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Essays and Reviews

Spreading the word on the inimitable Lydia Davis in the German-speaking world. 

Order here. 

Die Geschichten des Erzählbandes Almost No Memory, erstmals 1997 veröffentlicht und 2008 in deutscher Übersetzung (Fast keine Erinnerung) im Literaturverlag Droschl erschienen, können als psychologisches Porträt einer Frau mittleren Alters gelesen werden, die sich mit all den üblichen Dingen auseinandersetzt, die das Leben ab einem gewissen Alter zu bieten hat: die Verwerfungen häuslicher Zwietracht, schrumpfende Horizonte, die ernüchternde Erkenntnis, dass uns nur noch sehr wenig ändern kann. Der Stimmen gibt es viele und eine, die in einer Polyphonie von vorausahnender Angst und Resignation zusammenlaufen. Wir hören „Ehefrau Eins, eine oft rabiate, zurzeit aber ruhige Frau“, die alleine zu Abend isst, nachdem sie mit „Ehefrau Zwei“ telefoniert hat; eine Professorin, die davon träumt, einen Cowboy zu heiraten, obwohl sie „so sehr an die Gesellschaft [ihres] Mannes gewöhnt [ist], dass [sie] ihn, sollte [sie] tatsächlich einen Cowboy heiraten, würde mitnehmen wollen“; und eine Frau, die sich „in einen Mann [verliebte], der schon seit einigen Jahren tot war“. Dann gibt es eine Frau, die „aus dem Haus [läuft], das Gesicht weiß, der Mantel wild flatternd, … ‚Rettung! Rettung!‘ rufend“; eine andere, die sich wünscht, eine zweite Chance zu haben, aus ihren Fehlern zu lernen; und eine, die „keine andere Wahl [hat], als weiterzumachen, so als wüsste [sie] im Großen und Ganzen, was [sie ist], auch wenn [sie sich] manchmal vielleicht vorzustellen versuch[t], was es denn nun ist, was die anderen wissen, wovon [sie] nicht weiß“. Die Liste setzt sich fort: Wir erfahren von einer Frau, die sich fragt, warum sie ihren Kindern gegenüber so bösartig werden kann; von einer anderen, die beim Anblick von „allem Pulsierenden, allem Stoßenden; allem kerzengerade in die Höhe Ragenden, allem Waagrechten und Auseinanderklaffenden“ an Sex denkt; und wieder einer, die „voll bösen Willens gegenüber jemandem [ist], den [sie . . .] lieben sollte, und voll bösen Willens gegen [sich] selbst, und ganz entmutigt, was die Arbeit angeht, die [sie] erledigen sollte“.
Read the rest here. 

Manuskripte 220

“The national narrative is a narrative of infantilization, a fairy tale written for children in which love, sex, family, in fact all human endeavor, is sentimentalized, stripped of nuance and ambiguity and all of life’s inherent contradictions. We need everything spelled out; we are a culture with childish notions, even of childhood.”

Read the essay in The Millions. 

Uncle Sam

Identity is a construct that forms in response to a psychic need: for protection, for validation, for a sense of belonging in a bewildering world. It’s a narrative; it tells itself stories about itself. But identity is also a reflex, a tribal chant performed collectively to ward off danger, the Other, and even the inevitable. Its rules are simple: They demand allegiance; they require belief in one’s own basic goodness and rightness. It’s a construct based not in fact but on belief, and as such it has far more in common with religion than with reason. I try for the life of me to understand what it is and how the fiction of what this country has become has turned into such a mind-altering force that one can only speak of mass hypnosis or a form of collective psychosis in which the USA still, bafflingly, sees itself as the “greatest nation on Earth,” in which anything that calls what makes America American into question is met not with impartial analysis or self-scrutiny but indignant and often hostile repudiation. We have, as Baldwin observed in his Collected Essays, “a very curious sense of reality—or, rather…a striking addiction to irreality.” Are we really as brave as we think we are; are we as honest, as enterprising, as free as we think we are? We’re not the envy of the world and haven’t been for a long time, and while this might not match the image we have of ourselves, it’s time to address the cognitive dissonance and look within.

Translated by Andrea Scrima from the original German edition Am Fenster, wo die Nacht einbricht: Aufzeichnungen (At the window, where night breaks: Notations), Limmat Verlag, Zurich, Switzerland 2013

 

Read the full selection on Statorec.

EXISTENCE 22 / MOMENTS OF BEING TOUCHED

What one lives from. The brief moments of happiness when one encounters something, a person, a plant, an animal, a phenomenon that touches one in the most profound way, speaks to one, captures, delights one, like chemical elements that attract one another, do not wish to separate. A moment of this kind can be triggered by a musical modulation (Mozart, Chopin, Wagner…) that “strikes” like lightning, pierces the heart so deeply that one never forgets this moment, brief as it might be.—Leafing through an encyclopedia, we are taken by the portrait photo of someone long since deceased, as fierce as love at first sight; the gesticulation of a tree branch catches our eye and, it seems to the viewer, is directed at him; the particular hue of a pond in a watercolor is perceived as a “soul color,” a butterfly as messenger, a lonely cloud as a being that was waiting for one to finally see it; the sudden comprehension of another being; an elective affinity, entered into in a trice with creatures or things of an entirely different provenance. These magical connections between things ordinarily foreign to one another can be induced by works of art, in moments when we are completely open to the point of endangerment, or physically weakened by an ailment; the nerves are raw, the mind is wide awake, perceives, draws connections it would not have in a stronger state.—Spoke to Jannis Zinniker yesterday about these redemptive moments.

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“Teaching writing is a virtual impossibility. Faced with the prospect of mentoring students intent on becoming writers themselves, Goetz arrives at the conclusion that the university is not there to promote, but to hinder the results of independent thought, to discourage and intimidate them. He goes so far as to say that the aim of the professorship he is in the process of accepting is to prevent texts from being written in the first place: ‘In certain cases one could even, perhaps, find reasons for this. But even these reasons are essentially uninteresting. What is interesting is that most texts are bullshit. First and foremost, of course, those that arise in front of one’s own eyes, one’s own texts: nearly always bullshit. Bad, weak, useless. Why? I don’t know.’”

Read the full essay and excerpts from Goetz’s lecture in The Brooklyn Rail. 

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Now online: an entire issue of The Scofield dedicated to Kobo Abe and the subject of home.

Scrimabox

From my contribution to issue 3.1 of The Scofield: the essay The Problem of Home:

“Are we really as brave as we think we are, are we as honest, as enterprising, as free as we think we are? In America, national identity is a narrative drawn from a largely commercialized shared cultural experience and an interpretation of history that merges with legend—it’s a construct based not in fact, but on belief, and as such it has far more in common with religion than with reason. And while intellectual culture is currently undergoing a period of profound disillusion, in large parts of the country, anything that calls what makes America American into question is met not with impartial analysis or self-scrutiny, but indignant and often hostile repudiation.”

 

Dramatis Personae: 

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Adapted from a talk given on April 28, 2017 at the New School, New York City, as part of The Body Artist: A Conference on Don DeLillo.

“Live outside your native culture long enough, and you begin to see it as a sort of double exposure in which your sense of family and identity and belonging is overlaid with a strange, shape-shifting disturbance pattern in which everything seems normal until it suddenly doesn’t, and you begin to see the country from a foreigner’s point of view. For as long as I can remember, America has enjoyed its superpower status, exporting the products of its creative industries around the globe, often through aggressive means, and showing little sustained interest in the cultures of other countries. Lawrence Venuti, the translation theorist, has spoken of ‘a trade imbalance with serious cultural ramifications’ resulting in ‘a complacency in Anglo-American relations with cultural others, a complacency that can be described—without too much exaggeration—as imperialistic abroad and xenophobic at home.’ Only a tiny percentage of all publications in the United States are works in translation, meaning that we have comparatively meager resources to examine our society and culture in comparison to other societies and cultures, and that this impedes our ability to reflect objectively on ourselves.”

Read the article in Quarterly Conversation here.

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