A Review of "Death of Art" by Chris Campanioni

by Catherine Chambers

From the cover: “Death of Art dissects post-capitalist, post-Internet, post-death culture; our ability and affinity to be both disembodied and tethered to technology, allowing us to be in several places at once and nowhere at all.”

Cuban-American writer Chris Campanioni’s forthcoming book, Death of Art, is billed as non-fiction, but serves as much more. A dancey mashup of poetry and hybrid prose reminiscent of Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, Death of Art is a genre-bending glimpse into what feels like Campanioni’s private diary. We open on Campanioni cutting his face out of every fashion editorial bearing his likeness with the help of a stranger, and “stranger” is also the word I would use for the way the book progresses.

“The greatest characters I’ve invented are the ones I know by heart.”

Identity, Tinder, family, celebrity, Brooklyn: nothing is off-limits in Campanioni’s essays as he talks about growing up with hurricanes (“Storm Season”), being told not to get too tan lest he look too Latino to get cast in something (“Self-Interested Glimpses”), and looking at modern life through the lens of someone who identifies as an “artist.” As Campanioni continually questions his own journey, so the reader questions their own.

Campanioni is a meandering, unreliable narrator who facilitates the reader’s journey down the rabbit hole of his prose at breakneck, forgetting-to-breathe speed: you can’t wait to feel the ground under your feet again. He lets go of your hand before an unlit set of steps and lets you stumble as you feel inexplicably guilty about the Instagram notification that draws your attention away from the page. As Campanioni questions himself, it’s everything you don’t really want to hear. He takes the cliché of “Who am I?” and massages it into “Who am I pretending to be? Who am I as an artist in a world that seems to be waging a war on art? What even is art anymore? What is identity anymore?”

“Who hasn’t ever asked themselves: Am I a monster?
Who hasn’t ever asked themselves: Or is this what it feels like for everyone?”

The collection is marked by Campanioni’s signature mastery of the line, shameless sensuality, and abiding love of 90210. By the end of Death of Art, you feel like you have read something terribly important. You can’t seem to pin down why it’s sitting so heavy in your belly, or even the specific words that so moved you, but you know you can’t continue to move through the world the way you have been; you know something has to change.

Death of Art by Chris Campanioni
C&R Press 2016
$19.00 Paperback, 218 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-936196-60-9

Check out Chris’ piece in Duende Issue 3, "Love Stories From The Twentieth Century Caught On Film."  

Pre-order Death of Art.

Mary Karr's The Art of Memoir

by Cara Sexton

As a writer and editor of creative nonfiction, there's almost nothing I love more than a great memoir. Having read The Liars' Club and knowing that Mary Karr happened to be a Goddard College alum, I was excited to see The Art of Memoir hit the shelves. The book is, in a sense, a memoir about memoir, and Karr pulls it off brilliantly. She manages to dig into precisely what it is about the genre that most fascinates and delights me: the mining for meaning. I imagine I am not alone in this, given the genre's recent rise in popularity.

But it truly is the art in it that Mary hones in on. Different, I think, from the technicalities of craft, what Mary captures best is the unique magic of memoir, distinct from biography or journalism. "Memoir done right is an art," she writes, "a made thing. It's not just raw reportage flung splat on the page. Most morally ominous: from the second you choose one event over another, you're shaping the past's meaning." 

But for all the inspiration she has for budding memoir artists, she certainly does not neglect the particularities of the craft. To read The Art of Memoir is to have been given a rich course in how great memoir gets accomplished. I am struck by the truth with which she begins chapter 9 (splendidly titled "Interiority and Inner Enemy—Private Agonies Read Deeper Than External Whammies") with the following instruction: 

Carnality may determine whether a memoir's any good, but interiority—that kingdom the camera never captures—makes a book rereadable. By rereadable, translate: great. Your connection to most authors usually rests in how you may identify with them. Mainly, the better memoirist organizes a life story around that aforementioned inner enemy—a psychic struggle against herself that works like a thread or plot engine. 

The Art of Memoir will itself make it into my "to reread" pile. Since I'd read it as part of my studies, I actually plan to start it over again right away that I can savor it more slowly this time. I know there are gems I missed the first time through, and as I prepare to work more on my own memoir writing, I want to do so buoyed by the inspiration that Karr has gifted to her readers. 

This, alongside Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic, are books I've read recently that have gotten me personally fired up again as a writer to pour out what burns within, even when some of the work that faces me includes dark, difficult things to relive. But as Karr writes, "[M]ost memoirists know the past can be a swamp. Nonetheless, most are trying to find footing on more solid ground. Some memories—often the best and worst—burn inside us for lifetimes, florid, unforgettable, demanding to be set down."