Ten Walks/Two Talks

August 23rd, 2010 by EVENTS

Ten Walks/Two Talks by Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch

In a dérive one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.

Guy Debord, “Theory of the Dérive

In the late 1950s, French theorist Guy Debord and a couple of his Situationist buddies decided to take back the city by drifting. They would walk, sometimes together, sometimes alone, usually for a day or so, sometimes for less, preferably not at night. Through the dérive one could re-view, re-map, and re-inhabit one’s own environment in the face of the proliferation of commodities and alienation of capitalism.

In Ten Walks/Two Talks, Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch take up the dérive in contemporary New York, wandering Manhattan (mostly Chinatown, Central Park, and Spanish Harlem) and recording the details. Everydayness is the word, for this thin volume put out by Ugly Ducking Presse, a small not-for-profit poetry press based in Brooklyn. The title of the book reveals its structure: it is, in fact, the poetic dictation of ten walks and two talks divided into four sections: Early Spring, Early Winter, Late Spring, and Late Winter. Each section is framed by a Japanese woodcut print accompanied by a quotation from a following walk or talk. “People about to collapse (emotionally) must often stand beneath” sits below an illustration of some tiny figures making tea at the edge of some water, out of which emerges an enormous and ambiguous pole: it could be a tree trunk, it could be something supernatural. It’s hard to tell. And just as the quotation depicts the illustration better than any stumbling prose description would, Fitch and Cotner’s walks and talks, in their simplicity, see something in and lend something to Manhattan that takes up all of its banks and joggers and deli displays and rescues them from the banality of the late-capitalist landscape.

The book is lovely for its elliptical nature…the talks are punctuated by unfinished sentences, non-sequiturs building from seeming filler words, allowing absences to do some of the talking:

A: Yes. Yes.

J: brought down their brethren.

A: Do cities provide impenetrable islands? Did blights have no path to get here? Or could they travel, let’s say, on hikers’ soles?

J: Well around the Harvard campus you don’t find elms. Once I heard a tour guide make that remark while cutting, as I walked toward the Science Center to use the bathroom. But I’m not sure if Manhattan’s elms escaped most plagues or if here stands the tiny pocket which survived.

Though the book purports to channel Bashō’s travel diaries, it shares an affect with an earlier Japanese work, The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, a book of lists compiled by a court lady in late 10th century Japan. “Things that quicken the heart”, “Things that make you nostalgic”; all include types of moments, types of things, and slivers of feeling all as equally relevant and appropriate. Sentiments and surroundings are elevated and diminished through a logic of drift in which overheard habits and neuroses, crumbling signs, bumper stickers and street-crossers with yarn-head backpacks. But despite (or perhaps because of) this drift, Cotner and Fitch’s ambling psychogeography always seems to wander back, to the Harlem Meer, to Canal Street, to someone named Kristin’s front door, to the grounding of the “New York lavender sky” and everything cobbles together into some ecstatically ordinary figuring of a city, into some idea of home. And perhaps this is what the Situationsists, behind all of their manifestos and revolutions, were really looking for: a way of being through and around a city by the details, by the absences and obstructions.

Reviewed by Hannah Manshel

Ten Walks/Two Talks by Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch
Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010
Paper, 88 pp, $14.00
ISBN-13: 9781933254678

Posted in Reviews

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