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Attention Span 2012 | Omar Berrada

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Georges Didi-Huberman | Ecorces | Minuit | 2011

A beautiful and moving book, where one discovers that maverick philosopher-art historian Georges Didi-Huberman is also a writer of incomparable acuteness and grace. It is an account of his first visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau—after having written extensively on the pictures taken by members of the Sonderkommando and their value as testimony. This short book is written as a meditation on pictures the author himself took during his visit. In particular pictures of bits of bark he stripped off from birch trees onsite. Fragments from the surface of reality.

Stacy Doris | Fledge—A Phenomenology of Spirit | Nightboat | 2012

“Since I love I fall down / since a ridge is all that / disintegrates so home”. This year’s heartbreak. So many of us have been mourning Stacy’s passing. I have not yet been able to read this book. Only one or two pages now and then. But I have been taking it with me everywhere, this “bunch of love poems of undying love”.  “Because we don’t make we’re / kin to permanent what / we touch”.

Forrest Gander | Core Samples from the World | New Directions | 2011

A heady exploration of languages and topographies via interweavings of poems, micro-essays, and photographs. A virtuosic voyage of the imagination. “But under their masks of muteness, the visitors go beyond listening to; they listen into”.

Nathalie Léger | Supplément à la vie de Barbara Loden | P.O.L | 2012

A wonderfully insightful and well-written, and partly fictional, and largely personal, investigation into the life and work of Barbara Loden and her film/character Wanda. A meditation on life and words, words and image, actors and characters, description and invention, documentary and autobiography. Including a fantastic few pages featuring Mickey Mantle as reader of Proust.

Philippe-Alain Michaud | Flying Carpets (exhibition) | Villa Medici | 2012

This has to be the most stimulating exhibit I have ever been to. Richness of thought spatially unfolding, in the form of echoes between 16th and 17th century carpets, experimental films, paintings and watercolors, and recent art installations. For years now, Philippe-Alain Michaud (curator of film at the Centre Pompidou in Paris) has been exploring alternative genealogies of film freed from the technical apparatus of projection that the 20th century history of cinema as we know it has locked it into. For him, film is not a medium but a set of properties having to do with movement and framing. The present exhibit convincingly looks at carpets (moving surfaces, metaphors for flight, frames for endless motifs) as repositories of these properties, therefore as loci of a proto-cinema.

José Miguel Puerta Vílchez | Historia del pensamiento estético árabe | Akal | 1997 

This is monumental. Because of its size (900 pages) and because of its underlying project: to assume the existence of a tradition of aesthetic thought in Arabic, and to attempt to read it on its own terms (much more rare than you might think) and retrace its history. Two advantages, at least, for the Western (and, to say the truth, the native) reader: studying Arabic civilization through the prism of aesthetics, i.e. away from the usual theological reductions; and discovering alternative conceptualizations of images, of erotics, of beauty or of the sublime.

Equally recommended, in a similar (though less historical and less encyclopedic) vein, Mohammed Hamdouni Alami’s Art and Architecture in the Islamic Tradition—Aesthetics, Politics and Desire in Early Islam (I.B. Tauris, 2011)

Lisa Robertson | Nilling | BookThug | 2012

The essays in this collection are so intelligent and dense that you can spend days with this short book of thrilling definitions and recognitions of the author’s, the reader’s “fall into the luminous secrecy of reading”, where “I am only certain that I think insofar as I read” and “the text I read seeks through me to another text”. “How big is the subject? Quite tiny”, seeing as “contingency is larger than knowledge”. “Why speak of the soul? Capital isn’t secular”, though “time repeatedly donates inexperience to cognition”.

Ryoko Sekiguchi | Ce n’est pas un hasard | P.O.L | 2011

Ryoko Sekiguchi is a Japanese poet living in Paris, who writes both in French and in Japanese. This book is her diary over a period of 7 weeks, starting the day before the Fukushima disaster. “Je le comprends aussi; ce que je suis en train d’écrire, ce n’est pas de la littérature. / C’est un ‘rapport’. / Je dresse un rapport, le plus sincère possible.” Observing Japan from France and France from Japan. Disarming directness and devastating insights.

Truong Tran | dust and conscience | Apogee | 2002

I “discovered” Truong Tran’s work a few months ago, by chance, in a bookstore that had several of his books. I was encouraged by the look of them, and the blurbs, and a few lines read at random.  His sentences have a rhythm of their own, with no punctuation or capitalization, or linebreaks for that matter. What they do have is a lot of biographical directness, at the same time as what the french would call “pudeur”, a certain reticence, in accounting for growing up in America with parents who couldn’t speak English. The author/speaker shows a great simultaneous deal of defiance and tenderness with regard to said parents, affirming a life of his own yet preserving their memory through the very syntax and lexicon of his very virtuosic brand of broken English.

Morad Montazami, ed. | Zamân n°5 | Mekic | 2012

This journal is gorgeous. It is also smart and eclectic, claiming a sort of “heretical orientalism”. This new issue, the fifth, has, among other things, poems by Etel Adnan, an essay on Syrian-German painter Marwan with reproductions of many of his works, a study on poems by victims of the Inquisition found on prison walls in Palermo, delicious Iranian recipes, etc. This fifth issue is in fact the third, as the journal is a continuation, thirty years later, of a journal of the same title (Zamân, which in Persian, and in Arabic, means “time”), edited by the current editor’s father and uncle (Iranians in exile in Paris in the late 70s), and which had only two issues back then. The journal is all in French, though there is one place in the US where it can be found (the Saint Marks Bookshop).

Ghassan Zaqtan, trans. Fady Joudah | Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me, and Other Poems | Yale | 2012

One of my regrets for 2012 is to not have met Ghassan Zaqtan at the Poetry Center in San Francisco on April 5. He was not granted a visa to go to the USA. Apparently, poet + Palestinian = dangerous. The event still took place, and Steve Dickison, as always, made it a warm occasion. Ghassan gracefully sent a video of his deep raspy voice, and Fady Joudah read from his beautiful translations to a packed room, in the face of “the absence / that never stops”.


Omar Berrada’s contributions to Attention Span for 2009. Return to 2012 directory.

Written by Steve Evans

December 16, 2012 at 2:14 pm