The Brutal Banal

Thomas Bernhard wrote the brutal banal so well. Read his tiny piece, “Unwordly”

The title comes from the word being defined, and Bernhard italicized it. But he also italicized other words, and the use of italics is almost like a double-quotation gesture, calling into question the meaning of the word itself. Bernhard calls everything into question, and he brackets words, or makes language feel manipulative, just to reveal how nothing is what it seems. Or, everything is what we make it. 


“Alienation is the exile of the emotions–of hope, of trust—sent away somehow so they won’t betray us.”

  • William Gass in an essay titled “Exile”

Imagine a village in Eastern Europe where time moves in a circle rather than a line—that’s what Oleg Woolf gives us in Bessarabian Stamps. Each story is like a small stamp on a letter than speaks to the time it was written

Read “Ileana and Sandu” by Oleg Woolf.

Notice how the tiny things are tremendous, and how this feels like a snow-globe that keeps getting shaken so that the names are the same, the place is the same, but the snow of time descends on things differently each time Woolf shakes it.

The sensory excess, the surrounding overstimulation–the respite of small things. A world that requires us to bend and look closer, like the land that exists in a sidewalk crack. 

Let’s go even more micro. 

Let’s follow Steven Millhauser into an essay on what it is about the miniature that “enchants the imagination.” Read “Fascination of the Miniature.”