Daily Postings
literature : word choice

A Vindication of Hypnosis

by Sergio Pitol

Suddenly, during a pause in his monologue, Federico Pérez cautioned me not to become too lost in circumlocution. I should lay everything on the line, he said. I replied that I had already done that the very day I made the appointment by phone. I was trusting that his treatment by hypnosis, about which I had heard great things, would help me give up smoking. If I had gone into too many details at the beginning of my explanation, it was to clarify what my relationship with tobacco was and had been. I do not remember his exact words, but he did allude to the evasiveness and circumlocutions in my speech. He added that he thought it was a manifestation of insecurity, a defense mechanism behind which I was hiding. I do not know if the doctor’s intervention, his interruption and description of the structure of the story, which unbeknownst to me had become unnecessarily and painfully labyrinthine, was part of the treatment, an attempt to stimulate a particular reaction, the beginning of subjugation. I defended myself with literary arguments.

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literature : interview

Norman Manea

by Morten Høi Jensen

“You heard everywhere talk of the end of ideology, the end of history—what end? If people are alive, there is no end.”

Norman Manea’s life began where so many others ended. At just five years old he was interned along with his family in a concentration camp in Ukraine; four years later they emerged with their lives intact only to begin anew in different kind of prison: Stalinist Romania. By 1965, when Nicolae Ceaușescu became General Secretary of the Romanian Communist Party, Norman Manea was quickly emerging as one of the occupied country’s most promising young writers: he would publish his first novel, Captives, in 1970. That novel has just been made available to English-language readers for the first time by the venerable folks at New Directions. Called “an enduring work of literature” by the Chicago Tribune, it is a furiously complex novel by a remarkably protean writer. It offers readers an immersive experience in the oppressive universe of Soviet Romania—“in the black corridors of a destiny without Sabbath,” as the narrator has it. It is a universe that abounds in a past it cannot address, in which memories “burst forth from their shroud of ashen fog,” and will not be forgotten. Though Norman Manea worries in the course of this interview that the novel is not really suited for an American audience, the experience of navigating the complex narrative of Captives, seamlessly rendered into English by Jean Harris, is a deeply rewarding one.

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literature : word choice

from I'm Very Into You

by Kathy Acker

Oh will I remember all that you just wrote? Memory slips even more than... what?... gender (is that self? not here)... and I was going to email, I can’t even remember spelling, to just quickly tell you about the movie I just saw, Todd Haynes Safe... and your email!... now I can’t remember all you said ’cause I want to tell you, emotion taking over, see Safe, it is WONDERFUL hits the spot (advertisers make correctness) makes the art world into the stupid nothing it is... well it is so great seeing something that good... I saw it with RU we’re friends again which is great ’cause I hate losing friends there aren’t enough and it is my family, my friends... so now all is dream... Australia and this usual life melding, here where I do my emailing at two in the morning and wake up figuring out deals business how to give my publisher his share of daily grief oh will I get enough hours to write? I’m so greedy to do that... not like Sydney passing days drunk roaming through the bookstore with you... oh no please “analysis”? For me, “analysis” means “Kathy’s being insecure and needs to breathe a few times.”

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literature : interview

Jeremy M. Davies

by Scott Esposito

“A very specific, peculiar sort of universe-in-a-bottle.”

Jeremy Davies just might be reclaiming comedy’s place in the frequently dour, futile world of modernist literature. His first novel, Rose Alley (Counterpath, 2009), told the disintegrating story of an attempt to make a film about the satirical, bawdy eighteenth-century figure John Wilmot, all while Paris comes to pieces in 1968. Excessive but reliably deadpan, Rose Alley proved both hilarious and experimental. Now he gives us Fancy (Ellipsis Press), a long-winded monologue delivered by a crazy-old-cat-man, who, in between cranky rants about seemingly every irrelevant topic on Earth, sentimentally rhapsodizes the key moment in his long-lost youth: a few blissful months when a fellow librarian used to fellate him in the stacks. Alternately slapstick and pokerfaced, and impeccably timed, Fancy is laugh-out-loud funny, even while it forges new ground in the line of the unstable Thomas Bernhardian narrator. It’s also deeply metaphysical—or maybe not, in which case, the joke is on you, reader, and you’ve just listened to the mock-philosophical, unhinged ravings of a lonely old quack. It was my pleasure to interview Davies over email, and my one hope is that none of me ends up being fodder for his next unreliable narrator.

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literature : word choice

Cecil Taylor

by César Aira

Dawn in Manhattan. In the first, tentative light, a black prostitute is walking back to her room after a night’s work. Hair in a mess, bags under her eyes; the cold transfigures her drunkenness into a stunned lucidity, a crumpled isolation from the world. She didn’t venture beyond her usual neighborhood, so she only has to walk a few blocks. Her pace is slow; she could be going backwards; at the slightest deviation time could dissolve into space. What she really wants is sleep, but she’s not even conscious of that any more. The streets are almost deserted; the few people who usually go out at this time (or have no indoors to go out of) know her by sight, so they don’t examine her violet high-heeled shoes, her tight skirt with its long split, or her eyes, which wouldn’t return their glassy or tender gazes anyway.

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literature : interview

Danielle Dutton & Richard Kraft

Magpies, comics, paradoxes, and the spirit of disruption.

Leaps—the kind that ask you to embrace the sense in nonsense, to surrender, to let go of what you might expect in favor of what you might discover. There are few other artists and writers capable of the extraordinary leaps Danielle Dutton and Richard Kraft make both in their respective works and in their collaboration Here Comes Kitty: A Comic Opera. In this book, Kraft reassembles a Cold War-era comic book about a Polish spy infiltrating the Nazis, densely layering each collaged page with material from Amar Chitra Katha comics of Hindu mythology, Jimmy Swaggart’s Old and New Testament stories, the English football annual Scorcher, and various images from art history, encyclopedias, and so forth. Frames are broken. Time collapses. The world is in flux. Dutton meanwhile, with masterly command, renders this ever-mutating world into language. Her sixteen “interpolations” punctuate Here Comes Kitty, and they are marvels of nimbleness and imagination. Here collision and juxtaposition may very well be more revealing than logical causation.

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literature : interview

Ned Beauman

by J. W. McCormack

Read, rave, and research.

Poor Ned Beauman. At twenty-nine years old, with two acclaimed and technically astonishing novels behind him and his third, Glow, just out in the US in hardcover, this Cambridge-educated winner of multiple prizes, whose work combines philosophical fascination with actual entertainment, must shoulder the most complimentary curse in all of blurb-ese: inexorable comparison to Thomas Ruggles Pynchon. It isn’t specifically that Beauman is somehow unworthy of the Pynchonesque pedigree—both write the kind of associative, pop-culture-infused novels fetishized by kid-geniuses and highly-educated drug users—but that, while Pynchon is supposed to have once declared “Every weirdo in the world is on my wavelength,” Beauman seems set to a more universal frequency. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone quibbling with his first novel, Boxer, Beetle (Sceptre, 2010), in which a contemporary frame story about a fish-smelling collector of Nazi memorabilia is intercut with a cat-and-mouse game between a gay pugilist and a devious entomologist in the ‘30s. And what kind of monster, I wonder, wouldn’t fall in love with his second novel, The Teleportation Accident, a historical slapstick about a sexually-frustrated theatre director who flees Weimar Berlin for LA only to become entwined in a Chandleresque scheme involving tycoons, mad scientists, and H. P. Lovecraft?

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literature : word choice

Mirror Work

by Ander Monson

What is it about a mirror that works to hold our gaze? We’re certain of ourselves until reversed or made grotesque in hotel light, every blackhead on our blockhead body highlighted, each crease accentuated. Science says we’re built to see ourselves in everything, everything in ourselves (or is that just Narcissus speaking through story, through science?). So you will search for yourself in this. You can’t not.

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literature : interview

Felix Bernstein & Cecilia Corrigan

“I don’t think being a cynical, academically oriented deconstructor should stop one from being a wild and crazy performer.”

Cecilia Corrigan and I share a whirlwind of coincidental positions—wanting to perform and wanting to retreat into writing, hovering around the academy but insistent on humor, both of us in drag but unwilling to say what we’re dragging. And a whirlwind of skepticisms—of the homogeneity of queer theory and Conceptual poetry, the cliquish mediocrity of global art and Facebook poetry worlds, and the compulsive sucking up that the blonde girl and gay boy in their twenties are expected to relish. While rehearsing for Cecilia's theatrical book launch at Artists Space, we talked over our bones of contention until we cut all our personae to bits and finally felt some relief.

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literature : word choice

Three Stories

by Chiara Barzini

Things were happening. It was festive and official: everyone in the building was allowed to take the elevator. No more exceptions. To celebrate the new event, the tenants were invited to a dance performance and offered a free ride in an airplane that would drive across the city and maybe even take off. The couples were excited. They left babies at home and kissed. Some even had the courage to look into each other’s eyes. “If you want to go and kiss our neighbor, that’s fine. It’s such a joyous event. Don’t let me keep you.” Men pressed their lips against new women’s necks. Some pulled down their pants playfully. The women saw their partners falter in front of fresh desire. They stayed and watched their performances, feeling jealous, then free.

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literature : interview

Breanne Fahs

by Liz Kinnamon

Madness, SCUM Manifesto, and Valerie Solanas—history's most famous lipstick misandrist.

Breanne Fahs has written an impossible biography. She worked on Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol) (Feminist Press, 2014) for over ten years, traipsing across the United States to weave together Solanas's story from postcards, institutional records, zines, the memories of radical feminists and Warholites, and “discussions in cat-filled apartments.” Valerie was homeless for the majority of her life so writing the biography was like “pursuing the movements of an invisible wolf.” Who was the woman who wrote SCUM Manifesto—one of the most charged, prescient, and militant manifestos in feminist history? What happened to her? Fahs managed to gather unforetold reflections about Solanas from every angle, resulting in the gut-wrenching and electrifying story of a person whose assassination attempt against one man was a symbolic, global patricide: a mission to kill postmodern appropriation, capitalism, and male privilege.

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literature : word choice

A Raven on the Snow

by Patricio Pron

That winter the city was full of ravens. They usually gathered in the parks, where they could be found in little groups of three or four, inspecting their surroundings with a wicked stare. If they noticed something shiny in the snow—a wrapper or a scrap of paper—they'd land on it, grabbing it with their beaks, and then spit it out in contempt. Sometimes the ravens would fight over the object, thereby sharing the confusion and disappointment their find created. Then, still united in some way by their defeat, they'd move away from each other slightly before going after the object again with little hops that were both ridiculous and threatening.

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literature : interview

Beau Rice

by Aiden Arata

Text messaging, parasexual literature, and psychiatry in drag.

I personally don’t know where relationships come from, but I suspect they are conceived in the gaps between our boundaries. Beau Rice’s Tex (Penny-Ante Editions, 2014) is an exploration of such borders and what connects them: a study in masculinity, language, and space in the form of 252 bound pages of text messages. Here Rice has archived eight months of an exclusively digital relationship with the diffident Matt G. It is rife with emoji, word play, and theory; it is interrupted by emails from friends, Craigslist hookups, and someone who wants insurance money. The book treats sex (and there is a lot of it) as obscene and vulnerable, often both at the same time. Ultimately, maybe, Rice’s archive speaks of desire: in love, in language. It is the grid-work that fills the gap. Tex’s appeal to desire is electronically contoured, taking shape as a set of sentient haikus:

So much of the stuff i
read is inspired and
motivated by intense
writer people meeting
aloof/absent men and
being shaken up by them

but it’s like the 21st century,
don’t they know how to
have textual intercourse?

I first met Beau a few years ago at the Jewel’s Catch One disco club in Los Angeles. Like a relationship comprised of text messages, Rice himself is a taut balance of glittering wit and self-aware anxiety. We chatted online about process, personality, eroticism, and Internet sex.

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literature : word choice
literature : interview

Dolan Morgan

by J. T. Price

Freedom, negation, and marine zoology.

Goats will arrive. Goats will disappear. That’s the premise, in short, of Dolan Morgan’s “Infestation,” the story leading off his debut collection, That’s When the Knives Come Down (Aforementioned Productions, 2014). 

Further along, another story, “Euclid’s Postulates,” reads: “I can’t help but assume the words are merely decorative here, festooning the empty belief that a narrative ripples beneath the facts. Something about space, about shape, about us.”

“Content” is what the business side calls the work of writers—you know, the words that fill the empty space where a book would go. Morgan’s fictions exist knowingly in that interstitial gap between notion and accomplished fact. Actually, they thrive there.

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literature : interview

Michael Hofmann

by Keenan McCracken

Deep language, the “silver” figures of literature, and reader as pit canary.

My first dealings with Michael Hofmann were professional—or should have been. The publishing house I work for was printing one of his translations, and so I wrote to introduce myself.

What started formally—“Dear Mr. Hofmann”—quickly devolved into an embarrassingly ingratiating letter, in part detailing my love for his recent translation of Durs Grünbein's Ashes for Breakfast, but also asking him for any reading recommendations. I’m not entirely sure what I expected back from someone who has established himself as the preeminent translator of German literature, not to mention a brilliant critic and poet. Even a selected résumé of Hofmann’s work is formidable: translations of Joseph Roth, Gottfried Benn, Franz Kafka, Peter Stamm, Wim Wenders, Wolfgang Koeppen; six collections of poems; decades of writing for the London Review of Books. I received in return a modest email of thanks. And a PS: “Have you read any Penelope Fitzgerald?”

While Hofmann is certainly best known as a translator here in the United States, his reviews in the LRB confirm that his criticism is some of the most incisive and beautifully composed in contemporary literature. At times incendiary and seemingly ruthless in his critiques—his now infamous takedown of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig goes so far to describe Zweig’s suicide note as boring and reading “more like an Oscar acceptance speech”—Hofmann’s criticism is unpredictable, informed, personal, sensitive to inscrutability.

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literature : interview

Alberto Ríos

by Yezmin Villarreal

“A weight carried by two, weighs only half as much.”

What function does poetry serve off the page? Alberto Ríos’s “Border Lines (Líneas Fronterizas)” is a poem that may try to answer this question by both bridging the gap between two bordering countries and physically situating itself at just such a bridge. It will soon be on the wall in both English and Spanish at the US port of entry, viewable from Nogales, Sonora. His lines and their breaks hold tangible meaning in this border space: “Which way we look at the drawing / Makes all the difference.” Having grown up in Nogales, Arizona, this poem is a homecoming of sorts and a return to a time when this meeting point between two cities with the same name felt more malleable.

Poems can commemorate political figures and historical events. Whitman famously wrote of Abraham Lincoln, and there is an American tradition of honoring a president-elect at inauguration—Robert Frost of Kennedy, Elizabeth Alexander of Obama, and so forth. Similarly, Ríos has written poems for former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano and former Mexican president Vicente Fox. But does writing a poem mean you align your art with politics? Are poets, as Shelley said, “unacknowledged legislators of the world”? Ríos, Arizona’s first poet laureate, sees it his own way.

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literature : interview

Greil Marcus

by Matthew Choate

Rock ’n’ Roll and the malleability of historical fact.

The history of rock ’n’ roll seems an impossible thing to wrangle into a single text, yet there are libraries of books that have done just that, whether it is the encyclopedic tomes or the single album unravelled. It would seem the job is done and the canon is set. The History of Rock ’n’ Roll In Ten Songs, Greil Marcus’ new book, doesn’t care for that canon. First off, Marcus has written a history of rock ’n’ roll with no Elvis, no Rolling Stones, no James Brown, no Otis Redding, no Aretha Franklin, no Michael Jackson, no Nirvana, no Chuck Berry, and no Little Richard. He foregoes the key moments, performances, genres, and movements. There are no descriptions of Tupelo, Mississippi, or any disquisitions on a kid shouting “Judas” from the audience at a Bob Dylan concert. Instead, this book is a collection of stories about the songs themselves. An album’s worth of songs, that, in Marcus’ own words, “were rich enough and good enough and powerful enough that they could contain or enact the whole story of rock ’n’ roll.”

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literature : interview

Atticus Lish

by Jesse Barron

Hardship, the borough of Queens, and new American pilgrims.

It’s been a while since we had a great novel about being poor in New York where poor did not mean broke. The difference between the two conditions may be how reasonably you can hope they’ll change, and Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life is a book about people hoping to change their lives in a city that will not let them.

Preparation is a violent and unfashionable book. Unfashionable in that it's not concerned overtly with consciousness, subjectivity, voice, politics, or making art, but instead with money and the law as the impersonal determinants of fate. Lish knows—or just as validly, conveys he knows—the institutions that are often least visible in American fiction, like prison, and the parallel economy of the undocumented. To find a predecessor for this kind of cross-sectional social novel, where the lawyer’s office is as vivid as the basement squat, you may have to go back to ‘90s DeLillo or ‘70s Robert Stone.

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literature : word choice

from The Crocodiles

by Youssef Rakha

1. On the twenty-first birthday of a poet, ostensibly of our group, whom we knew as Nayf (his real name’s not so very important)—on June 20, 1997, to be precise—the activist Radwa Adel went to visit a relative in one of Cairo’s neighborhoods. I don’t remember which. There is no documented account of this journey by the Student Movement’s (or the Seventies Generation’s) most celebrated female icon (i.e. the activist, though we might call her intellectual, writer, great thinker: they’re all synonyms); there’s even a dispute over whether the relative in question lived on the eleventh floor or the twelfth. But what I have picked up over the years, in casual conversation with close friends of hers from the circle out of which our group grew, is that Radwa Adel played with her relative’s children for a little while, then took herself off for an afternoon nap in the bedroom with the balcony. There was nobody at home but the young children, and no sooner had the bedroom door swung back behind her than she went out onto the balcony and jumped over the wall.

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literature : interview

Alina Gregorian

by Sarah Gerard

Dramaturgy, flags, and tangible abstractions.

I like to imagine Alina Gregorian teaching the Odyssey to her class of Merchant Mariners. She doesn’t teach them anymore, but she once told me she was sure they’d connect with the epic’s soldiers. Actually, I like to imagine Alina starting with the soldiers and then leading them to love the Odyssey’s myth and magic. In my wildest version of this fantasy, they have made figurines of the Sirens, Penelope, and Achilles, and are moving them about on a game board, making Vines on their iPhones. Much of what I love about Alina is her appreciation for play and her reverence for technology. I think of Alina on the Long Island Rail Road, on her way to teach these Merchant Mariners, taking streaky photos out the window, or making GIFs—smashing grass, gravel, and movement into pixelated rainbows.

I first met Alina at Hofstra University, and have had the privilege of watching her unique mind give itself over to creative impulse in the forms of poetry, story, photography, painting, translation, and video. She is an artist and an educator, a champion of other artists, and a community organizer with her reading series, “Triptych.” Her poetic work is delightful and puzzling, recalling her visual work in the way it organizes images three-dimensionally—she explains, “like furniture.” Her book Navigational Clouds is out this fall from Monk Books, and Flying Bark will be published next spring by Coconut Books.

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literature : interview

Andy Fitch

by Amaranth Borsuk

Feet first, mouth second, thoughts third.

I met Andy Fitch at a 2009 MLA panel on public art. Having arrived late, I missed the introduction Andy and his collaborator Jon Cotner gave to their presentation about “Conversations Over Stolen Food,” a pranksterish project they had undertaken in New York a year earlier. As they read an exchange from the piece, it gradually dawned on me that Andy was reading Jon’s half of the conversation, and Jon was reading Andy’s. What made this ephemeral interaction a form of public art? Bewildered and intrigued, I continued to follow their work, including Ten Walks/Two Talks, published by Ugly Duckling Presse, a book that introduced me to Andy’s practice of walking composition, which provides the heart of his new book, Sixty Morning Walks, a diaristic text whose flâneur-like narrator—a roving eye or “I”—stitches together the city’s landscape by threading his way through it. Andy’s writing practice, which is often audio-based, fascinates me with its simultaneous insistence on embodiment (we are always aware of the language as emanating from a body) and rejection of bodily fixity (one has the sense this speaker would prefer not to locate himself at all, as evinced by his willingness to exchange language, and by extension bodies, with his collaborators).

In October Andy and I met in Fort Collins, Colorado to read from our forthcoming collaboration, As We Know (Boulder: Subito 2014). A book that attempts to intervene into the history of male editors redacting and reshaping the work of women writers, it uses erasure to not only reverse that gender dynamic but also explore the potential for co-authored identity. As We Know uses a summer audio diary Andy kept as its textual source, presenting his redacted transcript with “my erasures” tunneling a path through his language and toward my own narrative. Trying on Andy’s poetics has expanded my sense of what it means to walk and talk, to be a writer situated with respect to race and gender, and to acknowledge the limitations of that perspective. The best way to understand the how and why of his writing seemed to be through making, inhabiting the embodied experience of composition. So, we set out for a morning walk of our own along the Poudre River amid scattered showers.

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literature : word choice

The Golden Room (Lucy’s Lips)

by Elizabeth Crawford

We were lying on our backs looking at the tourists moving. After my intoxicating speech, we three trembled on the stone. Phragmites would not dip his feathery mind in water again. I remember saying to him: You know, that was a beautiful song, Phragmites. Fakesome weather.

It occurred to me that the back has no mouth, the back takes in what it is and only what it sometimes is is an elaborate stairwell to the mind. I slept against the rock-crusted throne. How low I was to have a throne compared to my cot on the high summit. The ovenbird was here on this lower level. I was dreaming, and in my dream Lucy was translated. Her lips were fleshy, partly opened and partly closed. The white lips were wet as vertical rectangular white blazes on the path. So Lucy was not the place itself but the melting signal and crack in the cairn. Self-housed, she moved in time as the blood moves and was not outside the running line of chronometricals.

Some people say men are chronometricals and women live as “the place,” but it is a whitewash as one corner of the hour cannot be accounted for on the grandfather clock that is no totem to anyone’s clan.

Beneath the stone was the face.

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literature : interview

Helen DeWitt

by Mieke Chew

“If you don’t like a language, you can go write your own.”

Helen DeWitt’s personal library is on display as part of The Library Vaccine, an exhibition of six distinctive collections at Artists Space in Soho. The books, shipped from DeWitt’s home in Berlin, are exhibited on one side of the gallery. The facing wall is covered in Xeroxed passages of books in different languages, printed emails, and screengrabs of her works in progress. Between, there are books on five large, white tables.

A viewer might wander around this space with the impression that to see “The Library of Helen DeWitt” is to see inside the mind of a writer. One might think the point is to view the books she holds most dear. This would be a mistake. Many of the books are included precisely because they represent a failure in DeWitt’s eyes. Without her guidance, it is up to the viewer to decide which contain great poetry and which are examples of what not to do with a book. This is not a test, but rather an argument expressed through objects.

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literature : word choice

Tilt

by Gil Lawson

I attended every single event at this year’s Left Forum.

I wore a sort of dress, though it wasn’t really a dress—that would be insane. It was a long shirt styled to look like a dress, styled to be worn as a dress. That is to say it was a dress intended to be read as a shirt, and it cost me eighty dollars. I can pull it off. My high-soy-diet breasts, or appearance thereof. At least two spatial disruptions underneath the heavy fabric of the dress I wore to this year’s Left Forum.

It was very difficult to move around freely. Each year they hire a number of volunteer seraphim. It is easy to tell. They wear the blue lanyards. It is their responsibility to make sure no one attends any event for which they did not pay, and to make sure that no men are caught in dresses. I paid for nothing and wore the dress I just described.

To avoid the seraphim, I had to crawl underneath a number of chairs. While I was in this compromising position, men fumbled at my knickers. They did this by extending one long arm beneath the seat, down to where I was crawling, all the while with their heads cocked as though listening. Early on I would yawp when they touched me, but it quickly became apparent that this was not entirely kosher. I learned to move quicker so I was touched less frequently and for shorter periods of time, and that was how I responded to the long arms of the men.

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