To some, writing is a ritualistic act, the only anchor that steadies the self with processed meaning in an otherwise meaningless life, a life that threatens to carry a person away with it into excessive uselessness. It’s not actually that dramatic, but with writing, getting carried away with emotions finally given freedom—emotions that usually lie beneath layers of all sorts of psychological weights—is common, at least in the earlier stages. There’s been a trend with newer literature to explore a muffled numbness, to keep the storyteller detached from his own emotions and the childhood that generated those vulnerable feelings, which easily fell prey to the machinated contradictions of the world. This numbness is somewhat helpful for readers to connect to a first person narrator fluidly and without judgment—so that the reader can slip into generated feelings, assume them instead of flatly being told about them from the narrator. At the same time, the imagination required for good storytelling can’t function to its fullest without a sense of childlike playfulness to accompany the forced numbness. The balancing act the constructor of a bildungsroman needs to walk has therefore become more burdensome than most other fiction writing, especially in this age when the form’s already been nearly exhausted and left uninteresting.
Mira Corpora, Jeff Jackson’s first novel, is a bildungsroman placed in a familiar alienated age. It’s an emotional pseudo-biographical account of the author’s past, one that keeps the real life experienced roots beneath the surface and allows a lusciously imagined yet just barely realistic sequence of events to flourish instead as the account. Before beginning the novel, you are made aware by an author’s note that this story is inspired by childhood journals. The way Jackson revisits childhood winds up morphing memory into an open and abstractable form, one that when presented to a reader who questions the validity or accuracy of this recounting can nonetheless re-experience the confusion of the original moment. Importance is placed on generating a succession of emotions, so that through the narrator we can understand a fear that isn’t mature enough to recognize itself. The earlier years of the novel bring an awareness to the animalistic nature of humanity, recalling a little bit of Burroughs’s The Wild Boys, and then flows into distinct fragments that take place later in the character’s development.
The story is also one of recognizing ones self as a writer through a few metaphorical devices. In the opening to the first section he describes the sacrifice of his body to be able to write. Later on an oracle gives him a blank sheet of paper, which according to everyone else surrounding him won’t bode well. The message seems to be that he is damned to be a writer. The first artistic energy he’s drawn to is a singer by the name of Kin Mersey, who gets mythologized to no end by his group of friends. They find him later, unrecognizable like Syd Barret in his later years, and for Jackson (the character) it’s too much to handle and he bolts away. His friends, however, are too wound up in their ideals and projections that they can’t help but be overjoyed at seeing this figure they’ve worshipped for so long. Seeing the loss of creative vitality, the reality of something instead of the assumed transcendent nature of it is unbearable for Jackson. This scenario made me question whether it’s worse to realize your state of being washed up or to continue on in ignorance of being sapped of a divine aura after once having it, or if it matters either way.
The following fragment of events deals with Jackson being abducted and drugged by an ill-intentioned German man named Gert-Jan, who comes across like a symbolic Beckett character. The thing about Jeff Jackson’s writing that is most striking, besides the originality that’s received so many high-praising blurbs, is his ability to make characters, events, and forms that intersect at potent avenues of meaning. Readers can use these to fill in numerous metaphors. The description and action is just sparse enough to allow one his or her own input, and just detailed enough to make them feel nearly real. With the Gert-Jan sequence, one can fill in this larger than life character with nearly any conniving and manipulating institution in society. The evil underhanded aspects don’t exist on the surface, but only in intuition. “Gert-Jan’s persuasions are more effective the longer he holds your attention.” The idea of ‘not biting the hand that feeds you’ gets called into question when Jackson plots to escape Gert-Jan’s all encompassing grasp.
Overall the coming of age story doesn’t track any sense of progress. The narrator feels the same in the early years as he does by the end of the book. Nothing leads to anything else, as if all the outside experiences are just one big toxic wash. The approach feels like the inaction of a Tao Lin novel, and is narrated with a similar approach, but instead of minimal realism it’s told with a violent sense of survival imbedded within it; an undercurrent of energy rushes through the restrained prose. Traces of Dennis Cooper, and the aforementioned Beckett and Burroughs, are there too. But even with these elements, a larger portion of it is an original approach to storytelling, one that breathes new and exciting life into the trends of alienated numbness pervading current novels.
March 7th, 2014 / 11:00 am