refuse reality, live forever.
refuse reality, live forever.
This post on Black Girl Dangerous is really important, not only within the realm of, you know, existing as a human being (which, hello, it is), but also should be accounted for within the realm of publishing. Points 4 & 5 seem especially relevant, as the sort of things that tend to get thrown-back in response when someone/something gets called out for publishing something that only has contributions from straight white males.
Sun Ra + Ayé Aton: Space, Interiors and Exteriors, 1972
By John Corbett
PictureBox Inc, April 2013
112 Pages, $27.50 | Buy from PictureBox
Opening with several candid shots of Sun Ra donning full afro-futurist regalia in Oakland, filming the quintessential Space is the Place, Space, Interiors and Exteriors, 1972 finds Sun Ra himself in the foreground. An interesting choice, really, due to the fact that a large majority of the book focuses on Ayé Aton’s murals, painted primarily on the walls of Chicago’s south-side in the early 70s. But this choice makes sense, as the brief essay included in the book lets us know, as it was the overpowering figure of Sun Ra that brought a focus to Aton’s work.
Aton, who became a correspondent of Sun Ra in the early 60s (shortly after Ra moved to New York City), eventually joined the Arkestra, touring and recording with Ra during the Ra’s most significant span of recording, the years 1972-1974, when his most well-known album records was recorded, Space is the Place. Aton & Ra’s correspondence, in the beginning, was a mentorship. Aton’s curiosity towards many afrocentric esotericisms finding, if not answers, at least a response in Sun Ra (to see the breadth of the information that Ra poured into his philosophy, take note of this syllabus from a class Ra taught at UC Berkeley in the early 70s [as an aside: the environment of Berkeley where Sun Ra could teach a class like this is so far distanced from the current reality of UC Berkeley that it's astounding], as recounted “by Arkestra drummer, Samurai Celestial, and others.”
Two brief essays in the book present this biographical (this mythical) information before treating the reader to a gallery of Aton’s murals, photographed, often obliquely, on Polaroid film in Instant film has never been the most archival film available; in these Polaroids it’s clear that colors have faded, that the precision of the film’s chemical reactions, etc, is far from precise. The material degradation adds a level of entropy to the aura the images create. While the introduction asks us to imagine rooms where entire walls are painted with fluorescent paint, the Polaroids reveal rough gestures in muted colors. With time everything fades.
But the suggestion, the consideration, is a fascinating one. As another essay points out, none of the photographs of Aton’s murals depict people in front of them, they are isolated in space, often even destabilized away from their position on walls, embedded in the flatness of the picture plane. In the late 1950s Sun Ra started calling his music “space music” because ” the music allowed him to translate his experience of the void of space into a language people could enjoy and understand” (Wikipedia). With these photos, the viewer is floating in a void of colors long faded. The dream is dead, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find most of these murals either painted over or felled with buildings during destruction.
My favorite mural, documented by a square Polaroid stamped with the month of “January” but bearing no year, finds a ram’s head above four staggering lines of grey, set within a large silver/white star-burst, across a field of pinks and oranges with black accents carrying through the field. The nothingness of the image plane is violated by a minor intrusion: that of a golden chandelier, hanging from a white ceiling. The reality of the murals becomes uncanny. This is a step towards a necessary mysticism, used by Ra and others to strive towards freedom, borrowing Egyptian symbols and steeping them in Biblical revisionism, a reality that allows the oppressed a sense of revolution. Space is the place, space is the place. The field turns into colors and every man and woman is wearing a costume that disorients. It’s after the end of the world–don’t you know that yet?
In 1968, Kenneth Anger visited the great pyramids of Egypt with a cavalcade of junkies, musicians, artists, and magicians. Costumes were brought. Anger’s greatest film, Lucifer Rising was filmed. Problems followed. The film eventually was released and has been recognized for its brilliance. Sun Ra, on the other hand, refuses to just make his film. The costumes were part of life. Life was revolutionary and within this revolt there was a refined aesthetic insistence. Aton’s murals carry this aesthetic insistence further, into the banalized reality of those who don’t have the freedom to live in Sun Ra’s world permanently. The murals serve as a reminded.
I like giving readings. I like going to readings if I’m familiar with the reading series and know that it will consist of something other than someone monotonously droning on for 20 minutes while I desperately consider what the best time to slip out of the room for a piss is. I like when readings, whether they’re poetry or prose or whatever, have some sort of performative element. When I give a reading, most of the time I like to introduce a performative element. There’s a dual purpose to this: 1) When I’m an audience member, I generally prefer a reading include a performative element. It’s more exciting. I don’t think this is inherently a method used to “cover up” a text–because a text is just that, it’s a text. The experience of reading something & hearing something read out loud is a totally different experience. 2) When I’m a reader, it’s more exciting for me to do something performative than to just simply read, though occasionally circumstances dictate this. Though I’ve discovered there are multiple ways to be performative at a reading, and I feel like I’m discovering new techniques all the time.
Anyway, here are some of my favorite readings I’ve done recently in various environs:
all your peach-noir-pink
pouring it into me
If it’s dark enough
dream time dawn colored enough
Yes, looking at you now is like waking up from the dream
with the bottle of crème de menthe still in my hand
But a bad morning is a bitter morning
in your mouth is the taste of chickory to me
If before you go
would you wake up again?
Wake up like a Will Cotton
framed in gold, yawning
but when I call you a Will Cotton
try not to open your mouth please
When I call you a Will Cotton
I am telling you that in the morning
around half-past ten
you look like a 17th century Dutch still-life to me
with your peach languor perversely
idling without end
or if at the end
you and your eggs Florentine
or if at the end
only a bunch of silly papers
. . . . and the glass of orange juice next to the eggs Florentine . . . .
If you are a white elephant, they say, then you are actually naturally pink
. . . . . . . . . But if you are a glass rinsed with bitters, then filled with gin . . .
by Nicole Brossard
translated by Robert Majzels and Erin Moure
Coach House Books, March 2013
112 pages / $15.95 Buy from Coach House Press
I first read Nicole Brossard’s White Piano almost two months ago. Without a doubt I was struck by it, it carried a heavy feeling, a sort of pleasure in its musicality, its language, the space that the pages throughout the book suggest. As such, I was struck with only this feeling, without much to come to in terms of words with which I could discuss it. It’s lingered, this feeling, in my head, through my body, and its created a desire to attempt to express, in some capacity, what it is within the book that I find notable, powerful, pleasurable.
This is not a new feeling to me when it comes to poetry. Despite my incessant readings on poetics, despite the fact that I devour huge amounts of poetry, I can barely ever articulate what it is that’s moving me. The feeling I get after reading good poetry is similar to a sort of visceral reaction that can be present after really good sex, or maybe a really intense roller coaster; the way the water of the ocean feels washing over you when the sun is out and there’s a warmth in the air, this reality of being overcome–almost a sort of satisfaction. This bodily response is inherently against language, of course, and when Blanchot writes over and over again that the writing of the disaster, that “[neither] the sun, nor the universe helps us, except through images, to conceive of a system of exchanges so marked by loss that nothing therein would hold together and that the inexchangeable would no longer be caught and defined in symbolic terms.” There is a futility in the desire to re-create a language based experience in language.
I find it also near impossible to write about music. Poetry isn’t music, though there are certain similarities, and these similarities shine through a level of affect, this bodily heaviness, this feeling that refuses semantic indulgence.
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and how to eclipse the object
like the spatial configuration of what it means to be in love
do you want to learn how to float
[Samuel Beckett // Ill Seen Ill Said // Nohow On]
GOOD DAY TODAY: David Lynch Destabilises the Spectator
By Daniel Neofetou
Zero Books, 2012
93 Pages, $14.95 (buy it at Amazon)
The initial conceit of Neofetou’s Good Day Today is one that I inherently agree with, and one that I think should be considered in larger terms of not only film studies, but an understanding of how to watch movies in general. As a theoretical construct it was first introduced to me in Cinema and Sensation: French Film and the Art of Transgression by Martine Beugnet, a brilliant study of affect found in the mileu of the “new french extremity,” the art house mavericks Bruno Dumont, Philippe Grandrieux, Catherine Breillet, and so on. While Beugnet’s book does lose itself to a final chapter devoted to a Deleuzean study of film & embodiment that, in my opinion, adds nothing to the first two-thirds of the study, overall the book presents and articulates, with careful, pointed examples, what cinema can do for the spectator.
Neofetou’s book, while seemingly not indebted to Beugnet’s book at all (something that I would argue is, in a sense, unfortunate) takes certain theories that have formerly been applied only to experimental (non-narrative) cinema, and looks at David Lynch’s films within this context. His thesis is that these modes of cinema, particularly within the diegetic sway of a narrative & representational film, serve to–as the title would suggest– destabilise, disorient the spectator, the viewer of the film. As such, the book offers a very close reading of a number of Lynch’s films–though the titles of note are, of course, Inland Empire, Lost Highway & Mulholland Drive–& the scenes therein, showing the reader just exactly how Lynch manages to simultaneously play with affect while still insisting upon the “rules” of narrative/figurative/”realist” cinema to the point where when the rules are broken, we are destabilised not because said scene doesn’t make “sense,” but because the scene violates the inherent logic of the film & undermines the authority of an omniscient narrative position.
And the book does this well. Neofetou, throughout the book, takes examples from a number of canonical experimental films (Meshes of the Afternoon, Flaming Creatures, Gidal’s Epilogue) and compares their techniques to the techniques of certain scenes found in Lynch’s films, highlighting both the similarities between the scenes & the differences that arise out of the context of the films as a whole. There’s also a brilliant chapter near the end of the book dedicated to the idea of Lynch’s use of pop-music, absent dialog, and sound, that is a great chapter in its own capacity in looking at the way audio works toward the viewer in a cinematic exegesis.
Another strong point of the book is that within his examination of Lynch as a filmmaker who works with affect more than representation, Neofetou does an excellent job of both rejecting and explaining this rejection of the idea that Lynch’s films are “puzzles” to be solved–closed films where there is a literal solution. This, of course, is ridiculous, and a repeated mode of viewing that I personally find insufferable because, as Neofetou points out that Sontag mentions in her essay Against Interpretation, this mode of viewing “blinds [the spectator] to the work’s sensual facets”.
The book is not perfect, however, and there are two major faults that certainly don’t kill the book, but strike me as perhaps frustrating. The first being a short 7 page look at Lynch’s films through the eyes of the ‘Bechdel Test,’ ultimately considering accusations of Lynch’s films as misogynistic. Unfortunately the chapter ends up sounding apologetic instead of actually engaging with the idea, as its idea loses itself in a self-aware politically correct feedback loop that undermines any sort of look, thus rendering the chapter as blank space in terms of critical thought. I’m curious as to its place in the book, as there are repeated comments regarding Lynch’s ostensible a-political stance.
Which, in a way, leads to my other complaints–the subtitle of the book, the copy on the back, leads one to believe that after introducing (& proving) the idea that Lynch destabilises the spectator, there is little suggested beyond this in the text itself. There are a lot of directions that this could be taken, and the copy suggests that the book will take this idea in the direction that it helps to shake the politically hegemonic mode of representation, which helps to destabilise the idea of binary, simplicity, homogeneity.
By René Daumal
Wakefield Press, April 2012
136 pages, $12.95 (buy it at Wakefield Press)
Rene Daumal is known primarily for his unfinished novel Mount Analogue (which, in ways, was the point of inspiration for Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain) & his novel A Night of Serious Drinking, a narrative examination of issues of reality and spiritualism, set within the never ending halls and floors of a seemingly infinite pub. To others he’s known as a mystic, studying Eastern currents throughout his life; to others he is simply an ex-surrealist, a primo member of le grand jeu; others know him as the rambunctious teenager of A Fundamental Experiment, taking after Rimbaud in a youthful attempt to escape the banality of reality. He was, of course, all of these things. But what seems to most often, perhaps, get overlooked, is Daumal’s position as a ‘pataphysician.
‘Pataphysics, often simply called “the science of imaginary solutions” is a, shall we say, philosophy created (popularized?) by Alfred Jarry at the end of the 19th century. It’s torch has been carried on through the 20th century and into the 21st–publishers Atlas Press being primarily responsible for the publication of the documents of the College of ‘Pataphysics. There is much playfulness present.
Wakefield Press has recently published a collection of Daumal’s essays on ‘pataphysics, and it’s a wonderfully head-scratching collection that perfect sums up the mood of ‘pataphysics.
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You’re one of my favorite directors. You made over 200 films, of which I’ve seen at least 50. Within those fifty films I count some of the most inspiring and entertaining moments of cinema ever, elements of narrative and visual ideas that have crept into my own praxis. I want to celebrate your life for as long as possible.
Project for a Revolution in New York
by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Dalkey Archive, September 2012
183 Pages / $14 (buy it on Amazon)
1. I’ve read all of the fictional novels that Robbe-Grillet published in France between 1955 & 1981, albeit in English, some multiple times, others not. This leaves out only 4 novels proper–the first two (Un Regicide & The Erasers) and the last two (Repetition & A Sentimental Novel). Half of those remaining have yet to receive English translations. This was my second reading of Project for a Revolution in New York.
2. This quantifying, of course, does not include everything else that Robbe-Grillet wrote: a short story collection–Snapshots in English, of interest perhaps only as spelled out examples of the theory set forth in For a New Novel; three “romanesques”, being, for want of a better term, “creative non-fictional” memoirs (only the first of which, Ghosts in the Mirror, has been translated into English–which, admittedly, is a bit of a snooze-fest when compared to the purely fictional novels); thee essay collections, with, once again, only the earliest, For a New Novel, available in English (a really valid collection if one is tired of a standardized canonical/literary fiction); a handful of cine-novels–the earliest (Last Year at Marienbad & The Immortal One) once again being the only ones translated into English; and perhaps the most interesting part of Robbe-Grillet’s oeuvre, the ‘collaborative’ works that ultimately feed, intertextually, into my favorite of his novels, collaborative works with artists (Magritte, Rauschenberg, Johns) & photographers (Irina Ionesco, David Hamilton). And one must not forget his films, a necessary contingency of his body of work.
3. Due to my engagement–perhaps even, one could say, obsession– with Robbe-Grillet’s work, I’ve found it easier to split his published novels into a number of categories, guided by this website, which was one of the earliest strongholds of info on Robbe-Gillet on the internet when I began my obsession in 2004.
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Sorry that it’s now a week into February of 2013 and I’ve just now finally finished my 2012 round-up, kinda takes a lot. Some books get more attention than others, but hey that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Please enjoy.
66 – If You Won’t Read, Then Why Should I Write? – Jarett Kobek
The repeated insistence that find me tampering my potentiality of reviewing Jarett’s books in any real capacity are always tempered by him being my “bestie” or whatever. I mean, though really, this book had me thinking a lot, and most of that “thinking a lot” comes out in the interview I did with Jarett.
67 – Dodecahedron – Tom Mallin
This is one of those weird 70s novels with a weird & awesome covers that I almost always love that I discovered via GoodReads one night and immediately requested from Link+ (SFPL’s version of “inter-library loan”). It’s… good, and I feel like (though this feeling comes mostly from the intensive aka “long” reviews of said book on goodreads…) there is probably more to it than I got on my initial surface reading, but there wasn’t enough to make me really excited. It’s a short book, and it’s almost literally a nunsploitation film for the first two chapters but then it takes some weird turns into a static martyrdom and one can’t figure out why, because the mystical nature of the protagonist as expressed in the introduction (first chapter? I don’t remember) placates the characterization more as symbol than “psychological figurehead.” Still, much more exciting than anything that’s come out in contemporary times, so I shouldn’t complain too much. Libraries rule, and this is an example of why.
68 – The Thirst for Annihilation – Nick Land
I decided that I urgently needed to re-read this book after finishing the essay collection Fanged Noumena. I had read this before, three years ago probably, and all I remembered was that the book completely blew my fucking mind and that it took me almost 4 months to get through the second chapter, which gets heavy into hard sciences and thermodynamics and was basically impenetrable. This time through I found the text as a whole far more accessible (I think I was far more ‘primed’ for this kind of reading at this point), and–barring the catastrophe of having to dry the book out and praying it wasn’t water damaged (refer to my Two by Duras commentary in the first part of this list)–I tore through the book in something like 5 days. Having read an excessive amount of both Bataille & secondary readings of Bataille, I say without qualifying the statement that Land understands Bataille more than any one else who has ever written about him, he understands that to actually write about Bataille is to inherently embrace failure, that to adapt Bataille to one’s own driving goal is to reduce Bataille to something disposable, and to try to form into Bataille is to refuse the idea that Bataille took so much time to develop, the idea of an entirely heterogeneous oeuvre. Beyond that, Land himself is a compulsively readable genius who is, as I’ve mentioned before, probably the only critical thinker other than Bataille himself that I want to read over and over again. The ideas in here are mind-blowing and amazing.
69 – Great Expectations – Kathy Acker
I’ve basically tried to read one or two Acker books a year since I started reading her. At first, when I discovered Acker, I really found her theory more enjoyable than her fiction, but the more I continue to read her fiction, the more I realize how fantastic it is, despite the fact that in certain ways each novel is a specific failed experiment. That doesn’t matter though, what matters is that Acker is a genius and sometimes the best way to demonstrate genius is to prove you’re not perfect, because if you’re perfect you’re not a genius, you’re just artificial. Acker’s fragmented narrative style works perfectly here, and there’s so much beautiful language that haunts the story of the DESIRE IS MASTER AND LORD, timelessness versus time. I am only an obsession.
70 – Purgatorio – Raul Zurita
Second reading of this, though really I had forgotten so much of it I was convinced that the version I was reading (the older edition than the more recent printing) was actually different from the recent one. Still totally devastating, still totally amazing and heavy. Seems like Zurita is one of those poets who should be far more lauded than he actually is. But then again, poetry is a hardly lauded genre in any capacity, isn’t it. Regardless, this is an amazingly moving book, & the heterogeneity of forms is a great way to move through a poetic space, really.
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by Michael Allen Zell
Lavender Ink, August 2012
112 Pages / $15.00 Buy from Amazon
It seems that Michael Allen Zell took a page from Joyce in constructing his novel, following the idea of writing a simple story in a complex matter. Though instead of burying a narrative in puns, homonyms, invented words, syntactical buggery, and so on, Zell let’s the narrative of his novel Errata wind and turn much in the same fashion that the books protagonist, Raymond Russel (an homage to Roussel for sure), drives his taxi through the city of New Orleans: never from point A to point B, as most fare would expect, but rather in methods that involve spelling out his own name by looping through streets, taking roads that are less visited and more lonely, deviations upon deviations, until finally arriving at his point. And it is in this construction, the simple narrative interrupted by diversion, that the book holds its strength.
Errata‘s narrative is casually described as neo-noir on the back of the book, and to summarize the book rapidly this would, indeed, suffice, but to reduce the book to this cliché–clichés existing only in language, not in the narrative of life, as our narrator remarks on the last page of the book–takes away what it is that makes the short book so pleasurable. It’s filled with asides, asides on literature, mostly on Melville’s Confidence Man, Schulz’s “Street of Crocodiles,” Infante’s Three Trapped Tigers, and of course, oh yes of course, the ever present Borges. Aside from literature there is much discussion of beards, of a life being lived casually and hermit-like, to the enjoyment of simplicity; all outside of systematic structures that dominate the 20th century. Though it’s set in the mid-1980s there’s little to indicate that outside of a few passing phrases, there is no cultural nostalgia here, and similarly the location of New Orleans seems but a moot point to what’s happening: there is a girl, there is a man, there is a life lived to only a certain degree, there is a climax: Call the burial, dirt rest.
Zell’s book approaches the text as a reader more than a writer, aware of what brings the author pleasure in reading, this pleasure is in turn passed on to the reader, “Raymond, do you want to look back on your life and think at least I watched a lot of television??” There’s a three page rant about how printed dialog is a futility; there are cues that make me think of what a friend said about writing, how most readers simply confuse the idea of “character development” with authorial intent, a terrible habit picked up in reductive literature classes offered in primary education, these early moldings of the head when we learn to be taught what exactly makes “good literature.”
But the story, buried beneath everything else, is simple and solid. There is a plot that the narrator becomes involved in. There is an excessive amount of insomnia, which leads, in turn, to the writing of the notebook that we, outside of this textual diegesis, are reading, Errata; there’s a meta-text that doesn’t wink at the reader, rather actually probes & functions on the level of affect. This is, perhaps, one of the smartest contemporary novels that I’ve encountered, and because of that, I ultimately appreciate it being written. As a nod to the novel’s protagonist, I consider it the highest honor to now be using the book, which I’ve finished, to prop up my crooked desk, which formerly would shift back and forth, rocking like a boat on the gentle sea as I typed letters and words and numbers into this machine. A book as infrastructure, something solid.
Pyramids. The only desirable tombs. Monoliths, obelisks, this ancient geometry of form. The way energy floats, fuck the new age bullshit sometimes you cannot deny that this is reality. The scent of immortality. Endless lust buried in this cold earth. Aesthetics as holy gods. No competition, only artifice. Beautiful, beautiful artifice. Something to look forward to. Something accountable. My own private structural system. Cold night howls. The expulsive glossolalia’d voice; I AM GOD.1
It’s time we cut out the bullshit. It’s time we start making something that either lifts us into the air or at least moves us forward. Accelerate through fiction and into a new reality. Nothing is perfect but it can always be new.
1#45, excerpted from Errors; or Dreams I’ve Never Had
I read some books last year. I’d like to tell you about them. Here’s everything I read in 2012, part one.
01 – The Wild Boys – William Burroughs
I’ve been reading Burroughs on and off since I was a Freshman in High School–& now, after all these years, I’ve finally read this one, and it’s firmly secured itself in the place of “second personal-fave of Burroughs.” (second only to Cities of the Red Night). Sontag considers the techniques in this extensively throughout her notebooks, and that’s one of the more interesting things; it’s formally very interesting and doesn’t go on&on&on like, for instance, Place of Dead Roads.
02 – Architecture & Disjunction – Bernard Tschumi
I encountered this through an essay in the book Surrealism and Architecture (ed. Thomas Mical)–and then immediately requested it from the library and devoured it. It borrows extensively from Bataille in its dissident conception of architecture, how architecture works, it’s affect, and more. It’s fucking perfect.
03 – If I Falter at the Gallows – Edward Mullany
I bought a copy of this from Edward after doing a reading with him. I love his poetry; his twitter has always struck me as this bizarre between space of humor and despair, a truly abject horror at times, and the poetry, of course, is even beyond the tweets in its progression. There’s something very dark and special about this book, and Mullany’s readings are also very intense.
04 – Artaud Anthology – Antonin Artaud
Being in San Francisco without the bulk of my book collection I was craving Artaud, and this was the only thing immediately available from the local library branch, and I actually hadn’t read this volume before (I’ve mostly worked through full books & the Calder anthologies) so voila. It’s great, of course, and I think it makes sense that this volume would be enough to entice a generation of Artaud readers when nothing else was available.
05 – Atta – Jarett Kobek
One of my goals I made around the new year was to attend more culture event things, readings included, since that was the reason I had moved to California in the first place. So, I hadn’t read Atta, but I knew I liked Semiotext(e) as a press & had enjoyed the event at City Lights for William E. Jones, so I went to Jarett’s event. I enjoyed how sort of crazy his presentation was, so I freinded & messaged him on facebook & we became drinking buddies (we live in the same neighborhood). So what’s weird about this book is that I became really good friends with the author about half way through reading it. So I feel like it perhaps shades my involvement with the book proper; which is not necessarily a bad thing since the one thing I do know is that it’s a great book. It does some amazing things & it’s simultaneously funny & solemn–as the subject matter would generally, of course, insist.
ObliviOnanisM, I: Dissolving
gnOme Books, 2012
85 pages, $9.99
Buy from Amazon
Sometimes I dont’ trust copy. I feel like, if I read a book and then encounter copy written for it, most of the time I scowl to myself and think things like “holy shit that is so incredibly reductive.” However, in the case of ObliviOnanisM, the copy rings remarkably true:
A profanely mystical work of hyperpurple theory-porn, ObliviOnanisM is an auto-erotic intellectual fiction envisioning the phantastical unending odysses of a young woman, Gemma, whom you will never know.
It might only be a sentence long & it promises a lot, but really there’s nothing false about this description, drawn from the book’s back cover.
To get it out of the way, I’ll approach a plot description; Chapter 1:Gemma finds a semi-ovoid object and sticks it into her ass. Chapter 2-4: Gemma experiences immense pleasure from the object, from refusing to physically interact from her own body, and from her immense mental acrobatics that circle around not touching her own body. Chapter 5: Gemma doubles into another non( )being and within this phantasmatic double achieves infinitely echoed orgasms into oblivion. So, yes, the entire novella, in terms of literal action, consists of nothing beyond Gemma getting off. There are no characters other than Gemma, the action takes place in no physical location other than Gemma’s bedroom. There is no dialog. There is no character development. Arguably, this is just an 85 page masturbation scene.
So does it work? Surprisingly, yes. The “hyperpurple” prose recalls the anonymous French erotica that was so ripe to pop up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, approaching metaphysical plateaus of the phantastique that I personally am more than prone to enjoying. The idea of “theory-porn” pitched on the back has less to do with a direct exigesis into theory & rather adapts the syntactical structure of theory and applies it to porn-writing, occasionally referencing those beacons of theory in their BwOs, their infinite becomings, their Irigaray-ian loops, their object-ness, their speculative solutions. From a subjective perspective there’s really no erotic stake I share in female-onanism (being a queer male), but there’s an interesting insistance taking place.
The phallic structure is entirely absent. The semi-ovoid (egg) shape that violates Gemma violates her ass, but not in a phallocentric plugging, there is none of the old “in-out” here, only a girl and an object and, later, her own hands, fingues, tongue. This body has organs but they dissolve into a gushy pool of sweat, spit, and come, but this doesn’t form an abject pile of abasement, rather it launches Gemma into the ethereal fluidity of the float.
Thus, to conclude, I offer a fragment taken from page 50 of the book. Your response to this excerpt is likely to determine your response to the entire book, so away we go:
Black God by Ben Spivey is out from Blue Square Press. It’s a beast, a fantastic beast of regret and the ocean and houses and a wife whose life is failing and confusion and voyeurism and/or surveillance and displacement.
“Ben Spivey’s Black God is a surreal dreamscape of a book. To borrow from the book itself, “There’s something black in that place like it was untouched by God himself… Or herself.” At its claustrophobic core, this book is a love story about time and memory, fear and death. At its dreamlike fringes, it is a book that might have been written by the son of Kafka and Braque. Like our best books, it is a love story in love with its own death.” – Peter Markus
“In Black God there is a dream architecture that draws the aging narrator Cooper from his dying wife like a moth to its hard and gateless outer shell. With him we explore the received forms of daily life mingling with fluctuating dreams of the interior of eternity. Here, Spivey accomplishes the rare feat of investing Cooper’s efforts with resonance though his motives obscure even to himself and the theater in which he operates is a dreamscape of mechanical islands, a wife retreating into silhouettes, and beaches of washed up clocks: ‘I looked up and could see where I fell from—a house hanging in the sky like a new moon—the actual moon cast shadow on the home giving it celestial shape. I could even see the stairs I must have tumbled from hanging there like a limp wrist.’ This is a visionary book, a genuine terror and awe.” – Joe Hall
I found this article on Dalkey Archive & the Best Translated Book Award over at Writers No One Reads really interesting. While it’s an interesting case study in its own capacity, it really had me thinking about the issue of how so many books are published, yet, from what it seems, not that many books are being read.
The fact that even a “major” publisher of “smaller” works, such as Dalkey, doesn’t seem to have any idea how to advertise, has me really concerned– almost 13 years into the 21st century, where advertising has almost literally been the singular thing every human being has been and is repeatedly exposed to, why are we–as writers, publishers–so bad at it?
At one point in life it seemed a huge thing to get work published; it was certainly more difficult in the past, yet every day, with more and more journals & presses popping up almost daily, as well as the new affordable modes of large-scale self-publishing, being published seems to be incredibly easy–if you can write a book, you can probably publish it. But, if you can publish a book, that doesn’t mean that anybody is going to read it.
A little while ago, Mike posted that “social media isn’t a very good way to promote your book”. I don’t necessarily agree with him in any capacity, but it’s interesting to consider, because, really, what else do we have? I’m convinced that even when books are reviewed, very few people read the reviews. I know that often I won’t read a review of a book I haven’t read unless one of three things occurs: 1) I’ve heard of the book already and am interested in it, 2) The title or the cover is appealing & 3) I’ve heard the author mentioned somewhere else. So, I guess book reviews at least, to support an authors egotism, support the idea that their book has actually been read, but unless it’s a review that pops up in a very large venue, I can’t imagine they’re helping to sell books much. It’d be pretty awesome if someone were to prove me wrong.
But I’m just wondering, what the hell is the best way to sustainably advertise books? Reading tours? Book trailers? Posting your shit on Tumblr? Linking your books to your friends and family? I don’t know.
All of this seems related to another thing that I’ve been thinking about: How many small press books have staying power? We post links to shit that’s new, we review books right when they come out, but three years, one year, hell even six months later, do we think about these books at all? What can we do, in small press world (and I think there’s some sort of development happening in the world, thanks to the decentralizing nature of the internet [cough-the literary establishment no longer has any reason to remain in NYC-cough], that small press can eclipse big press, at least it should be able to, in terms of generating interest; with the internet we can and should be able to push our words past the realm of small press book readers; we should be able to appeal to any number of individuals of–fuck it, i’ll say it–markets, and demonstrate that we have something people are looking for. Whether or not any of this is true, well, I guess we’ll find out in years to come.
Hey guys! There’s this thing happening, it’s an awesome event, it’s in New York, everybody who reads this blog lives in New York, right? Thought so, since that’s the only place any literary events of note happen lol! So, you’ll come to this event in New York, right? It’ll be sooooo great! I mean, I also wanted to post to let you know that this New York event that was going to happen, a different one, isn’t happening now! But don’t worry New York, it’ll be rescheduled and happen again soon!
God, isn’t living in New York great????
Jacques Roubaud, a premiere intellectual force throughout the history, to some extent, of French letters, as they say, is primarily known to American readers as a member of the OuLiPo and a poet. Roubaud’s reach, however, spans far beyond these simple categorical realms, throughout his massive ouevre of work, much of which has actually be translated into English.
Mathematics:, while recalling ideas, perhaps, that come up in specific OuLiPian exercises, is not inherently an OuLiPian work, nor is it a work of poetry. The cover of the book, in Dalkey’s translation, presents the work as “a novel,” and to an extent, within the heterodoxical forms that a novel can take, it is indeed a novel, but in the bookstore-culture of American publishing, it would find a place more comfortable within that loose genre of the memoir, the autobiography, the academic term of ‘creative non-fiction.’
The book at hand is the third “branch,” as Roubaud himself calls them, of a larger project dealing with the issue of memory and also, really, Roubaud’s life. And Roubaud has had a full intellectual life, in his work and his academic career, his interactions with the French literati, his presence in the OuLiPo, his poetry and, as it turns out, his career in mathematics.
Copy on the back cover of the book presents the idea that Roubaud is one of the few writers who has successfully bridged the gap between left brain and right brain thinking, hyperbole to an extent because I would insist that there is not such a clear divide in the generation of texts, but there’s a literal application in Roubaud’s mathematics career, and how it’s affected his interactions with the OuLiPo. But, regardless, despite exploring the branch of his own life that is in tangent with his career in mathematics, this insistence is no more than a structural system for Roubaud to explore memory within this specific realm of his own personal history.
There’s nothing too exciting about the literal events that occur within this branch of Roubaud’s life if you’re not connected to a historical exploration of the development of mathematics, specifically in France, from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s. It is interesting to read about, but there’s nothing specific to launch onto–so really, the question is, what’s the draw to read 300 pages of Roubaud’s life as it connects with mathematics?
The answer is simple, and beyond any sort of right brain articulation–Roubaud writes with a pleasantry that moves swiftly, a story-teller of diversions, splitting his own history into the rhizome of existence, a refusal of a straight narrative, an abundance of (as Roubaud himself points out) non-essential details, simply the creation of a narrative space.
There is no explicitly beautiful language present, as it seems that Roubaud saves that for his more highly emotional works (the incredible beauty that’s present in some thing black, Roubaud’s book of poetry written after the death of his wife Alix Cleo Roubaud, is nowhere to be found here). Instead we move through the maze of memory, constructed within a labyrinthine Proustian totality. Roubaud addresses the reader throughout the work, explaining the project, offering his insistence on the work both as exercise and project, aiming towards, perhaps, an unspoken totality, but this is not the totality that Mallarmé was after with his notes toward le livre, rather this is just a re-articulation of a full life in the form of the book.
Roubaud himself being an interestingly detached character, the scenes that occur are both instantly understandable and curiously casual–in fact, Roubaud’s decision to arbitrarily move from poetry and language into mathematics is an understandable one: there’s this thought, perhaps, a thought that I share at least, that in some way mathematics offers an answer to all the questions we as writers have; mathematics offers a totality to these great ideas of life. None of us could say how, and even if we were to attain the level of higher mathematics required to understand the really heavy and earth-shattering proofs that have arose within mathematics throughout its continued development, the lever of pure abstraction wouldn’t offer any solace. But it’s a quantifiable goal, an idea that while maybe we won’t understand the answer, we’ll at least have it.
And through this there is hardly nothing present outside of Roubaud’s interactions with mathematics–there are tangents that arise, tangents of humanity, but only when they’re linked to the mathematical narrative, through people and places met and involved through classes, other professors, drinking soda in the army, reading treatises on algebra in the desert during the war, watching a woman always wait for the train at the same time; all of these things don’t add up to a point, they simple contribute to a life, life as a whole, as something imperfect and incomplete, as something that can be interesting exclusively in the way it’s told to someone else.