refuse reality, live forever.
refuse reality, live forever.
By Martin Vaughn-James
Coach House Books, November 2013
192 pages / Buy from Coach House Books
In November of this year, Coach House Books released a new edition of their seminal 1975 graphic work, Martin Vaughn-James’s The Cage. When I found this out, I was astounded. I’d been singing the praises of The Cage for years, recognizing it not only as one of the most important (and accomplished) work of graphic fiction ever created, but also insisting upon it being one of the greatest books every produced. Upon its initial publication, there were only 1500 printed copies; beautiful over-sized hardbacks with heavy brown paper inside. The book is a monolith, an object. Just the visual presence matches the title: The Cage, the book, the volume, holds something inside, much as a cage does.
I discovered the book from Richard Kostelanetz’s Dictionary of The Avant-Gardes, a resource that I read from cover to cover, taking note, over the course of the several months I spent reading it, on everything I wanted to learn more about, to discover. And then I spent several months following up on everything I had noted, often not remembering anything about why I had noted a book title or an artist’s name down. I worked in a library at the time, so I would just request anything from Inter-Library-Loan that we didn’t have on our shelves. It was through this process that Martin Vaughn-James’s book came into my life.
I took it home from work and blew through it, realizing that it was doing something heavy, something that I had long wanted the comic form to do, to work with narratives in ways similar to, say, Alain Robbe-Grillet or concrete poets had done, but to make use both of words & images, sequencing and panel development: to open up the tools available to a visual artist who also has a poetic bent. The book accomplishes so much, and I soon became obsessed. I read the book several times while I had it, and then checked it out several more times throughout the year. I desperately wanted to photocopy it (as copies available online were far too expensive) so I could always have it with me, but the book was too big to reasonably photocopy into a facsimile-ish form. I tacked down the three other primarily graphic works from Vaughn-James, again through inter-library loan, and marveled at their contents, but knew that The Cage was his masterpiece. Eventually a copy popped up on the internet for a prize I could sort of afford, so I jumped at it and the book joined my possessions.
To publish this book again in 2013 strikes me as no inconsiderable feat–while comics have certainly gained a larger presence as a “true literary form” (or whatever) by now, most of the dreck that people applaud is, of course, parallel to the novel, “realistic,” though told with pictures in addition to dialog. The Cage takes the height of the 70′s delirious experimentation with form and content, and pushes it into something that, even now, speaks as something new.
As such, I’m pleased to now revisit the work, in two parts. First I will comment upon the initial 1975 release, that is virtually impossible to come by outside of the library at this point, and second, I will consider the reprint, which offers both new front-matter & back-matter, as well as a formally different content, comparing and contrasting the two.
A Note: All photos included in this post were taken on my cellphone and do not necessarily reflect either the colors or the image quality of the printed books themselves
by Sébastien Brebel
Dalkey Archive, July 1st 2013
102 Pages / $14.00 Buy from Amazon
The copy of Villa Bunker, offered both on the Dalkey Archive website and the back of the book itself, presents the narrative contained within as follows:
This piqued my interest, as someone, purely on a level of narrative and story, finds himself remarkably interested in labyrinthine houses. A blurb for the book, from Fabrice Lardreau, calls the book “an unexpected cross between Danielewski’s House of Leaves and Robbe-Grillet’s geometric and obsessional universe in Jealousy.” Between the copy and this blurb, I was convinced I wanted, if not needed to read it. Besides, as someone who is perpetually interested in French fiction, I’m always curious to read more of the contemporary authors that clearly work in a lineage descended from my favorites, like the new-novelists & the post-Tel Quel novelists.
Reading the novel, I found myself more than satisfied, though perhaps not in the way I had expected. There is a shifting spatial element to the villa, recorded by the mother in her letters to her absent son, that certainly recalls the inner-narrative of “The Navidson Record” found in Danielewski’s tomb. There is, also, an almost fetishistic level of attention, at time, to minutiae, that certainly recalls Robbe-Grillet. But overall, the extent of these comparisons end at a surface level, leaving the very strange text to move like an abject music score—though not through any formal techniques, but rather through the construction of the narrative itself.
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Starring Dorothy Tunnell (our starlette) & Janey Smith (the man in the hallway)
Shot at 851: The Squat
If you live in or around the Bay Area, tonight is your chance to see Konrad Steiner’s brilliant film, way, a visual response to Leslie Scalapino reading her long-form poem on the soundtrack. Here’s the copy from the website:
The film is showing tonight (9/26/13) at the YBCA, both at 6:30 & 8:00. Konrad Steiner will be present for both screenings, which I imagine will mean there will be some discussion after both. It’s a brilliant film (spoiler: I’ve seen it, & it’s almost overwhelming) that really challenges the viewing experience, as it forces one to drift through their senses, focuses on image, shifting focus to hear Leslie’s audio, trying to mete both, it’s an appropriately challenging film for a challenging poem–both the film & the poem are also, as I’ve said, brilliant.
For more information, or to buy tickets, visit the YBCA’s website.
The Young Girl’s Handbook of Good Manners for Use in Educational Establishments
by Pierre Louÿs, translated by Geoffrey Longnecker
Wakefield Press, March 2010
80 pp. / $12.95 Buy from Wakefield Press
The first time I ever heard of Pierre Louÿs was when I read Susan Sontag’s essay, “The Pornographic Imagination.” In it, among other things, she posits five works of literature that bridge the gap between pornography & erotic, expanding into very Literary territory. Louÿs’s book was the only I hadn’t read. I tracked it down–it’s title The She-Devils–and was sorely disappointed in the translation. Despite this, I had still enjoyed the narrative, and filed the name in the back of my head to keep at bay in my never-ending path through erotic literature.
Years later, Louÿs’s name came up again–but this time as a correspondent of Mallarmé. It might strike some as strange that Mallarmé–who has probably garnered as many stuffy academic essays as God himself (though I prefer the former far more than the latter, let it be said)–chafed elbows, so to speak, with a man whose primary literary concerns were pedophilia, scatology, and whores. Louÿs was a part of the vaguely shaped Symbolist movement in France as the 19th century slipped into the 20th, immediately following the Fin de Siecle ‘movement’ that had shown artists and writers that certain ideas were now available subjects. Baudelaire was a major influence on the symbolists, as was Edgar Allen Poe.
Louÿs is most often considered a novelist, but the brilliant Young Girl’s Handbook of Good Manners instead takes the form of a satirical handbook–lampooning school guides to “good manners” and instead positing sixty pages of sexual advice, tongue planted firmly in cheek. It could perhaps be considered that this could become, shall we say, boring, or perhaps overdone, but Louÿs is a master parodist, in addition to being a damn good writer, so the laughs just keep coming.
I’m not one for humor unless it’s delivered via a sort of combination of hyperbole, absurdity, and base-ness, which the Handbook delivers in spades. The aphoristic fragments are all structured under headings, such as “Games and Recreations” (“Never masturbate a young man by the window. You never know on whom it might fall.”), “At the Ball” (“If you cum while waltzing, say so softly; don’t shout it out.”), and even a special column, “On Losing Your Virginity.”
There is no narrative thread, only a bawdy romp to be followed, with aphorism after aphorism delving into a perversely juvenile mind. There’s a total jouissance present in many of the acts which Louÿs implores ones not to do, and this set-up provides the idea that young girls are performing these acts with regularity (and who knows–perhaps they are; I was never a young girl).
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Former WAKEFIELD PRESS reviews:
TREATISE ON ELEGANT LIVING by Honoré de Balzac
I have something like 500 movies I haven’t seen in my collection that I wouldn’t have to watch streaming, but, due to having 500 movies and not remembering what half of them are, I’ve found it easier, as of late, to just log onto Netflix & watch whatever horror movies are available on Instant Play that fit the following criteria:
1) I haven’t seen it
2) Isn’t direct to video dreck
3) Looks relatively interesting
Here’s what I’ve watched over the last two weeks, in reverse chronological order.
This is a Spanish found-footage film that takes place in Sitges, which is notable in my non-linear headspace if only for the fact that it’s where a seminal Fantastic Film Festival is regularly held. We’re introduced to obnoxious teenage siblings who film everything because they consider themselves investigators of urban legends. They go on vacation to an old house that happens to be next to a giant labyrinth constructed of unkempt bushes. Shit starts to go wrong when their dog disappears and they find its dead body dragged through the labyrinth and dumped into a well. Mom and Dad have repeatedly told the kids to not go into the labyrinth without providing any reason as to why, so of course the kids spend every day in there. After doggie dies right after Dad goes back to Madrid “to the office,” lil brother disappears in the middle of the night. Mom freaks out and goes after him, into the labyrinth, and brother and sister follow, camera in tow, until horrible shit happens to everyone. The ending is totally fucking stupid, in a way, because it’s not given enough weight to actually float through the imagination (although, it seems like the version on Netflix is 7 minutes shorter than the full run-time, and I don’t think that’s due to PAL/NTSC conversion speed-up as there seems to be a scene missing from the end, so who knows if that would contextualize more). It’s a decently creepy “handheld horror” movie in the vein of Paranormal Activity and the like. Worth watching.
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THE STRANGE TALE OF PANORAMA ISLAND
by Suehiro Maruo
Last Gasp, 2013
274 Pages / $24.95 Buy from Last Gasp
I first encountered Suehiro Maruo via the hyper-violent/erotic, aka “ero-guro” collection that Creation Books put out in 2001, ULTRA-GASH INFERNO. It’s a slim volume of short manga narratives, all focused on some sort of extremity. Despite the subject matter, Maruo carried a sense of poetry through the excess, and the resulting combination brought about similar feelings to that which I had first experienced reading the fiction that set me down my life’s trajectory, fiction such as Bataille’s Story of the Eye or Bernard Noel’s Castle of Communion. I became a dedicated fan.
Next encounter–the only other book of Maruo’s available in translation at the time–was Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show. A more developed narrative (developed in the sense that it is a book-length narrative, instead of only giving itself a few pages to breathe). It rooted itself in the earlier parts of the 20th century, which allows a certain suspension of disbelief necessary to the development of the plotting (which eventually goes off the deep end regardless).
Now, a number of years later–and after a significant waiting period between the announcement of publication and the actual publication of the book (which, I should note, should not be considered a fault)–Maruo’s most developed single-volume narrative yet has become available in English– The Strange Tale of Panorama island.
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SOLAR▲LUXURIANCE is having a free & open-reading period for OBELISK SERIES, a project looking to publish short narrative (not necessarily fiction) works of a transgressive nature. 15-19 pages long, printed on a quarter sheet (change the font of your document to 18pt Times New Roman to approximate the topography of a quarter-sheet of paper). I’ve never done an open reading periods at SOLAR▲LUXURIANCE before, and I’m excited to see what comes in. For more details, check out the website.
Treatise on Elegant Living
by Honoré de Balzac, Translated by Napoleon Jeffries
Wakefield Press, March 2010
112 pp. / $12.95 Buy from Wakefield Press
Wakefield Press describes themselves, on their website, as “an independent American publisher devoted to the translation of overlooked gems and literary oddities in small, affordable, yet elegant paperback editions.” The fact that they are a publisher dedicated specifically to translated “buried” texts, so to speak, has kept them on my horizon since their launch in 2010. As the press has developed, they’ve continued to release incredibly interesting (and, as is their goal, elegant) books by many authors and writers that populate the literary landscape that I prefer to frequent. Paul Scheerbart, who I learned of as a devotée to “glass architecture” in my readings on the architecture of the fantastique, has had two books released by the press, many (often absent) key players of French literature have books on the press (Marcel Schwob, Georges Perec & Rene Daumal to name a few), and even the authors I hadn’t formerly heard of seem tailored to my taste. As such, I thought it would be a brilliantly rewarding project to review every title the press has released.
Earlier in the year I reviewed their release of Rene Daumal’s Pataphysical Essays, and my enjoyment of everything about the book (from its content to its translation to the materiality of the book itself) lead me to consider the project. I had encountered the concept of reviewing an entire press’s output before, I think initially in JA Tyler’s review of Calamari Press’s output on BigOther. While I love Calamari press, their output spans, at this point, much wider than Wakefield Press, whose number of titles seemed both manageable and limited enough that I would enjoy the entire project. I had no interest in launching into the project & losing steam half-way through, as I knew that would be disappointing both on a personal level, and also probably a disappointment to the press. With these considerations in mind, I decided to dive in.
As I am a fan of chronology, I’ve decided to approach the Press’s released chronologically. This would serve to give structure to the project, and also provide me with a path through the meta-textual elements of the press itself, as they grew from a press having only published two books (their launch), into having published 10 books at this point, with more titles on the horizon. So without further adieu, I’d like to present the launch title of Wakefield Press (while I think it was released in tangent with Pierre Louys’s The Young Girl’s Handbook of Good Manners for Use in Educational Establishments, Treatise… is granted number “1″ in the press’s subdivision of “Wakefield Handbooks”).
Since it’s more or less exactly half-way through the year, I thought I’d get a head-start on my normally year-end reading roundup & post the first half now, because this results in far less work for me at the end of the year. I can’t tell if I’ve been more or less insane than normal with my reading habits this year. I can never really tell. Anyway, here we go, here’s what I read from January through June:
01 – Twentieth Century French Avant-Garde Poetry, 1907-1990 – Virginia La Charité
Nice over-view of the major movers & shakers associated with poetry in France throughout the 20th century. While I’m still insistently anti-Surrealist (despite my utter obsession with more than a handful of dissident surrealists), I’m not entirely ideologically opposed to the authors insistence that it is most likely Surrealism which charted the entire course of the 20th century’s poetics.
I picked this up to read primarily because it has a section on the poetry that came out of the Tel Quel group, but was also pleased to discover an entire section dedicated to the “neo-formalists”–a name I’m not quite on board with, but I suppose it works–a group of poets from the 70s & 80s including Anne-Marie Albiach & Claude Royet-Journoud. Being obsessed with these poets, their écriture, I’ve been wanting to read a critical appraisal of their work for a while and was more than satisfied to be able to do that here.
02 – Serie D’Ecriture No. 4 – ed. Rosmarie Waldrop
A spectacular collection of French poetry–mostly work that hasn’t popped up anywhere else, including to my particular excitement a section from Danielle Collobert’s first book, Muerte, & also the entirity of Anne-Marie Albiach’s “WORK VERTICAL AND BLANK.” Exciting enough to re-integrate my renewed insistence upon the work of these poets.
03 – Tagged: Variations on a Theme – Kevin Killian
Kevin’s just the sweetest! Also, my butt is in this book so maybe I’m biased, but it’s a very lovingly assembled collection of naked male people posing with a Raymond Pettibon drawing. Halpern’s essay is interesting, though ultimately perhaps a strange beginning, although it is very smart.
04 – Eric Orr: A Twenty-Year Survey – Thomas McEvilley & Eric Orr
Eric Orr is a revelation. Fitting the perfect lineage of my interest in art, between Yves Klein, James Lee Byars, Terry Fox, John Duncan & even Gregor Schneider in some capacity, Orr is my favorite new person to be excited about. I encountered his painting “Blood Shadow” at the MOCA in LA and immediately fell in love–the piece pulled me to it. I hadn’t heard of Orr so I snapped a photo of the placard and was astounding to find, upon returning home, that there is little to no information on Orr on the internet!
This book, which I got from the library (though would desperately like to own) is amazing, more of an artist book than a catalog, though it does have full-color plates of some of Orr’s work. Orr is magick, working magic, and this is a great little book.
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Rising from the ashes of the horror issue, published in December of 2011, LIES/ISLE has returned like the tide–inevitably, without fail–a year and a half later to bring YOU the DESERT. Please enjoy the new issue.
The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame
by Gengoroh Tagame, ed. Anne Ishii, Chip Kidd & Graham Kobleins
PictureBox Inc, April 2013
256 pages / $29.95 Buy from PictureBox
Passion is generally defined either as “any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling” or, within the context of personal relationships, as a “strong sexual desire; lust.” Strength & power are two words that dominate these definitions. Strength & power are two concepts that dominate the short, hypersexualized narratives of Gengoroh Tagame’s characters: strong, large & butch men dominating, fucking, & occasionally loving other strong, large & butch men.
In the world of manga, and especially in the imported consideration of such, there’s an abundance of yaoi stories that teen girls flock to, love, write fan-fic about: yaoi is a subgenre of manga that takes young, thin, often effeminate boys loving other young, thin, often effeminate boys. Clearly, there’s a contrast between this & what I’ve mentioned Tagame’s narratives hold above: thick muscles, thick cocks, heavy BDSM overtones–there is the occasional cross-generation ‘romance’ told by Tagame, but even the young boy shares a closer physic to a professional wrestler than the twinky waifs that populate yaoi.
Pierre Guyotat once remarked that he couldn’t write unless his cock was hard. Similarly, Tom of Finland once remarked that his best drawings occur while he’s erect. I have to imagine that the sexual narratives that overtake Tagame’s work drive their creator, as well, to sexual satisfaction. There’s a remarkable sense of erotic obsession that drives the work, moving from gang-bang fantasies to hyper-developed arenas of sadism. Sometimes, when there’s time for it to develop, a work develops a plot, often a somewhat complicated one considering the constraint of a number of pages. Sometimes there is less plot, but always there is a surge of powerful eroticism dominating each panel.
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Readings, performances, & screenings by JARETT KOBEK, JANEY SMITH, DEAN SMITH, DAVENZANE HAYES, DOROTHY TUNNELL, M KITCHELL & TATIANA LUBOVISKI-ACOSTA, featuring music from ANDY TISDALL.
Wednesday, June 26th
at The Secret Alley
MERE by CF
PictureBox Inc., 2013
180 Pages / $19.95 Buy From PictureBox
The latest CF volume from PictureBox, MERE offers a collection of 9 zines & a handful of Twitter comics that CF drew & produced throughout 2012. While it’s not as masterful as either CF’s story in Kramer’s Ergot 8, nor is it as complex and beautiful as the on-going POWR MASTRS series, it’s a welcome diversion and a nice stepping stone on the path of CF’s career.
There’s a distinct symbiosis in CF’s zines of both genre aesthetics found in euro-comix of the 70s & 80s along with a messiness that’s present in art brut & a casual culture of creation without perfection–this combination amounts to something very interesting. While there are, ostensibly, ‘narratives’ hidden throughout the volume, they refuse to develop in an articulated, followable fashion. Rather, CF insists upon simply presenting elements of a narrative, frames that seem like they’re out of order or missing important transitions, in order to present a structured chaos. Each zine seems to grow out of the former without any connecting thread.
The volume is organized not chronological, but rather in a fashion that gives a flow to the disjunctive zines. Printed monochromatically on beautiful pale paper, the volume has a great object-hood to it, a book art object even. A design object to be admired. But, luckily, for those who actually like to read books instead of just admiring their design, the content is at times hilarious, at times confusing, and always fascinating.
Nicole Rudick’s introduction to the volume paints a picture that leads to Benjamin’s ideas of the technological reproducability of art. It’s true, in a sense, that the zines the volume holds can and (arguably) should be reproduced over and over again, the machinic-entropy pushing further and further into the Rorschach like blur of toner onto a page, but ultimately there’s a heart to CF’s work that absolves any instability due to an often considered ‘out-moded’ form of technology, the photocopier.
While there’s not as much of an objective coherency in the volume as there was in the stand-alone zine, CITY-HUNTER, much of what I noted of CITY-HUNTER can be applied to the zines found within. The character of Main Dice, introduced in CITY-HUNTER, pops up again and again in various genre permutations, often pitted against a figured named Ven, sometimes to be killed, other times to be changed, but always to be dynamic. In addition to the brief (a-)narrative comic fragments, the volume is also filled with drawings, studies, sketches, all offered in CF’s simultaneously shaky & controlled hand.
A true joy to read and experience, to dip in and out of at will, CF’s MERE offers insight into the working praxis of one of the most interesting comic artists making work today.
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.