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When I got off the train yesterday at Santa Maria Novella, I was convinced that I remembered the way; I knew that I needed to take the 36 or 37 bus, but the stop I recalled turned out to be the Capolinea, the end of the line where I disembarked two years ago, over an hour early for my train departing Florence—upon which, to kill time, I wandered around the neighborhood of San Marco, lugging my suitcase behind me in the early-morning serenity of the still-deserted streets. I remember wondering if this mysterious new epidemic would remain confined to its various pockets of outbreak, when all at once, as I turned the corner onto Via Nazionale, the brightly lit letters of Hotel Corona stopped me in my tracks.

As with my arrival in Florence two years ago, it took me some time to find the bus stop, just enough for a vague sense of anxiety to set in. I was traveling by choice, I had an invitation and a room to stay in, and yet the news images of people fleeing first the advance of Russian troops on the Donbas and then everywhere else superimposed themselves onto the bustling Florentine streets: people abandoning their cars and possessions after running out of gas in thirty-mile-long traffic jams headed west for the border checkpoints; men pulled out of queues by Ukrainian soldiers and forced to bid goodbye to their families and join the armed resistance. Children with bunny ears on their woolen caps alarmed and wailing, their faces turned away or pressed to the foggy windows of buses and trains, their mothers unable to console them. Women carrying toddlers in snowsuits and diaper bags and lugging suitcases behind them, bracing for hours on foot in the freezing cold to reach a border or train station even as students and other people from non-white countries are turned back from the checkpoints and often beaten. People hauling cats and dogs on their backs, their children in tow, most of them too exhausted or too numbly focused on surviving the next minutes and hours to cry. The sight of their shock and their uprootedness slices into the marrow and fuels my own temporary lack of orientation, my struggle to conserve the last six percent battery power on my cell phone. I backtrack several times, perspiring and unable to properly concentrate, knowing all the while that I am headed to warmth and safety, to privilege. It eventually occurs to me that I can check Google Maps, and I finally find the bus stop, ashamed at my lack of resourcefulness, at my porosity and empathy that help no one.

— read an excerpt from a new book-in-progress on Three Quarks Daily.

I’d like to draw your attention to the second part of an interview Ally Klein did with me that’s just gone up at Three Quarks Daily. We talk about my new novel, Like Lips, Like Skins, the German edition of which (Kreisläufe, meaning circuits, circulations, circles) was published a few months ago by Literaturverlag Droschl, this time with a focus on the presence and function of art in the book:

After years of writing (and finally publishing), I finally felt secure enough to go a step further in my second novel. I began describing the artmaking process, and eventually imported some of my actual art into the work in order to see what form it might take there. I was also interested in seeing how much of the original artwork can’t, in the end, be captured in words. What remains of art in its description? When you narrate it, but can’t actually see anything? Are you merely describing the intentions behind the work, are you describing an idea or the work’s appearance? Are you creating something completely new?
To my surprise, I discovered that it was suddenly much more about the fictional character I ascribed a particular work to, in this case Felice—it shifted the focus to her psychology. How did she arrive at this type of art, what does it have to do with her life? What does her art say about her as a character? A completely new narrative coalesced around the description, one that’s pretty far removed from the original impulses that led to the actual work the writing is based on.
I’m driven by the idea of ​​bringing contemporary art a little closer to readers not normally all that familiar with it. This is a work of literature, after all, and not aesthetic theory. And so the concepts are somewhat simplified, and even if some of the passages are still pretty abstract, I hope the human connection comes across easily enough. Because the art in this book is only one component in a larger work that addresses many other themes: family, trauma, parents, children, getting older.

When, in Like Lips, Like Skins, I lend this work [the installation Through the Bullethole] to the protagonist, she automatically becomes associated with the mental state the work suggests—this slightly crazy, obsessive gaze through a bullet hole, this necessarily limited view of the world—it all becomes far more psychological in the book, and Felice is equated with her work much, I might add, in the way that I’m often equated with my protagonist. There’s this (I hope) hilarious scene in which the work is hanging on the walls of a gallery and Felice tries to explain the photographs to her mother, sister, and the mother’s neighbor, who they’ve brought along for some reason. All of a sudden there’s this 1:1 thing happening, it’s assumed that she’s the subject of the work in a way that never actually happened to me with the original installation—at the time I made the work, the question of authorship was never confused with the idea of a journal or diary, with a confessional gesture. It was understood to be a formal conceit. The work’s inner logic was clear, and the installation cohered in a larger way that allowed the ideas feeding it to breathe, to grow into a sort of organism. When I imported a description of this work into my book, I had to learn what it could do and what it couldn’t do. It certainly wasn’t about selling the reader on conceptual art. I simply wondered what would be left of a work as complex as this after reducing it to words—and what I could make it say about my characters.

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The first chapter of the German edition Kreisläufe appeared in issue 232 of the Austrian literary magazine manuskripte; English-language excerpts have appeared in Trafika Europe, Statorec, and Zyzzyva. The German version of Part One of this interview appeared in issue 234 of manuskripte, the English version here on Three Quarks DailyFor Part Two, Ally Klein corresponded with the author over the course of several weeks via email; the above is an edited version of a talk the two gave in Berlin on December 11, 2021 at Lettrétage.

For English-language rights to Like Lips, Like Skins, please contact Soumeya Roberts of HG Literary, New York.

I’d like to draw your attention to an interview Ally Klein did with me that’s just gone up at Three Quarks Daily. We talk about my new novel, Like Lips, Like Skins, the German edition of which (Kreisläufe, meaning circuits, circulations, circles) was published a few months ago by Literaturverlag Droschl: the strange-seeming discrepancy in titles, which gets to the heart of what the novel is about, the book’s approach to visual imagery and artmaking, and some of its main themes.

One of these themes is trauma: 

The moment a traumatic experience occurs, certain regions of the brain, for instance the frontal lobes, are effectively switched off, while other, older parts of the brain—the regions responsible for the organism’s survival—take over. It’s similar with flashbacks: because our understanding of time lies in the neocortex, we experience a threat from the past as immediate, as though it were happening in the here and now. Cognitive thinking as well as language and memory formation also freeze up; in other words, all of a sudden there’s this huge blind spot ballooning outwards. The senses of a person experiencing a flashback become flooded, they fail to understand that they’re not in danger, they can barely find an explanation for their affective state and physical reactions and afterwards, confused and disoriented, they remember very little.


Another theme is autofiction: 

Writing in the first-person singular means that you can’t analyze a character on a meta-level or from a distance, you have to make them do things, dream, talk, think. This establishes a closer link to the reader. I gave Felice certain elements from my life, I gave her Staten Island and Berlin and some of my art—to an extent, I even lent her my own late parents. This can be misleading, of course, and it can mean that people confuse the character with the author. However, if you start reading the book in an “autofictional” manner, you’d have to become skeptical at the very latest with the character of Micha. I’ve been living in Berlin for 37 years and wanted to write about my adopted home. It was clear to me that my view of Germany would be perceived as that of an outsider, a foreigner, even if I’ve spent my entire adult life here. And so I designed a fictional character to speak in my stead; over time it became increasingly clear to me that this person had to come from the East. Micha was a vehicle for me to lend a face to some of my own observations on a divided Germany and German Reunification. I live between these two cultures, I have both an inside and an outside view of the two countries. As a former inmate in a GDR juvenile detention facility who never really gained a foothold in the West, Micha is also caught between cultures. He’s stuck in this dilemma, but as a German he has the authority to articulate his thoughts about this country. And so suddenly, the figure of Felice could become his counterpart and take on the role of the somewhat clueless American. This is where an attentive reader would have to notice that the first-person narrator can’t be autofictional—because Micha and his observations are of course the author’s thoughts, statements, and hypotheses. In other words: Micha, c’est moi.

The first chapter of Kreisläufe was published in issue 232 of the Austrian literary magazine manuskripte; English-language excerpts have appeared in Trafika Europe, StatORec, and Zyzzyva. The interview has also just appeared in German in issue 234 of manuskripte.

Click here to read.

Read an in-depth conversation with artists Simon Lee and Eve Sussman, online in my Artists’ Conversations series at 3 Quarks Daily:

“The guys in Dubai’s Old Market were being oppressed for less than minimum wage, they were worker immigrants from Bangladesh that lived in a work camp and sent their wages home to support their families; the construction site that Eve and I originally fantasized about producing Stalkerpooh on became luxury apartments in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; the deceits of powerful people—their spoken words—became our script; we built a useless factory that circulated water for no reason.”

Simon&Eve8

“I know of no love that exists with moderation, at least on my side. The older I get, the busier I am, and the more engrossing my social life becomes, the warier I grow of submitting to the powerlessness of being in a love affair in which the heart is truly engaged. There’s a Kenneth Koch poem posted on the wall behind my computer that explains why. It says, ‘You want a social life, with friends/ A passionate love life and as well/ To work hard every day. What’s true/ Is of these three you may have two.’ When love comes in the door, my work and social life seem to fly out the window. Yet every now and then… even though I know how disruptive it is, I succumb, and all balance is lost.”

I talked to Liesl Schillinger to celebrate the publication of the Strange Attractors anthology with UMass Press—you can read the full conversation here

Strange Attractors cover

And come to the reading at McNally Jackson in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: 

Screenshot 2019-05-07 at 09.45.38

An image is described: a photograph cut out of the newspaper in which a raging crowd is in the act of plundering a millionaire’s home. In the foreground, an oil painting is held aloft by several people: it’s the portrait of the millionaire. The photo was taken in the 1990s, when ethnic Chinese businessmen living in Indonesia were rumored to have caused the economic crisis of the time and suddenly found themselves in danger. The narrator describes the photograph in painstaking detail; she literally reconstructs the photograph in words. What is the mental image that results from this description, and what relationship does it bear to the original photograph? It’s about the description of an image of an image here: a text about the printed photograph of a portrait painted on canvas of a man who has fled for his life only moments before—an oil painting that was destroyed seconds after the picture was taken.

 

Read the full conversation at 3 Quarks Daily

The original German version can be read at Jitter: Magazin für Kunst und visuelle Kultur. 

Joy Amina Garnett is an Egyptian American artist and writer living in New York. Her work, which spans creative writing, painting, installation art, and social media-based projects, reflects how past, present, and future narratives can co-exist through ‘the archive’ in its various forms. She has been working on a memoir and several other projects around the life and work of her late grandfather, the Egyptian Romantic poet and bee scientist A.Z. Abushady (1892–1955).

Joy Garnett: “Growing up, his ghost was all around me, the stuff of fairy tales, but I didn’t have a real sense of him as a person. My mother and aunt put him on a pedestal—their father, the famous Egyptian poet and doctor. Much literary criticism has been written about his poetry, so I spent years reading and absorbing as much as I could while trying to put together a more intimate and complex picture of him. As an undergraduate, I studied classical and spoken Arabic, and recently I took a series of hands-on beekeeping classes.”

Read the conversation here

 

Joy Garnett 1

Caricature of A.Z. Abushady by the Persian/Alexandrian cartoonist, Mohamed Fridon (ca. 1928)

Read the interview here.

 

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David Krippendorff: Without wanting to sound naive, first and foremost I hope that my work has a strong emotional impact. Every initial idea I ever had for a piece always started with an emotional reaction to something, be it a film or a piece of music. Throughout the process, I then conceptualize it and parse out the various political subtexts and interpretive layers. I do think that all art is political, but I am also a great believer that art should be more visceral. We live in times in which nobody trusts their feelings anymore; our society is becoming increasingly cerebral. I think this is a very dangerous trend, because remaining in touch with one’s feelings is also the first step toward empathy. When we’re detached, it becomes much easier to turn a blind eye to injustice; we fail to see the humanity in a homeless person we pass by on the street. I strongly believe that the role of art should be to help people get in touch with their feelings. To me, this becomes political, and it’s the only way that it can have an impact and make a change. We have enough “interesting” art, but how often does somebody go to a show and say: “That was really moving,” or “That was beautiful”?

New essay up on 3QuarksDaily.

alyssa

 

“Letting You in on a Secret is a work that reflects on this very depletion of language and mass imagery, a work that proposes and articulates new and surprising ways to recalibrate our perception, to shake ourselves and our stunned senses awake. DeLuccia’s formal reference to Dada provides us with an important clue to the work’s subtly subversive nature: in citing a movement that would presage and then endure the advent of fascism, mass extermination, and world war, she is pointing to the necessity of encoding explosive cultural commentary in humor and visually appealing imagery, of going underground with it, as it were—both to protect one’s powers of perception and to counter the effects of the spellbinding that numbs us to the dangers facing us.”

A conversation with Patricia Thornley published on 3QuarksDaily

08still from The Western, 2018

From November 17, Patricia Thornley’s work The Western, part of her series THIS IS US, is on view as part of the group exhibition “Empathy” at Smack Mellon Gallery in Brooklyn, New York. The project is the latest in a seven-year series of installation and single-channel video works consisting of interviews and performances. Previous videos of the series are An American in Bavaria (2011), Don’t Cry for Me (2013), and Sang Real (2015). As a whole, THIS IS US  formulates multiple parallel inquiries into the collaborative fantasies Americans enact through popular media. In the current political climate, as the escalation of social and economic forces impacting millions of lives is cast into increasingly sharp relief, these fantasies take on new urgency and, in many cases, a new absurdity.

The Western’s cast of characters consists of these Civil War-era archetypes: Indian Scout, Beast of Burden, Frontiersman, Savage, Deserter, Justice, and Drifter. The work is conceived as a two-part installation in which the cinematic trope of the Western is used as a framework for inquiring into the American psyche. In the exhibition space, a projected “movie” is installed opposite a wall of screens playing a series of interviews with the seven participating characters.

Andrea Scrima: Patricia, a few years ago I conducted an interview with you about a previous work of yours, Sang Real (2015), for the online poetry magazine Lute & Drum. Now, with The Western, the overall structure of THIS IS US is coming more and more clearly into focus. The last time we spoke at length about your series was a year and a half before the last presidential election. How have recent changes on the political landscape affected your approach to the themes in your work?

Patricia Thornley: From the beginning in the THIS IS US series, one of the questions I asked in my interviews with the people who featured in the individual videos was “how do you feel about being an American?” Historically, there’s always been a certain political disconnect at play with Americans, due to less armed conflict on our own soil and a certain comfort level.

I didn’t ask this question because I was trying to be instructive, but because one of the most important aspects of my work is to observe opposing and conflicting states of consciousness and to create situations that attempt a kind of uncommon reconciliation of these states. So in terms of what has changed I would say that what I was perceiving as a state of unconsciousness (pre-Trump) has been pushed to the surface by outrage and fear.

Read the interview on 3QuarksDaily here

 

Read the interview here.

“The novel oscillates between mediated reflection, immediate perceptual state, and, later on, madness. This stage of perception does entirely without any sort of explanation. It’s about immediacy. The self is fully within it, there’s no help from without, no visible motive to reconstruct reflection a posteriori. That’s how it is with our perception. To my mind, when it comes to language, things start to get interesting. We trust reflection and reason so much more. Pure perception is trusted less, but insanity is never trusted. In the novel, we have an unreliable narrator telling the story after it’s already occurred. You might assume that the events were reflected upon and are now related through this conscious filter. But that’s not the case. Only in madness can you see what’s actually going on. The body itself speaks, unfiltered, directly. It’s a huge, profound immediacy that we can’t rationally grasp. It’s another language, like the language of dreams. You want to decode it, but there’s no code. In the novel, it presents as a primordial language, as opposed to a verbal one: a language of images that exerts its effect directly. It just does this, and the reader has to surrender to it to get any closer.”

Ally Klein Portrait_03_by Pezhman Zahed.jpg

Ally Klein

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.”

Don_DeLillo_

Originally published in Quarterly Conversation

Republished by Three Quarks Daily, January 2021.

Davis

From The Lydia Davis Symposium
The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 35

Much has been written about Lydia Davis’ pared-down “style.” Her sentences are crafted with an economy that borders on parsimony. What is less frequently observed, however, is that her devotion to exactitude entails a repetition of words and phrases that—to a reader who happens to be tone-deaf to her particular brand of deadpan humor—can come across as tedious and even peevish. In a steady flow of neurotic energy, sentences are arranged much like a child might stack up pennies in painstakingly precise towers to distract itself from bickering parents. Yet Davis’ observations nearly always contain a sly wit. Her repetitions are not the repetitions of Beckett or Bernhard; they do not circle around the unutterable core of what language, by its very nature, fails to convey. On the contrary, Davis’ sentences clarify. Theyinsist. What is more, the continued reassertion of a thought and the perseverance in its reiteration frequently correspond to the respective narrator’s participation in a series of situations that find her hapless and misunderstood, situations that are highly distressing. Davis is concerned with correction, revision, rectification. If you no longer love me, if you are lying to me, then my only recourse is to recount, as precisely as possible, what happened, and in what sequence: what you said, and what I thought about it; what I believed you were thinking and not saying; what I said in response and what relationship this bore to what I thought and felt. In the absence of truthful communication and in the disorientation of shifting emotion, an accurate portrayal of circumstances is required to set the record straight. When spoken words no longer serve mutual understanding, language, in response, becomes a matter of validating one’s perception, a vehicle for self-preservation.

Issue 35: The Lydia Davis Symposium
Essays by David Winters, J.C. Hallman, Lynne Tillman, Madeleine LaRue, Florian Duijsens, and Scott Esposito — and an interview with Lydia Davis by Dan Gunn.

Republished by Three Quarks Daily, August 3, 2020.