The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between/Stacey D'Erasmo

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Always a cause for celebration when a new volume in the The Art of series is released by Graywolf Press. Edited by Charles Baxter, the "series is a line of books reinvigorating the practice of craft and criticism." The Art of Subtext (by Baxter himself), The Art of Time in Memoir (by Sven Birkerts—a book I love and teach and feature in Handling the Truth), The Art of Recklessness (Dean Young), The Art of Attention (Donald Revell), The Art of Description (Mark Doty)—these are ingenious encapsulations of a working writer's best thinking on the making of stories, sentences, and poems.

Yesterday, Stacey D'Erasmo's contribution to the series—The Art of Intimacy: The Space Between—was released; I had it on my iPad by dawn. D'Erasmo is a writer and reader worth heeding—an honored novelist, a professor at Columbia, a critic whose reviews are often better than the studied books themselves. Here, in this book, she does exactly what her title promises—explores "the nature of intimacy" and "the space between us" through chapters with titles like "Trying to See," "Meeting in the If," "Meeting in the World," "Meeting in the Dark," "Why Meet?," and "Distance." Old favorites like The Secret Sharer, The Rainbow, So Long, See You Tomorrow, Beloved, and To the Lighthouse are reinvigorated here, reviewed with an eye toward blurred, encapsulated, empathetic, and haunted spaces. Lesser known (to me, anyway) texts such as Dennis Cooper's My Mark, Nella Larsen's Passing, and Yoko Tawada's "The Bath," are likewise studied, quoted at length, turned over like conical shells.

I don't know about you, but I find this sort of thing thrilling—viewing texts through the eyes of a skilled, practicing writer. D'Erasmo has ideas; she makes assertions. "I have noticed that the intimacy we feel as readers is often generated far less by characters turning to one another and saying intimate things or doing intimate things than it is by a kind of textual atmosphere, or maybe one should say a biosphere, a gallery, a zone that both emanates from characters and acts upon them very deeply and personally," she asserts early on.

Later, she addresses her readers as probable writers:
The harm, it seems to me as a struggling writer among other struggling writers, is that piety of any kind is never especially good for art. Characters can, and should, believe all kinds of things, passionately and with brilliant wrongheadedness, but the book is, generally speaking, up to something else, something broader, something less sure of itself. Questions the writer might ask herself as she struggles to bring a sense of intimacy onto the page are, What assumptions am I making about what intimacy is? What received ideas about intimacy am I perhaps unwittingly reproducing?
It's all fascinating to me—elevating my vocabulary as a reader, expanding my girth as a writer. And so, on this morning of vapid fog and gathering heat, I send it out to you, dear readers, as a book to buy and keep.


Kelly Simmons said...

this is sooooooo timely for me right now! I was just saying to someone yesterday, who asked about my writing, that I was trying to showcase the growth of intimacy in a troubled young marriage. It's a tricky thing to do on the page, as well as in life. Duh, right?

Serena said...

tough topic for life and writing

Jeannine Atkins said...

Thank you for the heads up. I've loved her novels.

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