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The lie ramifies when he lets it slip to Isabel that his mother is alive. To keep his story straight, Adam decides to come clean to Teresa. I blinked at her, first surprised not to feel relief, then surprised to feel an intense anger rising, as if my mother were in fact deceased and now she was calling me a liar. To get back onto a footing he is comfortable with, he continues to embroider his life.

Adam experiences a number of phases of research throughout Leaving the Atocha Station. Even though we see no research happening in these phases, Adam writes poems which Teresa, a poet in her own right, translates.

Ben Lerner | excerpt of Leaving the Atocha Station

Our most intense and ostensibly intimate interactions were the effect of her imbuing my silences, the gaps out of which Spanish was primarily composed, with tremendous intellectual and aesthetic force. It must remain a possibility when it passes out of his hands. Since Adam Gordon and Ben Lerner share some important similarities, it is tempting to say that the novel is not only about the way life and art have a habit of infecting each other, but also an example of that infection.

He ponders existence in this age of. Always on technology? People were talking about politics, or everything seemed suddenly political. This is one of those passages that offers the thrill of recognition: a character in a book thinks what I think! The cut forces a change. There is no progress without posts standing sentinel at the edge of now. Stillness becomes a slipping backward once a post is established.

Adam comes through unmarked, however, as almost everything Spain has to offer is mediated more than once, becoming less real with each stage. Despite all the mediation, while in Barcelona with Teresa, Adam is nearly overshadowed by the reality of the city. At the moment his panic peaks he escapes back into his hotel. But the hotel might be a false shelter. It was early dusk by the time we reached the cathedral, and in a Spanish cathedral it always felt like dusk, dull gold and gray stone and indeterminate distances, so I had the feeling less of going indoors than of entering a differently structured but nonetheless exterior space.

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Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

The upshot of this is that everything is exterior. Everything else is an interminable distance away. In the last phase of my research fireflies were disappearing. Bats were flying around confused in the middle of the day, colliding with each other, falling into little heaps.

Bees were disappearing, maybe because of cell phone radiation, maybe because of perfume, maybe because of candy. It was the deadliest day since the invasion began. Unmanned drones made a sorrowful noise overhead. It was The cities were polluted with light, the world warming.


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Adam Gordon, a young American poet from Kansas, has received a fellowship to spend a year in Madrid, writing poetry. Adam is self-centered, petty, and compulsively dishonest. He defames his parents, assumes the worst motivations in everyone he meets, and is pretty much disgusted with himself. Leaving the Atocha Station drifts murkily and ambiguously through big topics like language and translation, art and its role in society, and the limits of communication.

Adam follows the stunned crowd to the station moments after the blast, but soon walks away, seemingly unmoved. Goaded into going to donate blood, Adam feigns illness and the nurse kicks him out of line. If I was a poet, I had become one because poetry, more intensely than any other practice, could not evade its anachronism and marginality and so constituted a kind of acknowledgement of my own preposterousness, admitting my bad faith in good faith, so to speak.

I could lie about my interest in the literary response to war because by making a mockery of the notion that literature could be commensurate with mass murder I was not defaming the victims of the latter, but the dilettantes of the former….

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Adam knows he is a fraud and cannot comprehend why no one else sees his the same way. Ben Lerner, who has published several books of poetry, has some exceptionally talented writing skills.

Brave Little Books - Leaving the Atocha Station

He assembles sentences like a poet, sentences that resonate with his own apparent love of language. As we walked through the Reina Sofia, I would offer up unconjugated sentences or sentence fragments in response to paintings that she then expanded and concatenated into penetrating observations about line and color, art and institutions, old world and new, or at least I imagined these expansions.

To photograph a painting —, I said with derisive mystery as we watched the tourists in front of Guernica , and then I observed her face as this phrase spread out into a meditation on art in the age of technological reproducibility. I would say, Blue is an idea about distance, or Literature ends in that particular blue, or Here are several subjunctive blues; I would say , To write with sculpture—, To think the vertical—, To refute a century of shadow—, etc.

Of course we engaged in our share of incidental talk, but our most intense and ostensibly intimate interactions were the effect of her imbuing my silences, the gaps out of which my Spanish was primarily composed, with tremendous intellectual and aesthetic force. Leaving the Atocha Station has five Sebald-like photographs of works of art, historical figures, and historical events embedded within the text. Each image comes with a caption that is a pull-quote from the text.

The twist is that the images and captions appear somewhat randomly scattered throughout the book rather than on the pages to which they directly refer. The photograph on page 11 has a quote from page ; the aerial photograph of the bombed city of Guernica and its accompanying quote on page 52 come from a discussion that occurs about ten pages earlier; and so on.

Is this a weak attempt to triangulate between disparate moments within the book or does it represent a kind of editorial arbitrariness? Is Adam Gordon lazy or is Ben Lerner a brilliant puppetmaster? For me the puzzle at the core of Leaving the Atocha Station is authorial. Yes, I realize that part of the answer is that we are reading both at once. Lerner does seem to realize that his choice of narrator forces us into the uncomfortable state of not having anything stable thing to hang on to. I say this because Lerner occasionally has Adam momentarily rise up out of his stupor to deliver complex, articulate theories.


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  7. And when you read about your reading in the time of your reading, mediacy is experienced immediately. It is as though the actual Ashbery poem were concealed from you, written on the other side of a mirrored surface, and you saw only the reflection of your reading.