Wayne Koestenbaum

  • Inventive Fiction

    The book I most want to celebrate for its formal innovations and its gorgeous weirdness is the Austrian poet Friederike Mayröcker’s torrential novel brütt, or The Sighing Gardens (translated by Roslyn Theobald, 2008). I can’t really call it a novel. It’s a sequence of rapid-fire love-struck cabalettas, strung together with minimal punctuation (just comma, colon, comma), in the ranting, cloacal mode of Thomas Bernhard. Pierre Guyotat’s Eden Eden Eden may be more obscene, but it is not more relentlessly concentrated than Mayröcker’s brütt, a transcript of reverie as microscopically devoted to

  • The Pleasure of the Text

    In a somber essay I wrote in 1989 and haven’t reread in twenty-five years, a piece whose heavyhearted title was “Speaking in the Shadow of AIDS,” I concluded: “The motive behind this brief inquiry into AIDS and language has been an attempt, perhaps immodest, to mold words into something stainless. AIDS has made me watch my speech, as if my words were a second, more easily monitored body, less liable than the first to the whimsy of a virus. . . . Bodies have always wanted only one thing, to be aimless: or so I say, knowing that bodies, and always, and aimless, are among the most seductive, and

  • culture September 11, 2013

    Matias Viegener's 2500 Random Things About Me Too

    2500 Random Things About Me Too, originally composed on Facebook, consists of 100 lists, 25 supposedly random items in each bouquet; “random” is a term that Viegener gently interrogates during the course of this autobiographical recitation, which shuns the dungeon of “memoir,” a zone deemed sentimental because of its jejune sequentiality.

  • The Prince of Parataxis

    Parataxis is Édouard Levé’s best friend. Parataxis—also John Ashbery’s best friend—concerns the placement, side by side, of two sentences whose meanings don’t transparently connect. Parataxis, however, as concept, has leached its glories onto the landscape at large; any reader of contemporary culture is contaminated by paratactic energies, a stylistic phenomenon that Levé defends in his penultimate book, a work of unrepentantly naked yet stylistically errant autobiography, Autoportrait. He writes: “Raymond Poulidor is one of the least sexy names I know. I like salad mainly for the crunch and

  • Party of None

    Here’s how I read Mallarmé’s prose, in Barbara Johnson’s lustrous new English translation: painfully, dutifully, passionately, a sentence at a time, while holding the French original in my other hand, so I can compare her sentence with his sentence, and so I can measure as accurately as possible each crevice where an adjective meets a noun, a comma meets a dependent clause.

    Mallarmé published Divagations (a collection of essays and other highly compact prose implosions) in 1897 and died the following year. English-speaking aficio­nados of Symbolist rarities have relied on Mary Ann Caws’s

  • DEAD CALM

    Roberto Bolaño died (of liver failure) in 2003 at the age of fifty; he died in Spain, exiled from his birthplace, Chile. Much remains mysterious about his life. He had bad teeth. As a child he was diagnosed with dyslexia. He was arrested by Pinochet’s police. He wrote two impossibly long novels——his last, called 2666, is over one thousand pages long——and many poems; neither of the novels, and none of the poems, as far as I know, has yet appeared in English translation. He remains, for readers marooned in English, an unfolding discovery: New Directions, our savior, has published his two aria-like