If you follow major restaurant openings, you’ve probably heard of New York’s Le Coucou. Maybe you know of Daniel Rose, its much-fêted 40-year-old executive chef, who was born outside Chicago and proved his talents with three restaurants in Paris. And it’s possible you’re familiar with Stephen Starr, the megawatt Philadelphia-based restaurateur who co-owns Le Coucou. But the name Nana Araba Wilmot? It won’t ring a bell.
Yet on any given night, chances are Wilmot will be in the kitchen in her tall white toque, long black braids hanging down her back. When you order the tender sole, set in a shallow pool of vermouth-butter sauce and dotted with precisely peeled grapes, it’s Wilmot who will have made it. And the powder-white fish cakes and the monkfish bathed in shellfish broth: Those are hers too. Hours later, when you’ve had your last sip of Bordeaux, paid your check, and left the golden-lit dining room, Wilmot will still be there, cleaning her station and sharpening her knives. She’s just one of 1.6 million line cooks in the United States, trying to build a life out of 11-hour shifts. Without cooks like her, those restaurants you obsess over, those dishes you snap photos of, wouldn’t exist. So wouldn’t you like to know what it’s like to be her for a day?
“Do many people cook other things this way?” I asked, eyeing the natural heat sources all around me.
“Not much,” she replied. “Sometimes a goose that a hunter shot, but most often, just the lava bread.”
I found this surprising in an energy-rich and conservation-minded country that is also a pioneer in modern Nordic cuisine. In this era of slow cookers and sous-vide, wouldn’t it be possible, I wondered, to make a whole meal using Iceland’s natural geothermal ovens?
Mailhot dislikes most of the implicit and explicit expectations of what she calls “the white MFA.” She was chafed when a male creative writing professor requested she “stay away from conversations about feminist theory” in her work. She resented being told to “slow down,” especially in her writing about trauma, in order to offer the “tourist experience” to readers through curation of pain.
She doesn’t have to deal with any of that at the Institute of American Indian Arts, or IAIA — which offers the first indigenous-centered MFA program in the US. IAIA, whose campus is perched on the sagebrushed hills outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, was established in 1962. But the MFA program, touting Sherman Alexie among its first faculty members, was only launched in 2012 — conceived, as Mailhot puts it, with “a renaissance in mind.”
In the summation of his poetics as “An integral / Lower limit speech / Upper limit music,” Louis Zukofsky is suggesting a metaphoric area, the southern region of which is made up of pedestrian utterances and the northern, “upper” region—and by upper I think there’s at least a notion of aspiration—a place where the poem tends to be more than mere function, that is, it tries to become music. Language near this loftier border wants to be ordered, formal, and at play with abstraction and connotation. (“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music,” says Walter Pater stating a similar, if more dogmatic, idea.) Everywhere between these two limits, between speech and music, exists the potential space for the poem.
I’d like to propose a definition that modifies Zukofsky’s metaphor to clarify and broaden the term of “experimental writing” and which thus hopefully rehabilitates it from the censure of the many—including a formally daring writer like Erickson—who view the province of experimental writing as a naval-gazing warren, an unpopular gymnasium occupied solely by the effete.
In person, we usually make friends around a community; we meet our friends through school, work, or the local book club. But internet friendships, more often than in-person friendships, tend to be wholly individualized. We don’t always have mutual contacts with our internet friends; we don’t always know the family, the in-person acquaintances, even the hometown of the person we’ve come to cherish. There is, of course, a beauty there—a friendship without social obligations is a friendship entirely premised on mutual interest and intimate conversation. But without that community, grieving is difficult.
Much of the value of Winkler’s book lies in his elegant stitching together of 400 years of diverse cases, allowing us to feel the sweep and flow of history and the constantly shifting legal approaches to understanding this unusual entity — Blackstone’s “artificial person.” Four hundred years is a lot of time, and Winkler does a wonderful job of finding illustrative details without drowning in them, and of giving each case enough attention to make it come alive.
This is Oates’s real trick, that her formal games and realism tend to reinforce each other — they make the same case.