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Wonderful words by writer Lance Olsen: 

“Fantastic reading/conversation last night with the ever thoughtful, existentially attentive, compassionate, wise, wildly talented, & fascinating Andrea Scrima about her post-genre autre-biography, A Lesser Day, its just-released German translation, Wie viele Tage, the spatial dimensions of memory, her use of the slippery ‘you’ in the text, the problematics of helping bring one’s own work over into a second language in which one is fluent, & so much more.”

April 12, 2018

me & rebecca lettrétage

Moderated by Rebecca Rukeyser.

Novellieren

It’s the small observations that make life what it is, because these are the things that determine our subjective perception of reality—and not the momentous events of history, the outside world. The aesthetic at work here lies in the ordinary, the everyday. In one of the novel’s most poetic sections, the protagonist becomes witness to the moment before the coffee trickling out of a discarded paper cup and a thin stream of dog urine converge on the street, in the precise spot where a slip of paper with an address on it has fallen, which she salvages in time. The thought that she was the only one to perceive the magic of this moment, these “three factors mysteriously interconnected in an equation meant for me and me alone,” induces a kind of vertigo—“and yet I understood nothing, nothing at all.”

— Isabella Caldart in Novellieren, February 20, 2018 (in German)

 

Read the full review here. 

March 15, 2018

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The wonderful Daniela Fürst interviews Andrea Scrima on her book “Wie viele Tage,” Literaturverlag Droschl. Live at the Leipzig Book Fair.

Listen here at Literadio

Literario Leipzig

 

Bedford Avenue; ich stand vor dem U-Bahn-Plan, sprach die Namen aus und spürte den Nachgeschmack, den sie auf meiner Zunge hinterließen. Wie weit entfernt sie schienen, wie aus einer anderen Welt, einer anderen Zeit; wie unwahrscheinlich, dass ich mit diesem Plan in der Tasche hinausgehen und tatsächlich in einen Zug steigen könnte. Und dann überwand ich schließlich meine Lethargie, ging die Bedford Avenue hinunter und stieg die Treppe zur U-Bahn hinab, während mir der Schweiß zwischen den Brüsten hinunterrann; wie ich ohne einen klaren Plan im Kopf in einen klimatisierten Zug stieg, mich oben an der Haltestange festhielt und die Gänsehaut betrachtete, die sich auf meinem nackten Arm bildete, als der Schweiß auf meiner Haut kalt wurde. Ich stieg mehrmals um, zuerst am Union Square, dann an der Grand Central, betrachtete beim Einfahren des Zuges in jeden Bahnhof flüchtig die wartende Menge, meine Augen huschten von einem Gesicht zum anderen, suchten nach jemandem, den ich vielleicht kannte, irgendjemandem, unvorstellbar, in einer Stadt aufgewachsen zu sein und niemanden wiederzuerkennen, absolut niemanden. Meine Augen glitten vom Fenster des U-Bahn-Abteils und dem Strom der draußen vorbeihastenden Menschen nach oben, zu den Streifen Plakatwerbung, Hotlines für misshandelte Frauen, misshandelte Kinder, Zentren für kosmetische Chirurgie, Zahnchirurgie, mit einem Bild von Dr. Soundso und seiner Unterschrift darunter, gekrönt von einem irgendwie medizinisch aussehenden Schnörkel. Und dann stellte ich plötzlich fest, dass ich mich auf dem Weg zur Bronx befand, und beschloss, an der 149th Street auszusteigen und nachzuschauen, ob das alte Gebäude noch dort stand, wann war ich zum letzten Mal hingefahren, ich muss noch ein Kind gewesen sein. Ich ging die Brook Avenue hinunter, ohne ein einziges Gebäude wiederzuerkennen, einen einzigen Baum, bog an der 148th Street ab und ging in Richtung St. Ann’s, begann die geraden Nummern auf der Südseite der Straße abzuzählen, hin zur Nr. 516, dem Haus, das meine Urgroßeltern nach ihrer Ankunft in diesem Land gekauft hatten, dem Haus, in dem meine Mutter aufwuchs, meine Großmutter aufwuchs, zwei lange Reihen fünfgeschossiger Gebäude zu beiden Seiten der Straße, mit zwei ausschließlich aus Durchgangszimmern bestehenden Wohnungen auf jedem Stockwerk und Frauen in langen Röcken und Schürzen, die Abend für Abend den Bürgersteig fegten. Hier war Nr. 514, ein etwas zurückgesetzt stehendes, zweigeschossiges Haus; ein Dreirad lag auf einem kleinen betonierten Vorplatz, aus dessen Rissen Unkraut hervorspross. Ich ging weiter zum nächsten Haus und sah die ins Holz über der Tür genagelten Ziffern 518, und dann blieb ich stehen und ging noch einmal zurück; ich muss daran vorbeigegangen sein, dachte ich, doch es gab keine Nr. 516, nur ein Gebäude mit der Nummer 514 und ein anderes mit der Nummer 518, beide aus einem vergleichsweise jüngeren Baujahr, doch keine 516, und ich stand da, starrte Nr. 514 an, dann Nr. 518, und begriff, dass das Haus bereits vor langer Zeit abgerissen worden sein musste, nachdem sich das Viertel in einen Slum verwandelt hatte. Und später, nachdem im Zuge einer Stadtteilsanierung die Grundstücke neu gezeichnet und andere Häuser errichtet worden waren, war die Nummer 516 einfach aus der Reihe der Adressen in der East 148th Street komplett verschwunden, und ich stand da, wo die Eingangstür zum Haus gewesen sein musste, und stellte mir vor, wie meine Mutter als Kind auf der Vortreppe gesessen hatte, meine Großmutter, ein Kind, hier, genau an diesem Fleck, wo das Haus einst gestanden hatte, jetzt nur mehr manifestiert durch eine Lücke in einer numerischen Folge. Ich stand eine ganze Weile da, betrachtete die Häuser und die Größe der Grundstücke, außerstande zu erklären, wie eine Adresse verschwunden sein konnte, die neueren Häuser waren nicht größer, nicht breiter als die älteren es gewesen waren, sie hätten nicht so viel zusätzlichen Platz in Anspruch genommen, um ein ganzes Grundstück einfach verschwinden zu lassen, dachte ich und ging die Straße hinunter und bog an der Ecke ab, an der meine Mutter ihre ganze Kindheit hindurch jeden Tag abgebogen war auf dem Weg zur Grundschule gegenüber dem Park, wo die wilden Jungs auf Pappkartons die großen Granitsteine hinunterrutschten und hohe Bäume aus den Spalten dazwischen wuchsen, jetzt zugemüllt mit alten Zeitungen und zerdrückten Bierdosen und im Unterholz verstreuten kleinen Haufen gebrauchter Spritzen.

Literadio 2

Literadio 3

me Leipzig booth

In the booth of Literaturverlag Drochl, Leipziger Buchmesse, March 15, 2018

 

 

taz article

 

Die Gegenstände werden das Ich überdauern, „nichts ist so ephemer wie ich selbst“, weiß die Erzählerin, die ihre Ambivalenzen, ihre „Schwierigkeit mit dem Präsens“ zum Ausgangspunkt ihrer Suche macht und sich im Schreiben mit ihrem Leben verbündet. Sie muss in Gedanken nur eine Schublade des alten Küchenschranks auf Staten Island öffnen oder die italienischen Lesefibeln vor sich sehen, oder sich daran erinnern, wie sie „in diesem riesigen Königreich unserer Kindheit“ für den Bruder „wissenschaftliche Tatsachen“ über das Universum erfand, und es ist, als würden die Figuren sich in Bewegung setzen, als könnten sie der Erzählerin sogar ins Wort fallen, so lebendig werden sie im Bild dieser Sprache.

Das ist hohe Kunst und beweist den Reichtum dieses Buchs, dem es gelingt, sich von allen Belangen der Selbstbehauptung zu lösen und einen Raum zu schaffen, in dem man als Leser tatsächlich den Eindruck hat, genauer denken, deutlicher sehen zu können. Empfindsamer zu sein.

— Elisabeth Wagner in der taz, Wochenendausgabe, 10. Februar 2018

 

“Everything I see around me, everything I touch: the chair I am sitting in, the paper I am writing this on, none of it is as ephemeral as I.” The narrator of Wie viele Tage takes her ambivalence, her “difficulty with the present tense” as the departure point of a quest in which writing becomes a means of merging with life. In her mind, she need only open a drawer in the old kitchen cabinet on Staten Island or imagine the Italian language primers from school or remember how, “in this vast empire of our childhood,” she invented “scientific facts” about the universe for her brother, and already the figures are set into motion, and it’s as though they could interrupt the narrator at any moment—that’s how alive they become in this writing’s imagery. This is a high art, and it testifies to the richness of a book that succeeds in freeing itself from any concerns of self-assertion to create a space in which the reader indeed begins to think more precisely, see more clearly—and become more receptive and sentient.”

Elisabeth Wagner in the taz, weekend issue, February 10–11, 2018

Bildschirmfoto 2017-05-25 um 11.34.30

Excerpt from my essay, (Re)Reading Don DeLillo in Dark Times:

“Are we more similar to animals than we care to admit, caught in vast murmurations and blind herds that obey some ancient code humming in our DNA? Or have we merely gotten used to believing our own stories? I mean not only to celebrate the work of one of our most influential, prescient, brooding, analytical minds but to comb it for clues, metaphors, a vocabulary and a language that can somehow explain us to ourselves. What can literary fiction achieve in a culture that has itself surrendered to fiction? That is more comfortable with make-believe than with doing the tedious work of trying to figure out why things are the way they are? Americans are addicted to fun—it’s what makes the U.S. so charismatic, and so good at popular culture, and enviable in so many ways, but it’s at the heart of a breakdown in discourse and a disassociation from reality that has us, literally, making things up as we go along. Americans want to be fired up, engaged emotionally—they want to get teary-eyed, earnestly confess, make solemn avowals. Does our literature help us to dig deeper, does it peel away the lies we tell ourselves, or does it perpetuate the problem through a self-celebration and nostalgia that reinforce the myths we’ve created about ourselves?”

Watch the full panel here:

 

The conference title, “The Body Artist,” refers not specifically to DeLillo’s 2001 novel, but to DeLillo himself, an artist who has spent a career dramatizing personal encounters with impersonal systems, the human body facing the inhuman machine. The event will feature panels and presentations predominantly by literary artists, fiction writers thinking about this fiction writer’s work—what it is, what it has meant, and what it means now.

Panelists:
— Scott Cheshire, “Don DeLillo’s Gods: A Taxonomy”
— Tyler Malone, “‘You Have Not Convinced Me’: David Markson, Don DeLillo, and the Narcissism of Minor Difference”
— Fred Gardaphe, “Masquerade Americana: Don DeLillo’s ‘Italianitá’ in a Minor Key”
— Andrea Scrima: “(Re)reading Don DeLillo in Dark Times”

The conference will consider not only DeLillo’s themes—paranoia, global terrorism, underground conspiracies, consumerism, digital technology, media, gender, and race—but also his craft, humor, language, style, spirituality and Catholicism, Italian-American identity, and his representations of New York, the city in which the conference will take place.

The New School | http://newschool.edu

Location: The Auditorium, Alvin Johnson/J.M. Kaplan Hall
66 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10011
Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 9:00 am to 4:30 pm

Is there a way to live between the lines, to suspend time? You would remain in Manhattan with your wife and son, I’d stay in Berlin, but there could be a sliver of space we’d inhabit together, a shelf where you’d place the things you still have and I’d place mine between them, like the small objects in tarnished teapots and carved wooden boxes we used to give each other as presents: the dried end of a vine branch tapering to a perfect spiral; a thin slice of sedimentary rock interlaced with transparent hues of violet, perfect haikus in lieu of the more sentimental declarations we shied away from. I still have a collection of bellybutton lint, numerous tiny balls I imagine to be baby blue from a sweater I gave you, a color that matched your eyes. When I check to see, I discover they’re all in shades of gray with the exception of two, which are dark pink.

I remember the blisters on each of your knuckles from stretching canvases for that elderly painter—what was his name?—who was finally, towards the end of his life, having a major exhibition of his work. I remember standing on the sidewalk on Westervelt Avenue after the building almost burned down, the dogs on leashes and the cat on my shoulder, or on yours, and I was suddenly infused with a sense of joy and limitless potential—the joy of sheer survival, no doubt, because I can still see you heating up a can of Campbell’s Mushroom Soup and stirring in pepper and maybe chives and all at once the kitchen filling up with white smoke, it took a moment to understand that the soup and the smoke were entirely unconnected, and we had just enough time to grab the animals and run, a matter of seconds—and I said if we can’t live here anymore, let’s move to Europe. I remember a night you didn’t come home; I stayed up late working on something and cut myself with an X-acto blade and had to go to the hospital for stitches, and when I returned early the next morning you still weren’t there, you hadn’t had a chance to be alarmed by the drips in the sink, by the bloody gauze, I had nearly cut off my thumb by mistake and left behind what looked like a crime scene, the kind of thing we do when we need to externalize something, to make a thing obvious that we already know inside, but you hadn’t had a chance to see it and feel sorry. These were the things we never talked about.

I remember sitting in a bathing suit on a craggy shore in the Peloponnese, turning my head and suddenly seeing you instead of the man beside me, my first real relationship seven years after I’d left. It was as close to a hallucination as I’ve ever experienced.

The first time I came back to New York I walked around the old neighborhood like a Rumpelstiltskin; I stood across the street from that pub—was it Third Avenue?—where you’d rented a studio on the second floor from a man who was a friend, but who’d charged us fifty bucks to drive a few paintings downtown, a man who let us do all the carrying, whose jaw shifted as his expression turned smug and he decided to rob us, but you no longer lived in our apartment and you no longer worked in that studio, you’d packed my things into boxes and taken our cats and moved to the west side, and it was my first experience with returning to a former life and finding the vital parts missing, like being back from the dead and discovering oneself invisible.

What was possible, you ask? In the end, is it only what we choose to do? Would I have stayed, would I have come back if you’d asked me to—back in the time before cell phones and email, Facebook and Twitter, the distance unimaginable by today’s standards and a telephone call to London far too expensive. I still have them somewhere: letters and postcards and a photo of you with a bandaged thumb, an odd parallel, now that I think of it.

These are the objects I choose to put on the shelf today: a baseball you kept in a box of old stuff; a sepia drawing your brother had made. An old Polaroid of a sweet kid with a sideways grin, leaning on the arm of a chair next to a handsome and valiant hound dog named Red, the picture you sent me a duplicate of after I’d come across it in a box of old photographs. And a faded green canvas bag among the tools in my studio, the bag you carried your laundry in even before I knew you.

An email notification—is it a coincidence that you’ve begun following my blog?

What can I tell you, now that I know you’re here? You were young, as sure of your brushstroke as a lean boy hungry for experience can be, and I’d loved you for so long already, since the first time I saw you in P.’s class. Did I never tell you that? I see us standing on a corner on Second Avenue, the sun so bright it blinded me, the fiercest squint serving only to make my eyes tear. I pressed my face into you, wishing I could become small enough to fit in your pocket, to stay with you and never leave your side again, even if I was only headed to the studio. That’s how I was back then, licking my wounds as my mind curled increasingly inward, and yet just as cocky as you, just as certain.

I see us on a downtown train, striking up a conversation for the first time, our heads resting on our arms as we clutched the bars overhead, swinging slightly with the movement. I didn’t think to tell you I had to change at Brooklyn Bridge. When the conductor announced the station, I jumped off the train and looked back and laughed at your consternation. I leaned in and gave you a quick kiss, and when the subway doors closed, you stared at me through the glass, looking almost annoyed. I smiled, and then I swiveled around and sauntered away, just long enough until I was out of view. I kissed him! I thought as I skipped across the platform to catch the local. I made sure to ignore you after that, just long enough for you to begin following me around. This is one of the moments that surfaces in my mind when I think of you.

Another: we are walking in Central Park, me in a pleated burgundy skirt I wore for a job interview, you in your pea coat with the collar turned up. The side of your face, the long neck and slightly protruding lower lip was an image I drew again and again after you left me that first time. You didn’t want me anymore, but it always takes me some time to realize these things and it took me some time that day as well, trying to catch up with your long-legged gait, trying to tell you what it felt like looking for a job somewhere on Wall Street, a former math wiz turned art school dropout—I wasn’t yet nineteen, but already the first sense of a decision’s irreversibility had instilled itself, of life being a board game in which you could miss your turn and wind up too far behind.

I showed you an abstract painting I’d made, and I see your mouth pucker in scorn. You asked if it was about anything, if I had any ideas; evidently, you considered me capable of engaging in meaningless activity. I’d been the class genius, had never been exposed to that kind of thing before, the way dudes think that girls are somehow less smart. As always, it took some time for this to sink in.

These are the things I see; that, and how innocent we were.

I see us at P.’s, cat-sitting, living in one of the tin-ceilinged lofts we’d missed by a decade, we whose lot it was to gentrify the roach-infested, rat poison-reeking tenements of the East Village. The Grand Street pediment of the Bowery Savings Bank, its reclining classical figures and domesticated lions: this is what we saw from the windows as we lay in bed, the female figure holding a mirror, the male a hammer: it was everywhere, of course, and I was only beginning to understand.

I see us in our apartment on Ninth Street, after we’d already been living together for several years: I tell you that I might take the apartment upstairs, and I see your eyes moisten, see how this stings you. It was one of the few times I became aware that you loved me.

And later, how many years later, P. drooling over his dinner, but as sharp as ever, as ornery and stubborn as ever. I was drained of emotion; I’d begun mourning him months before, when the illness hadn’t yet devoured his head, the tumors hadn’t yet begun to distort his face. Later, after we’d put everyone in a taxi, you walked me downtown, and I could have talked with you all night if I hadn’t been exhausted from lack of sleep. You brought me to the Neuhaus installation at Times Square, where we stood above a subway grate enveloped in a space of sound that initially seemed mechanical, plausible, but gradually induced a subtle disjunction between sight and sound that was sufficient to suspend time and elevate perception, render the reality around us cinematic. Later, further downtown, you told me you’d Googled me, tracked down my address and seen the semicircle of flagstones in front of our building from above. I was moved beyond words to learn that I continue to live on in your mind.

P. was the only father you’d ever known. When we gathered at the Grand Street loft one last time for Thanksgiving, he was still contrary enough to reprimand my son, who hadn’t been doing anything wrong besides wander a bit too close to the paintings. The tipsy joy I felt after closing the door to the tiny loo, the time-travel voodoo only physical surroundings can induce, when paint on a pressed tin wall and the crunchy pull of a ball chain hanging from a light bulb can transport you back to paradise. I’d forgotten how happy I was back then. But then, at the dinner table, there it was again, that sense of banishment from the magic circle: P. with his boys around him, speaking the P. language and not the least bit curious about my achievements. And I, after all these years, still needy enough to notice. I’d told this to you years before, after you came to my opening on Broadway; you said I shouldn’t pay it any mind, that P. was set in his ways, that there were certain things he’d never understand. I, who had been my father’s rightful son, but was a girl and hence had never been given that rite of passage; who had been born in a sadly Amazon-deficient world, a sorely Amazon-deficient time, felt the snub once again. These things are difficult to explain, but you, O fatherless friend, must surely understand. Later that evening, on our way to your studio nearby, where I saw that self-portrait of yours with the lines drawn on an orange ground—a painting you made when we were together, a painting I still love enough to steal—I turned around and saw that P. had made the journey downstairs after all, and the sight of him lugging a garbage bag to the corner filled me with grief as I stood there, overwhelmed by conflicting emotions and feeling foolish, a grown woman crying there in the middle of the Bowery.