Zambreno and Guibert are perhaps an odd couple. Where the latter wrote unabashedly of cruising and gay sex in a milieu that included Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes, Zambreno writes here of motherhood, adjunct teaching, and life in Brooklyn. She’s aware of the dissonanc...Yet, one of the pleasures of her book is the affinities she traces between herself and Guibert ... The book is a riposte, however incidental, to current critical dogma in which outsiders are presumed to lack the authority to write across difference...While she doesn’t exhibit Guibert’s ravening lust, she has some of his acidity, his charisma, his meditativeness, his improvisational grace. She has, too, his comfort with slipperiness, both in terms of subjectivity and of form ... Despite its elliptical style, Zambreno’s book cultivates patience, a digressive but ruminative mode that goes beyond close reading of Guibert toward an actual embodiment of his voice ... Zambreno conceives literature as inseparable from identity but not constrained by it. Her approach demonstrates one version of what reading is for, what literature is for—not to make us more empathetic, much less improve us, but to offer an intellectual, emotional, or creative experience we would not otherwise have. Literature makes life more bearable. And for those who are ill or dying, literature has the additional capacity to make them 'more fully human,' as Zambreno suggests. To document our own deaths is to prove that, for a while anyway, we survived.
... her ability to write the horrors of being a body and a writer in a capitalist world crystallizes, becomes sharper. It was mainly written in the pandemic and the second half chronicles the world shutting down, and feeling that the world is also closing in on her is palpable ... a book that questions the point of writing, and proves the point that we need writers to explain what the hell is going on inside and outside of them, how these things impact each other, all the jagged edges of being alive and dedicated to thinking about what that means. There’s also the honesty of pettiness that exists in all creative worlds, the points of comparison that are fair and unfair, that gives the text the hiss of gossip that provides instant intimacy. Reading all Zambreno feels like the jolt one gets from a surprise cut or burn in the kitchen, that sudden recognition that you’re in a body and the body can be hurt ... I’m reminded again how writing can bring me back into my body. That it’s at its best when it does.
Throughout the text Zambreno weaves in her personal obsessions, pointing out striking and sometimes tenuous parallels between consciousnesses—hers, Guibert’s, and Alex Suzuki’s—all grasping for connection within an ether of intertextual references, mazy interior monologues, and quotations that speak of one thing but point behind their backs at another ... Rightly or wrongly, Zambreno’s books have always evoked—and entrapped me in—an interior ... A house with a history, but one that is so well wrought that you cannot, from the outside, locate its seams or its disjunctions. Perhaps what I’m referring to is the feeling of occupying a space, one that has been marked by countless others, either with love or with petty and sinister intent ... Reading To Write As If Already Dead is at once like biting into a bitter seed and like commiserating with an old friend. The speaker’s critical discernment—turned on herself and her own situation—reminds me of the speaker in Heroines, who writes from within a house, first in Akron, Ohio, then in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, trapped in the role of the wife who follows her husband from job to job. However, reading To Write As If Already Dead does not, for some reason, enrage me to the point where I unconsciously (consciously) pick fights with my partner and plot escape routes out the window to avoid ending up like the speaker of Zambreno’s books: angry, wilted, and charred from attempting to live the life of the mind in the body of a woman.