On Looking

2006

On Looking

* FINALIST for the NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD

Lia Purpura’s daring new book of essays, On Looking, is concerned with the aesthetics and ethics of seeing. in these elegantly wrought meditations, patterns and meanings emerge from confusion, the commonplace grows strange and complex, beauty reveals its flaws, and even the most repulsive object turns gorgeous. Purpura’s hand is clearly guided by poetry and behaves unpredictably, weaving together, in one lit instance, sugar eggs, binoculars, and Emerson’s words: “I like the silent church before the sermon begins.” Purpura is writer-as telescope, kaleidoscope, microscope, and mirror. As she says, “By seeing I called to things, and in turn, things called to me, applied me to their sight and we became each as treasure, startling to one another, and rare.” This is, indeed, a rare and startling treasure of a book.

“Lia Purpura’s prose is a system of delicate shocks — leaps and connections and syncopated revelations, all in service of the spirit negotiating the truth of its experience. These essays, keyed to a rare precision, model the movement of the inner life, but they open in wide surprise to the sensuous outer world. They are fresh and utterly original.” — Sven Birkerts

“Lia Purpura is the real deal, and so is every successive sentence in this collection. A cornucopiac vocabulary is married to a strict economy of expression; an offbeat curiosity is married to the courage of difficult witnessing; the integrity of the everyday is married to flights of introspection and fancy; the scientifically accurate is married to rich poetic transgressions. Yes, it’s a regular group wedding of goodies in here — and I know you’re invited. C’mon . . .RSVP, ASAP.” — Albert Goldbarth

“Lia Purpura has a jeweler’s eye and the ear of someone who can distinguish the hoofbeats of a zebra. Her essays are as sensual as a child’s first experiences of the world, but also as wise as the ability to remember those experiences.” — Luc Sante