Brown Lecture hosts Koestenbaum’s “Splash Guards”

Muhlenberg's english department invites Wayne Koestenbaum to share his essay on dreams and humanity.

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Photo by Ebru Yildiz on waynekoestenbaum.com

On Thursday, Apr. 23, Wayne Koestenbaum came to Muhlenberg College to read his recent essay for the John D. M. Brown Lecture. The essay is titled “Splash Guards,” a theme that loosely ties in all of his thoughts and dreams that he discusses in his essay.

Koestenbaum is a highly decorated poet, critic, novelist, artist and performer that has made a dramatic impact on the contemporary writing community. He graduated from Harvard University with a B.A., Johns Hopkins University with an M.A. and earned a Ph.D. from Princeton University. He has published nineteen books, including “Camp Marmalade” and “The Pink Trance Notebooks.” Koestenbaum has published numerous essays and poems, released records of his vocal and piano performances and created paintings that have debuted in countless shows. Currently, he is a professor of English, French and comparative literature at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City.

Koestenbaum began his lecture by telling the audience he started the essay in 2019, wrote about his dreams over a series of weeks and months and then put it down until recently. He often wrote in the early mornings about his dreams from the night before. Though the thoughts, feelings and experiences he details throughout the essay are not exclusively dreams, the supernatural feeling bleeds through his words.

Though mystical, Koestenbaum chooses an intriguing way of keeping a sense of order to his essay. Instead of dividing his essay into typical paragraphs, he numbers each section, with each section containing a different thought or dream. When he was asked why he chose to number the paragraphs, he simply shared that’s how he knows how to write. He likes the symbolic unity, while it also gives him a “more poetic form of prose,” in his words. Not only does he bend the rules of a conventional essay by numbering each paragraph, but the way he organizes his thoughts, and the thoughts themselves, have been deemed unconventional.

Koestenbaum’s essay is provocative, giving the audience an intimate understanding of him, his dreams and his innermost thoughts. The themes that he puts an emphasis on include loneliness, endings, love and desire. His muse also cannot be pinpointed and given one source, as he details how people, death, films, novels and love, have all given him inspiration. However, generalizing Koestenbaum’s essay into a handful of subjects doesn’t fully encapsulate the variation in his essay, where he shares intimate details about his life with his audience.

Sonny Berenson ‘26 elaborated on the significance of the individual stories that Koestenbaum details, saying, “I find it particularly funny and clever that Koestenbaum is able to tell such profound stories and lessons amidst discussions of sex, humor and typically inappropriate and illicit material. Although some of Koestenbaum’s stories are seemingly silly and immature, he manages to reveal the profound within average life, as well as find ways in which we can turn the mundane into genius.” This transformation of life that he details throughout the entirety of his work is what makes his essay so compelling. He skips from story to story, keeping the audience compelled and constantly wanting more. 

Megan Hansen ‘26 shared,  “I thought that the talk was really refreshing because he was willing to get personal and introspective with essentially a group of strangers. His open talking about his own intrusive thoughts on desire and humanity kind of created a normalcy and comfort for the similar thoughts that others might have.”

“suddenly the crowd became less like ‘strangers’ and more like a group of people with common thoughts.”

Megan Hansen ’26

Most of the stories detailed in Koestenbaum’s essay do not have conclusions. They come to abrupt endings and are never mentioned again. Desire is pervasive throughout, as he discusses his desire to create, to be with others and to exist. This transcends into his broader goals, and when asked about them, Koestenbaum said that “desire is really complicated. What you love and care about erotically and otherwise is really complicated.” 

Though desire is his conceptual goal, he also expressed individual goals and ideas for writing, stating “the least cookie cutter writing will bring the best chance of finding personal solace.” He also finds great importance in listening to others speak about their writing, specifically provocative writing, as it allows for people to find others to relate and connect with. These connections include topics that seem in the “realm of the unmentionable, giving language to that stuff is a salvage operation.” 

Amy Swartz ‘26 is an English & creative writing and political science double major. She is a General Editorial Assistant, and is thrilled to be a part of such an amazing organization! Outside of the Weekly, you can always find her reading a new book, updating her Spotify playlists, or rewatching an episode of New Girl!

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