Julian Barnes once called writing across gender the “one basic test of competence.” This clearly isn’t basic: look how often movies, Hollywood and art-house alike, consistently fail the Barnes (not to mention the Bechdel) test. Whenever another disappointing, one-dimensional female character waltzes onscreen (from Grace Kelly in Rear Window to Carey Mulligan in Inside Llewyn Davis), I know the first thing my partner will say afterward: well, that was obviously made by a man. Which is to say: what we just saw wasn’t an authentic person, let alone woman.
What is it about the anxiety of possibility and the possibility of creative work that seems so inherently linked? As we’ve seen, this is where Lerner’s poet (and Leaving the Atocha Station) arrives at lyricism. The poet’s fear of not understanding—but wanting to appear as though he’s understood—results in these beautiful, roving chords of possible meanings. But because the possibilities can’t all simultaneously be true, the only way to capture them (or gesture toward capturing them) is to move toward the hypothetical, the subjunctive—in other words, to turn toward language, to speak them.
When you think about food and sex, it may seem bit a bizarre to link these two together but their end goal is the same: satiation. Pleasure. There is an urge that needs to be met and through with either one–or more–of our orifices, we are able to become full. As experimentation on my part, I will be starting a blog series on food and sexuality in literature beginning in chronological order (as best as I can). So without further ado, let’s go back thousands upon thousands of years ago to the great civilization of ancient Egypt.
This past semester, I asked the undergraduates in my creative writing class to name the materials they felt were absolutely central to the class and the readings they felt had not earned their place on the syllabus. Overwhelmingly, my students cited a particular prose poem for the second category. While they could not find anything stylistically, technically or pedagogically wrong with it–in fact, most enjoyed the poem–they found the subject matter too trite for a college class. The poem was Kate Durbin’s “The Hills, 5,” the subject: reality television.
The Hamburger Bahnhof is not a train station now, and never was in Hamburg. It’s a museum of contemporary art in Berlin. It’s also a good metaphor—in name and in content—for this city where nothing is quite as advertised. Though a very fine layer of general German Ordnung covers everything here, it gives way easily to a jumble of rules without regulation, a mass of juxtaposed and unlikely objects of which I am also, and only, one.