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“Whatever his subject—favorites include porn, punctuation and the poetry of Frank O’Hara—the goal is always to jigger logic and language free of its moorings . . . His great and singular appeal is this fealty to his own desire and imagination . . . Figuring it out, after all, is a life sentence." ––Parul Sehgal, The New York Times
“Toward what goal do I aspire, ever, but collision? Always accident, concussion, bodies butting together . . . By collision I also mean metaphor and metonymy: operations of slide and slip and transfuse.”
Through a collection of intimate reflections (on art, punctuation, eyeglasses, color, dreams, celebrity, corpses, porn, and translation) and “assignments” that encourage pleasure, attentiveness, and acts of playful making, poet, artist, critic, novelist, and performer Wayne Koestenbaum enacts twenty-six ecstatic collisions between his mind and the world. A subway passenger’s leather bracelet prompts musings on the German word for “stranger”; Montaigne leads to the memory of a fourth-grade friend’s stinky feet. Wayne dreams about a handjob from John Ashbery, swims next to Nicole Kidman, reclaims Robert Rauschenberg’s squeegee, and apotheosizes Marguerite Duras as a destroyer of sentences.
He directly proposes assignments to readers: “Buy a one-dollar cactus, and start anthropomorphizing it. Call it Sabrina.” “Describe an ungenerous or unkind act you have committed.” “Find in every orgasm an encyclopedic richness . . . Reimagine doing the laundry as having an orgasm, and reinterpret orgasm as not a tiny experience, temporally limited, occurring in a single human body, but as an experience that somehow touches on all of human history.”
Figure It Out is both a guidebook for, and the embodiment of, the practices of pleasure, attentiveness, art, and play from “one of the most original and relentlessly obsessed cultural spies writing today” (John Waters).
“Gorgeous is one of Wayne Koestenbaum’s favoured adjectives . . . It would be an apt word, too, for Koestenbaum’s own gorged and engorged prose, which is one of the best rejoinders I know to the idea that flamboyant style and a rigorous ethics or politics cannot live on the same page . . . Koestenbaum is an exuberant critic, enraptured poet, intoxicated historian . . . Of course it is one thing, as a writer, to aspire to or even practice impure forms and an ecstatic style—quite another to take seriously the ethical field onto which they open. In the end, for all the wildly admirable qualities of his writing, I think the essential contribution of Koestenbaum’s diverse project is to reassert what Walter Benjamin called ‘the fullness of concentrated positivity’ (a phrase of which Sontag approved) in the face of the fleeting attractions of polemic, dispute and snark. There is assuredly a politics to this, an urge to keep all possibilities in play, and to keep play alive as a possibility, in a time of anxiety and retrenchment. I can hardly think of a writer who is so exacting about his own enthusiasms, so diligent in his pursuit of joy, so principled in the defence of pleasure. Gorgeous, yes, but absolving too.” —Brian Dillon, Frieze