I am excited about Ben Lerner’s new book, 10:04
A few excerpts from his Believer interview:
"BL: …… Many of the left thinkers that really matter to me—that formed a big part of my thinking about politics and art—emphasize how capitalism is a totality, how there’s no escape from it, no outside. We all know what they mean: every relationship can feel saturated by market logic or at best purchased at the price of the immiseration of others. But I’m increasingly on the side of thinkers like David Graeber who are talking back to this notion of totality and emphasizing how there are all kinds of moments in our daily lives that break—or at least could break—from the logic of profit and the modes of domination it entails. Zones of freedom, even if it’s never pure. And I like to think—knowing that it’s an enabling fiction—of those moments as fragments from a world to come, a world where price isn’t the only measure of value.
BLVR: I like how your book avoids the kind of despair you mentioned—the emphasis by certain left thinkers on how there’s no escape from capitalism.
BL: Despair strikes me as eminently reasonable and boring. I have no patience for artists whose primary function is to articulate their art’s impossibility, who in a sense commodify melancholy—just as I have no interest in artists who are purely affirmative, who’ve made a commercialized fetish of the culture’s stupidity. Balloon dogs, etc. I think that sexual pleasure and the weird color of the sky after a storm or the stream of tail lights across the bridge or the way silence can thin or thicken before music starts—all these things have to be harnessed by the political. The libidinal has to be harnessed by the political.
BLVR: What would you view as literature that despairs?
BL: Well, I think the anti-intellectualism of a lot of contemporary fiction is a kind of despairing of literature’s ability to be anything more than perfectly bound blog posts or transcribed sitcoms. But that goes without saying. Anyway I read more contemporary poetry than contemporary fiction so my mind goes first to a kind of crass “conceptualism” that repeats vanguard gestures of the past minus the politics and historical context. That kind of art despairs both of the poem—the big claim for such writing is that you don’t even have to read the words—and it despairs even of the critical force of that despairing, since it’s only point seems to be that everything is exhausted. Why produce more examples of exhaustion? But I’m also talking about a tendency in my own work—I don’t want to write poems that are just really clear about how I’m aware of all the traps involved in writing poetry; I don’t want to write fiction that’s about the irresponsibility of writing fiction and I’ve thrown out a lot of writing that I think was ultimately tainted by that kind of self-awareness. Writing by Maggie Nelson and Dana Ward and Ariana Reines and Simone White has proved to be a strong countermeasure to that kind of despair for me lately.”
"BL: Am I private? Maybe now if you’re not an exhibitionist you’re private. Or maybe it’s just that for a lot of people—sometimes in interesting ways, sometimes in stupid ways—there’s no division between the art object and what surrounds it. So your interviews or blog posts or whatever are less supplements to your novel than part of it. I’m not private, but I believe in literary form—I’ll use my life as material for art (I don’t know how not to do this) and I’ll use art as a way of exploring that passage of life into art and vice versa, but that’s not the same thing as thinking that any of the details of my life are interesting or relevant on their own.”