Joshua Cohen

  • Notes from the Cave

    A FEW NIGHTS AGO, I WAS VISITED BY AN EMAIL. Back before the world gasped, my brother, the doctor, hardly ever wrote me anything beyond a “dinner Friday y/n,” and yet here he was, in the breathless thick of it, attaching a file of 7,241 words. I’d thought that he was far out in the boroughs intubating the sick or putting them through dialysis—and he was—but somehow he’d also found the time and adrenalized energy to put more language down on the screen than I, the ostensible writer, had managed to eke out in weeks, even months. The instructions that came at the top of the email explained, or

  • culture July 14, 2017

    Moving Kings

    Each move had its own logistics, each party to a move its own subterfuges. Because the customers would misrepresent their possessions on the online form, Ruth would have to call and followup: buildings vet prospective tenants, movers vet prospective loads.

    A pregnant couple transitioning from a single room situation to an extra room situation . . . a pair of grown siblings who’d already evacuated their geriatric parents into a nursing home from out of a classic 6 condo they were looting. . .

    The customers: they’d be leading the way in a taxi up front and the moving truck, a boxtruck or tractortrailer, would follow just behind—taking the transverse through the Park, crosstown. From where the sun rises on the Upper East, to where it sets on the Upper West. No matter who drove or rode, Yoav would be sitting bitch. In the middle.

    This was always

  • Front Lines

    THE HISTORIES by Herodotus of Halicarnassus, fifth century BCE, is the founding work of history written by anyone not a god. Its fourth book—subtitled Melpomene, after the muse of tragedy—gives an account of the Scythians, a martial confederation of nomadic Eurasian tribes that converged around the northern coasts of the Black and Caspian Seas, with hunting or just warring grounds stretching between today’s Balkans and Siberia.

    Herodotus relates that after three decades of battle, during which the Scythians vanquished Cimmeria (Crimea) and Media (northwestern Iran, southeastern Turkey), the

  • Porch Bearers

    “Listen, I’d rather not talk today. I want to go watch old tennis players be displaced by young tennis players and the crowd weep as they retire and then start cheering for the new cocky-bastard upstarts who have sent them to pasture. This I want to do today, and nothing else. I want a cool soda water in my hand and a hat on my head and to not be overweight myself watching the elderly depart. I can from this position think gently of my own death.”

    Though this is just one of the umpteen desires voiced by the two “codgers” who talk their ways through Padgett Powell’s wonderful sixth novel, You

  • Locked in the Funhouse

    When considering time travel, one thinks more often of the metaphysics involved in altering one’s own present condition than, for example, the terrors or joys of inadvertent incestuous sex. But these two concerns can be contorted into one, as if entwined in a tautological sixty-nine, in the problem known as the Daddy Paradox, which asks: What would happen if you ventured backward in time and killed your father-as-a-youth? Would you live? Would your story continue? For that matter, what would happen if you got pregnant by your father, or inseminated your mother? Would you, voilà, become your

  • culture August 23, 2011

    The Man in the High Castle

    March over to Europe to gawk at its churches and what are you told? The tour guides, the tour-guiding priests—they tell you that the greatest cathedrals are left ­unfinished, and do you know why? Don’t be afraid to raise a hand. The answer is ­because God’s work is unfinished—­because we are unfinished.

  • Doctor Zhivago (1957) by Boris Pasternak

    During the Second War, poet Boris Pasternak wrote prose about the First—about the Russian Revolution. Doctor Zhivago concerns Pasternak’s alter ego, physician-poet Yuri Zhivago: his youth and early marriage, abduction by the Red Partisans, and enduring love for “Lara,” Larissa Feodorovna. The novel, an Orthodox censer’s blend of mysticism and erotic kitsch, was a censor’s feast: It espoused no politics but that of the individual, which stance provoked the suspicion of the Soviet authorities. Their 1956 suppression turned the book into a legend, while in 1965 Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, with

  • Camera Obscura

    So I went to a party in Bushwick, Brooklyn, some weeks ago, the height of summer’s heat wave. Tao Lin was leaning against an air conditioner. I’d just been asked to review this book—his second novel, Richard Yates. I went over, told him I’d been asked, and offered him the opportunity to write the review himself, which I would submit under my own name. Bookforum would then publish the review, and a day or so later Lin would reveal the truth on his blog, etc.

    Lin said he’d think about it, then contacted me the next day to decline. Which proves he’s cannier than I’d thought.

    I told him that I’d

  • culture June 28, 2010

    Collected Fictions by Gordon Lish

    So here I am at midnight, sitting in a Barcalounger, reading the Collected Fictions of Gordon Lish while idly masturbating. Idly, that is, not idol-ly, because Lish is no god of mine so much as he is a lazy indulgence. And if what comes of this is merely tedium with the occasional spasm of delight, then so be it. Nearly all of these one hundred Collected Fictions are written in the first person—no other people exist for Lish—which will explain this guilty pleasure: me speaking as me, but imitating him.

    Perversion, awareness of language, a perverted awareness of language, brevity, comedy, stock

  • culture February 04, 2010

    The Abyss of Human Illusion by Gilbert Sorrentino

    Gilbert Sorrentino’s last novel, The Abyss of Human Illusion, perfects a technique a decade in the making. In 1997 a story called “Sample Writing Sample” presented literary anecdotes followed by extracurricular endnotes; in 2002 Little Casino, a novel of skewed beauty, featured similar episodes, these about Brooklyn Days—from Bay Ridge love to Coney Island lust—each followed by a brief paragraph of commentary. Abyss marks a return to endnotes, which isolate lines of body text to remark on them after the body itself has concluded.

    The anecdote provides the fiction, while the commentary provides