The Importance of Being Iceland
Travel Essays in Art
368 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: June 5, 2009
- Publisher: Semiotext(e)
A poet and post-punk heroine writes on subjects ranging from Björk to Robert Smithson, from traveling in Iceland to walking in Thoreau's footsteps on Cape Cod
Poet and post-punk heroine Eileen Myles has always operated in the art, writing, and queer performance scenes as a kind of observant flaneur. Like Baudelaire's gentleman stroller, Myles travels the city—wandering on garbage-strewn New York streets in the heat of summer, drifting though the antiseptic malls of La Jolla, and riding in the van with Sister Spit—seeing it with a poet's eye for detail and with the consciousness that writing about art and culture has always been a social gesture. Culled by the poet from twenty years of art writing, the essays in The Importance of Being Iceland make a lush document of her—and our—lives in these contemporary crowds. Framed by Myles's account of her travels in Iceland, these essays posit inbetweenness as the most vital position from which to perceive culture as a whole, and a fluidity in national identity as the best model for writing and thinking about art and culture. The essays include fresh takes on Thoreau's Cape Cod walk, working class speech, James Schulyer and Björk, queer Russia and Robert Smithson; how-tos on writing an avant-garde poem and driving a battered Japanese car that resembles a menopausal body; and opinions on such widely ranging subjects as filmmaker Sadie Benning, actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Ted Berrigan's Sonnets, and flossing.
Eloquent, touching, and often hilarious essays on art, poetry, politics, and 'Eileen'—a comic character who deserves to be as well known as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.
The Importance of Being Iceland brings Myles full circle: She is able to portray evolving LGBT culture and her place in it, while simultaneously enabling the larger world to view us with humor, irony and admiration.
Myles is a brilliant stylist; she writes in a way that we wish we could talk. Which is why it's so exciting to finally have a great big slab of essays, to observe her language when she's not constrained by the rules of poetry or fiction. We get to hear what she says when she's being herself.
Myles's unique writings on art and culture manage to stay right on target while simultaneously misbehaving.
The Village Voice
There's a perfect analogy for the experience of reading Eileen Myles's new book of essays, The Importance of Being Iceland: it's like being at a large and lively dinner party with several of your favorite friends. The food is good, the room is comfortable, and the conversation is witty, feisty, perceptive, even tender. There are moments of digression, moments when the conversation becomes a little choppy, and there's also the fact that all of your dinner companions are variants of Eileen Myles. The overall effect of this book is to leave the reader with a full belly and a refreshed sensibility.
Rain Taxi Review of Books
These writings confidently wander and always cohere, held together not just by the author's singular intelligence but by her ability to exude personality on the page.
TimeOut New York