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- The Best Reviewed Books of the WeekMay 25, 2018
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In the first half of Paul Holdengraber’s conversation with newish genius Ben Lerner, the two chatted amiably about sleep-deprivation, fatherhood, the avant-garde, and a dog named Bartleby. In this episode, the conversation picks up at a search for Leonard Cohen’s Greek cottage, and meanders along to power of art, immersive reading, and first-person narration.
Ben Lerner on the “great hunger” of first person narration…
That kind of anxiety about, you know, “Here I am, am I really here?” is, to me, the oldest—it’s like the fundamental question of the novel. In Stendhal, when Fabrice is wandering around the Battle of Waterloo he’s kind of wondering, “When do I know that I’ve participated in history? How close do I need to be to the guns to actually participate in history?” And that idea in the novel is kind of like, “What’s the value of my experience? How do I know when it crosses a certain threshold of authenticity?” That, to me, is what the novel is so great at exploring, because the novel can give you access to a consciousness and a kind of distance from a social reality.
Ben Lerner on the artist Thomas Demand….
I think what’s interesting about Thomas [Demand]’s photography is the way that it makes you feel presence and distance simultaneously. So, he does this weird thing—you probably know—where he works with a photograph, like he sees a photograph, and he reconstructs the scene or part of the scene in paper sculpture, and then he photographs that, and then he destroys the sculpture. So it’s at this very strange remove from reality; it’s a photograph of a sculpture of a photograph of a thing… You get this weird undecideable mix of feelings about its immediacy and its mediacy, and that’s how I tend to feel about photographs.
Ben Lerner on his favorite reading experiences…
The books that I love the most are books where you’re both aware you’re reading and forget you’re reading, in that kind of dreamlike way that you can both be almost awake and going in and out of a dream.
Ben Lerner on the afterimage of a work of art’s power…
I think that with some of my favorite artists and writers—it’s the experience when you look up where you register the power of the work, the same way that sometimes you look at something in a museum and the power of it only kind of hits you when you’ve left the museum and are walking through the park and see the light in the leaves a different way or whatever.
NEXT WEEK: EDWIDGE DANTICAT
Paul Holdengraber catches up with the author of Brother, I’m Dying, and other books…