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Reader’s Den

Reader's Den: Leaving the Atocha Station, Week 3


Atocha Station, Madrid via Wikimedia CommonsAtocha Station, Madrid via Wikimedia CommonsWelcome to the third week of reading Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. As you are nearing the end of the novel and as we just passed the anniversary of the terrorist attack on Atocha Station (March 11, 2004), there are a few themes to ask questions about or consider further.

Leaving the Atocha Station provides a glimpse into the everyday experiences of a (post-grad) student abroad. Nothing extraordinary happens to Adam Gordon from day to day. He experiences major themes of literature and life in an average way — alienation, getting lost, self-doubt, but he also tries to imagine his writing having an effect on life. He says "I tried hard to imagine my poems or any poems as machines that could make things happen, changing the government or the economy or even their language, the body or its sensorium, but I could not imagine this, could not even imagine imagining it. And yet when I imagined the total victory of those other things over poetry, when I imagined, with a sinking feeling, a world without even the terrible excuses for poems that kept faith with the virtual possibilities of the medium, without the sort of absurd ritual I'd participated in that evening, then I intuited an estimable loss, a loss not of artworks but of art, and therefore infinite, the total triumph of the actual…"

  • Does Adam triumph over the actual when he tells lies/stories to his friends in Spain about the events that have/have not happened in his life? His dying mother? The girl drowning in Mexico?

Much of the novel centers on Adam's internal dialogue about the purpose the role of poetry and art in life. In the novel we are asked to think about how art participates in historic events.

  • When we experience a painting or poem about an event, Guernica by Picasso (during the Spanish Civil War) for example, are we merely an observer, or do we become a participant in the event?
  • Do you think the terrorist attack at Atocha Station in Madrid in 2004 changes Adam's perception of the significance of historical events?

  • Why might Adam prefer to be an observer rather than a participant (as in the marches leading up to the election for example)?
  • Is the actual often a lesser experience than the art that describes it?

He asks at one point in the novel "…that I was a fraud had never been in question — who wasn't".

  • Does Adam's reaction to the world around him make him easy to identify with?
  • Is he ordinary?
  • Why does Adam take drugs?
  • Ultimately, has Adam's experience in Spain been transcendent?

I'd love to hear further questions and thoughts you had as you read the novel. Join us next week for suggestions for further reading.


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