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Strewn with the trappings of sex, drugs, and rock and roll that arguably characterised many bestsellers throughout the 1990s, Virginie Despentes' Vernon Subutex novels might at first appear to be a throwback to a bygone age. While the character of Vernon sometimes resembles a Parisian Rob Fleming, Nick Hornby's dysfunctional record shop owner in High Fidelity, what emerges through his fall into destitution is far greater than neurotic self-pity and ranked lists of obscure records. The political polarisation of contemporary French society, and by extension much of modern society as a whole, is exploded by Despentes and translator Frank Wynne through a polyvocal narration that unflinchingly confronts us with that which is hardest to acknowledge: the values of the far-right have entered the mainstream, the left as we once understood it has failed, and the internet has fundamentally undermined our ability to understand ourselves.
Despentes' greatest achievement, however, is that by inhabiting voices from across society and the political spectrum, she serves up our ugly, complex, fractured moment in history as a not only familiar but weirdly cohesive world. The first volume of Vernon Subutex is a teeth-rattlingly compelling read in which the only route out is via self-reflection, and, alongside Olivia Laing's Crudo, represents one of only a handful of novels that feels genuinely mad enough for now.
Published by MacLehose Press on 22nd March 2018
The Waterfront Journals gives voice to some of the people Wojnarowicz encountered during his time sleeping rough. These fictional monologues create a kind of fractured mosaic of life on the margins during late 1980s America. “David Wojnarowicz has caught the age-old voice of the road,” said William S Burroughs. “The voice of the traveller, the outcast, the thief, the whore…”
The work of artist, writer, and activist David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) has been the focus of much attention recently thanks to a high profile retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art as well as previously hard-to-find collections of his work appearing in the UK for the first time. Most notably, two small Hackney-based imprints have been responsible for making new editions of Wojnarowicz's journals available in the UK for the first time. Peninsula Press published The Waterfront Journals this summer, a previously unavailable collection which draws from the writer's experiences struggling on the streets of New York, and Penultimate Press released Cross Country back in the spring, a triple LP edition of Wojnarowicz's 1989 tape journals.
We're making David Wojnarowicz our author of the month throughout November, so swing by and check out the titles below as well as others by those he has inspired (such as Olivia Laing's The Lonely City).
The Waterfront Journals
The Waterfront Journals is a road trip through the sensuous, perilous landscape of alternative America—a series of fictional monologues that ventriloquise the real people Wojnarowicz met on his travels while he was sleeping rough.
We meet these hustlers, runaways and dreamers in unassuming locations—in truck stops, bus stations and parks. Their stories are disturbing, often shocking; but they’re told with an honesty and a hallucinatory intensity that simply demands to be heard.
Published for the first time in the UK, this electrifying collection confirms that David Wojnarowicz was not only one of millennial America’s most necessary and visionary artists, but also among its most humane and urgent literary chroniclers.
Published by Peninsula Press on 26th July 2018
Close to the Knives
The powerful, personal and iconoclastic memoir of David Wojnarowicz, AIDS activist, author and one of the most provocative artists of his generation. With a new introduction by Olivia Laing.
Close to the Knives is the artist, writer and activist David Wojnarowicz’s extraordinary memoir. Filthy, beautiful, and sharp to the point of piercing, it is both an exploration of the world seen through the eyes of an artist, and a moving portrait of a generation living, grieving, and dying through the AIDS crisis. It is a triumphant hymn of resistance, and a dizzying celebration of the joys of seeing and living in the world.
Published by Canongate on 2nd March 2017
Memories that Smell Like Gasoline
Not content to be a tremendous photographer, painter, filmmaker, performance artist and activist David Wojnarowicz (1954-92) was also the author of three classic books: Close to the Knives, The Waterfront Journals and Memories That Smell Like Gasoline, now back in print from Artspace. This volume collects four tales-"Into the Drift and Sway," "Doing Time in a Disposable Body," "Spiral" and the title story-interspersed with ink drawings by the artist. "Sometimes it gets dark in here behind these eyes I feel like the physical equivalent of a scream. The highway at night in the headlights of this speeding car speeding is the only motion that lets the heart unravel and in the wind of the road the two-story framed houses appear one after the other like some cinematic stage set..." From these opening sentences of the book (in "Into the Drift and Sway"), Wojnarowicz lets loose a salvo of explicit gay sexual reverie harshly lit by the New York cityscape.
Published by Profile Books on 1st September 1992
Cross Country: Tape Journals, February-June 1989
David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) was a writer and artist active in New York’s Downtown scene in the 1970’s and 80’s. In the 1980’s Wojnarowicz become one of the central figures in the AIDS struggle, as well as the target of homophobic censorship efforts by the American Family Association. Wojnarowicz kept written and cassette tape journals throughout his adult life. This three-disc vinyl release publishes for the first time three of Wojnarowicz’s tape journals, documenting his thoughts, dreams, fears, and environment during two separate road trips he took to the American Southwest and West Coast in the first half of 1989. The original cassettes are archived as part of the Wojnarowicz Collection at Fales Special Collections and Library at New York University. Wojnarowicz died in New York in 1992.
Total runtime: 2 hours, 6 minutes.
3xLP in a triple gatefold jacket featuring photos of Wojnarowicz by Marion Scemama.
Limited edition of 200.
Includes digital download card