a review of Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers
Rachel Kushner’s second novel, following 2008’s Telex from Cuba, opens with a striking set piece. It is 1977, and Kushner’s nameless narrator—a young artist who will later be christened “Reno”, after her hometown—races her motorcycle across the salt flats of Utah. Reno is running in a land speed trial, while also performing an artistic experiment: through speed, she aims to achieve an “acute case of the present tense.” When her bike wipes out at 148 miles per hour, the spectacular crash captures the message of Kushner’s novel: namely, that life can’t be lived, nor art made, purely in the present; history will always hit us and send us spinning.
read the review in The Independent
a profile of writer, teacher and editor Gordon Lish
So, in short, forget about Carver: there’s much more to Lish than the myths suggest. Instead, let’s read Lish as he really is: a writer of bleakly beautiful masterpieces such as the recently reprinted Peru, and a teacher whose true impact is one of the great untold stories of modern fiction. Here in Britain, the literary establishment has largely reneged on innovation; even our more progressive voices mourn the “death” of the modernist experiment. So why not look across the Atlantic, and learn from Lish? Maybe we’ll find that the avant garde is alive and well, where we least expected to find it.
read the rest at The Guardian
a review of Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s A Brief History of Yes
This is the song that many of Marcom’s best sentences sing—proceeding by association and intuition, led less by rules than by faith, and always leading somewhere unforeseen: language as astonishment. No longer a bridge from A to B, writing is the water that rages beneath. Later on in the novel, a character talks of the “delicate wildness” of nature. The words might apply just as well to this writing; to the delicate wildness of its singular style.
Rilke once wrote that works of art can only be judged on whether they have “arisen out of necessity.” In Marcom, style is the sign of that necessity; of an artwork’s urgent, internal need for its object to speak its own language, and no other. More recently than Rilke, Susan Sontag spoke of this trait in terms of stylistic “inevitability.” The strongest works, Sontag argued, are those “so wholly centred in their style” that they “seem secreted, not constructed.” The phrase rings equally true here too. To read Marcom, then, is to read writing that risks being the sole instance of its species—words that could only have been written the way they are written.
read the rest at The Quarterly Conversation
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 grand finale falls short. 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