For the January installment of Favorite Books, Sebastian invites Nora Fulton to tell us about her top seven reads. Nora lives in Montreal, Canada, where she is currently pursuing a doctorate focused on philosophy, trans theory, and poetics. She is the author of three books—Life Experience Coolant, Presence Detection System, and most recently Thee Display—and her poetry and criticism have appeared in Social Text, Homintern, Music and Literature, Radical Philosophy, The Poetry Project, and elsewhere. Below are her favorite books.
The Sleepwalkers by Hermann Broch
I read The Sleepwalkers one summer during breaks at work (piecemeal agricultural labour) and in every free hour I had beyond those. Written during the Weimar period, it tells the stories of three men from three different generations leading up to the first World War—Joachim von Pasenow, an aristocrat, August Esch, an accountant, and Wilhelm Huguenau, a deserter—and has a sort of hidden fourth character in the androgynous and homosexual nihilist Eduard von Bertrand. The ending of this novel, where we see all of these characters intersect at the close of the war in 1918, is one of the most horrifying passages in literature I’ve encountered. My first collection of poems, Life Experience Coolant, was essentially written around it.
Blake (or, The Huts of America) by Martin R. Delany
Blake is an incredible mid-19th century novel, wildly exploratory in terms of its style, form, and plotting, which tracks its protagonist, Henry Blake, as he travels from plantation to plantation in the American South and in Cuba while covertly organizing a violent slave rebellion. A mixture of real historical information and alternative speculative history, it was written by Martin Delany while he was still a Black Nationalist and Pan-Africanist, and was left unfinished at the close of the American Civil War. To me, the “unfinished text” is always the most important kind of text, and you can see Delany’s project, a revolutionary project, extending everywhere from what the book happens to be.
Petrolio by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Another unfinished book; in fact, more like a plan for a novel than a novel itself. Here an idealistic young man named Carlo undergoes a strange kind of sexual and ontological transformation as he dwells within the occult world of corporate oil wealth and espionage, and he buds off into two bodies/selves. While Carlo 1 navigates bourgeois political life in the Italy of the 1970s, Carlo 2 castrates himself, changes sex, offers himself up as a female vessel to be fucked at every opportunity, and does all the sorts of things you’d imagine someone in a Pasolini novel would do. A central text in the literature of forced feminization.
The Petty Demon by Fyodor Sologub
I have found very few novels funny or comedic, per se, but I find The Petty Demon to be very funny, to the point of hilarity. It mostly concerns the utter depravity of its reprehensible main character, Peredonov, whose irrecuperable sadism is supposed to be a verdict of the decadence of Tsarist Russia. I, however, think more of the character Sasha Pylnikov, a young “man” in Peredonov’s social sphere who is living as a woman and milling about with desirous socialites, both male and female, who all seem to be in on the “secret.” The women want her, and the men want to be her—a central text in the literature of transamory.
The Poems of Laura Riding by Laura Riding
I feel like I talk all the time about how much I love Laura Riding’s poetry. I tend to believe that Riding’s notorious rejection and abandonment of poetry was due to the fact that she had written some poems so perfect that there was nothing left to do with the form. Her work is highly abstract but to me also imbued with a deep sentiment, or at least the forms of sentiment that one doesn’t feel so much as grasp and see. She is the author of my favorite poem, “After So Much Loss,” but also of the poem “Divestment of Beauty,” which begins with the line “She, she and she and she —” and ends with the line “The recondite familiar to your candour.” It’s funny the way poetry can work, that with lines like that it doesn’t really matter what happens in between.
The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa by Chika Sagawa
Sagawa’s poetry—and there isn’t much of it—is to me a condensed and concentrated connection to the hollowness and anxiety and giddy flight one encounters, feels behind one’s perceptions, behind one’s identity and life, in those rare waking moments where we feel our finitude and endlessness simultaneously. My current writing project, a work of theory and philosophy that might appear someday, begins with two epigraphs from her:
A horse came tearing down the mountain and went mad. From that day on she eats blue food. Summer dyes the women’s eyes and sleeves blue, then whirls merrily in the town square.
To see is not the same as knowing the result; it is for the purpose of reaching the end of one part of the phenomenon.
Treatise on Luck by Mark Francis Johnson
To me, Mark is one of the most important poets living today, and a common thread and friend among the (few) contemporary poetries I read and think about. His poetic production is prolific, and it is also interconnected both thematically and formally. Treatise is the first thing I read by him, and as a text it is important to me, again, because of its unfinished finished nature: in itself it is merely scans of the pages of a book, and more pages have appeared in his more recent collections, like old receipts one finds in a used book that you can tell had a brief life as a hasty form of page notation when no bookmarks could be found nearby. Mark also happened to make possible the publication of my second book, Presence Detection System (the first thing I wrote after transitioning), after it was rejected by almost every place I could think of publishing it, so coming across Treatise on Luck was a sort of fated encounter in hindsight.