This semester I’m teaching an MFA seminar called “Mad Girls, Bad Girls: Writing Transgressive Female Subjectivity,” so I’m reading around a lot in that subject matter. At the moment I’m finishing up Marie-Hélène Huet’s Monstrous Imagination, which explores ideas about the female body, art, and monstrosity, and is particularly interesting in light of some of the bizarro-world things that have been said recently by politicians like Todd Akin.
I’ve also been dipping into Adolf Holl’s The Left Hand of God: A Biography of the Holy Spirit, which is exactly what it sounds like, and Georges Didi-Huberman’s Invention of Hysteria: Charcot and the Photographic Iconography of the Salpêtrière, which explores (among other things) ideas about gender and representation and includes some amazing photographs taken during the nineteenth century at Paris’s asylum for “insane and incurable” women.
As for poetry (and unrelated to the above mad/bad-ness): I’ve been re-reading Maxine Chernoff’s Without as well as A House in Summer – both of which are deeply beautiful and deeply humane. Each time I read either one, it surprises me – just continues to open and open.
(An aside: though this doesn’t count as “reading” exactly, since school started back up I’ve been shutting off my head at night by listening to books on tape – most recently M.R. James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. It’s a weirdly soothing way to fall asleep: I lie there with my laptop on the bedside table, turn out the light, and put on the earphones, then wake up on and off during the night with all these words still filtering through my head.)
Check out this fabulous, five-star review of the latest issue of Drunken Boat from The Review Review:
These days, there is certainly no shortage of literature to be found online. As time passes, the number of sites dedicated to writing will continue to grow, seemingly exponentially. I would contend that it is not a stretch to see in this expansion of opportunity for publication a parallel to the so-called ‘mimeo revolution’ of the 1960’s. Journals of every conceivable shape and form sprang into existence, most disappearing just as quickly. Amateurism and ephemerality were often considered virtues, set over and against the perceived elitism of those engaged in polished attempts to enter and perpetuate the official canon.
While the spirit of experimentation allowed some of the most radical and important writers of the era to find a home for their work, its populist impulses also led to a great deal of drivel seeing the light of day. The same paradigm holds true today: access to technological advances have made it possible for anyone to get work published somewhere. The pitfalls also remain the same: just because someone can get published, should he? As always, freedom of expression should not be mistaken for freedom from craft and discipline.
Drunken Boat is, or should be, central to any discussion of literature online or online literature. It has been in continuous publication since 2000, with at least one issue every year. In its beginnings, it had the ad hoc quality of experimentation offered by the technology of the day, a self-conscious radicalism intent on exploring the multi-media genre-bending possibilities of the computer. Think Aspen Magazine for the twenty-first century. As Drunken Boat has evolved, it has become increasingly confident in approach and polished in presentation.
Which brings us to Drunken Boat #15. The format is new, resulting in an attractive, very readable layout that is fairly easy to navigate. From the home page of the issue itself, you can double click on the cover to go to the “Editor’s Statement”, a handy introduction to the contents of the issue. Here you will learn that Drunken Boat has added a new section of reviews and several new editors. Each issue contains one or more special folios. This one contains sections entitled “Native American Women Poets” and “Handmade/Homemade” (presented in conjunction with an exhibit of the same name at Pace University in Westchester, New York). Regular features include poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.
Clicking on the link to any section will take you to an introductory page written by a particular editor or guest editor. Links to the individual authors featured in that section are on the right side of the page. They are always displayed, so that it is easy to go from one to another without having to go back to the main page. From an author’s viewpoint, the most attractive part of the layout is that each page is devoted to the work of one writer. Following the piece(s) is a contributor’s photo and bio. It would be difficult to imagine a format that shows greater care and respect for the author and his or her work. And the work in this issue comes from far and wide.
Drunken Boat has a certain international flare, featuring writers from around the world, including translations. A fascinating example of this are the translations by Fiona Sze-Lorraine of Yang Jian. The originals, in Chinese characters, are displayed with the English translations, translations made by a writer living in France of a poet working in China.
One of the striking features of Drunken Boat is its thematic focus. In addition to the folios devoted to Native American women poets and homemade objects, each section displays an integrity of design. While there is not necessarily a stated theme, it is obvious that great care and attention to detail have gone into selecting works that complement and enhance one another. The editor’s introduction to each section helps establish this sense of unity.
Most of the contributors to Drunken Boat are well-established voices, widely published by highly respected journals and presses, as well as in smaller, more experimental spaces. There is a sense of accomplishment to the magazine, as if everyone involved has gained their footing and is putting their talent, whether editorial or authorial, on display. If more radical work is being done in more fugitive and transitory places on the literary fringe, it seems Drunken Boat is a place where the solid and lasting of such work can find a beautifully presented, carefully maintained space.
Lisa Stasse, Forsaken, a young adult novel written by a colleague; Jose Saramago, The Year in the Death of Ricardo Reis, started en route to Lisbon; David Kroenke and David Auer, Database Concepts, for guidance with projects; Rodney Graham, The System, a gift; The New Yorker, for comfort; Markus Krajewski, Paper Machines, history of files and catalogs; Funny Bunny, pretty zine from a young design friend; Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, because you never really finish with it; and various issues of the New York Review of Books spread on the breakfast table. Close by: a small shelf of titles relevant to the historiography of the alphabet, in progress.