Eating Yourself to L()ve: A Review of Autophagiography

by A & N
gnOme, 2014
192 pages / $12.00 buy from Amazon
Rating: 8.5

Autophagiography, the latest release from the small pseudonymous press Gnome Books, is a documentary epistolary ‘novel’ composed of temporally-congruent email and twitter messages between two persons, followed by a short treatise which defines and theorizes some guiding principles for the weird ‘saintly’ love/friendship at the center of the story. In form and content, the book is one-of-a-kind and hard to describe. Here are some salient features:

Language/Style: the protagonists communicate in a kind of poetically inspired intellectual style that is both sublime and ridiculous. For example, “Dear One by Whom We Orient Ourselves to Ever Greater Bewilderment” (8), or, “Your words make me blush in my tomb! Idiorrythmia freaks, torment chewers, self-eating love-worms…” (92). It is difficult to imagine people actually writing to each other like this and at the same time obvious that none of it is made up. At its best, the text effortlessly spins out stormy passages of living prose-verse worthy of Lispector and Bataille (both of whom are referenced as sources of inspiration). At its worst, it repetitively babbles with baroque terms of endearment perhaps better to have been left on the cutting room floor—though to have done so would have been impossible. Overall the idiosyncratic and spontaneous authenticity of the whole thing only accentuates its mysterious hyper-fictionality, haunting the work with the sense that the writers may indeed be flirting with madness, or better, hallucinating themselves out of existence: “Love is not for this life and yet it is precisely here that it is happening” (70).

Ideas/Themes: As the clever one-word title indicates, the book records and enacts a process of autobiographical self-eating that attains and/or strives for a kind of sanctity. The (non)relationship is platonically romantic: “This is not a ‘relationship’. This is love itself (in world and not of it). But how we relate!” (72); “This is not to say that what happened is not miraculous! … Why? How? All the more that we were never alone!” (102). It also involves a number of interesting mystical dreams or visions: “Something unlike I have ever experienced really happened within me and to the whole world at the same time. No way to explain, but it was like swallowing the infinite auto-recursive spiral all the way, like eating one’s head and exiting stunningly unharmed into an other side which is more this one than this” (178). Whether or not the authors actually become saints is a silly question that the text nevertheless makes one ponder the meaning of. The reader may just as easily feel sorry for them or wonder why they do not just run off together. In the end this reviewer was left happily swimming in a peaceful existential desperation reminiscent of E. M. Cioran’s Tears and Saints (a text mentioned several times), where the divine truth of sanctity is as real as the unreality of the universe: “Can it be that God is only a delusion of the heart as the world is one of the mind?”

Identity/Authorship: This is a significant accidental experiment in documentary authorship, an ‘as-is’ book with several delightful surprises and contradictions. The formal interplay between-across email and twitter embodies the multi-channeled and erotically vexed nature of socially networked existence only to feed it back into the mouth of the book as the obvious and maybe only possible earthly offspring of spiritual friendship. Indeed the conception and editing of Autophagiography becomes an important part of the narrative itself, so that the text literally and narratively eats itself into its own real present, like some kind of monstrous love-child proverbially devouring the authors out of their inexistent sub-oceanic house and home: “The monster is here and I cannot stop it, I don’t want it ever to shut up. Whatever happens in this life there will be the fault of this cataclysmic now screaming to me, deafening me with the echo of a deformity that I always was” (73). At the same time, the book is imbued with its own palpably literal and melodramatic worldly reality. The communication-communion endures and reflects upon the difficulties it causes for the saints’ other true loves and also shamelessly relishes its own embarrassing confessional responsibility: “Not one syllable of our words would I alter, not one atom of our sigh, but from today forward, this new day of a new life, I must somehow address you more sanely, in words that proliferate and expand to befit more and more the purity of this intolerably sweet friendship, this little bond through which we are indeed becoming ‘as close to nothing as possible’” (129). The open secrecy of the work is accentuated by the discoverability of the authors’ worldly identities and their entrapment within a web of recent events and current interests (Lovecraft, Argento, Cioran, Thacker, Land, Lispector, Meillassoux, Negarestani).

In the live medium of its essential imperfections, Autophagiography is virtually-actually worse and better than this world, a worst best and best worst that would prove to open a way to paradise, if only if it were possible to read it properly. One can only hope without hope that its authors somehow find happiness in this sphere or the next, or at least in a weird new somewhere that is neither.