NABOKV-L post 0026406, Mon, 31 Aug 2015 14:27:22 -0300

SIGHTING: quotes in August 2015 - S.M.L.XL
Monday, August 03, 2015

<> The Law of Levity is Allowed to Supersede the Law of Gravity


Cover to R.A. Lafferty, Space Chantey (1968)

It was an age of freaks, monsters, and grotesques.

All the world was misshapen in marvelous and malevolent ways.

Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination (1955)

Now this almost goes without saying: but why S, M, L, XL? Why this huge, unwieldy mess of a thing, poorly bound, weighing more than the stack of National Geographics you use to hold up the end of your musty couch? Would it not make more sense to devote a special issue to Delirious New York (1978), that most provocative of texts, one whose historical and theoretical contours are, at least in retrospect, a bit more clear? Yes, for one could then chart a sort of intellectual course for Rem Koolhaas, plot his stints in screenwriting, studio work at the Architectural Association in London, the oft-quoted “Exodus, Or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture,” and furtive intellectual encounters with Oswald Mattias Ungers—such tacking and jibing among meridians and parallels, useful materials for scholars, historians, theorists, and practitioners to consult in order to make sense of the work of Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture. And yet when confronting S, M, L, XL, we are—how best to put it—slackjawed? […]

This is the kind of levity we read into Yossarian, the Army Air Force bombardier and antihero of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1963), a character whose various exchanges with bureaucratic structures, reminiscent of the Brothers Marx and Coen, are the antidotes to a surrounding world spinning out of control. Yossarian might as well burn some Thai stick and watch it all fall apart. Whereas your Michael Herrs and Ryszard Kapuścińskis bore witness in a dexedrine fog, its edges illuminated like St. Elmo’s Fire by tracer rounds cleaving meteoritic arcs in midair, here you may find Yossarian (perhaps navigator to Humbert Humbert’s automotive peregrinations) sitting on a Marin County hilltop and drinking Coca Cola in perfect harmony [4], holding hands with fellow travelers like Benny Profane, Oedipa Maas, Gnossos Pappadopoulis, Binx Bolling, Tyrone Slothrop, Rabbit Angstrom, and Ignatius C. Reilly.[5] Here are the modern updates to Herman Melville’s Bartleby, with levity now replacing recalcitrance as the most appropriate response to the travails of modernity.

It all begs an important question: is S, M, L, XL a “funny” book? Is it a knee-jerk reaction, a calculated response? If so, to what? Well, in considering the jumbled combination of image and text, the breakneck oscillations between excursus and pornography, yes, there is reason to, as Vladimir Nabokov urges in Pale Fire (1962), to scour the text and “note the cloak-and-dagger hint-glint” and the “shadow of regicide in the rhyme.”[6] It is comically defiant in the way that Jules Winnfield (Samuel L. Jackson), the bespoke assassin and pistol-bearing hermeneuticist of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994), invokes Ezekiel 25:17 before not pulling the trigger, before choosing life over death: “I’m tryin’ real hard to be the shepherd.”[7] It is a book of a time of transsonic stealth fighters sneaking across No-Fly Zones, of modems sensing each other, 56k analog call-and-response peaks and valleys groaning across a world still spun by telephone wires. The book is unexpected, and somehow, you know, just right, like Cass Elliot, John Phillips, et al harmonizing mellifluously in “California Dreamin’”—by far the most memorable sounds in Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (1994), here juxtaposed against the sodium-lit and steaming claustrophobias in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood. To paraphrase Laurie Anderson, “this is the record of the time.”[8]

The essays, reviews, curatorial statements, and micro-narratives in this issue are only a first stab at a kind of revisitation of this time. Readers looking to this special issue of JAE as a kind of roadmap to the influence and legacy of S, M, L, XL will be disappointed. Indeed, there is much work to be done in locating this book within a galaxy of other approaches, from the history of architectural publications, to media and globalization theory, you name it! The authors featured here, all members of a younger generation of scholars taught by those who passed through OMA’s rosters (or who even worked on the publication of S, M, L, XL), are not so much staking new directions for understanding this work as they are asking difficult questions about the role of architectural publishing in our contemporary situation.

[5] Following Footnote 4, see Michael Herr, Dispatches (New York: Random House, 1977) and Ryszard Kapuściński, Another Day of Life (New York: Vintage, 1976). Aside from Humbert Humbert, the pathological narrator of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955), here I am listing the main protagonists from Thomas Pynchon’s V. (1963) and The Crying of Lot 49 (1966), Richard Fariña’s Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me(1966), Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer (1961), Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), John Updike’s Rabbit, Run (1960), and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces (1980), respectively.
[6] Nabokov, Pale Fire (New York: Random House, 1962), 79.

Search archive with Google:

Contact the Editors:,
Nabokv-L policies:
Nabokov Online Journal:"
AdaOnline: "
The Nabokov Society of Japan's Annotations to Ada:
The VN Bibliography Blog:
Search the archive with L-Soft:

Manage subscription options :