What I Read This Week - 27th January

The familiar midwinter slump: when will it be warm again? When will it be light again? (As I write the sun is shining, but it's a deceptive, cold sun, and the garden is covered with shadows, and my feet are pressed against the radiator). - The Booger in the Pool: An Interview with Leanne Shapton (Rachel Hurn at the Los Angeles Review of Books)

At least with athletics you actually can prove something. You can go to the Olympics. You can say, “I’m the fastest; I’m the best.” Whereas with art you can’t say you’re the best.

I watched a Woody Allen documentary on the plane to London, and he was talking about how he doesn’t go to the Academy Awards because he says, “Who is to say I’m the best? If I win a race, yeah, but I’m not in a race.” So proof is funny.

Swimming Studies is one of the books I've most enjoyed reading in a long, long time. It's everything I think a book should be - or, more precisely, everything I'd want a book that I wrote to be: uncategorizable, unusual, completely a product of the author's vision and hard graft. The narrative drive is mostly private, but that makes it no less compelling than a Dan Brown plot. Weird moments are remembered lovingly; big events are hazily, lazily recalled only in relation to other, smaller details; paintings and photographs pepper the textual landscape. It's a book to be re-read, which not every book is. Yes, I'm interested in it because I'm very particularly interested in the the act of swimming: the performance, the pool as setting, the costume, the body in water, the limits, rules, language, the rituals, superstitions, repetitions. But I'm also interested in this idea of measurement, proof, practice; about the relationship between athletic discipline and artistic discipline (Shapton calls them "kissing cousins"). I actually started to write out my thoughts on this here and then I realised there was too much: it's an essay or a blog post in itself. That happens sometimes.

- Lena Dunham interviewed by Alec Baldwin

Lena Dunham: We’re starting at the end of March. I’m so excited.

Alec Baldwin: Great. I’ll be available.

Lena Dunham: Yay!

Alec Baldwin: I’ll come and play your therapist.

Lena Dunham: That would be the most fun thing in the world.

Alec Baldwin: You need a therapist.

Lena Dunham: Bad.

Alec Baldwin: Bad.

Lena Dunham: Bad. But I forget what I was saying, but I’m glad you don’t think I’m mean. I get too guilty. If I ever make a mean joke, it’s like –

Part of me cringed through this entire interview, but the other part of me was inexplicably charmed by the weird sort of chemistry between Baldwin and Dunham (I read the transcript, by the way - maybe it feels different if you listen). I also kept thinking that whatever we say about Dunham and Girls and feminism and racism and twentysomethings and blah blah blah, isn't it worth remembering that this is a girl who got her break early - stupidly, incredibly early? She's 26 and she's hanging out with Alec Baldwin and being granted a kind of creative freedom rarely afforded anyone, let alone people her age. Meanwhile I'm eating baked beans for dinner and being ritually ignored by editors, which I think is a much more common story. So on the one hand it's great that someone in Dunham's position still retains enough residual anxiety to be able to write about what it's like to be professionally and financially adrift (so much television tends to presuppose a rare kind of economic stability in order to focus on romantic instability). But on the other hand I wonder what gets lost when someone goes from 22 to famous in 60 seconds.

- Keyhole (Anna Keesey at Bloom)

All this took about five years. In five years, I did what I’d wanted to do for twenty. It’s tempting to say, it was all the medicine. I was depressed, I had a quaff of SSRI, and I found my lost self where she was hiding, and brought her out. Yet that interpretation may obscure other truths. That is, perhaps I couldn’t write the book because being a teacher and being a mother were in fact more important to me than writing a book. In this model, my sadness was the molasses I crawled through, but the direction was right. If not successful, I was at least wise.

I read this right before I read the Dunham interview, which maybe coloured my view of the interview a little. I like the keyhole analogy.

- Geographer's Revenge (Jason Dittmer at The New Inquiry)

We see geography as neither static nor overwhelming; rather geographies are lively and always in flux—simultaneously shaping our actions and being produced through them.

- Topographies of Desire: The Millions Interviews Megan Kaminski

Along with that exploration of human possibility in nature came questions of subjectivity in the questioning of the lyric “I.” This questioning played out in the form of a slippery subject, an “I” that is fixed momentarily in a time/space, but then becomes quickly dislodged. I’m not willing, or perhaps even able, to abandon the lyric “I” in my poems — at least without taking on a subject voice that has its own equally problematic implications — but I am very interested in challenging and chipping away at the “I”’s authority. It’s this beautiful thing, the way pronouns work — the ease in which a person can slip into and out of the subject position. The “I” in my work that isn’t necessarily the “I” of Megan Kaminski/poet.

- Writing, Academic and Otherwise (Michael Sacasas)

Anyone who cares to think about how to navigate these technologies as wisely as possible should be able to encounter the best thinking on such matters in an accessible manner.