This Week: Film Society begins Marguerite Duras Retrospective

the lover

Beginning this week, The Film Society of Lincoln Center is launching a retrospective on playwright, novelist, essayist, and film director Marguerite Duras. The retrospective marks her centennial as well as the re-release of Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), directed by Alain Resnais with a screenplay written by Duras. Though I have not yet seen Duras’ films, her writing has resonated with me since I first encountered her autobiographical text, The Lover (1984) in a graduate seminar last year. I remember her book fascinated me as her writing broke all conventions of storytelling. Unlike other authors, Duras’ writing is both visceral and unblinkingly literal; she gives voice to silence, and shapes what cannot be seen—desire, loss, memory. In anticipation of the retrospective, I recently returned to The Lover, and found, again, a window into the life of an artist whose writing questions not only how we write, but also how we see.  So in hopes of stirring our thoughts as we look forward to Duras’ films this week, The Lover is the subject of this post.

The Lover tells the story of a French girl growing up in colonial Indochina. The narrator lives in Sadec, a city in the Southern part of the colony, with her widowed mother and two brothers. Elliptically tracing her departure into adulthood and her development as a writer, the narrator tells the story of her life, which she describes, in a moment of both defiance and negation, as having no “center,” “No path, no line.”

The story opens with a description of a “photograph” that exists only in the narrator’s memory.  The image is of a girl—the narrator—crossing the Mekong River at age fifteen and a half, traveling to her boarding school in Saigon. She remembers herself wearing her mother’s silk dress, a man’s flat brimmed hat, and gold lamé high heels.  She recalls:

“I think it was during this journey [across the river] that the image became detached, removed from all the rest. It might have existed,a photograph might have been taken, just like any other, somewhere else, in other circumstances.  But it wasn’t.  The subject was too slight.  Who would have thought of such a thing?”

As her childhood is marked by her family’s failure to recognize her as an individual, denying her subjectivity, it is precisely the photograph’s “slightness” that marks its importance to her life: “it’s to this, this failure to have been created, that the image owes its virtue.” The photo exists for no one but the narrator; she is its only creator.

The details of the photograph unfold over the course of the book and take on new meaning as time moves forward and backwards, within and around the image. With the movement of the story, we learn that this image takes place before she meets the older Chinese man who will later become her lover; before their clandestine affair causes an unbridgeable rift between the narrator and her family; before desire carves out a space that undercuts and reveals her alienation from her colonial environment.

By focusing on the non-existent photograph, Duras’ text speaks to a new way of seeing. It is provocative that the narrator chooses to call her memory a “photograph,” as the image is not still, but moving; she is journeying across the river. Unlike the manicured and stagnant portraits that the narrator’s mother sought for herself—portraits that the narrator describes as “uniformly rejuvenated”—the photograph that the text returns to again and again expands and changes as the story and narrator evolves in time.

Images, as seen in Duras’ fixation on the absent photograph, appear differently throughout the story to not only the narrator, but also to the reader . Unlike other narratives about growing up, we are not meant to accept one version of the story and then move on. Instead, as the narrator writes, we can always find “hidden stretches of that same youth, of certain facts, feelings, events that [are] buried.” Indeed, I only realized on a second reading that the narrator’s shortest (and very first) recollection of the photograph is, perhaps, the most expansive:

“So, I’m fifteen and a half.

It’s on a ferry crossing the Mekong River.

The image lasts all the way across.”

From this early description, she reveals that the image of herself crossing the river can never be concluded, that all events preceding and following that day are and have always been contained in its memory. For Duras, the photographic image becomes a site of constant movement, a space of departure and return. The image lasts all the way across.


For more information and a schedule of the upcoming screenings, visit the Film Society’s website.


By Maxine


October 16, 2014 at 12:47 pm Leave a comment

Join Us In Opening A New Bookstore


Dear Friends and Neighbors,

As you may have heard (or read), Book Culture is endeavoring not only to keep operating our two independent bookstores in Morningside Heights – but also to open a third location at 450 Columbus Avenue, between 81st and 82nd Streets (which many remember as the home of Endicott Booksellers from twenty years ago).

Our target date of mid-November 2014 is fast approaching and we need your help.  We are asking for you to be an integral part of the effort through supporting memberships and several other options that have been created for the cause.

This is an opportunity to have a real effect on what our city looks like, to take part in creating a community bookstore and to keep the discovery of books and reading a part of our lives.

To find out more about helping a new independent bookstore open its doors, please click here.

Thank you.

Chris Doeblin,,  and Annie Hedrick,

October 15, 2014 at 8:43 pm Leave a comment

Science and Story: The History of the Future

There is an exciting upcoming event in the world of books! On Wednesday, October 22nd, from 6:30-8:00pm, The World Science Festival invites you, in collaboration with the New York Historical Society, to join acclaimed journalist John Hockenberry and author Walter Isaacson for a fascinating conversation about creativity, innovation, success and failure.


Few writers can capture the essence of scientific and technological genius as compellingly as Walter Isaacson. Following his award-winning best sellers on Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs, Isaacson has now authored The Innovators, a history of the digital revolution and the men and women, many of them largely unknown, who led it. Spanning three centuries, these are the stories of pioneers and visionaries.

Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of “Time” magazine. He is the author of Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; and Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. He lives in Washington, DC.

John Hockenberry is an award-winning journalist with twenty-five years experience in radio, broadcast television and print. He is the host of WNYC and PRI’s The Takeaway, a correspondent for PBS Frontline, and a noted presenter and moderator at conferences such as TED, Aspen Ideas, and the World Science Festival.

To buy tickets, visit:

And be sure to check out other events at The World Science Festival.



October 14, 2014 at 4:31 pm Leave a comment

Reading and Q & A with Michael Keenan & John Duvernoy

On Tuesday, October 21st at 7pmwe invite you to join us for a poetry event and reading with Michael Keenan and Seattle poet, John Duvernoy.  Keenan is launching his new work, Translations On Waking In An Italian Cemetery and Duvernoy will read from his new book of poems,  Something In The Way // Obstruction Blues.  

The poems in Keenan’s Translations On Waking In An Italian Cemetery illuminate that ‘other world, inside this one.’ Wearing line breaks to score your heart beat by, these poems limn the phantasmagoric backstreets till dawn, never settling for the comfort of the nihilist’s pose.

Something In The Way is an aboriginal blues, a gut map, where ecstatic clarity shares a bed with gall stone blindness. Proceeding by feints and jabs, deadpan misdirection undercutting stark confession, the pages share a core vulnerability, a magnetic bruise. These are loner’s poems, vying to connect. Sunk deep in the mud of childhood, dragged by an erotic comb with missing teeth, what passes through unexamined, re-emerges in adulthood, wearing masks.

Looking ahead to this event, we asked the poets a few questions…

 translations duvernoy

How did you come to write Translations On Waking In An Italian Cemetery? 

Michael Keenan: Well, I moved to New Orleans suddenly after finishing graduate school and was struck with a Rilke-like inspiration after living on Bourbon Street for only a few days, and ended up writing the majority of the book in only a few weeks, mostly late at night in Café Du Monde.

How did you come to write Something In The Way//Obstruction Blues?

John Duvernoy: Well, I couldn’t find anyone else to do it. Which is not merely flip, but true – this is all I can really do. I spent many years making this book, layering it and scraping it away – the oldest lines or phrases go back to the late 90’s.

What are you currently reading?

MK: I’ve been reading around in a number of texts, but haven’t felt the urge to commit to any of them. Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s The Joy of Living continues to grab me on the train, at least for a few pages, before I inevitably leap back into English Romantic Poetry and Prose edited by Russel Noyes, a book I found at my parents’ house in Florida over the summer which has my father’s name written in the top right-hand corner of the first page.  I’ve also been reading Lorca poems with poet Carlos Lara, a friend of mine and John Duvernoy, while we sip coca cola and recline in my car outside of Mamoun’s on St. Marks. This is, in my opinion, the best way to read Lorca.

JD: I had been weaving in and out of a big stack: Zurita’s selection of Latin American poets Pinholes in the Night, Will Alexander’s essays Singing in Magnetic Hoofbeat, Lorca’s Collected, and Forrest Gander’s upcoming second novel The Trace – but then Knaussgaard got a hold on me and it’s been all Ove ever since.

Do you have a personal favorite book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why?

MKThe Catcher in the Rye. I don’t identify with this book in the same way I did as a younger man, but I still think it’s a masterpiece, and I’m still in love with it. And, like John, I always return to Frank Stanford’s The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You.

JD: Favorite of the past year: probably Fred Moten’s The Feel Trio.  I don’t know anything about “of all time” but a book I continue to go back to, over many years, is The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You by Frank Stanford.

Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to the publication of?

MKCarlos Lara’s The Green Record, for sure, which contains the most electrifying use of language I’ve read in the last decade.

JD: Volume 4 of Knaussgaard’s struggle, David Gates’ story collection A Hand Reached Down To Guide Me, CD Wright’s beech tree project, Carlos Lara’s The Green Record, John Murray’s The Peregrine Children.

What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works?

MK: I’m working slowly with poems I wrote over the summer which are dark green in color and take place, tangentially, at least, on the various rooftops of horse stables I drive by on a daily basis. The working title of this new manuscript is Just After Midnight At The Hypnagogic Diner, and there are only two characters, but that’s all I should say for now.

JD: I am trawling around a book-length piece called ‘you were never seen far from your coat’, chumming the waters with some pages of it in the upcoming issue of Cal Bedient’s Lana Turner Journal.

 1407807115145     John Duvernoy


October 8, 2014 at 5:47 pm Leave a comment

Upcoming Fall Poetry Events

The beginning of Autumn marks the end of summer; the start of school, for some; tea-season; wool-season; crunchy leaf piles–and a wonderful lineup of poetry readings and events at Book Culture.  Whether you are looking to discover a new poet, or share your own work at an Open Mic Event, we hope you will join us this season for these upcoming events in celebration and support of the art of poetry.

Upcoming this Month:

On Friday, October 17th at 7pm, Apogee Journal is hosting an Open Mic Night.  The Open Mic is free and open to the public! Come to share! Come to listen! Past participants have read poetry, short form prose, samples from larger works, monologues, even music.  Signup sheets will be set out at 6:40pm. Participants will be limited to 5 minutes each.


Join us on Monday, October 20th, at 7pm for Greece: Journeys and Returns, a special joint reading with Adrianne Kalfopoulou and Rachel Hadas. Adrianne will be reading from her latest book, Ruin: Essays in Exilic Living, and Rachel will read from her last book of poems, The Golden Road.

9780810128590  9781597095372

On October 21st at 7pm,  join us for the launch of two new works: Michael Keenan’s Translations On Waking In An Italian Cemetery, and John Duvernoy’s Something In The Way // Obstruction Blues.

translations  duvernoy

Sunday, October 19th, at 2pm come to our monthly Tea and Letter Writing event featuring a poetry reading with contributors of The Widows’ Handbook. Our letter writing station will be available to any all who wish to write a letter.  Stationary and postage are always provided.


We invite you on Friday, October 24th, at 7pm for and reading and launch of Daniel Shapiro’s new book, The Red Handkerchief and Other Poems.

red handkerchief

Join us Thursday, October 30th, at 7pm for the launch of Sarah White’s new book of poetry, The Unknowing Muse.  Joining Sarah is 8 string guitarist, Andrew Schulman, playing selections by Bach, Schubert, Gershwyn, and the Beatles.

 unkowing muse

On Deck For November…

On November 6th at 7pm, Book Culture will host eXfoliation, two poets and two writers of prose from Louffa Press.  Hosted by David Moskovich and Justin Maki.

MATT DOJNY, fiction
AMY FUSSELMAN, nonfiction


On Friday, November 21st, at 7pm there will be an exciting Open Mic Night hosted by 4×4 Magazine. The event is free and open to the public!


And, finally, a poem:

Fall Leaf Studies

I wake up, I count my money
then I have lunch.
After lunch I go
To the window.
The leaves are no longer green.
When the leaves fall,
at the end of summer,
who knows if there are enough
to cover the ground?
Do they themselves
ever actually really know?
They come down slowly
and with many conjectures
after all that yak
and in that bronzed state
they pause.

–by Mary Ruefle, from Trances of the Blast

October 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm Leave a comment

Reading and Q & A with Caleb Scharf

On Thursday, October 23rd, at 7pm Caleb Scharf will take us on a scientific adventure with a reading and discussion of his newest book, The Copernicus Complex:  Our Cosmic Significance in a Universe of Planets and Probabilities.  The Copernicus Complex explores many cosmic mysteries such as the tiny microbes within the Earth, distant exoplanets, probability theory, and beyond. Looking forward to this upcoming event, we asked Scharf a few questions about what inspired the Copernicus Complex: 

How did you come to write The Copernicus Complex?

The idea for the book had been gestating for a long time. It has always puzzled and intrigued me how we constantly circle the question of whether or not we’re alone in the universe and whether or not we’re somehow ‘special’ – either as being a very rare type of species, or that life itself is rare, or whether life is somehow linked to the deeper function of the universe. The book is an effort to tackle this issue head on, with science, with the latest cutting edge discoveries, to try to peer into the near future. What really surprised me is how big a conundrum we face, there’s plentiful evidence both for and against any notion of ‘special’ when it comes to life in the universe. This is my attempt to synthesize, distill and produce a plausible answer to that conundrum!

What are you currently reading?

Two books. One is Norman Mailer’s Of A Fire On The Moon- his elaborate reportage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I had no idea he’d written this, and it’s brilliant in places, as well as hugely politically incorrect in others. He’s really trying to come to grips with a ‘new age’ of technology, machines, and people. The other book is Caspar Henderson’s The Book Of Barely Imagined Beings - a lovely, modern, version of a Bestiary, with some fantastic ideas and insights to the nature of life.

Do you have a personal favorite book of all time? If so, can you share it and tell us why?

I have no single favorite!

Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to the publication of?

I’m a big fan of Bill Bryson, so whatever he does next, I’m looking forward to it.

What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?

Nothing I’m allowed to talk about yet!

October 7, 2014 at 2:06 pm Leave a comment

Q&A with playwright Sarah DeLappe

Bookshop Workshops returns to Book Culture on Saturday, October 11th, at 4pm. Last May, we hosted a reading of Stephanie Del Rosso‘s Mixtape to a full house. This time, it’s Sarah Delappe‘s The Wolves. She took the time to answer some questions about her work and current reading.

How did you come to write The Wolves?

Ok, so. This sounds like a red herring. But I swear, it’s true. I saw Here and Elsewhere at the New Museum. It’s a sprawling and urgent exhibition of contemporary art from the Middle East. And I had a hugely visceral / hugely obvious reaction. I felt so far away from it all. America felt so far away from it all. Even a collection of fine art combed from a swath of different cultures, countries, conflicts, decades, installed on the Bowery, felt so far away. Riding back on the B train, I thought, what could be farther away than a bunch of sixteen-year-old girls warming up for an elite soccer game in a temperature-controlled air dome?

What are you currently reading?

Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme. He’s like George Saunders before George Saunders. And I’m obsessed with George Saunders.

Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to the publication of?

I wish. I’m still wading through the piles of books I’ve yet to read.

What’s next? Any upcoming book projects in the works that you can tell us about?

Morgan Green’s directing the (fully staged!) first part of my play PARABOLA as part of FEM. Monday, November 24th at JACK in Brooklyn. It’s a metamorphosis comedy in the Colosseum. Come!
Sarah Delappe‘s plays have been produced at Yale University and the Nevada Shakespeare Company; read and developed at Amoralab, True False Theater, UglyRhino, WinkEyed Productions, and the Yale Playwrights Festival. She won Yale’s 2012 Frances Bergen Memorial Prize for her one act Half-Life.
Bookshop Workshops is committed to exposing audiences and emerging writers to a community of interaction that challenges the way we engage, create and come to the theatre. Their programming gives writers a space to take risks and invite audiences to become part of their processes. This can happen in bookstores, at cocktail parties or by picking up a magazine. Find out more about their work on their website:

October 4, 2014 at 2:09 pm Leave a comment

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