Kate Zambreno’s “To Write as if Already Dead” & Susan Bernofsky’s “Clairvoyant of the Small”

June 18, 2021

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On this week’s show the hosts are joined by Kate Zambreno and Susan Bernofsky, who have both written magisterial works about past literary masters. First, Medaya Ocher and Kate Wolf speak with Kate Zambreno about To Write as if Already Dead, a novella based on a failed attempt to write about Herve Guibert’s To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life, which documents Guibert's diagnosis and disintegration from HIV, and portrays a character based upon his close friend, philosopher Michel Foucault. Then, Kate Wolf is joined by Susan Bernofsky to discuss Clairvoyant of the Small, her biography of Swiss author Robert Walser, one of the most influential modernists. Bernofsky’s biography portrays Walser not just as the eccentric outsider figure he’s often made out to be, but as a fully formed artist, with serious creative aspirations, proliferate charms, and many complications. Clairvoyant of the Small offers a nuanced picture of his turbulent life — much of its drama stemming from financial precarity, family legacy, and the sweeping pendulums of early 20h-century European history — as it also illuminates the complexity and beauty of his writing.