NYRSeminars: Rachel Cusk, Outline and Second Place

The first novel of Cusk’s Outline trilogy brings us full circle with a return to Greece and, not accidentally, to the twinned themes of travel and storytelling that are central to Homer’s Odyssey. We will devote two sessions to Outline, which follows its nameless heroine, a writer, as she voyages to Greece to teach a writing class—a journey during which she becomes the receptacle for other people’s life stories while remaining curiously passive and blank (an “outline”) herself. The tension between the narrator’s cagyeness and the volubility of her interlocutors becomes a fruitful vehicle for thinking about narrative, writing, and gender.  

This seminar will conclude with Cusk’s Second Place, written during the Covid pandemic, which tells the story of a writer, isolating in the countryside with her family, who hosts a disturbing visitor—a story that, while returning to the odyssean themes of the potential dangers of hospitality, inverts many of the tropes of Outline by exploring the nature of immobility.


Four Wednesdays: April 3, 10, 17, 24

About “Journeys”

Tales of exciting—and often perilous—journeys away from home have been a staple of storytelling ever since Homer’s Odyssey introduced the figure of the wandering hero to Western Literature. In this series of 5 weekly seminars, Daniel Mendelsohn, the New York Review’s Editor-at-Large, will lead participants through readings of five works in which journeys and voyages become vehicles for exploring the self and the world, language and art, time and mortality. The first seminar, devoted to the Odyssey itself—the model in so many ways for all subsequent travel writing in the European tradition—will be followed by four seminars devoted to twentieth-century works by Virginia Woolf, James Baldwin, W. G. Sebald, and Rachel Cusk. Meetings will take the form of both lectures with Q&A sessions and more intimate online seminars in which Mendelsohn, after delivering opening remarks and observations, will invite participants to a wider discussion.

You may read descriptions of all five seminars here.

About Daniel Mendelsohn

Daniel Mendelsohn, the Editor-at-Large of The New York Review of Books, is an award-winning critic, author, essayist, and translator. His books include An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic and three collections of essays and reviews, including Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture and Ecstasy and Terror: From the Greeks to Game of Thrones, both published by New York Review Books. Mr. Mendelsohn is the Charles Ranlet Flint Professor of Humanities at Bard College and the Director of the Robert B. Silvers Foundation, a charitable trust that supports writers of nonfiction, essay, and criticism.

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