INTERVIEW: The Atlas Review’s Marathon Reading of Solaris

by Josh Milberg

On Saturday, August 3 The Atlas Review, in collaboration with Marina Abramović Institute (MAI), will host a marathon reading at Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg beginning at 2:30pm. Over the course of eight hours, more than 55 participants will read from Stanislaw Lem’s classic sci-fi novel Solaris.

I emailed Dolan Morgan, Contributing Editor at The Atlas Review to find out more about the collaboration.

Electric Literature: Let’s start with the obvious: Eight hours is a long time to do anything, including work, which is the reason we have Facebook. Is the idea for people to come and go, or should people plan to carbo-load and stick it out for the entire marathon reading?

Dolan Morgan: Yes it’s going to be a lengthy event, no doubt about that. And the long durational nature of the reading embodies a unique overlap of interests for The Atlas Review and Marina Abramović Institute (MAI). Atlas, at our reading series down at 61 Local, asks writers and artists to collaborate every month, while MAI aims (among other things) to preserve and stage long durational work. A marathon reading accomplishes each mission simultaneously, and we absolutely invite people to partake in the full experience. To quote the institute: “a long durational work encourages both its performers and audience to step outside of traditional conceptions of time and examine what this experience means to them” — and a marathon reading is no exception. Listening to a book read aloud for hours on end can be emotionally riveting, mildly boring, and something else entirely, a kind of mysterious other-zone that is probably different for each individual listener. You’ll find this zone around hour two or three, when the world melts away and there’s just the sound of one idea after another floating toward you through space. Solaris is an incredible book, too, and worth diving into completely. That said, people are of course welcome to come and go as they please. Wythe Hotel has provided an amazing venue, and there’s an adjoining room where people can take a break if they need it. Hell, walk over to the water and stare at the Manhattan skyline for a while if you need to.

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EL: Is it important for attendees to be familiar with Solaris, or will the event serve as an introduction to the novel?

Morgan: Foreknowledge of Solaris is entirely unnecessary. If you’ve never read the book, this is a surprisingly intimate way to get acquainted. And for those who have already read the book, you’ll find that the marathon reading format mirrors many of the themes of the book; the onslaught of numerous bodies giving life to a larger and unified voice below matches perfectly the sentient ocean’s ongoing attempts to communicate through numerous shapes and forms. Hopefully, too, listeners become lost in their own thoughts as the characters do in the novel.

EL: Is this more reading or more performance art?

Morgan: I’d say it’s difficult to make the distinction. While this event is nothing like an evening of a few readers sharing their poetry and stories, Saturday will follow the basic blueprint of marathon readings that have come before it: we’re celebrating a new translation of a classic work of literature, allowing us to swim in the gorgeous language and overwhelming imagery, and one person after another will take the stage to read pieces of the book until we’re done. However, Marina Abramović has designed a pivotal feature of the evening that will most definitely set it apart from other similar events, a twist that will further blur the line between traditional reading and performance art. We can’t reveal this portion of the event until Saturday, but we’re excited to see it come together.

EL: Marina Abramović recently collaborated with Jay-Z and is now collaborating with you all at Atlas. Is there a through-point here?

Morgan: Besides Jay- Z himself being a lot like an enormous planet that mimics our inner thoughts and emotions, forcing us to reconsider how we communicate with each other and ourselves, the through-point here is almost certainly long durational performance. Jay-Z rapped for 6+ hours, we’ll read Solaris for just as long (or even longer), and MAI aims to be an enduring home for long durational works. So, it’s either Jay-Z’s similarity to a distant fictional planet, or it’s long durational work. One or the other.

EL: Any advice for those who plan on attending?

Morgan: Get there early! A lot of people have said they plan to attend, so if you want a great seat, you’ll need to stake your territory sooner than later. Other than that, just come prepared to immerse yourself in a magnificent novel by one of the world’s most original authors.

EL: Who should we be hyped to hear read?

Morgan: Of course, we’re looking forward to Marina Skyping in, and we’ve got a few secret guests that should be fun, too, but we’re also so glad to be joined by the Gigantic Magazine staff — they’re putting out a badass collection of science flash fiction, so it’s sort of perfect. Who else? Michael Barron is not only reading but delivering a brief introduction to the book, and the wonderful Ken Kalfus will give us the final pages. It’s an honor to host Rachel Rosenfelt of The New Inquiry, whose marathon reading of Frederic Tuten’s The Adventures of Mao on the Long March a few years back at the Jane hotel was an inspiration. Atlas Review contributors Benjamin Hale and Catherine Lacey are both fantastic performers, and I can’t wait to hear how they interpret their sections. Sean H. Doyle won’t be wearing a gorilla costume (as he briefly threatened), but we’re sure he’ll deliver something special. There are so many more amazing people: Jason Diamond, Marco Roth, Nelly Reifler, Tobias Carroll, Ariana Reines, Lynne Tillman, Stacey D’Erasmo, Donald Antrim, Justin Taylor, Jenny Zhang, Sasha Frere-Jones, Kendra Grant Malone, Ben Fama, Megan McShea, each bringing a different feel to the book. And that’s not even half the list. Really, who could you not be hyped to hear read? Maybe Robb Todd? No, we’re definitely excited to hear Robb read. On the other hand, you should not be excited to hear Philip K. Dick read; Dick once suggested that “Stanisław Lem was a false name used by a composite committee operating on orders of the Communist party to gain control over public opinion,” and our long list of readers taking on Lem’s voice would probably not have done much to disabuse him of that opinion.

Anyway, see you Saturday.

***

— The Atlas Review is a new, independent literary magazine, comprising poetry, short stories, essays and visual art.

— Marina Abramović Institute (MAI) is dedicated to the presentation and preservation of long durational work, including that of performance art, dance, theater, film, music, opera, and other forms that may develop in the future. MAI will foster collaboration between art, science, technology, and spirituality, bringing these fields into conversation with long durational work. MAI will provide an educational space to host workshops, lectures, residencies, and research.

— Josh Milberg is Director of Promotions and Outreach for Electric Literature and thinks you should listen to “A soggy sad solar pageant.”

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