On Ambition, Babies, and Urgency
Reading Kate Zambreno's To Write As If Already Dead
Just a quick note to say that I have an essay up at Electric Literature on Kate Zambreno’s recent To Write As If Already Dead. One thing I want to add before my baby wakes up from her nap (we are once again between childcare providers, brain exploding emoji) is a brief thought on the relationship between a current trend in prose and the writing that we do as parents.
(To Write As If Already) Dead eyes back in June when I started writing the essay published this final week of August
Every so often the internet erupts into a debate about the fragmentary novels, the “wan little husks” that exist in a Venn diagram with autofiction, a genre that bestrides the line between fiction and memoir. To Write As If Already Dead, which combines literary criticism and personal narrative, qualifies for inclusion in that particular literary club, as does Drifts, the novel Zambreno published last year. Both of these books also have a lot to say about pregnancy and motherhood and writing. Working on the essay, it occurred to me that alongside all of the other reasons why this mode of fiction might be popular right now (see Brandon Taylor’s excellent recent essay), fragmentary and genre-blurring writing is also sometimes the only way to write as a parent of young children.
One passage in particular from To Write As If Already Dead sticks with me. On working while pregnant, Zambreno writes: “Even this work I am writing now, thinking through Guibert, I know it isn’t perfect, but I have to write it now, or it’s not going to happen.” That urgency, that need to refract roaring ambition through the prism of the possible, feels so sharply familiar that it is almost physically painful. Reading Zambreno, I see a version of my own fragmented thinking, as well as the way I try and ultimately fail to compartmentalize the things I do with my mind and the things I do with my body, and the way I ultimately don’t want to compartmentalize those things anyway.
If you’re a subscriber to this newsletter, particularly if you have ever tried to write while pregnant or parenting a toddler, I recommend picking up these two books (and of course I recommend the entirety of Zambreno’s oeuvre to you and everyone else in the world).
Also! I know it’s been a while but I have some wonderful interviews coming up in the next few weeks and I can’t wait for you to read them.