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Hotel Theory

Wayne Koestenbaum

(Soft Skull)

Reading Hotel Theory is a very different kind of experience. It’s an experience that’s not comfortable at first, though you soon get used to it; it feels unfamiliar, yet it somehow reminds you of something you know very well; it’s neither specific nor generic… in other words, it’s rather like the experience of staying in a hotel. Which is probably the point, since Hotel Theory is an exhaustive, exhausting exploration, evisceration, analysis and autopsy of the author’s obsession with the phenomenon of the hotel, both edifice and state of mind.

At first, I made the mistake of approaching Hotel Theory as if it were a book like other books. But it isn’t like other books. For a start, it’s actually two books in one: a dossier, “Hotel Theory”, containing philosophical and theoretical meditations on the nature of the hotel, and a pulp novelette, “Hotel Women, ,featuring Liberace and Lana Turner, and written without the use of the articles “a”, “an”, or “the.” To shake things up even more, these two books – one fiction, the other nonfiction – run concurrently, in twin columns that share each page.

While “Hotel Women” is a nostalgic reverie for a certain kind of old Hollywood lifestyle – a world of cocktail lounges, discreet concierges, plastic palm trees and people who dress for dinner – “Hotel Theory” is a substantial theoretical meditation about the philosophy, state of mind, or, perhaps more accurately, existential displacement caused by the experience of staying in a hotel.

When I tried reading each “book” individually, chapter by chapter, I kept getting lost and distracted, and in the end I decided to abandon myself to the book’s odd, concurrent format and read each page in its entirety, swallowing my dose of theory then sweetening it with a spoonful of syrupy romance. It worked!

After a while, I came to appreciate, even to enjoy the experience, savoring the unbalanced, scary, rudderless feeling that (I imagine) Koestenbaum intends this playful postmodern artifact to evoke. What I liked most about the experience of reading this book is that it made me foreground my reading habits, allowing me to become conscious of the strange, artificially constructed nature of text on a page, and of reading in general, making me rethink everything I normally take for granted when I pick up a book.


Mikita Brottman is an author, psychoanalyst, and chair of the humanities program at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara. Her book, The Solitary Vice, was published as a PopMatters imprint in 2008 (see 1 of 3 excerpts here). She lives in Ojai, California. Her website is available here.

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