About John D’Agata’s About A Mountain
Inestimable are those writers who we look forward to like children in want of being told, the arrival of whose books come in great anxiousness and sublime waiting, in the way one might for a magical movie or arrival of a friend. I can remember obsessively visiting Barnes and Noble in the weeks and months before Wallace’s Everything and More came out, how I must have been back there a couple dozen times, in each checking the Wa- partitions of the fiction, science, and philosophy sections to see if it’d been stocked (I for some reason didn’t want to buy it online, I wanted it the very day it was in stores). All of this over a book of theoretical science! Math! Who else could render such desire in my mind? In his future absence, the dome of delightful patience in expectation over future books seemed greatly dimmed.
And yet, when I heard of the upcoming release of John D’Agata’s About a Mountain from W.W. Norton, I found myself again beginning to obsess over its event. Reading his Halls of Fame several years ago I become absorbed by it, some certain modes and designs therein feeling in my fingers a certain way, a manner of speaking that combines fact and vision, architecture and heart, packed in a style that looms and moves from page to page. As well, the two anthologies of innovative essays, The Next American Essay and the brand new The Lost Origins of the Essay (which I’ve also already torn through, all 700 pages, which is a whole other sets of posts herein forthcoming), each from Graywolf, have acted as buoys or maze-mirrors in the way of thinking about interpreting and approaching language as objects and objects as language in the world, tomes that anytime I’ve felt blank or stifled for new ways of writing I’ve opened them again and felt lit up.
Even in his anthologizing and therein collaging of others’ texts, D’Agata’s poise and manner has proved for me something magical to look after, and all of this at age 36: a blink of future by present day. Say what you want about the pursuit of ‘creative nonfiction’ (for which D’Agata, by hook or crook, is in some ways a young figurehead, with degrees in both nonfiction and poetry, his style a magic wedding of the two, and more), but in what can often be an over-stylized or navel-gazing (in a bad way) or simply a very difficult thing to make seem new, D’Agata not only wields that poetic essayist branch in a way that transcends any decoration, any term, but makes it something worthy of compulsion. Where for me great writing is great writing, some great writing is a true event, on par with any sort of aesthetic experience, and that is the most needed thing, what keeps the art of it in the body, and alive. It is what we need.
January 13th, 2010 / 2:25 pm