Fuck everything. For my purposes today, this is less a nasty hyperbolic command about coitus and more of a two-word summation of a somewhat complex suFuck everything. For my purposes today, this is less a nasty hyperbolic command about coitus and more of a two-word summation of a somewhat complex suite of contradictory and powerful human yearnings. A yearning to tell the Universe to go fuck itself while at the same time demand that it hold you close to its motherly bosom and make all the bad things go away. A yearning to differentiate oneself from the dull hum of the world at large, to have the throngs fall at your feet and acknowledge that you--a living, breathing, eating, shitting, growing, decaying multicellular machine with a world of thought boxed inside--exist. A yearning to destroy yourself for regularly finding the phrase 'Fuck everything' ensnared in the stupid agony of your thoughts. A yearning to just feel better in general instead of worse. Fuck Everything reaches from base to ornate, from oceanic deep end to thin mud puddle. Fuck Everything can feel both cathartic and suffocating, depending on the millisecond that it arrives. Fuck Everything takes on the form of suicide, mass murder, futile depression and drug abuse cycles, and, even more commonly, both terrible and magnificent artwork. I think Ben Marcus captured a slice of Fuck Everything in his debut publication that cycles through all of this but ultimately leaves me impressed and satiated.
I've already described the basic point of view that Marcus brings to the table in a review of Notable American Women as "often comparable to what a visitor from an indescribably foreign world might see; or perhaps how another terrestrial species, if given the ability and/or desire to commune with our grammar and vocabularly, might describe what takes place amongst we humans." I think this can be applied here as well but with even more emphasis on the alien quality. The Age of Wire and String is an inexorably strange take on the commonplace. Tying in further to the sense of it being written by an extraterrestrial outsider, it's written as a series of clinically-removed indexes and glossaries and case studies (i.e., stories). I often got the sense that some sort of hum drum suburbian environment was being described in the most bizarre way possible, but it's often so impenetrably strange and made-up seeming that one will probably never feel such closure about the True Intent of the author. I found it all exhilarating at first, but soon enough got worn down by its unrelenting strangeness and would require a break from it for a while. It was not something I could read straight through in a single sitting.
I've read a fair amount of experimental fiction but honestly this is by far the most uncompromisingly weird book I've ever read. And not only is it weird but you can really sense the amount of careful cognitive labor that went into it, unlike some 'weird' books that just take a bunch of odd things and slam them all together into a mush. This is far more inventive than that. It's a sort of carefully constructed world of the best, most original sci-fi, but with the plotless, abstract spirit of Old Time Surrealism all filtered through a young writer trying to do something truly different.
It's alternately infuriatingly and joyously confusing. I found myself laughing at or along with certain overwrought descriptions. I found myself stunned by the lengths that some of the depictions continued to go into the uncharted wilderness of the word. It's a largely emotionless work on the surface, but this can generate an interesting mix of emotions in the willing and capable reader if they collide with it at just the right moments. For the most part, I found myself in the midst of such serendipitous collisions.
The books that would eventually follow this in the Marcus oeuvre maintain some of the clinically-removed, Fuck Everything quality that I enjoyed in this, but allow some of it to be shed and replaced by things more recognizable and warm. In Notable American Women you can dig through the bizarre layers of symbol and object-fetishization and find an autobiographical family drama, and this is even more pronounced and well-balanced in The Flame Alphabet. I picture all three books on a continuum of increasing accessibility, or lined up as a three-circled Venn diagram measuring cold strangeness and warm familiarity--the balance was way off on this one, but seeing where it all led to makes me feel more forgiving towards its flaws. ...more
I didn't exactly walk away from reading Butler's similarly structured book, Intercourse, with much love in my heart, so I felt like I could go into this one and out the other end with a similar outcome. This was actually the one that caught my attention first and interested me more than the one in which we read the one-page of thought from a person as they get know someone else, Biblically. At the time that I first stumbled upon the fact that Severance existed--probably at least two or three years back--I was really interested in scientific and philosophical debates about The Mind, to be overly concise. So the idea of reading about what the last moments of consciousness would be like as a head severed from its body seemed both novel and weird but also seemed to hold some potential to satisfy the little neuroscience enthusiast I'd become.
I got around to the book much later on and in a period of my life when literary fiction had surpassed my interests in things like cognitive neuroscientific and philosophical investigations into the very nature of consciousness itself. Regardless of any of this, the gimmick held up better here despite the close similarities between it and Intercourse--each story is a page long and each involve famous figures and references to actual historical events.
Maybe what made this one work a little more is that I can imagine thoughts-as-internal-words when one is about the have their head lopped off, or is facing down their very immanent death in any occasion, but as much as Freud was onto something about Sex and Death being intertwined preoccupations, I just don't believe that we experience them the same linguistically. No one thinks the way Butler makes them think during sex, and while straight up realism is not something I curmudgeonly demand from fiction at all, Intercourse just became too ridiculous to take as seriously as the book makes itself seem to want to be taken. I guess the formula just works better with experiencing thoughts about mortality than it does with experiencing one of the most all-but-reptilian-brain-regions-of-the-mind-erasing activities there is: Fucking....more
So many of the books I've been reading lately are conjuring up storms in my head that coagulate into the word Inspiring. I'm feeling really inspired bSo many of the books I've been reading lately are conjuring up storms in my head that coagulate into the word Inspiring. I'm feeling really inspired by everything I've read in the last few months or so. Inspired in the sense of getting really strong, revelatory feelings about the aesthetically and "spiritually" redemptive possibilities of fiction writing. Magnetic Fields by Ron Loewinsohn; everything by Matthew Sharpe, most recently Jamestown; the flash fiction of Lydia Davis; big obvious ones like Blood Meridian and The Pale King; Lance Oslen's 10:01; even the surprisingly impressive and inspiring Letters to Emma Bowlcut written by first time fiction-attempter and well established indie musician demi-god, Bill Callahan; Steve Erickson's The Sea Came In At Midnight; and Amelia Gray's AM/PM, a sort of natural outgrowth in some ways from the pioneering flash fiction of the above mentioned Ms. Davis.
I wrote a thank you note to an author for the first time in my life and was thrilled to get a response:
I wrote down these two quotes among many quotable lines while reading AM/PM:
"Why does the rain make us feel so romantic and strange? Maybe it's the fact that we are unnatural spectators of it, from inside our homes, and it is a reminder that we have the power to live our whole lives like this, if we choose. It's not the smell of fertile ground kicked up by raindrops, or the slick leaves, or the way we must amplify our voices to be heard over this larger presence. It's the power of the rooftop that makes us want to fuck under it."
"She was the kind of girl who climbed the tallest tree and cried to be let down, but she was also the kind of girl who would scramble and jump down on her own as soon as someone went in for the ladder." ...more
Disappointing. High expectations dashed. Very hit or miss, with the misses tipping the scale in their favor.
The first one (Adam & Eve) was good,Disappointing. High expectations dashed. Very hit or miss, with the misses tipping the scale in their favor.
The first one (Adam & Eve) was good, especially Eve's perspective, which ends with "he's flailing around and proud of his own little snake," which cracked a smile. There were also some interesting glimmers of insight into the sexism of the Genesis creation story floating around in these brief, mid-coitus descriptions of the world's alleged first love-makers.
Basically, the majority of the "stories" suffer from sameness fatigue. The ostensible modus operandi is this: Deeply unrealistic (which isn't necessarily a problem in itself) internal monologues of famous people which often just try to cobble together a bunch of historical and literary allusions to the famous aspects of each person's life, and most of the time it just ends up feeling, I dunno, stupid. Most are heterosexual couplings, each beginning with the male's perspective on the first page then the female's on the second; yes, each section is limited to exactly two pages.
You'd think there would somehow be an interesting way to describe the thoughts of Hitler while he's having sex, but maybe there just isn't. At least not in a single page. Butler basically has him railing against the Jews in the privacy of his own mind while having sex. Listen, Robert, no one is that anti-Semitic, not even ol' Adolf. I mean, much of this stuff is laughable and not in a good way. Hitler is referring to himself in the third-person during sex, e.g., "the great German Empire needy for Hitler and Hitler will feed the mice and kill the beasts." C'mon, seriously??
There are a few good descriptive gems and even insights into generalizations about intercourse (usually from the female perspective) found throughout, but they were just too few and far between.
A few others I liked were Bonnie & Clyde, Walt Whitman & Oscar Wilde, and Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir. Well, the Walt and Oscar one was just enjoyably ridiculous because they both were just thinking exactly like they write.
And the most disgusting one to imagine (aside from maybe Santa & one of his elves and the most silly stupid one of them all: the rooster & the hen) was the Sarte-on-de Beauvoir action, but Simone's perspective was sort of interesting and funny in a depressing way. If that makes any sense. She describes how he's flailing away with his eyes looking in opposite directions (he was truly hideous) and neither of them looking at her, which somehow made her feel liberated in this sort of 1940's French intellectual feminist way--despite the fact that she's screwing this hideous man who won't even look at her. Anyway, who am I to judge their love?
I really wanted to love this book going into it. And I held on to this desire for about the first half of it. This was a great premise in principle but ultimately a failed experiment. I hope that Severance is better. It's the book I stumbled upon with a synopsis that alerted me to Butler's existence and got me interested in reading his work in the first place.
In the final analysis: People shouldn't be thinking in flowery poetic prose while having sex--and if they do, then they ain't fuckin' proper!...more
There's a neat little website called Five Chapters that features a new short story by a new author each week, which is written in five parts in five dThere's a neat little website called Five Chapters that features a new short story by a new author each week, which is written in five parts in five days. Amelia Gray just published one entitled "On The Predator" and it can be read here. It's a quick read and emblematic of her thoroughly enjoyable style.
A bus ride long enough for the Greyhound's smell to seep into your inner "animal cells"; snippets of a story within the story; a childhood game made of fallen leaves, foreheads and chance; an older person taking a less than grateful younger person under their wing; an institutionally all-white apartment; soup ingredients as symbolic dialog.
There was a little synchronous connection between a detail in the story and a detail in an interview that I recently listened to with Vanessa Veselka, author of an intriguing book called Zazen. Veselka apparently led a rather reckless life in a her teenage years (hitchhiking, stripping at age 15, etc) and she mentioned that the singularly important characteristic she looked for as a red flag when hitching a ride was evidence of the driver being a wealthy businessman type, specifically how well-groomed his fingernails were. She said that the presence of nails that were immaculate or manicured seeming would result in her refusing the ride. In the opening section of this story a troublesome sexual predator type's nails are described as being "groomed and perfect."
There's a fair amount of life coiled within this rather short piece and plenty of golden prose to unfurl it with. It also comes with a sometimes deceptively simple moral of the story: "[Y]ou need to realize all angles of the situation."...more