Some of Robert Glück’s essays came my way in the 1980s via such publications as Poetics Journal. I remember being impressed but I didn’t investigate further, probably because he was associated with something called New Narrative. Narrative was something I just wasn’t that interested in getting interested in then — despite the fact that I was reading, with fascination, one of Glück’s models, Kathy Acker. Silly me. I could have learned a lot from him. I still don’t care for “narrative” as a noun but I’m reconciled to it, these days, as an adjective. (I do like the nouns “narrator” and “narration.”) In any case, what Glück means by New Narrative seems to be, essentially, writing that narrates its narrating at the same time as it narrates something else. It is writing that questions itself and sometimes gives misleading answers, that conveys meaning and undermines it at the same time, eventually aiming at “total continuity and total disjunction” — which in my book is basically modernism, and all the better for that, though as a creature of his time Glück seems very concerned with its being postmodern. Another period concern, but a more productive one, it seems to me, is with “commodity” and “commodification,” which he is not in any simple way against; he notes that, at least for gay people circa 1984, “commodification of sex is part of a community as it exists,” making it possible to “use that notion to critique the Left’s blind spot in the terrain of sexuality, community, and the production of desire.” Ah, and there went another key word, community — a notion that Glück sometimes falsifies by idealizing it, I think, though he also knows that “when communities are eroding or inventing themselves, the structures of personal life become visible” (such visibility being the very point, as I understand it, of New Narrative or what I call modernist writing). Notions aside, I like Glück’s writing for its sensuality, its generosity, and its enthusiasm. He has a good many writings on art, which, though much better than most people’s, lack the intensity of investment found in his writings on writing, or for that matter on gardening. A long essay on Acker made me want to re-read her right now. It also gave me the idea (you’ll see why I say “modernism”) that in a Borgesian way, Acker could be called a precursor of Picasso — who imitates the loving violence she does to Dickens and Cervantes by doing something similar to Delacroix and Velázquez. Glück, I hasten to add, is innocent of this idea, but I’m glad he inspired it in me. I write this from Berlin, where his name means “luck.”

Robert Glück’s Communal Nude: Collected Essays (2016) is published by Semiotext(e) and is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.

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Barry Schwabsky

Barry Schwabsky is art critic for The Nation and co-editor of international reviews for Artforum. His recent books include The Perpetual Guest: Art in the Unfinished Present (Verso,...