We are running down favorite reads of 2013 from Quarterly Conversation contributors. This list comes from Ian Dreiblatt, whose most recent contribution to The Quarterly Conversation is an essay cowritten with the novelist Peter Dimock on alternative models of publishing.
To read all entries in this series, click here.
1) Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand by Samuel Delany (Wesleyan)
My buddy Adam gave me this book as a present on January 1. It’s amazing & splendid, an assay into poststructuralism set against wonderfully imagined spacescapes. A posthuman contemplation of sex, race, power, and servitude, it’s also an adventure that infiltrated my dreams & a love story that broke my fucking heart in two. Also, it was published the same year as Neuromancer and, like that book, it completely predicts the emergence of the internet.
2) Cyrus by Anna Gurton-Wachter (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs)
“One day Miley Cyrus woke up with no mouth.” More like Gogol than Kafka, this long poem in prose proceeds from there, as Miley fills her mouth-hole with the lost eyeballs of the hapless, hangs out with her boyfriend Basquiat, and is courted by filmmaker Maya Deren. In Miley’s world, logos has become unfixed between speech and a new invention called writing, and so she decides to “humiliate the sun by living underground”—to exist outside the Cartesian two-step of masculinized “logic” & work instead to assimilate the “one colossal image” of reality as encountered. Also there’s a decent amount of pants-shitting, blind flying, and generally pleasurable mayhem. Read this.
3) George Anderson: Notes for a Love Song in Imperial Time by Peter Dimock (Dalkey Archive)
Anyone else feel kind of empty on the way home from 12 Years A Slave? This stunning novel (tho I think of it more as a long poem) knows why—because we Americans “lack a language adequate to the history we are living.” It is this language that George Anderson’s main character, a military apologist turned angel of history named Theo Fales, seeks to create, and he does it with a frantic, soldierly discipline that may be madness. Inspired by a uniquely American constellation of forces that includes the music of John Coltrane, an actual slave narrative, and the Bush administration’s legal “justification” of torture, George Anderson searches for a new national language in the fractured music of our late imperial discourse.
4) Adorno’s Noise by Carla Harryman (Essay)
Wildly aflower with cognitive polyphonies, Adorno’s Noise stages a series of insurgent doublings of other texts, tickling monolithic critical voices into heteroglossia and ultimately unveiling the discomfiting power relations that often shape theoretical discourse. Documents like a policy paper advising pro-Israel orators of potential talking points, a speech being given at a funeral, reminiscences of childhood perceptions of nationalism and family, and the work of other writers (especially Anaïs Nin and Kenzaburo Oe) are irradiated by subjectivities foreign to them, brought into surprising new relationships, and forced into aesthetic and political confrontation with the corpses they are often engineered to ignore. It is, as the Honorable Chester Cadaver once said, a little like having bees live in your head. In a great way.
5) Fog and Car by Eugene Lim (Ellipsis)
A lot of steam is wasted in literary criticism on parsing the opposition of “experimental” writing to “realism.” Fog And Car is profoundly both, and each in its best sense. It’s experimental in how the book, willful as water and superbly attentive, creates its own unfamiliar shape in response to the minute exigencies of language. At the same time, it produces a deep realism in its faithfulness to the feeling of being a person. He has the tempo, breath, & tonal sense of a great musician. I’m dying to read his second, The Strangers, just out from Black Square Editions.
6) Rouge by Kimberly Lyons (Instance)
Kim Lyons is one of America’s great poets, a fact that would be more widely known if not for the sky-sized modesty & generosity that mark both her language and her crucial human presence in the world of poetry. Built on a kinetic ethics of the actual, her poems investigate the psychic resonances that emerge between objects and people: “My eyes rolling in their twin ball bearings scan the part of the sky / That yields what is framed here in this room / That is spliced between the bulk of architecture / Halved by the fire escape’s iron stairs / That lead, hilariously, to an upper violet nothingness / With a darkened metallurgist’s grace and doodads to decorate the passage.” Nothingness here is also an example of the increasing role in her work of absences, canceled momentums, leafless vines, empty sleeves. I’m still in the process of re- and re-reading it, but I think Rouge, planted firmly in the “salted ground that is today,” may be her best book yet.
7) Paradise Was Typeset by Brian Teare (DoubleCross)
When I met up with DoubleCross editor and master bookmaker MC Hyland to get my copy of this, I eagerly asked her how much I owed her for it. It was the wrong question; the essay begins with a considered untangling of price from worth, and from there opens into a beautiful testament of micropublishing as deep listening, equally somatic and social, animated by “total faith in the possibility of embodying ethical and aesthetic ideals, even if they are, like paradise, only fleetingly material and frustratingly elusive.” It’s important to wonder what publishing is, & Paradise Was Typeset does. (Like Nathan Hauke & Kirsten Jorgenson’s Country Music, the other title I know of in DoubleCross’s lovely “Poetics of the Handmade” series, it’s priced at “$5 or trade.”)
8) The Antidote by Jackqueline Frost (Compline)
“Provoke me and I will study to deserve this antidote.” Waves of embodied articulation surge backward towards communality against the criminal inertias of language. The Antidote sparks with conversation and perceives a revolutionary horizon, preserving the joyful and painful problematics of the Occupy days. “Something happened to me in the streets of this city. I became intimated into a structure of trust, something like sudden love. A study in trouble’s organ book. Helicopters red against red polluted stars.” But faced with bodily incommensurability, with the rarity of spaces free from “domination’s devices, vaporous,” it becomes increasingly unclear whether the moment is a sunrise, sunset, or an “eclipse, suggesting a momentary but total compromise of the ordinarily irrevocable space of night.”
Just what it sounds like. People care so much what God thinks & often form opinions about it that cause them to act like total dicks. And experience is so multiple and disjointed that it seems surprising the idea of a single God would occur to us at all. This book (whose scholarship I’m totally unqualified to judge, but, y’know, seems alright to me) traces the origins of God as a literary character to well before the emergence of monotheism—we see him, in one scene, as proprietor of his own social club in Ugarit, having a threesome with two women, his “[hand] as long as the sea.” That is, of course, a particularly louche moment, but the book considers all sorts of fascinating stuff, like the veneration of Wisdom personified as a female deity to whom surviving Bible verses are addressed, centuries of subtle thought on the relationship between divine and human political power, and the poetics that ancient writers fashioned to instantiate those power relations.
10) murmur in the inventory by erica lewis (Shearsman)
This grew on me the more I read it. The lines are very resistant to closure, and as they accumulate a magnetism wells up between them. Curves are taken fast. An unspecified intensity seems to be powering the whole operation of language from some unspeakable without. “there was light and light / until it burns you” here, in a space ventriloquized by the tension between presence and absence, or “the great hot emptiness ahead” and “what you keep calling memory”. The poems pulse, a pulse that fragments of scene and sense ride into and out of existence: “i was the sea / in the house where the noise started / a thousand miles of it”. With orders collapsing in on themselves in continual reconfiguration (like “a body forever recomposing”) “to speak to where the echo is / we take the shape of the thing that moves us”
11) 154 Forties by Jackson Mac Low (Counterpath)
Oh my god this is just the greatest thing in the history of the world. I love this book so much. I can’t even talk about it.
Also, one last thing is that the year isn’t actually over! There are two more books I’m very excited to read before the year’s out. These are:
12) Supple Science: A Robert Kocik Primer by Robert Kocik (Compline)
13) Forensics of the Chamber by j/j hastain (Argos)
But that’s 13, which is maybe unlucky? So the last thing would be:
14) www.languagehat.com — a fucking great blog! I really think everyone who isn’t the worst will love it.