[sic]: A Memoir [NOOK Book]

Overview

“The memoir of the year . . . a book in which the sentences swing into you like small, gleaming axes.”—New York Times


Joshua Cody, a brilliant young composer, was about to receive his PhD when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Facing a bone marrow transplant and full radiation, he charts his struggle: the fury, the tendency to self-destruction, and the ruthless grasping for life and sensation; the encounter with beautiful Ariel, who gives him cocaine and a ...

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[sic]: A Memoir

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Overview

“The memoir of the year . . . a book in which the sentences swing into you like small, gleaming axes.”—New York Times


Joshua Cody, a brilliant young composer, was about to receive his PhD when he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Facing a bone marrow transplant and full radiation, he charts his struggle: the fury, the tendency to self-destruction, and the ruthless grasping for life and sensation; the encounter with beautiful Ariel, who gives him cocaine and a blow job in a Manhattan restaurant following his first treatment; the detailed morphine fantasy complete with a bride called Valentina while, in reality, hospital staff are pinning him to his bed.



Moving effortlessly between references to Don Giovanni and the Rolling Stones, Ezra Pound and Buffalo Bill, and studded with pages from his own diaries and hospital notebooks, [sic] is a mesmerizing, hallucinatory glimpse into a young man’s battle against disease and a celebration of art, language, music, and life.

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Editorial Reviews

Gregory Cowles
I found myself wondering, as I read, what kind of music Cody composes, but it's not hard to venture a guess based on his prose: bright and jazzy and meandering, circling around a main theme with little snatches of repeated imagery and plenty of quotes from his influences…Life, of course, is always the point in a cancer memoir, and to judge from [Sic], Cody's has been livelier than most.
—The New York Times Book Review
Dwight Garner
…a stream-of-consciousness book about illness that I'm tempted to call, looking back on 2011, the memoir of the year. It's a sensorium, and a painful one, a book in which the sentences swing into you like small, gleaming axes…Quite early in [sic] Mr. Cody explains that "I'm not really a writer, I'm just writing this one thing and that's it." That first clause is a prevarication, and the second I hope is untrue. But if it's not, this one-off contains more wounded life than some pretty good writers get between pages during their entire careers.
—The New York Times
Elle
Watching Cody chart the newly realized connectivity of his passions, memories, illusions, and delusions against a ticking clock is exhilarating, and will send you reeling, too.
Jonathan Franzen - Guardian
“Hilarious and cracklingly intelligent, fully alive and original in every sentence, and abuzz with the feel of our late-latemodern moment.”
Nick Flynn
“To open this book is to engage with a spirit at once endlessly curious, genuinely funny, fiercely intelligent, and wonderfully perverse. Reading it I kept having the uncanny sense that I was holding something alive in my hands, something with a pulse. This book is a true gift, a wild ride, and a tour-de-force performance. Welcome to the new face of memoir.”
Stephen Heyman - T Magazine
“In [sic], the young classical composer Joshua Cody outstrips the weepy conventions of a cancer memoir by mixing aggressive, intelligent prose with shocking confessions, like the time he had cocaine-fueled sex with a stranger after chemotherapy.”
The New Yorker
“[Cody’s] description of the havoc wrought by both the disease and its treatment is devastating.”
San Francisco Chronicle
“A raw, seductive memoir about [Cody’s] descent into illness and excess . . . offers a beguiling, disquieting performance of the madness and humanity that can attend such life-disfiguring periods.”
New York Times Book Review
“[A] sprightly, manic cancer memoir… The resulting G-force of sex and death and insanity – and also, improbably, of music and math and modernist poetry – is the only evidence you need that for all its seeming formlessness, [sic] is in fact as artfully constructed as a Tarantino film.”
Guardian
Hilarious and cracklingly intelligent, fully alive and original in every sentence, and abuzz with the feel of our late-latemodern moment.— Jonathan Franzen
T Magazine
In [sic], the young classical composer Joshua Cody outstrips the weepy conventions of a cancer memoir by mixing aggressive, intelligent prose with shocking confessions, like the time he had cocaine-fueled sex with a stranger after chemotherapy.— Stephen Heyman
Booklist
“...this dazzling memoir recalls David Foster Wallace’s obsessive observations and evokes W. G. Sebald’s stream-of-consciousness curiosity (complete with photographs and facsimiles). Cody manages to turn what might have resulted in neurotic chaos into an artful and funny portrait of a man who remains courageous in the face of death; is wholly in love with life, art, and language; and breathes fresh spirit into the memoir genre.”
T Magazine - Stephen Heyman
“In [sic], the young classical composer Joshua Cody outstrips the weepy conventions of a cancer memoir by mixing aggressive, intelligent prose with shocking confessions, like the time he had cocaine-fueled sex with a stranger after chemotherapy.”
Elle
“Watching Cody chart the newly realized connectivity of his passions, memories, illusions, and delusions against a ticking clock is exhilarating, and will send you reeling, too.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393082975
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/5/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 338,134
  • File size: 11 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Joshua Cody received his bachelor’s degree in music composition from Northwestern University and his master’s and doctoral degrees from Columbia University. He is a composer and filmmaker living in New York City.
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Table of Contents

I The Divine Proportion 1

II Act II 36

III The Slave Market 65

IV The Catalogue Aria 77

V Sister Morphine 105

VI Was Picasso Smart? 136

VII A Series of Vignettes, Which Turn to Melodrama 181

VIII Gutenberg's Folly 315

IX The Age of Innocence 348

X Canal Street 257

Acknowledgments 261

Notes 263

Credits 265

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Interviews & Essays

5 Questions for Joshua Cody
[sic], with its facsimile pages of your personal journals and highlighted passages, is as visually arresting as the writing is intellectually stimulating. How do you think these visual elements impact the readers' experience of the story you're telling?
As much as I admire Sebald I hesitated before the images thing because I was afraid I was using them as a crutch to bridge the scary gap between my past in music and the plastic arts and my uncertain present in literature. Added to this were the concerns of my editor at Norton, Jill Bialosky, who, very rightly, didn't want an 'art book;' and she once said that she didn't want the images to distract the reader, that she didn't want the images to reduce the power of the words. (Which in a sense was flattering, maybe!) Of course words always fear images. This isn't new, and it didn't start with MTV, or the movies; it's the whole controversy surrounding iconography: the Christians and the Muslims were very well aware of the visual's ineluctable modality, its attendant encroachments.
Apart from the moral/aesthetic question was a practical one. Placing images in a book saddles the design team, already overworked, with more duties; incurs additional cost in terms of licensing and reproduction fees; and labor in terms of simply trying to procure the rights in the first place, figuring out who holds them, etc. That last is a very tedious process that I didn't enjoy at all; it's like trying to license music rights for a film. It really stressed me out.
In spite of all these arguments against the inclusion of the images, in the end I kept them (or at least the ones I could license): I think they are a crutch in a way, but, after all, sometimes one needs crutches. I guess one reason that they might work in this particular instance is that the pictures form a continuum between image and text - i.e. paintings and photos on the one hand, facsimiles of journal entries on the other. I'm not sure if it's a linear continuum or not, but my hope was that the continuum would extend to the typography itself. The book began as a handwritten journal and was never intended to be published. I never intended to write a book at all. I found the act of handwriting soothing when I was in the hospital - it might have been as simple a matter as that. Nabokov said that literature is primarily a visual medium, and Raymond Durgnat, one of my favorite critics, said that film is not primarily a visual medium.
But anyway I sure am glad you find the book "visually arresting" and "intellectually stimulating!" Thank you!
In his praise of [sic], Nick Flynn, author of The Ticking Is the Bomb, proclaimed, "Welcome to the new face of the memoir." What aspects of your memoir do you consider to be the most revolutionary?
I know Mr. Flynn said that, and it sure was nice of him. I have no idea what he meant! I thought his was the new face of memoir.
The only thing I can possibly think of is that the book is not written by a professionally trained author - I mean I know that as a fact, but I have a feeling that the text will read as such. I might be a trespasser, coming upon this territory accidentally, as unintentional as Columbus happening upon the eastern shores of Asia (I am a Columbia alum, very proud to say it, always very proud to say it [as a pre-Columbian I was a Northwesterner], and there exists a Columbus in Wisconsin), as singular as Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter (not that I'm comparing my book to Night of the Hunter!). The peculiar narrative voice employed in the book was less an artistic choice, more the result of need: on one level, I had to create a fictitious narrator to form the necessary distance in order to recall traumatic events. So this is both like and unlike any literary enterprise. My next book is fiction, and it is paradoxically more autobiographical: in general, this is both usual and unusual.
On the first page of your memoir you state that someone who has not experienced cancer treatment cannot fully comprehend what it is like. Was it challenging for you to express what your body had gone through in a way that readers could empathize with?
I believe you're referring to the opening sentence:
Twelve sessions, one every two weeks; but you have no idea what this means, really, I mean how could you, and neither does anyone else, so everybody's at a loss for words; and it's ironically reminiscent of those lead-grey-laden, amaranthine after-school afternoons of childhood, on the dusty playground, class is out but it's still too early to go home, so you wait with the others, and there's no need to speak and there's the sense of communion.
But no, actually, I didn't intend the passage to suggest my experience was insurmountably subjective. I was merely trying to express the shock and feeling of alienation brought about by the cancer diagnosis (they're always so profoundly ill-timed) that, on the contrary, was sensed both by me and by those around me. The diagnosis might have been mine, but we were all in the same boat: hence the "sense of communion."
Matter fact, I'd go so far as to echo David Foster Wallace that the very impulse towards the artistic endeavor - otherwise an absurdly inefficient mode of communication - stems from a highly idealized faith in intersubjectivity. Or - maybe it's not idealized! Sometimes I suspect that the impenetrability of the existential self is itself an absurdly romantic notion, and perhaps the essence of romanticism: leveraging self-imputed suffering. (Of course I constantly invoke romanticism, and its cousin, decadent romanticism, in the book self-consciously, and slightly ironically, because of the themes of disease and love and sex which in themselves were inevitable concerns for someone in my situation.)
On the other hand, one of the big concerns I had with the book was my invocation of self-administered intoxication. What I tried to do was to compare the poison of, say, chemotherapy to the poison of drink or recreational drugs: medication versus self-medication. I therefore chose to frame certain personal activities and to exclude others, and since the book is only 266 pages long, the proportion between the pages that mention cocaine use, for instance, and the full 266 pages is much closer to 1 than that between the number of my days that have had anything to do with cocaine and the number of days I've spent on earth. What I was afraid of was in any way laying claim to true experiences of addiction. It's an easy metaphor and I still have qualms about using addiction, luxuriously, as a metaphor. The portrait I draw in the book of "Sophie" is based in part upon a real person whose own struggle with addiction I found inspiring, and I included her as a contrast to the narrator ("me").
I hope this isn't getting needlessly complicated. There's nothing in the book that isn't truthful.
You're a composer as well as a writer. How does writing a book differ from composing a musical score?
Music is the least referential artistic medium because its signs do not represent natural phenomena. Cases have been made for biomorphism, which is true enough (walking, dancing, breathing, orgasm), especially in romantic music, but it hardly accounts for (to pick only one parameter) structural harmony. Program music is proto-cinematic in that the score accompanies a narration but it cannot represent it in any meaningful way except superficially, like Vivaldi's Four Seasons where the violins chirp like birds or - to take a favorite example - Berlioz's guillotine in Symphonie Fantastique when the audience "hears" the slice of the blade and the head bouncing down the steps. Sound exists in nature, but music has little to do with sound. (At the risk of oversimplifying matters, this is where I might differ from the "spectral" composers, including one of my mentors, Tristan Murail.
The spectral composers look to natural acoustics as a fundament for musical grammar.) Because music is non-referential, it highlights form: it boasts a unique congruency between content and form, to rehash the weary dichotomy. The reflexive nature of its content is an aspect that has proved to fascinate many people, especially people that haven't studied music. Claude Lévi-Strauss remarks that music is pure form. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche admired music (although Nietzsche's music made Wagner fall on the floor in laughter). Very often when an artist in another medium is asked what other profession she would choose, the response is "musician." When someone says this - it happens all the time at the end of an episode of "Inside the Actors Studio," when James Lipton ritualistically inflicts upon his guest the Proust questionnaire, invoking the "great Bernard Pivot" - I always wonder what, exactly, is meant. Singer? Conductor? Composer? What kind of music? Pop music? Jazz? When I tell someone I'm a composer (which I rarely do) I'll often encounter a look of cloudy amazement. Learning to write music is as simple, and as boring, as anything else, but it's been mystified.
I guess writing a book must be the opposite to writing music in several ways. Prose might be the least mystified of the arts, in that it's a little tricky to precisely locate the role of craft. I think it was Louis Auchincloss who said that anyone can write at least one book. (Or was it Anthony Burgess? Not that I confuse them, it's just that I recently listened to interviews with them, back-to-back. Do you know the website Wiredforbooks.org? It's an archive of interviews with authors by a guy named Don Swaim, who broadcasted for CBS in New York. The interviews are unedited, and they're often hilarious, albeit unintentionally. Swaim has a great Midwestern radio voice that reminds me a bit of my father's, who also worked in broadcasting; but he has a type of aw-shucks naivete that is very dorky and awkward and funny and completely outdated.) Anyway the point is that in a literate society, everyone uses words to narrate events, and that's what a book is. So once literacy hit the scene, it was a much more natural act to tell a story with words than to write a violin concerto, or paint a figure, or produce a staged play, or even perhaps sing or dance, even though those forms obviously predate balladry. Also, literature seems to almost exactly invert music's relationship between representation and non-representation. Literature must make the same great effort to reach non-representation (Ashbery's poetry, for instance) that music must make to achieve representation (Berlioz), and both aims can never be fully achieved, due to the artifacts of words as referents on the one hand and of the elements of music as abstract on the other.
There seems to me to be an awful lot of room left in mapping the topography of the different arts in the first place. If drawn correctly, the boundaries sure wouldn't be as clean and square as the arts section of the New York Times might lead us to unconsciously imagine.
Writing the book came much more easily to me than writing music ever had, but I'm not sure whether that's because I personally have a more natural inclination for words or if it just illustrates some of the differences between the two media that I was describing above. Actually I suspect it's the former. Also, the book seems to be generating more public interest (such as it is) then my music ever did; this, again, may simply be a question of the enormous difference in numbers between the reading public and devotees of the kind of post-classical concert music I was writing. David Foster Wallace, in attempting to locate his own work on the continuum between popular and experimental writing, compared Infinite Jest to contemporary classical music, but he was incorrect.
On the other hand, I suppose I approached writing the book a little like I approached writing music. I had a distinct form in mind. There are changes in tempo and rhythm that probably were conceived "musically." The patterning of motives is a familiar technique in writing music. I don't know if any of that will be sensed by the reader, but such methods abetted the creative process, and anyway they were familiar to me. Who have you discovered lately?
Let's see, what have I been reading lately. My friend Barry introduced me to Gregor von Rezzori, and I've really been enjoying The Death of My Brother Abel. What an opening! Wow. Barry also gave me some Stanley Elkin, so I've been reading that too, I'd never read him before.
I've always got one of the Bolaños open somewhere. The apparent ease of his narratives has been helpful for the thing I'm writing right now.
Also there's this English writer named Shakespeare. He's very interesting.
(By the way, did you see Slate's thing on underrated writers? Funny. A lot of people sure hate Pound. That doesn't bode too well for my book. People hate Pynchon, too. I have to admit, though, there I agree. But the point of the article, I think, is surprisingly refreshing for being so trite: that taste is entirely subjective and irrational. I like salt. I don't like sweets. Type of thing.)
Speaking of "type of thing," I think The Pale King is Wallace's best, and Michael Pietsch did a superb job. The form is superb.
Speaking of Wallace, I am also reading some books that I really should have read already, written by authors that are being very gracious about the thing that I wrote. I won't go into detail.
(Clears throat.) I'm also, yes, reading a couple of biographies: Wyndham-Lewis's fanciful biography of Louis XI, King Spider, Andrew Motion's bio of Philip Larkin; and a funny book on Auden and Chester Kallman written by Dorothy Farnan, a girl who ended up marrying Kallman's dad. Also a couple of non-fiction books: my Dutch friend Angele gave me Geert Mak's In Europe, which I'm enjoying, even though I've heard it's inaccurate and despised by historians; and David Browne's Fire and Rain is fun, too. My friend Uday lent me the Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor, and I can't quite believe I've been living all this time without it. (All this time? Hmm.) Cyril Connolly's journals - a fascinating thing, a writer who never actually wrote. In a great bookstore in Provincetown I happened upon the first edition of Maisie Ward's Return to Chesterton, described in the jacket copy as a "book for those who can never have enough of Chesterton." That's how the jacket copy begins. It ends thusly: "If you still doubt whether you really want this book, turn to page 214." This type of thing, my friends, is why I still haven't read Tolstoy

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 28, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Unreadable

    The rambling stream of consciousness writing is not appreciated when the rambler has no sense of direction. He certainly conveys none to me. I found the book pompous in that he essentially thought he could put any words to paper and we would find them readable. If anything, his writing style puts off the reader instead of welcoming him in. Sorry about the illness and all, but it didn't suddenly give you a talent for writing.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2013

    Rick

    "Love you too."

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2013

    [Sic] A Memoir

    Boring. I did not like this book at all, and I can read anything from a hot romance to a book on statistics.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 20, 2012

    depressing,

    main character a blank (sic)

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2011

    AMAZING

    Clearly a great new novelist...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 12, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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