Acquired this after reading the first parts of Tao Lin's Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change about McKenna and knowing a bit about him from "ThAcquired this after reading the first parts of Tao Lin's Trip: Psychedelics, Alienation, and Change about McKenna and knowing a bit about him from "The Spirit Molecule," a Netflix documentary about DMT. The day I finished Tao's book, this arrived, as well as a 1100-page ARC I've been looking forward to reading for two years, something I assumed I'd start reading as soon as I removed it from the mailer. But first I decided I'd take a look at this Terence McKenna book -- and then I read like 50 pages that first night, giddy, completely forgetting the enormous, long-awaited ARC next in line, reveling in the humorous, flowing prose with shades of Melville as they set off into the Amazon in search of their own version of the white whale, in this case a rare psychedelic kept secret by the natives with a name like oo-oe-oe -- something like that -- but then are distracted by quite magical mushrooms growing everywhere in the jungle. There's one chapter, an aside from the current story in South America, that's essentially a sex scene a few years earlier in a small town outside of Katmandu that's easily one of the best sex scenes I've ever read, ending with the two lovers on a roof covered in a mysterious obsidian psychofluid.
My initial instinct was to read this as fiction, a major, previously unknown addition to the Amazon canon, along with Cesar Aira's An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, Werner Herzog's Conquest of the Useless, the beautiful Ciro Guerra film Embrace of the Serpent, and Herzog's two great Amazon films, Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, both of which are quests, the first with a Spanish conquistador searching for El Dorado, a mythical city of gold, and the second with a half-cracked failed businessman (formerly failed to bring ice and a railroad to the Amazon) who intends to build an opera house in Iquitos and bring Caruso there to sing but winds up pulling a steamboat over a huge hill between two rivers and calling it a success. Herzog's films are from 1972 and 1982, so the first was probably shot right around the same time the McKenna brothers were in the jungle tripping their faces off, which is pretty much what happens in this after maybe 80 pages.
They wind-up eating a ton of mushrooms, taking ayahuasca with mushrooms on top, seeing UFOs, hearing the sound of the universe, experiencing the essentially fractal nature of time -- Dennis McKenna, the author's younger brother, believes he can make any phone ring in the world, even in the past, and therefore makes his recently deceased mother's phone ring twenty years earlier and talks to her, although she doesn't believe she's talking to him because he's only three years old and he's sitting quietly next to her. Dennis, generally, breaks on through to the other side, spouts wickedly inventive, scientifically tinged psychobabble as though he's discovered the fount of the bards of yore, and seems like he might have slipped over into something more like schizophrenia than psychedelic enlightenment. The italicized excerpts from Dennis' journals I found unreadable after a while, as was a lot of the second half of this -- like listening to someone tell you their dreams in a way that's sure that their dreams are not only real but also prophetic and of super-significance to the future of humanity.
Having learned in Tao's book that Terence died of a brain tumor, I couldn't help thinking that some of the voices in his head weren't the mushroom talking to him but more so sadly derived from early-stage cancer. This can also be read as the brothers' weird way of mourning their mother's death -- and it's momentarily affecting if considered in that light but also seems like a stretch. I can't say I read the last half of the book so carefully, didn't read every word of this, skimmed pages of psychedelic psychobabble about UFOs etc, but again I loved the opening pages in which they set off to encounter the white whale of the mind -- essentially they're devoured by the mushrooms they eat and live inside the belly of the beast for a few weeks and inside it's all spectacular -- and after a while spectacularly boring -- psychedelic fireworks. After about 120 pages of this I looked forward to the enormous ARC and its promise of long passages of descriptions of child care, trying to write, and doing dishes in Scandinavia -- the quotidien wonders of old-fashioned non-lenticular reality never seemed more interesting to me, which seems to jibe just fine with the coming down after-effects of such experiences from what I can remember from long ago....more
Finished Pig Earth, the first part of the trilogy -- love reading this in general. Clear, vivid prose, solid yet liquid. A masterpiece of a story abouFinished Pig Earth, the first part of the trilogy -- love reading this in general. Clear, vivid prose, solid yet liquid. A masterpiece of a story about a favorite cow gone a bit cuckoo (such a vivid image of it seeking and finding the valley lorded over by two white bulls) and ultimately loaded onto the butcher's truck -- will need to return to that part and read again at some point. An interesting yet for me forgettable essay/intro about the political economy of the disappearing peasant class of mid-20th C. rural France. Narrated by Jean, a 70-year-old widowerer who spent 40 years in Buenos Aires, raised two children, and has returned to the mountains to live out his days (or so it seems). Stories interspersed with good short poems that reinforce the verticality of life in these parts, the cliffs and ravines. Really makes you feel for slaughtered pigs and cows -- the lifecycle of the pig from baby to buried hambone. The introduction of machines and how the peasants are scammed -- plus tips on how to gather blueberries, raise a barn, hide from Nazis, and long-lost alpine agrarian arts like that. Many character names, not always so sure who's who, but that's OK once the second half of this focuses on the Cocadrille, a halfling, manic pixie forest-type sprite girl now elderly, more than half out of her mind, or better yet charmed, who ultimately meets a violent end like the animals but seems in the mind of Jean to live on, restored to her youth. Compare/contrast with manic pixie forest-type sprite in Julien Gracq's masterpiece A Balcony in the Forest. The narrator always nicely relays a semi-mystical sense of reality permeable by ghosts and dreams and the ever-present always. An old man's novella, really -- the old ways of the world are on their way out, and Jean's time has passed too. Yet while still alive he lives in this liminal alpage zone of poetry, prose, and essay, and past, present, if not much future. The prose seems to me like a model of sincere artful maturity. My first Berger fiction -- looking forward to the rest of the trilogy and later on reading G.
Finished Once In Europa, the second part of the trilogy. More of the same, sans poetry interludes, comparatively more sustained stories, more fully centered around dramatized characters, the same sudden violence, the flock high up in the mountains downed at once by lightning, the dual sudden factory-related tragedies in the title novella (the clearest and probably best part of this so far, its centerpiece), focused more on late-stage peasantry now, the modern world's encroachment all the more advanced, but still the legless man knows how to take away the pain of burn victims and stop the bleeding of a man who accidentally cut his jugular with a chainsaw. "Into Their Labors" could have been titled "Endangered Species" and been more popular maybe? Looking forward to the final part of the trilogy, another 150 pages or so.
Skimmed the last part, Lilac And Flag. Just not into it. Not as accessible -- the prose seemed like the work of a finger on a steamed-up mirror. I quit on it, essentially, soon after the television exploded. Too restless, want to move on to something else and can feel how this one will move at a 10-page-a-day pace. Maybe because the opening started with butterflies I never quite believed this part? I'm sure I'm missing a pivotal scene that summarizes and concludes everything but that's OK. Maybe I'll return to it later once I've read more of him.
Generally, this has some high alpine peaks that make it worthwhile but my attention fell off toward the end.
I should probably move the above bits to their respective books but nah. My all-important provision of stars won't reflect the third part of the trilogy....more
From the cover and title this seems like it would be terrible times ten. But not at all. It's about as good as a memoir about being a kind crunchy touFrom the cover and title this seems like it would be terrible times ten. But not at all. It's about as good as a memoir about being a kind crunchy tour-head brother could be. It's flowing, insightful, self-aware, nicely structured, not at all hippy dippy and sunshine daydream/idiotic. Last summer, I loved the author's book about the famous 5/8/77 show at Cornell's Barton Hall and so thought I'd give this a try. Loved just about every bit of it -- it fully evokes the experience of going to shows in the late '80s as a white suburban teen searching for the sound (I'm two years younger than the author). Loved some of the details I'd forgotten, particularly the Rainbow Family and the calls of "Six Up!" when cops were near -- immediately upon reading and remembering it I was teleported to parking lots outside Dead and JGB shows at JFK, RFK, Giants Stadium, Rich Stadium, Shoreline, Cal Expo, Buckeye Lake, The Spectrum, Richfield Coliseum, Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, and a hockey rink (Community War Memorial Auditorium) in the author's hometown of Rochester (a fall '93 JGB show, still one of the top concerts of my life). Loved that he's open about how he supported himself on tour. Loved the bit about transitioning away from the band as the scene went downhill and other bands emerged (I saw Phish a lot in small venues in the early '90s too) -- and loved the last chapter, seeing a Dead cover band as a middle-aged adult and recognizing how the music is now free among the people. Although some of the parts about his high school experience (the trestle) I wasn't into as much (4.5 stars rounded up), this is highly recommended summer-reading if you've got a notion (loved the subtle integration of lyrics throughout too). If you're not a fan of the band, I can't imagine you'd read this unless you were into cult memoirs or late-20th century American nondenominational religious experiences or psychedelics or deep into memoirs by fans of bands (do others even exist?). Reading about The Dead has become my light beach-reading -- so easy and enjoyable and evocative of lost time. I'll probably read the Garcia bio this summer....more
KOK enthusiasts expecting more of the same (see Autumn, Winter) will come away with expectations undermined but they won't be disappointed -- like sprKOK enthusiasts expecting more of the same (see Autumn, Winter) will come away with expectations undermined but they won't be disappointed -- like spring itself, this one refreshes the overall project (which by the end of "Winter" had begun to feel, if not cold, than maybe a little rote). This one strips away the structure in the other two installments but maintains the general conceit of a letter to his fourth child, now an infant daughter. It's actually structured more like a thriller, propelled by the literary technique of "withholding." Like the coming of spring, the story emerges from internal frozen stiffness to loose frenzy in the open air -- KOK visits Child Protection Services to discuss a recent incident but he conspicuously fails to reveal what happened. Immediate nondisclosure supercharges everything to come with a sense of oh shit what's going to happen to his three young kids (the eldest about to turn ten) and the newborn? The inevitability of the revelation of an incident that will ultimately require a Child Protection Services visit elevates the prosaic quotidian mundane etc description --- the conventional KOK approach we know and love (as always he also winds up in an uncanny way discussing novels, movies, and bands I consider favorites; in this, it's Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage," and QOTSA, who a friend from college drums for now) -- and charges life with significance thanks to the threat of endangerment or even death (semi-reminiscent of the section about Noah and the Flood in A Time for Everything).
I won't reveal what happens since, as in the other installments in the series so far, it's more about the interpenetration of this and that, movement between external and internal, between life and death, between freeze and thaw, etc. At one point discussing Jens Bjørneboe's great "History of Bestiality" trilogy (Moment of Freedom, Powderhouse, The Silence), KOK writes: ". . . that catalogue of infamies, atrocities, and abuses is true sentence for sentence, but as a whole it is a deception. Certainly evil exists, but it is insignificant in relation to non-evil. Certainly darkness exists, but merely as pinpricks in the light. Certainly life is painful, but the pain is merely a kind of invisible channel that we follow through what is otherwise neutral or good, and which we sooner or later emerge from."
Whereas the other installments seem almost like exercises in describing dualism ("light and darkness in perpetual round lodge and dislodge by turns" per Ol' Blind Milton), in this the dualism is dramatized. Talking about living where he lives in a somewhat remote area he says "what I was looking for was never the new, but the old truths as expressed by the new." Again, there's that interpenetration of opposites (it's springtime, when the light says summer and the air says winter), which really is what literature is all about -- describing and dramatizing the complexity of existence and thereby elevating life via art, instead of reducing it to opposing forces forever in conflict via lies intended to manipulate (e.g., @realDonaldTrump -- ah, see how a Proponent of Complexity just proposed an oppositional system and reduced the world to THIS versus THAT but then recognized what he'd done and, instead of holding opposing forces apart and deeming one unequal to the other, he decided to parenthetically highlight how his dimwittedness dramatizes interpenetrative dualism?).
Anyway, an unexpectedly refreshing installment that you might want to start with if you've been hesitant to try the other seasons so far....more
A gripping, riveting, vivid, absolutely real, wrenching opening 61 pages, approximately a quarter of the book -- it doesn't quite feel right to call iA gripping, riveting, vivid, absolutely real, wrenching opening 61 pages, approximately a quarter of the book -- it doesn't quite feel right to call it a novel. (We need a new term for autofictional books. "Books" works, I guess.) Anyway, fiction that feels unlike fiction for the most part because it's most likely not fictional at all remains my favorite sort of fiction, or my favorite sort of writing in general. What's remarkable about this is its pace despite its heft, its speed as it relays the premature birth of narrator's daughter Livia and premature death of the narrator's girlfriend Karin, followed by the narrator's father's final hospice days and funeral -- the heaviness of the content combined with the aerodynamics of the form, the straightforward, natural language without excessive description but not at all stingy or stunted or degraded when it comes to evoking the world around these people, that juxtaposition, like hot and cold air currents meeting in the lower and upper atmosphere, creates a compelling narrative storm. Or something like that.
It's set in Sweden but could be anywhere with insane Kafkaesque (in the clusterfucked Escherian bureaucratic sense) legal responses to tragedy. A reference to "Thomas-Fucking-Bernhard" right before a few paragraphless pages. Some interesting stuff about the narrator's father, the greatest Swedish sportswriter of his time who ghostwrites articles for Bjorn Borg and when the narrator was a child tried to expose how the mafia and other gambling interests were bribing players to throw games, which led to armed guards in their house -- and once, importantly, when the guards told them to take cover and get down, the narrator's mother told the young narrator it's all make-believe, something he returns to later, this sense of fiction as protection. So, although this book/novel/whatever you call it feels absolutely real, its reality is presented as fiction for the protective distance of the act of creating art.
Knausgaard comparisons are inevitable due to approach and setting but they're pretty different writers. Both KOK and Malmquist tell stories about moving out from under the shadow of dads who drink and starting their own families -- and they both let readers see intimate family moments that aren't often flattering at all. But KOK is more of a spiritual writer, more of a quotidian mystic in a way, his pages seem more open, have more space to them, he sees into the distance (abstract and physical) more often; he's intentionally trying to do something writing-wise (write as close as he can to the core of his life). Malmquist in this doesn't seem to have aspirations or ambitions other than to preserve the experience and, by doing so, avail himself of the protective qualities of transforming experience into story -- something that's only suggested, not stated.
"Every love story is a ghost story," per DFW, and that's the case for a lot of this, but this also ends with cherry blossoms, with spring, with rebirth, with hope. A great read -- thankful for my mother's recommendation. Four stars for my reading experience of the final 100 pages or so, which weren't as immersive as I'd've liked and thereby I felt like I lost some of the momentum and clarity of the first 100 pages or so. I'm sure if I read the second half of this in one sitting I would've rated this the full five....more
EMR dedicates this to his sister who was beheaded in a concentration camp, in part to reach her famous brother who had condemned the Nazis while in exEMR dedicates this to his sister who was beheaded in a concentration camp, in part to reach her famous brother who had condemned the Nazis while in exile in Switzerland. Yet the author's presence isn't felt. It's never vindictive or violently passionate. The narrative voice never dehumanizes, never does unto others as others have done unto his sister -- it keeps its cool and holds the gaze of the slowly dying sado-ubermencsh until his eyes turn to sightless jelly.
A goddamn great novel, generally. Rising drama for the win. Nearly as vivid, moving, significant, and unputdownable as A Time to Love and a Time to Die, which I read directly before this one, which EMR wrote directly after this one. Both are set in Germany during WWII, both structured absolutely linearly, and to extraordinary effect both use the Allied bombings of civilian populations in smaller towns to propel them forward.
"A Time to Love and A Time to Die" is more of a love story, a close-third POV limited to a single German soldier on leave -- like EMR knew he had something good with the Allied bombings but wanted to zoom-in on its effect on a single story/character after this one's roving POV, accessing the thoughts of dozens of prisoners, kapos, guards, SS, and townsfolk, although it primarily focuses on a prisoner known only as 509 for three quarters of the novel and the SS concentration camp commander, a former postal clerk. The camp isn't a death camp although it has a crematorium to dispose of bodies that waste away or are beaten to death. Some of the prisoners have been there more than a decade -- political prisoners, Communists, the editor of a newspaper who denounced the Nazis, a doctor who knew an SS officer had syphilis, etc. In the camp, the Communists and more democratic leaning prisoners have formed an underground coalition that meets and makes plans, gathers weapons, resists when it cans.
At first it took 75 to 100 pages for the characters to cohere and the story to start when 509 and another character refuse to submit to the camp doctor's experiments -- they're beaten viciously but survive -- and since they're not executed they give the other prisoners hope. A major positive for this is its setting in time: late-winter/early spring 1945. As the weather warms and they hear artillery fire in the distance they know that they have weeks, maybe even days until liberation, so they do whatever they can to stall their deaths, to live just a few more days, to delay going up through the crematorium chimney. As the British and Americans approach, the novel takes off and I read it compulsively, wanting to return to it whenever I put it down. Who would survive after so many years in the camp? Man, I hope 509 makes it! Would the SS ship everyone off to a death camp or just murder all the prisoners, set the barracks on fire and machine gun them before abandoning the camp and running from the Allies? Or maybe the Allies would inadvertently bomb the camp?
I won't divulge what happens but generally the ending makes it a great novel, especially for the depiction of the camp commander Neubauer who toward the end distances himself from real sadistic Nazis and tries to whitewash his reputation by planting some primroses around the barracks and increasing the food ration as he daydreams about surrendering as a military officer, ceremonially handing over his sword and informing his British and American conquerors that he had only been following orders and performing his duties, which as soldiers they will of course understand . . .
4.75 stars rounded down for the occasional murky machinations of the prisoners' schemes (bartering, bribes, etc), some difficulty keeping the characters straight (similar names of a few prisoners may be intentional since after a while all the prisoners look like walking skeletons with huge eyes and nostrils too large), and a translation that seemed less artful, patient, and/or milky than the other EMR's I've read. The language in this seemed weaker to me, comparatively spare, quick/rushed (probably loyal to the text due to the POV), and occasional sentences in dialogue that end with the odd "what?" This "what?" threw me off every time it appeared -- I suppose it could be rendered in common American English as "huh?" Also a few errors in the text ("I" instead of "It" for example).
But enough quibbling over minor demerits! Again, this is a great novel, a masterpiece of conventional rising drama, vivid, gripping, horrifying, never cartoonish, with moments of top-notch abstraction without getting in the way of the story's steady, natural progression.
I'll definitely be an EMR completist by the end of the year....more