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Reader’s Den

Reader's Den: Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner, Week 1

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Welcome to the Reader's Den for March. This month we will be discussing Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. It is a novel set in Spain, written by a New York author. The novel follows Adam Gordon to Madrid in 2004 on a fellowship to write poetry influenced by the Spanish Civil War. We learn about Adam's relationships as a poet-tourist-student and his process of writing and self-discovery through experiences outside of his control.

Adam awakes in Madrid, Spain, follows his morning routine, and is standing in from of Rogier van der Weyden's Descent from the Cross at the Prado Museum "within forty-five minutes of waking." But, on the morning that begins Leaving the Atocha Station, another man has positioned himself in front of Adam's usual spot, "I was just about to abandon room 58 when the man broke suddenly into tears, convulsively catching his breath. Was he, I wondered, just facing the wall to hide his face as he dealt with whatever grief he'd brought to the museum? Or was he having a profound experience of art?"

Much has been written about the sublime in art and religious transcendence as is expressed through a work of art. I am thinking of works such as Friedrich's Monk by the Sea, Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, or Munch's The Scream. But what of the viewer's experience with the art work? Do regular people have truly exceptional experiences with art and how would one know that it happened?

Please join the Reader's Den discussion of the novel. Ask questions, provide insight, or make suggestions on any of the March posts for Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner.

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