One of my favorite books from last year was Vanessa Veselka’s Zazen, published by Richard Nash’s (at the time) new imprint, Red Lemonade.
Zazen is set in an unnamed city in a country engulfed in war; a war that is taking place abroad, but is slowly making its presence felt at home. Reading the book, I was reminded of Guy Debord, the Situationist International, and the idea of psychogeography. Because, while the city in the novel reminded me distinctly of Portland, it was not explicitly set there. There were no direct references to any landmarks, people or places, but the psychological underpinnings of the city were unmistakably Portland.
When Vanessa was giving readings for Zazen, she took great pains to point out that the novel was not set in Portland, while reminding readers that there actually was a lot of Portland in the novel. Within the context of psychogeography, such paradoxes reside comfortably.
After nearly a year of “one of these days” conversations, Vanessa and I were finally able to shoot a video of her explaining how Zazen couldn’t possibly be set in Portland.
In the spirit of the SI, I felt the need to go Jean-Luc Godard with this, inspired by both the jump-cutting of À bout de souffle (aka Breathless) and the meta-referencing titles of Week End.
I am hopeful that more readers will discover Zazen. At the very least, I hope more Portland residents will see what Vanessa sees in this city, because, as the Situationists say “reality is superseding utopia”.