Agony is the first in a trilogy of long confessional poems. It uses semi-rigorous mathematical and logical constraints to view the author's life and body, telescopically, as little bits of time and space. Everything written here is as true as possible – that is to say, pretty true. It attempts autobiography as a refutation of autobiography, and an elevation of the self as self-effacement. Love pops up as a theme quite a bit. So does self-mutilation, etc. There are a lot of numbers, but don't worry, it's more about politics and fantasy than numbers, even though, as usual, they show up everywhere. Just like pieces of your body after you've cut them off and scattered them all over the world, and then go out looking for them again, for some reason.
Praise for Agony:
Steven Zultanski’s Agony is a guide to making millions with a startup that puts human faces (literally) on the windows of suburban homes. The key word here is “literally:” the literal is Zultanski’s most important discovery, a reinvention of Shklovsky’s “making strange” for a tertiary age, a time when the language of metaphor has been zombified (after first being deadened and then deconstructed). In a manner that parodies and surpasses the lunacy of American pundits, Zultanski leads us on a mathematical journey into the volume of humanity’s tears and saliva exchange in kisses, and the square-footage of breasts and pet-intestines to explore the Markson-esqe, Mobius sociality of the solipsistic self. This unabashed autobiography, told through a hyperbolic argot of tax-code and quantum physics, is a sacrifice that atones for the banality it is born of (QED). Using the body as a literal yard-stick – its intimate history of inspirations and exhalations, excretions and accretions, pressed flat against the world, as a face against a window – this book leads the advance attack on the insipid dehumanization performed by standards of measure, statistics, and self-help. Call it conceptualism, lyricism, the new literality, or agonic financial planning – whatever it is, Agony is not for the faint of heart.
— Matvei Yankelevich
The best way to enjoy Steven Zultanski’s Agony is to remove your skin, including your facial skin, and spill into the mathematical calculations of how many cubic inches of human tears it takes to fill a fountain. When you put your skin back on and go outside for a walk, you'll realize that the lyric poem has just endured a substantial 21st century upgrade.
— Robert Fitterman