Figure It Out

Figure It Out


Wayne Koestenbaum


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  • Soft Skull is thrilled to welcome beloved critic, artist, essayist, novelist, and poet Wayne Koestenbaum (Hotel Theory, Circus) back to the list with a new collection of essays—each somehow striking, defamiliarizing, and warm all at once
  • Koestenbaum's archive has recently been acquired by Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
  • Fans of Susan Sontag, Maggie Nelson, Miranda July, and Jia Tolentino will find much to relish here
  • Perfect for fans of: Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit, Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, Peter Jenny’s The Artist’s Eye, Hilton Als’ White Girls, Janet Malcom’s Forty-One False Starts, Lynne Tillman’s What Would Lynne Tillman Do?, Brian Blanchfield's Proxies by Brian Blanchfield, and Oblique Strategies by Brian Eno
  • Koestenbaum is wry and wise and funny and self-aware, often all in a single paragraph:
    "I'm a lifelong student of star culture; in that school, I matriculated early. (At age four.) And, at the beginning of my studies, I understood that obsolescence was the preferable liqueur, even though the world might condescend to superceded figures. Why I love the obsolete is a long story. Longer, perhaps, is the story of why I think it is my mission to convince the world to love the obsolete." or "Also, I want the liberty to use the word penis as a mutating signifier, not as the tried-and-true motherlode of obviousness that wears us all down."
  • Koestenbaum’s curiosity is wide-ranging—Figure it Out includes essays on smells; John Barth; piano playing (“Game of Pearls”); Nicole Kidman’s hair; and the death of his step-father, deterritorializing literature, and Walter Benjamin
  • These are essays that invite in, not just to the subject, but to the process of their creation—displaying both the constant questioning of writerly accuracy as well as the elucidation of a word-choice. On full display is Koestenbaum’s reckoning with artistic disclosure: the writer in conversation with himself:
    "This essay is composed in crots. 'Crots' is a term I learned from Barth."
    "Unfortunately, there is little humor in this essay—unless we step back from the voice of its narrator, and imagine him as a character, a foolish, fearful, adamant man, gripped by a misconception."
    "I wonder now, as I write this allegory, why I considered Jewishness to be a bedrock matter, lending coherence to all attributes of the person, including the thickness and thoroughness of the beard."
    "Here are five of my painting notes. If you want to help me sculpt them into literature, be my guest."
    "The mop I’m dragging across my prose’s floor, at the moment, is the allegory mop."
  • Figure It Out, like Wayne's work in general, is hilarious, lewd, perceptive, penetrating, utterly memorable. The book resembles Wayne Koestenbaum's collage artwork: contained in this single essay collection are brilliant one-liners about celebrity; inspiration and advice for writers and visual artists; wide-ranging, spot-on critiques (and endorsements) of Instagram, Nicole Kidman sightings; alluring nerd glasses; snippets of Koestenbaum's personal history; lessons from orgasms; lists of miscellaneous favorites, piano-playing tips, and so much more
  • Included here are "assignments" for readers, which capture and build on the contagious mania of Koestenbaum’s own creative process:
    "Buy a one-dollar cactus, and start anthropomorphizing it. Call it Sabrina."
    “Describe an ungenerous or unkind act you have committed.”
    “Reimagine doing the laundry as having an orgasm, and reinterpret orgasm as not a tiny experience, temporally limited, occurring in a single human body, but as an experience that somehow touches on all of human history.”
  • There are many passages in this collection that help epitomize Koestenbaum’s prismatic style of criticism; one of the best is this:
    "As a critic, I exist in relation to others—artists, stars, books, artifacts. I question this state of relatedness, this tether, this necessity of hinging my perceptions to the work of others: however, this condition of being-tethered is itself a worthy, enormous subject, and I am glad to be tethered, glad to expatiate on the dimensions of the tethering. I see because this work permits me to see; this artwork gives me the license to write, to observe, to exist not merely as a grim solitude, but as an object in relation to other objects."
  • Figure it Out will be, like all Soft Skull books, published in TPO in effort to engage Koestenbaum’s enormous, devoted fan base—booksellers and consumers alike.
  • Wayne is a beautiful, magic, outlandish genius of joy and madness. We are thrilled to have him on the Soft Skull list.
  • Acquired by Editor in Chief Yuka Igarashi
  • Author lives in New York, NY

    Bookseller Praise for Figure It Out

    "Anxious, erudite, and always a pleasure, Koestenbaum approaches the world with the gleeful curiosity of a friendly pervert. I wish that I could crush up his essays and snort them. Surely they would produce the same giddy, expansive, tooth-gritting high as MDMA cut with just a little too much speed." —Ill Nippashi, Pegasus Books (Berkeley, CA)

    "Wayne Koestenbaum’s deep and wide knowledge of art and literature, his respect for sentences and punctuation, and his passion for ambiguity of form and function make these febrile essays a joy to read. With the exercises he suggests, and using his ecstatic influence as a guide, we can puzzle through our need for answers in writing and find a new consciousness—like seeing our hometowns from above for the first time." —Adam Possehl, Powell's Books (Portland, OR)

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