Burying the Book: A Melancholy – A Lecture by Kate Zambreno
Writer Kate Zambreno presents “Burying the Book: A Melancholy,” a lecture interrogating literature as an ongoing project of a spiritual crisis, intrinsically linked to loss, thinking through Walter Benjamin’s assertion that “the work is the death mask of its conception.” Along with eulogizing the over a decade she spent attempting to finish, and thus archive her text, Book of Mutter, Zambreno will celebrate impossible projects by Benjamin, Bhanu Kapil, Henry Darger, among others, books that are never written, books that never end, books of refuse and refusal.
Writing is how I attempt to repair myself, stitching back former selves, sentences. When I am brave enough I am never brave enough I unravel the tapestry of my life, my childhood.
—from Book of Mutter
Composed over thirteen years, Zambreno’s Book of Mutter is a tender and disquieting meditation on the ability of writing, photography, and memory to embrace shadows while in the throes—and dead calm—of grief. Book of Mutter is both primal and sculpted, shaped by the author’s searching, indexical impulse to inventory family apocrypha in the wake of her mother’s death. The text spirals out into a fractured anatomy of melancholy that includes critical reflections on the likes of Roland Barthes, Louise Bourgeois, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Peter Handke, and others. Zambreno has modeled the book’s formless form on Bourgeois’s Cells sculptures—at once channeling the volatility of autobiography, pain, and childhood, yet hemmed by a solemn sense of entering ritualistic or sacred space.
Neither memoir, essay, nor poetry, Book of Mutter is an uncategorizable text that draws upon a repertoire of genres to write into and against silence. It is a haunted text, an accumulative archive of myth and memory that seeks its own undoing, driven by crossed desires to resurrect and exorcise the past. Zambreno weaves a complex web of associations, relics, and references, elevating the prosaic scrapbook into a strange and intimate postmortem/postmodern theater.
Kate Zambreno is the author of two novels, O Fallen Angel and Green Girl. She is also the author of the work Heroines (Semiotext(e)). She teaches in the writing programs at Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence College. She is at work on a series of books about time, memory, and the persistence of art, which includes Book of Mutter and the forthcoming Drifts.