MY 1980S AND OTHER ESSAYS by Wayne Koestenbaum


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Critical and personal essays from noted poet and cultural critic Koestenbaum (English/CUNY Graduate Center; The Anatomy of Harpo Marx, 2012, etc.).

The author collects essays on poetry, photography, painting, opera and other aesthetic concerns, but the true subject that emerges is Koestenbaum himself; the possessive in the collection’s title is telling. The author explores his relationship with art (and that term here applies to everything from online pornography to the novels of Marcel Proust), teasing out meaning by means of a relentless, densely allusive, insistently personal interrogation of the work, the artist and Koestenbaum’s own response. That response is largely an apprehension of desire. The author is less interested in historical context or qualitative evaluation than he is in grappling with the ways in which art makes him feel; this drive, buttressed by an intimidating level of erudition and agile reasoning, is reminiscent of Pauline Kaels’ work, if she had been more steeped in critical theory and less coy about sexuality. Koestenbaum employs fragments, lists, digressions and all manner of playful formal strategies to consider the essays of Susan Sontag, the artistry of opera singer Anna Moffo and the photographs of Cindy Sherman; the author also applies his formidable faculties to the mystique of Lana Turner, a nude of Cary Grant and the sublimity of Debbie Harry of the rock band Blondie. Notions of high and low dissolve in Koestenbaum’s passionate engagement with culture and in his palpable urgency to unpack the mechanics of desire, whether parsing the line breaks of Frank O’Hara’s poetry or recalling the tactile pleasures of Play-Doh. Other subjects include Brigitte Bardot, Hart Crane, John Ashbery and Diane Arbus.

A challenging, rich, aesthetic autobiography and intellectual high-wire act that rarely falters.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-374-53377-9
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2013


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