Forgotten Writers: Sean Singer on Three Writers

Sean Singer:

All the writers I admire had a small readership. Part of the purpose of writing is to communicate, but part of it is to create meaning. Meaning is a dual project of both the writer and reader, so I prefer writing that is expressionistic and impressionistic—difficult in content and form, with a political edge, and with a hidden center. I want to produce texts, not merely consume them. Make me work and keep me interested. Nothing is interesting; we only invest things with our interest.

If my writer self can be engaged as a reader and my reader self can be engaged when I’m a writer, then that is crucial. I like books that are simultaneously spontaneous, yet inevitable. I like whole thoughts and books that appear to be (though it’s an illusion) from impulse rather than rules. I like things that allow me to be clear and un-evasive, a kind of bravery in a junk culture world. Here are a few for the proverbial desert island.

Thomas Bernhard’s Old Masters is one extended paragraph. It is an invective against art, art museums, museum lighting, Austria, being satisfied, the canon, and genuflecting to those old masters who in some instances are taking up space. A surprising and energetic piece of prose with a demanding form, this novel expresses the hidden center of much creative writing; that is, repudiating is hating, yet it remains the motivation for many writers. Finally, the book is a comedy, though it’s deadly serious and is itself a comment on this process of finding meaning together.

David Markson’s semifictional nonfiction novels like Vanishing Point, Reader’s Block, The Last Novel, and This is Not a Novel erase genre terms, those of limitation, and create a devastating emotional core without character, plot, dialogue, or voice. The person speaking is hidden in the silences and selections of epigrammatic memories of books. The point of the reading is to read. These, too, wail against injustice and have a political edge, though the affect is cumulative.

Ahron Appelfeld’s Badenheim 1939 is unlike other literature concerning the Holocaust in that it pays attention to the social conventions, interpersonal fantasies, and manners of a world immediately before the shit storm of murder and annihilation destroyed all of that. Subtle, careful, deliberate, and slow-moving around a hidden center, the book is terrifying until the final horrible sentence.

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