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Literary Collections Essays

The Nothing That Is

Essays on Art, Literature and Being

by (author) Johanna Skibsrud

Book*hug Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2019
Essays, Books & Reading, Poetry
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    Publish Date
    Oct 2019
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    Oct 2019
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Rather than making "something" out of "nothing," what follows is an endeavour to express the potential of language and thought to encounter what is infinitely beyond both yet to be imagined.

In The Nothing That Is, Johanna Skibsrud gathers essays about the very concept of "nothing." Addressing a broad range of topics—including false atrocity tales, so-called fake news, high-wire acts, and telepathy, as well as responses to works by John Ashbery, Virginia Woolf, Anne Carson, and more—these essays seek to decentre our relationship to both the "givenness" of history and to a predictive or probable model of the future.

The Nothing That Is explores ways in which poetic language can activate the possibilities replete within our every moment. Skibsrud reveals that within every encounter between a speaking "I" and what exceeds subjectivity, there is a listening "Other," be it community or the objective world.

Praise for The Nothing That Is:

"Skibsrud adds brilliantly to what we can know of poetry. By entering into the words of Woolf, Oppen, Stephens, Rukeyser, Carson and others, and thinking in our presence, she gives us the experience of touch and beauty and the poem. A friend to Burke's sublime and to Pato's at the limit, this book urges us to receive poetry's "nothing" for here an abundance lives. Put The Nothing That Is into the hands of whoever is puzzled by or afraid of poetry, into the hands of whoever teaches it!" —Erín Moure

"Why do I find Skibsrud's consideration of Nothing essentially hopeful? Because her approach to the possibilities of thinking Nothing arise out of, and include, the despair of Celan's babble—which is to say the incomprehensible, a place where all known structures, including language, have fallen away. Skibsrud invites us to participate in the very human process of re-seeing and remaking the world; she challenges us to venture with her into the unknown, where experience and language empty themselves, then create themselves anew." —Sam Ace, author of Our Weather Our Sea

"At some point in my relationship with The Nothing That Is I began to forget that I was reading a collection of essays on art, language, and being, and began, instead, to believe that I was reading a guidebook on how to approach and appreciate outer space. Because, in her recuperative and intimate readings of the often despairing, always life-affirming schisms between what is expressed and what remains inexpressible, Johanna Skibsrud has written a manifesto of liminal, reverberative space, as essential to our understanding of poetry and art, as to that of black holes and the Milky Way." —Brandon Shimoda, author of The Grave on the Wall

About the author

Johanna Skibsrud is a novelist, poet and Assistant Professor of English at the University of Arizona. Her debut novel, The Sentimentalists, was awarded the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize, making her the youngest writer to win Canada's most prestigious literary prize. The book was subsequently shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Award and is currently translated into five languages. The New York Times Book Review describes her most recent novel, Quartet for the End of Time (Norton 2014) as a "haunting" exploration of "the complexity of human relationships and the myriad ways in which identity can be malleable." "It is exhilarating", writes the Washington Post, "to join a novelist working at these bracing heights." Johanna is also the author of two collections of short fiction: This Will Be Difficult to Explain (2011; shortlisted for the Danuta Gleed Award) and Tiger, Tiger (2018), a children's book, and three books of poetry. Her latest poetry collection, The Description of the World (2016), was the recipient of the 2017 Canadian Author's Association for Poetry and the 2017 Fred Cogswell Award. Johanna's poems and stories have been published in Zoetrope, Ecotone, and Glimmertrain Magazine, among numerous other journals. Her scholarly essays have appeared in, among other places, The Luminary, Excursions, Mosaic, TIES, and The Brock Review. A critical monograph titled The Poetic Imperative: A Speculative Aesthetics is forthcoming. A novel, Island, will also be published by Hamish Hamilton Canada in fall 2019.

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