Get Keith Nathan Brown’s Embodied for $5.00!

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Pick up a copy at Sententia Books!


In this multifaceted collection of dreamscape stories and arabesque concrete poetry, Keith Nathan Brown invokes a wide range of literary and non-literary forms—from poetry to scientific report, from short story to mathematical proof—as a way to explore the gray area between mind and body where selfhood finds its origin. These thirty three fictions, poems and hybrid texts are arranged in thematically-related sets and subsets to simulate a travel guide to “cross-conscious interstates.” Whether induced by illness or intoxication, or inspired by music or meditation, each psychoactive text offers itself as a node in a larger conversation about time, identity, meaning and the human bond. Philosophical in scope, psychological in depth, at turns witty and cerebral, at turns brooding and surreal, Embodied twists language—literally and figuratively—to open up portals of heightened reality and, more importantly, to activate a sense of discovery and awe in the face of everyday existence.

Sample work: “The Tongue” (elimae) | “The Makings of an Amateur Meteor” (Abjective) | “Clock Time”  (PANK)

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David Peak’s Recent Reading at Brown University

Here’s the introduction I delivered before David Peak’s reading at Brown University’s Literary Arts Department’s Demitasse on  April 18, 2013:

The first fiction I read from David Peak’s work was his chapbook Museum of Fucked, the curator-narrator of which has a thing for b-grade horror films, the narrator offering aching portraits of disturbed, hurting, and despairing people living in rundown Chicago neighborhoods, ne’er-do-wells, like crack addicts, homeless people, a blind man begging for change, a landlord who starves cats and dogs for pleasure, a woman with “burned out nostrils” with “rotten” teeth who claims her mother was Marilyn Monroe, and a desperate man swinging a baseball bat holding kids captive. Roaming Chicago’s “gray gentrified industrial neighborhoods,” its “people-packed, colorful shopping districts,” “hip neighborhoods filled with three-flats,” and the “dirty parts…with their broken glass and families,” these grotesques could easily be confused for the zombies of Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead (titles of two of Museum’s stories). The view of life here is encapsulated in the following lines from this brutal fiction: “God we’re all fucked, he says to someone on the other end of the line.”

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Big Other’s Birthday Tribute to William H. Gass, 2012

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Photo by Frank Di Piazza

It’s probably too easy a move to begin my very brief remarks about Gass’s use of architecture as a metaphor by trotting out the old horse of a quote about language being the house of Being, before flogging it to death once and for all; but it seems appropriate, nevertheless, to do so, especially when I think about Gass’s positing that the sentence is a container of consciousness. Actually, the quote from Heidegger is useful only when held in contrast with Gass’s ideas about language. Whereas Heidegger placed speech, that is, the continuum of speech, which includes talking, listening, and silence, at the center of his theory of language, Gass does not see writing as a mere supplement to speech. The continuum of writing includes four modes: persuasive, expository, expressive, and literary; and two hybrid modes: argumentative (a fusion of persuasive and expository) and critical (a fusion of expository and expressive) modes. Of these modes, it is the literary that receives the primary focus in Gass’s critical writing. And so, one might perhaps properly say that, for Gass, writing, or, rather, the sentence is the house of becoming. And what is it exactly that becomes in a sentence? For Gass, the sentence is a container of consciousness, a “verbal consciousness, of course, one built of symbols, not sensations; yet one of perceptions all the same: perceptions followed by thoughts like tracking hounds, and infused throughout by the energies of memory and desire, the moods emotions foster, and the reach, through imagery and other juxtapositions, of imagination…” (“The Aesthetic Structure of the Sentence”). Like any house, this container can take any number of forms:

[S]entences must be understood to contain all sorts of unused syntactical space; places that could be filled with more words, but, in any specific instance, aren’t…Sentences are like latticework, like fences, to be left open or prudently closed, their boards wide or narrow, pointy or level, the spaces between them, ditto….A sentence can sometimes give its reader such a strong sense of its overall character that it provokes a flight of fancy, a metaphorical description: it’s like a journey of discovery; it’s like a coil of rope, a triumphal column; it’s like a hallway or a chapel; it’s like a spiral stair. To me, for instance, Sir Thomas Browne’s triplet—“Grave stones tell truth scarce forty years. Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oak.”—with its relentlessly stressed syllables (seven strong to one weak in the first row, seven to two in the second course, and six to one in the last) resembles a wall. I can even locate spots (the weak stresses) where its stones have crumbled. Families come to pieces the way the word does.

Yes, architecture is a theme running throughout William Gass’s oeuvre, not only in his critical work but in his fictions as well, particularly in The Tunnel, where tunnel-as-metaphor is used as the very structure from which the novel is built.

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David Peak’s “Literary Pillars”

I am only listing books I have read—so a lot of very important books are getting left out. I’m aware of this. Also, I’m also leaving out the Bible because I shouldn’t have to explain why. These are simply the 50 books that have shaped my understanding of the written word, my place in the world, and how I perceive everything around me. I am not saying anything more than that. I am no authority.

1. Beowulf by Anonymous (???)

This book is pure fucking heavy metal. I’ve found that it’s best to read Beowulf while listening to a band like Blind Guardian. For some reason, I was obsessed with this story when I was a kid. For a long time, I thought the Goya painting “Saturn Devouring His Son” was Grendel eating some dude. I was wrong, obviously.

2. The Odyssey by Homer (8th Century BC)

Again, more heavy metal. Why are so many older books so heavy metal? I think it’s because life was much harder back then and you had to be good at sailing and swinging a sword in order to survive and mate. I probably wouldn’t have lasted long. Also, this book gave us the phrase “the wine-dark sea” which is just pure awesome.

3. The Republic by Plato (380 BC)

This whole book is worth reading just for “The Allegory of the Cave.” This is a book that keeps on giving. Once you read it, your whole world perception is affected. It’s like when Neo starts seeing the Matrix. You will begin to recognize the signs that life is showing you.

4. Poetics by Aristotle (c. 335 BC)

I found this in the communal laundry room of my first apartment building after moving to Chicago. I was nineteen years old. I had no internet and no television that whole year. After I read it, I started thinking critically about the way writing was classified, or the terms we use to describe the tradition, which has since turned into a huge problem for me. Now I can’t have fun while reading ☹

5. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (Early 14th Century)

Dante’s ambition is astounding and his language is as thick and taut as a rope, always pulling you forward along with him for the ride. I’ve found that reading a single canto each day is a good way to digest this without getting worn out.

6. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (Mid-14th Century)

Non-stop fucking, scheming, plotting and gossiping—this book is the precursor for modern television. It’s a slog to get through all one hundred stories, but the framework devised around their telling is nothing short of brilliant. Also, the descriptions of the Black Death in the beginning are seriously heavy metal. This book signifies the beginning of what would later come to be known as the structured novel.

7. Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare (Mid-to-Late 16th Century)

This book is way better than Hamlet, which always seemed overrated to me. I never felt like I had a handle on Gertrude or what her actual feelings for Claudius were. Oh, well. There’s no whiny prince in Titus Andronicus, just a ton of pretty disgusting violence and plans for revenge. I think of it as the 16th Century’s “I Spit on Your Grave.” It’s pretty great. More than almost any other play by Shakespeare, I feel that Titus has had a lasting influence—an influence we might not want to acknowledge. It was hated for centuries, but like a bad stain, it never went away—and there’s a reason for that. Bloodlust, as much as we might try to ignore it, has always fed creation.

8. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)

Not much to say about this book. It’s really funny and it gave us the term “yahoo.” For that reason alone, it makes the list. Holds up really well even to this day and marks the first book on this list that could be considered a book of “grotesques.”

9. The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling by Henry Fielding (1749)

Okay, full disclosure, I never made it through this book, but I really, really want to. For its time, the book had a wildly conceptual structure. Basically, the story is told in mirroring themes, so the beginning of the book has themes that relate to the end of the book, the middle sections of the book mirror one another, etc. There’s a scene pretty early on where a woman gets accosted in the graveyard outside of the local church. It turns into a huge brawl and someone winds up getting clubbed with a thigh bone. Fight scenes—or crowd scenes—don’t get much better than this one.

10. The Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (1833-1849)

It’s difficult to recognize now, but Poe essentially re-defined the way we tell stories, ratcheting the tension up one notch at a time. It’s powerful stuff—gruesome too. He even wrote a story about a murderous gorilla named Erik who dresses up in people clothes. It’s adorable.

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Best of 2011, Part 2

Lots of great things happened in 2011 for Gary Amdahl, Donald Breckenridge, Tobias Carroll, Aaron Gilbreath, Johannes Göransson, Dylan Hicks, Christopher Higgs, Tim Horvath, Jamie Iredell, and David Peak.

Find Part One, here.

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A Sentence About a Sentence I Love: An Anthology, of Sorts

A few months ago, in April, to be exact, I started a series of posts entitled “A Sentence About a Sentence I Love” with a sentence about one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s magnificent sentences. This concentration, or, rather, this obsession with the sentence may have come from my, at the time, recent readings of William Gass’s essays wherein he concentrates much of his attention on the sentence as a primary building block in poetry and prose. Essays by Gass like “The Soul Inside the Sentence,” “The Sentence Seeks Its Form,” “The Architecture of the Sentence,” take as their focus the centrality of the sentence toward the construction of thought, and particularly of thoughts within the parameters of fiction. In “Philosophy and the Form of Fiction,” Gass claims that sentences are “the most elementary instances of what the author has constructed….a moving unity of fact and feeling.” Moreover, sentences

must be sounded, too; it has a rhythm, speed, a tone, a flow, a pattern, shape, length, pitch, conceptual direction. The sentence confers reality upon certain relations, but it also controls our estimation, apprehension, and response to them. Every sentence, in short, takes metaphysical dictation, and it is the sum of these dictations, involving the whole range of the work in which the sentences appear, which accounts for its philosophical quality, and the form of life in the thing that has been made (Fiction and the Figures of Life, 14).

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