Hans Rickheit & the Incurable Souls Lost to the Rest of Society

by Impossible Mike

Folly: The CONSEQUENCES of INDISCRETION
by Hans Rickheit
Fantagraphic Books, April 2012
144 / $18.99 Buy from Fantagraphics

 

 

The common exclusion of the worst (folly, vice, indolence . . .) seems to me to denote servility. The servile intelligence serves folly, but folly issovereign: I can change nothing with it.”

—Georges Bataille, Method of Meditation

The folly is my favorite architectural conceit. A building divorced from any sort of purpose, often considered mere decoration; there are architects that have turned the idea of the folly into a sort of space of affect. It seems that the folly gave way to paper architecture, to a developed insistence upon the way space can make someone feel, whether or not the space is constructed out of any sort of desire for utility.

Hans Rickheit’s book, Folly, also serves no utility. Most of the miniature narratives (if you could call them as such), find voided figures wandered through bizarre architectural constructions that seem somewhere between abandoned factory and mad-scientist laboratory, infinite labyrinthine hallways that lead to abject bio-mechanical ‘machines’ that spit out effluvia and viscera. Often, these masses of flesh and organ are alive, they produce sounds, sometimes they serve their own function (often more as that of “sustenance” or offering, battery power), always useless. They are poked and prodded, they squeak and pus.

 

It is within this in-utility that Rickheit’s graphic tales find their true sense of jouissance. There is no definable morality; as the subtitle of the book suggests “the consequences of indiscretion” are generally moot. Cochlea and Eustachia repeatedly find themselves modified, dead, or turned into tree trunks, but three pages later they’re back for another tale of wonder.

Collecting work from a variety of self-publications & anthologies, Folly presents an introduction into the world of Hans Rickheit that doesn’t required the sustained obsession his longer tales (such as Chloe and the absolutely essential Squirrel Machine) require—one can dip in and out of the beautiful madness that haunts the pages at will, without having to give something up. Though it’s arguable that the giving-up the longer a-narrative sojourns require adds a level of delirium to the experience of the books, even in short form these fragments shock the system with a delicious perversity.

In an age of indie-comics dependent upon the banality of the everyday, a hesitant realism, Rickheit eschews reality in favor of the impossible, a state of existence that is truly fantastical. But this is not a utopia, this is a world entirely of the body, though not only the body of human beings, but the body of all living meat, of anything that breathes and shits. This is a world of pure imagination, of subconscious desires let loose with an acutely detailed drawing style. And ultimately, it’s a perfect work for those who refuse to float away from their bodies but are ready to let their heads go where-ever one can find the new.

On Elegance While Sleeping

by Idris Kenain

On Elegance While Sleeping
by Viscount Lascano Tegui
Dalkey Archive, 2010
174 pages / $13.95  Buy from Dalkey Archive or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“There are intellects notable for their prodigious memory and then others simply inspired by the great chaos of the imagination. My own superiority stems from nothing so much as my own powers of observation. I’m a product of myself. I’ve seen the world through the poor little prism of my eyes. No, I never made use of borrowed eyes. And that’s why it was—through observation, a reflexive way of looking—that I always kept myself at a distance from my friends, kept aloof from my teachers.” – Viscount Lascano Tegui, On Elegance While Sleeping

 

On Elegance While Sleeping is a decadent and deranged Argentinean novel, first published in 1922 and spanning four years in the life of an aesthete whose fluid diary entries function as a recollection of dreams, memories, visions, sexual fantasies, mundane observations, musings on death and the animal kingdom. These vignettes have the cumulative effect of a fractured psyche indulging in its own incompleteness. Sinister and surreal, each locution is touched by the flavor of elegance. It is a fantastic and dark marvel of a libertine’s fractured psyche, a damaged consciousness. Tegui’s novel feels like a spiritual cousin to Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet and Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, these short and intensely interior novels deal in the anguish and ecstasy of poetry and isolation. Tegui writes, “Novelists overplay their hands when they put an end to their characters with some catastrophe—a terrible fire, a murder, what have you. They don’t trust in the asphyxiating monotony of everyday life.” But this novel has a darkness and subversive element that extends beyond sheer idleness, making it feel like the Argentinean counterpart to such subversive decadent classics as MaldororAurélia, and A Rebours.

Tegui’s novel deals in the aesthetics of delusion, and the elements of the imagination that can lead a man to crime. The author, self-described as “a somewhat delicate individual,” adopts the pose of a consummate gentleman, even in his moments of utter derangement, even while plotting a murder. Tegui’s novel acts as a decadent master class of a disconnected lost soul – a deranged aesthete obsessing over disease, sex, and the tyranny of death. The novel takes the form of a diary, full of fragmented musings on poetics and style. The diarist desires to do something “flamboyant, coarse, unexpected—something that will impose its tyranny over my life without question. I’m going to kill someone.”

The unnamed diarist, who reveals that “a book is a secret vice,” aspires to write a book he titlesThe Syphilis of Don Juan, which he describes as a “symptomatic journal of my disease that could serve as a source of information for doctors and literary types both,” playfully and ambiguously complicating the relationship between Tegui and the diarist. The diarist muses, “But wouldn’t my book be the result of my desire to commit a crime, and thus be a part of it? Wouldn’t every page be a sliver of glass in the daily soup of my fellow citizens?” before coming to the conclusion: “A book is a slow, unavoidable catastrophe.” In other words, his creative impulse is indistinguishable from his criminal impulse. The diarist is flirting with insanity and planning a senseless murder. Tegui muses over the interior lives of what he calls “armies of the perverse,” sexual deviants, vampires, the death-obsessed, the ill, decadent aesthetes, in other words, people much like himself: men of an ill humor well-versed in the dark art of oblivion.

“The children of degenerates step into life before other children. They start living centuries earlier. Health means nothing more than living in normal time. A broken watch ticks more often than one in perfect condition. It lives more. The children of the abnormal are mortgages owed by their parents. They’re born old. Born intelligent to the point of insanity. Sensitive to the point of silence. They’ve lived in their mother’s bellies, their father’s blood, for years and years of an exhausting sensuality. They’re born with severe and well-worn faces. Their eyes are already jaded, as if they’ve seen too many Corot landscapes and gray was the only color in their cosmologies. Their hands are worn and they bite at their mother’s breasts when suckling. They’re premature lovers. The wise children of the great languishing of our spinal fluids!”

On Elegance While Sleeping is dealing in the fragmented totality of the self, and in ways of seeing. The diarist is trying out moods and forms of artistry in a form of advanced mental juggling where ideas and identities can be substituted the way a dandy changes frock coats. This novel is sensitive to the accumulation of sensation and perception, the androgyny of Tegui’s spirit, and his acute attention to the edge. The abyss is common to sensitive men – it is the abyss of annihilation, and the diarist is always annihilating himself. Tegui’s diarist is most at home in total ennui, for he is a swindler of oblivion and king of the abyss.

The diarist says, “Syphilis is a civilized disease, and I intend to declare my allegiance to its aesthetic.” Tegui’s diarist says of his recollections, “I’ve written it tenderly, as though I was once in love,” likening the diary to an “intimate experiment.” It is an experiment in consciousness, and these confessions of a cynical aesthete exist in a realm between sense and nonsense, between monotony and mania. Tegui’s musings on death, sex, style and appearance has the cumulative effect as a sort of seductive edge. On Elegance While Sleeping is a dark gem.

***

Chris Moran is the author of Poison Vapors (Solar Luxuriance, 2011). He lives in Columbus, Ohio and blogs at http://subtlefields.blogspot.com/

On Elegance While Sleeping

On Elegance While Sleeping
by Viscount Lascano Tegui
Dalkey Archive, 2010
174 pages / $13.95  Buy from Dalkey Archive or Amazon

“There are intellects notable for their prodigious memory and then others simply inspired by the great chaos of the imagination. My own superiority stems from nothing so much as my own powers of observation. I’m a product of myself. I’ve seen the world through the poor little prism of my eyes. No, I never made use of borrowed eyes. And that’s why it was—through observation, a reflexive way of looking—that I always kept myself at a distance from my friends, kept aloof from my teachers.” – Viscount Lascano Tegui, On Elegance While Sleeping

On Elegance While Sleeping is a decadent and deranged Argentinean novel, first published in 1922 and spanning four years in the life of an aesthete whose fluid diary entries function as a recollection of dreams, memories, visions, sexual fantasies, mundane observations, musings on death and the animal kingdom. These vignettes have the cumulative effect of a fractured psyche indulging in its own incompleteness. Sinister and surreal, each locution is touched by the flavor of elegance. It is a fantastic and dark marvel of a libertine’s fractured psyche, a damaged consciousness. Tegui’s novel feels like a spiritual cousin to Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet and Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, these short and intensely interior novels deal in the anguish and ecstasy of poetry and isolation. Tegui writes, “Novelists overplay their hands when they put an end to their characters with some catastrophe—a terrible fire, a murder, what have you. They don’t trust in the asphyxiating monotony of everyday life.” But this novel has a darkness and subversive element that extends beyond sheer idleness, making it feel like the Argentinean counterpart to such subversive decadent classics as MaldororAurélia, and A Rebours.

Tegui’s novel deals in the aesthetics of delusion, and the elements of the imagination that can lead a man to crime. The author, self-described as “a somewhat delicate individual,” adopts the pose of a consummate gentleman, even in his moments of utter derangement, even while plotting a murder. Tegui’s novel acts as a decadent master class of a disconnected lost soul – a deranged aesthete obsessing over disease, sex, and the tyranny of death. The novel takes the form of a diary, full of fragmented musings on poetics and style. The diarist desires to do something “flamboyant, coarse, unexpected—something that will impose its tyranny over my life without question. I’m going to kill someone.”

The unnamed diarist, who reveals that “a book is a secret vice,” aspires to write a book he titlesThe Syphilis of Don Juan, which he describes as a “symptomatic journal of my disease that could serve as a source of information for doctors and literary types both,” playfully and ambiguously complicating the relationship between Tegui and the diarist. The diarist muses, “But wouldn’t my book be the result of my desire to commit a crime, and thus be a part of it? Wouldn’t every page be a sliver of glass in the daily soup of my fellow citizens?” before coming to the conclusion: “A book is a slow, unavoidable catastrophe.” In other words, his creative impulse is indistinguishable from his criminal impulse. The diarist is flirting with insanity and planning a senseless murder. Tegui muses over the interior lives of what he calls “armies of the perverse,” sexual deviants, vampires, the death-obsessed, the ill, decadent aesthetes, in other words, people much like himself: men of an ill humor well-versed in the dark art of oblivion.

“The children of degenerates step into life before other children. They start living centuries earlier. Health means nothing more than living in normal time. A broken watch ticks more often than one in perfect condition. It lives more. The children of the abnormal are mortgages owed by their parents. They’re born old. Born intelligent to the point of insanity. Sensitive to the point of silence. They’ve lived in their mother’s bellies, their father’s blood, for years and years of an exhausting sensuality. They’re born with severe and well-worn faces. Their eyes are already jaded, as if they’ve seen too many Corot landscapes and gray was the only color in their cosmologies. Their hands are worn and they bite at their mother’s breasts when suckling. They’re premature lovers. The wise children of the great languishing of our spinal fluids!”

On Elegance While Sleeping is dealing in the fragmented totality of the self, and in ways of seeing. The diarist is trying out moods and forms of artistry in a form of advanced mental juggling where ideas and identities can be substituted the way a dandy changes frock coats. This novel is sensitive to the accumulation of sensation and perception, the androgyny of Tegui’s spirit, and his acute attention to the edge. The abyss is common to sensitive men – it is the abyss of annihilation, and the diarist is always annihilating himself. Tegui’s diarist is most at home in total ennui, for he is a swindler of oblivion and king of the abyss.

The diarist says, “Syphilis is a civilized disease, and I intend to declare my allegiance to its aesthetic.” Tegui’s diarist says of his recollections, “I’ve written it tenderly, as though I was once in love,” likening the diary to an “intimate experiment.” It is an experiment in consciousness, and these confessions of a cynical aesthete exist in a realm between sense and nonsense, between monotony and mania. Tegui’s musings on death, sex, style and appearance has the cumulative effect as a sort of seductive edge. On Elegance While Sleeping is a dark gem.

Light Without Heat: A (W)hole Text

by Tasha Matsumoto

Light Without Heat
by Matt Kirkpatrick
FC2, 2012
192 pages / $14.95  Buy from University of Alabama Press orAmazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The thrill of reading Matt Kirkpatrick’s debut collection, Light Without Heat (FC2, 2012), is like the thrill of stepping into a carefully curated vintage store: each exquisite story has a talismanic magic unto itself, and a unique literary lineage. For example, the executives of a telecommunication company in “The AuralSec Story, a Corporate History, Chapter 7: Our Dependable Grampy,” who assure themselves, “Well, at least nobody young is going to die from what we do” have the fatalistic humor of a George Saunders character who’s mired in an insufferably corporate universe. Or consider the narrator in “The Board Game Monopoly,” whose thoughts gyrate around his destitute neighbors (lesbian heroin addicts, a little girl who steals his cigarettes, a mythomaniac neighbor who lies about “arm cancer”), whose threatening humor belies a deeper melancholy, not dissimilarly to Denis Johnson’s character, “Fuckhead.” Or consider “Glossary,” Kirkpatrick’s impossible encyclopedia whose absurdist linguistic humor is reminiscent of Ben Marcus’s Notable American Women:

Akron, OH: On June 12, 1978, the “City of Angels” burned to the reduction of artificial application of water to the soil.

Akron, OH: Forty miles east of Akron, OH, in a forest on a hill.

Akureyri: Show me cold water flowing and

Alan Alda: Badly burned on June 1, 1980, while freebasing cocaine.

Alan Alda: A sinkhole opens in a valley to one black cavern glistening. Cold black water glistens.

Kirkpatrick can clearly pen a story that rivals the most anthologized of our short story writers, but also in his collection are heretofore unimaginable forms, stories that mirror the moment when you arrive late to a Surrealist tea party, and you’re not entirely sure which parlor game is being played. Ecstatic linguistic pyrotechnics, multi-dimensional constellations: a character sketch written as a diagram of the pineal gland, erasures that leave the text cratered, an impossible encyclopedia, “basements with or without dens.”

Though Light Without Heat is an incredibly eclectic collection, with more bizarre forms than the DMV, cohesive threads run throughout these nineteen stories (though these threads are more like strands of mutant DNA, birthing beautiful little monsters): celestial imagery, the rotting past, bitched-from-the-start families, shrapnel-scapes. Particularly, though, I’m interested in Kirkpatrick’s obsession with holes—in his stories, ground becomes a tenuous terrain, threatening to collapse into some darker, subterranean life. Often, this hazard of distending holes is quite literal: in “Throw Him in the Water,” families, afraid of a fissure splitting the ground beneath them, have severed all contact with other families, and each patriarch becomes an autonomous Mayor. In “Different Distances,” a father falls down [metaphorical] wells, digs holes in the backyard using a metal detector, paints black holes, opens manhole covers and longs for darkness. “Crystal Castles” takes the form of holes, bifurcating into a long, two-columned text, with one column retelling the story of Baby Jessica who fell down the well, and the other chronicling the Atari-playing, Creeley-plagiarizing mole she meets there.

In the final story of the collection, “Some Kirkpatricks,” a vignette of images of tombstones with the name Kirkpatrick and imagined obituaries behind these deaths, the reader begins to meditate upon the subterranean histories over which one walks, the sinewy narratives lurking beneath the surface. Each gravestone acts an aperture to an impossibly irrecoverable story.

While the idea of holes pockmarks Kirkpatrick’s moonscape collection, the stories seem to also be conceptually interested in language as a type of hole—not only Kirkpatrick’s language specifically, but as language as having intrinsically sub-terrestrial properties. For example, in “Pennsylvania,” a story composed of a constellation of objects, each word is not merely representative of that object, but a vertiginous plummet beyond the textual substrate and into the domestic Pennsylvanian landscape. In My Life, Lyn Heijinian writes, “But a word is a bottomless pit. It became magically pregnant and one day split open, giving birth to a stone egg, about as big as a football.” In Light Without Heat, the reader falls into the wrenching, blackhole of language.

For Kirkpatrick, words seem to act as apertures, holes through which light travels. In “Light Without,” about an orderly who switches babies at the hospital where he works, and a woman who shoplifts magazines from 7-Eleven, photoshopping her face into the pictures, and returns them, cosmic light sears throughout the story. “A photograph,” Kirkpatrick writes, “is light.” Throughout, we fall through a beautiful chiaroscuro of darkness and illumination; grounding and freefall; loneliness and another’s fingertips.

MEILLASSOUX’S MALLARME: THE FINITUDE OF INFINITE CHANCE

by Impossible Mike

The Number and the Siren
by Quentin Meillassoux
Urbanomic/Sequence Press, May 2012
306pp. / £16.99/$25.95
Buy from Urbanomic or Sequence

Meillassoux made a major splash in the world of contemporary philosophy with the publication (and more specifically, the English language translation) of his pivotal work, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. Ostensibly launching a new realm of thought organized between the titles of “speculative realism” and beyond, the book posited the idea that, despite what the last few centuries of philosophy has decided, there is a world that can and indeed has existed outside of any phenomenological experience of it; to assume that the world is dependent upon the humans who inhabit it ignores the idea that the world turns whether or not we, as humans, exist on it. And to do so it meticulously examines how this is possible with what have been traditionally described as the hard sciences; math, physical science, geology, etc.

The Number and the Siren, on the other hand, turns away from the world and instead focuses on a singular work of poetry that already has a hold over the 20th and 21st centuries—that of Mallarmé’s game changing Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard. Mallarmé’s poem has been an insistent staple in the development of poetry since its publication, but Meillassoux’s approach to the work is both unique and, truly, astounding. When considering the diegesis of a work of literature, we look at a book as its own internal world, in some modes of thought as a self-contained entity oblivious to the outside. This is both an often short-sighted AND revelatory method of reading a text.

Meillassoux’s study, breaking from the general studies and understandings of Mallarmé’s brilliant poem, posits that the poem itself can literally be deciphered, that meaning exists not exclusively in the blatant language or form of the poem itself, but rather that meaning is embedded, coded, within the work. Consider the first line of the book’s conclusion, “Thus, modernity triumphed and we did not know it.” And now, having read that, consider what that line means—the entire trajectory of contemporary literature after modernism, having more or less taken, as its launching point, the failure of modernity and how we can surpass that failure, as a futility. If modernity itself triumphed, instead of failing, and we just didn’t notice, the state of literature right now is clearly outside of the position it would be in otherwise, had we as readers noticed the turns that Mallarmé, in his secret genius, realized.

The great narratives of modernity, posited by other thinkers, from Marx to Hugo to Zola, all of these have failed. And this is so, this is a fact. But if Mallarmé’s grand narrative, outside of the humanist insistence brought about by the aforementioned authors (and a whole catalog more), has secretly succeeded, then the nature of this grand narrative, of course, is essential. And so, by deciphering Mallarmé’s text, this is what Meillassoux sets out to show.

The narrative level of Mallarmé’s poem, very apparent from the poem itself on a surface level (even explicated in its title), of course examines the ideas of infinite chance. Meillassoux says, “How to struggle against infinte chance with a throw of dice if all results amount to the same—that is to say, to its infinity, to its equal absence of sense in perfect verse and in mediocre verse?” And thus is the narrative that Mallarmé seeks to explicate. His idea of the total book, explored in prose fragments before the completion of his master poem, posit this sort of infinite totality found within the book, the Book as life, beyond art, beyond the idea of a total art work, but of life itself.

What’s interesting about Meillassoux’s study is not that he manages to decipher the poem and concludes with such a banalized note of grandiosity (which is a stunning literary move in its own right), but rather that the steps Meillassoux takes to demonstrate to us, as readers, his solution, are exciting. The structure of this book, which could deftly become a chore under less articulated means, composes what is read as a sort of suspense0filled mystery novel, only the speculative nature of the events being looked at have a larger result than that, simply, of narrative.

Despite my regular preaching that “spoilers” are irrelevant when considering the value of a book or movie (narrative, let’s say), I find myself insistently wanting to avoid actually revealing how exactly Meillassoux does this, as the experience of reading the book, at a personal level, brought me a new level of glee, a sort of insistent jouissance—I literally would start giggling on the BART as a new turn was taken, and while it might seem absurd the pleasure of this book matches its overarching success. And with that, I will leave in the silent futility of our hidden modernity’s greatly successful grand narrative.

A Voice of Leaving: Renee Gladman’s The Ravickians

by Nicholas Grider

The Ravickians
by Renee Gladman
Dorothy Project, 2011
168 pages / $16  Buy from Dorothy Project or SPD

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second volume of a trilogy of novels exploring the crumbling, war-torn imaginary country of Ravicka, The Ravickians is less an exploration of the people and culture of Ravicka than it is a breathtaking book-length meditation on loss. The book moves through what it means to be lost, to get lost, to lose connection with your fellow humans and surroundings. This is all done in a brief novel divided into three parts: 1) a first person account of a day spent wandering by The Great Ravickian Novelist Luswege Amini; 2) a poetry reading that same day given by Amini friend Zäoter Limici; and 3) 52 pages in twelve sections of unascribed dialogue spoken during a night out in the broken down capitol city of Ravicka that includes Amini, Limici, other writer colleagues and some new characters not mentioned earlier in the text.

This may sound somewhat disjointed or tough, especially the dialogue, and even given Gladman’s clear plain prose some of the dialogue is impossible to follow, but all of it is tied together through Gladman’s constant complex return to absence and loss. And it’s not just different kinds of loss or absence experienced by Amini in the novel’s longest segment but loss as intimate as a loss of words that shutters a conversation between strangers or as widescreen as the violent destruction of architecture. Architecture is a more readily apparent ongoing concern than loss in the book–characters are obsessed with the architecture of Ravicka, write about it, and define themselves against it–but the surface play of dwelling on the decaying infrastructure of Ravicka is less important than loss when it comes to an idea and an act revisited again and again in the text as story and as performance. I’ll get to “performance” in a second but first, as story, loss dominates both the day narrated by Amini and the writing in the poems presented in the novel’s second part. One example of a two-fold loss happens when Amini visits a local bookstore she likes only to discover that, in the alphabetized bookstore, all of section A is missing, allegedly sold to a collector. Since Amini’s books fall under A this is a loss for both her and the bookstore, one she wonders at:

When there is so little left you do not give it all to one; you fight to keep that thing in the mainstream. What could be worth that kind of sacrifice, literally ridding your house of its first step? My upbringing prevented me from asking [the bookseller] though Hans read the accusation on my face. “It will come back,” he stammered.

Nothing comes back as itself.

Loss gets encountered by Amini throughout the first section, and maybe the most compelling section is when she loses herself, purposely, boarding a train with no destination in mind and riding it until the last stop, then wandering into a large field of tall grass, lying down, and losing herself to sleep. And it isn’t so much that Gladman is trying to present a thesis about loss as absence is refracted through the prism of the three-part book.  Another important loss is the loosening of a decades-long relationship between Amini and Ana Patova, a relationship now mostly conducted by a courier who brings Amini messages in languages she cannot decipher. There are more examples, but you get the idea; the pleasure of reading this book isn’t in its characters or story but in how Gladman keeps returning to loss in dozens of interlocking ways.

As for performance: the second and third parts of the book are performances by Gladman and her characters that give a voice to the loss Amini encounters during her wandering.  In the second section, poet Limici reads muted, oblique elegies to the loss of buildings and monuments:

Here Gladman’s meditation on loss is echoed by Limici’s writings, a voice through which Gladman can re-write a fictive/poetic text in another voice. What Amini experiences in the first section gets rendered into poetry and delivered, performed on the page.

It’s the final section of the book, though, that’s at once both the most frustrating and the most audacious, compelling, and by the end of the book terrifying. At first, because the dialogue is completely unascribed it becomes clear who’s lost: you, the reader. This works great as a concept but doesn’t initially seem like enough to justify over 50 pages of stuff like this:

-You’ve awakened Z
-No, Ana Patova, I have not been sleeping
-The sun cheese speaks to him
-All this night I have had intense horizontal energy
-And this table is on the verge of dissolve
-And we are
-And this is

At first this may seem daunting but eventually the partial or minor losses of the character’s lives re-enter the book in a massive, chilling way that they can barely comprehend, much less articulate, and are helpless to do anything about but bear witness.  This is all Amini and Limici can ultimately do, and it’s also all you can do as the book progresses more by accumulation than by narrative arc.  The novel and the various things that happen in it are so expertly laid out by Gladman and so compelling moment by moment that even if you might have to have patience to fit the different fragments of loss and language together, it’s a novel whose theme and variations are worth bearing witness to.

I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone

by Carrie Lorig

I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone
by Thomas Patrick Levy
YesYes Books, 2012
100 pages / $16  Buy from YesYes Books or SPD

 

 

 

 

 

I love a book about you and I. I’m not always convinced there’s anything else. One of my favorite pigeons of love, Raul Zurita, speaks in his book, Song for His Disappeared Love, of how impossibly big you and I can mean to each other, and yet, he emphasizes over and over how you and Ialways seem like they are on the heart twisting brink of falling apart in their own mouths. “Now the entire universe is you and I minus you and I / After the blows ended, we moved a bit and destroyed I was / only one you felt come closer” (6). What a cloth house we all are when we try to together/two gather. I’m never sure if we’re standing up or collapsing with love. I think it is going to have to be both ways if we’re actually going to climb much of anywhere. At any given point in Thomas Patrick Levy’s book, I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Aloneyou and I are at different distances from each other, at different points of collapsing or standing with huge love. They reek of the empowered fragility that Zurita tries to illuminate for us. Levy puts you and I in cornfield after cornfield. He puts you and I next to corn-infused products and corn-infused foods and watches you and I squirm full of kernels (Why, oh why, aren’t there more glorious poems involving the most American of foods, corn?). His you and I struggle often in the house and in the bedroom of the house before they get dropped down the front of Scarlet Johansson’s dress. Hisyou and I wake up on an island for the third time and they smell like the different kinds of cars they ride in. You and I make strange, domestic circles around each other, they sometimes touch. They sometimes speak despite all the leafy prose swaying between them.

I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone is divided into seven individually titled sections. Throughout the seven sections, the you gently morphs and shape shifts, though it seems that it is a feminine presence changing into different (perhaps even just different shades of the same) female presence(s). “I know you are an empty dress on the floor” (Iowa, 23). The poems are paragraph shaped and vary in size. Levy would not even have to call them poems if he didn’t want to. There is a kind of blood moving inside the paragraph shaped pieces of text that feels like poetry, though, (utilizing a sense of serious play as a method of looking at the self, howling, calling out, images, images all twisted up and choked on) and read aloud, the paragraphs have a strong, sinewy rhythm. There are also breaks in line/numbers of lines in some of the paragraphs that feel thoughtfully considered and intended.

“Hold me when nothing is safe. My sweatshirt is
a bulletproof vest.  I carry two knives. Nothing
is secure “(Hold Me Harmless, 41).

The I moves and considers its weight throughout the text mostly via its internal conflicts and concerns. It flails and worries about its desire to love hard, loves hard anyway, and remains just as unsure about its ability to do so.

“I watch the brown clouds come over us like
a rough sweater and know that it will hurt deep
into my chest and you will hurt too, your body
crumbling” (Iowa, 21).

I don’t just like the shivers and rumbles, but how much the I seems to do so, not only out towards the world of the you, but in towards itself. The I seems as equally invested in addressing itself honestly as it does the you. When is trying to navigate for real love not this strange and hard on your lungs?

“I say I AM PRECISE. I touch the neck of the
steering column. I laugh to myself, folded like
a gerbil. I touch your thigh which trembles
with your bones. I’m trying to sand this down,
dropping each telescope into the grass…” (A More Perfect Archway, 101).

The intensity of this staring creates echoes of both pain and ecstasy that flood and layer the text, water that gets sopped into the long brown carpet I sometimes imagined the voices of the book standing on. This is why this book gives us so many poems, and why when the speakers do speak, their words are done up in capitals. The spoken bits cut through all the good and bad fats of the imagination and the mind. Their bigness represents exactly how much it takes to try and speak to each other, how much it could mean if the voice did fail. “I ask you and you say NOTHING” (AMPA, 112).

What gives me pause, in other words, what I’m still working through, is the section, “Please Don’t Leave Me Scarlett Johansson,” a portion of the book that was a chapbook put out by YesYes Books prior to this full version. I like pauses. I like when one part of a book forces me to reconsider how I’m digesting the whole. The presence of a Scarlett Johansson takes the unattainable you to a whole other level of unattainable-ness. She’s a celebrity, one that is, as Woody Allen says within this section, “SEXUALLY OVERWHELMING” (PDLMSJ, 57). A presence of this kind gives the reader a clarity about you that the rest of the book doesn’t feel obligated to divulge. I immediately understand something about Scarlett Johansson and “who she is,” given the magazine covers and films that utilize her image/”personality” within our culture.  The reader and the I, paradoxically, understand that there is something potentially “uncrossable” about the distance between the I and Scarlett Johansson. (The lack of punctuation in this section, for some reason, even reminds me of a slack-jawed awe mouth, unable to remember how to stop and go sentences.) There’s a stripe of lightness and humor present in this section, and what Woody Allen says above (along with some other lines) convinced me that Levy is pushing the sense of play here, more than reveling in some kind nutrient lacking male gaze. What I was left with was trying to figure out what was different here, and thinking, “Is there something different here?” I thought I noticed, in the beginning of the section, that the narrator seemed more hesitant to touch this you/Scarlett. The I doesn’t rub algae into the pores of her skin, the I just says that it wants to (46). However, by the end, the distance seemed more crossable, like the I would push through whatever world or universe it encounters to try and understand and celebrate all the angles of its longing with tender yelps. “I have to take your wounded little hand outside in the hot / evening and cover it with dirt and say that sad / little prayer that ends IN THE JAIL OF YOUR ARMS” (PDLMSJ, 66) The I needs to try to see the you, every shade it may have, with every fiber its eyes have. While doing so, the I gets stuck in all the love and pain Zurita says is betweenyou and I. The I flails to reach the youYou and I connect, they miss, they keep crawling. They grin with their broken faces.

I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone is a lovely book, one whose rows and rows I enjoyed crawling through belly first. Go and scrap yourself against it.

Analysis of War on a Lunchbreak

by Nicky Tiso

War on a Lunchbreak 
by Ana Bozicevic
Belladonna Material Lives Chaplet Series, #137
Belladonna Collaborative, 2011
17 pages / $4.00 each; $6.00 signed   Buy from Belladonna
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Croatian-American poet Ana Bozicevic’s new Belladonna chaplet, War on a Lunchbreak, is a short, intense collection both carefully and carelessly written, working against the confines of time in an always clocked-in environment, where we can’t afford to lyricize.

“I’d like to have time to type this,
but all day long they’re looking over my shoulder.
I dofeel sorry for them. What’s it like
to care so much? Talking morning and night
to a proctor-god, tidy your toy box before bed:
to get degrees, have interests —
is that the anti-war?” (7)

I love this: writing about not having the time to write, and so positioning the poem as a reclamation of stolen time, founded in its own impossibility, embodying its own disembodiment. That is to say she completes the poem stealthily under the panoptic gaze of the boss, the clock, and so performs what French social theorist Michel de Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life(University of California Press 1984) calls “la perruque”—“the worker’s own work being performed at the place of employment under the disguise of work for the boss. Nothing of value is stolen; what is taken advantage of is time” (Weidemann 2000). Bozicevic’s work speaks to this need to write in a society that has no need for poetry, and negatively appropriates the surveillance-productivist logic of our laboring culture into the content of the poem, informing us of the circumstance both preventing and, thru la perruque, producing the poem.

 

“I travel to sing my song that there is no song 
 About my bombed body as the site of abandonment” (9)

Woe to Whitman’s “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” for not anticipating the “casual terror and pain” of being gendered, where the female in Greek mythology is so often “that white herd of cows / gliding like brides / to the small green island in the middle,” where they will be spectacularly raped. With Bozicevic, the “I” ironically identifies with these archetypes, liquidated into brand names for capitalism, and offers no definitive moral closure on any such reconciliation between her and mass culture. It does, however, leave one overall uplifted, with the sense of an ultimately loving sentiment behind the poem, wanting to form a private to public connection by way of confession.

Throughout the collection the poet’s voice unpredictably turns on itself, glides into pastoral melodies—the motif of the apple ripening—and then on a whim more of dissociation than caprice, is seized by violence and cynicism— “the other dark pearl earring.”

I should say here she’s no anti-Whitman, no pure uppity downer, but an interrogator of such politics as his poems suggest, from the standpoint of a (post)feminist confronting, with no lack of sass, her imagined audience— “difficult adult bambies” (lol):

“Oh I’m too tired to worship at your kittenish emptiness.
For years my emptiness echoed into yours: Oh Hai!
For years I’ve been your pony, and I wanted to fuck you 

without your pink dress, the glitter and the organs,
all colorless—”

Moods of revenge, jealousy, and lust—perhaps an outrage that we’ve been manipulated into finding such culture attractive—turn into a dream that’s hollow but still arousing. Meanwhile deep consciousness images and meditations on Nature (di Prima) lead us into more elemental and empowering territory, where the spirit finds itself in the earth: the body and the mind as one. However, how such a spirit is embodied in reality when in a marginalized social position (as woman, immigrant, lesbian, commodity, wage-laborer, etc.) is a constant negotiation, something Bozicevic does both callously and carefully with exquisite limberness.

Belladonna Chaplet #137 is published in an edition of 126–26 of which are numbered and signed by the author in commemoration of her performance with Caroline Crumpacker and a screening of The Poetry Deal, Melanie La Rosa’s film about Diane di Prima on September 13, 2011 at Dixon Place.
Belladonna is an event and publication series that promotes the work of women writers who are adventurous, experimental, politically involved, multi-form, multi-cultural, multi-gendered, impossible to define, delicious to talk about, unpredictable, dangerous with language.

***

Work Cited: Weidemann, Jason. Some Words on de Certeau. The University of Minnesota, 2000. Web. 9 May 2012.

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An earlier version of this review originally appeared at http://nickytiso.blogspot.com/.

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Nicky Tiso received his BA in English from The Evergreen State College in 2010. He recently finished an internship with Siglio Press, a new, independent press in Los Angeles dedicated to publishing uncommon books that live at the intersections of art and literature. He’s about to move to Minneapolis to attend The University of Minnesota’s MFA program. He blogs atnickytiso.blogspot.com.

Psycho Dream Factory

by August Evans

Psycho Dream Factory
by Caroline Picard
holon press, 2011
111 pgs / $20  Buy from The Paper Cave

 

 

 

 

 
In line at the grocery store Shiloh perches in Angelina’s arms and Whitney Houston is dead. Celebrity eyelids: collated rainbows. All the flesh slick, like paper money.

      Celebrity

millions upon millions upon millions of images of Marilyn

                        Monroe:

 

 

 

her absence.

Psycho Dream Factory sat in a prominent area of my home for most of winter so I could see it because it’s beautiful.

One page is a glossy, hot pink. On it, Mark Fisher, author of Capitalist Realism:

“If memory disorder provides a compelling analogy for the glitches in capitalist realism, the model for its smooth functioning would be dreamwork.”

One morning in December I took the book off the table and brought it down to the floor. On my knees I opened it. A slip of paper tumbled out: white postcard bleating sleek, black, hyper-large:

I placed the notecard back in the book and returned it to its place on the table. January, February. I continued passing the book as I passed through my home, thinking about the notecard and the cover. In late March, I carried the book to my kitchen table, opened it:

I closed the book, turned to a page at random, saw:

Before the post-modern man could write the rape scene, he wrote about Penelope’s unweaving. He had to let himself undo himself before submitting to violence.

He sat at a desk in a train car apartment with a collared shirt. His sleeves rolled up. He wrote looking back. His hands shook with effort.

Penelope watched him from where she sat, in the past.

Psycho Dream Factory is a special size, larger than a standard paperback and smaller than a magazine. Static between expectations.

_____________

In celluloid there is always mourning, Lily Robert-Foley writes in her introduction to Caroline Picard’s 2011 release from Holon Press, an artist run imprint of Chicago-based Green Lantern Press. Picard and other artists founded the non-profit press, focused on bridging contemporary experience with historical form.

The first piece in Psycho Dream Factory, “P/oar : An Origin Story,” begins with Odysseus wandering the Mediterranean, placing women “in respect to himself”:

Being that they lived in a time of peace and prosperity, the only course of business was the marriage of Helen.

So long as he can marry Penelope, Odysseus agrees to assist in the finding of Helen a husband.

Odysseus awards Helen to Agamemnon; everyone claps.

Odysseus slits the belly of a horse, entrails “later, a prophet would examine.”

Odysseus watches the organs spill to the ground, a sign of the suitors’ virtue.

“P/oar” then cuts to the famous patient, “HD, (formerly Hilda Dolittle),” stomach-cramped before a silent Freud, speaking unrelated phrases from the examining couch.

Later, a post-modern man appears. Tacked beside his desk is a photograph of Marilyn Monroe. Her waxy eyes watch him write a novel he will never finish:

The Spartans never lost a war some say because they were a democracy some say because they were warriors some say because they had nothing to steal—

they preferred to eat dry bread and drink water and go shoeless and wear burlap—some say they never lost a war because they never thought of anything as anyone’s own some say—

They got something with Helen.

Return to HD and Freud, on the way to Greece in a passenger boat, where she tells him:

“At an exact moment, by clock time, on an exact map, on the way to the Pillars of Hercules, on a boat that was bound for the port of Athens, there was a ‘crossing the line.’ I, the narrator of this story, did not know I had crossed the line.”

And then:

_____._____.______.

Helen drugged the man as she’d beaten the goat.

Repossessed after the way, she had returned a quiet woman with sleeping potions.

Next, the story’s last paragraph, where letters go missing:

In Penelope’s wandering tapestry, she sp n a room fu l of flax, we v ng the f ax of h r hair into the tap st y, she spuns cr t pas sage, t oughts, she s p un the wo an raped by a sw n he spun the co rse of her v sions she sp n a g olden ap le, her s cr t contempl tive life…

Words crack the page and spill spatial, grammatical yolk. Penelope, in her linguistic incoherence, wanders her own eccentric route at last, absent of husband Odysseus. Emptying of letters, the words on the page go gap, fissure, dysjunct.

Psycho Dream Factory opens into eleven more stories. About Woody Allen, Soon-Yi. Charles Darwin‟s turtle, Harriet. Yoko Ono. The e-bay woman who sells serums of her DNA. Dre. James Franco. More mythology. Bolkonsky and Russian soldiers of 1812.

In “Car Crash,” “time occurred out of synch.” A young boy’s last smells are both bodily and consumer: merge of earth-shit with leather-air freshener.

Art and life bleed in these stories in the way celebrity culture reflects contemporary art.

Picard invokes this mirroring at the end of Psycho Dream Factory, in a Coda. It is here that a story like “P/oar” gongs beside a piece like “Human Furniture,” where celebrity icon Bruno, unemployed “in the aftermath of his film,” is compared to “American Apparel starlets who submit to the photographic gaze of The Boss.”

Picard calls for a new way of contextualizing the current celebrity system:

Just as the Copernican revolution did nothing to change the physical conditions in which we live, it nevertheless had a drastic impact on human identity that then led to a tremendous shift in values. Perhaps here too the solution is not a rejection of the current system, but rather a new orientation with which to contextualize it.

Picard invokes Maya Deren’s The Divine Horsemen, a film in which “the action of addition indelibly transforms the original units.”

2 + 2 = 5           2 + 2 + 2 = 8           2 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 11

Picard knows our participation in contemporary culture is inevitable. We can all relate to the celebrity desire for success and recognition, and their provocative promises of permanence and stability.

Deren’s additive principle provides a strategy to satiate the narcissistic playground of celebrity in which we are all entrenched, beside our tabloid headlines and candy bars and humming fridges of Vitamin Water.

Like the historically transcendent pieces in Psycho Dream Factory, we might live in this “veneer of cultural product and dissemination” in a way that deprives it of its consumptive power by performing our own work of flattening. By perceiving the cracked-ing surface of celebrity, the constant flux becomes static-transcendent.

Perhaps then the key lies in focusing our attention elsewhere: studying the blurred, interstitiary matter between categorical selves.

Picard concludes with a call for a “robust and generally uncelebrated life—not the wizened fool sitting by the river, but a modest cousin who bakes bread for family and friends.”

And so we might glean a fissure in the pervasive cloak of the image factory haunting us in grocery lines and on billboards, this “illusion that something, or someone, can be simplified and projected onto a surface.” In recognizing these dangerous illusions, Picard calls for an interstitial transcendence. Surfaces without depth, empty of consequence or complexity, we might see a partial self. A self to be supplemented. “A new means to measure success.”

***

August Evans thinks long and hard about that wild sound. http://augustevans.blogspot.com/.

We Bury the Landscape

by Peter Tieryas Liu

We Bury the Landscape
by Kristine Ong Muslim
Queen’s Ferry Press, April 2012
168 pages / $12.95  Buy from Queen’s Ferry Press or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 
If for one minute, I got lost in the galleries of Kristine Ong Muslim’s mind, I don’t know if I’d ever be able to leave. We Bury the Landscape is a collection of one-hundred ekphrastic works of flash fiction and prose poetry pieces that act as glimpses— better yet— conduits, into parallel universes constructed and inspired by a surreal, but brilliant, forge of one-hundred unique paintings. Visceral is a word that gets overused. But in this case, the text leaps off the pages, claws it ways onto your bones, gnaws and tears and embeds itself inside the cavities of your brain. Many of the stories are short and can be quickly read, but each of them lingers hauntingly as in, “The Taxidermist and the Girl Made of Dead Things:”

Something grew from the bruises and open wounds on their skin. Something with hands and eyes and a tongue and swollen lips. Something that would not complain when subjected to pain. Could not be killed by sharp objects or radiation. Something that would not break free.

It’s a fitting analogy for many of the stories that inhabit the collection. The prose is both blunt and subtle, sometimes making a strategic strike to draw you in, other times, setting up a premise that will be contorted around. “The Village of the Mermaids,” is a good example, starting with a description of Paul Delvaux’s work of the same name:

The golden-haired girls of this village do not blink. Their stoic gazes can be mistaken for either stubbornness or guilt.

The women seem harmless enough. But as most great paintings have texture, layers that can be stripped away (both physically and artistically), there are hidden themes that insinuate and dig their way in. These expose not just a tattered moment in dissolute time, but a peep show into the artist in relation to her subject. The curtain gets shredded and Muslim introduces her own twisted slant on the Village:

One of them sometimes forget to turn off the stove. One is hiding a body under the floorboards. One of them is indecisive regarding her will to die. One is blind and faking a vacant stare.

Every character has a secret, something buried in the landscape. Uncovering the deeper insight, or burying it under more layers, is in many ways the plight of humanity. We struggle for meaning, chase after idols while losing sight of the overall geography. The truth is an admirable goal as long as it’s someone else’s skeletons being revealed. As, “Abandoned Dwellings,” the piece that has the line from which the collection gets its name, explains:

We travel light, and everywhere we go, there’s an entire universe of abandoned dwellings.

Each of the one-hundred stories is an abandoned dwelling that deserves exploration; that dilapidated shack on the corner as well as the skyscraper crumbling from years of recession, smelling of spray paint, piss, and homeless eclectics. It’s a question of introspection, the honesty to be candid with oneself, to delve into the attics and basements we’d all willingly forget. The darker properties resonated with me personally, but there are happier dwellings in the lot as in, “Rain of Men:”

It poured men that day. From afar, they looked the same, although some had mustaches. Or cigars in their mouths. Or even stained teeth.

And one particular line I appreciated in, “What Better Lure,” was:

A man in a gray suit watches his future unroll: … And there in the middle is a framed architectural plan, the rough sketch of a wonderful life that remains unfinished

Many of the stories seem like they could go on, a tantalizing preview to which Muslim invites the reader and then quickly proceeds, an artist in full control of the pace of her show. Any gallery undergoes countless hours of debate, which angles to highlight, which portraits to under-light or flood with electricity. Some of the images are disturbing and had me squirming uncomfortably in my seat. It’s never an easy task to ask to recreate the feeling of writhing anguish. But Muslim gives us that and something more; empathy for the characters she weaves. No matter how horrifying a creation, there’s an air of melancholy, even pity to their actions. The greatest artists and writers are the best psychologists, and each of the profiles contained within the book can be expanded into a journey, epic, bizarre, gleefully strange.

In, “The Collage Artist,” we get an idea for Muslim’s role as curator:

With her veiny hands, she scissored each red-paper cutout to fit the frame, adorned it with torn-up maps and split-ended strands of hair. She juxtaposed familiar objects with strange terrains. Patched-up lonely hearts on canvas, grattage on the right edge to simulate texture.

I’m still wandering the gallery of Kristine Ong Muslim’s mind. I just reread the, “Boy With a Propeller Head,” and wish I could fly away with a propeller of my own sticking out of my head. I want to discourse with, “The Great Architect,” based on Salvador Dali’s Surrealist Architecture. The rooms intertwine, a labyrinthine maze of recurring enigmas. I look at the paintings accentuated by centuries of movements, use We Bury the Landscape as guide to navigate. I’m lost, but then again, I’m in no hurry to leave. A painting is sucking me into the canvas. Don’t worry. Just bury me with all the others.

***

Peter Tieryas Liu has stories that have recently appeared in Bartleby Snopes, the Evergreen Review, the Indiana Review, and Punchnel’s. His collection of short stories, Watering Heaven, is coming out in the fall of 2012 from Signal 8 Press. You can follow him at: www.tieryasxu.com