Sisyphus, Outdone. Theatres of the Catastrophal, by Nathanaël, was launched into the world at the Corpse Space on Milwaukee Avenue last Wednesday evening, in the presence of the author and Daniel Borzutsky (my discussants in open conversation), and a sizeable yet intimate crowd.

This is one of a score of books recently issued by Nathanaël, who writes between genres: that word genre referring to both genre and gender, in the French sense—in what is much more than a pun transgressing tongues, but instead a primary aperture onto the unflaggingly, unapologetically seismic, fracturing and yet twinning, hermaphroditic terrain of this author’s mind. I was asked to open the space to a voicing of this latest text, which is in conversation with all of the prior, and whose very body models the reconception of the self as, to cite Nathanaël, “in seism.”

I’ll transcribe here my opening remarks as moderator about the text as counterboulevard:

The work is clearly related to Nathanaël’s earlier texts in being composed as from within a thicket of discussants, both living and on paper, and including herself. However, formally speaking, Sisyphus, Outdone pulls itself apart to a greater extent. It is as though the threads in what Judith Goldman justly calls Nathanaël’s “tissue of citations” had been yanked convulsively to make the threshold/voids between voices more palpable—as in translation. The frontispiece in fact features the formula for the “equation of dynamic crack growth,” courtesy of Michael O’Leary.

I think of course of Benjamin’s Arcades Project, since Benjamin was the one who said of translation that “if the sentence is the wall before the language of the original, literalness is the arcade”: literalness being a structure of innumerable, unapologetic thresholds.

In the open thresholds signaled by white space on the page we are subjected to the difficulty, and silent undertaking, of advancing from one voice or citation to the next in “disappointed bridges” (cited from Joyce on page 53), “Bawling by architecture’s apertures” (68).

And in fact, the status of the “advance” is thrown into question by this work, which is constantly doubling doors, seeing the threshold of text and abode as both exit and entryway, a text that can reverse, repeat, revise, the “instant cast backwards.” And this itself has to do with the “repetition at the heart of catastrophe” that Cathy Caruth theorizes and Nathanaël reperforms.


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