The Surrender by Scott Esposito
Anomalous Press, 2016
How do we come to know the nature of our own desires? How do we give ourselves permission to do the things that everything in our world tells us are expressly forbidden?
The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman. It is a book that asks just what we mean when we say the word gender—what separates male from female, and how we gain access to those things that make us feel who we truly are. It is also a book about desire—how we come to know the true nature of our needs, and how we find the ways to fulfill them. In these three linked, genre-defying essays, Esposito chronicles his life-long dialogue with his desires, coming to know them better and better through the life-saving moments that came to him as though by grace: the films and stories, dreams and insights and kindnesses that have given him the courage and the understanding to delve deeper and deeper into this lifelong inquiry.
a scene from the launch event with Caille Milner at Green Apple Books on the Park in San Francisco, CA
“I am a huge fan of Scott Esposito’s The Surrender.” John Keene, author of Counternarratives
New York Observer Vulture’s 19 Engrossing Nonfiction Books to Read at the Beach This Summer
Esposito’s book, a ‘collection of facts’ chronicling his desire to become a woman, is as lovely as it is thoughtful, a serious inquiry into gender and identity that still manages a light touch. Weaving memoir with film reviews, philosophy, and literary criticism, Esposito takes you on his journey and in the process leaves you with a much better understanding of yourself.
The Surrender makes for an interesting double bill with So Sad Today. Although Esposito and Broder are very different writers, both are rigorous in their self-examination, and relentless in how they explore questions of the body and identity. In the case of The Surrender, Esposito’s subject is his complex relationship to gender; the result is a dense and powerful read.
“On the top of our to-read pile: Scott Esposito’s The Surrender. — BOMB magazine
“Fantastic. Luminous. Go buy it.” — Colin Dickey, author of Ghostland, Cranioklepty, and Afterlives of the Saints
“In a spirit of honest awakening to authentic expression that recalls Katherine Angel’s Unmastered: A Book On Desire, Most Difficult To Tell and Alyssa Harad’s Coming to My Senses: A Story of Perfume, Pleasure, and an Unlikely Bride, Scott Esposito powerfully shows readers of The Surrender that the path to soulful living begins with compassion for who we see in the mirror. An urgent, tender, and essential memoir that offers timely lessons and insight for everyone.” — Lauren Cerand, publicist, and one of Flavorwire’s 35 Writers Who Run the Literary Internet
“Esposito writes with nerve, honesty and passion about a long journey towards new freedom: ‘It is only when we lose the capacity to remember who we once were that we can say we have truly changed.’ Reading The Surrender, this realization becomes perfectly clear and obvious to the reader. These three brave, beautiful, and very personal essays on life, gender, fear, art, desire, and most of all longing, are like diamonds carved into the night. Stars.” — Naja Marie Aidt, author of Baboon and Rock, Paper, Scissors
“Scott Esposito’s The Surrender is a page-turner, moving and intellectually engaging, what Foucault refers to as ‘genealogy, an analysis of descent, . . . situated within the articulation of the body and history.’ Esposito’s chronicle of desire is also situated within Kim Hyesoon’s Princess Abandoned zone where ‘a child’s body is a soft lump, its gender indistinguishable,’ a ‘feminine space,’ where ‘the androcentrism of patriarchy breaks, the identity of all things breaks.’ The Surrender is not only an essential read for gender studies, but for anyone who must live with doubled identity, and this is many of us: immigrants, refugees, exiles, nomads, translators . . .” — Don Mee Choi, translator and author of Hardly War
“The Surrender takes you on a wildly compelling journey through consciousness, culture, and contemporary gender politics. Unafraid to question everything, including himself, Esposito’s narration unsettles us in the way literature must do.” — Caille Millner, author of the bestselling The Golden Road and honoree in The Best American Short Stories 2016
“Scott Esposito is one of the most perceptive critics now at work in the United States. In this slim volume, part literary essay, part memoir, part film study, and part ontological inquiry, he takes Flaubert’s emphasis on writing the other sex in literature to its grand and natural climax. For its daring, suppleness, and honesty, for its creative ease as much as for its intuitive precision, it will soon be difficult to ignore The Surrender in any serious discussion on gender or desire. In our deeply riven and misogynistic societies, this text should be essential reading for everyone. It is simply thrilling to watch a peculiarly refined sensibility redraw the contours of the possible.” — Aashish Kaul, author of A Dream of Horses and The Queen’s Play
“Riveting and educating. Meshed. Restrained. Esposito’s style is really something. Careful. As measured as the secrecy in the act.” — Anakana Schofield, author of the Giller Prize finalist Martin John
“Smart and sensitive, written with great lucidity, these essays combine acute art criticism with fearless self-examination, suggesting new ways to consider our relationships with culture.” — Juliet Jacques, author of Trans
“Scott Esposito is amazing. Understatement.” — Janice Lee, author of The Sky Isn’t Blue
“I read Scott Esposito’s The Surrender last night. It was really great and I recommend it to everyone.” — David Connerley Nahm, author of Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky
“The Surrender collects three linked essays that explore themes of genre and identity with honesty and clarity.” — David Gutowski, Largehearted Boy
the launch event at Diesel, a Bookstore in Oakland, CA
Interview on The Surrender at Entropy with Emma Ramadan, translator of Sphinx by Anne Garétta, an Oulipian genderless love story
“The matter of The Surrender is necessarily biographical, but even inasmuch as this is narrative-based, Esposito does not quite submit to that as a form. The text exists far more in the digressive temporality of Tristram Shandy or Austerlitz than a mainstream biographical memoir. Every book functions as the distillate of nonverbal cognitive fields into text. But the productivity of some books is predicated on that function. A book like The Surrender that is so much about the proper fit of a word scrim over an entire life of cognitive fields cannot avoid being an unrecognizable oversimplification when measured against the digressive and ephemeral intrusion of fleeting thoughts and stimuli that every instant consider who you are, what articulates your identity, what precipitates the thought itself. While such thoughts accrete, they form the identity, and are so voluminous, so recursive, and of such a fine grain as to be undetectable, but always accreting. All the same, if the only possible manifestation is something more like the twilit scrawl of an absent skater on a frozen pond, The Surrender is very effective.”
It is not simply a question of testing boundaries, of pushing limits—it is a matter of owning the truth, whatever that may be. This is the tension that underscores the entire work and pulls it together into one remarkable piece of memoir writing. It is this brazen act of bravery, more than any bold or anxious attempt to inhabit the dress and makings of a woman that drives The Surrender forward, giving it its power and continuity.
“The slowly softspoken prose, with its ebb and flow of emotional tides, is something I would be more likely to associate with music or poetry or a certain kind of literary theory. I was reminded less of Juliet Jacques’s Trans and more of Anohni’s (of Antony and the Johnsons) album I Am Bird Girl, or Barthes’s Discours amoureux.”
This is an incredibly sensitive, devastating and perceptive book. It is heartbreaking, beautiful, honest, gripping, brave, and observant. I can’t recommend this book enough.
flyer for the official launch event at AWP 2016 in Los Angeles, CA