You Can Make Anything Sad
by Spencer Madsen
Publishing Genius Press, 2014
90 pages / $14.95 buy from PGP
1. Spencer Madsen’s new book has what you might call ‘a classic Alt-Lit title.’
2. Like many of his contemporaries, a fair proportion of this work is considering ‘What if…’ something happens and musing on ‘What ifs’ generally. I think this has something to do with the virtual world and what it has done to our brains. As a strategy it is, in itself, almost materially virtual.
3. There are many proper nouns. For me, proper nouns are essential.
4. Computer/technological device interface metaphors, analogies, etc., are a growth area to a large extent pioneered (as far as today’s technological landscape goes anyway) by Alt-Lit writers themselves. Madsen is very good at them. Here is one by him: ‘When you turn the screen brightness down on your computer, everything looks the same but seems a little shittier.’
5. On October 1st, 2012, Spencer encountered a man in a gym and mused on his ‘meaningless’ hairstyles, tattoos, and muscles (‘he does administrative work’) but notes that in a way this gym muscle man ‘is more authentic,’ ‘more purely veneer’ than your everyday person. This is deep, man! By which I mean that the way in which much Alt-Lit concerns itself with screens is down to the fact that screens, smoothness, etc., represent the spirit of our current age (and any age that we can imagine anytime soon on the, now non-existent, horizon) so it is important to face up to them, even if it means facing them to do so. This whole ‘life in front of small screens, large, intermediately sized screens’ is so ubiquitous it needs to be looked at. Alt-Lit does it very well, as does Spencer.
6. ‘A Tumblr called Girls Doing Things featuring photos of fully clothed girls doing normal things like standing in line at the post office or walking a dog’ would be the most genuinely erotic Tumblr of the year. Think about it, folks.
7. Nothing happens in this book in that way where everything happens or rather so many things happen that nothing seems to happen. Word thinks this is ‘verb confusion’ but it is really more about the state of things.
8. I say nothing happens but there is a half-hearted worry about coming to the end of a relationship which is recurrent but which isn’t foregrounded. Although coming to the end of a relationship is a big thing (like moving house, as they say, not enough novels about ‘moving house?’), it’s inevitable that something else will start.
9. Something else does start. He starts going out with someone new. It’s new; he likes it as we all like that kind of thing.
10. He’s good at the old poetic trick of mixing everyday concrete noun combinations like ‘cereal and milk’ with the slightly more amusing concrete noun ‘ice cream’ with a sudden abstract noun ‘emotional stability.’ This is an old trick that will never stop working. He executes it very well. I laughed.
11. Sometimes he gets metaphysical feels as in ‘These are the things on my desk that I am currently moving with through time’ and this one reminded me of Harold Pinter’s The Dwarves somehow. This is a good thing. A very good thing. Everyone should read both this and The Dwarves together as an event on a certain date and the event should be sponsored by nobody. Don’t watch the terrible adaptation of The Dwarves on YouTube though, the play is essentially what needs to be read here.
12. Speaking of metaphysical feels, there is a kind of conceptual art notation vibe sometimes here. It provides a counterpoint to point 13. It’s kind of blank like this one, a rather beautifully periphrastic definition of a day job: ‘A new dance called things you don’t want to do but should do but don’t have to do but do anyway.’
13. That was so good that I’m now going to put off point 13 for point 14. See point 14 now for what I referred to as point 13 earlier (back in point 12) because point 13 is now the new point 14 and this is the new point 13. That beautifully periphrastic definition from a point ago is pretty much, to me, a full on definition of consumer society, blank but also really lyrical but a different kind of lyrical to what I hope to talk about in point 14 (which would’ve been point 13 – as described in point 12).
14. ‘It sometimes takes an old internet security question in the morning, like what’s your favorite color, to remind you of how inconsistent you are with all of your past selves’ and ‘The sky is fucked in a way that softens my room’ are both examples of a different kind of poetic lyricism from the periphrastic, conceptual art type.
15. This is important. ‘The sky is fucked in a way that softens my room’ is moving. No matter how many people still insist on shelling out for awful traditional ‘Poetry’ courses that see you going in with an idea about the sky and coming out with something about ‘the sky being like a million shiny over the rainbows,’ and having been taught how to put terribly obvious, hackneyed adjectives alongside the nouns you came in with in the first place, then you should just read Spencer Madsen instead because the sky has been many, many billions of things in literary writing up and down the centuries but rarely has it been ‘fucked in a certain way,’ and yet you know you’ve felt like this before about a particular sky.
16. Plus, it’s just basic contemporary vernacular suddenly sounding magical. So, lesson learnt? That’ll be $3000, please.
17. ‘I hate when food I’m eating doesn’t have a Wikipedia page.’ This is another example of what we talked about in point 4.
18. There’s something a little bit political hiding behind this. I don’t know if the author knows or likes this or is comfortable with this fact.
19. It is a fact but maybe it’s just the general grain of life coming through and not intentional at all.
20. I don’t know.
21. I don’t like it when it seems a little bit childishly Lol-cat-ish sometimes but that’s not because I don’t like cats although I haven’t got a cat, though then again I would prefer a cat over a dog so this is really just a personal opinion. Anyway, it doesn’t happen too often and I’m aware that such things pop up in all kinds of Alt-Lit and that it is linked to people, slightly younger than I, who watch alot of YouTube videos and know more about Memes than I do and so I don’t think it should be left out. I think it’s a part of the fabric of contemporary society and although I don’t necessarily get it, I wouldn’t want it to be left out. I won’t complain about it.
23. Spencer Madsen makes things sad.
24. He can make anything sad.
25. He is also very funny sometimes. It’s a cool mixture. Read this book, please.