Julian's Reviews > Only Revolutions

Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski
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's review
Jul 12, 2012

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Read in July, 2012

I enjoyed Only Revolutions. While writing this I noticed that most people loved or hated this book. Each side usually stating why the other was ridiculous and wrong (the 'five-stars' claiming that this is just as interesting and complex as House of Leaves and the 'one-stars' saying the five-stars are pretentious hipsters who like to pretend that they “get” everything and everyone else is stupid). I can see the points that both bring up. I adamantly stand against the idea that art should be made simple because some people won't understand it (because, well, some people don't want to). At the same time I adamantly stand against the idea of making something purposefully complex and impenetrable and then saying that people who can't understand it are stupid (this is Foucault's supposed critique of Derrida.) Whether Foucault actually said it or not I think it brings up a valid point about contemporary art and thought in general. Simple ideas are sometimes conveyed in overly complex ways to make the person saying it seem better or smarter than the people they just purposefully confused. Does Danielewski do this in Only Revolutions? I'm not entirely convinced one way or the other. My opinion on this book revolves as much as its format (I don't think that fact makes it incredible, or terrible, for that matter).

There's an element of this that is similar to when someone explains their own joke, or when an art student explains to you why their art is significant and full of hidden meanings and, because of this, you should think some thing about it (this is not meant as a pejorative, just as a descriptor, sometimes the explanations offered by those students are interesting - sometimes they're not). But if you don't like this kind of thing then you probably won't like Only Revolutions and I would suggest you check out something else by Danielewski instead.

Only Revolutions contains a revolving mathematical format and these elements relate in a very complex way (a way that I will admit I don't fully understand and would not have understood if I didn't venture into the internet). The story itself is told in stream of consciousness and the dust jacket is more coherent than anything you will glean from the pages. Even the elements that appear on the jacket could be contested since the events that occur in the narrative(s) are slightly different, time place and everything else easily flip with each page turn (meaning certain elements and commonalities between the narratives are often the only way to tell anything is going on at all). Most books have some sort of plot to follow - Only Revolutions has certain themes that repeat and repeat. For these reasons there are tons of theories about what it means, what it's saying, if you can say anything about it at all and everything in between. Thankfully I didn't look any of these up before I read the book (I would suggest you don't either, why spoil things?)

I enjoyed Only Revolutions because I don't mind stream of consciousness writing and I like the way that Danielewski writes. Some of these passages are written incredibly well, others aren't, them's the breaks. Danielewski is capable of using language in a very visceral way and when I read through this book my mind comes up with repeating images and draws connections between different themes and elements (that other people may or may not have seen, I don't think this matters. Not to me at least). I approach it kind of like how I approach the world – it's some sort of strange thing and it just keeps going around and around and some things can be made to make sense to me while other things make sense to other people. Some people claim they know everything about how it works and some people claim the other people are crazy. I don't know, I just have fun while reading through it and I don't need any other reason. Reading can be fun, right?

Here's a quote from the first page, there's 360 more like it, you'll know what you want to do:
“Samsara! Samarra!
I can walk away from anything.
Everyone loves the dream but I kill it.
Atlas Mountain Cedars gush over me: -Up Boogaloo!
I leap free this spring.
On fire. How my hair curls.
I'll destroy the world.
That's all. Big ruin all around. With a wiggle.
With a waggle. A spin.
Allmighty sixteen and freeeeee.”

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