REVIEW BY STEPHEN SPARKS
In addition to being the author of novels, short stories, poetry and essays, Rikki Ducornet is also a painter. (And, lately, the publisher of Stone Eye Press.) It is fitting then, that her latest essay collection, The Deep Zoo, which as its title suggests is something of a menagerie, blurs the boundaries between all of the media she works with.
Like the wonder cabinets that have inspired her work, the pages of The Deep Zoo are stuffed full of curiosities. Unlike the wunderkammer, however, the collection is organized less by a taste for the singular or bizarre as it is by Ducornet’s capacious imagination and marvelous talent for synthesizing. And so the reader will find herself led on a sometimes dizzying tour from Aloys Zötl’s Bestarium to Borges’ dreamtigers to Cortazar’s axolotl; from Margie McDonald’s microbial sculptures to Linda Okazaki’s haunting paintings; from hieroglyphs to Roger Callois’ secret language of stone; from the Marquis de Sade to Abu Ghraib.
For many writers, simply reveling in these subjects would be accomplishment enough. But Ducornet does not limit herself to forging connections between things; rather, she is fundamentally concerned with pushing against the limits, both formal and moral, imposed upon the imagination by those who fear the consequences of ingenuity and freedom. This insistent prodding characterizes Ducornet’s work and forces us, as readers, to reconsider our expectations of art. Do we want art to lull or arouse us? Where, if anywhere, do we draw the line on art’s utility? While this kind of reconsideration may strike the serious-minded as a trifle in a world on the verge of catastrophe, Ducornet reminds us that our position in the universe reflects our imagining of it and that as a consequence, we should be wary of those who attempt to cordon this spark. This is a valuable, possibly even necessary, lesson made more powerful by the beauty and terror of The Deep Zoo.
The Deep Zoo is published Coffee House Press and distributed by Consortium/Perseus Group.