a review of Dying for Time: Proust, Woolf, Nabokov by Martin Hägglund
To make modernism committedly mortal, despite its apparent desire to be otherwise: this is Hägglund’s aim in Dying for Time. Even when we seek to transcend time, we do so because our time-bound lives can be lost. Our finitude is the foundation for all our desires, and all our fears. In Proust’s novel, Hägglund writes, memories of life are always also memories of loss. Even the most ecstatic recollection returns us to a world in which the remembered object is no more. Moreover, this is as true of our memories of ourselves as it is of our memories of others. Our lifetimes, too, are traversed by “nothingness,” since every moment we live through “must extinguish itself as soon as it comes.” Time is always passing away, each successive second negating the one before, such that “the present itself can come into being only by ceasing to be.” In this sense, “extinction is at work in survival itself.” Thus the epiphanies we find in Proust do not transcend time. Rather, these memories retrieve the ambivalent rhythms of persistence and disappearance that animate actual life. Proust’s real revelation is not that memory makes us immortal, but that life is at all times destructible.
read the rest at the Los Angeles Review of Books
a review of Strange Cowboy by Sam Michel
What Lincoln has learned is that his son has a soul like his own. And by telling his story, he has talked his way away from himself and toward the world he had hidden from; “back to tomorrow,” and to “a simpler, unconflicted saying.” No longer “meat-pulp in an easy chair, a dreamless self-deceiver,” he later tells his sleeping son and mother that he loves them. A lesser Lincoln Dahl might have lived and died without having said what he felt, his mind like so many of ours, “a mailsack stuffed with unsent letters.” So for anyone trying and failing to match up meaning and feeling and speaking, Strange Cowboy’s tale will ring true. As alive as the West’s wide skies and wildflowers, this is a story to see us through the struggle to tell those we love that we love them.
read the rest at Full Stop Magazine
on the best novel of 2012, Prosperous Friends by Christine Schutt
Schutt’s art is about unspoken emotions, and the clandestine life of the body. But with each new book this embodied, emotive life is ever more expertly buried. Now it lives less in Schutt’s themes than her forms, less in plots than in prosody. Difficult intimacies no longer need explicit confession. Instead they’re secreted in Schutt’s sentences—coded in consonance, assonance, syllabic patterning. Another great writer, Gary Lutz, has lectured on the “romance between letters” in Schuttian phrases like “her lips stuck when she licked them to talk” and “acutely felt, clearly flat.” Reading Schutt’s prose is like listening to music: beneath its manifest meaning, her language is full of other, ineffable messages, encrypted in rhythms and melodies.
read the full review in the Los Angeles Review of Books
a review of Infinity by Gabriel Josipovici
Infinity’s greatest achievement is that it does not deal in grand analogies between music and writing. Instead it reminds us that both are rooted in raw human material. The book itself is nothing but a breath, a voice, a life, and life only ever lasts for a moment. But even when faced with its finitude, Infinity refuses to flee from life, or to try to transcend it. Instead it returns to the life it describes, ‘plays it again,’ so as to transform it. Pavone’s life is approached in the way it was lived, in faith to the thought that living life fully might mean finding, or making, infinity inside its limits. Infinity speaks to something in life and art that is simple, familiar, but also miraculous: the feeling that even when something does not last forever, it can last forever.
read the full review in PN Review 208
a review of The Art of Philosophy by Peter Sloterdijk
Philosophy, as Pierre Hadot once put it, is less a body of knowledge than a ‘way of life.’ If this is so, it follows that philosophers shouldn’t be overly idealistic about their ideas. Such ideas are embedded not only in broad social contexts, but in philosophers’ own self-understandings; in their acts of self-fashioning. And to the extent that this existential dimension remains largely repressed or unthematised, the discipline stands in a state of reflexive deficit. In this respect, what we require is a materialist theory of philosophy: a robust redescription of contemplation as, first and foremost, an embodied practice.
The life of the mind is a way of life that withdraws from life. This is the central thesis of Sloterdijk’s striking book, whose title in German is the more apposite Scheintod im Denken—‘Suspended Animation in Thought.’ Sloterdijk starts with Plato’s account of Socrates, for whom philosophical thought took the form of ‘a trance or obsessive daydream.’ In short, Socrates was sometimes literally ‘lost in thought,’ gripped by a kind of ‘artificial autism’—an ascetic secession from social life into the realm of ideas. To think, for Socrates, was to be dead to the world.
read the rest at Review 31