a short review of Lars Iyer’s Exodus
Iyer’s characters are absurd idealists, forever comparing their “thought” to past figures, and finding it wanting. Unlike their beloved Blanchot and Kafka, they have “failed as thinkers”. But might they succeed “as activists?” Their passage from contemplation to action peaks in an occupation of W.’s university, but the planned grand finale falls short. Like its predecessors, Exodus cleverly explores the tensions between desired transcendence and depressing reality. Ultimately, this imbues the story with unexpected emotion; even beauty. Just as Iyer’s jokes return us to earth, his trilogy finishes with a simple, hopeful scene: the sea, seen from Plymouth, “glinting like utopia”.
read the review in The Independent
on the philosophical implications of form in Gordon Lish’s Peru
We cannot comprehend Lish’s contribution to literature without an awareness that composition cuts across ontology, not only aesthetics. For example, Jason Lucarelli has expertly essayed “consecution” as a writerly toolkit. But a more complete reconstruction of this concept would call for the following thought: consecution may be less a methodology than a metaphysic; a miraculating agent; an instance of spirit or pneuma submerged in the world. In Lucretius, the force of composition is described as a clinamen—our world is born from a “swerving” of atoms in their fall from heaven. Such is the purpose served by Peru’s perpetual swerving, rhyming and recursion. Each consecutive swerve steps closer toward a total curvature that delimits the work as a world apart. Peru is a paradigm of the artwork as a formally closed system. Hence, what has been called “consecution” is not a matter of mere wordplay; it is the way in which such a system defines its horizon.
read the rest at 3:AM Magazine
an essay on style, syntax, humour and hurtfulness in Sam Lipsyte’s The Fun Parts
Lipsyte’s stylistic tactics, learned largely from his teacher Gordon Lish, rely on what the latter refers to as “torque,” “swerve,” and “refactoring.” For Lish, and for Lipsyte, a successful story ratchets up its internal pressure, partly by feeding its linguistic output back into its input. Lipsyte’s writing runs not from A to B to C, but from A1 to A2 to A3. Or his prose is like a ladder, but it’s one he constructs as he climbs, at each step removing the rung below and placing it overhead. He “works the hurt” by heightening it with one hand, while undercutting it with the other. And this is why reading these stories means meeting them in the making—witnessing writing being brought to birth in the midst of its disappearance.
read the rest at The Quarterly Conversation
a profile of neglected author Hob Broun
In 1983, Broun underwent emergency surgery to remove a tumour surrounding his spine. He lived, but was left paralysed from the neck down. His deep depression during this period is perhaps easy to appreciate. What is remarkable, however, is the way in which he overcame it—willing himself, against all odds, to go on writing. This will is what’s behind the lasting value of Broun at his best. Stymied by life, he brought life to his words; the writing of fiction was, he once said, “the focus of what I’m surviving for.” And in its audacious inventiveness, his final book Cardinal Numbers measures itself against the life its author could no longer live. Any paralysis, it seems to say, can be briefly escaped in feats of verbal velocity; in fiction’s reach for freedom.
read the rest at Writers No One Reads
a review of The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork by Ben Kafka
The Demon of Writing delivers a witty and rich history of the faltering rise of bureaucracy since the French Revolution. But beyond its amusing anecdotes, it makes a polemical point. Kafka’s stories of clerical error cleverly show how theories of the state should more closely consider our everyday experiences of its “failure.” And as most people will appreciate, paperwork provides a perfect point of departure for such an analysis.
Of course, Kafka is not the only scholar to have taken a “technical turn” in recent times: Bruno Latour has explored legal theory’s embodiment in files and dossiers, for example. While such work speaks of a worthy commitment to the study of material practices, Kafka could be said to have gone one step better. His point is that paperwork necessitates not only a theory of practice, but one of what Freud called parapraxis: of unconscious slips and shocking upshots. Whether we’re powerful or powerless, the practical world is one into which we project our impractical needs, and where “we never get what we want.” In pinpointing this, Kafka’s book brings unpredictability back into the picture. And it does so with a panache that makes us appreciate anew our most “insignificant” acts.
read the review in the Times Literary Supplement (15 February 2013)