The Self Unstable

Elisa Gabbert

Late last year Teju Cole described this as “the most intelligent and most intriguing thing” he’d read in some time. A lyric essay, a memoir of aphorisms: you could get creative in how to describe this, but it reads most like poetry to me. On the surface perhaps the pages are brief and the words seem slight, but after reading through once and digging back in a few days later, I found the layers abundant. It seems like a book best gone through a few times for maximum effect.

On her blog, Gabbert collected some thoughts on the concept of the lyric essay, from David Shields’s book Reality Hunger, including this comment from Ben Marcus: “In fiction, lyricism can look like evasion, special pleading, pretension. In the essay, it’s apparently artistic, a lovely sideshow to The Real that, if you let it, will enhance what you think you know.”

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A visitor from the past would look around and mainly see an absence of hats. The primary purpose of fashion is to signal in-group conformism. If everyone walked around naked, it would be difficult to spot our natural allies. We grow attached to our enemies. We would rather they not apologize, which would obviate the reason to hate them.

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Most days we don’t think about the war. We don’t watch the news. What we don’t know might hurt us, but we’re protective of our pain. The life of the mind: Life is in our minds, the news is outside. Life is tragic in real time, but the memories are farcical. What good does it do to feel the same things over and over, to rehearse the same pains? Where are the clouds of the mind? Where is the play within the play?