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Asterisks for Dead Astronauts

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At my author website, I've published an essay titled "Asterisks for Dead Astronauts". It is an exploration of reading, grief, poetry, the end of the world. It began as an essay about Jeff VanderMeer's recent novel Dead Astronauts and then ... sprawled.

The essay has a lot in common with my recent post here on Kate Zambreno's Drifts, and, indeed, the post was deliberately meant as a kind of companion piece. (It doesn't matter the order you read them in, but I do think they benefit from each other.) I'm slowly working toward a new book project called Asterisks. I don't know that the form, shared between the two pieces, will hold for a book-length work, but the general concerns are ones I'm continuing to explore, and the style feels right, and adaptable.

I wrote "Asterisks for Dead Astronauts" last fall, and it has gathered rejections from publishers since December. I'm tired of sending it out, and can't think of another publisher to…

Drifting

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Kate Zambreno's new book, Drifts: A Novel, was written before the novel coronavirus upended the world and forced us all into more limited lives. But it is a book that feels of this time. Not of this time in subject matter, though its questions about how we make meaning and art and life are certainly heightened now. Rather, the book feels of this time in its structure, in its commitment to shards and fragments. 
(Now, as a Nobel laureate once said, everything is broken.)
Zambreno has made something of a career of fragmentation. A glance at her books might suggest monotonous similarity, all those unindented paragraphs separated by blank space. There are similarities, too, across the characters and voices. But each book is quite distinct. Each has a different focus, and they often have a different emotional core, a different sense of the problems or questions that inspired them. Like Jean Rhys, a writer clearly important to her, Zambreno writes books that often feel diaristic, memoiri…

Eight Hours Don't Make a Day

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For a long time, I let the Blu-ray discs of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1972 mini-series Eight Hours Don't Make a Day (Acht Stunden sind kein Tag) sit on the shelf. Watching them would mean I had very little left of Fassbinder's extensive body of work to see for the first time — mostly just a couple of TV films that have rarely, if ever, made it to home video anywhere. Everything else, I've seen at least once. It's been a quest and an obsession for more than a decade. Certainly, there are many pieces of Fassbinder's oeuvre that I will re-explore throughout my life, but the pleasure of first discovery has come close to an end. So the discs sat there, frequently glanced at, the case opened, the booklet read and re-read, but no more.
And now here we are in the midst of the new corona virus, isolating at home. What better time to watch 495 minutes of Fassbinder? And so I did, and it was glorious.
Eight Hours is unique among Fassbinder's work in being truly comic: …

Little Bunches of Flowers

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"What was happening was out of all proportion to our faculties for knowing, thinking, and checking up. The circumstances under which ordinary British people lived were preposterous — so preposterous that, in a dull way, they simplified themselves. And all the time we knew that compared with those on the Continent we in Britain could not be said to suffer. Foreign faces about the London streets had personal pain and impersonal history sealed up behind the eyes. All this pressure drove egotism underground, or made it whiten like grass under a stone. And self-expression in small ways stopped — the small ways had been so very small that we had not realized how much they amounted to. Planning fun, going places, choosing and buying things, dressing yourself up, and so on. All that stopped. You used to know what you were like from the things you liked, and chose. Now there was not what you liked, and you did not choose. Any little remaining choices and pleasures shot into new proportion…

"After the End of the End of the World"

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My story "After the End of the End of the World" from the Fall 2019 issue of Outlook Springs is now available online.
To call this a "story" as in "short story" as in "work of fiction" is not entirely accurate. It's much more of an essay about a novel I spent more than a decade, off and on, trying to write. I ended up enjoying writing this story far more than I ever enjoyed working on the novel.
Here's how it begins:
She was born to a father who wanted to take his anger out on the world, and in every story there is to tell about her, she escaped him, and the consequences were terrible, and she ends somewhere cold, somewhere north, on a glacier perhaps, a frozen place in an ever-warming world.

It is not too much to say that her father destroyed her life. Who is to blame, though, for destruction? Who is to blame for life?

I return always to the moment where she finds out what happened. Or, more accurately, I return to the moments before, then t…

A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor

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While canonical literary history has generally told the story of 20th Century British fiction as the story of men, with some exemplary women here and there, we have enough distance now to see that while the men were certainly the grabbers of headlines and awards, their canonicity was less a matter of merit than of their control of the culture industry. The men ate up all the air in the rooms of litchat. Meanwhile, by and large it was women who wrote the fiction that has survived the years the best, and which remains most readable and interesting today. This is especially true around midcentury, where we can speak of Rebecca West (1892-1983), Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978), Naomi Mitchison (1897-1999), Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973), Anna Kavan (1901-1968), Stevie Smith (1902-1971 [best known as a poet, but author of 3 interesting novels]), Leonora Carrington (1917-2011), Muriel Spark (1918-2006), Iris Murdoch (1919-1999), Doris Lessing (1919-2013) — and many others, both well-known …

Wild Nights with Emily

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A few years ago, I declared a movie about Emily Dickinson, A Quiet Passion, to be "one of the worst movies I've ever seen". It remains so.

Madeleine Olnek's Wild Nights with Emily is everything A Quiet Passion is not: lively, irreverent, joyfully artificial, poetic without being "Poetic", exuberantly cinematic, intentionally funny, and, in the end, quite moving. And while it is occasionally anachronistic, frequently campy, definitely uninterested in nuanced (or balanced) (or even fair) portraits of historical figures, and sometimes just flat-out bonkers, it's also a bit more accurate to Dickinson's actual life — and vastly more accurate to her legacy — than A Quiet Passion was.

But Wild Nights with Emily is more than a biopic. It's a movie about literary history, about how stories of writers (and artists of all sorts) get told and received. It says that even with truths in plain sight, most people prefer legends, because legends are soothing an…

Poetry in the Streets

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Sunday, February 9 is J.M. Coetzee's 80th birthday. I have written about Coetzee frequently — you'll find plenty here at this site (including one of the oldest posts: 2003's "Genre, Imagination, and J.M. Coetzee", written by a callow youth), as well as in my new book Modernist Crisis and the Pedagogy of Form: Woolf, Delany, and Coetzee at the Limits of Fiction. There are already various tributes being published; one I particularly enjoyed was Angelo Frick's for the Mail & Guardian, as Frick was once Coetzee's student, and writes well about Coetzee as a teacher and the value of studying literature.

At this moment, trapped in New Hampshire a few days before the Democratic primary, feeling deluged by desultory politics, I keep thinking back to some passages in Coetzee's Summertime, a book about a character named John Coetzee, a writer with a life story somewhat like his own, a writer who is dead and whose friends and acquaintances are being intervie…

Modernist Crisis and the Pedagogy of Form

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My new book Modernist Crisis and the Pedagogy of Form: Woolf, Delany, and Coetzee at the Limits of Fiction is now available from Bloomsbury Academic.

I don't mind if you don't buy it. The retail price is absurd. This hardcover is aimed at the academic library market, even though academic libraries (at least the ones I know) have shrinking book budgets. I've been told that in 12-18 months, a less expensive paperback will be released (though by "less expensive", something in the range of $40 is probably what we can expect — a price higher than the average trade hardcover). There is an ebook edition, but it's currently going for $99 at Amazon; Bloomsbury will sell you an ePub or PDF for $79.20. Those prices for an ebook are not ones anybody I've ever met would pay, and indicate a publisher that doesn't want people to buy ebooks.

I don't point out the absurd prices because I am mad at Bloomsbury. I've had an excellent experience with them, and ev…