Category: Barnes, Djuna

nothing but mammals



[CN: abuse, alcohol abuse, anorexia, bulimia]

im pathetic, so the weeks im spending off school for the holidaze and off the blog for a while is the same period in which ive been consciously reading more books by women, and so far only white women at that. i havent failed to notice that the diary has been overrepresenting the white dude center, which inevitably happens when i try to round out the literary canon out of a phony sense of guilt. at the same time, i want it to be easy to step away from the blog whenever it feels too much like an obligation.

anyway, ive been reading more women since the term ended. Alexievich’s VOICES FROM CHERNOBYL was fascinating and dark. Keith Gessen’s translation is done in precise and minimal english — his reading emphasizes the sense of fatalism and a more elusive sense of there being two worlds after Chernobyl; Alexievich suggests the world of irradiated Chernobyl is that of the future. the “monologues” are stitched together and often have unique forms.

ive been picking up essays from Siri Hustvedt (from her collection on painting) and M.F.K. Fisher (collected work) now and again. i jumped on the bicentennial bandwagon for Austen’s EMMA, very enjoyable so far. but what i do have for this post are notes for two shorter novels.

NIGHTWOOD by Djuna Barnes was so beautiful and strange, and i read it so long ago (the beginning of this month) that i wont be able to do much in giving the bigger picture about it. i heard a lot about this novel, like you do about many cult favorites: it’s a twisted anti-love story, more of a poem than a novel, it all takes place at night, the opening fifty pages is boring but soon you’ll be in it. i cant think of anything else like it that ive read except Burroughs’s Nova trilogy. sure, a great deal of the time i was not comprehending what i was reading, but the prose itself just felt alive, the same way i described THE SOFT MACHINE. Barnes has an incredible gift for surreal imagery: unsettling, poetic, and deeply erotic all at once. moreover she has an extra layer of reflection, because the lives of the novel’s characters are conditioned by spectacle. This was her seedy alternative lens on the bohemian, lost generation, US expat culture that’s usually presented so enchantingly.