THE BOOKS OF APRIL AND MAY 2019

DORIS LESSING 《THE FIFTH CHILD》

doris lessing writes women remarkably. by which I mean she writes them fearlessly. in a complicated and entirely unpredictable era of feminism, this book (originally published in 1988) brings forth a chilling truth about the second wave, and sets a brazen foundation for the third wave, as we wrestle now between who we are as women, and who we are as humans. in the fifth child, lessing turns an unflinching lens onto motherhood—the monstrous aspects of motherhood, in which one is forced to reconcile with an impossible fact, that what we make with our bodies by no means belongs to us, yet how is it possible? it is a question that has haunted women. by shattering the familiar totems of happiness and fulfillment such as family, marriage, and motherhood, we are left with the indignity of finding out the truth about ourselves.

HITO STEYERL 《DUTY FREE ART》

there is a certain reluctance, as an aficionado of art, in diving into its worldly existence— a somewhat irritating idea: that art is not creation made transcendent, but instead exists amongst the unromantic nature of markets, technology, and class. hito steyerl, whose work involves intricating gallery spaces within apps, reality-defying projections, and data manipulations, is well known for her themes of exploitation, capital, and both the sociological and technological conditions in visual culture. so it is expected that her writing, discussing the complexities and manifestations of artistic creation in our age of increasingly fractured insanity, is exceedingly technical, intricately humourous, and rife with declarations. from art trapped in freeport storage facilities to the performative nature of spam (data, not the conglomeration-meat), steyerl’s intent of subverting visual culture to combat the catastrophic forces of inequality, digital existence, and currency is conducted throughout this book/manifesto in a fast-paced series of moral consideration. without presenting a single, unified thesis to the reader, this work instead chooses to act in process, relaying into language the moral necessity of an artist creating amidst endless noise.

《WHAT ABOUT THIS: THE COLLECTED POEMS OF FRANK STANFORD》

there is no one who writes about the moon as frank stanford does. with constant exchange of character, with mood swings shifting as light does, with defiance and placation and negotiation. the moonlight has wet libraries. it abides a dark lake. it is caught flinching behind the trees. it is getting the soul blown out of it by the wind. this is language spoken in muddy dreams, by a man with his voice all smoked-out, while fighting ghosts off with knives. surrealism that you meet on a footpath in the desert, carrying a knife. it is such a cliche to be seduced by trouble, but the way he speaks of trouble, you could listen to him go on about it forever.

You have the feeling
The past
Is like a woman

Who ran off
With everything
But your belongings

YOKO TAWADA 《THE LAST CHILDREN OF TOKYO》

tokyo retains a bounty of secret facets by way of its language, and it is language that is the most pervasive character in tawada’s dystopian tale of urban japan. in a world void of external languages, the previously inclusive and adopting diction of modernity has morphed into an oppressive system of unnameable things. of course, the danger is not language itself—it is not language that renders the children sickly and incapable—but it does take the role in softening the edges of the unbearable. all throughout the text language is played to say what it cannot say, and the journey is taken from original, to symbol, and back again; it is unsure as to whether the changing world morphs our language, or if it is our language that enchants and informs our world.

OTTESSA MOSHFEGH 《MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION》

“we are probably the saddest generation in the history of the world,” someone recently said to me. and though that can hardly be true (we must simply be the most emotionally transparent), anyone between the ages of fifteen and thirty, living in the first world with a strong online presence, can hardly avoid the oddly flavoured melancholy that seems to be the flavour of these years, exemplified by a fervour for “sad tweets”, an increasingly open and inclusive discussion on self-diagnosis and self-medication, and anxiety memes. reading this book while acknowledging the rappers who name themselves after the benzos of their choice and endlessly inane articles that either denounce or congratulate a netflix special for portraying suicide “intimately” is to go through a cycle of pity, annoyance, sympathy, and bitter humour. and the lack of truth amidst the artifice is every bit as tragic as it is ironic. pain used to be the most honest— when did it become so hollow? moshfegh has written here a merciless observation on how everything, even sadness, even love, even death, can be rendered into mere stimuli, exhausted by frequency, and muted by our own vapid desire to understand why we hurt.

《PORTRAITS: JOHN BERGER ON ARTISTS》

my chief complaint is that in berger’s encounters with seventy-four artists, curiously, few of them are women. my other complaint, which is really an extension of my first complaint, is that the bold and sensuous painter lee krasner shares her section with her husband, (the admittedly more famous) jackson pollock. that aside, this brilliant volume, comprising of just over five hundred pages, is composed of episode after episode of close-up and intricately portrayed meetings with some of the greatest artists throughout history, whether it is through their work, through their person, or through the wildnesses of imagination. less an introduction to art as it is a diary of a lifetime spent amongst the beautiful and the impassioned, through bergers awareness we are made full with the extraordinary moments that exist in painting.

《AGAINST FORGETTING: TWENTIETH-CENTURY POETRY OF WITNESS》

a totem numbering over seven hundred pages, each of them instilling an arresting and heart-rending sense of the times in which they were written, this compilation is absolutely required reading for anyone writing poetry in the twenty-first century. from the armenian genocide to the revolutions for democracy in china, we are led through the anthological history of human atrocities by the language of great poets who have lived it. certain poems are deadly simple:

We opened
each volume
of Marx
as we would open
the shutters
in our own house.

—vladimir mayakovsky, at the top of my voice

some are unflinchingly emotional:

No longer for me is there anything late. All is late.

ion caraion, tomorrow the past comes

some are bare-boned and blatant:

The innocent know nothing
because they are too innocent
and the guilty know nothing
because they are too guilty

tadeusz rózewicz, what happens

and some are heartbreaking, because they are hopeful:

Sunday today.
Today they took me out in the sun for the first time.
And I just stood there, struck for the first time in my life
by how far away the sky is,
how blue
and how wide.

—nazim hikmet, since I was thrown inside

I am certain that poetry has a responsibility to speak on behalf of what we have seen, what we know, what we feel, and what is just. it is to be rich in understanding and to reject simplification, it is to forego the simple notions of what is personal, what is public, what is political, and to count on, instead, the redemption of speech from silence. this is an extraordinary collection, and anyone who holds it in their hands is in possession of an immense privilege. it is my hope that poems commemorating this era will continue to be discovered, and translated, and dispersed, and that such poems of witness will continue to be written, always in opposition to violence, always in possession of the living part of life.

as carolyn forché says in her introduction; “. . .the poet asks the past and the present to stake a claim on that future.”

shelly shan

hi, my name is shelly. I do a thing where I make words into unnecessarily emotional composites. I don't know why I'm allowed on the internet, but I like it here.