by Corey Dahl
Our second Art + Lit of the year is coming up this Thursday, and maybe—given the Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, February weather that feels like May weather (thanks, El Nino!)—you haven’t had a chance to read the book we’ll be discussing, Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers.
Right about now you’re thinking, “Oh no, oh no, oh no.” Panicked sweat is coming, and it’s coming fast. Why didn’t you prepare? Also, why didn’t you double up on deodorant this morning?
But here’s the thing: It’s okay. No need to fake sick and spend the next three days speed reading. I recently talked to Lighthouse instructor Erika Krouse, who will be leading Thursday’s discussion with Bruce Price from Art Students League of Denver, about the book the New York Times described this way:
The Flamethrowers is a coming-of-age novel of a sort, one that has dozens of topics on its mind: speed and sex, reality and counterreality, art and intellect, politics and fear and perhaps, above all, “the fine lubricated violence of an internal combustion engine.”
Here’s what you need to know ahead of Thursday’s talk.
Q. What’s unique about Kushner’s writing? Is there a technique/skill of hers that you’d like to steal?
A. Her metaphors! Check it out: “She shone like something wet, a piece of candy that had been in someone’s mouth.” (Spoiler alert!) Kushner’s metaphors act as foreshadowing—of course this candy-like woman will become the Other Woman.
Q. What are the book’s ties to Earth art? Why is this an appropriate pairing?
A. The book has a small focus on Earth art and a large focus on conceptual art of the 1970s. Regarding Earth art, the narrator’s intent is to race across the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah and then photograph her tracks. Instead, she crashes spectacularly, and the resulting photographs of her crash seem flat compared to the violent reality.
After the crash, the book mostly focuses on conceptual artists of the 1970s. For some of the artists, their art exists only in the concept and not in its actualization. Many of the artists crave anarchy and revolution, yet their art seems cerebral when compared to the violent reality of actual Fascist revolution in Italy. Kushner plays with the contrast between art (conceptual revolution) and action (violent revolution).
Q. If you could pair the book with music—a band, album or song—what would you pair it with? What about food?
A. For music, maybe “Revolution” by the Beatles, or 1980s anarcho-punk? And food…maybe an exhibit featuring a cheeseburger on a pedestal. Or finger food platters where they’re serving actual fingers. Although those ideas have probably been “done.” A Bloody Mary made from the blood of Mary Pickford? Although her blood would probably have rotted by now, unless you used some kind of freezer, in which case it wouldn’t be a Bloody Mary anymore. (This is why I’m not an artist.) Oh, a Mussolini butter sculpture. Or caviar served on pieces of shrapnel. Foie gras served on the back of a duck. Stop me, please.
Q. Okay, stop, stop. What are you most looking forward to talking about at Art + Lit?
A. I look forward to talking about the plot of the book, and how Kushner explores art via Italian Fascism, revolution, speed and motorcycles, love, and the beleaguered New York art world. I also want to talk about the membrane between reality and art. I’m curious to hear other people’s opinions about the book and the role of art in our culture.
Q. Finally, motorcycles: Dangerous or just cool?
A. Donorcycles. That’s all I’m going to say. Kushner says the rest:
The bike skipped end over end. I slammed headfirst into the salt, a smack into white concrete. My body was sent abrading and skidding and slamming before flipping up and slamming down again. I almost crashed into my own salt-sliding motorcycle. We barely missed each other. I skidded and tumbled.
There’s a false idea that accidents happen in slow motion.