Book of Mutter
Writing is how I attempt to repair myself, stitching back former selves, sentences. When I am brave enough I am never brave enough I unravel the tapestry of my life, my childhood. I take things away. I smash things, relations are broken. I am the bad mother. -- from Book of MutterComposed over thirteen years, Kate Zambreno's Book of Mutter is a tender and disquieting meditation on the ability of writing, photography, and memory to embrace shadows while in the throes -- and dead calm -- of grief. Book of Mutter is both primal and sculpted, shaped by the author's searching, indexical impulse to inventory family apocrypha in the wake of her mother's death. The text spirals out into a kind of fractured anatomy of melancholy that comes to contain critical reflections on the likes of Roland Barthes, Louise Bourgeois, Henry Darger, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha , Peter Handke, and others. Zambreno has modeled the book's formless form on Bourgeois's Cells sculptures -- at once channeling the volatility of autobiography, pain, and childhood, yet hemmed by a solemn sense of entering ritualistic or sacred space.Neither memoir, essay, nor poetry, Book of Mutter is an uncategorizable text that draws upon a repertoire of genres to write into and against silence. It is a haunted text, an accumulative archive of myth and memory that seeks its own undoing, driven by crossed desires to resurrect and exorcise the past. Zambreno weaves a complex web of associations, relics, and references, elevating the prosaic scrapbook into a strange and intimate postmortem/postmodern theater.

Book of Mutter Details

TitleBook of Mutter
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMar 17th, 2017
PublisherSemiotext(e)
ISBN-139781584351962
Rating
GenreAutobiography, Memoir, Nonfiction, Writing, Essays, Poetry

Book of Mutter Review

  • flowerville
    January 1, 1970
    http://fortlaufen.blogspot.co.uk/2017...
  • Maud
    January 1, 1970
    Yeaaaaa this is so 100% what I am into: academic fragments plus personal reflections and all tied together lyrically beautifully and almost mystically. It is a calming piece of art for all its pain and uncomfortableness. Its fragmentary is slightly almost curt and standoffish but I think that's more a comment on the pain and unmooring Zambreno seems to still feel daily after losing her mother.She ties in academia, literature, movies, religion, mental health, Henry Darger and a long line of incre Yeaaaaa this is so 100% what I am into: academic fragments plus personal reflections and all tied together lyrically beautifully and almost mystically. It is a calming piece of art for all its pain and uncomfortableness. Its fragmentary is slightly almost curt and standoffish but I think that's more a comment on the pain and unmooring Zambreno seems to still feel daily after losing her mother.She ties in academia, literature, movies, religion, mental health, Henry Darger and a long line of incredible women from history.Can't remember the last book I loved so much. I work in a bookstore and made a hard sell on this to someone, which i rarely ever bother to do. I wanna do the same to you - read it read it
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  • Bookforum Magazine
    January 1, 1970
    "Book of Mutter is a hybrid nonfiction text–moving back and forth between art criticism and poetry, personal rumination and philosophical inquiry–that took her thirteen years to complete. The book is relentless in its search for meaning and its simultaneous refusal of simplistic acts of closure. Even its structure seems designed to reflect pain intermittently avoided and confronted."–Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore on Kate Zambreno's Book of Mutter in the April/May 2017 issue of BookforumTo read the "Book of Mutter is a hybrid nonfiction text–moving back and forth between art criticism and poetry, personal rumination and philosophical inquiry–that took her thirteen years to complete. The book is relentless in its search for meaning and its simultaneous refusal of simplistic acts of closure. Even its structure seems designed to reflect pain intermittently avoided and confronted."–Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore on Kate Zambreno's Book of Mutter in the April/May 2017 issue of BookforumTo read the rest of this review, please go to Bookforum:http://bookforum.com/inprint/024_01/1...
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  • Melissa
    January 1, 1970
    The entry for 24 October 1911 in Kafka’s Diaries reads:Yesterday it occurred to me that I did not always love my mother as she deserved and as I could, only because the German language prevented it. The Jewish mother is no ‘Mutter’, to call her ‘Mutter’ makes her a little comic […], we give a Jewish woman the name of a German mother, but forget the contradiction that sinks into the emotions so much the more heavily, ‘Mutter’ is peculiarly German for the Jew, it unconsciously contains, together w The entry for 24 October 1911 in Kafka’s Diaries reads:Yesterday it occurred to me that I did not always love my mother as she deserved and as I could, only because the German language prevented it. The Jewish mother is no ‘Mutter’, to call her ‘Mutter’ makes her a little comic […], we give a Jewish woman the name of a German mother, but forget the contradiction that sinks into the emotions so much the more heavily, ‘Mutter’ is peculiarly German for the Jew, it unconsciously contains, together with the Christian splendor Christian coldness also, the Jewish woman who is called ‘Mutter’ therefore becomes not only comic but strange. Mama would be a better name if only one didn’t imagine ‘Mutter’ behind it.Kate Zambreno composed Book of Mutter, whose title is taken from Kafka’s diary, over the course of the thirteen years following her mother’s painful death from lung cancer. Zambreno’s writing is a beautiful mixture of memoir, poetry, literary reflection, historical commentary and diary that is impossible to classify into one genre. Similar to Kafka, there is a feeling that the author’s process of writing is an active and cathartic way for her to remember her mother and their complicated relationship and to work through her grief:I began to attempt to write to make sense of all of these different memories and tenses of my mother. Was, is, was… It infected everything. I kept on trying to write her down. My dead mother wormed her way into every book I have ever written. I kept on trying to erase her from the pages, change her into other mothers.And how this thing has expanded and contracted over the years—my mother book my monster book.Throughout the Book of Mutter Zambreno includes quotes and stories about other authors who have chosen to write in order to soothe a loss. Virginia Wolfe, Roland Barthes and Peter Handke all make an appearance in Zambreno’s text. Furthermore, there is a sense from the fragmented and random order of the text that Zambreno’s attempt to write a book of mutter becomes this monstrous exercise in rambling; at times she feels like a raving Cassandra figure that is screaming for comfort and her mutter turns into a muttering. Her very last words written in the book are “I mutter, mutter, mutter.”Another recurring theme throughout Zambreno’s book is that of photographs and images and how we use these things to reconstruct someone who no longer exists. Roland Barthes is the perfect author for her to incorporate into her text since his writing about photographs was deeply affected by the loss of his mother. She quotes from Barthes’s Camera Lucida: “It’s true that a photograph is a witness, but a witness of something that is no more.” Throughout her journey of mourning Zambreno continually turns to family photographs to reconstruct, to recognize the woman she knew. Her mother didn’t like to be photographed so she oftentimes was the one taking the pictures. The photos of her childhood that don’t include an image of her mother still feel like the ghost or shadow of her mother is present since she is the one behind the camera.One final theme that runs throughout Book of Mutter is that of objects and how we associate certain objects with those we’ve lost. “Yet the objects we collect, they can nourish us too,” Zambreno writes. The objects that her mother collected were a comfort to her and now become a solace for Zambreno herself. Her mother had a collection of woven baskets, Clinique lipsticks, her children’s school papers and report cards, and gardening tools. The saddest collection of all is the contents of her mother’s purse which she brings to her in the hospital:I brought one of her purses to the hospital. It sat on the table next to her bed. It was black with a gold clasp. She guarded it fiercely. It was the only thing she could hold onto, something that was hers, something that reflected who she used to be.In the purse:a used tissue a sample hand lotion a lipstick never used a wallet without money crumbling brown tobacco lining the bottomno mirrorsIn the end all of these things—writing, photographs, objects become apocrypha, which she points out comes from the Greek “things having been hidden away”, because she can never fully know or recapture who her mother was. Like Odysseus, attempting to embrace his mother whom he meets in the afterlife, he tries to grasp her shadowy image three times but does so in vain because there is a permanent division between body and spirit, life and death.For me reading Zambreno’s book was more than just about contemplating grief; it is a book about the importance of the parent-child relationship and it made me more fully aware of my relationship with my own daughter and how I spend my time with her. She calls me “mama” or “mommy” which might seem jejune since she is now in middle school. But I’ve always found both of these titles more endearing and warmer than “mom” or “mother” (or Kafka’s mutter.) I hope she always feels the same warmth towards me. Which objects, spaces, photographs will she one day associate with me?
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  • Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
    January 1, 1970
    Just a beautiful, brilliant meditation on losing a parent, on what remains and what goes, on how loss shapes lives, woven with thoughts on Henry Darger, references to Joan of Arc, Marguerite Duras and much more...a work of great emotional honesty and intellectual energy. The sort of thing Olivia Laing's underwhelming CRUDO needed to be.
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  • Simon Robs
    January 1, 1970
    Another example of books reading well together, here in "Mutter" lies an actual citing of Jelinek's work "The Piano Teacher" as hint of the strangeness relationship that Zambreno picks at scabily while the flakes of which mutter "BoM." There's lots of white out through these sparse pages dense with penumbral meanings. Can a few photographs (Mutter was phobic and rarely photographed)recreate what really wasn't there to begin with? Zambreno pulls from her coterie of artists/writers' fascinations t Another example of books reading well together, here in "Mutter" lies an actual citing of Jelinek's work "The Piano Teacher" as hint of the strangeness relationship that Zambreno picks at scabily while the flakes of which mutter "BoM." There's lots of white out through these sparse pages dense with penumbral meanings. Can a few photographs (Mutter was phobic and rarely photographed)recreate what really wasn't there to begin with? Zambreno pulls from her coterie of artists/writers' fascinations to fashion a workable angst. And yet what's here is dulcetly real to read, not so unpleasant that it makes the reader turn it comedically into palpable, it's melody, a song of life.
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  • Delia Rainey
    January 1, 1970
    Just like Kate's mother kept a gardening diary and Henry Darger kept a book documenting the weather, Zambreno's Book of Mutter reads like a collection of constant scramblings, as if writing it all down will allow her to survive. The purpose of the book changes throughout: at the beginning she wants to write to forget. As she idealizes her mother, her love, she transitions swiftly to her mother's failures and darkness. Zambreno clutches to her memories for dear life. I read this book in just a co Just like Kate's mother kept a gardening diary and Henry Darger kept a book documenting the weather, Zambreno's Book of Mutter reads like a collection of constant scramblings, as if writing it all down will allow her to survive. The purpose of the book changes throughout: at the beginning she wants to write to forget. As she idealizes her mother, her love, she transitions swiftly to her mother's failures and darkness. Zambreno clutches to her memories for dear life. I read this book in just a couple sittings, I could not put it down. The constant quotes of writers and artists like Louise Bourgeois and Roland Barthes, research on the movies Wanda and Joan of Arc, put together what it means to yearn for your mother, what it means to yearn for a definition of the past. Henry Darger's artistic obsessions thread throughout Zambreno's obsessive portrait of her mother - it felt like a historical document pieced together, found in an attic or something. Zambreno's work always questions institutionalized women and gendered mental breakdowns, criticizing the caging role of "wife" and "mother" in a sympathetic yet enraged way. Zambreno's mother's freedom from these roles, her cigarette habits, a time to be alone, are actually what causes her cancer and death. This book is fragmented, often quiet like a whisper, a secret. I love reading texts that take me to my own research, my own rememberings.
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  • Mason Jones
    January 1, 1970
    On a different day I could easily give this 4 stars, then on another 2 stars; I think it would depend quite a bit on my mood that particular day. Today I'm in-between, so having just finished 3 stars it is. It's an intriguing book, no doubt, like most published by semiotext(e) -- beautifully presented, poetic prose often sparsely laid out on the page, blank pages interspersed like pauses for breath. A meditation on the author's mother, her death, and her memory, it's a little difficult to decide On a different day I could easily give this 4 stars, then on another 2 stars; I think it would depend quite a bit on my mood that particular day. Today I'm in-between, so having just finished 3 stars it is. It's an intriguing book, no doubt, like most published by semiotext(e) -- beautifully presented, poetic prose often sparsely laid out on the page, blank pages interspersed like pauses for breath. A meditation on the author's mother, her death, and her memory, it's a little difficult to decide how to think about the book. On the one hand, as motifs repeat and images recur it's too easy to pass some sort of judgment on the author, her family, and their relationships. At times I could have reached through the book and given advice, no doubt unwanted. Perhaps the book is too personal to actually appreciate, I don't know. From the reviews here it touched readers, so that's a job well done. Had it been longer I might not have finished it, but I found it meaningful enough I suppose. Which is certainly an inconclusive review, but it's all I've got in this case.
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  • Kasey Jueds
    January 1, 1970
    I'm fascinated by Kate Zambreno's work and read this book in about a day - strange, haunting, powerfully honest and forthright, and so moving. In an interview I read, Zambreno says she is fascinated by failure, by texts that are messy, show their seams, don't (because they can't) reach a perfectly realized "finished" state. Maybe that is all books, but I love the way Zambreno embraces this ethic. Her work feels powerfully itself in a way that some people are purely themselves (sounds so simple, I'm fascinated by Kate Zambreno's work and read this book in about a day - strange, haunting, powerfully honest and forthright, and so moving. In an interview I read, Zambreno says she is fascinated by failure, by texts that are messy, show their seams, don't (because they can't) reach a perfectly realized "finished" state. Maybe that is all books, but I love the way Zambreno embraces this ethic. Her work feels powerfully itself in a way that some people are purely themselves (sounds so simple, being oneself, and is so challenging in reality). As in other books I love, Zambreno blends art criticism/history with memoir and personal experience, but her voice is so recognizably and uniquely hers, as is the way the text zigzags and turns back on itself and moves in ways I would never expect. More in here about Henry Darger, who intrigues me. I loved this book as I loved Heroines, and will probably be ready to reread both soon.
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  • Joseph Schreiber
    January 1, 1970
    Broken, fragmented meditations on grief and its strange permutations, the way it shifts and and contradicts itself and so often simply proves elusive, especially when it is a parent who is lost. Our relationships with our parents are complex. Kate Zambreno's struggle to articulate her feelings following her mother's death, a process spanning more than a decade is filled with trigger points—and I mean that in a positive way—for me in my own very different grieving process following the loss of bo Broken, fragmented meditations on grief and its strange permutations, the way it shifts and and contradicts itself and so often simply proves elusive, especially when it is a parent who is lost. Our relationships with our parents are complex. Kate Zambreno's struggle to articulate her feelings following her mother's death, a process spanning more than a decade is filled with trigger points—and I mean that in a positive way—for me in my own very different grieving process following the loss of both of my parents, but my mother in particular, almost two years ago. Not the typical grief memoir, but for this readers, a much richer experience.A longer review can be found here: https://roughghosts.com/2019/04/19/th...
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  • Charlie
    January 1, 1970
    The book of fragments = a perfect vehicle for mourning the death of a parent? I feel like it's a natural fit. Zambreno's long-in-the-works (seriously, the final line in the book declaring that it was written between 2003-2016, which is a gut punch all its own) Book of Mutter intertwines the works of Louise Bourgeois, the writing of Henry Darger, and the author's own account of her mother's illness and death. It's actually a quite soft book, and not too much of an emotional ringer; I read it alou The book of fragments = a perfect vehicle for mourning the death of a parent? I feel like it's a natural fit. Zambreno's long-in-the-works (seriously, the final line in the book declaring that it was written between 2003-2016, which is a gut punch all its own) Book of Mutter intertwines the works of Louise Bourgeois, the writing of Henry Darger, and the author's own account of her mother's illness and death. It's actually a quite soft book, and not too much of an emotional ringer; I read it aloud to my partner before bed.
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  • Antonio Delgado
    January 1, 1970
    Writing is living a life upon other lives. Kafka assumes it as the only way of living. For Virginia Woolf, writing is a way to find those moments of being out of those moments of not being. Zambrano writes the silences of being. Like Kafka, Woolf and Beckett writing becomes the only possibility of understanding knowing that comprehension will finally get to us at the end, or as Kafka would say, when it is no longer necessary.
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  • Annie
    January 1, 1970
    (CW: dead/dying moms, which is real hard to read)But so good. Very Zambreno, who always has me furiously note-taking in spite of myself She also does this thing in her notes at the end where she mentions works that didn't end up being used and I just think this is such an interesting technique as a writer, to cite the invisible hands that didn't make it in...
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  • Janel Brubaker
    January 1, 1970
    One of the best books on grief I've ever read.
  • D
    January 1, 1970
    The most important book, to me, that I've read this year.
  • Jackie
    January 1, 1970
    An incredibly well-written, lyrical meditation on loss."Sometimes my mouth opens up and my mother's laugh jumps out, a parlor trick."
  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    It's not poetry, or maybe it is? Hard to tell, but it's interesting.
  • kirsten
    January 1, 1970
    After reading a conversation between Kate Zambreno and Kate Briggs, read this and This Little Art concurrently. I'd suggest you do the same.
  • BW Diederich
    January 1, 1970
    Read this on a train in one sitting and an hour after finishing it was in a room full of Louise Bourgeois objects and it felt perfect. An attempt to make sense of things that push back against sense. I loved it quite a lot.
  • Kyla Doll
    January 1, 1970
    3.5-4 stars.
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