Lecture Part 1
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
‘LATTICING one cherry pie after another, an Ohio housewife tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless info that is the United States of America. She worries about her children, her dead parents, African elephants, the bedroom rituals of “happy couples”, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and how to hatch an abandoned wood pigeon egg. Is there some trick to surviving survivalists? School shootings? Medical debts? Franks ’n’ beans?
A scorching indictment of America’s barbarity, past and present, and a lament for the way we are sleepwalking into environmental disaster, Ducks, Newburyport is a heresy, a wonder—and a revolution in the novel.
It’s also very, very funny.’
In 2019 this 1030-page novel has won the Goldsmiths Prize. What makes this book so special?
It is written almost entirely in single sentence only using punctuation like ‘,’ and ‘;’.
Testing the limits of the stream-of-consciousness narrative, Ducks, Newburyport rejects conventional plot and story structures. Instead, it captures the thoughts that pass through the mind of a middle-aged Ohio woman as she bakes pies in her kitchen. In effect we are presented with something like a meditation on life, memory, motherhood and the randomness – and purpose – of everyday experience.
Hotel room Sophie Calle
In February, 1981, the French artist Sophie Calle took a job as a hotel maid in Venice were she was assigned 12 rooms on the four floors of the hotel. In the course of three weeks, with a camera and tape recorder hidden in her mop bucket, she recorded whatever she found in the rooms that she had been charged with cleaning. She surveyed the state of the guests’ bedding, their books, newspapers and postcards, perfumes and cologne, traveling clothes and costumes for Carnival. She methodically photographed the contents of closets and suitcases, examined the rubbish bins and the toiletries arranged on the washbasin. She discovered their birth dates and blood types, diary entries, letters from and photographs of lovers and family. She retrieved a pair of shoes from the wastebasket and took two chocolates from a neglected box of sweets, while leaving behind stashes of money, pills and jewelry.
Each of the twelve works in the series (one for each room Calle was assigned to clean) consists of a grid of photographs shown alongside a larger image of the hotel room’s bed, which is above a text written by the artist. Freely combining fact and conjecture, the texts include quotes and details from the documents Calle read as well as her own interpretations of the people whose privacy she playfully—and almost criminally—invaded.
So this week I managed to find some time for myself in the kitchen (but I failed at documenting the first dish *face palm*). On Wednesday I made colorful tofu curry. Later in the week I did slightly better job with mushrooms and green beans.