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Richard Kostelanetz

(après Rene Char)

The modernists are singularly self-conscious as writers; for with great care and skill, they attempt to inscribe their self-consciousness deep into the text, and often into the very texture, of their work. And yet, within the literary work itself, they will never straightforwardly write about, nor in a literal sense discuss, the embodiment of their revolution. Because, in fact, the dream of their audacity is the author’s death or disappearance, his self-effacement, before an autonomous work of art which he deliberately wrought to define, on its own, its own essential being.

David Michael Levin, “The Novelhood of the Novel” (1978)



In the course of writing aphorisms that were meant to be unusually perceptive and succinctly true, I was reminded of Vladimir Nabokov’s great Pale Fire (1962), which seems based upon his own experience of writing a commentary about Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin. Whereas Nabokov’s Kinbote is a madman writing a megalomaniacal commentary on another man’s poem, so my Askews would be short statements written by someone at times stupid and at other times tone deaf, which is to say askew. The central challenge for me, as well as Nabokov before me, is keeping the ironies going.


    X    V    I

All sins can be deposited in cans that are put out onto the street.


X    X    V    I     I

My worst mistakes are made in my dreams.

X    X    X  

He sleeps soundest in a folding bed still shut.

X    X    X   I

My German shepherd voted in the last presidential election twice, both times for the winner, because no one stopped her. 

X   X   X    I    I

The more time you spend hustling your art the less time you have for producing it.

X    X    X    V

Point-blank I shot my shadow for following too closely behind me.

X    L   V    I    I

My grandfather died when he was a little boy.

X   L   V   I    I   I

Two implicit themes of this collection are that credible advice can be perverse and perverse advice credible.

L    I    I

Surround yourself with mirrors to catch a glimpse of yourself asleep.

L    X    X    V    I

Plaster the wall of your writing room with rejection slips.

C    I    I

Only to someone who sees better than he thinks is beauty persuasive.

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