Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

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I am reading this for the second time right now. It's very funny, and weirdly straightforward stylistically for a novel where the narrator is obsessed with questions of literary translation and writes poetry that deliberately resists interpretation. I find the narrator's faith in the "negative power" of poems, which even when they fail, through their failure point to the possibility of some other, absent successful poem, or "poetic experience," to be moving. I have more definite thoughts on this book, which is one of my favorites of the past few years, but I am more interested in hearing if anyone else has read it and if so what they think of it.

Treeship, Thursday, 11 July 2013 05:56 (six years ago) link

its really relatable i found myself retelling it to friends a lot after reading it - thought it would be more autofiction but totally content it wasn't... think auster's blurb about the central character being a lovable idiot was otm (but ofc cliche i guess)

niels, Thursday, 11 July 2013 16:15 (six years ago) link

i keep wanting to read this guy but i want to read the poetry and i have this complex about buying poetry on the internet

i better not get any (thomp), Thursday, 11 July 2013 18:14 (six years ago) link

you can read these. they are from his 2004 collection, the lichtenburg figures

http://www.theparisreview.org/poetry/248/ifrom-i-the-lichtenberg-figures-ben-lerner

Treeship, Thursday, 11 July 2013 18:16 (six years ago) link

i think that's the third time those have been linked to me on ilx

i better not get any (thomp), Thursday, 11 July 2013 19:16 (six years ago) link

They stand up on the third reading

Treeship, Thursday, 11 July 2013 19:22 (six years ago) link

I read this book and really enjoyed it for the first half. It was funny about being a certain age and what we need to communicate and be understood. It was an interesting enough portrait of a certain kind of Spanish culture and it felt close enough to truth to be a little, I don't know, daring? But I did struggle with the narrator over the end of the book and found myself just thinking he was an asshole who I wouldn't like much in person, whereas I related to his self-consciousness and fear of being "found out" for the opening of the book. So I put it down a little deflated, but I have fond memories of the earlier parts and would happily read another book like it.

admrl, Thursday, 11 July 2013 19:29 (six years ago) link

My boss's office is covered in Ben Lerner quotes--until I googled him I assumed he was some kind of database guru.

I should check out those paris review pieces.

BIG HOOS aka the denigrated boogeyman (BIG HOOS aka the steendriver), Thursday, 11 July 2013 20:14 (six years ago) link

what?

Treeship, Thursday, 11 July 2013 20:33 (six years ago) link

sorry for the rhetorical "what" but covering the walls of an office with lines of sometimes humorous, always vaguely cryptic post-language poems seems...unusual.

Treeship, Thursday, 11 July 2013 20:35 (six years ago) link

they must be quotes from essays, they're pretty uncryptic

BIG HOOS aka the denigrated boogeyman (BIG HOOS aka the steendriver), Thursday, 11 July 2013 21:10 (six years ago) link

what kinds of quotes are they?

Treeship, Thursday, 11 July 2013 21:12 (six years ago) link

Weird--I remember reading and liking this, but now I can barely remember anything about it. I need to revisit it, obviously.

ornamental cabbage (James Morrison), Friday, 12 July 2013 03:03 (six years ago) link

Totally liked this.

Guayaquil (eephus!), Saturday, 13 July 2013 06:33 (six years ago) link

i liked the discussion of ashbery and wish i didn't have to pay to have access to lerner's essay on ashbery. "daffy duck in hollywood" is a poem that i love, and i think "adam's" account of asbery's poems -- that they allow you to "experience mediacy immediately" -- is a good description of at least one thing i like about it: the sense of narrative propulsion on the level of syntax, which is undermined by the poem's fragmented content.

Treeship, Saturday, 13 July 2013 06:59 (six years ago) link

also, full disclosure about why i like that ashbery poem: i like the image of daffy duck -- a new yorker if there ever was one -- stranded in los angeles and finding his surroundings hellish.

Treeship, Saturday, 13 July 2013 07:16 (six years ago) link

one year passes...

new ben lerner novel coming out september 2nd. similar in ways to leaving the atocha station, but more structurally adventurous. not quite as funny, sadly, but still funny in parts. i like the way lerner's narrators are always thinking about artworks, and how there are lots of critical texts embedded within the larger fictional text. i wish i knew of more novelists who did this, i'm sure they're out there.

lars von (Treeship), Tuesday, 26 August 2014 20:07 (five years ago) link

retrospectively this guy can go fuck himself

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Friday, 29 August 2014 22:40 (five years ago) link

Lol why? I still haven't read him.

ODB's missing grammy (bernard snowy), Friday, 29 August 2014 23:19 (five years ago) link

this novel irked me. idk, more when im not posting from the bathroom

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Saturday, 30 August 2014 17:04 (five years ago) link

take your time

ODB's missing grammy (bernard snowy), Saturday, 30 August 2014 18:02 (five years ago) link

it gave up its best schticks ("was he having an authentic experience of art??") ("but you're a fluent speaker") way too early

it enlisted the madrid train bombings for emotional heft

the ending, at the poetry reading, was unearned given that the narrator is an insufferable butthead throughout -- like whatever we are meant to draw from the stuff about the translating/creating that's going on is suddenly not being played for laughs unlike his praxis/existence before, but it seems if anything more banal, trite, an obvious set of shibboleths. it occurs to me as i write that maybe the novel was playing a smarter game than i thought, that whatever's happening at the end should be taken in the same mood as i.e. his projections about women and his getting lost, but then it's just a dumb nihilistic novel instead of a dumb novel featuring unearned redemption

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Sunday, 31 August 2014 08:01 (five years ago) link

i did read the linked bit of the lichtenberg figures, the other night, while i was waiting in an airport terminal: those i liked, i guess

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Sunday, 31 August 2014 08:02 (five years ago) link

four months pass...

I tried hard to imagine my poems or any poems as machines that could make things happen, changing the government, or the economy or even their language, the body or its sensorium, but I could not imagine this, could not even imagine imagining it. And yet when I imagined the total victory of those other things over poetry, when I imagined, with a sinking feeling, a world without even the terrible excuses for poems that kept faith with the virtual possibilities of the medium, without the sort of absurd ritual I'd participated in that evening then I intuited an inestimable loss, a loss not of artworks but of art, and therefore infinite, the total triumph of the actual, and I realized that, in such a world, I would swallow a bottle of white pills.

Treeship, Monday, 5 January 2015 02:48 (five years ago) link

nine months pass...

i thought the first 30 or 40 pages of this were really good, but as soon as it got into the lovesick girl stuff i just tuned out. boring & typical. gonna read 10:04 next, hoping for something better

flappy bird, Thursday, 29 October 2015 18:15 (four years ago) link

seven months pass...

New Lerner short story here. If you liked 10:04 you'll like this, but it's kind of the same old schtick.

Zelda Zonk, Friday, 3 June 2016 08:53 (four years ago) link

one month passes...

read abt half of 10:04 on a plane yesterday and one of my first reactions while reading was i bet treeship likes or would like this

johnny crunch, Thursday, 28 July 2016 13:07 (three years ago) link

three years pass...

the new novel -- the topeka school -- is excellent until the last section, when it devolves into moral pedantry. the failure is more pronounced given how good the climax was -- and how complex the characters were. it shouldn't all resolve into a bite size/social media ready comment about masculinity

treeship., Friday, 10 January 2020 21:22 (five months ago) link

I have only been peripherally aware of this dude, but seeing Topeka School on best of 2019 lists piqued my interest. Where should I start?

jaymc, Friday, 10 January 2020 21:31 (five months ago) link

Leaving the atocha station and then the short monograph, the hatred of poetry, which follows up on themes from the novel about negative capability

treeship., Friday, 10 January 2020 21:38 (five months ago) link

If you like those then the topeka school next.

His poems are kind of cool too. I like the first collection best—the lichtenberg figures.

treeship., Friday, 10 January 2020 21:38 (five months ago) link

I liked 10:04 better than either Atocha or Topeka, haven't read the poems.

Guayaquil (eephus!), Sunday, 12 January 2020 18:54 (five months ago) link


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