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Culture of One by Alice Notley

Readers Recommend

Posted 1.10.12

“Victor Shklovsky in 1916 posited that one crucial function of art is estrangement, defamiliarization or making the commonplace strange again and that's just what Alice Notley has accomplished in Culture of One (Penguin Books, 2011) by inventing the compelling voice of Marie who lives in a dump in the desert and has to construct her life with the materials found there, the detritus and ephemera becoming her book of wisdom. These disposable texts, which swamp our collective imaginations, are very much a part of our shared culture of disregard, and Notley, as she has for decades, reorients our attention to the ‘robotic jewels [that] can be stroked or focused’ and the essential cri de coeur that just wants ‘to SEE, without brambles like you in front of me, / stressing me out.’ Blending a fragmentary narrative from the internal cognitive landscape of a wounded but perspicuous heroine who walks inside a lucent force and projects it too, Notley is an underrated treasure, an American living in Paris as the genuine inheritor of the Left Bank expatriate genius of Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Gertrude Stein, and Chester Himes, and this latest book finds her at the top of her game.”

—Ravi Shankar from New Haven, Connecticut

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