Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

The hardest part of quitting [cigarettes] would be the loss of narrative function...
 
I am torn about this novel, as it's a perfectly-pitched first person story of a young poet on a fellowship in Spain.  Lerner's sentences are flawless.  He creates a diamond-sharp interior consciousness for his narrator, Adam, who is at once intellectually brilliant and social moronic, intensely perceptive and cruel, profound, petty, loathesome and compelling.

If I was a poet, I had become one because poetry, more intensely than any other practice, could not evade its anachronism and marginality and so constituted a kind of acknowledgment of my own preposterousness, admitting my bad faith in good faith, so to speak.

Could be sub-titled, A Self-Conscious Portrait of the Self-Conscious Artist as a Self-Conscious Young Man.  In Spain.  On Hash.

The prose is mesmerizing, and is all about distance from experience and the problem of language, and the problem of translation, and about the insecurities and indecisions of an artist, and all of this adds to a fairly astonishingly large achievement of poetic voice and diction.

But is this a confessional masked as an aesthetic treatise?  Will we ever know?  Does it even matter?  When I read this:  I opened my eyes a little more widely than normal, opened them to a very specific point, raising my eyebrows and also allowing my mouth to curl up into the implication of a smile.  I held this look steady once it had obtained, a look that communicated incredulity cut with familiarity, a boredom arrested only by a vaguely anthropological interest in my surroundings, a look that contained a dose of contempt I hoped could be read as political...

and then see the author's picture on the right, I become confused and it agitates my reading.


cowardice of your convictions

...that nothing was more American, whatever that means, then fleeing the American...


But my research had taught me that the tissue of contradictions that was my personality was itself, at best, a poem, where "poem" is understood as referring to a failure of language to be equal to the possibilities it figures;...





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