Six Lessons From “Anatomy Courses”

So hey: I picked up Blake Butler and Sean Kilpatrick’s collaborative work Anatomy Courses last week. Subtitled “A Skin Dictionary,” it’s a book that seems designed to reject any easy categorization or, really, any interpretation at all. In lieu of a proper review, here are six thoughts on the book.1. As best I can figure, this is one of the most bizarre tales of a parent-child relationship out there; the point at which the oft-described father more or less hijacks the narrative may be the most disturbing moment in an already viscerally disturbing book.

2. It’s also absurdly funny in spots. After one passage describing a pyramid in detail, we get this: “Our pyramid also had 17,000 sides, which made it not a pyramid.”

3. And, at times, the book’s narrator — possibly narrators — comes off as slightly racist. Not entirely sure where Butler and Kilpatrick are going with this aspect of the book, though given that one of the authors has also written a book called Fuckscapes, polite behavior in a narrative is not exactly to be expected.

4. A sense of one-upmanship runs throughout Anatomy Courses — despite the fact that they live in distant cities, one can imagine Butler and Kilpatrick sitting opposite one another, carving out sentences and laughing maniacally as grindcore plays in the background.

5. Also with the absurdism: “My eggs shat Disney money.”

6. There’s a sense of linguistic play here — a feeling that words both familiar and unfamiliar have been torn from their contexts and appropriated for very different purposes. In that way, perhaps, lays the best way to describe this book: Ben Marcus’s The Age of Wire and String reimagined as avant-comedy. (Interestingly, there’s a line about “the slaves of wire and sunshine,” which nearly mirrors Marcus’s title. Interesting, is all I can say.)

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