For my writing seminar—this might be obvious—I had to speak on behalf of Speedboat. Rather than discuss it in formal terms—plotting, characterization, images—I did some lite archeology to contextualize the writing, culling the traces of other women writers I believe had some impact on its content and style, or were, eventually, impacted by Speedboat on down the line. Eventually these notes/talking points will make a real-life essay!!! Or they won’t. But it’s a shame to have done all that scanning and not dump it on my blarg.
1) Susan Sontag, “On Style,” 1965, Partisan Review. A famous piece—considered performance art pieces, other temporal works of the historic and au currant avant-gardes. Collection, Against Interpretation, dedicated to Paul Thek, an artist who staged live-ins in galleries, orgies in museums, did experimental theatre. “On Style,” like Wilde’s dicta, wants the surface of an art work (this includes writing) to also be its soul. That is, cool, intellectual, and in this majesty of its sensations and knowing, frenzied, delightful. Compare—keep in mind—as we consider the fiction & criticism to come.
2) Gone excerpt featuring Hannah Arendt: This will be a formative experience for Renata—not only because she and Dr. Arendt become friends henceforth—Adler defends Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil in The New Yorker’s Notes and Comments section, the week after its thrashing in all the major dailies, weekend reviews, and sundry cultural digests. More so because it is an intellectual touchstone. Adler had read On the Origins of Totalitarianism, On Revolution, and Arendt’s other books of political theory & philosophy. This “banality”—here—of evil—crops up, I believe, across Adler’s work.
3) Excerpt of Eichmann and the Holocaust (tiny Penguin Great Ideas reprint of selected New Yorker articles from Arendt’s trial reports, throughout five issues, February-March, 1963). Observe Arendt’s special notice of and play on Eichmann’s “aphasia”—the closeness Arendt reads the man’s words in this trial reportage—which, when Adler goes on to receive her juris doctor from Yale in the 70s, will become something of her own job at The New Yorker, when, in the 80s, she reports on trials across the country.
4) Actual “Banality of Evil” page. Important to consider. A shocking idea. Coolly stated, in Arendt’s typically ultimate, persuasive, and above all ironic style. Refers back to Eichmann’s “elating clichés.” We see that clichés take on the horror. Adler and Hardwick have a great ear for clichés—they are frictives in their fiction, often used to understate or deflate violence and treachery.
5) Refer back to Gone. Editing technique of Adler’s story “Orcas Island,” so named for its misty wiles, off the coast of Washington state. A defense, I believe, of her stories methodical—although loose-seeming—construction.
6) Into Speedboat. Let’s keep in mind the “banality” trope, and also Sontag’s notice in On Style. We need to see how the gruesome, the horrible, the criminal, is also absurdly comic—and still manic. Barely controlled. Fitfully modulated. Also how Adler does to murder, perhaps, what she criticizes in Arendt—“reflects rather an aesthetic taste than a moral judgment.” Synthesize.
7) “Where the Stress Falls,” pg. 29. Crack Adler’s text back open with Sontag, years later, describing the work of Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights. Note the construction of the last line, versus Adler’s, on pg. 63 of Speedboat. “I particularly like where the stress, the italics, goes.”
8) Further back in “Where the Stress Falls,” pg. 21, a description of exactly this instance again. And more, pg. 15. A theory of affect—the short novel, compressed emotions, the distillate needs speak for larger, longer, less pressing but more felt scenes.
9) And we proceed to Hardwick. American author and critic, co-founder of the venerable New York Review of Books. Married, tumultuously, to the poet Robert Lowell. Sleepless Nights, like Speedboat, is a semi-autobiographical novel, this one about a woman in old age. A literate, well-connected woman. Her life in letters is hinted at. The fragmented style, of Adler, is insisted upon, although Hardwick is truly all her own. (I FUCKING LOVE HARDWICK GAHHH!!!) Still, observe how she narrates the harlotry and eventual death of a young woman she knew back in Lexington, Kentucky.
10) And, jigsaw nearly complete—here is some press on Adler that Hardwick published in her essay “The Sense of the Present: Guilt, Character, and Possibility.” We round again on the twin discourses of the “stylized, dehumanized” and the “banal.” Indeed, these become as virtues to this way of writing—this way of perceiving, and thinking.