Figure It Out

Figure It Out

by Wayne Koestenbaum


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“Whatever his subject―favorites include porn, punctuation and the poetry of Frank O’Hara―the goal is always to jigger logic and language free of its moorings . . . His great and singular appeal is this fealty to his own desire and imagination . . . Figuring it out, after all, is a life sentence." ––Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

“Toward what goal do I aspire, ever, but collision? Always accident, concussion, bodies butting together . . . By collision I also mean metaphor and metonymy: operations of slide and slip and transfuse.”

Through a collection of intimate reflections (on art, punctuation, eyeglasses, color, dreams, celebrity, corpses, porn, and translation) and “assignments” that encourage pleasure, attentiveness, and acts of playful making, poet, artist, critic, novelist, and performer Wayne Koestenbaum enacts twenty-six ecstatic collisions between his mind and the world. A subway passenger’s leather bracelet prompts musings on the German word for “stranger”; Montaigne leads to the memory of a fourth-grade friend’s stinky feet. Wayne dreams about a handjob from John Ashbery, swims next to Nicole Kidman, reclaims Robert Rauschenberg’s squeegee, and apotheosizes Marguerite Duras as a destroyer of sentences.

He directly proposes assignments to readers: “Buy a one-dollar cactus, and start anthropomorphizing it. Call it Sabrina.” “Describe an ungenerous or unkind act you have committed.” “Find in every orgasm an encyclopedic richness . . . Reimagine doing the laundry as having an orgasm, and reinterpret orgasm as not a tiny experience, temporally limited, occurring in a single human body, but as an experience that somehow touches on all of human history.”

Figure It Out is both a guidebook for, and the embodiment of, the practices of pleasure, attentiveness, art, and play from “one of the most original and relentlessly obsessed cultural spies writing today” (John Waters).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781593765958
Publisher: Catapult
Publication date: 05/05/2020
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 341,545
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Wayne Koestenbaum’s twenty books include Camp Marmalade, Notes on Glaze, The Pink Trance Notebooks, My 1980s & Other Essays, Humiliation, Andy Warhol, Jackie Under My Skin, and The Queen’s Throat, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. A new edition of his first novel, Circus; Or, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes, was published in 2019. He is a distinguished professor of English, French, and comparative literature at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. His website is

Table of Contents


Do You Want to Touch It? 3

My New Glasses 9

Of Smells 17

Game of Pearls 27

Corpse Pose 41

Beauty Parlor at Hotel Dada 57


No More Tasks 77

Figure It Out 85

Odd Secrets of the Line 105

Making Marks 127

"My" Masculinity Remix 133

The Porn Punctum 143

The Task of the Translator 147


Punctuation 165

On Futility, Holes, and Hervé Guibert 189

Riding the Escalator with Eve 203

Adrienne Rich's Musical Ethics 209

I Don't Understand Shakespeare's Sonnet #154 215

My Brief Apprenticeship with John Barth 217

Twelve Assignments 229


Six Stars 235

Celebrity's Secret Ameliorations 243

An Evening of Screen Tests 251

Rauschenberg's Squeegee 257

Eighteen Lunchtime Assignments 261

Little Elegy 267

Acknowledgments 271

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