— Barbara Browning interviewed at the Emily Books blog
— Barbara Browning interviewed at the Emily Books blog
Check it out! Barbara Browning’s I’m Trying to Reach You is the November book club pick at Emily Books!
“A woman in a black leotard, her dark hair pulled back, was dancing a subdued dance in an interior space — her living room? There were some peculiar paintings on the wall. One of them appeared to depict Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon. The dancer wasn’t looking at the camera. Her eyes were turned down throughout her little choreography, which was also quite peculiar — not balletic, exactly, though oddly proper. She demi-pliéed in plunky time to Satie’s moderate little melody, alternately lifting her arms as if to mark the count. Her gestures became more and more idiosyncratic and mysterious, as though she were trying to communicate some information.
Perhaps I should pause to explain that I was at this conference to deliver a paper on semaphore mime in contemporary ballet choreography. I’m a former ballet dancer. I’m learning to say that. Like many male dancers, I started my training relatively late, and ours is not a line of work known for its longevity, so my stage career, such as it was, was pretty brief — and not particularly noteworthy. My longest gig was with the Royal Swedish Ballet in Stockholm. I came in under Nils Ake-Häggbom, and stuck around for as long as it seemed to make sense. I’m trying to transition into teaching, which is why I decided a few years ago to get a doctorate in performance studies, which is why I decided a few years ago to get a doctorate in performance studies, which led to the temporary and somewhat precarious post-doc I’ve already mentioned.
I was supposed to be revising my dissertation into a book. I had recently been granted a post-doctoral fellowship to support this project. The major revision I’d thus far accomplished was changing the title. The dissertation had been called Semaphoric Mime from the Ballet Blanc to William Forsythe: A Derridean Analysis. By “Derridean,” I meant to indicate that even when a dance appeared to be relaying a very clear message, it was always already saying something altogether different. I knew that title might be a bit off-putting to a general audience, so the book was going to be: I’m Trying To Reach You. This seemed to have more crossover potential, although the manuscript was probably a little over-specialized for the lay reader, and maybe a tad theoretical. I knew I had to take out some of the extended endnotes, which had nearly the same word count as the actual text, but so far I’d only managed to excise a few commas. I have a slightly pathological attachment to the idea of the “hors-texte.”
So, it’s not exactly as though I believe in singular interpretations, like I could “get” this little Satie choreography if I only had a key. But the dance looked like a message in a bottle. It seemed to have some sort of secret code — the big mystery, of course, being what the hell it had to do with Michael Jackson.
Some of the references were pretty clear: the mudra-like hand gestures (“okay”), which morphed into antlers, and then something like a map of her ovaries; a little Charlie Chaplin walk, ending with a swat at her ankles; a delicate circling of her index finger over her head, as though it were a phonograph needle sounding the clunky little score. And then I saw it: looking down at her feet, she swiveled to the side, and discreetly moonwalked backwards across the floor.
It definitely wasn’t virtuosic, but it did have a hint of the uncanny, as the moonwalk invariably does.
The video ended with her head still down, arms open in a gesture of apparent offering. Then it faded to black. I hit “replay.” And then again. Maybe I’d just listened to “Billie Jean” and “Smooth Criminal” one too many times. It’s possible I’d lost all my critical faculties. But at that moment, all I wanted to do was hear this moderate little piano solo, and watch this moderate little chamber dance.
The video had been posted by somebody called “falserebelmoth.” It had only clocked 6 views, and several of those, as you can see, were mine. I scrolled down to the comments. There was only one, from somebody called “GoFreeVassals”: “Kind, icy, slim one … I am raw with lament.” That was odd. And yet accurate — as a description of the dancer, and also the response she was producing in me.
I was staring at this comment when I had the disconcerting sense that someone was looking over my shoulder.”
read more here!
Browning integrates social media and contemporary modes of communication within the text as if it were second nature. Culturally we’re so constantly immersed in multiple layers of media – text messaging, emailing, chatting, posting photos and videos, and yet so few books actually convey this fluency with digital media (as was noted in a recent Millions essay, on the role of technology in fiction). But Browning pulls this off seamlessly. Images and video stills are integrated within the text. A picture of prized heirloom tomatoes snagged from a farmers market is snapped for later posting on Facebook; there are fruitless, patience-trying digressions within comments sections; text messages are volleyed back and forth across the Atlantic between Gray and his Swedish boyfriend; and Gray is always taking photos – to document the everyday, to research, to examine, to immortalize.
…every aspect of this novel constitutes an element of Browning’s performance. This fittingly is in line with Merce Cunningham’s emphasis of “each element in the spectacle.” And all the while, we readers are lurking and overhearing, watching Gray who is watching others, following Gray to YouTube, watching Browning as falserebelmoth dance in a bathtub. And by doing so, we are made newly aware of our own constant lurking, within the book and within our own lives too."
— Great essay by Anne K. Yoder at The Millions on Barbara Browning’s I’m Trying to Reach You
[I’m Trying to Reach You is] a provocative novel… that blurs the boundaries between life and performance, dance, art, and viral video. The novel is also framed in the world of performance art and is itself its own kind of performance — an experiment in form that is entertaining and clever.
The often silly murder-conspiracy plot really isn’t what makes this book special. What Browning does with the form is genuinely creative and feels rightly reflective of a moment when dance is pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a performance space. Now that more and more mainstream museums are presenting choreographers… why shouldn’t a book be a home for dance too?
After all, Gray’s YouTube habit may reveal his loneliness, but Browning’s book also makes clear what a treasure trove the Internet is for fans of dance, who can view performances once thought lost forever with the click of a mouse. I’m Trying to Reach You is a fun and dishy read for those fans — and also a daring and deep exploration of performance and the way it collides with, and is enriched by, the Web."
— Julie Bloom gives a fantastic review of Barbara Browning’s new novel, I’m Trying to Reach You, and truly nails what makes this unique book special, in The Slate Book Review.
Celebrate the Body Electric!
The saga of the mystery youtube music videos continues.
From Barbara Browning’s novel, I’m Trying to Reach You.
Last Thursday saw the book launch party for Barbara Browning’s second novel, I’m Trying to Reach You, at Le Poisson Rouge in NYC.
The above video is from the event, which featured musical performances and readings by, among others, Karen Finley and Narcissister.
Barbara Browning goes electric.
‘avec conviction et une tristesse rigoureuse (gnossienne 6)’
Oh! and tomorrow night at Le Poisson Rouge, celebrate the launch of I’m Trying to Reach You with Barbara herself.
Time Out says: “Dancer, cultural critic and writer Barbara Browning’s novel I’m Trying to Reach You deals with American cultural touchstones (YouTube, the electric guitar) and how they affect our relationships. Downtown artists will pitch in readings and performances, and the price of admission includes a copy of the book.”
Check it: Video #4, ‘iPod Samba,’ corresponding to Barbara Browning’s second novel, I’m Trying to Reach You, which brings up all sorts of questions regarding the voyeuristic/exhibitionist nature that internet-culture has inspired.
by Zan McQuade
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