Abut the author:
John Ryskamp was born on July 14, 1954. He took his B.A. from the University of Michigan. He received his Master's degree in 1975 and a law degree in 1985. His works have appeared in Artforum, the Harvard Art Journal, and Poetry Flash. As a child, he spent his summer vacations at Big Star Lake, Michigan, and drew on his knowledge of the area for this book. He currently lives in Oakland, California, and has been a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area since leaving graduate school in 1977.
About Nature Studies:
John Ryskamp's Nature Studies is a long postmodern kiss goodbye to modernity. Ostensibly about the strange abduction of a small body by an eagle in a remote area of Michigan, this brilliant novel is as digressive as Sterne, as impromptu as Chopin, as expansive as Melville, and as encyclopaedic as Thomas Mann. It is a book for people who still find the whole, wide, complex amazing fabric of our intellectual past absorbing.
At once ecological parable, political critique, and compendium of 20th century history, Nature Studies is populated by Einstein, Mondrian, Jung, Godel, Sraffa, and - everywhere - the irrepressible Ryskamp himself.
Ryskamp brilliantly rediscovers that digression is the desire for all experience (especially cultural experience) to be present at once (and isn't that a funny desire and a funnier experience!)
With affinities to the 1980s phenomenon of appropriation art, journalist and critic Ryskamp puts himself into his novel, much as Cindy Sherman poses in her own photography. Layered upon musings of hunting patterns of eagles and the geographical makeup of the Midwest are metatextual reflections on Crime and Punishment and Jane Eyre, among other books. The text proceeds at blender speed, dizzily mixing together famous names and quotes, such as those by Einstein, Ryskamp's "grandfather" and Bartok, who both in turn quote Wittgenstein and Nietzsche. Ryskamp leavens his pastiche with numerous reflections about his own role in the dawning of modernism (one favorite method is to relate his "dreams," in which he encounters Freud, Picasso and others), though the best sections are tongue-in-cheek descriptions of how the novel happens to be created from additions made to two essays, one on AZT and one on the New Bill of Rights. Overall, the book resembles the sort of nightmare one imagines having after reading too many issues of Art Forum successively. One suspects that the novel's audience will be limited to critics who will recognize obscure references to avant-garde esoterica.
—Publishers Weekly, Copyright
1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
There. Now, what answer do you have for him, reader? He is dead, of course, since he is a figment of your imagination, so don't actually touch him OK? Through this supercharged and, for some reason, smoky atmosphere I stroll with Mondrian - like some Stoic philosopher with his rapt pupil. Mondrian smooths back my hair in an attempt to make it lie flat (just as a mother will ruffle her son's hair after a haircut - to make it look more natural). He picks a shred of tobacco from his upper lip as we stroll along through his madness. My sinister dream breaks in on myself in mid-conversation with Mondrian:
"That is why I have never believed that the New Plastic artist can have his works executed by others, by nonartists, as LeWitt does," I am saying.
"But LeWitt looks upon those persons as artists," he replies. "I never said mine was the only way. Look at Weiner: words belong to everybody, so is he making their art, or are they making his?"
in the midst of all the hell, I wipe my forehead and say, "You know, all the same, this is a wonderful conversations we are having. And what a lovely evening!" I cry, in a rush of enthusiasm for life malgre tout.
"And what about the architect?" he pursues. "Doesn't he produce art through others? And what about writers such as Ryskamp? That clown rips passages - whole sheets (they are sitting there in that famous manuscript which this idiot reader who is horning in on us, is about to read about!) - out of other authors (not to mention, out of context) in order to pad this book and titillate the jaded palates of these same, nodding lecteurs."
I find no answer to this. "You shouldn't say bad things about Ryskamp; I know him, Horatio," I venture nonetheless, "and am quite well - disposed toward the boy. And anyway, architecture is different from painting."
"The more painting appears as the new chromoplastic in architecture, the more it will merge with architecture." And as he unfolds this sentence, he progressively fades away until, when he reaches the end of it, he is gone. For a moment, albeit a briefer one than the one above, I, too, look at you, reader.