Fisher Center Lecture Hosts an Intellectual Vacation
During the final fall 2007 Fisher Center lecture, City University of New York's Distinguished Professor of English Wayne Koestenbaum took his large audience on a tour of “Hotel Theory,” his latest book that moves between a column of philosophic ruminations and its counterpart “dime novel,” in what Koestenbaum described as “rich, schizophrenic changing between genres,” that creates a textual hotel where philosophy, history, film, literature and the author's dreams all check in.
“Sections of the book are not really philosophic theories proper, they are more of rooms or cells: states of trance,” Koestenbaum explained during his reading and lecture. The other, novel-esque side of his book follows a fictitious love affair between actress Lana Turner and pianist Liberace.
Realizing that the text is overbooked with the names of cultural and academic figures, Koestenbaum said candidly, “You know, someone could easily say that there is a pernicious use of cultural allusions in the book. But I like to think of all of the references as invitations for readers to do the research if they choose to.” Koestenbaum also led his audience on cultural detours that followed up on his references, explaining the significance of everyone from “sweater girl” Lana Turner to Oscar Wilde to the 20th Century French philosopher Gaston Bachelard.
“Both sides of the of the book search for a hotel consciousness,” Koestenbaum said. “For me, hotels are a place of memory's vanishing. A hotel room has no anterior; it has no spatiality, no memory.” Koestenebaum explained how his search for the “poetics of the hotel room” was founded on the model found in Bachelard's “Poetics of Space” where “spaces have consciousnesses built into them.”
When the tour of “Hotel Theory” ended, Koestenbaum, like any good tour guide or concierge, took questions from those eagerly following his explanations. Questioned about his attempt to make his narrative emotionless, Koestenbaum said that “I was trying to make a blank space without my life or any feelings in it, which matches the absence of emotion of hotels themselves.” He also explained that he chose a linguistic restriction for the book, which prevented him from using the words “a,” “an” and “the” anywhere in the book.
Knowing that they would finally have to head back home, Koestenbaum's audience applauded their kind concierge, knowing that their stay at “Hotel Theory” was poignant, interdisciplinary and memorable, in keeping with the Fisher Center's theme of Gender and Memory.