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.
Skibsrud’s work is nothing if not poetic ... Her microscopic lenses examine the slippery edges of nothing with sensitivity and insight, establishing graceful boundaries for the concept ... There’s nothing like The Nothing That Is. In these Essays on Art, Literature and Being, Johanna Skibsrud set herself a daunting task: To search for what hasn’t yet been imagined. And in doing so, she found nothing less than imaginative new ways of being.
Here’s a funky little book about nothing—not in the way Seinfeld was about nothing, but in the way that space is mostly nothing ... In truth, the essays that compose this collection are grouped mainly by virtue of their common author and her soaring intelligence. Their heterogeneity renders the reading experience a little bumpy, leaping as the topics do between widespread phenomena, such as fake news and the Falling Man of 9/11, and more specialized ones, like the poetry of Erin Mouré and George Oppen. Skibsrud is an impressive writer and thinker and this book, her seventh, collects her ideas for an array of audiences with different reading proclivities ... Skibsrud’s work considers ideas as large as time and death, and lingers gracefully on how literature knits with human life. Plenty of writers swimming among such big concepts have been lost at sea, but Skibsrud sails through with confidence ... remarkable insight, patient syntax, seamless quotation. And a bit of an uneasy truce between scholarly writing and general interest essays ... Its intent appears to be gathering up the loose change from a writer’s intellectual sofa cushions, and in this case, that’s a lot of wealth.
Skibsrud balances intellectual rigour with historical context and offers generous understandings that turn our attention to language as the texture of life.
As a whole, the collection is uneven in tone but consistent in its sharp insights on 20th-century writers and artists. The Nothing That Is signals Skibsrud’s versatility as a poet and writer who is able to winnow and subvert theoretical concepts for ambitious reinvention.