Circus: Or, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes: A Novel

Wayne Koestenbaum (Author) Rachel Kushner (Introduction by)

Product Details

$16.95  $15.59
Soft Skull Press
Publish Date
July 09, 2019
5.5 X 0.9 X 8.2 inches | 0.7 pounds
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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


Praise for Circus

NYLON, 1 of 9 Great New Books to Read This Month
One of Dennis Cooper's Favorite Books of the Year

"This Soft Skull reissue of Wayne Koestenbaum's 2004 debut novel (now with an introduction by Rachel Kushner!) is the perfect book for summer: It's fever-hot, lurid to the extreme, and filled with the kind of lunatic linguistic acrobatics that leave you gasping for air." --Kristin Iverson, Nylon, 1 of 35 Great Books to Read This Summer

"[Koestenbaum] rarely writes fiction, but when he does, it is exquisitely unhinged, a little more so than the rest of his more typically aphoristic prose . . . Narrative continuity and formal completion aren't exactly his bedfellows, which is why Circus, a novel, stands out among the rest of his oeuvre . . . Composed as a series of notebooks authored by the narrator, Circus logs the highs and lows of Theo Mangrove's small-town life and histrionic musical aspirations. His accounts are detailed, raw, and sexually explicit; as Theo's HIV positive body gradually deteriorates, he ruminates obsessively over a classical repertoire that he may or may not perform." --Mirene Arsanios, Guernica

"Koestenbaum's hallucinatory lyricism lends itself to declaration like 'After an intense orgasm we produce voice from our head rather than our chest;' an aphorism every-bit worthy of poet John Shade in Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire." --The Millions, Most Anticipated

"You probably know Wayne Koestenbaum for his incisive nonfiction or his surreal poetry, but that's not all he's done. This new edition of Circus: Or, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes: A Novel brings his novel back into print, complete with introduction by Rachel Kushner. It's about a reclusive pianist planning his comeback in the most surreal manner possible--a welcome reminder of Koestenbaum's breadth as an author." --Vol. 1 Brooklyn

"Poet, writer, and otherwise diversely talented cultural mainstay Wayne Koestenbaum does not shy away from anything, and we are all the better for it . . . His novel Circus, which was originally published in 2004, was re-released this year by Soft Skull Press . . . Koestenbaum guides us through the most uncomfortable of subjects with his renowned humor and inventiveness of language, and the brilliant Rachel Kushner provides the introduction to the new edition." --Ruby Bruntun, BOMB

"Wayne Koestenbaum's poetry is as well revered as his cult-classic work of cultural criticism The Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire. But his novels are the place to find his brilliant mind on fire in a prose style that is as challenging as it is uproarious. His recently reissued novel, Circus: or, Moira Orfei in Aigues-Mortes, is a rich treat of incantatory prose focusing on fame, decadence, classical music and an Italian circus star." --Ira Silverberg, Document

Praise for Moira Orfei in Aigues Mortes (2004)

"If Debussy and Robert Walser had collaborated on an opera, it would sound like this." --John Ashbery

"A mordant, exquisite ode to 'the authentic and paralyzing distance between us.' Insignificance is transformed into magnificence, inspiration is disfiguring, and desire is desecration: rapture becomes indistinguishable from rapture. I especially love how the book takes the stargazing of The Queen's Throat and Jacke Under Skin and poeticizes it, dramatizes it, darkens it, mortalizes it. A deep aesthetic and intellectual pleasure, Wayne Koestenbaum's first novel is one of my absolutely favorite works of his (than which, in my lexicon, there's scarcely higher praise)." --David Shields

"Wayne Koestenbaum, a writer of mature and accountable linguistic genius, has . . . taken up the fabulist form and mastered it absolutely . . . in every way a match for its most illustrious precedent, the hallucination recorded in Nabokov's Pale Fire. Here is the authentic magic from the wellspring of the magical: delusion transformed into revelation. A triumph." --James McCourt

"Written in the style of a surreal fever dream, Wayne Koestenbaum's first novel records in brilliant poetic vernacular the swan song of Theo Mangrove, a dissipated concert pianist and debauched sexual adventurer obsessed with Italian circus star Moira Orfei. Elucidated across twenty-five notebooks, Theo's desire to perform with Orfei for a final entertainment extravaganza in the southern French village of Aigues-Mortes (the "town of dead water") is both dazzlingly seductive and undisguisedly unhinged . . . Koestenbaum, a cultural critic and poet, experiments with the deranged aesthetics of literary artifice practiced by such luminary predecessors as Baudelaire, Nerval, Artaud, Rimbaud, and Huysmans to tantalizing effect. The story of Koestenbaum's freaks of nature is delivered in willfully, at times hilariously debauched deadpan and makes for irresistibly twisted magic. How could a reader not delight in the fiercely rendered hallucination of it all?"--Bookforum

"The mad genius of Pale Fire with the florid outlaw sexuality of Jean Genet"--Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Wayne Koestenbaum

"Wayne Koestenbaum is one of the most original and relentlessly obsessed cultural spies writing today. His alarmingly focused attention to detail goes beyond lunacy into hilarious and brilliant clarity."--John Waters

"I'll go wherever putto, poet, painter and--little did you know--lounge crooner and ivory tinkler Wayne Koestenbaum wants to take me."--Rachel Kushner

"[Wayne Koestenbaum] is a figure of this time, but he also is a writer and thinker for all time. His career streaks above this genre-obsessed, professionalized-writer moment, and corresponds instead to the history of the polymath, the public intellectual, the drifter, the infinite conversationalist."--Maggie Nelson

"Like an impossible love child from a late-night, drunken three-way between Joan Didion, Roland Barthes, and Susan Sontag, Wayne Koestenbaum inherited all their stylistic wonder and laser-beam smarts, but with the added point-blank jolt of sex."--Bruce Hainley, Bidoun

"[T]here's always a sense in Koestenbaum's writing that indulgence and risk are countered by extreme care at the level of the line or sentence. . . . If you haven't noticed by now: Here is one of the most flirtatious writers around."--Brian Dillon, Artforum

"What Koestenbaum has achieved, perhaps better than any other contemporary poet, is linguistic fecundity combined with hyper-fastidiousness. Words seem to fall out of his mind and through his pen at breakneck speed without undermining the deeper aesthetic experience. . . The psyche is dangerous terrain, and Koestenbaum is, among all his other accolades, an exceptionally brave explorer."--Cody Delistraty, Poetry Foundation

"For a quarter century, since the publication of the seminal queer theory text The Queen's Throat, Wayne Koestenbaum has been one of our leading gay cultural critics. Alongside his parallel careers in poetry and the visual arts, Koestenbaum has been responsible for some of the most penetrating and haunting literature on queer identity, subcultures, and fixations."--Out Magazine

"Koestenbaum's reflexivity is uncanny and gathers pathos from the very task of writing, which for him is tantamount to assembling a self. As Foucault put it, being gay 'is not to identify with the psychological traits and the visible masks of the homosexual, but to try to define and develop a way of life.'"--Felix Bernstein, Bookforum

"Wayne's work--his poems, his essays, his criticism--obliterates any vestigial divide we might hold on to between play and thought. It revels in and broadcasts the risks and joys (the risky joys and joyful risks) inherent in both."--Stefania Heim, Boston Review

"[Wayne Koestenbaum's] writing is pungent, replete, intoxicating, infectious. I read it and I want to make it my own, to steal his precision and lyricism and immaculate means of evoking the spectacularly specific."--Anne Helen Petersen, The Hairpin

"There's anxiety in Koestenbaum's work. There's wonder here, too, and the combination of the two give me a critic that I not only want to read but a critic I want to get to know. It's human to worry, and writing about these worries is a perfect bonding agent."―Bookslut

"This scholar of excess is off the cuff, over the top, and always on the money!"--Elaine Equi

"Impassioned insight . . . By turns comic and elegaic, respectful and blasphemous...little or nothing escapes [Koestenbaum's] gaze."―Newsday

"Whether referencing La Bohème, Donald Winnicott, bondage gear, Brooke Shields, or a haunting dream of massaging a baby, Koestenbaum's work entices in all its sui generis, subconscious musing."--Publishers Weekly