Review: Adorno’s Noise by EMU professor Carla Harryman

Adorno’s Noise

Adorno's Noise coverEMU Creative Writing Professor Carla Harryman recently had her new book, Adorno’s Noise, reviewed in the current issue of Rain Taxi (Summer ‘09). Check out the review below:

Carla Harryman
Essay Press ($14.95)
by Kit Robinson

I first read Carla Harryman’s new book, Adorno’s Noise, on a plane. Flying home from Detroit, aided by the laser focus of jet travel discomfort, I turned page after page in rapt attention. Along with five other poets, Carla and I had just presented a live performance from a serial work in progress, The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, 1976-1980 (Mode A/This Press), the product of a longstanding community of writers whose manifold relationships span critical dialog, collaboration, rivalry, and friendship. The individual accounts of times past are strikingly various and say as much about now as they do about back in the day. Despite our long familiarity, as authors we remain in many ways mutually mysterious. In fact, the appeal of the unknown, a different way of perceiving and responding to the world, was what first attracted us to one another in the first place.

Energized by my in-flight encounter with Adorno’s Noise, I resolved to write about it. Back on land, however, I found that to be easier said than done, and not only due to the capaciousness of Harryman’s rapidly shifting frames of reference. I also discovered that to understand the place of this book in contemporary praxis as thoroughly as I’d hoped, I’d need to tackle another work: Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia: Reflections on a Damaged Life (Verso Books, 2005).

An attractive and difficult work, Adorno’s Noise doesn’t fit neatly into any preconceived categories; it straddles the boundaries of essay, journal, performance, poem, and play. Even the book itself is a curious object. For example, there is something strange about the chapter titles. On the Contents page they appear at first glance in two distinctly gendered fonts, an archaic feminine script and a modern sans serif in all caps. On further inspection, one realizes that one font represents section headers, the other, chapter titles. Yet some sections lack chapters. Then there is the disconcerting appearance of the section dividers, white drop-out type on dark pages with dim images like blurry x-rays, sometimes beginning on the right-hand page with words cut off at the edge, only to repeat in full when you turn the page. These tricks of the eye are the work of designer Jeff Clark, whose contribution to the book is that of a collaborator fully engaged with the author’s thinking.

Read the full review here.