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What We're Reading: Emilie Friedlander

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Tired of reading the same recommended books from the usual sources? Just think of our weekly What We’re Reading column as your non-committal book club with FADER and some of your favorite bands. For this installment, senior editor Emilie Friedlander picks three recent, politically charged reads.

Preliminary Materials For a Theory of the Young-Girl by Tiqqun
I studied Marxist theory in college, and while blogging about electronic producers and rock bands feels worlds away from stuff I was thinking about when I wrote my senior thesis, I was thrilled when a friend recommended this strange collection of women’s magazine fragments and philosophical aphorisms by Tiqqun, a radical writing collective that was publishing a journal out of France in the late ‘90s. It’s extremely hard to sum up what’s going in this book, but basically, Tiqqun took the Marxist idea of reification—ie, the extension of commodity logic to the field of human relations, even to actual living beings—and applied it to contemporary youth culture, specifically female youth culture. That the advertising and entertainment industries impose impossible physical ideals on young women in order to get them to buy products won’t necessarily come as a revelation, but this book takes it one step further, pointing out that even our personalities and our love relationships have been infiltrated by thinking that was formerly the domain of the marketplace. Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, is a massive, ultra-disturbing downer, but it’s written in a dramatic, conspiratorial tone that makes even its most depressing insights a pretty thrilling read (ex: “The Young-Girl is never worried about herself, but only about her own value. Thus, when she encounters hatred, she is struck by doubt: has her market value dropped?"). Full disclosure: I spoke to Kim Gordon recently, and she told me that she used fragments from this book as lyrical inspiration for her upcoming Body/Head album with Bill Nace.

Life Form, by Amélie Nothomb
This is another weird one, inspired by a 2009 USA Today article about an obesity epidemic among American soldiers stationed in Iraq. Belgian author Amélie Nothomb plays a starring role as Belgian author Amélie Nothomb, ensconced in a consuming epistolary dialog with a morbidly obese American private named Melvin Mapple, who, intriguingly to the novelist, has read every one of her books. Mapple confesses to her that he developed his insane overeating habit since arriving as Baghdad—both as a means of coping with the anxiety and depression of the job, but also in the hope of rendering himself out of commission for service—and seems at first to be using Nothomb as a stand-in for a therapist. But when the writer transitions from a listener role to making actual suggestions as to what Mapple should do with his life—telling him that he should start thinking about his pathology as a form of activism, and pursue a career as a performance artist—Life Form reveals itself to be a really messed-up metaphor for the ethical complexities of the writer-subject relationship.

what purpose did I serve in your life by Marie Calloway
I found out about Marie Calloway after interviewing Tao Lin and researching some of the lesser-known millennial writers he's helped bring to people's attention with his Muumuu House publishing imprint. Then I saw this book on the independent press shelf at the Barnes & Noble at Union Square and felt compelled to buy it, partly because it has a really magnetic cover (Calloway's face), and partly because I had enjoyed reading her story "Adrian Brody," about a real-life romantic affair she had with an older writer whose name is not actually Adrian Brody. Mostly, what purpose did I serve in your life is just Calloway writing about her own sexual exploits—often in pretty graphic detail, with an emphasis on the miscellaneous awkwardnesses, miscommunications and insecurities that she experienced with a host of (mostly casual) partners in her early 20s, some of whom were actually paying her for the encounter. There's also a lot of repurposed Internet material—like Facebook chats and emails—that she ripped straight out of her life and pasted onto the page. I wouldn't call it "well-written literature" in the sense of beautifully turned phrases, but it's exciting to see a young writer sort of performatively push the boundaries of what the act of writing a memoir might entail. In some ways, it's also annoyingly histrionic, but there's a certain sly activism in how upfront and exposed she is willing to be with her readers, even when she's revealing how intimately her sense of self worth is bound up with some sleazy stranger's perception of her sexual attractiveness. Definitely an interesting companion piece to the Young-Girl book (above).

Posted: August 09, 2013
What We're Reading: Emilie Friedlander