Monday, June 28, 2010

Anna Kavan

holy fuck! i want to go to this, terribly.

kavan image

It's not as well known that Anna Kavan was a  painter (as was Zelda, her watercolor dolls), I especially love her haunting self-portrait, which to me is also how she wrote the self and her world, a sort of expressionistic horror. 


When her publisher Peter Owen asked her why her fiction worlds had turned even more to the dystopic, she had allegedly said something like "That's how I see the world now." It's interesting this show is being named "Scarcity of Love," it's a very little known Kavan, not her best work, I believe a sort of fairytale Snow Queen starring her perpetual evil mother figure, a bit of revenge fantasy after her mother died. Peter Owen didn't want to publish it, and I think it was published on a vanity press that then went under.

If you are just reading this now and have never read Kavan, I would read, of what is readily available: 1)Asylum Piece 2) Who are You? and 3) Ice, all available really expensively on Peter Owen. (Hey Peter Owen, you should start an American imprint so your books are not like $25 for paperbacks! As I would love to teach Kavan! As she is my favorite!) I smuggled all my gold Peter Owen Kavan paperbacks from London.

Here is an essay I wrote on Kavan like now about 6 years ago, when I was in London I tagged along with John often to the British Library, and I read every Kavan book there was, for an essay I wrote for Dalkey's CONTEXT, it was my first work of literary journalism, and I didn't realize at the time reading 17 books might make a 2500 essay pretty difficult to write. Reading Anna Kavan and also everything I read in the BL, the notebooks of Elizabeth Smart and By Grand Central Station, Nicole Brossard, Monique Wittig, and then at Foyle's Jean Rhys, Malina, Ann Quin, Elfriede Jelinek, irreparably changed me and baptized me.


in the review I just sent in of Danielle Dutton's S P R A W L, I compared her glorious associative catalogues of absurd overconsumption to a Bunuel tableaux, but then I took out, because I was unsure what Bunuel tableaux I was speaking of, I think it's the one where the beggars reframe the Last Supper, but then I forgot the film, was it Viridiana? and then I thought it was perhaps the dinner table in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, but what is extraordinary in that except that they don't ever eat? So perhaps I meant a Surreal tableaux, and that also calls to mind Louise Bourgeois' Destruction of the Father, the sending up of the Tantalus myth.

But the descriptions of food in S P R A W L are amazing, Danielle was inspired by Laura Letinsky's series of still-lives Hardly More than Ever, these painterly mise-en-scenes of the forlorn the forgotten the left behind objects and half-eaten foods, these left-over suppers:

Which now I'm thinking of my favorite writers of food, writers who write food and consumption as a sort of pornography, which of course it is, calling to mind that Harper's article about the Food Network. The first writer this reminds me of is Tao Lin, actually, whenever I read Tao Lin I get really hungry, his voluptuous descriptions of the vegan feasts he's made for himself, Tao Lin used to work at Angelica Kitchen in NY, one of my favorite vegan restaurants, although last time I was there John and I got the special entree whose name had some sort of Italian pun and it was slathered in tomato sauce and I didn't especially like it, actually I like Sacred Chow in the Village better, but anyway...I am vegan too and a total foodie and so I read Tao Lin and take notes about what he puts in his smoothies! Like in Bed the character is with his girlfriend and they are eating a take-out container of spinach and lettuce and sprouts and when I read it I get hungry.  I can pull a Tao Lin now. This morning John made me a green smoothie, with frozen spinach, frozen blueberries, frozen strawberries, hemp seeds, brazil nuts, almonds, spirulina, psyllium powder, vanilla rice milk, soy yogurt, orange juice. And then I had white tea and just made myself half of a sprouted wheat bagel with vegan cream cheese and tomato and sprouts, and kind of want to go have another one. See! I could do that everyday. Sometimes I want to share what I'm eating everyday.

And then of course in Danielle Dutton's S P R A W L such sensual descriptions of food, grotesque feasts, they're extraordinary:

I make two ribs of beef for dinner, one tuna, four omelets, one iced cucumber soup, two Chinese cabbages, two salads, five hams, one chicken liver, and for dessert I make pears in wine, one strawberry tart, one lemon tart, three apple pies, one bananas foster, and three chocolate cream pies.

And then this reminds me in a way of the verbal spewing in the works of Vanessa Place, who writes so marvelously about food as well, junk food, America's heroin habit, I'm thinking of a section in her  The Gates, which I was so lucky to read an earlier draft, a picnic scene. And then of course Flaubert! The wedding scene! The best description of food ever, a way for Flaubert to reach these dizzying heights with his prose as well as to really savage the soft bellies of the bourgeoisie.