Drifts by Kate Zambreno


Drifts by Kate Zambreno
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 11.1 MB

Haunting and compulsively readable, Drifts is an intimate portrait of reading, writing, and creative obsession. At work on a novel that is overdue, spending long days walking neighborhood streets with her restless terrier, corresponding ardently with fellow writers, the narrator grows obsessed with the challenge of writing the present tense, of capturing time itself. Entranced by the work of Rainer Maria Rilke, Albrecht Dürer, Chantal Akerman, and others, she photographs the residents and strays of her neighborhood, haunts bookstores and galleries, and records her thoughts in a yellow notebook that soon subsumes her work on the novel. As winter closes in, a series of disturbances—the appearances and disappearances of enigmatic figures, the burglary of her apartment—leaves her distracted and uncertain . . . until an intense and tender disruption changes everything.

All summer I sit in the broken Adirondack chair on the porch, existing in the present tense, in that trancelike state of seeing, like the animals. My notebook in my lap, my books scattered around me. The frequent desire to do nothing. How Genet stares at me, with his amber eyes, and I stare back. Somewhere in the piles on my desk, I could excavate a stained, partial printout of Susan Sontag’s “The Aesthetics of Silence,” which tells me that animals don’t look but stare. I pull at my dog’s little white Sontag mohawk as he rolls over for me to scratch his soft pink belly or I pick him up to kiss his little monkey muzzle. Genet is tranquil on the porch, sedated by the sun, as he gets up and collapses, alternating between patches of light, or shadow when his coat overheats. In summer we stare at the purple butterfly bush at the bottom of the steps, as the butterflies loiter about. But the landlord will cut it back in the fall, and last summer it didn’t flower at all. A line from Sontag’s journals I keep writing down in my notes: “All great art contains at its center contemplation, dynamic contemplation.”

Quiet, quiet, I say to Genet as dogs walk by, which he obeys by ruffing softly yet firmly to himself. Together we watch the promenades of dogs in the neighborhood. I wave at the Nepalese woman who lives in the apartment building on the corner, walking the silver pit bull with sleek muscles who was a puppy when we moved here. There is the Yorkie who erupts constantly from her perch high up in a building in the middle of the block. How sensitive they really are, these city dogs, but they cannot see it in one another. The ice-eyed Alsatian puppy, gangly and manic, whose owner is an older, muscular trainer, always in shorts, who lives with his wheelchair-bound mother in one of the houses on the street. While writing this, I realize that the Alsatian is no longer a puppy now but a full-grown dog, yet retaining a puppy’s jitteriness. I often wonder if the trainer thinks I’m lazy when he sees me on the porch in my sun hat, watching the procession of the neighborhood with my dog. But I am working, taking notes and thinking. Not just laziness, I’ve decided, but what Blanchot calls désoeuvrement, translated variously as “inoperativeness,” “inertia,” “idleness,” “unworking,” or my favorite, “worklessness.” A spiritual stance, more active, like decreation. The state where the writing of the fragment replaces the work. Kafka filling up notebook after notebook at night, sitting in the living room, blanket on his lap, having to cover his cage of canaries until they quiet, everyone else in the family asleep. In his notebooks he complains about the factory, Felice, his family, and later about how much time the publishing of his first little book, Meditation, takes away from his potential literary powers. Although when finally confronted with publishing his writing, he is panicked with how little work has accrued from the hours he spends in the middle of the night on his series of notebooks, the fragments he has published occasionally in journals. The artifice, he complains to himself, of trying to prepare a text for publication, when what he desires is to let a work take shape unforced. What he desires is a new prose. I email Anna, asking whether I should rename my book Meditation, after Kafka, or Contemplation, an alternate translation. No!—a one-word reply. It is irritating, someone else’s book crisis. The lists of titles she sends me as well. All this, of course, is fervent procrastination. That summer, we were both on a deadline—now your book is out, is on all the best-of lists. I am still here.

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