Tag Archives: Heidi Julavits

Rachel Cusk on Eschewing her ‘Cuskness’ For Her Alter-Ego in ‘Outline’ and ‘Transit’

Heidi Julavits profiles memoirist and novelist Rachel Cusk for New York Magazine’s The Cut. Julavits focuses on various aspects of Cusk’s writing, including the ways in which her approach to “autofiction” is somewhat different from that of some compatriots in the land of blurred lines between memoir and fiction. Those include Sheila Heti, Ben Learner and Karl Ove Knausgaard, all of whom tend to infuse their protagonists with recognizable strains of their personalities.

Both Outline, which came out in the U.S. in 2015, and Transit are narrated by a woman named Faye, who, like Cusk, is divorced, has two children, and is a writer. Faye describes, or really more accurately transcribes, her encounters with other people. In Outline, she travels to Greece and meets a man on a plane; she goes to a restaurant with a friend; she teaches a writing workshop. She is less an interlocutor than a recording device or a processing machine. She receives. Faye, in literary terms, is a cipher. She is a zero, a naught, a nothing.

In Transit, Faye becomes slightly more “visible” (and audible) via her involvement in a home-renovation project; she converses with contractors and pacifies angry neighbors. Nothing happens, really, but these books are nonetheless gripping self-portraits of multiple humans. They are like eavesdropping on strangers, or watching a secret video feed of strangers, if those strangers were also casual philosophers. The conversations vacillate between the mundane and the lofty, as if the characters — enabled by Faye’s ­presence — are always grasping at bigger life questions. Outline and Transit both are welcome breaches of privacy that emphasize the intensely shapeless loneliness of people. They are books about middles.

Faye, while she shares biographical data with Cusk and appears to present and process events from Cusk’s actual life, is quite different from the characters devised by other autofiction writers of late — Sheila Heti, Ben Lerner, Karl Ove Knausgaard — with whom Cusk is frequently grouped. The books of these writers, though distinct from one another, more centrally feature an authorial self; about Heti, for example, Cusk says, “She uses herself, her Sheila-ness, much, much, much more than I do.” Cusk does not, in these novels, use her Cuskness. And yet she’s filtering through a narrator that does not by accident resemble her.

Read the story

The Rediscovery of Diary-Keeping

Summer Days, Camden Maine By Leon Kroll (1884 - 1974), via Wikimedia Commons

Today I was so relieved to get a migraine. For the past thirty-plus years I’ve gotten migraines regularly; they were part of the whether that happened within and without. I would get a migraine after a manic jag. I would get a migraine before a blizzard. Now I rarely get them. I don’t want to say that I miss being in pain, but I do miss the excuse to not give a shit about all the big and small things I often care too much about and that a migraine eradicates. When I have a migraine I do not grieve the shirt that was put in the dryer by accident and its texture forever ruined; I do not feel undermined by the passive-aggressive person at my workplace; I do not blame myself for failing to be in better touch with my grandmother. My body used to have the good sense to give itself a regular break from my mind. It is no longer sensible.

I welcomed a migraine today because it permitted me to forget that it is the end of summer and we are about to leave until basically next summer, and I feel guilty for abandoning my house. I turned out the lights and sat in the dim living room. I thought, This is what it’s like in this house for other nine months of the year. Lightless and empty. I tried to put myself in the house’s position. I tried to feel what the house feels because this house is a people house. I worry, without people, what might become of it.

–From the August 31st entry of writer Heidi Julavits’s year-long diary, The Folded Clock,  a project she started in adulthood after rediscovering her childhood diaries, which, she found, read like they were were written by a “paranoid tax auditor.” In her review of The Folded Clock, Eula Biss writes in The New York Times Book Review, “This diary is a record of the interior weather of an adept thinker. In it, the mundane is rendered extraordinary through the alchemy of effortless prose.” The book came out this month from Doubleday.

Get the book