Thoughts aroused reading a review by Laura Kipnis of two books by Lynne Tillman in the New York Review of Books, March 22, 2018, pp. 30-31.

Kipnis says her review is not “a takedown.” This is untrue. Kipnis bgins with an anecdote about a visit to an acquaintance who is married to a nasty man with a physical deformity. She says she does not understand the erotic charge for her acquaintance. She means she is repulsed by the man. During the visit, she writes, “I idly pulled a magazine down from a pile on a dusty end table—the place was in a state of squalor—and dislodged a stack of months’-old unopened mail underneath. ‘How can people live like this?’ I screamed silently inside my head, shamed by my bourgeois housekeeping standards but also really wanting to get home.” Kipnis does not believe she is bourgeois, nor do I believe she was shamed. She is saying people who are cooler than she is like dirt.

After the anecdote about the deformed nasty man and his mysteriously turned-on wife, Kipnis writes: “Spending time chez Tillman feels like that to me: disjunctive, fascinating, a little appalling. It calls things into question. The random digressions make me crazy, yet I want to imitate them.” No, she does not. She does not supply a single example of a technique of Tillman’s she would like to imitate. She has compared Tillman’s oeuvre to a dirty apartment about which she was not a little appalled but disgusted. She feels something like disgust for Tillman but does not want to say it. She does not want to say it because it would call into question her fitness for writing the review. She stages a break-up with Tillman. It’s not you, it’s me. She writes: “The alien sensibility inspires self-laceration, not self-elevation.” This, too, is untrue.

Kipnis writes: “I could have been Tillman. Like her, I studied painting as an undergrad, but eventually veered toward writing instead. I too came of age steeped in the legacy of the avant-garde. I suspect we have similar bookshelves: we’re interested in critical theory and questions of the self: we venerate Erving Goffman and overquote Freud. On paper, we’re a perfect match, yet despite all that, Tillman is from Mars and I’m from Venus. Filter everything I say hereafter through that disclosure.” Kipnis is saying: What I really love is my own sensibility. I hate what Tillman is doing and don’t have a category for my dislike I am willing honestly to acknowledge. Kipnis is saying: I want you, reader, to like me more than you like Tillman.

She briefly praises pieces in The Complete Madame Realism and Other Stories. Mostly she wonders why, in Men and Apparitions, Tillman’s first novel in twelve years, the author has installed a self-important, tedious male narrator. She decides it’s an expression of Warholian daring and ennui. Tillman’s novel like Warhol’s movies is boring for a purpose. She decides Tillman works off the proposition that, since nothing can be known for certain, anything can be ordered any which way you like and editing is bad. Kipnis says she is too uncool and too bourgeois to appreciate any of it, but hey.

Kipnis endeavors to write about being bored in a way that is not boring. This is how she wants to win you to her side. I began to think about ways I am boring. It is when I forget the needs of the listener. I want to talk about things that have happened to me. This month my car was totaled and I lost my Bose headphones. No one cares. No one should care. Tillman is a beloved author and person. Kipnis mentions pages of advance praise from famous writers. I think people care about Tillman’s pain. They may also be interested in the willingness of Kipnis to cause it. No one believes in the self-takedown of Kipnis. It is a boring device. Perhaps boredom is produced by the substitution of something fake for something real.

All criticism is painful, even the kind that is positive, because it calls attention to being looked at. In conversation that flies and is sexy, we forget ourselves. We forget we exist. We are in the present moment with another person and that is when boredom ceases to exist.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts aroused reading a review by Laura Kipnis of two books by Lynne Tillman in the New York Review of Books, March 22, 2018, pp. 30-31.

  1. joanhawkinsblog

    thank you for this– I hadn’t seen Kipnis’s review, but I love your meditation on it– and the way that Kipnis doesn’t get Tillman at all. I laughed out loud when she says you quote her as saying she could have been Tillman. I’ve meet and worked with both of them on projects, and no, she couldn’t.


    1. Laurie Stone Post author

      Hi Joan, I want to catch up soon. I hope you are well and want to hear about the Burroughs festival. The post has produced some lively conversation on Facebook, where I first published it. Lots of love, Laurie



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