an interview with Christine Schutt
DW: Whatever this “knowledge” is, it isn’t directly articulated. It’s as if it can only be got at obliquely, with words that cling to things’ surfaces. Your writing is often described as “elliptical”—what role might mystery and unknowing play in your work?
CS: “Reality, of course, is man’s most powerful illusion; but while he attends to this world, it must outbalance the total enigma of being in it at all.” So says Erik H. Erikson, but reality does not for me “outbalance” the bewildering experience of being in the world. Add the scrim of memory and incessant excursions into the past, and the most I can do to construct a world is to stitch together sensations of it. I do not want an impenetrable style but prize compression and music. I abhor quotidian easy speak, psychobabble, brands, news and slogans… mine calls for close, hard readers of fiction. A lot is left unsaid and must be inferred simply because I want to avoid the dulling effect of belated language.
read the rest at The Quarterly Conversation
A review of Tom Eyers’ Post-Rationalism
Eyers shows how structuralism arose through a dialogue with earlier epistemologies—in particular, the philosophies of science elaborated by Bachelard and Canguilhem. Such philosophies “simultaneously affirm and transcend rationalism”, emphasising both a rationalist commitment to formalisation and an awareness of the “constitutive impurity” of the objects and subjects of knowledge. A renewed appreciation of this tradition might serve to subvert today’s prevailing assumption that philosophy must be beholden to “either a scientistic empiricism on the one hand, or an irresponsible relativism on the other”. The lesson we learn throughout Eyers’ book is that thought is always more finely grained than such forced choices lead us to believe.
Read the rest in Radical Philosophy 182
a review of Dawn Raffel’s recently reissued In the Year of Long Division
Throughout all of these stories, what is heard, spoken, or seen only hints at its flipside: an ineffable reality that exists everywhere around us, but remains beyond reach of our words. “There is another world,” W.B. Yeats once wrote, “but it is in this one.” And this is the secret, silent world that Raffel’s work opens onto: the other life that is ours. If there is a message in these stories, it is that life’s meaning is most apparent when looked at askance. As Raffel writes, “there is a way that whatever you turn away from owns your heart.” Hers is writing with its back turned to what it tells of — but in this very act of turning away, it realizes an indirect revelation.
In the Year of Long Division is fascinated by frozen water; by its combination of surface and depth, solidity and concealed liquidity. In “Somewhere Near Sea Level,” the “curve and grace” of ice skating quickly collapses into the “flat flung limbs” of a fall. “Two If By Sea” starts with a girl “testing, toeing, slipping” across an ice-covered river: “just before [she] went under, she could hear it crack.” For me, such moments express the essence of Raffel. Her style slides with weightless grace across the surface of the world. But in so doing, it also puts pressure on that surface, revealing the water that waits, in roaring silence, on its underside. Through this movement, her writing gestures towards the source of its beauty. In the words of one of her narrators, “our lake was great. Could have been an ocean. Under the surface, everything shone.”
read the rest at the Los Angeles Review of Books
a review of Jason Schwartz’s John the Posthumous
The book can be read as a killer’s confession—perhaps a coded personal journal, peppered with clues; or a rulebook for a meta-literary murder mystery. But its power stems less from the promise of solving a puzzle, more from the emotions evoked when that promise is broken. Ultimately, what the book is “about” can’t be reconstructed into a narrative arc. All that’s left, then, is the trauma of narrative’s aftermath. Not stories, but feelings of fragmentation and loss form the lifeblood of John the Posthumous.
The text’s chief achievement is its evocation of vast, expansive emotions—sorrow, dread, religious terror—from the most meagre materials; in Schwartz, each “mark” and “smudge” summons up a whole world. And as readers we lose ourselves in this world, as we would in a labyrinth—only, one we can’t escape from. The closer we get to a sense of its centre, the more it withdraws; the more intricate its construction becomes. This is the reason why Schwartz’s novel—or better, his devilish stylistic edifice—can’t be reduced to a “story”. Ultimately, it’s less like a book than a fractal; a shape whose complexity never diminishes, all the way down to the smallest scale. Gilles Deleuze detected such qualities in the dense ornamentation of baroque art; a style, as he said, whose “twists and turns and folds unfurl all the way to infinity.” Fractal baroque: an unfurling art that enfolds us in incomprehension, in fear, but also in irreducible beauty. This would be a fitting description of Schwartz’s difficult genius—and of the infinite inner world that his writing inhabits.
read the rest at Electric Literature
a roundtable on style in fiction, with Greg Gerke and Jason Lucarelli
At a more elemental level, maybe writing has to cast a silence around itself. Greg, you talk about “generations.” One difference between our generation and Lish’s is that we live in a so-called “information age.” But if we are to create art, the message that arises from much of this writing is that we must make information our enemy. Right now, for instance, Jason Schwartz is one of the few writers still working out ways to do this. Schwartz’s work speaks in a style that startles the surrounding world into silence. His stories are radically self-sufficient, and in this respect they work against our age’s entropic reduction of language to data. The philosopher Theodor Adorno once wrote that “art is magic, delivered from the lie of being truth.” And since we’re speaking of “tradition,” perhaps this is precisely what artworks were in prehistory—mysteries; auratic artefacts whose very existence was an affront, a beautiful “fuck you” to reality.
read the rest in The Literarian