“As rising right-wing nationalism and accelerating climate chaos breed existential despair and political paralysis, the need to identify strategies to resist fatalism intensifies. The Way Things Go responds to that need with rare honesty, generosity, and playfulness, building an ark of texts—found, borrowed, gorgeously composed, breath-takingly discovered—and inviting the reader to go the way things do: growing while diminishing, learning while forgetting, letting in while letting go. Using one of the book’s most fertile images, one could say that this book teaches ‘the way of the hourglass,’ the gift of endlessly beginning again.” ~ Una Chaudhuri, author of Ecocide: Research Theatre and Climate Change
The Way Things Go contains a mix of poetry, art writing, and life writing about anticipatory grief, or mourning someone or something before it’s gone. Each successive chapter in the book decreases in length by exactly one sentence, from a 71-sentence-long opening chapter, to a 70-sentence-long second chapter, to 69 sentences, 68 sentences, and so on down to 1 (a book-length Oulipian “melting snowball”). This shrinking form enacts the book’s concerns with loss, climate change, and the passage of time.
At the level of its content, however, The Way Things Go is not fatalistic. Its title comes from a cult classic 1987 Fischli and Weiss film, in which objects such as bags of trash, car tires, and oil drums knock into one another in a Rube Goldberg-esque chain reaction. Moving through both personal history (his sister's lupus and heroin addiction, his grandmother's experience as a Holocaust survivor) and more global concerns (the Sixth Mass Extinction, COVID-19, the war in Ukraine), Bury considers the disruptions that occur as "things go," as well as the continuity that remains. The book suggests that recent negotiations between optimism and pessimism with respect to the future reflect people’s feelings of vulnerability, particularly people who are used to taking their life's stability for granted, in a world that seems increasingly precarious.
Louis Bury is an art critic, author of Exercises in Criticism (Dalkey Archive Press, 2015), and Associate Professor of English at Hostos Community College, CUNY. He contributes regularly to Hyperallergic, BOMB, and Art in America.
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