Home Architect Warholian Bildungs ​​novel by Nicole Flattery – Artforum International

Warholian Bildungs ​​novel by Nicole Flattery – Artforum International

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Nothing Special by Nicole Flattery (Bloomsbury, 2023).

Chez Nicole Flatterie Nothing in particular (Bloomsbury, 2023).

Nothing Specialby Nicole Flattery. Bloomsbury, 2023. 240 pages.

A BRILLIANT AND TROUBLED INGENUE arrived in New York. And now? Nicole Flattery’s first novel – the Irish writer’s first book was a collection of short stories, Give them a good time (2019) – artfully retains the levels of period language and the idiosyncrasies of its surroundings. But its protagonist, Mae, who is seventeen in 1967, arrives with obvious narrative precursors: the Joan Didion of “Goodbye to All That”; Sylvia Plath’s replacement, Esther Greenwood, in The glass bell; Therese Belivet in Patricia Highsmith Carol (born The price of salt). Even Peggy Olson in Mad Men. Mae dresses just to ride the department store escalators, picks up a young man at Macy’s, has an uncomfortable encounter with her mother the next morning. A comedy about the mid-century coming-of-age cliché seems about to unfold, when a creepy doctor (“appointment available,” he tells her) recommends that Mae go work for a certain artist — in a studio where every surface is covered in silver foil.

by Andy Warhol a, a novel was published in January 1968. The book stems from tape recordings made over the course of a single day in 1965, featuring various factory regulars: notably the quick and talkative Ondine (Robert Olivo). The text is a phatic jumble of conversations, both frank and redacted. This is part of Warhol’s self-proclaimed machinic ambitions, the desire to become a recording medium by which his subjects would register themselves categorically. (Ahead of the galleys of Nothing in particular, Flattery included an epigraph from the artist: “Acquiring my tape recorder really ended any emotional life I might have had, but I was glad to see it go. ”) Tape recordings, like Warhol’s serigraphs, required hours of work. They were transcribed by Susan Pile, Pat Hackett, Moe Tucker (the Velvet Underground drummer refused to type the word “fuck”), and, as the biographies say, two teenage girls were recruited for the task. The fictional Mae is one of them; their real names remain unknown to Warhol scholarship and factory lore.

“Behind us, life was technically happening, but we weren’t taking part in it.” Accompanied by the seemingly worldly runaway Shelley and overseen by the stilted Anita, Mae hammers away all day on her typewriter and imagines working toward a new life: “It was possible I could kill the person I had been doing the good work, producing, impressing these people.” Cruel optimism, the essence of youth, even (or especially) in a coterie that prides itself on a cynical distance from conventional goals and sympathies. An unwillingly passive Warholian observer, Mae watches Shelley get humiliated on Warhol’s camera, Edie Sedgwick crumbles and is institutionalized, and lesser stars dwindle: “Some of them were poor and getting poorer.

Warhol himself is a spectral and intermittent presence in Nothing in particular. (The novel’s title comes from an unrealized TV show Warhol had planned in the early 1970s.) Easy to imagine a half-sweet but more directly satirical portrayal of “Drella” and its anxious retinue. Or to think of Mae as a generational gatecrasher and spy, exposing phonies the same way she notices shiny factory surfaces peeling off. But the real subject of Flattery isn’t this all-too-familiar scene and its dirty realities, it’s more of a consciousness grappling with time, trying to figure out whether it’s truly living in the present or whether it’s fully grasped the changes within itself and the culture around it. You can hear this, I think, in the baby-Didion register that Mae adopts to describe a period that would not be resolved until much later in “the 60s”: “Young people everywhere treated adults with pure contempt. Girls with ugly haircuts smiled condescendingly. And later, recalling the self-mythologizing of the 1960s and 1970s: “We went through those two decades as if we were falling from a high window.”

Where does such a tone come from? Partly of now-middle-aged Mae framing her superstar-adjacent months with reflections on her impossible mother — an alcoholic waitress with whom she belatedly reconciled — and her mother’s partner, Mikey. (Warhol’s own mother, Julia Warhola, is here, too, fussing around Bloomingdale’s with Mae—”went to Bloomingdale’s” was how he later euphemised her death.) But it’s also the sound of Flattery refusing to be misled by either the quaint 1967 detail or the novel-style stylistic possibilities that Warhol and his art offer. In a “note on sources”, she calls a, a novel “a fascinating, stubborn and enduring work” – but this is not Flattery’s model of aesthetic flatness.

It is possible that Nothing in particular is no longer tonally muted, more resistant to appearance a lot, than most contemporary fiction. But there seems to be a lot of deliberate subtraction going on. Sometimes the language is very adapted to its environment. “Sorry for not having more problems,” Mae said. “Problems” is a very Warhol word; it was their problems that made the people of the Factory worth caring about. Elsewhere in the novel, however, there’s a studied caveat: the specific place and time are removed so consistently that we might wonder if we’re in New York, or the 1960s, at all. Flattery’s style and word choices may sound completely wrong. When did people start saying “phone sex”? (A decade later, it seems.) Is “advertising” instead of “advertisement” an accident or an intentional shift to Irish or British usage? Does a typewriter’s carriage return bell signal what Mae (or Flattery) seems to think she’s doing (the end of a page)?

I mention these little quirks so as not to blame Flattery for a lack of realism or lack of attention to texture from Mae’s era. Instead of suggesting that the seventeen-year-old typist is some kind of time traveler. Sitting all day in front of her keyboard, with her headphones on, trying to impress her employers but not convinced of the usefulness or the interest of her task: Mae seems to be a figure of the 21st century working world, perhaps even specifically that of the post-pandemic world. She sees that the Factory is after all a factory, and that its stars are really workers: “The more I listened, the more I felt that being Ondine was a lot of work.” Instead of a historical novel steeped in legendary glamor and sordid celebrity, Flattery wrote a book about the fascinations of work and the exhaustion of dreams.

Brian DillonIt is Affinities, Suppose a sentenceAnd Essayism are published by New York Review Books. He’s writing a book on Kate Bush’s album love dogsand another on aesthetic education.

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