If you’re in NYC on May 13, come celebrate Sarah Schulman’s novel Empathy, our April book club pick, with the author and Barbara Browning, who’s also the author of two Emily Books picks. We’re also thrilled to be cohosting the event with literary event crowdfunding resource Togather, which is buying everyone’s first drink (Thanks, Togather!)
By posing a big, unanswerable question we hope to spark a conversation that will leave everyone with more questions. We’re also excited to host a conversation between two novelists who, in very different ways, dazzle and tantalize readers and provoke lingering thoughts about identity.
We hope to see you there, and if you can’t make it, we’ll catch you up afterwards right here!
Mark your calendars!
I wanted the characters to be willing to casually say “fuck” and “omg” on the page of a book not to get a rise but because this is how we really speak. I wanted to read about academics doing something else (having affairs, writing dirty emails, browsing YouTube) to avoid doing the work they’re supposed to be doing. Like so many of us do. Like you might be doing now.
Last night I went to see Barbara Browning, Kate Zambreno and Matthias Viegener read and converse at McNally Jackson. Barbara read the part from I’m Trying To Reach You where the narrator describes John Cage and Merce Cunningham’s relationship and Cage’s death, and also Merce Cunningham’s relationship with one of his longtime dancers and his compassion towards her when it was time for her to stop dancing. The passage ends with the words “People often know when they don’t say enough.” Barbara cried a little bit and it was very moving.
After everyone read they had a conversation that began with a suggestion that they start out by talking about “form and formlessness” in their work. Uh oh. But the conversation, though super duper formless, wasn’t boring. I did have just one moment of writhing in my seat, though, and this was when they talked briefly about “bloggy writing.” This started to be an interesting conversation but was curtailed somehow. The panelists talked about the affectations of bloggy writing they find irritating: faux-chattiness, “Hey guys,” phony intimacy. Barbara and Kate said they liked “bloggish” writing but Kate said she hated the words bloggy, blog. All the panelists praised the merits of compression, which Matthias funnily misheard at one point as “confession.” (I’m sorry if I’m misstating any of this or compressing it too much, btw, but I have ten minutes to write this before I leave for work.)
ISN’T BLOGGING A FORM OF PERFORMANCE? I wanted to shout, but it wasn’t Q&A time yet. CAN BLOGGING BE A FORM OF DURATIONAL PERFORMANCE ART? ISN’T ONE OF THE WEIRDEST AND COOLEST THINGS ABOUT BEING ALIVE RIGHT NOW HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE USING WORDS AND IMAGES TO PERFORM AN IDENTITY ONLINE? ISN’T THERE A REAL INTIMACY TRAPPED IN FAKE INTIMACY THAT IS SOMETIMES MORE INTERESTING THAN OVERT INTIMACY?
But even I know that it is rude to ask yes/no questions/non-questions during a q&a so I didn’t do this. I’d like this panel to reconvene and discuss only my pet themes, please.
A scene from The Correspondence Artist that I particularly appreciated because it is very funny, and because it reminded me of the scene in Terry Castle’s memoir where she is miserable at a dinner party where everyone is extremely famous, and because I have a feeling — an unconfirmed feeling — that everyone who lives in New York long enough eventually finds himself in some analogous situation. Of course, because of the nature of The Correspondence Artist, this itself is an analogue of a similar situation that Browning found herself in with her real-life paramour. (Probably.)
The Correspondence Artist is our January pick, incidentally!
“Binh and Matthew Barney exchanged some kind of special, complicated handshake.”
I was really energized and wowed by Emily Gould and Ruth Curry’s curation of their ebook venture Emily Books– my favorite types of novels, the ones that cannot be categorized, a curious blend of fiction and nonfiction — like the bonkers and amazing Making Scenes by the pseudonymous Adrienne Eisen; also I’m Trying to Reach You, Barbara Browning’s multimedia noirish conspiracy set in the world of performance theory published by the always amazing Two Dollar Radio; and Tamara Faith Berger’s brilliant and philosophical erotic novel, Maidenhead, put out by Toronto’s Coach House. Emily Books also featured my good friend Suzanne Scanlon’s Promising Young Women, published by Danielle Dutton’s exciting Dorothy Project, a series of fragmented, poetic portraits of girls in a psych ward, pieces marked by Suzanne’s really gorgeous, wry, erudite voice.
I have a lot of empathy for stalkers. We all tend to use the term with irony now, because it’s become so easy to access information about people, or even contact them, we all do it more than we used to. It can be creepy of course, but can also indicate a kind of care.
The Internet works like the subconscious - I’m sure somebody’s said that already, it’s so obvious, I just can’t think who it would have been. The point is, this is how dreamwork works: you wake up and think, “Why the hell did I dream that my 2nd grade teacher was masturbating my dental hygienist?” If you were in analysis, you’d probably be able to figure it out if you really wanted to, just like you could probably eventually figure out why YouTube thinks some SpongeBob SquarePants video is related to Natalya Makarova dancing the dying swan. I do like to understand some of the connections, and for others to remain mysterious. This is how I feel about my subconscious as well. And I never really find it a waste of time. If you think about it, you always find something out. Gray seems to be wasting a lot of time, but in his quiet way, he’s figuring out how to deal with the fact that the people we love die. I really don’t think that’s a waste of time. Also, for the record, I really don’t think looking at art (MJ, Pina, Merce) over and over and over, trying to understand what it’s trying to tell you, is a waste of time. I think it may be the most meaningful thing we do. I tell my graduate students this all the time. Don’t let anybody make you feel bad about this.
looking at art over and over = don’t let anybody make you feel bad
watching a cat video over and over = well, it depends
I noticed that a woman on Goodreads said something like, “I was reading along in the beginning thinking, okay, a woman wrote this, there’s her picture, she’s a white lady, the narrator’s a white lady. And then suddenly she says something and you realize she’s a he. And then a few pages later you realize he’s ‘brown.’ I think the author could have been a little more up front about this.” :) It made me happy because in fact I thought everybody would pick the book up, read the back cover, and know they were dealing with a woman writer speaking through a male narrator. Which is a drag, actually, because if you didn’t know the author was a woman, you’d probably assume that an unmarked first-person narrator was a man, but if you knew she was a woman you’d assume her narrator was too. And if you didn’t know the race of the author, you’d probably assume the narrator was white. That’s pretty insidious, of course - it’s the way sexism and racism work. I’m not saying this woman on Goodreads was racist or sexist, I’m saying the fact that we make these assumptions signals that we live in a world that presumes that an unmarked voice is white and male, and that women and people of color will generally be writing from a limited perspective. I guess that’s obvious. But what I was saying about this comment was that it made me realize something else about ebooks - because I can only assume she read it as an ebook if she didn’t get the back jacket copy that explains who’s narrating. I love books, print books, and my own optimal experience of reading this book would be in print, with short breaks to periodically check out the Internet connections that the narrator’s making. But I do think that decontextualization is an interesting side-effect of the ebook…
The Soul selects her own Society —”
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
“Music that boldly and aggressively laid out what the singer wanted, loved, hated — as good rock ’n’...”
“Male celebrities tend to identify with their maskmaking, to see it as creative and—more or less—to...”
“Watching men groove on Janis, I began to appreciate the resentment many black people feel toward...”
“No matter how dispassionate or large a vision of the world a woman formulates, whenever it includes...”