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Sony Devabhaktuni

By the Book

Sony Devabhaktuni

Sony joined the Art Program at Swarthmore College in Fall 2023 after having taught in schools of architecture in Hong Kong, Switzerland, and France. He studied architecture at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art and English literature at Stanford University.

What are you reading these days?
With my students, I'm reading Anne Tyng's writing on architecture and her time working with Louis Kahn. On my own (again), On the Inconvenience of Other People by Lauren Berlant.

Describe your perfect place to read on campus:
At the moment, the flowering tree outside the window makes my office the perfect place to read.

Is there a book you've read multiple times?
Yes, many! A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. Beloved by Toni Morrison. The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt. The Arcades Project by Walter Benjamin (although not from front to back). In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (once in English, once in French). Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I'm a big proponent of reading things (and going to movies) multiple times.

Is there a book you pretend to have read?
I've read The Fold by Gilles Deleuze at least three times and pretend to understand it.

Who is your favorite author?
That's a hard one. The fiction author who has touched me the most intensely is Flannery O'Connor. Something about the baroque humanity of her world will always remain with me as a model for what writing can illuminate. In non-fiction, Walter Benjamin, for largely the same reason. (Maybe not so hard.)

What's the latest book you could not finish even though you thought you should?
I've tried reading Henri Lefebvre's The Production of Space several times but always peter out. There is a lot of useful thinking in it, but maybe it's the dryness of the text that leaves me a bit distant.

What literary character would you most like to be friends with?
Not friends exactly, but Baron de Charlus from In Search of Lost Time for the thrill.

Do you have a literary nemesis?
Howard Roark for being an awful model of what it means to be an architect.

What is your favorite reading genre?
My favorite genre that I rarely have a chance to read is the long-form poem. It is a high-wire act to sustain that tension over pages. Lisa Robertson's Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture come to mind.

What book do you recommend most often?
A River Runs Through It. For me it really is a masterpiece. And the person who recommended it to me taught me to love writing.

What's the best movie adaptation of a book you've read?
Arrival (adapted from The Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang)

What author would you like to meet and what would you ask them?
Flannery O'Connor. I'd like to ask her what she feeds her peacocks.

What book made an early impact on you and why?
I read Beloved for the first time when I was 16. I think it changed my understanding of what language could do and be, particularly in relation to memory and consciousness. It also opened me to the sound of writing in a way that remains important.