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Featured Author:
SHJ Issue 9
Spring 2014

Theories of Forgetting: A Novel After Robert Smithson
[Excerpt + Reviews + More]

by Lance Olsen

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Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a remarkably fugue-like ode to the intricacies of memory. Offering two intersecting stories about illness, loss, and forgetting, with annotations, this is an extremely smart and moving book about how our lives wind snail-like around one another as they risk flindering away into absence or death.

— Brian Evenson, author of Immobility
and Dark Property


Front and back covers of Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen

Theories of Forgetting is concerned with how words matter, the materiality of the page, and how a literary work might react against mass reproduction and textual disembodiment in the digital age—right from its use of two back covers (one “upside down” and one “right-side up”) that allow the reader to choose which of the novel’s two narratives to privilege.

Theories of Forgetting is a narrative in three parts. The first is the story of Alana, a filmmaker struggling to complete a short documentary about Robert Smithson’s famous earthwork, The Spiral Jetty, located where the Great Salt Lake meets the desert. Alana falls victim to a pandemic called The Frost, whose symptoms include an increasing sensation of coldness and growing amnesia. The second involves Alana’s husband, Hugh, owner of a rare-and-used bookstore in Salt Lake City, and his slow disappearance across Jordan while on a trip both to remember and to forget Alana’s death. The third involves marginalia added to Hugh’s section by his daughter, Aila, an art critic living in Berlin. Aila discovers a manuscript by her father after his disappearance and tries to make sense of it by means of a one-sided “dialogue” with her brother, Lance.

Each page of the novel is divided in half. Alana’s narrative runs across the “top” from “back” to “front,” while Hugh’s and his daughter’s tale runs “upside down” across the “bottom” from “front” to “back.” How a reader initially happens to pick up Theories of Forgetting determines which narrative is read first, and thereby establishing the reader’s meaning-making of the novel.

—Descriptions from the publisher’s catalog

We are delighted to feature in this issue...

:: an excerpt ::

Duff Brenna Reviews
Three Books by Lance Olsen

10:01 [a novel as film]
Nietzsche’s Kisses
Anxious Pleasures: A Novel After Kafka

Theories of Forgetting:
published in 2014
by Fiction Collective 2
and available from
The University of Alabama Press


“For all the unsettling, lyrical beauty of these three overlapping stories, it is impossible to deny that the form of Theories of Forgetting acts as one of its main, if not the main, characters...

“...It moves and makes us move. It makes demands both physically and intellectually. Perhaps most importantly, it affirms the materiality of the book at a time when the numbers of digital publications are surging...”

—From the review by Michael McLane,
On Being and Maintaining the Ephemeral
(reprinted in this issue)


[A Conversation with]
Lance Olsen
by Derek Alger

(Pif Magazine, 2009)
:see also:

Video: Olsen lectures on his novel
at the American Academy in Berlin

A. Olsen’s experimental short video,
Theories of Forgetting,
deploys Smithson’s concept
of “entropology”

:: ::
the innovative website
where you can learn more
about Olsen and his work

:weivretni fo tnirper
One is tempted to call him Lance Armstrong—if for nothing more than his turbo-charged prose, lightning fast intellect, and an ability
to delay the truth.
The American Academy in Berlin  
“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury