The Body is subtitled "An Essay," a gesture I didn't give much thought to until I heard Dinty Moore, in a lecture on the unfolding wonders & potentialities of creative nonfiction, hailed Boully's book as being on the cutting edge of this institutionally emergent genre. And then I noted that Boully in her acknowledgments thanks not only the poets John Matthias & Robert Kelly, but the doyen of the "lyrical essay," John D'Agata. So maybe, I begin to think, there's something important going on in this generic gesture.
The Body consists of a series of footnotes to an absent text. A large part of how the book works is the reader's ongoing attempt to figure out precisely what that text might consist of: is it a memoir (as many of the 1st person notes seem to indicate)? is it a slightly salacious literary biography? is it a work of linguistic philosophy (references to Levinas & Derrida)? is it the history of a particular play (notes about varying "productions")? is it some combination of all of these things, & a great deal more?
Ultimately, the "text" to which The Body furnishes the footnotes must be as fragmentary, non-linear, & wide-ranging as those footnotes themselves. (The notes section of Nabokov's Pale Fire, & even the notes to The Waste Land, make documents far more coherent than The Body.) I like this book. I like its sense of mystery & inconsequence, its flashes of humor & raw emotion – but I find myself reading it not as an essay, but as poetry. That is, if one places The Body among the works of post-avant written in the past 30 years, even in its most radical formal gestures it seems to be working within a clear tradition. If one reads it among essays, however, it seems quite blindingly radical, out on the very limits of the genre. And I wonder if that isn't precisely the position the writer (the poet? the essayist?) wanted to claim in the subtitle.
[The Body is being released in a new edition by – you guessed it – Essay Press. It's worth looking at Craig Dworkin's learned & subtle reading of the book here.]