Skip to content

The Flamethrowers

I Volsci

In fiction, when someone is known only by the name of the place they came from, it’s often a sign that they will never be anything but an outsider wherever else they go. And that’s the case with the woman known only as Reno, the protagonist in Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers (Scribner’s 2013). The Flamethrowers is a thoroughly engaging and finely written, if utterly conventional, novel. It takes place in the 1970s at the Bonneville Salt Flats (the Utah location where world speed records are routinely made and broken), the New York City downtown art scene, and various locations in Italy. Reno is an aspiring artist and motorcycle aficionado who moves to New York City to take on the art world at more or less the very moment when money and power are starting to dictate the terms of New York’s increasingly vicious and competitive gallery scene. But in addition to hailing from faraway Nevada, Reno has two more strikes against her – she’s naive and she’s female – and she soon learns that the role she is expected to play is to compete for and sleep with the male artists. Read more

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely


Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (St. Paul: Graywolf, 2004) is a book-length prose poem filled with photographs and a few non-photographic images. It toggles between meditation and anger on a wide range of subjects, including death, cancer, depression (and anti-depressants), suicide, rape, 9/11, racism, history, politics, and literature, but the central trope is the ubiquitous television set. A repeated image of a static-filled television screen serves to separate the segments of the poem, signalling that Rankine is about to change the channel on us. The book’s epigraph from Aime Cesaire is an admonition to not be a spectator: “And most of all beware, even in thought, of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator,for life is not a spectacle, a sea of grief is not a proscenium, a man who wails is not a dancing bear…” In Rankine’s poem, the television is so much a symbol for the media, it’s simply the biggest source of bad news and despair. In one section, with the controversial vote count over the reelection of George W. Bush as the backdrop, Rankine writes: “I stop watching the news. I want to continue, watching, charting, and discussing the counts, the recounts, the hand counts, but I cannot. I lose hope.” Read more

BBC’s “A German Genius in Britain”


BBC producer Jessica Treen kindly let me listen to a preview of the upcoming BBC Radio 4 broadcast of “A German Genius in Britain.” It will be broadcast on May 29 at 11:30 (London time). After that, it will be available for one week on the BBC iPlayer. It should then be available for a full year on the BBC 4 website. The piece is thoroughly entertaining and manages to pack quite a lot about Sebald’s books and themes into a short 30-minute program. Sebald himself is heard, reading German and talking in English with KCRW’s Michael Silverblatt. Read more

Iain Sinclair Visits Sebald’s Britain


BBC Radio 4 is airing a 30-minute program on Thursday May 29 at 11:30 (London time). Fingers crossed, it will show up on the BBC’s online iPlayer before too long.

Here is the brief blurb from the BBC’s website: Read more

Searching for Sebald in Brooklyn, June 4-5, 2014

Katie Fleming Work in Progress

If you are near Brooklyn in early June, you might want to check out this event put on by the The Deconstructive Theatre Project.

Searching for Sebald at FiveMyles
558 St. Johns Place, Brooklyn
June 4 and 5
7:30 PM

Read more

“The Lovely Disorder” of Suzanne Doppelt


Doppelt and SwensenCole Swensen and Suzanne Doppelt

“You see an object better by looking at it sideways rather than straight on” [RRW]

Perhaps because she sees herself as both a poet and a photographer, Suzanne Doppelt’s books place words and photographs on equal footing. Neither one illustrates or explains the other, they rarely even seem to refer directly to the other. And yet the text and the images find a kind of harmony and balance that is probably impossible to describe. To date, Doppelt has only had two of her books translated from her original French into English: RING RANG WRONG (Burning Deck,  2006) and The Field Is Lethal (Counterpath, 2011). Both deal with the cosmos, nature, mysterious powers, and, at times, philosophical concepts, yet the “world” that one steps into upon reading Doppelt seems delicate.  Eveything is permeable. Doppelt’s work is densely referential and allusive – and decidedly elusive. It’s almost a kind of attention-deficit poetics, with objects, ideas, voices, places, references, and more making momentary appearances in the poems as if they were transitory particles being recorded in an accelerator. Read more

Sergio Chejfec’s Darkness

Chejfec Dark

I’ve read novels in which places disappear once the character, or protagonist, abandons them. This, which might be called one of the laws of art, can sometimes leave one profoundly uneasy, among other things because geography is never simply a backdrop; the movement of people through it… [The Dark]

I’ve just finished reading the three works of fiction by Segio Chejfec that have been translated into English and published by Open Letter in recent years: The Planets (originally published as Los Planetas in 1999, translated in 2012), The Dark (originally published as Boca de Lobo in 2000, translated in 2013),and My Two Worlds (originally published as Mis dos mundos in 2008, translated in 2011). Cumulatively, they delve into weighty issues like existence, loss, time, geography, memory, and identity. There are no plots, simply a series of males narrating their thoughts, observations, recollections, and theories. Read more

Literaturhaus Stuttgart to Celebrate Sebald’s 70th

Sebald at Literaturhaus Stuttgart

Sebald at Literaturhaus Stuttgart © Heiner Wittmann

The 70th anniversary of the birth of W.G. Sebald is coming up on May 18, 2014. To mark this date, the Literaturhaus in Stuttgart has planned an event for Tuesday May 20, featuring Sebald scholar Uwe Schütte. Schütte is scheduled to give a talk called “Das Land das man nur barfuß betreten darf: W.G. Sebalds Lyrik” (“the land one may only enter barefoot”), based on his recent study Figurationen. He will talk about the development of Sebald’s poetry from his first attempts at writing literary texts to the final micro-poems that were evolved just before his premature death. Florian Höllerer, who was the director of the Literaturhaus from its inception until the end of 2013, will serve as moderator for the evening. Tickets may be acquired at the website. Read more

Photographs as Disruptions

 Loss Library

The most compelling motive for including a photograph in a fiction is to discount it. There are forty-four plates in André Breton’s Nadja and not one of them clarifies a thing. The snaps from Koos Prinsloo’s family album seem more unreal, more obviously made up than his fictions. In Sebald, the images are cut down to size and drained of authority. They are always less than or more than illustrative; they do not live up to the text or they carry an excess that demands an explanation. Their purpose is less to define than to disrupt, to create ripples and falls in the beguiling flow of the prose. They are pebbles and weirs.

So writes Ivan Vladislavić in his book The Loss Library and Other Unfinished Stories (Seagull Books, 2012). It’s a fragment from his notebooks, written in 2003. Vladislavić is right. Photographs (and here, I imagine,we can safely substitute the term “images”) that are placed within a literary text – even those images that are essentially illustrative – disrupt our flow and force the reading brain to process, puzzle, recalibrate, accommodate. But don’t these terms also describe how we read most literary texts even thought they are purely textual? We all know texts in which every chapter, every paragraph, sometimes every sentence forces us to essentially rethink the entire book up to that point. In fact, I think it can be argued that one aspect of literature – perhaps especially of poetry – is that the text continually disrupts itself. So the real question, it seems to me, is whether images disrupt texts differently.  Read more

On Your Marker, Get Set, Go!

Marker Exhibition

It’s Chris Marker time in London. The exhibition “Chris Marker: A Grin Without a Cat” opens April 16, 2014 at the Whitechapel Gallery. I can’t imagine many better ways of spending time this spring than absorbing everything in this exhibition. Below is the exhibition description and program information from Whitechapel’s website.

Visionary French filmmaker Chris Marker (1921–2012) created vivid film-essays that lace realism with science fiction and lyricism with politics. Changing his name, declining to be photographed or interviewed, Marker was both enigma and legend. His influence extends across art, experimental film and mainstream cinema: his 1962 masterpiece La Jetée was the basis of Terry Gilliam’s 1995 Twelve Monkeys.

A photographer and director of 60 films, Marker was an inveterate traveller – his camera was his eye. His astonishing range of footage can encompass a temple in Tokyo devoted to cats to frozen flowers in a Siberian science station. Marker pictures our cultural rituals, ancient and modern – visiting a shrine, playing video games, protesting on the streets. He splices his images with found footage including fragments of movies, cartoons, ads and newsreels. Musical scores are interwoven with the noises of everyday life; haunting commentaries are narrated as if from the future, meditating on history and memory. ‘I compare dreaming to cinema and thinking to television’.

Darkness also underlines Marker’s portrayals of planetary cultures – memories of war ravaged France, the brutalities of colonialism, the failures of revolution. This exhibition takes us on a journey through the themes that absorbed him –the museum, travel, film, revolution and war. We also encounter portrayals of his friends including Christo, Roberto Matta and Andrei Tarkovsky. Great classics such as Statues Also Die (1953), Le Joli Mai (The Merry Month of May) (1962), A Grin Without a Cat (1977), Sans soleil (Sunless) (1982), Zapping Zone (Proposals for an Imaginary Television) (1990–94), alongside photographs and bookworks offer a sequence of multi-media environments saturated with sound and image. Read more


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,071 other followers