Cyrille Martinez - A surreal parable very, very loosely based on Andy Warhol and John Giorno and the making of Sleep


 

Cyrille Martinez, The Sleepworker. Trans by Joseph patrick Stancil, Coach House Pr4ess, 2014.     excerpt (pdf)


read it at Google Books

John is a poet. Only John almost never writes poems, because he is also unemployed. He lives with two friends, and they squat in a loft in New York New York, a fantastical city that resembles the Big Apple, but also any other city where artists live. They throw fabulous parties and practice group sodomy. That is, until John meets Andy.
Andy is an artist. Well, he is if you define art as something that people don't want but the artist wants to give them anyway. His work includes the Double-Murder Gun, which is just as likely to kill the shooter as the intended victim. A gallery owner with Tourette syndrome 'discovers' his work and Andy is on his way to being famous. John, on the other hand, is hard at work at being unemployed, drinking all night and sleeping all day—which leaves him very little time for writing poems. Andy, watching him sleep, has an intriguing idea for a piece of art that he thinks will allow John to get paid for what he does best.
Using the story of Andy Warhol and John Giorno and their film Sleep as a starting point, The Sleepworker reads like a Warhol film on fast-forward.
'As New York, capital of the twentieth century, recedes from memory, it becomes more like Paris; we flock to it to pay tribute to the great things that once happened there. New York is now a miasma of apocryphal myths feasting on its own corpse. On these pages, Martinez spins hazy rumor and wilting gossip into blistering contemporary fiction, holding up Warhol's mirror to the myth of Warhol himself. The result is a delicious celebration of simulacra where, like New York New York itself, nothing is true, but everything is permitted.' — Kenneth Goldsmith

In 1963, Andy Warhol filmed his close friend John Giorno sleeping, and made it into a 321-minute film titled Sleep. The Sleepworker, Cyrille Martinez's second novel (and first to be translated into English), explores the story behind this art project. He creates a humorous fictional account of how two men, called simply Andy and John, met through mutual friends and came to create an experimental film in the great fictional city "New York New York."
A satire of the real New York City, The Sleepworker opens with an examination of this mythos-drenched metropolis, alive with possibility. In a narrative voice that is both playful and snarky, Martinez introduces the city as a place where people seek acceptance into high society. Unemployed and uninterested in having a job, Andy and John do not fit into a culture that values work and business success. Readers are invited to share in the narrator's amusement as the protagonists pursue creative paths and try to establish themselves in a city that doesn't want them. Constricted by the expectations of New York New York, John and Andy struggle to strike a balance between being authentic artists and finding recognition for their art.
The Sleepworker is a tribute to a place and time that bred great people and events, as well as a humorous critique of a city that dreams of its past from a stagnating present. Whether readers know the relationship between Andy Warhol and John Giorno or are completely new to this piece of history, Martinez's book will enthrall. --Justus Joseph

LitReactor calls THE SLEEPWORKER 'a tiny jewel of a book':
Look, any book which features Andy Warhol jerking off in the shower has a place on my shelf. In addition to this unforgettable moment, The Sleepworker also made me laugh loud enough to alarm my household, being full of the kind of dry absurdity at which the French would win medals, were dry absurdity an Olympic sport. There’s a running joke about sneakers**, a gallery owner with Tourettes and a poetry recital which is so self-referential that it deserves a live reading by John Malkovich playing himself, playing John Malkovich.
But let’s pretend for a moment that I wasn’t the kind of child who performed surgery on her teddy bears so I could examine their innards. I won’t spoil The Sleepworker for you by poking at its delicate machinery. It’s a tiny jewel of a book, which anyone over-invested in the notion of Art will hate and everyone else will love. 
Biographile calls THE SLEEPWORKER stylization 'rewardingly evocative'

 Patrick Stancil Discusses His Translation of The Sleepworkers at NYU Bookstore

   The Sleepworker establishes itself early as a novel of the New York art world, its opening chapters focused on the city -- here "New York New York" -- and the invention of a variation on an exaggerated version of what Soho once was, a neighborhood zoned specifically for artists and in which art thrived. Martinez posits a "Writers' Quarter", whose success is so great that soon only writers live there, and the only non-writers who ventured there were those involved in various support services -- from "bankers in banks for writers" to housekeepers ("in maids' costumes (or the nudist version)"). He presents New York New York as the epicenter of the writing world, and the Writers' Quarter the epicenter of that epicenter.
       The only writers that count, however, are novelists, with poets relegated completely to the sidelines -- to the extent that:
 
     And New York New York could present itself as a poetless land, a great novelists' city.
       The story itself, however, does not focus on any of the writers from the quarter, but rather those on the fringe, artists such as would-be poet John. John's other great talent seems to be sleeping, and his friend Andy, an artist in his own right, eventually finds the ideal role for John to assume: 
     By asking John to embody the Sleeper, Andy is inventing a job that makes the most of his friend's expertise: permanent fatigue, a constant desire to sleep, pleasure while sleeping, the quality of his body at rest. It's delicate work, but it's still work, a little work likely to provide the benefits generally associated with working        The three central interacting characters are Andy, John, and filmmaker Jonas. Their names, and how they are presented, are clearly meant to suggest Andy Warhol, John Giorno, and Jonas Mekas, but even just to say that Martinez's characters are based on this real-life trio feels misleading. Of course they are, and of course the use of their names, and descriptions of the goings-on at the Factory-like 'Workshop', are meant to evoke Warholian associations, but ultimately these characters are as removed and different from their real-life counterparts as Martinez's New York New York is from the actual city.
       It's an inspired fantasy Martinez spins out, addressing immigrant, artistic, and homosexual experience, among other things, much of it with the immediacy of the present tense and the author's inclusive voice ("Since we last saw Andy, several months have passed"). There's a nice universal, timeless feel to it too, with a setting that's not era-specific, Martinez suggesting both the 1960s as well as a more contemporary period (and including technology not available in the corresponding real-time).
       It's both a clever send-up of Warholian art and an homage to it, Martinez's own invention, and his deadpan voice, perfectly capturing the Warholian spirit. While perhaps not ideally structured -- Martinez perhaps getting carried away by his clever ideas (such as the Writers' Quarter) without fully integrating some of them in the larger story -- The Sleepworker bounds along very entertainingly.
       A nice piece of work. - M.A.Orthofer
 
 In 1963, Andy Warhol filmed his close friend John Giorno sleeping, and made it into a 321-minute film titled Sleep. The Sleepworker, Cyrille Martinez's second novel (and first to be translated into English), explores the story behind this art project. He creates a humorous fictional account of how two men, called simply Andy and John, met through mutual friends and came to create an experimental film in the great fictional city "New York New York."
A satire of the real New York City, The Sleepworker opens with an examination of this mythos-drenched metropolis, alive with possibility. In a narrative voice that is both playful and snarky, Martinez introduces the city as a place where people seek acceptance into high society. Unemployed and uninterested in having a job, Andy and John do not fit into a culture that values work and business success. Readers are invited to share in the narrator's amusement as the protagonists pursue creative paths and try to establish themselves in a city that doesn't want them. Constricted by the expectations of New York New York, John and Andy struggle to strike a balance between being authentic artists and finding recognition for their art. - www.shelf-awareness.com/readers-issue.html?issue=349#m6165

The Sleepworker is a tribute to a place and time that bred great people and events, as well as a humorous critique of a city that dreams of its past from a stagnating present. Whether readers know the relationship between Andy Warhol and John Giorno or are completely new to this piece of history, Martinez's book will enthrall. --Justus Joseph, bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company

Comments