The Thing and Jonathan Lethem


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Created by Bay Area visual artists Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan, The Thing is half-literary journal, half-art project: a combination of text and object that might coalesce as a window shade, a baseball cap or a set of coasters designed by an artist like Miranda July, Tucker Nichols or Anne Walsh.

From the journal’s inception, its editors had their sights set on one particular collaborator, author Jonathan Lethem. Now Lethem’s contribution is set as The Thing’s seventh issue.


Inspired by his latest novel, ‘Chronic City,’ due out this fall from Doubleday, Lethem designed a pair of black framed glasses with text featured on the temples, reading ‘Will you know a chaldron when you see one? With these glasses you will know a true one.’

That’s because ‘Chronic City’ is set in a parallel Manhattan peppered with ‘impossible objects’ called chaldrons. In case that’s confusing, the glasses come along with ‘Twelve Statements About Chaldrons,’ including the particularly illuminating ninth statement: ‘A chaldron is like an opera pouring from a flea’s mouth.’

Lethem said he had several reasons for wanting to work with Herschend and Rogan. Namely, Lethem appreciated the way their enterprise plays with notions of the physicality of words. Rogan has described Lethem’s writing as ‘architectural,’ and the author agrees completely.

‘I love that. I hope so,’ Lethem said on the phone from his part-time residence in Maine. Read more of what Lethem had to say ... after the jump.

‘I just saw this letter that Don Delillo wrote to David Foster Wallace, where Delillo is talking with almost autistic intensity about picking his words for either having tall shapes in them or round, flat ones and wanting to see a certain array of tall versus round on the page. And I thought, ‘Yes, this is what we’re doing that no one talks about, getting involved in the plasticity of language.’ It is sort of sculptural, making these paragraphs and sentences come into being.’

Issue 7 will be unveiled at a wrapping party at San Francisco’s Southern Exposure gallery on July 9, where the editors and volunteers will package up and ship out the glasses to subscribers. (Southern Exposure is where The Thing was born two years ago, and the gathering will also double as an anniversary celebration.)


Between next month and this fall, Lethem’s ‘Thing’ will only be available to subscribers (as a back issue), but subscriptions are still available. The general public won’t get a crack at the remaining inventory until Lethem’s book is released this fall at another party in New York. Those who don’t attend can shop via online and in select stores in New York, Paris, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Whatever else these spectacles may be capable of, Herschend swears they are fully functional. They also mark Lethem’s third boundary-crossing collaboration associated with ‘Chronic City.’ The author twittered in character about it for the Brooklyn Museum of Art and contributed text related to it for Matthew Ritchie’s art book ‘More Than the Eye.’

-- Mindy Farabee

(Photo credit: Lenny Gonzalez with Melissa Guerrero)