kind of ferocious need in Giscombe’s work to annotate, to record the details, a need that struggles against meaning’s lazy splay ravaging of the discernible. I love how—since Here (1994), Giscombe’s books’ve carried notes detailing the precise addresses where composition occurred.
Out of a terrific essay call’d “Why I Wrote Stretchers,” some “rules” and constraints glean’d: “Each stretcher is nominally a 33-line unit,” a decision made for reasons “ultimately banal, based on [Hilton’s] age at the time of writing the first set.” “The poems incorporate a lot of found material . . . much of it (though by no means all of it) verbal detritus heard or seen on journeys through this city.” “Pillaging cheap secondhand texts for material enforced another kind of reading which was partial, discontinuous and manic.” “Page 33 of texts became for a time a focus.” “The opening is a measure for the rest of the stretcher not necessarily in terms of content, but certainly in terms of (line) length. This is what gives stretchers their shape. If stretchers have a constraint it is that they can’t be too wide.” “All spelling mistakes are deliberate.” “Each stretcher tells a story and each story contains many other stories.” Hilson calls the stretchers “ruins, constructed ruins,” and he “tried whenever possible to avoid the ‘effects” which line ending can produce . . . They are tatters, ragged flags.”
Jeffrey Yang | An Aquarium | Graywolf | 2008
A bestiary of the sea, alphabetical (“Abalone” to “Google” to “Rexroth” to “Zooxanthellae”) and wayward, comic and modest. What I find enthralling: Yang’s restraint (a form of caring, of respect), the near absence of the usual clamoring self, I-identify’d or not. (In “White Whale” one reads “Round and round we wheel / . . . / till self’s freed from ego.”) In its place: taut arrays of (predominantly) fact (“Nature describes its own design.”) intertwined with myth and (mostly point’d) human history, “a felicity of association.” Sense of no padding, the lovely leanness of the notational. . . . Yang is a fierce cultural internationalist in the tradition of Rexroth and Pound (a guideway nigh-completely abandon’d by the presumed inheritors of the lineage, the mostly myopic and homegrown Language writers), capable of drawing on Chinese, Arabic, Mexican, Hawai’ian (see the poem about “Hawaii’s native triggerfish,” the humuhumunukunukuapua’a), Indian, and Old Norse, beyond the usual European and “Classical” sources.
Chris Nealon | Plummet | Edge | 2009
Plummet is nigh-terrific. Nealon works a supple long line (“I know prose is a mighty instrument but still I feel that plein-air lyric need to capture horses moving” he writes in “Poem (I know prose . . .)”) and, in a world seemingly divided between the jaunty and the raunchy, chooses both (“Your job? Just keep cracking Demeter up” slides uneasily into “At the gates of Arabic I enter, illiterately // Actually I know two words // shaheed / habibi // I watch depictions of electrocution under bright fluorescent lighting with a slightly elevated heartbeat” into “Do I have an astral body or a tapeworm?”), Verve and wit is what regulates (without throttling) the underlying political rage of the book.
we’re here to puke in many colors—
elf-puke, witch-puke, giant-puke
disco puke and punk puke
vomit on the apron of the government
vomit on the boots of the police
it’s January 17, 1991
it’s March 20, 2003
Puke and sing
(Out of longer poem call’d “Sunrise.” The dates, obviously, of the beginnings of “our” two illegal and preemptive incursions—wars—against the sovereign state of Iraq.)
The revels and joys of utter excess. Thumbing through: “prose poems,” though too raggedly untidy (odd long or variably short paragraph indentations, queer titular sprawl erratics, stuff that looks, not squared off blocky, something like verse with midriff-bulge). Studious (or not) “can’t be bother’d”-ismus. The titles blare infidelity to any serious “pose” (or “poise”) whilst generally avoiding the crime of the “merely zany.” . . . I love the spastic anarchy of it, the ga-ga gawkinesses, the insouciant (possibly “intentional”) “errors” (“bells . . . peel”), the odd conjunct of the various alluded-to’s (Hemingway, Gene Stratton-Porter, The Waste Land, one hit wonder Gary Wright). I like its push against the tidy, the finely-wrought, I like its ramp’d up rampant all-over energy with broken off threads (or sunken under-juttings) of random narrative.
Hoa Nguyen | Hecate Lochia | Hot Whiskey Press | 2009
Nguyen’s work is sparse (sprawl’d), notational, constellatory, measured. Too, it is uncensoring, all-encompassing, both domestic (“Wipe poop,” “Grackles in the hackberry” “Bendy vegetables in the drawer”) and liable to jut off anywhere (“Levittown goes ‘green’ / Oil at $100 a barrel,” “Cupid rides a goddam dolphin / at the hand of Venus”). I think it’s easy to mistake Nguyen’s seemingly casual jottings—and the quick variousness of the turns there, quotidian detritus, news reports, stray conversational gambits, syntactical goofs, myth-hints East and West—for “mere” verbal manifestations of dailiness, its root unstructuredness. Too, though, there’s a push toward myth and ritual that seems always on the verge of intervening / disrupting the quotidian notational. The stunning Kiss a Bomb Tattoo (Effing, 2009) arrived nigh-simultaneously.
Out of the “Postface”: “Beginning with the exchange of free-verse lines that (some 300 mailings later) became Sunflower (originally published by The Figures in 2000), we gradually multiplied and diversified our projects. Soon, a typical exchange would include ten or so formally different works.
Only one of these works, called ‘Interview,’ is not included in this volume; we anticipate that it will appear as an independent book, a companion (though not a necessary companion) to this one.
Apart from ‘Interview,’ all the poems we’ve composed together to date are collected here. There are eleven of them.”
More John Latta here.
Paul Blackburn | The Cities | Grove Press | 1967
I didn’t gain a full appreciation for Blackburn’s woefully out-of-print work until I put together his PennSound author page. Recently, I tried to sum up what I loved most about his work, and came up with this list: “his sharp urban observations, his unbridled (and unabashed) lusts, his ability to discern providence and wisdom in the everyday, his deadpan humor and accurate ear for speech, sound and music.” Here it all is in one generous and welcoming collection.
CA Conrad | The Book of Frank | Chax Press | 2009
I like to think of The Book of Frank as one of the best novels I’ve read this year— while the title character’s story is told through dozens of poetic vignettes, rather than straight prose, it’s a clear, complex and compelling narrative that draws us in instantly. As a general rule, I adore anything Conrad writes, but here (and also in this year’s Advanced Elvis Course) a malleable singular concept and generous length allows him to indulge every facet of the story, yielding a marvelous work that’s simultaneously hilarious and absurd, campy and macabre, sympathetic and shocking.
Tracy Daugherty | Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme | St. Martin’s Press | 2009
A fitting and long-overdue homage to the postmodern master, right down to the dozens of short attention span chapters, which beg readers to dip in at any point and keep going. Daugherty deconstructs Barthelme’s dense metafictional collages, providing valuable insights into his work process, while never diminishing the original stories’ magic for readers. Moreover, he provides a shockingly candid portrait of the man behind the pen.
Stanley Donwood & Dr. Tchock (Thom Yorke) | Dead Children Playing | Verso | 2007
The visual aesthetic surrounding Radiohead (the work of Stanley Donwood and frequent collaborator, and frontman, Thom Yorke) is almost as formidable as their musical genius. In this slim but powerful portfolio, we finally get a chance to see the larger series of paintings from which those iconic album covers were selected (thankfully reproduced larger than the five inch squares we usually see them in) and hear the artist discuss his diverse inspirations (the Kosovo war, media saturation in the U.S., Viking king Canute). If, in a digitized society, we’re continually moving away from the record album as physical artifact, it’s heartening to see these images treated not as ancillary decorations, but rather as worthy objects of our attention.
Lawrence Lessig | Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy | Penguin | 2008
Lessig’s groundbreaking work on the overlap between creativity and legality in the internet age (along with Siva Vaidhyanathan’s) has greatly shaped my approach to the work we do at PennSound, as well as my own aesthetic sense. This volume (his swan song on the topic) offers his most hopeful vision yet for a potential future of unbridled culture, along with a chilling portrait of the alternatives we face if we don’t wise up.
Bernadette Mayer | Poetry State Forest | New Directions | 2008
While Mayer’s voice has been consistently strong throughout her long writing life, I find myself increasingly fond of her most recent work, both this volume and her last, Scarlet Tanager. As vast as its title image, this collection can ably accommodate a wide array of modes—personal, political, elegiac, experimental—further blurring the boundaries between writing and everyday life. As always, Mayer ambitiously explores poetry’s rich potential and invites us to do the same.
Ted Morgan | Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs | Henry Holt & Company | 1988
My guilty-pleasure “beach reading” on a long cross-country trip this summer—I picked it up almost without thinking and couldn’t put it down. Morgan’s done his research, takes fruitful detours and has insider’s info, but it’s the sharp and mildly catty tone that makes this illuminating bio so addictive.
Tim Peterson | Since I Moved In | Chax Press | 2007
Throughout this startling debut, but particularly in its longer suites (“Trans Figures,” “Sites of Likeness,” “Spontaneous Generation”), I’m reminded of Barthes’ privileging of habitability as a fundamental aesthetic goal in Camera Lucida. Here, I continually discover places, emotions, personae, that I want to climb inside and stay with for a while.
Frank Sherlock | Over Here | Factory School | 2009
I’ve loved many of these poems since they originally appeared in chapbook form, but it’s wonderful to have them collected under one cover, with some strong new material added to the mix. Sherlock’s work often reminds me of Jean-Michel Basquiat (invoked in “Daybook of Perversities and Main Events”), in that both share a sharp ear for street language, and know how a few perfectly placed words or phrases can set off a vivid image, though here, the sights are all conjured in our heads.
Hannah Weiner, ed. Patrick Durgin | Hannah Weiner’s Open House | Kenning | 2006
Was this book disqualified from further praise after last year’s survey? Durgin’s empathetic understanding of Weiner’s work makes this a wonderful standalone volume, as well as an eye-opening introduction to her broader body of work. I can’t quite quantify the effects this book has had upon my own work, the doors it’s opened.
More Michael Hennessey here.
Clarice Lispector | The Stream of Life | University of Minnesota | 1989
Benjamin Moser | Why This Life: A Biography of Clarice Lispector | Oxford University| 2009
Carla Harryman | Adorno’s Noise| Essay | 2008
Anne Tardos | I Am You| Salt| 2008
Lyn Hejinian | Saga/Circus | Omnidawn | 2008
Rodney Koeneke | Rules for Drinking Forties | Cy Press | 2009
Michael Gizzi | New Depths of Deadpan| Burning Deck | 2009
Clark Coolidge and Bernadette Mayer | The Cave| Adventures in Poetry | 2009
Andrew Joron | The Sound Mirror | Flood Editions | 2008
Lewis Warsh | Inseparable: Poems, 1995-2005 | Granary Books | 2008
David F. Garcia | Arsenio Rodriguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music | Temple University | 2006
More Kit Robinson here.
Keith Waldrop | Several Gravities | Siglio Press | 2009
Vanessa Place | La Medusa | Fiction Collective 2 | 2008
Janet Sarbanes | Army of One | Otis Books/Seismicity Editions | 2008
Eric Hoyt | The Earth Dwellers: Adventures in the Land of Ants | Simon & Schuster | 1996
George Kubler | The Shape of Time | Yale University Press | 1962
Kurt Schwitters, trans. and ed. Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris | Pppppp: Kurt Schwitters Poems, Performance, Pieces, Proses, Plays, Poetics | Exact Change | 2002
Daniel Heller-Roazen | Echolalias: On the Forgetting of Language | Zone Books | 2005
Seiichi Niikuni | Works 1952-1977 | Shichosha | 2008
Piero Heliczer | A purchase in the white botanica | Granary Books | 2001
Viktor Shklovsky | ZOO or Lettersd Not about Love | Dalkey Archive | 2001
Caroline Dubois, trans. Cole Swensen | Caroline Dubois: You Are the Business | Burning Deck | 2008
More Sawako Nakayasu here.
Hélène Bessette | Suite suisse | Léo Scheer | 2008 (1st edition Gallimard 1965)
Hélène Bessette (1918-2000), who invented the GRP (Gang du Roman Poétique!), was much admired by the likes of Raymond Queneau, Marguerite Duras, Jean Dubuffet, Dominique Aury. A couple of years ago she was almost completely forgotten and her 13 extraordinary novels, published by Gallimard between 1953 and 1973, utterly un-findable, even in libraries. Thanks to a few admirers’ efforts, Hélène Bessette is slowly being republished and rediscovered. No English translations available, except for 4 pages translated by Keith Waldrop for the journal Avec in 1990.
Edgardo Cozarinsky | Museo del chisme | Emecé editores | 2005
The title translates as The Gossip Museum. After a theoretical introduction on “indefensible narratives”, and following Karl Kraus’ precept that most things are insignificant but everything signifies, the book presents 69 anecdotes, mainly about writers and artists from various countries and generations, culled from books or from oral sources. Absolute hilarious gems.
Mark Z. Danielewski | Only Revolutions | Doubleday | 2006
Very impressive semantic, syntactic, typographic, poetic and narrative tour de force. Beautiful to look at, intriguing and often exhilarating to read. This “Democracy of Two, set out and chronologically arranged” has two teenagers in love, perpetually 16, on a road trip, with US and world history flashing by the side of the road (i.e. the margin of the book), over a period of 200 years (and 360 pages, with 360 words on each, to be read from the beginning and from the end –upside down).
Dominique Fourcade | Citizen Do | P.O.L | 2009
In this book Merce Cunningham meets Nicolas Poussin, and René Char meets Saskia, the author’s grand-daughter. Fourcade meets Welles, and language meets the world, hence citizen-ship (“à ce point, réel de la langue et réel du monde ne font qu’un”). In such “écriture-contact”, verse meets prose, songs are systems and lyricism is ethical. “Poésie est identification et séparation et dislocation systémiques”.
Michel Gauthier | Les promesses du zéro | les presses du réel | 2009
Brilliant art criticism. Six essays, on Robert Smithson, Carsten Höller, Ed Ruscha, Martin Creed, John Armleder, Tino Sehgal and how their work can help us not look for meaning or an ultimate essence, but rather develop our inability to see and/or our capacity to get lost.
Also recommended, Michel Gauthier’s previous book, L’Anarchème (anarcheme, as in, unit of anarchy), about artworks that sabotage their own authority by de-focalizing the viewer’s gaze away from themselves (Peter Downsbrough, Claude Rutault, Steven Parrino, Jessica Stockholder, Cécile Bart…)
Daniel Heller-Roazen | Echolalias | Zone Books | 2005
This is a book « on the Forgetting of Language », which reads the history of language as multiple stories of oblivion and loss and recovery (of sounds, letters, texts, idioms). With multilingual sources ranging from the Zohar to Chomsky and from medieval Arabic texts to Proust, a feat of extraordinary erudition that is also an immensely pleasurable read.
François Noudelmann | Hors de moi | Léo Scheer | 2006
This is a book angry, if polite, against genealogy, or rather, against conservative contemporary uses of (the concept of) genealogy that stray away from the genius and method of Nietzsche and, after him, say Foucault. Everyone seems to be endeavoring to find their family origins, psychogenealogists are on the rise as the transmission of values is rumored to be dysfunctional. This echoes a general form of thinking that strives to restore linearity and causality and to reestablish ‘lost’ continuities and analogies. Noudelmann, on the contrary, vigorously calls for alternative, radical, non-pure modes of kinship, in thought and in life.
Avital Ronell | Crack Wars | U. of Nebraska Press | 1992
Already a classic. Still über-exciting. A work of resistance written at a time when chasing crack users boiled down to a sheer ethnocide. Taking her cue from Nietzsche, Avital Ronell sets out to show that “the history of narcotica is almost the history of ‘culture’, of our so-called high culture”. She does so by exploring not the expected canonical texts (Burroughs, Baudelaire, Benjamin…) but rather Emma Bovary as addicted body (“EB on ice”). Flaubert as you’ve never read her.
Jalal Toufic | Two or Three Things I’m Dying to Tell You | The Post-Apollo Press | 2005
Jalal Toufic is always surprising. He keeps arresting my interior monologue (see his first book, Distracted). Here Spielberg, Rilke and Lewis Carroll are read together in the light of Lebanese politics, and Lyn Hejinian’s A Border Comedy in the light of The Thousand and One Nights as well as other, mystical, Arabic texts. Toufic also invents a fascinating double feature titled Rear Window Vertigo (1954-1958), directed by Alfred Hitchcock where, from the first part to the second, James Stewart aka L.B. Jefferies/John (Scottie) Ferguson had a psychogenic fugue leading him west, to San Francisco.
Bénédicte Vilgrain | Ngà | Héros-Limite | 2009
For a few years now, Bénédicte Vilgrain has been making poetry out of tales and proverbs culled from old Tibetan grammar treatises. Her own version of a Tibetan grammar has been coming out, chapter after chapter, in various forms of publication. Ngà is chapter 8, the longest so far, a little book of its own with Geneva-based éditions Héros-Limite. I don’t always get it but i love to read it. Beautiful, mysterious and unflinching.
Marina Warner | Managing Monsters | Vintage | 1994
“Queen Victoria opened the first dinosaur theme park at Sydenham in South London in 1852”. Thus begins Managing Monsters – Six myths of our time. These are 6 essays that Marina Warner gave as the Reith lectures on the BBC in 1994. She packs in, with radio-lightness, a lot of ideas about gender and myth and contemporary society that get more substantial development in her other, heftier, books (From the Beast to the Blonde, Monuments and Maidens, etc.). She looks at the origins of six modern myths: monstrous mothers, warrior heroes, diabolical innocents, wild beasts, savage strangers and the myth of origin, or of home. The book ends “without sentimentality, without rancour, always resisting the sweet seduction of despair”.
More Omar Berrada here.