Writing and the Body reassure me of the fact that so long as there is a culture of readers, there will always be a place for the bricks-and-mortar bookstore, or perhaps the bricks-and-mortar used-book store. Writing and the Body was published in 1982 and has long since gone out of print, and I doubt I ever would have known of it, much less read it, if not for the fact that I serendipitously came upon it one day in Half-Price Books (where I in fact bought it for considerably less than half the list price). While it's true that Google Book has come a long way in making the Internet a place where great, lost books are discoverable, it still has nothing on a moderately sized used-book store stocked by bibliophiles." />

The End of Oulipo?

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Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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Interviews from Conversational Reading

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  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
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  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
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  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
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  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
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Kinetic Melody

Books like Gabriel Josipovici’s Writing and the Body reassure me of the fact that so long as there is a culture of readers, there will always be a place for the bricks-and-mortar bookstore, or perhaps the bricks-and-mortar used-book store. Writing and the Body was published in 1982 and has long since gone out of print, and I doubt I ever would have known of it, much less read it, if not for the fact that I serendipitously came upon it one day in Half-Price Books (where I in fact bought it for considerably less than half the list price). While it’s true that Google Book has come a long way in making the Internet a place where great, lost books are discoverable, it still has nothing on a moderately sized used-book store stocked by bibliophiles.

The four lectures-turned-essays collected in Writing and the Body are difficult to summarize; they are essays that embody writing as exploration, in other words essays clearly written by an author who pursues his line of inquiry with a true rigor and respect for nuance. They’re essays that would never diminish themselves by attempting to articulate anything so pat as a conclusion, instead constellating around certain inexpressible questions and ideas that they try to define by uncovering the borders of.

Insofar as they’re about any one thing, the essays are about what has been called “kinetic melody.” In the book’s final essay–on notes Kafka would scribble on slips of paper to communicate as he lay dying of tuberculosis and unable to speak–Josipovici takes up the relationship of thoughts to the actual physical act of writing (which has indeed changed quite a bit in the 30 years since he delivered this lecture). Josipovici writes that

at basis all writing is the metamorphosis of the mechanical movement of the hand into the infinite variety which constitutes letters, words, sentences.

And then he quotes the neuropsychologist Aleksandr R. Luria from the book The Man with a Shattered World (misattributed in the book as from The Man With the Shattered Skull) who wrote about “the case of a young soldier who had part of his brain shot away int he way and spent the next twenty-five years laboriously trying to put together the pieces of his shattered world.”

Josipovici goes on to write that

[the soldier's] extraordinary account of his attempts, beautifully edited and commented upon by Luria, show as does nothing else I know what a miracle human thought, memory, and language are, though we take them so much for granted. Especially interesting is Luria’s account of how Zasetsky was finally enabled to write when Luria persuaded him to stop worrying about the formation of individual letters, which was causing him terribly difficulty and anxiety, and instead to trust his pen, so to speak. “Kinetic melody” is how Luria described our normal habit of writing, and that beautiful phrase sums up a great deal of what I have been trying to say.

Kinetic melody is a wonderful phrase that connotes just what happens when we enter into these writing and reading states where it is possible to embody our thoughts on paper, or to recreate someone else’s embodied thoughts in our head. Josipovici’s book is a constantly intriguing meditation on the fact of communication via the written word, and many of the interesting consequences that arise from the performance of this act and the many artifacts it has left behind in our world.

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1 comment to Kinetic Melody

  • Just a note to this Scott: Writing & the Body was reissued in 1992 as part of “Text & Voice: Essays 1981-1991″ (which may also be out of print too), and Kinetic Melodies are discussed further in the 1996 Yale UP volume “Touch” in 1996.

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