A reader’s correspondence with Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee’s Here and Now: Letters (2008–2011).
I’ve mispronounced your name a thousand ways. I think I’m finally getting it right.
Yours I haven’t. Called you once about A Tomb for Anatole. More on that later, maybe. It strikes me that already I’ve made reference to myself twice, but perhaps that is fitting. Correspondence is ostensibly dialogue, an intimate interpersonal volley. Thing is, it often feels intra personal, like you’re not playing ball but just dribbling in your own court and then watching someone else do the same. Reviews are ostensibly in dialogue, responding to some other piece of work, or some other artist, and yet they’re always personal, even selfish. As is this. As is your book. Your letters are always a little more fan-maily than John’s, and your sign-offs more affectionate—“yours ever” or “hugs to you”. I write a lot of emails, in part because I’m curious to see the different ways I curate my life as per recipient. It feels like we’re getting a good glimpse of you, a good glimpse of John, but I think maybe I’m only getting a glimpse of the Paul that exists for John. And vice versa. I wonder what you and John want us to gain from seeing each of you as you are for the other.
See me dribbling,
A failed interview with the author of The Address Book, available now for the first time in English.
I thought Sophie Calle was blasting Van Morrison in her studio when I called for an interview. A few minutes later she told me to turn my music down. The hold-songs were a comically misread sign that the third party conference-call site was not in fact recording our conversation. We ultimately forfeited to the mechanical obstacles that foiled our attempts to start over. Had I understood the technology, had we had more time, had “Born to Run” not drowned out our brief interaction, I would have interviewed Sophie about The Address Bookher project from 1980 newly translated into English and published by Siglio Press.
The controversial project has attracted a sizable viewer/readership, but for those who aren’t familiar: it is a compilation of text and images that documents Sophie Calle’s encounters with the acquaintances listed in an address book she found on Rue des Martyrs. Before returning the book to its owner, known to us as Pierre D., Sophie photocopied its contents in order to build a portrait of a missing subject by contacting his contacts. Each documented encounter yields a new impression with a new valence; overlay them all and a figure may start to take shape. Toward the end Calle reflects, “The descriptions merge together. The picture gets more defined and exhausts itself at the same time.” Some examples: Paul B. characterizes Pierre as “a child forgotten in an airport;” Jacques O. remarks on his “well-mastered incongruity;” and Marianne B. describes him as “a cloud in trousers.” Other encounters yield nothing besides Calle’s reconsideration and doubt concerning her work. Pierre’s brother, a psychoanalyst, declined the invitation because the project was “too inquisitive.” The accompanying photos—a chair Pierre liked to sit in, his building’s peeling ceiling, the crotch of an informant—are equally inquisitive, and quietly illustrative.
Laura Walker re-arranges the OED’s furniture in her book of poems Follow-Haswed.
The most immediately appealing thing about Follow-Haswed is Laura Walker’s close reading and rewriting of a book that nobody really reads, and that nobody has really written. That said, we’re all intimately familiar with her source text; we quote it every day. Follow-Haswed is a collection of poems that rearrange the furniture within the room of a single entry in the OED’s F-H volume, creating new spaces through which these constricted vocabularies can move. Walker’s impressive refurbishing of each threadbare definition hinges on the liberties she’s able to take within the framework of her rules. An implicit linguistic kinship holds each poem together, allowing the poetry to freely roam and reorient the semantic web. Despite such formal innovation, Follow-Haswed respectably dodges the too-easy pitfall of a self-referential experiment or a monomaniacal interrogation of language. Ironically, innovative forms are too-often inhospitable to the very content that demonstrates the significance of their innovation by inhabiting it. This is especially pertinent with respect to conceptual writing, which constantly risks slouching into the unfortunate posture of the Gimmick. Walker’s poetry doesn’t. On the contrary, the writing can be narrative, slightly lyrical, and coherent in tenor. On top of that, constraints rarely operate as limitations. While each word is tethered to the modest vocabulary that details its use, the poetry strays toward a similar place; it takes on nautical tones, dwells within the vacancy of loss, and addresses the formally relevant idea of containment. Here’s a bit from “furlong”:
a brief space
a road our boundary
the land must be cast into another
a general trench
an equal influence
Wendy Lotterman on the twists of logic and the syntactical turns in Ernst Herbeck’s Everyone Has A Mouth.
The poems in Ernst Herbeck’s Everyone Has A Mouth, slalom down the border between sense and absurdity. The initial nursery-rhyme simplicity pulls you through a landscape of soft logic and distorted syntax, ending with a blow of mystification. It is difficult to impose a blueprint on these broken riddles, which is what makes them so kinetic. The space between a list of plain facts and the nonsense by which they are concluded may be crossed by an inexhaustible variety of bridges. Herbeck’s poem “Red” reads:
Red is the wine, red are the carnations.
Red is beautiful. red flowers and red.
Color itself is beautiful.
The red color is red.
Red is the flag, red the poppy.
Red are the lips and the mouth.
Red are the reality and the
Fall. Red are many Blue Leaves.
An almost sarcastically factual litany is followed by a gradual decay of sense and grammar. We are left with the enigmatic falsity “Red are many Blue Leaves.” The internal friction of this statement is different from that of a statement like “Red are Blue Leaves,” leaving you curious as to what accounts for one red leaf being red and another being blue. It is tempting to read any list poem as a staircase, each line one notch closer to the punch-line balanced on the top-step. Herbeck’s poetry is like this, and it isn’t. Each poem builds a platform on which his twists of language and grammatical games are performed. But there is no simple lock-in-key relationship between the facts and the fiction.
Photographer Gregory Crewdson and filmmaker Ben Shapiro discuss their new film Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters.
Ben Shapiro’s documentary Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounter challenges the brevity of Gregory Crewdson’s photographic encounters. The film situates each picture within the husk of Crewdson’s elaborate process, which has been described as “operatic” and likened to a film set. While films and operas unfold through time and sequence, Crewdson’s are frozen within the simplicity of a single moment. Their statement is no less potent, and their germination no less extraordinary. Each “moment” relies on the technical expertise of a sizable crew and the suspension of local goings-on. In this case it really does take a village, but these villages in northwestern Massachusetts have grown accustomed to Crewdson’s presence. The manifold interactions between the film’s subject and his subjects are yet another silent factor responsible for the depth of each brief encounter with Crewdson’s camera.Part 1: Gregory Crewdson
Wendy Lotterman Brief Encounters documents the evolution of your work across a long stretch of time. In many of the eerie domestic shots from your earlier series, Twilight, the figure takes up a considerable portion of the frame. In later photos, particularly those in Beneath the Roses, the figure becomes dwarfed, more remote, rendered in lesser detail. In your most recent work at Cinecittà, the figure has disappeared completely—instead we see the ghost town of a town that never really existed. Have you zoomed out as far as you can with respect to the figure, or is there something to follow?
Gregory Crewdson Wow, I never really thought about it that way. For sure, the earlier pictures from Twilight are more blatantly narrative, more extraordinary or spectacular.