Simon Wortham

The small, 2020

Let’s say this is a joke. Even if it seems serious, it may also be a joke. Most jokes are cruel, some are bitter, some are no more than a shrug of the shoulders. Unless somebody laughs, until they do, a joke is only a half-thing, as precarious as a silhouette or shadow.

A promising American scholar, Josh Goetz, is left the last writings of his Swiss mentor and colleague, Professor Peter Müller, sent to him just before Müller’s death. They are a strange series of fragments on a seemingly disparate range of topics including puppets, tics, claustrophilia, floating, posterity, and jokes, the artist Giovanni Segantini and the author Robert Walser. What connects these short pieces, and do they contain clues to explain Müller’s suicide? Feeling a sense of responsibility about the manuscript, the chances of its eventual publication get tangled up with Josh’s burgeoning relationship with his young editor, Megan Taylor. The small is a story of rivalry, abandonment, and abuse, in which literature, art, and philosophy hold the key to a psychological case study of estrangement and despair. It is about the brutality of university culture today; about the failings of family and friendship across time and space, politics and geography; and about the complicated legacy of the European twentieth century. It is about what happens when a world gets lost.

‘The small is the intricate and ingenious study of a disappearing subject. Through the seemingly unpublishable little essays of Peter Müller (1943–2017), Wortham explores a rich array of topics (from toys and paper clips to Kleist’s puppets and Giacometti’s tiny statues), and how it is to feel deflated, belittled, completely diminished. A cryptic and poignant achievement.’
–> Nicholas Royle

‘I loved everything about this gem of a book—at once witty, adventurous, learned, and profoundly thought provoking.
I couldn’t put it down.’
–> Rebecca Comay

‘I have been absorbed and entertained by Mr Wortham.
This is a collision of essays around delicate and intensely mittel-europaische intellectual relationships with an of-the-moment publisher/academic flirtation and eventual dismissal. I salute the entailed research and writerly devotion and think there is a huge responsibility for us to underline the intrinsic qualities of academic and art-world discourse from the 1930s through to the mid-seventies which differ very largely from this early twenty-first century style of shouty blatancy and blunderbuss.’
–> Benjamin Rhodes

‘The small is academically smart and formally ingenious, but the subtlety of its story and understatement of its scholarship are rare in a period of increasing blatancy. It is immensely engaging – I read it in one sitting. There is a strange sadness, not a melancholy, certainly not a nostalgia, and not a hopelessness, even if it is stripped of many illusions. Instead, The small displays an admirable and inventive commitment to writing – and writing on.’
–> Fred Botting

Simon Wortham is Professor of Critical Humanities at Kingston University, and the author of several books including, most recently, The Poetics of Sleep (Bloomsbury, 2013), Modern Thought in Pain (Edinburgh University Press, 2014), Resistance and Psychoanalysis (Edinburgh University Press, 2017), and  Hope (Bloomsbury, 2019). The small is his first novel.

156  pages
190 mm x 120 mm
80 mm French flaps (cover)
Format: Paperback
ISBN   978-1-910055-70-0

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