Thursday, March 31, 2011

Glenn Ligon @ the Whitney Museum

Mirror, (2002), Coal
dust, print ink,
glue, gesso,
and graphite
on canvas
82 5/8x55 1/8 in.
Collection of Mellody
© Glenn Ligon
Last Friday, I traipsed over to the Whitney Museum to view Glenn Ligon: America, the first mid-career retrospective of Ligon (1960-), an artist who is perhaps best known for his wall-sized, oil and coal dust text paintings from the 1990s through today. (I must note immediately that his beautiful painting "Black Like Me #3 (Study)," from 1992, graces my first book, Annotations.)  The Whitney rightly devotes a floor to Ligon's oeuvre, which consists not only of the paintings but of drawings, prints, photography, and multimedia installations, including sculptures, which together suggest a coherent approach, across forms, that define the possibilities, and perhaps strike the limits, of what identitarian art might do. I use the term "identitarian" with advisement, since I think that Ligon's work exceeds being so easily categorized, but seeing this art, all of it of considerable technical mastery and distinction, a good deal of it even more beautiful when viewed up close (especially the oil text paintings!), brought me back to the core of what the earliest of these works suggest: Ligon's investigations into questions of identity, racial, sexual, social, political, cultural--his own and those of people around him, in America and outside our shores.

What the works also evoked for me, almost in the sense of setting forth a world, of calling into existence the moment of their creation and first appearance, the fraught period of the 1980s and 1990s, when identity-based art surged to the forefront of public consciousness and discussion, just as other genres, such neo-Expressionism and the second waves of minimalism, conceptual and performance art were waning, and I could feel myself reliving some of the debates I witnessed, that I participated in; I could feel the polemics in favor of (which I passionately was and still am) and against this work, which was and, I would argue continues to be important, especially given how crucial it is in reminding of the broader political, economic and social turmoils of that period. The era of the Reagan, Bush I and early Clinton presidencies has been reduced to a caricature these days (Saint Reagan! The greatest president ever! blah blah blah; George H. W. Bush has virtually disappeared; the relentless attacks against Clinton and his centrist policies, even before he was elected, now almost completely forgotten in the public discourse even as they mirror what Michael Dukakis, and later Al Gore, John Kerry, and Barack Obama have endured), but the brutality and ugliness of that period, the period of the AIDS pandemic's emergence, of the anti-affirmative action and anti-abortion fanaticism, of white racial retrenchment and the rise of the militia movement, of the anti-Japanese and anti-immigrant testeria, of supply-side economic's intellectual triumph and practical failure, of the lust for warmongering and the buildup of the military-industrial and security states, of the ramped-up deindustrialization of the country, of the rise of the crack epidemic, of the cultural wars in and outside the academy, etc., all of these forming the foundations for our current moment and yet phantasmal in our mass media, also all form the backdrops to Ligon's art.

Untitled (I Am a
Man (1960)
Oil and enamel
on canvas,
40x25 in.
Collection of
the artist.
© Glenn Ligon
Walking through each room, I felt something akin to the beating wings of Benjamin's angelus novus, but a black, queer, cosmopolitan, left-leaning, and indefatigable one, against my cheek: the now-time (Jetztzeit) of that earlier era, the era of my 20s, the period of Slackers, of Public Enemy, of Eleanor Bumpers and Tawana Brawley, of Do the Right Thing, of ACT-UP and Queer Nation, of the last glimmers of Gay Liberation, of Essex Hemphill and Marlon Riggs, of Audre Lorde still alive speaking out against Jesse Helms, etc., was there with me even as I was firmly in our present moment, with its host of grave concerns.  What I also began to feel, as I reached Ligon's pieces invoking the runaway slave posters, was that a great deal of this art was perhaps, in some ways, too much of its time; universal yes, and yet perhaps too anchored in that earlier moment whose issues are still with us, but in different ways. The retrospective, to put it another way, felt insistently historical, indexing not only Ligon's history, but the country's, the society's, my own. It felt--dated perhaps is too strong a word, but while the formal power of the work struck me as transcendant, especially the oil text pieces, a good deal of the other aspects of the work felt as if it reflected a moment that had passed, but also, as if it were in some ways trapped, as if in amber, in that moment.  In a sense, this underpins some of the past criticism of this work, and of similar art of this or earlier periods, which I must admit upsets me, in part because I worry that in viewing the art in this life I may be undercutting Ligon's achievement, that I am falling into the trap of arguing that art probing identity, particularly the identifications and intersectionalities so central to Ligon's work, cannot transcend its moment, cannot resonate beyond the particular contexts in which it was created; but another way of looking at it might be to say that some of Ligon's work does and will continue to do this, but some of it does and will not. Perhaps, as an artist I greatly respect suggested to me a few weeks later when we discussed the exhibit, what might benefit some of these pieces down the road would be for them to be exhibited with other works of this era, thus providing an even richer immersion in a conversation whose urgency we forget at our peril.

Notes on the Margins
of the Black Book
(1991-93), (detail)
91 offset prints
11 1/2x11 1/2 in.
(framed) 78 text
pages, 5 1/4x7 1/4
each (framed)
Solomon R. Guggenheim
gift of the
Bohen Foundation
© Glenn Ligon
I do want to call attention to one part of the exhibit that particularly took me back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, and somewhat shook me up.  That was Ligon's Notes on the Margins of the Black Book (1991-1993), his response to Robert Mapplethorpe's highly controversial 1988 volume The Black Book, which preceded Mapplethorpe's even more charged 1989 exhibit Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment. Ligon's exhibit essayed and assayed the responses, from a range of viewers, some famous scholars and critics like Stuart Hall to figures depicted in the portraits themselves to Mapplethorpe himself, figuratively and physically breaking down the book, image by image, page by page, to critique and open up ways of seeing, reading, understanding, and interpreting--which is to say, experiencing--Mapplethorpe's, and by extension, this society's, views of black men, the black male body, the black body, blackness itself. Ligon's interpretive practice here was and remains quite remarkable; it suggested in its richness some of the subsequent revisionings of Mapplethorpe's work by Kobena Mercer and others, while also demonstrating another powerful, effective and moving method of critique. (It would do us all a bit of good never to forget that art, and not just academic criticism, has this capacity, and when it does so effectively it can reach a great deal more people.) I recalled my own reading of The Black Book, my own youthful critiques and conflicts, at the power being accorded Mapplethorpe, at what I read as objectification, at my own insistent attraction to the images, at my desire for someone black, someone of color, to attempt something of this sort and the frustration I knew I would feel as it went ignored by the wider culture in ways that Mapplethorpe's art never would, and so on. Ligon in fact captures all these feelings and many more--some were his own, reflected in the range of commentary, the juxtapositions of image and text, the sheer panorama of visuality that both magnetized--and magnetizes still--as it overwhelms.  This was one aspect of the exhibit that reminded me of why Ligon is such an important artist, and why I hope he continues to make art, especially work that engages the themes and tropes of our times.

One thing I found surprising was that the exhibit did not include--or perhaps I missed them!--Ligon's playful photographic and digital projects from the mid-to-late 1990s, such as Feast of Scraps (1994-98), in which he juxtaposed family photographs with vintage gay pornography, many of the images featuring black men. One outgrowth or extension of this work appeared in his online Dia Center for the Arts project "Annotations" (no reference whatsoever to my book), which is available here (click on "Annotations"). This work struck me as opening out into really interesting possibilities in terms of the emerging queer studies and discourses on and around family, geneologies, filiations and affiliations, and so on, and its use of digital media also marked what I took to be new directions on Ligon's work. But as I said, I did not see this in the Whitney show, and perhaps missed it. If not, I hope that in a future show and in his work to come Ligon resumes it, especially because it was in conversation with some of the exciting work that Thomas Allen Harris has been undertaking around black families and geneologies but also prefigured the mainstream gay shift towards discussions of marriage, family, homonormativities (which Ligon was queering in very interesting ways), and LGBT relationships in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  All in all, I highly recommend seeing the exhibit, and look forward to seeing another retrospective of his work several decades down the road.
Outside the Whitney Museum (Glenn Ligon neon sign in window)
Outside the Whitney Museum, Glenn Ligon's exhibit, signaled by the neon Negro Sunshine in the window.

Film Review: Pariah

In my initial, mostly mental draft of this review, I began with a long paragraph about my declining interest in mainstream--Hollywood--and a good deal of independent US cinema, but on rereading it, I decided to forgo the rant and instead focus on one aspect of it, which is to say, the mainstream and a good deal of queer American moviemaking. As with the broader US film mainstream, in far too many US queer cinema, the stories represent a narrow spectrum, in multiple ways; they traffic in stereotypes; and almost never do I see anything produced calling itself queer cinema that that reflects the diversity of lives I know, including anyone like me in them. To give one example, I'll cite the Oscar-nominated film The Kids Are Alright (2010), which received considerable praise, especially for its fine performances (especially by Annette Bening), but I had to ask after having watched it, who were these women? I know they exist, but what about the millions of lesbians who aren't upper-middle-class, asset-rich, highly educated, asset-rich, homeowners, white? What about all the women and transwomen whose main concern isn't a faltering relationship caused by the appearance of a sperm donor but how they'll put food on the table, keep their jobs if they have them, deal with difficult or unyielding family members, survive?  What about the lesbians who aren't coupled up, with attractive children who could easily step out of a Gap ad, who despite the societal and cultural changes are still treated like outlaws and pariahs?

Considering what's rarely shown or depicted, I was very happy to go with C to see Pariah, Dee Rees' Sundance Film Festival favorite from last year, which was playing at this year's Film Society of Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films Festival in New York. I had not seen the 2007 short, which garned a great deal of acclaim, but I had read a little about the film to know its contours. Alike (Adepero Oduye), pronounced Ah-LEE-kay, is a 16-year-old African-American lesbian living in Brooklyn with her middle-class family and partially in the closet, partially out. In, as Alike, to the degree possible when at home, because of her emotionally smothering, doctrinaire, religious mother Audrey (Kim Wayans) and her loving but emotionally distant father, an NYPD detective, Arthur (Charles Parnell). Out, as "Lee," when at school and with her closest friend, Laura (Pernell Whitaker, who also gives a superb perform), an aggressive who's been thrown out of her home, dropped out of school, and is now living with her older sister.  The story, which reprises elements of many a coming-out tale's plots, nevertheless feels fresh because of the acting, the setting, the focus of the story itself.  I cannot think of hardly any non-documentary features I have seen, at least in the last 15 years, that spends even a short period of time exploring the life of a black lesbian/queer woman, young, old or otherwise, or even that portrays the dynamics of queer life within the framework of a contemporary urban middle-class or working-class family, particularly one comprising people of color. (Quinceañera does this, admirably in my perspective, for a Latino family.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

And Speaking of Relational Aesthetics: Youngman Hennessy

Carolina G. (thank you!) sent me the link to the video below, by Hennessy Youngman, which also appears on 1) the Gavin Brown's enterprise site as part of the Rirkrit Tiravanija commentary and 2) on Negrophonic's site, as a stand-alone March 15th post. 

(If you'd like a short refresher on Nicolas Bourriaud (1965-) or "relational aesthetics" and "relational art" you can drop in here.)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Rirkrit Tiravanija: Fear Eats the Soul

The days of this society is [sic] numbered
A while back, when I was still in the habit of posting regularly (and had the time and mental energy to do so), I mentioned the artist Rirkrit Tiravanija in conjunction with another relational aesthetic project that was occurring at the Flux Factory. Aah, the old days! A friend of C's saw the post and ended up deciding to check out one of his events, and even mentioned it to see. But I'd never had an opportunity to experience his work live--to participate in it--until this past Saturday when that same friend, knowing of my interest in Tiravanija, hipped us to his show that's currently running at Gavin Brown's enterprise until mid-April, Fear Eats the Soul. I can't say I fully grasp Tiravanija's invocation of the English translation of the title of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's iconic film (one of his best, really) from 1974, Ali: Angst Essen Seele Auf, which treated the tumultuous love affair, across national, linguistic, racial, class, and cultural lines between a white working-class German woman and a brown North African immigrant laborer, especially after reading the press release for the show, but it nevertheless increased my interest in seeing what he had devised.

The show consists of several parts: one, FEAR EATS THE SOUL, is the large, transformed open space of the Brown enterprise gallery, with "Fear eats the soul" graffitied in black on the gray walls, a mini-gravesite (a hill of soil, an iron headstone laid flat reading "Fear Eats The Soul"), and other deconstructive elements placed here and there, the emptiness and ephemeral state of the space signifying, among other things, quite playfully upon the title and the idea of the "reliquary," which he has played with before. Another reprises several of his earlier performances, including the plywood replica of his apartment, this time filled with bronzed pieces referencing his 1994 show "with" (the late) Andy Warhol, which paired the latter artist's pieces (one of the Mao portraits, a Brillo box, a TV set) with pieces from Tiravanija's life.  Unlike in 1999, on Saturday, we weren't able to install ourselves and sleep on his bed, watch his TV, ruminate, be; the door was locked, the space open for viewing. The plywood structure did invite visitors through a second door, which led to a screenprinting shop, TSHIRTNOTSHIRT.COM, whose walls Tiravanija had lined with a number of phrases he has cited in the past (some of them détourned or repurposed quotes from others), and which offered $20 t-shirts featuring these phrases to anyone who requested one. When we dropped in, one of his Columbia University graduate students, the affable Nick P., was running the press. Obsessed as I am with documenting such events, I got one (see below).

But this would not have been a Tiravanija show for me if he had not performed one of his trademark moves, which was to prepare food for visitors-participants, a hallmark of his practice from his earliest performance-events, such as 1990's Pad Thai, which also took place at an earlier inpetration of Gavin Brown's enterprise, and a legendary and almost hackneyed form of the now well-known genre of conceptual art known as "relational aesthetics."  Hackneyed except in the hands of Tiravanija himself, who as part of SOUPNOSOUP.COM, in another (the main?) part of Brown's arthouse, quietly and with radiant charm (and several assistants) prepared two different soups, one a tea-lime chicken version (which led me to break my vegetarianism for a day) and the second a milder mushroom soup. I know that tea, lime juice, and a few other things went into the pot, because my trio watched Tiravanija and his trio prepare the food, the day grow brighter and chillier, and various personages, unknown to us but likely part of New York's art scene, pop in for soup and conversation.  One person I struck up a conversation with turned out to be a very important former gallerist and font of knowledge and insight, Simon Cerigo, whose wife publishes the Website ArtLoversNewYork.  To say that he regaled us would be understating matters, so I'll put it this way: I learned more in the 45 or so minutes of conversation with him about the New York (and global) art world of the last 30 years than I had in the last 25 of my own gentle investigations of the same. Or rather, I got from his conversation what no books, polite inquiries at galleries, and chats with the artists I know have provided. I lie not! At any rate, we decided not to be carbuncles, and headed out. I could not muster the courage to chat with Tiravanija, so I took lots of pictures, and smiled at him. He probably thinks I'm a crazy person, which wouldn't be so off the mark, especially as I have been sporting a baby(fro)hawk these last few days. (It's spring break!) 

I'm still thinking about the soup, the crowd, the concept, Fassbinder, New York's art world, what it might mean to be a world-famous artist reprising your earlier interventions in an art world that has grown immeasurably richer and more global since you first began your work; to be serving soup in a city in which the homeless are numerous, and what sort of "community" really is being created or engaged if the project occurs within a (private, wealthy) gallery's (open) walls; to build a plywood version of any sort of living space, again within the confines of a privat(iz)e(d) institutional space, when New York apartments are still unaffordable for the majority of its population and people of color are still losing their homes empty to foreclosure and empty storefronts are legion; to create ephemeral artworks that on the one hand defy easy commodification but are by the same token now utterly implicated and imbricated the contemporary art and economic commodification process, and which by their very nature assume even greater value at a certain level; to be making art in a gallery on the edge of SoHo when the artworld has mostly tromped up to Chelsea, which was mostly still warehouses 21 years ago, in an increasingly deindustrialized, deterritorialized, defunded city, at a revolutionary moment or moments: what does it mean and can it be summed up even in an essay or book?  I'm still thinking, remembering, enjoying. Photos below:
Rirkrit Tiravanija, at work
Preparing the meal
At work
C & Ada: THE
C & Ada H (THE)
Angst Essen Seele Auf

Monday, March 21, 2011

C'est la fin (du terme/quartier)

The quarter has barreled towards its end and I am now in recovery mode, having felt more than a little flattened beneath it. At a certain point I had to impose mental triage and this blog, unfortunately, lay moribund on the gurney.  In addition to my usual commuting routine and a heavy traveling schedule from the very beginning of the year (classes began on January 3, and I had to attend a conference that first weekend) and to an exacting departmental committee assignment and my fulfilling and demanding graduate and undergraduate advisory and supervisory work, as well as delightful non-work-related projects, like the Roussel play, I taught two classes, the gateway introductory fiction workshop and a required course for senior creative writing majors.  Both demanded a tremendous amount of effort, mainly because of the mountain of reading (I assign multiple initial exercises, online threaded discussions on assigned texts, two short story drafts, and one revision in the intro fiction class, and in the senior class, I require a creative autobiography, weekly tweets on Twitter, a book review, a creative essay on one of six books I assign, an in-class report on one of the many articles I post, and a final paper or interview-with-analysis), but one of the immediate pleasures of both is being able to witness the development of the students' tools, artistry and confidence in the former, and the mastery of skills in the latter.  What was true for previous intro fiction classes seemed even more so for this one; a number of the students made evident imaginative and technical leaps in second drafts, which made me nearly start cheering every time I registered this as I read them. I always try to point this out in my typed comments, and sometimes I worry the students may think I'm being too enthusiastic and praiseworthy, but it is heartening to see a student whose first story tacking closely to her autobiography imagining, in her second draft, the lives of people much older, or different, or from a very different chronological period, and structuring the story with greater assurance, understanding how to create characters who come to life on the page, realizing what details will unlock the narrative in ways others would not, and so forth. As I read the final drafts this past week and weekend, what struck me repeatedly was how far some of the students had gotten, how much they had grown, how, in every case, they advanced--have advanced--beyond their earliest efforts, the tiny 1-3 page exercises, they first submitted to me in January.

With the senior majors, one of the most important things I left with was a feeling of hope for the future of literature, and hope and happiness for their own future projects and work, in and around the literary world. At various points this course left some graduating students with a mild--to serious--sense of gloom about the changing US literary landscape, but this year, perhaps because so much remains in the air--and poet and Northwestern University Press rights manager Parneshia Jones reminded our class during her wonderful visit that in the publishing industry as in life "things change every single day"--and so many tools are now available to writers, editors, potential publishers, all of us, more than one of the students told me that they felt "hopeful," that they could make a difference, that they would pursue careers as writers of every possible type and genus, as publishers and editors, as scholars and critics, and in roles perhaps not yet fully conceived or named, by anyone, as things moved forward. I am looking forward to seeing what they do, and they know they will have my support always.

For the required senior major class, "The Situation of Writing," I debuted three new books: Dunya Mikhail's Diary of a Wave Outside the Sea (Elizabeth Winslow, translator; New Directions, 2009), a memoir (of sorts) in verse, of the Iraqi American poet's life during the Gulf and Iraq Wars; Judith Ortiz Cofer's Woman In Front of the Sun: On Becoming a Writer and (University of Georgia Press, 2000); and David Shields's Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (Knopf, 2010).  Of the three, I think the one that provoked the least discussion was Mikhail's, perhaps in part because of its form as two long poems, the first more lyric than narrative and quite abstract as opposed to documentary, which required that the students--or any reader--think about what might constitute a "diary," how trauma and personal experience might be recorded and translated into lyric form, and what war poetry, or poetry written during and in response to war, might look like, all of which were challenging, to say the least. That said, the form also proved liberating from some in the class, and led students whose usual approach might have been a prose essay or creative nonfiction to write longer poems as their response.  The formal approaches of Shields' and another book, Adrienne Kennedy's People Who Led To My Plays (Theater Communications Group, 1996), also appeared to have a liberating effect on the creative essays and final projects, so while there were quite a few to read, their inventiveness (alongside their quality) made each a pleasurable task.

I sometimes think a version of the "Situation" class ought to be offered to all MFA, MA and PhD in creative writing students since it broaches many of the topics that writers not only should be thinking about but have to consider if they want to make writing a career, but from what I can tell, such courses remain a rarity. Which is a shame, but it also underlines how unique and unusual the experience the university's writing students, especially the majors, really is, and how much they are exposed to in addition to the extensive training in writing they undergo by the time they graduate.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Photos: Dust of Suns

Here are a few more photos from and several iPad drawings I did  during my lulls in that performance of Raymond Roussel's The Dust of Suns! (The supersaturated and black-and-white photos are courtesy of the Hipstamatic app Joel suggested.)  I already miss my eyepatch and cape--well, the cape. I shall have to get one, and a top hat as well. Enjoy!
"Jacques" from backstage
"Jacques" from backstage
Joel before his scene
Joel before his scene
Excitement backstage
Excitement building backstage
Joel and Joshua
Joel and Joshua, backstage
Top-hatted "Tekurujou" tree
The top-hatted Terojuku tree
Before the play
Before the play
During the performance (Léonce, Zumeranaz, Oscarine)
During the play
Backstage (iPad drawing)
Jacob S., backstage
Backstage (iPad drawing)
Backstage, during the final evening
Backstage (iPad drawing)
Sarah, backstage, during the play
Yours truly, in cast photos, as M. Valdemont (photo by Jacob K.)

Saturday, March 05, 2011

NU MA/MFA Reading & "The Dust of Suns" Images

If you're in Evanston on Sunday (tomorrow), please consider catching this quarter's Northwestern University MA/MFA in Creative Writing Program reading, featuring two of my graduating students Jaji Crocker and Jason Crock, as well as fellow graduate Nik Gallicchio.

The reading will take place at 4pm, March 6, at 405 Church Street, Evanston. There's ample street and lot parking, and the reading is free. You can also take the L to Davis Street and walk east. To RSVP, click here.


As for Raymond Roussel's wacky play, The Dust of Suns, and we, its players, so far, so good, one down, two to go! Here are a few images from the first night's show. More to come!

Before the first night's performance
Backstage, before the first night's performance
The performance of "Dust of Suns"
One of the scenes in the staged reading's second half
The performance of "Dust of Suns"
The Brazilian "progressive" and nonconformist, Dr. Flurian (in robe)
The performance of "Dust of Suns"
Léonce and Zumeranaz, in Part 2

Friday, March 04, 2011

Chicago Staged Reading: Roussel's Dust of Suns

It's been a while since I've posted (including missing my 6th blogaversary--I'll finish that post soon), but when I haven't been traveling I've buried under paper this quarter, with no let up for the next few weeks.  Between my classes, all the great undergraduate and graduate students whose work I'm supervising, and a committee I served on (whose work is now done), I haven't had much time to breathe.

I did, however, happily agree to participate last winter in the wonderful event below, the Chicago Poetry Project's staged reading of French author Raymond Roussel's (1877-1933) strange and enchanting 1926 effort Dust of Suns (La Poussière de soleil), one of his several failed efforts at the art of the stage. I say failed, because like nearly all of Roussel's work, this play was a bust at its premiere, yet his strange methods of composition, involving homonymic play, have stood up well over the decades, and like his (failed) poetic and novelistic projects now show him to have been ahead or at least in the more interesting currents of his time.

Chicago-based poet, critic and sage John Beer is mounting and directing the production, which will take place at the eerily named Charnel House, on West Fullerton in the Logan Square neighborhood (it's 3-4 blocks from the Blue Line El stop nearby), over the next three days. It's free, so if you happen to find yourself with a few hours, a desire to laugh (the play is often quite funny), and even the slightest interest in seeing yours truly in an eyepatch and cape, please do come see it.

The Chicago Poetry Project presents
a staged reading of the play
Raymond Roussel's The Dust of Suns
Created By
John Beer
March 4-6; Fri, Sat 8pm; Sun 3pm. ALL PERFORMANCES ARE FREE.
The Charnel House
3421 W. Fullerton St., 773.871.9046

About Roussel and the play:

French poet, novelist and playwright Raymond Roussel (1877-1933) faced almost universal incomprehension and derision during his lifetime, for works that neglected traditional character and plot development in favor of the construction of elaborate descriptions and anecdotes based on hidden wordplay. While the premieres of his self-financed plays caused near-riots, admirers included Surrealists Andre Breton and Robert Desnos, who called The Dust of Suns (1926) “another incursion into the unknown which you alone are exploring.” Roussel never enjoyed the posthumous fame of his hero Jules Verne, but he has exercised a powerful fascination upon later writers and artists including the French Oulipo group, Marcel Duchamp, John Ashbery, Michel Foucault, and Michael Palmer. New editions of his novels and poetry are forthcoming this year from Princeton and Dalkey Archive.

Like much of Roussel’s writing, The Dust of Suns has a colonial setting. Against the backdrop of fin-de-siecle French Guiana, a convoluted treasure hunt unfolds. Along the way, Roussel fully indulges his penchant for bizarre invention and juxtaposition. The Frenchman Blache seeks his uncle’s inheritance: a cache of gems whose location lies at the end of a chain of clues that includes a sonnet engraved on a skull and the recollections of an albino shepherdess. Meanwhile, his daughter Solange is in love with Jacques—but all Jacques knows of his parentage is a mysterious tattoo on his shoulder...

This script-in-hand performance of Roussel’s play, directed by John Beer, with design by Caroline Picard, features an array of Chicago writers and artists.

Performers include: James Tadd Alcox, Joshua Corey, Joel Craig, Monica Fambrough, Sara Gothard, Judith Goldman, Samantha Irby, Lisa Janssen, Jennifer Karmin, Jamie Kazay, John Keene, Jacob Knabb, Francesco Levato, Brian Nemtusak, Travis Nichols, Jacob Saenz, Larry Sawyer, Suzanne Scanlon, Jennifer Steele and Nicole Wilson.
My iPad drawing of John Beer at rehearsal