4/30/12

Susan Steinberg's stories evoke the schizophrenia of our times, a community of voices at the zero point:just me and him driving, just the road and road signs, just broken white lines on the road, just the headlights nearing, then past, then dark, just the radio hum, a song, what was it, just a song from before





Susan Steinberg, The End of Free Love, Fiction Collective 2, 2003.

"Susan Steinberg's first collection of stories, The End of Free Love, evokes the schizophrenia of our times, a community of voices at the zero point. Like the voices that splinter from Marguerite Dura's work, these characters, too, are neurotic, taking refuge in comic books, food, music, sex, and lies. Violence is everywhere: in every emotion, in every words. Throughout The End of Free Love Steinberg creates a hybrid text, blending poetry and fiction in writing that is as much about its form as it is content. This is fiction that offers itself up for our delight, while remaining as elusive and unpredictable as language itself."

"The stories of The End of Free Love mark a great beginning. They are seductive and migratory, tapped into our earliest sense of the world. Steinberg inhabits our first bewilderments, the terrors and the tenderness that shape our lives. To read her is to fall out of the daily into a fresh elation." —Noy Holland

"Her debut is a phenomenal collection of stories written in the uncertain, hesitating dialect of the bewildered - fragmented sentences that mirror fragmented souls." —San Diego Union-Tribune

"Given FC2's overall project, it is no surprise that Susan Steinberg's collection of short stories is formally innovative. When done poorly, playing with forms stems from gimmicks. When done well, as is the case in The End of Free Love, formal creativity unleashes a wonderful synergy between form and content." —Rain Taxi

"I can still hear Susan Steinberg reading the story "Life" from her debut short story collection The End of Free Love at Baltimore’s Ottobar this winter:
just me and him driving, just the road and road signs, just broken white lines on the road, just the headlights nearing, then past, then dark, just the radio hum, a song, what was it, just a song from before, just his untucked shirt, his coat on the seat, just my lipstick rising up and up, just my lipstick pressing to my lips in the dark, my: do you like it, his: do I what,
Steinberg cadenced the sensually dark words with urgency and the story beat through the room. All of the stories in the collection should be heard from the author’s voice. If you don’t have access to Steinberg for a reading, you can still hear the rhythm in the writing by reading them aloud, even if you don’t do them justice (I didn’t.)
The experimental hybridizations of prose and verse that make up the collection read like long prose poems. Steinberg sometimes focuses more on style and form than on plot and traditional character development, but in the best of the collection, she nails both. In the title story, adolescents engage in ‘locking’ -- their made up word for getting loaded by drinking overdoses of cough syrup. The characters reveal themselves and their sub-subculture as they move through their high – here we get the whole story. The subject matter is ideal for Steinberg’s sound. That’s not to say that her stories are all like being high on cough medicine, but that her hypnotic voice is well utilized in this piece, the strongest in the collection.
Another especially bright point in the collection, "Life", is the story I heard Steinberg read. On reread, it’s still a knockout because again, the sound of the story is so good and so appropriate to the subject of the story -- a young woman seducing the man driving her home after a party. The sexuality of the story matches equally with the sensuous writing.
"Nothing", about an adolescent boy with a love of comic books who keeps a list of the people he hates, also works especially well. Repetition and short, clipped sentences build tension around the confrontation of the boy’s parents and a therapist over the list. The story’s light on plot and lacks the conventions of the traditional Short Story, but fits perfectly here and carries real emotional weight despite the unfamiliar style because the characterization shows so clearly through the style.
The collection works so well because the characters so strongly emerge out of the poetry of Steinberg’s writing. The experimental label potentially turns readers away because of the usual association between experimental writing with difficult, obscure writing, but that’s not the case here -- although the stories are challenging, they are populated with real people.
Experimental, ambitious writing can be risky, but taking chances makes a collection like this worthwhile. With any experiment, however, there are going to be things that work well and things that don’t. For example, the one-long-paragraph story "Standstill" was a bit tedious. The collection could have benefited, too, from more stylistic variation, as in stories like "Isla", told in short, numbered paragraphs, or the short, dated entries of "Forward". The stories that work really well, like "The End of Free Love" and "Life" work really well, but when a story doesn’t have the same impact, the reading at times became laborious. Fortunately, the many heights in the collection more than compensate for the few dips.
In a short story, readers often demand a clear, concrete path. In The End of Free Love, Steinberg freed herself somewhat from this obligation, but occasionally she swerves a little too far off the road. There’s nothing that absolutely doesn’t work, only times when a story or stylistic choice didn’t quite stand up to the rest of the collection. The writing’s so interesting, though, that when I encountered something puzzling or unclear, I reminded myself to think of the poetic side of the hybrid form. Billy Collins advises not to ‘tie the poem to a chair with rope and torture a confession out of it’ in his poem "Introduction to Poetry" and that’s good advice to remember while reading The End of Free Love. The stories don’t always tell you their message in clear terms, but that’s okay. Sometimes all you need to do is listen." - Matthew Kirkpatrick


"The End of Free Cough Syrup
She felt no contempt, she said, for her fellow artists who counted themselves realists, in fact she envied them, they seemed so young, so untouched, there was something childlike and belligerent in their art. - Joyce Carol Oates, Solstice
In my favorite writing workshop at the University of Minnesota, the professor, Valerie Miner, prohibited students from saying anything while their own stories were being discussed. On the first day of class, Miner issued a list of rules like bug spray—as a result, some students immediately dropped the course, while others resisted and became serious pests.
The most persistent rule-breakers wrote “experimental” fiction. For many students, it seemed the same lack of discipline and maturity that drove them to shun classroom rules also shaped their experimental (rule-breaking) fiction, which Miner did not try to regulate. After the experimentalists could roll their eyes no more at what they considered gross misreadings of their work, they would burst forth with quick, angry disclaimers. While the comments were often arrogant or pretentious (“I didn’t FORGET to use punctuation—I’m trying to show you a new way of reading”), they occasionally approached legitimacy: “My writing just seems unclear because it accurately reflects my characters’ interior realities,” and “I mix dialogue and narrative together to slow you down and force a more careful interpretation.”
And sometimes the objections were right on target (in which case, they usually were offered by the professor.) I was always amazed by how clearly Miner could see into her students’ manuscripts. At a glance, she could tell the real thing from gratuitous experimentalism, and with a single comment, Miner could deflect unfair or irrelevant criticism from a story.
Thus, she cleared the way not only for a constructive reading of the manuscript under review, but also for an appreciation of experimental or innovative forms of writing in general (the workshop was called “Forms of Fiction”). Without the experience the course provided, I wouldn’t attempt to write about the subject of this article: Susan Steinberg’s collection of stories, The End of Free Love.
The title story is perhaps the most accessible of all eighteen pieces. In the spring, a teenaged boy and girl take a “three hour bus to the ocean” where they get stoned off of cough syrup. The sensation, they say, is like “being cold your whole life and a blanket appears.” It’s significant that the blanket merely “appears,” as if to mock their needs rather than fulfill them. The curtailed image contradicts the profound experiences the kids claim to have.
The narrators (who use the royal “we” throughout the story) frequently describe the drug’s disassociative effects and reduce the sensation to one word: “locking.” They become irate when other kids, who merely take the “okayed dosage,” use their word: “They call it locking when they’re fakers walking in a zombie way.” Even worse, the fakers steal cough syrup, while the narrators “always pay” and are therefore “the truest thing.” The story is their manifesto, whose only workable policy calls for an end to free cough syrup.
The narrators also denounce the 60s “life-way”—not “lifestyle.” They feel the need to stake a claim to that word too, but not explicitly; they don’t prattle on about it like they do about “locking.” If you dislike these kids as much as I do by this point, the “life-way” remark might get under your skin. I should also mention that the story does not reveal that a common term already exists for getting high off of large doses of cough syrup—it’s called “tussing,” named after the generic cough syrup Tussin DM. This nonfictional detail becomes relevant, perhaps, in light of the narrators’ preoccupation with coining words and claiming authenticity.
Because they are the “truest thing,” the narrators mark “the end of free love,” which suggests they are the vanguard of a new generation. The soaring rhetoric and constant self-mythologizing rankles, but the joyless sound of the phrase ultimately rings true, whether the kids mean it that way or not. By the end of the story, the title might sound earnest, rather than ironic, even though the kids are fakers themselves.
Just because the narrators are annoying does not mean the story is flawed. In The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield comes close to being that which he despises most, a “phony,” but the irony adds to the richness of the story. The same must be said for “The End of Free Love,” but the cough syrup junkies are so obviously a sham, you come close to dismissing them completely, rather than having the kind of conflicting emotions that make for great literature. Throughout the collection, Steinberg tests limits—with her characters and with her formal techniques.
When you finish the tough task of reading one of Steinberg’s stories, you can look forward to the more pleasurable experience of thinking and wondering about it. I tried to rush through the first step to get on with the second, but obviously it didn’t work. It’s a constant temptation, though. The stories’ packaging—the lists, short paragraphs, long streams of consciousness, and sentences that somehow move at a high speed—invite you to consume them rapidly. But what you think is bubble gum often turns out to be something tougher and less palatable. One of the common writing workshop disclaimers mentioned above accurately describes Steinberg’s stories: they slow you down and force a more careful interpretation.
Conceptual fiction is often about itself ultimately, and The End of Free Love is no exception. The publisher makes no secret of this: the book’s cover states that Steinberg’s writing “is as much about form as it is content.” For many writers of conceptual fiction, the self-referential tendency can easily turn into self-indulgence. Another common disclaimer that comes up in writing workshops, when somebody questions the realism of a scene, is that the story creates its own reality. The writer might say, for example, “So what if my scuba diving scene is full of technical errors? It’s really a metaphor for the writing process, for the difference between shallow and deep writing, and (here comes another common disclaimer) the fact that you dwell on superficial errors only shows that you’re not open to the possibilities of my prose.
That sounds like something the cough syrup junkies would say. Actually, casting the kids as avant-garde artists offers a rich interpretation¾in which case the “fakers” would be gratuitous experimentalists and “locking” a metaphor for the artistic process. Much of Steinberg’s fiction operates best as allegory; her stories seem to express what the quote at the top of this article says about “realists.” Their art is “childlike and belligerent” with its rudimentary meaning-making abilities, compared to Steinberg’s high art. Fortunately, however, Steinberg’s fiction—especially the title story—doesn’t rely on an allegorical reading. As unsophisticated as it might sound, I prefer to think of the protagonists as real kids.
The stories themselves are rich—and demanding—enough to force you to read them simultaneously as fiction and poetry. The strongest piece in the collection, “Isla,” could be read as a retelling of Anne Sexton’s poem, “Oysters.” In both pieces, a creepy, incestuous aura hangs over a teenage girl and her father as they eat at a restaurant. The fathers’ personalities are polar opposite: in “Oysters,” the father is ominously silent, and in “Isla” he does all the talking. His staccato utterances are numbered, from one to 134, as if to quantify the damage he’s inflicting on his daughter.
Most of the stories explore damaged minds. In “Nothing,” we inhabit an adolescent boy’s subconscious as he sits in a circle with his parents and possibly a therapist. Reminiscent of the Columbine killer, Dylan Klebold, the narrator has created a list of people and things he dislikes—with a “violent title,” according to a parent.
The narrator’s thoughts are presented in parenthesis, neatly separated from the narration and exterior dialogue—however, the exterior information is infrequent and unreliable. He doesn’t care much about things happening outside his mind, and his interior landscape is full of confusion, disappointment, and hostility. Like the Columbine killers, the petty torments the narrator receives from his peers trigger grand visions of revenge: “I would go, poof! And the females disappear,” and “The females shake in circles. Oh horrible bloody messes!”
He borrows his modus operandi from comic books—the Columbine killers got theirs from the video game “Doom.” After a few minutes in the narrator’s head, it’s easy to imagine a shotgun in his gym bag and a pipe bomb in his closet. The story provides a harrowing glimpse into a troubled and possibly antisocial mind.
The stories are arranged thoughtfully. As much as they jump all over stylistically, they progress thematically from troubled adolescence toward jaded adulthood, with some exceptions. While the book is full of different voices, it gives an impression of a single lifespan. Steinberg’s publisher, the Fiction Collective Two (FC2), seems to prefer books that provide a portrait of a generation. As one of FC2’s founders, Ronald Sukenick, sought to mark the end of a generation with his book 98.6, so does Susan Steinberg with The End of Free Love." - Doug Pond


"After my end-of-2005 reading binge, it wasn't easy to finish a book in the first month of 2006. Part of the problem is that I'm usually reading several books at once, and one tends to get more attention than the others. This really has nothing to do with the quality of the others, but rather with what interests me at the moment. It's been easy for me to read books on editing and design, but fiction? Well, I enjoyed every bit of Susan Steinberg's The End of Free Love, but I can't remember the last time it took me this long to read a book.
Granted, this isn't typical fiction. FC2 is known for publishing experimental fiction, and The End of Free Love hits the mark. This books lacks (though this is not a fault) dialogue. Every story in this collection of stories clearly tells a story, but Steinberg doesn't necessarily rely upon plot to do so. The best way to explain this is to quote D. A. Powell's blurb:
[Steinberg's] stories are symphonies of voice, a landscape of characters created purely in the act of speaking.
Whether each story's primary character is speaking aloud or just thinking the words is open to debate. Regardless, Steinberg masterfully creates tension. I believe her background in art (she has a BFA in painting) gives her this ability. Each sentence is a brushstroke, and stroke after stroke slowly creates the entire picture. The tension is created both by this slow-building process and troubled characters who worry the reader with their destructive tendencies.
One of the stories, Forward, shares excerpts of letters from a girl to an athlete. Her sister, she says, was injured at his last game and is now in the hospital. He must come see her. Through ten days of letters we discover that the girl has no sister but wants the athlete to visit her in the hospital and when he never arrives her obsession turns to disgust. “From the mouse hole is a bright light under the door and the metal bed that is empty and no visitors allowed especially not you. Another story, Winner, shares wedding toasts from hell:
"The ladies loved him. No offense to the bride. He's all yours now Mrs. But he had his fans. Let's be honest kids. How many times was I like, brother friend. Share the wealth. Ladies lining up for this guy."
These stories are nefarious, funny, tragic. Pick up this book if you want writing that taps into and recalls emotion. Pick it up if you want to be seduced by a fresh and original kind of fiction." - Fade Theory

Excerpt
Read it at Google Book


Susan Steinberg, Hydroplane: Fictions, Fiction Collective 2; 2006.

"Hydroplane is a story collection filled with the urgency of erotic obsession. Its breathless voices, palpable in their desire, are propelled by monomania, rushing from one preoccupation into another: a garage, a painting class, a basketball game, boys. Their words take on kinetic force, an almost headlong momentum, as though, while reading, one were picking up speed, veering out of control. The past returns. Rumination are continuous. A stranger at a bus stop is indistinguishable from the narrator’s deceased grandfather; party guests turn ghoulish, festivities merge with nightmares.
Hydroplane reads like a nocturnal drive along a vapored highway, similar in its furious wanderlust to the novels of Beckett — Watt or Molloy. Much like those title characters, the speakers populating this collection are crippled by their loss, able only to rummage through recollections as buffers to the indistinct future. One story, “Static,” follows a few steps behind a teenage girl as she spends the summer at the home of her divorcee father. Squandering evenings behind the House of Mirrors, she discovers herself as a sexual entity, the object of a man’s desire.
Each of Steinberg’s stories builds as if telegraphed, relaying mere slivers of the past. One sentence glissades into the next as though in perpetual motion: “And I thought of trees. How they grow out of nothing. Dirt. How they grow into nothing. Air. How somehow there’s life. A spark. Until it gets crushed. That’s life you know. Screaming oneself awake.” That is, to awaken from a dream while behind the wheel and to realize that the past is not only alive and well, but thriving."

"The dozen moody stories of Steinberg's second collection (after The End of Free Love) buzz with a tangible erotic tension, sometimes laced with loneliness, sometimes urgent with desire. In the title tale, high school memories of bad-girl behavior color the narrator's fraught encounter with a man who stops to change her flat tire on a lonely, rain-slicked highway. The same slippery overlap of present and past energizes the spooky "The Last Guest," in which the narrator's meeting with an aloof red-haired man, the last to arrive at a house party, triggers memories of the seventh grade: both the physical charge of dry-humping with a "boy-looking girl" and the perversity with which the two friends stalked a redheaded boy—now grown into the mysterious man. Snapshots of a beach vacation form "Static," about a teenage girl who tests the power of her newfound sexuality ("always a cocktease, always wriggling") while she observes her father with his girlfriends, "every summer a new bleach-blonde with toothpick legs." Experimental but never opaque, Steinberg's stories seethe with real and imagined menace." - Publishers Weekly

"Steinberg proved that she can play with form in her debut, The End of Free Love (2003), and she continues to scratch sparks against the predictable in her second collection, which is reminiscent of works by Mary Robison and Amy Hempel. A thick cloud of mania and obsession hangs over these erotically charged, lightly plotted stories. In "Lifelike," a young art student suffers panic attacks while being stifled by her diamond-encrusted mother; in another, a pair of siblings discover their father hanging from the rafters of the family garage. To recount the stark details of this collection, though, is to miss the rhapsody of the prose, for these stories read more like poems, and Steinberg uses repetition--of words, sentence sequences, images, and circular meanings--to evoke the mind's inner clockwork. Every reader has lived a Steinberg story, everyone has been lonely, or chronically fixated on something just out of reach. Steinberg walks a delicate line here between real life and hidden association, sentiment and reality, and she does so with ease." - Emily Cook

"The test of any book, for me, is how much I can read of it in one sitting. Not whether I can have the story completely swallow me up and hold me like an overzealous lover through the night, though I value that experience, too, which is typically the province of the novel to create a world for us and consume our time, our consciousness, to force us to turn page after page, proceeding linearly through, until we have to sleep because we have to get up to work, love, court, or other responsibilities tomorrow. That's good, yes, definitely, who doesn't want that?, but:
What I most like is for a book to speak enough to me that I can get through no more than a story, five pages of text, maybe, before I feel like I have to break away, either from the intensity of the gaze or because I want to apply these stories to my own and let them spawn. I want a book to operate on my consciousness in such a way that it induces the sort of state that prompts my own work, drives me to put down the book and go to the keyboard because I am primed for something new. It's better if the story creates a kind of excruciating pleasure where you are enjoying its work on you, but you want to get away, you need to, and will soon, if only the spell will be broken, though you're not willing to do that mid-story, because that disrespects the mind at work on you as represented by these sentences.
So it is with pleasure that I read Susan Steinberg's Hydroplane slowly, piecemeal, one story at a time, with significant breaks between. I recommend it to you that way, for in a lot of ways Steinberg does not seem interested in the project of the novel (or the traditional story).
Generally this book's method is to construct the character (and by extension the world) through fragmentary first-person utterance, through the bursts and reversals of a voice trying to tell us something. For instance, the action (such as it is) in "The Garage" is narrated in 77 discrete fragments. Each is a new start, false, often jumping backwards or forwards in time, revising or revisiting some previous action or filling in a gap left from before, or modifying a previous statement:
This is really a story about our father. About how he hanged himself in the garage that day. We used to say he hung himself. But the word is hanged.
That's the whole section or strophe or whatever you want to call it. Even in this short bit we get revision, reversal, an identifying of what the story's ostensibly about, even as it is obviously about something other than this, quite possibly the difficulty of language and the workings of the mind. So the unspooling of plot isn't all that important (though there is some of the plot revealed in this way too): what's more interesting in a Steinberg story is watching the character become clearer, more defined, as she (it is always, or almost always a she, often early adult or adolescent, usually sexualized, obsessive, thinking intermittently of fucking, she as ball of intellect, dialect, and desire) tacks around a central idea watching it come together or fall apart.
There is a downside to this method, in that the stories' shapes are not overly varied, nor are the voices always all that different from each other. I guess this creates a stylistic similarity that brings the book together, but also possibly flattens (or focuses, one could argue) its effect. And there's probably critique to be had in the constant presence of desire (fucking, fucking, fucking) and the possibility that this creates another sort of flatness in the book. But I don't see much point in critique, when my first concern here is pleasure, and there is a lot of pleasure on the sentence level, which is the first place I feel we should start to give a shit.
Hydroplane is a more assured project than her previous book, The End of Free Love (which I also liked, and which worked in some ways like this one), and offers an intense reading experience, because of the project and her vision, her version of story. I can't say how it reads cover to cover since I found it impossible to read in that way, and besides it comes on strong enough to probably make it tough going to read more than a story or two at a time. Devotees of more straightforward types of fiction might find this difficult, though that's a lame reason to shy away from powerful fiction. The power of the voice here is dazzling, virtuoso at times, and has much to offer any sort of reader or writer.
So think of it like this: Hydroplane as seed, sourdough starter, amino acids stewing. There is sufficient power in Steinberg's sentences, each one like a little big bang creating its own consciousness or echo, to push me or you to the keyboard. Which is a pretty big victory from my point of view." - AM at Diagram

"You don't just read Susan Steinberg's stories; you hold on tight to her words and go along for the ride.
The author of ``Hydroplane'' takes you from one moment to another, from one form to another, in breathless, urgent prose.
``The start. There were fits. Then fitful thoughts. But first there were stars. They flashed past my face. And I watched them flash. And I felt my pulse. And the speed. I need not say.''
So begins "Lifelike,'' a story about a young art student who suffers panic attacks while being stifled by her mother.
Steinberg's stories are dark and moody and palpable. They screech from present to past and build into tales of characters scrambling their way through both.
In ``Garage,'' a pair of siblings wonder about whether a different relationship with their father would have kept him from hanging himself in the garage. "Perhaps we would have made some kind of pact with God to act more caring around our father instead of being the perfect brats we had become.''
In the title tale, high school memories affect the narrator's charged encounter with a man who stops to change her flat tire on a lonely, rain-slicked highway.
In ``The Last Guest,'' the narrator's meeting with a red-haired man, the last to arrive at a house party, triggers adolescent memories of dry-humping with a ``boy-looking girl'' and stalking a redheaded boy who is now the mysterious man.
And in "`Static,'' flashbacks of a beach vacation form the story of a teenage girl who tests the power of her burgeoning sexuality while observing her father's relationship with women.
"... every summer a new bleach-blonde with toothpick legs.''
But to merely recount the plots would be to miss the best part of her stories - not so much the tales, but the way in which Steinberg chooses to tell them. The way she navigates, manipulates and ultimately controls the language in a way that few authors do, a way I suspect few authors have the confidence to.
Steinberg, whose stories have been published in The Gettysburg Review, Quarterly West, Conjunctions, Boulevard, New Letters, Denver Quarterly, The Massachusetts Review and other literary journals, doesn't merely write. She paints -- big, complicated pictures in which characters and themes thrown into the past and present and then back again in an effort to make sense of the world around them.
"And I thought of trees. How they grow out of nothing. Dirt. How they grow into nothing. Air. How somehow there's life. A spark. Until it gets crushed. That's life you know. Screaming oneself awake.''
And that describes Steinberg's stories - growing, living, screaming themselves off the page." - Helen Ubinas
Excerpt

"How do you come up with story ideas? Personal experience? News clips?
- I don't usually come up with "ideas" for stories but, rather, start with a line or image or even a scene. I then develop the story around these things. I find it too limiting to have the story "plotted" and prefer to let it grow out of combining what I already know with the surprises that come up when writing.
Do you think being a painter influences your writing technique?
- Yes, I think so. Stories, like paintings, are, for me, a place where one moves scenes and images around until there's a sense of order or structure, a shape of the whole. I think if the two differed more, I would probably need to continue to paint as well as write.
How do you decide which stories to include in a manuscript? Do you aim for a central theme in a short story collection?
- In The End of Free Love, I included all of the stories that I didn't despise, and I made sure they "spoke" to each other on some level. I don't generally aim for a central theme, but obsessions have a way of making themselves known in a collection. For example, so many of the narrators have an intense desire to run away, to get out of a situation and into a new one. There's also a great deal of bullying throughout the collection. But I had no plans to push these themes throughout the book.
People have said that the stories included in The End of Free Love are about finding identity. Do you agree with this?
- Yes, there's a search for identity in some (all?) of the stories; the characters are trying to "find" identity and "form" identity. So while characters are trying to come to terms with what it means to live in cities, in suburbs, to be Jewish, to be female, to be a mother, to be in therapy, to be young, they're also doing a great deal of role-playing, creating identities for themselves. They want to be superheroes, stars of television commercials, in short, worshipped.
How did "Isla" take form?
- "Isla" started out as a list of things my grandfather had said to me over the years. I didn't even know I was writing a story when I started it -- I was just angry or feeling sorry for myself, I suppose, and wanted to own these lines by putting them on paper. Then of course it became a piece of fiction, and I decided to leave the numbers in to give the girl in the story a voice - these are her memories, not necessarily direct quotes from the father.
Hearing you read in Tallahassee last fall gave the stories a whole new dimension. Do you recommend people try to read your stories out loud to get the full feel?
- Thanks. I don't generally recommend people read my stories aloud (though I do recommend my students read their stories aloud), but I have always wanted to give a reading of someone else's work - and that person, of course, would read mine.
Do you feel that writing short stories is more appealing than writing a novel? How do you think the two differ in content and form?
- I am working on my first "novel" now, and I still hesitate - made clear by the quotes - to use that word. I call it a novel because it's long, because it follows two threads throughout, and because the same character is narrating. But I must confess it helps me to write it if I think of it as a collection. So I'm approaching it the way I approach writing a collection - I'm working on many smaller scenes (or stories within it) simultaneously and trying to figure out how they go together.
How would you teach your students to write? What would a crash-course in your fiction technique class be like?
- I would never teach a crash-course in my fiction technique as far as form or style goes. I think each story asks for its own unique way of being told. But I do tell my students this (and I stole it from the fiction writer Nick Montemarano, and I don't know if he stole it from someone else): All stories need to start with these lines: "Sit down. I've got something to tell you." Then, of course, after the story is written, you remove those two lines. But I like to stress the importance of urgency, conflict, delay, voice, and, of course, style and form.
Now that your book has been out for a while, do you have any regrets? Any changes you would like to make? Any qualms that have been eased by how well your book has been received?
-I'm simultaneously thrilled and freaked out that the book is in the world. I have no regrets and there is only one word in the whole book I would like to change. And I won't tell anyone what the word is." - Interview at Fiction Colective 2

"Experimental writing, as a category or concept, seems fraught with widespread confusion and misunderstanding. How exactly would you describe “experimental writing”? Or, to borrow a question from Kate Sutherland, “What’s Experimental about Experimental Writing?”
- I’m finding that a lot of writing is categorized as experimental simply because it looks different on the page. Too often, this work, while embracing a certain textural playfulness, still reads as either conventional or self-indulgent. I think that truly experimental writing embraces innovation, a relationship of form to content, a consideration of the real possibilities of the text; it’s not just pyrotechnics, opacity, an attempt to shock, or a formulaic display of what certain writers and readers think experimental writing is supposed to seem. I wonder if it’s too simplistic to say that truly experimental writing has behind it a writer who wishes to conduct actual experiments. For some it’s structural, for some it’s rooted in content, for some it’s a conscious subversion of the mainstream. For me, it’s formal and syntactical. And too often the result is a series of failed experiments, which, in my opinion, is more satisfying than successfully following a formula.
A few years ago, Marjorie Welish wrote an article for Boston Review about Raymond Queneau, which she concluded by claiming, “Experimental writing is by definition its own adventure, a way characterized most definitely with error yet also with discovery and potential conceptual originality, which in time may well prove significant.” If we accept Welish’s suggestion that experimental writing is inherently connected to error and discovery, how are readers to determine the success or failure of a particular work of experimental writing? Without established criteria for evaluation, how can we differentiate between gold and copper?
- I do believe that experimental writing is often about trial and error — it certainly is for me — but I don’t believe we’re without established criteria. I should preface this by saying that I’m no fan of the notion of the “best” in art; I don’t care for the lists. That said, I think it’s useful to have a discussion about what makes a work of art successful — to its audience, in a context of art like it, in a context of art unlike it. Perhaps it’s futile to ask questions about plot of a plot-less narrative. Or to apply the criteria reserved for a formulaic genre piece to a piece which resists narrative. But I would make the argument that this type of criteria won’t get us very far anyway in a discussion of art. In a discussion of sales, however, we’ll get somewhere. So how does one determine the strength and/or success of the work of Virginia Woolf or Djuna Barnes or Lydia Davis or Ben Marcus? Perhaps we begin by confronting such works — even the most innovative and intimidating — in the way we would any art which truly pushes the boundaries of its own discipline. And if we can’t find a way in through the usual methods (speaking aesthetically, intellectually, emotionally, contextually, historically) we can always ask what it’s asking to be asked.
In his book About Writing, Samuel Delany suggests that many writers (himself included) “no longer see experimental writing as a way to deal with [crisis] aesthetically” (226). Does this sentiment ring true for you as well?
- I haven’t read the book, but I would like to. It rings true that other writers no longer perceive experimental writing in this way, but for me it is absolutely, in part, “a way to deal with [crisis] aesthetically.”
Given Amy King’s recent VIDA article on the under-representation of women in major literary publications, it seems extremely important to acknowledge the fact that gender issues continue to problematize the field of literature. How would you characterize the relationship between women and experimental literature?
- As the Chair of the Board of Directors of VIDA, I have been in dialogue with a lot of writers over the past year, most recently with Carole Maso, about this very thing. And I’m discovering that for many of us, there is a close relationship: that is to say one is often doubly marginalized if one is both female and writing experimental fiction. It’s simultaneously very limiting and very liberating.
Which are your favorite works of experimental literature, and why?
- Novels — Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway. Novella — William Gass’s The Pedersen Kid. Short stories — too many to list, but I would include Denis Johnson’s “Dundun,” Victoria Redel’s “A Day in the Park,” and Ander Monson’s “Bowling Balls Sent Down Through Windows From Overpasses That Stretch Like Spiderwebs Above.” Because beyond the brilliant line-by-line writing, the formal invention, the “crises” of the stories themselves, these pieces, as great, careful, urgent, considered, fearless works of art, respectfully say fuck you to formula, convention, laziness, and a market that embraces it all." - Interview by Christopher Higgs

pre-AWP blogterview #1 with Susan Steinberg

Universe by Susan Steinberg

4/27/12

Christopher Nosnibor – We swim in a sea of facts, data which will intensify and mutate our experience of the real. Facts used like poison gas. Envy is universal, many-to-many. Its refusal to go away is that of an enemy, or a ghost




Christopher Nosnibor, This Book is Fucking Stupid, Clinicality Press, 2012.


"Christopher Nosnibor’s latest literary assault takes his quest for literary self-annihilation to a new level and poses the question: is this the end of the novel?
Ben and Stuart are old friends. Having known one another since school, they’ve grown up together and remained friends into adulthood. But now into their thirties, their lives have taken very different paths, and they’re now very different people, leading very different lives, following different careers. Ben is a conformist: office job, moderately successful, and teetering on the brink of a premature midlife crisis. Stuart is a rebellious non-conformist, a lifelong student and a writer who sneers at the humdrum and derides ‘corporate sell-outs.’
Ben is tortured by the tedium of his job and struggling with his work / life balance and worries about money and living a life unfulfilled, while Stuart worries about his thesis and living a life unfulfilled and pretends not to care about money. But are they really so very different?
However, true to form, Nosnibor shatters all semblance of continuity to forge a work that stretches what can be considered a novel to breaking point. Identities crumble beneath the weight of self-negating ideas and linear narrative dissolves in a corrosive tsunami of conflicting concepts and contradictory commentaries. This Book is Fucking Stupid is a challenging and labyrinthine work designed to confuse, bewilder and frustrate, as well an beguile, amuse and entertain. This Book may be stupid, or it may be a work of genius. Either way, it’s a book like no other.
Boasting a title that borders on the unmarketable and is guaranteed to be blocked by most retailers, This Book is Fucking Stupid is arguably the very definition of commercial suicide. The narrative form eschews literary conventions such as character development and linear plot progression, and instead focuses on a brief period of stasis in the lives of two friends who are growing apart.
Yet beneath it all is a thought-provoking work that challenges notions of authorship and the distinctions that separate theory, criticism, fiction and memoir, and amongst the rubble there lies a touching tale of friendship and anxiety in the postmodern age of late capitalism and information overload."

First chapters




Christopher Nosnibor, The Plagiarist, Clinicality Press, 2008.

‘THE PLAGIARIST' is no ordinary novel. Picking up where Burroughs left off with his cut-up texts of the 1960s, the narrative of ‘THE PLAGIARIST' is built from the fabric of the everyday, drawing from an infinite array of sources to both reflect and attack contemporary modes of living in a consumerist society, Putting literary theory into practice, ‘THE PLAGIARIST' challenges established notions of authorship and eschews conventional linear narrative for a fragmentary style that serves to bring fiction closer to the realities of perception..."
"Ben is struggling to find his way in postmodern society; lost in a blizzard of information, his very identity is fading. As he struggles to find his way THE PLAGIARIST - a mysterious, soluble character, half-real, half-imaginary, ever constant but never the same - acts as a guide who shows Ben to the edge of the precipice. But can he be trusted? This curious anti-novel may have all the answers... A riot of experimentation, THE PLAGIARIST is an example of contemporary theory in practice, melding Bloom's theories on influence to a series of unreliable or schizophrenic narrators against a backdrop created by Frederic Jameson. With a narrative fabricated from the effluvia of the now, whoch continues the work started by Burroughs and developed by contemporaries like Kenji Siratori, this book demonstrates how postmodern society can cause the individual to lose themselves and the plot."
"An anti-novel–it seems from some cursory research–is a fictional work that in some way evades or opposes the traditional elements of a novel, thus undermining the reader’s expectations. If this is the case, then The Plagiarist (by Christopher Nosnibor, released by Clinicality Press) most certainly fits into that category.
From the blurb you might expect something surreal and confusing, but The Plagiarist goes far beyond the normal levels of weird. Within the books pages you will find thousands of fragmented narrative pieces, ranging from short snippets of fiction, to scrambled copies of spam emails; snatches of dialogue; MySpace comments and extracts from all manner of printed materials. Throughout it all recur the characters of The Plagiarist and Ben, the latter quite literally “lost in a blizzard of information”.
There is little in the way of a clear thread of a story to be followed. Various themes recur throughout, and are explored through the arrangement of a loose collection of bizarre ephemera. Pages of nonsense give way to nuggets of fiction, which are in turn interspersed with adverts for viagra or mixed-up paragraphs from an instruction manual.
The Plagiarist is, by its own admission, an anti-novel, and thus the mindset one might approach an ordinary work of fiction with is less useful here. After struggling for a consistent narrative for ten or twenty pages I found myself starting to skip back and forth though the book, picking up on certain more interesting segments and skimming over others. It reminded me of the way one might look at a painting–absorbing the whole while shifting focus from detail to detail.
In terms of actual content The Plagiarist is at its best when it makes the most sense. There are many fascinating fragments to read; bits and pieces copied or inspired by our lives in the information age. But most of these are submerged in a swamp of nonsense. Here’s an example of one of the less sensical paragraphs:
“The ailed working later than anticipated – how, which frequently time – however hard he worked, and however he budgeted – hid to the premise – however long one aver closely he worked – taking, double it and add ten percent – anticipates something, estimate. Then there was the matter – a more accurate, a good day – or a weekend – it would be a drive home.”
Though these segments provide texture to the book, their presence is often overwhelming. Much like the protagonist, Ben, you may find yourself lost in a swamp of meaningless information. While this kind of narrative involvement is neat in theory, in practice it wears thin fairly quick.
The book raises some interesting ideas about plagiarism, and the themes that run throughout are rendered well by the fragmented narrative. Overall, whether or not you’ll enjoy The Plagiarist depends on how prepared you are to accept the idea of an anti-novel. If you’re not completely on board with chucking out the narrative then you’ll find the Plagiarist frustrating and tiresome. On the other hand, if you can make yourself go along with it, you’ll find a weird, dense, confusing book with a feel much akin to a file bulging with scavenged and carefully arranged artifacts of the information age." - Christopher Frost

"I consider myself a traditionalist when it come to art: I prefer the Romanticists over the Abstract Expressionists, Shakespeare over Theatre of the Absurd, narrative literature over free form poetry. However, it’s negligent to deny the validity of those imaginative statements that don’t conform to our preconceived notions of what art is. In truth, it behooves us to give these innovative art forms the credit they deserve and to provide them with that extra bit of attention required to fully comprehend the objectives of their creators.
In the case of THE PLAGIARIST, it could be dismissed quite readily as a novel lost in style-over-substance. Due to its frantic pace and non-narrative, cut-up stream of consciousness it reads like the work of William Burroughs on steroids. Described by its author, Christopher Nosnibor (that‘s Robinson spelled backwards - hmmm…), as an “anti-novel”, the technique he utilized actually works well in delineating its nihilistic content; it becomes an expression of alienation in a postmodern society inundated by media barrage. Just as the Dadaists once celebrated the same anti-art philosophy embraced by subsequent political anarchists, THE PLAGIARIST proposes that writing is a revelation in and of itself. As one paragraph states: “Writing is, after all, just writing, words are words, laid down and piled up like bricks or building blocks…”
The cut-and-paste presentation of the imagery is done in such a fashion as befits the mood of urban schizophrenia. It also exemplifies the personality of the protagonist, Ben, as well as his search for self-identity and progression towards possible liberation. This method sacrifices form for function in order to tap into the individual reader’s subconscious and to produce its desired subliminal effect through random construction. As a corollary, the characterization of THE PLAGIARIST could be viewed as a non-corporeal projection of Ben’s psyche, one that condones the act of plagiarism itself. Except, unlike the hallucinatory universes of Samuel R Delany or Philip K Dick, the reader is never given enough narrative slack to gravitate to; it becomes impossible to indulge in the literary mirage for any length of time.
Consequently, such a non-linear form of writing demands a different approach to reading it. This calls to mind my first experience viewing the early experimental cinema of filmmakers like Stan Brakhage or Kenneth Anger; it was impossible to comprehend their montage of images in narrative terms. However, the controlled assault upon one’s aural and visual senses seemed to stimulate my sensory awareness in general. As THE PLAGIARIST tells Ben: “You’re thinking in linear terms. But life is not linear. Life is a cut-up.” Nosnibor’s passages are akin to the system overload that most people experience but have become too indifferent to change. In fact, his stylization becomes the perfect vehicle for the nullification of such apathy. This, undoubtedly, is derived from the Surrealist movement whose use of unexpected juxtapositions served to revolutionize human experience by shocking the bourgeoisie out of their ennui, false rationality and restrictive structures.
Personally, I believe that Nosnibor poses a question: can humanity sufficiently evolve to overcome its transformation into a total industrial dystopia or is it already too late? The author even appears to suggest the possibility of a solution or some sort of positive human evolution with lines like: “Desiring machines freed from the body without organs roaming spiraling dancing through space time motion light speed stars moons slivers away. Going there.” Perhaps this book is meant to be taken as a flashback from some futuristic time. At the very least, one can appreciate the inspired lyricism of it all." - Richard Mandrachio

"THE PLAGIARIST is quite possibly the most extreme anti-novel in print, and as such definitely requires a different kind of reading, and certainly an abandonment of traditional expectation. For readers willing to embrace the chaos that is our reality, and for those emancipated and adventurous enough to adapt and evolve their manner of reading, it is also a very rewarding novel – anti, or otherwise.
The influence of William Burroughs, Kenji Siratori and Stewart Home are evident, but this is no mere homage: this raises the levels more than one beyond ten, stamps on all of the pedals, lets the feedback wail uncontrollably, and creates an almighty, and sometimes painful, assault on the reader.
The book does have a beginning, and it does have an ending, and there are characters – Ben (who struggles through the bombardment of information, disinformation, and the mutated and twisted maelstrom of words), and his ‘guide’ or ‘misguider’, THE PLAGIARIST – but beyond this, it is exceptionally uncompromising. Probably thinking in terms of Trout Mask Replica and Bitches Brew, being played simultaneously, may give some indication. It is also frighteningly similar to sitting at one’s desk, subjected to an irate telephone conversation in one ear, an impatient and demanding boss in the other, a background of random phrase from co-workers, a screen filled with urgent emails and bizarre pop-ups, the mobile vibrating incessantly in the pocket, pneumatic drills and fumes flooding through the open window, and the rising anxiety travelling up your spine like a tube train. It is like the onslaught of the 21st Century approaching complete meltdown and system overload, as experienced by apes that have had no time to evolve any kind of coping strategy.
The bulk of the book uses cut-ups of spam emails, written texts (some of which regarding the nature of narrative), advertising, news stories, and, what seem like, snippets of overheard conversation. There is great use of repetition, sometimes mutated slightly, or not so slightly, to propel meaning and chaos. Sentences, and even words, collapse and collide; the already abstracted becomes increasingly more so. Often there is a sense of great alienation from the words – the polar opposite of engaging – sometimes it is distinctly uncomfortable and unpleasant to read – there are times, when looking at the number of pages ahead, it may seem impossible to continue. But back to sitting at the desk – back to our own lives – back to our own personal hell (because although Ben is a character, he is everyman: he is me as I am you as you are me as we are all together): it is hell because there is no escape: there will be four more days to endure this week - there will be thirty more weeks to endure this year – there will be twenty more years to endure, etc – and even in the context of one day, the bombardment at the office will be replaced by the bombardment of conversations on the tube, advertisements, the leakage of music from headphones, etc – and, arriving at the ‘sanctuary’ of home, this will then be replaced by the bombardment of three kids – one screaming, the other asking perpetual questions, another bleeping away at a games consul, the TV blaring (the adverts louder and more obtrusive), etc, etc, etc. Lives and circumstance, of course, may be different, but the background of white noise is no background at all – it is ourselves who are the almost ephemeral background of our own existence; if we have identity or a ‘self’, then mostly we have no time and no peace, in which to discover it.
But although a lot of THE PLAGIARIST is far from an easy ride, there are many blissful moments, where lines from lyrics (some obscure, some not so) fall (pun intended) from the page – like tangents to segments of stored memory that are good (and in the context of the novel, as in the life it echoes, reassuring). There are also many sections where linear and conventional narrative and excerpts are used to great effect, particularly two variations of the same money and information scam, and an advertised vacancy for a Regional Sales Manager. In some ways these sections are like a welcome respite from the chaos and the madness, but also, a very effective reminder that madness is most prevalent in that which is often considered normal and acceptable.
It seems reasonable to me that an anti-novel may require an anti-reader, and there are many approaches that can be taken. One of the lyrics embedded is from Joy Division’s Atrocity Exhibition, and taking guidance from the preface of JG Ballard’s book of the same name – “…simply turn the pages until a paragraph catches your eye [and] if the ideas or images seem interesting scan the nearby paragraphs for anything that resonates in an intriguing way…” – could be one approach. Reading the start and the end in conventional manner, and then rapidly scanning the rest (but still in order – because there are definite patterns to the occasionally mutated repetition – and the subliminal effect will more resemble our real-time assimilation of information), is another.
Even with the most conventional of plot driven novels, each reader will have their own associations and reactions to what they have read, and they will have their own set of values, and understandings (and misunderstandings), which will inform the interpretation, so certainly with THE PLAGIARIST, the relentless bombardment and assault of the senses, and the extremely non-conventional nature, will render interpretations and reactions as varied and as chaotic as life, and the book, itself.
THE PLAGIARIST is not a book you would want to read in bed before sleeping. It is not a book you would want to read from cover to cover in one sitting. And it is not a book that will make Dan Brown revise his approach to writing. But it is a book that could change your approach to reading, and a book that should make you more aware of the world around you, and hopefully less tolerant and accepting of the hell imposed on us all." - pablo vision

"While creating a heading for a book review, I usually consider the first impression I get from the book that I am reviewing. This was pretty difficult for me to do with “The Plagiarist.” When I try to recall my early impressions, my mind gets filled with a variety of topics and feelings. Not one stands out. These thoughts range from “my life on speed,” to “confused,” to “creatively unique.” I also thought of warnings like, “do not read this if you have mental health issues or a headache.”
“The Plagiarist” is truly like no book that I have read before. I still haven’t fully decided if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Somehow, I get the impression that these feelings are what the author strives to get his readers to experience. Really, the word “experience” is a good one to use in reference to this book. Set in post modern times, this book speeds along without a solid plot. It is very reflective of how I see our own lives becoming.
The story shows us how much the media bombards us with information, especially since Spam was created on the Internet. At first, I found myself very confused and rereading several passages; then I realized that the chaos present in these pages is very similar to my own life, especially if I let it get out of hand. In some sections, I was highly entertained and in others I was extremely annoyed. But in the end, when I put it all together, I was very impressed with both the talent and the audacity of the author.
I think that “The Plagiarist” by Christopher Nosnibor would be an excellent novel for a modern fiction class or a reader’s group. It would be very interesting to hear about other people’s views on this book. I also recommend it as a gift for people who will appreciate literature that is uniquely different, or for people that have everything because I can guarantee you, they have nothing like this." - Paige Lovitt


'THE PLAGIARIST' 'interviewed' by 'Eire'

Excerpt:

I did not write this. I’ve done everything in my power to remove myself from the equation, involved writing machines, torn everything up, thrown it into the air and watched the pieces as they fell... there was no escape. Technology is the future of writing – has already taken over – the author is dead: long live the author. In the beginning was the word – but who owned the word? It was already broken down... now all that is left is the rubble of a hundred thousand years of communication, humanity in ruins... the silence, nothing, no-one, only the breeze blowing the echoes of words across the desert... nothing here now but the recordings.
Rust gathers on the manual typewriter, the keys locked in place by time... But what is this...?
Retreat! Retreat! There are no words... no ideas but in things. Hot on the heels of love – raw syntax. A virus devours. New flesh on the end of that long newspaper spoon. The art of THE PLAGIARIST – exit the man with nine lives dying with my boots on. Cut through the mutter line to reveal studies conducted on "aphthous fever" transmitted to humans. Is this – is there – Possible contamination – Belfast – you are fading.
We swim in a sea of facts, data which will intensify and mutate our experience of the real. Facts used like poison gas. Envy is universal, many-to-many. Its refusal to go away is that of an enemy, or a ghost.
The hoisting of the Black Flag signalled the moment we’d all been dreading, the coming of the Great White Death, the beginning of the end... Hands of scar tissue reach out toward him... the words fail and he is lost in a sea of silence. Cut to the chase: Ben is in ruins, his minds starts to wander – a gun to his head and he wonders how much time he has left – Minutes to Go – couldn’t reach flesh – hurry up please it’s time. Ben stood alone – turned to face THE PLAGIARIST in the setting sun... a vicious attack on an honest bystander. There is no explanation so shut up and listen good: You are your own master here...
He turned to face the fading sunlight and cut to the chase – looked down at the picture in his hand, the sepia tint slowly fading... smell of corrosion or that of a ghost. Not sure what’s real any more as dream, memory and the present blur into one vast manuscript in disarray. He bends down and tries to gather the pages. Someone has written the script for him and he must pick up the pieces if he is to learn who he is – reassemble the jigsaw – the last page is missing – the death of my father just an illusion. All the faces look the same to me. Tell me who are you? The beginning is also the end.
This is a bandit's life, it comes and goes.... casts a dead fish eye over the scene as the walls begin to crumble - typewriters gathering dust.... and how are things on the West coast? Society is broken down... reality reduced to nothing but a series of shifting images projected behind the eyes of the masses. Now everything must go... You are fading... everything must go.


"How would you define an anti-novel?
- An anti-novel really defies definition. The established form of the novel has certain characteristics: plot, characters, an identifiable narrator, sequentiality. Even when the plot unfolds through flashbacks, etc., there’s still sequentiality and events are located in time and space. The anti-novel dispenses with all aspects of this conventional model, which is pure artifice anyway. It’s like a choose your own adventure, only it’s choose your own narrative instead.
Appropriately, the term anti-novel isn’t my own: Stewart Home called his non-linear books ‘anti-novels.’ However, ‘THE PLAGIARIST’ is much more extreme in its non-linearity than Home’s work, in that it even dispenses with narrative in large sections.
What inspired you to write The Plagiarist?
- ‘THE PLAGIARIST’ is designed as an absorption of everything, in its totality, so it wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable to say that ‘everything’ inspired it. But I’d been playing with cut-ups and incorporating song lyrics and things in my work for some time, and when I read ‘Bacteria=Syndrome’ by Kenji Siratori I just thought ‘genius,’ and got to work. So that was the catalyst, if not the inspiration. Of course, arguably, I didn’t write ‘THE PLAGIARIST’…
The writing style and construction of The Plagiarist is extremely fragmented and chaotic. How do you think or hope that readers might react to this?
- A lot probably won’t cope with it. I’d anticipate and hope for disorientation, a derangement of the senses. But ultimately, I’d like to think that those who persevere will be rewarded. Creative reading will produce an understanding, it will make sense – in a subjective sort of a way – and new textual possibilities will be revealed.
Also, while indeed fragmented, the construction’s not as chaotic as it may first appear: the phrases recur and evolve in a certain, albeit organic, manner, and there’s a definite rhythm present throughout.
How much of the content of The Plagiarist is copied or paraphrased from other sources? How did you choose what to include?- ‘Other sources’ is hard to define. I cut up a lot of my own writing, some published, some not, some fiction, some essays, and in that sense 99% of it’s from ‘other sources,’ leaving very little specifically written for the text. Excluding my own works, probably about 60% is actually plagiarised and then manipulated in various ways.
Some of the selections were entirely arbitrary, whatever came to hand or was in the news while I was working on it. Obviously I can’t reveal all of the sources, but the second half features extensive sections of ‘Hamlet’ – because it’s so well-known it makes sense to rewrite it, and also because Bloom, the author of ‘The Anxiety of Influence’ (I’m obsessed with ‘influence’) contends that ‘Shakespeare is the canon.’ If this is to be taken at face value, to cut up Shakespeare is thus to cut up the canon. Some may see that as sacrilege, and there’s certainly a degree of nihilism involved. But the avant-garde maxim has always been that to create anew, one must first destroy. So from the ashes or shards of the canon rises…. THE PLAGIARIST, I suppose.
Within fiction in particular do you think it is possible to “own” or “steal” ideas? Is there a difference between copying something and being inspired by it?- I don’t think it’s possible to ‘own’ ideas, and besides, property is theft. I’d include intellectual property in that. Anyone who thinks they’ve created something wholly original is either deluded or hasn’t read enough. If you think you’ve come up with something that’s amazingly brilliant and has never been done before, you can pretty much guarantee that it has, and better.
I think there is a difference between copying and being inspired, although I think it can sometimes be a fine line. As William Burroughs who put the cut-up technique on the literary map observed, ‘imitation is supposed to be the highest form of flattery. Imitation or outright theft.’ The benefits of plagiarising directly is that no-one can accuse you of being a pale imitator. They can of course go after you for copyright infringement, but if the stolen words are placed in a different order, is it really the same anyway? Words are words: there are infinite permutations, and I don’t see how anyone can lay legitimate claim to a given sequence of words. In the postmodern / Internet age, it’s pointless being precious about these things." - Interview at Neon Magazine

"Why I wrote THE PLAGIARIST
I could begin by stating that I didn’t actually write THE PLAGIARIST. In fact, I could claim that I didn’t write it and leave it there, let readers speculate and pick it apart. After all, it’s not called THE PLAGIARIST for nothing. Which is partly why I feel I should provide some kind of an explanation. It’s not like I’ve created a book where people can follow the plot and identify with the different characters. And while the way the book’s assembled makes perfect sense to me given my reading background and my research into literary theory concerning the avant-garde and the postmodern, I’m more than able to see why many readers would find THE PLAGIARIST a ‘difficult’ text.
I tend to have two modes of writing: the first, which accounts for the majority of my output, involves sitting down and typing and seeing what happens. Chances are I’ll start with a short scene and wind up with a 3,000 word short story. Or a novella. It’s happened. The second, an approach I’ve developed more recently, begins when I set myself a specific challenge, involving techniques, themes, word counts or timescales. THE PLAGIARIST was created by the second method.
I’ve long been a fan and student of William Burroughs’ work, and find his cut-up trilogy of the 1960s, which consists of The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded and Nova Express, and the theories surrounding the cut-up method fascinating. Like many others before me, I’ve followed Burroughs’ advice to try cut-ups for myself: ‘cut-ups are for everyone,’ he writes in The Third Mind. I’m in good company. Not only with the many writers who experimented with cut-ups in the late 1960s, but with major-league cult authors like Kathy Acker, who drew heavily from Burroughs’ ideas on a technical level and said that she used The Third Mind as a manual to teach herself how to write. But I never considered putting together a cut-up novel, or publishing a cut-up text until recently.
Quite by chance, I stumbled upon the work of Kenji Siratori and picked up a copy of BACTERIA=SYNDROME. It made me realise that the automated cut-up programs I had found on various websites could be used for more than just tinkering. I figured I could kick out a full-length cut-up novel using these programs in a few weeks. I failed miserably, but did kick out a full-length cut-up novel in about three months from conception to being ready for publication. The reason I failed was because I didn’t want to be as random as all that (although I’m reliably informed that Burroughs and those who followed, including Carl Weissner, Claude Pélieu, Jürgen Ploog, etc., weren’t nearly as haphazard in their approach as may be believed, and weren’t averse to editing, contrary to claims made at the time). First, I wanted to use material that seemed relevant to me and the themes I was wanting to weave through the text. I also wanted to pull some loose semblance of plot into it. And while I was only very light in my editing, I did edit some sections, and completely cut others, for a variety of reasons.
‘Why I wrote THE PLAGIARIST makes me think of the song ‘How I Wrote Elastic Man’ by The Fall. Yes, my mind is given to wandering, and that’s precisely why I wrote THE PLAGIARIST. My aim was to write something that taps into the psyche (now here we go) presenting the substance in a style correspondent with cognitive patterns, which operate by random triggers. People don’t have linear thought processes so why should narrative be subject to the imposition of false order?
I wanted to create a text that contained everything. I didn't want to just give a snapshot of modern society, but to condense the whole of that society into a single book. And I wasn't going to be satisfied with just describing the sensations, the alienation, the confusion, I wanted to recreate it with an intensity that drags on the nerves and screams at the senses. I wanted to produce a work that instils in the reader a sense of overkill, oversaturation, to induce a dizziness and bewilderment. Waking up and being bombarded with news before getting in a car and driving to work where you open your emails to find three dozen spam mails all advertising viagra is one thing - it's overwhelming. Describing the sensation in narrative is, by and large, quite underwhelming. I wanted to overwhelm. I wanted to create a text that provokes a very definite response, that's both physical and psychological. I wanted to create a text that had the capacity to inflict pain.
But more than that, I wanted to create a text that didn't just absorb and reflect our fragmentary culture in a postmodern way, but that amplified it and posed questions about how the individual engages with - or becomes disengaged from - that society, and also the self.
What forms character? So many different elements. We absorb different things from our everyday life, and those things inform our ideas, our opinions. Increasingly, we are what we consume. And we consume information even when we're not aware of it: much 'learning' is subliminal, it's coded. And so I wanted to construct a text that contained the code, so to speak. The code is embedded within the effluvia and detritus of everyday life. It's all around us. It's the TV, the Internet, it's advertising, it's the workplace. It's Shakespeare, apparently. Harold Bloom contends that Shakespeare is not only the most influential author of all time, but that Shakespeare is the Western canon. I'm not convinced, but by taking Hamlet as an Oedipal tale and recontextualising that over Bloom’s Oedipal theory of influence, as put forward in The Anxiety of Influence, I'm exploring the possibility that high culture cross-pollinated with popular culture and infiltrates the awareness of the masses. Which is why I've cut sections of Hamlet with spam emails, news stories, film quotes, song lyrics. These things are the fabric and texture of life. Hence, THE PLAGIARIST is art that reflects life, the goes a step further. It encapsulates life, it IS life. Form and content are inseparable.
But what of plot? Well, arguably life has no definite plot other than a beginning and an end, between which a mess of events happen in a haphazard fashion. And things repeat themselves, like the daily drive or walk or train ride to work. You hear or read the same phrases over and over through the years. So phrases recur throughout the text, sometimes unchanged, sometimes subtly altered or mutated. There is a beginning – or at least a point at which ‘the reader’ joins the journey, and an ending, with proper narrative closure. So in this respect, it’s perhaps not as unconventional as it first seems. There is some structure, and despite the recreation of random triggers, I did actually spend some time on the sequencing of the sections. but that’s only so important: THE PLAGIARIST is not a linear text, ad as such need not be read in a linear fashion, cover to cover. It’s perhaps better to dip in, to choose your own adventure. And perhaps ultimately that’s why I 'wrote' THE PLAGIARIST. What I put into it is only half the story. The other half is down to what the reader brings to the text. As Barthes said, the birth of the reader is at the cost of the death of the author. The author(s) of THE PLAGIARIST is not only dead but cremated, his ashes scattered to the four winds. I hope the readers are feeling creative." - Christopher Nosnibor

Inspiration:
Life, art, literature and a revolutionary zeal conspire to make writing a compulsion, not a mere passtime. Drawing equally on experimental and contemporary fiction, literary theory and music, both mainstream and obscure, I strive to gnaw away at the niceties of modern culture and expose what lies beneath the veneer. This isn't to say that I or my writing lacks humour, it's just prone to being rather dark and absurd, often at the same time. What's my inspiration? Whatever comes my way: I'm a cultural sponge.

Read it at Google Books


THE PLAGIARIST: THE MOVIE



Christopher Nosnibor, Lust for Death,

"Following on from the underground success of his cut-up anti-novel ‘THE PLAGIARIST’ and the limited edition pamphlet ‘A Call for Submission’ in 2008, Christopher Nosnibor will be publishing a short story in A5 pamphlet form in each quarter of 2009. Each will be available in a strictly limited edition of just 25 copies, and will only be available via christophernosnibor.co.uk. ‘Lust for death’ is the first in the series. Pre-orders will be taken from 1st March.
‘Lust for Death’ is the first in a series of limited edition pamphlets published in a quarterly basis through 2009. Across the series, Christopher will explore various themes form a range of angles, and each story will take a very different form from the others. However, the presentation and form will be such as to provide a unified whole in keeping with the idea of the publications forming a series designed to push the parameters of established narrative forms.
‘Lust for Death’ is composed of three short chapters, each chapter in turn consists of three subsections. The first section of each chapter tells the story from the perspective of the first-person narrator around whose death the story is built. The second section of each chapter recounts events through the eyes of one of the lead character’s friends, and thus combines first and third-person narratives. The third section of each chapter tells the story from a third-person authorial standpoint, in which all events are observed from an omniscient place.
On the subject of ‘Lust for Death,’ and its narrative structure Christopher says, ‘I wanted to dig deep into the theme of death. Not just literal death, but metaphorical death, the death of the author and the death of the narrator. But I wanted to keep it succinct and I wanted the form to be radical and challenging. Constructed from three times three narratives, I have named this formula 3x3x3, or Cube narrative. Of course, it will still feature all of my usual trademarks, such as song and lyrical references, strong language and gratuitous sex and violence. Or at least some of the aforementioned. I intend to push my own limits as well as the readers.’”
If Christopher’s previous output has sown us anything, it’s that audiences can expect the unexpected. He recently completed a novella, entitled ‘From Destinations Set’ constructed entirely using dual narrative, and is currently working on a short film based on ‘THE PLAGIARIST,’ which continues to shock, astonish and confound the expectations of readers the world over.
The remaining titles following at three-month intervals.
‘I’ve been there, done that. Nothing touches me any more. I’m not saying I’m some big thrill-seeker or that I’ve lived with wild, reckless abandon, that I’ve done everything. But I’ve done my share of living, seen enough to know what’s what, what goes on, what’s out there, what’s on offer. And experienced enough to know my own limitations. And it’s the ultimate realisation of just how extreme those limitations are that have brought me here. So it’s not that I’ve been pushed too far, but the fact that I can’t push far enough that means I simply cannot take any more.’
So begins ‘Lust for Death,’ a story that follows the final days of Cameron Jones, as told from three different perspectives.
In ‘Lust for Death,’ Nosnibor presents more than just a story, it is a meditation on the great unknown, the obsession few dare to discuss, the one certainty in life: death." - Prlog

Excerpt


Christopher Nosnibor & Stuart Bateman, C.N.N., Lulu, 2011.

"The avant-garde is alive and well... C.N.N., a collaboration between Christopher Nosnibor and Stuart Bateman is a multimedia work which gathers poetry, prose, collage and photography that simultaneously embodies the Postmodern Condition and challenges traditional notions of 'authorship' and 'originality.'


Christopher Nosnibor, From Destinations Set, Clinicality Press, 2010.

"Tim and Anthony are very different people, leading very different lives, following different careers in different cities. Tim is a conformist: office job, moderately successful, and teetering on the brink of a premature midlife crisis. Anthony is a rebellious non-conformist: a writer who sneers at the humdrum and derides 'corporate sell-outs.' But are they really so very different? The two narratives of From Destinations Set trace these characters' activities as they occur in parallel - not only in terms of time, but also literally, with the page divided into two columns with one story in the left, the other in the right. As events and personalities unravel in each of the two separate stories, the similarities, rather than the differences, become apparent. But more than this, as the two plots develop, questions are raised as to precisely who's writing the script: is Tim's dislocation symptomatic of his breakdown, or is there some connection between him and Anthony?"


Christopher Nosnibor, Bad Houses, Lulu, 2007.

"Six short stories. Six houses, all of them bad in various ways. Six different scenarios or states of mind, all thematically connected, in that they each portray snapshots of everyday life. Using searing, lacerating and explosive prose, 'Bad Houses' takes the reader on a roller-coaster journey through the horrors of modern life and the human condition."

"A world in which a mutant hermit surveys the world as it passes outside... brothels full of teenage girls... noisy neighbours, a clash between nu-metal and industrial noise... ultraviolence... smoky bar-rooms... dodgy misanthropic private detectives in a cultural time-warp... bad beer, bad parties and lives devoured by the pace of postmodern society. These are the scenes of Bad Houses, drawn not from some strange parallel universe, but the darker side of real-life, the world we all live in.
The first published collection of short stories by English writer Christopher Nosnibor, Bad Houses is not for the faint-hearted, or the easily offended. His tales explore the darker sides of life in uncompromising terms and using the language of real people. Drawing reference from a vast range of sources, from William Burroughs and Charles Bukowski to extreme electronica terrorists Whitehouse, Nosnibor presents a unique and powerful narrative voice across the six stories within this book. Mainstream it isn’t: accessible, compelling and blackly humorous it is."

Read it at Google Books


Christopher Nosnibor, Postmodern Fragments: Writings on Work, Technology and Contemporary Living, Clinicality Press, 2008.

'A collection of essays and short works of fiction, all of which share the common themes of life in the (post)modern society. From the cut-and-paste repetitions of 'The Worker' to the thought-provoking social excavations of 'At Home He's a Tourist: Reconsidering the Postmodern Condition,' this captures Nosnibor at his best and is an essential read for anyone with an interest in contemporary fiction and culture. Some of the pieces contained herein have surfaced in various locations on the Internet, ranging from Christopher's blogs to underground e-zines: others are available for the first time here."

Read it at Google Books


Christopher Nosnibor, The Gimp, Clinicality Press, 2010.

"Subtitled 'Eight Tales of Everyday Horror and Depravity,' the short stories and prose pieces featured in 'The Gimp' are dark, twisted reflections of humanity in all its repulsive grotesqueness."

'With "The Gimp" Nosnibor shakes a jizz-dripping penis over the work of Peter Sotos and raises two fingers coated in faecal matter over the writing of Sade... disturbed and intense writing.' - Dennis Cooper

'Offensive, indecent and embarrassing... this filth should be banned immediately.' Mary Whitehouse

'...arguably Nosnibor's best.' Lucius Rofocale


Clinical, Brutal... : An Anthology of Writing with Guts, Christopher Nosnibor, ed., Clinicality Press, 2011.

"An anthology of poetry and prose that encapsulates the ethos of Clinicality Press and the essence of Clinical Brutality as a mode of writing. Featuring some of the most exciting up and coming writers, as well as a number of more established cult figures, this collection is a short, sharp shock: clinical, brutal, cutting edge. It's all about those small, everyday random acts of violence, not all of which are physical or even necessarily entirely tangible, that are common to us all, written in blood using direct, precise and powerful language. This is writing for the post-CSI generation. It's not for the faint-hearted. Features: Pablo Vision / Kestra Faye / Jim Lopez / Radcliff Gregory / Díre McCain / Stewart Home / A.D. Hitchin / Christopher Nosnibor / Richard Kovitch / Lee Kwo / S. F. Grimm / David Mark Dannov / D M Mitchell / Jock Drummond / Lucius Rofocale / Stuart Bateman / Karl van Cleave / Vincent Clasper / Constance Stadler / Bill Thunder / Christopher Bateman / Simon Phillips / Maria Gornell"

"Christopher Nosnibor says his goal in devising the term clinical brutality is to account for every day acts of violence recounted with crisp and factual language. His desire to invigorate contemporary writing with a new and raw edge is commendable and he attempts to prove his vision with this collection of prose and poetry by 28 authors who he considers as having a solid sting. So there's no confusion caused by the slick cover design splattered with blood, this is not a collection of crime, vampire, sci-fi, or over-the-top gore stories. These are works driven by a raw edginess arising from a world of violence and fragmentation that the authors are seemingly trying to comprehend. Nosnibor writes, "There is no extrinsic, universal or even wider commonality, no synchronization, no organization, no coordination." As with many anthologies, the works vary widely in style and precision.
We witness individuals trapped in aggravating, claustrophobic lives whose only response is to brutally lash out. People reach their breaking point and frequently their point is breaking people. Pablo Vision's wonderful The Battlefield of Carnivores, presents a man who writes about killing his father in a world where one tyranny replaces another. His character writes to forget, writes to remember, and writes to figure out what is real. He says, "I have difficulty concentrating, but I write when I can. I fear that I will never be able to assemble any of this into coherency." Díre McCain describes a nagging wife who says little but who sparks nasty interior monologues in the head of her henpecked husband in the delightfully horrifying Papanicoloa Test: A Grand Guignol. As readers can imagine, I can't explain this title nor will I quote many passages from the book in a general audience forum such as this. Nosnibor's Into the Earth is a strong literary piece reminiscent of Beckett or Céline in which lines compound upon lines almost abstractly, each section adding facets to a dense pondering of the losing battle called living. It's the exception. Most of the stories are entirely straightforward and accessible, albeit not the type your granny would enjoy unless she packs a .57 magnum and boils rats for breakfast.
Think of the sort of stories one finds posted on zines and you'll get a sense of the general stylistic range. Lee Kwo, David Mark Dannov, and Constance Stadler each deserve mention for outstanding contributions of poetry. Kwo in particular struck me as fitting and expanding Nosnibor's vision. In his bio he explains of wanting to aspire "to the post digital forming strange new becomings/ word becomes noise again" and I believe he succeeds. It is perhaps ironic that at its best this clinical, brutal writing can, in many instances, be cynical, beautiful writing." - Christopher Willard

"Clinical, Brutal… embodies the manifesto of Clinicality Press: “…the concept of ‘clinical brutality,’ i.e. those everyday acts of violence recounted crisply, factually and using technical rather than literary flourishes.” This is certainly not a ‘literary’ collection, although some of the better stories do contain elements of literary insight.
The collection, edited by Christopher Nosnibor, makes me think of that moment when you flip a coin and it hangs in the air, spinning, its landing side unknown. The reader is unsure as to whether each story is going to be good or not so good–they might as well be flipping a coin to decide. The only thing to do is to plunge in, sliding effortlessly through the smears of blood and juicy ropes of gore to the heart of the story. Sometimes your efforts will be rewarded, and sometimes not. Work by Pablo Vision, Díre McCain, A. D. Hitchin and S. F. Grimm are almost certainly going to reward the reader. The others, not so much.
It’s not that the stories themselves are bad. They’re not. It’s two things, really:
1. Spelling mistakes. I cannot abide them, and there is no excuse for them.
2. Peppered between the better stories, written by the people listed above, are stories that smack of the juvenile. I don’t know if this was the intention of the editor to include works by younger authors or if it was just including badly written stories. This is not to say that younger authors write badly–it’s more that the stories in Clinical, Brutal… are not honed to within an inch of their life.
It could be that I am extremely bourgeois and only like ‘literary’ fiction. I do, however, appreciate gratuitous gore, junkies, sadistic sex and death by machine gun…and in that department this collection never let me down.
If you’re looking for something sharp, something shocking, or for things that go bump in the night, read this." - Jessica Maybury

"This is a nauseating and very surreal collection of short stories and poems that captured my attention from the front cover, to the very last page. The front cover is stark white with blood spatter. The contributors to this collection are Christopher Nosnibor, Pablo Vision, Kestra Faye, Jim Lopez, Radcliff Gregory, Díre McCain, Stewart Home, A.D. Hitchin, Richard Kovitch, Lee Kwo, S.F. Grimm, David Mark Dannov, D M Mitchell, Radcliff Gregory, Jock Drummond, Lucius Rofocale, Stuart Bateman, Karl van Cleave, Vincent Clasper, Constance Stadler, Bill Thunder, David Mark Dannov, Simon Phillips, and Maria Gornell. There are clearly many authors and poets who have added their vision to this collection, and each one of them has a different voice and style. Some of the authors are established in this genre, and some of them are new; however, all of the authors are very skilled writers, and their styles of writing are very unique. Some of the stories are very short, some are longer, and some almost seem like they are going to be a “normal” story, but then they turn into a nightmare before you know it. There were several times that I felt like I was going to hurl while reading this book, but I didn’t want to discount it. I think it is a worthwhile read, if you can stand it. It gives you a glimpse into a world filled with violence and brutality, but doesn’t offer you the usual explanation. In these stories, violence and brutality simply exist, and they happen sometimes without reason or explanation.
I won’t include an example of the writing in this collection, because each author has a different writing style and all of the stories are very unique and it wouldn’t represent the book as a whole. Each story in “Clinical, Brutal… An Anthology of Writing with Guts” functions on its own, and I recommend reading them each separately. Reading the whole book in one sitting is overwhelming and really messes with your head. I recommend this book with hesitation; I really don’t know what kind of person would enjoy it." - Victoria Gonzales

Christopher Nosnibor, His ‘n’ Hers (pdf)

Christopher Nosnibor's web page

4/21/12

Charles Avery - Texts, drawings, installations and sculptures which describe the topology and cosmology of an imaginary island, whose every feature embodies a philosophical proposition, problem or solution: people hooked on gin-pickled eggs, hybrid beasts, God-S-Hites, and Gods that include Mr Impossible, a 33-year-old man elevated to his new title mistakenly by three drunken philosophers. Characters hemmed in by ‘The Sea of Clarity’, ‘Cape Conchious-ness’ and the ‘Analitic Ocean’, and immortalised in consummate drawings, uncanny acts of taxidermy and iconic sculptures

Charles Avery, The Islanders: An Introduction, Buchhandlung Walther Konig GmbH & Co. KG. Abt. Verlag,  2009.

"I first came to the Island at the end of the great kelp rush, although I was not aware of that at the time. On the contrary, I had sought out this strange land with a view to being its discoverer."
So begins Charles Avery's The Islanders: An Introduction. The Islanders is, on one hand, a book, a fictional travelogue which catalogues a place called 'The Island' as encountered by the book's narrator. On the other, it is the first part of Avery's lifetime project, documenting the first four years of the Scottish artist's magnum opus.
The project itself is composed of large scale drawings, maps, sculpture, taxidermic specimens, and even a 3-D computer generated model of the Island (though Avery sees the latter "as a tool for me to use", rather than an artwork in itself). The objects and artifacts of The Islanders can be seen in gallery exhibitions such as the 2009 Tate Triennial Altermodern or the more recent British Art Show 7: In the Days of the Comet. And of course, they are documented in this book.
But The Islanders is more than an exhibition catalogue or archive of the artist's work: It is a fictional world of Avery's imagination, an altermodern archipelago, a new and unknown territory.




Having found the Island, the narrator prepares to leave, untying his boat, but is startled by a strange noise. Coming towards him is a beguiling young woman with whom he falls in love. The prologue concludes, "Through a series of misunderstandings, I came to believe her name was Miss Miss, and she, that I was called Only McFew. Miss Miss was to become my close companion and sponsor on the Island - although she consistently and firmly resisted any further advances. I remain to this day her devoted admirer."
Staying on the Island, perhaps because of love, perhaps because of curiousity and a calling to hunt and explore, Only McFew becomes familiar with the Island's inhabitants and its myths, as documented in the book. As readers, we learn about the various parts of the island such as the Avenue of the Gods, a lively market or bazaar; we're told of the prestigious role of the Hunter in Island society; we're introduced to the Island's peculiar (and strangely real) Gods; and we hear legends about its uncanny and surreal creatures.




In many ways, The Islanders is a conceptual exercise. It's about creating something and somewhere, it's about representation, its boundaries and its limitlessness. Even so, the book is strangely absorbing, and this is down to the detailed execution of Avery's drawings. They are undeniably masterful; the expressions on the faces of the Island's inhabitants, the Island and it's people's otherly familiarity...




...It's quite simply compelling... and intriguing. I am genuinely curious about what Avery will think up next for this imagined realm.
Interestingly, Avery seems to predict this. In an episode about the hunting and killing of an Aleph (a creature of the Island), Avery offers the following illustration:




The illustration depicts two 'Triangleland Bourgeoisie studying the head of an Aleph'. 'Triangleland' is the name for the other world - reality, in other words. Implicitly, then, there is an art gallery context being inscribed here, as though Avery is implying our own complicity in the project, the fact that the Island, however fictional, is something we lay witness to in his exhibitions.
The project continues with Onomatopoeia: The Port (which I subsequently blog about here), but in the meantime, Avery concludes The Islanders with a tantalising direct address: "I cannot tell you how this world really is - I have no idea - I can state only the facts as I perceive them. You must be satisfied with this or you must travel there yourself sometime, and see these beings in their natural environment, for this place is utterly subjective".
Charles Avery,Onomatopoeia: The Port, Buchhandlung Walther Konig GmbH & Co. KG. Abt. Verlag, 2010.

Onomatopoeia: The Port is the next phase in Charles Avery's Islanders project (launched with The Islanders, discussed here). The Prologue to this second book opens exactly as did the first: " I first came to the Island at the end of the great kelp rush..." Initially, Onomatopoeia's Prologue appears identical, but subtle variations start to arise, until eventually, the narrative becomes wholly original.
As readers, you could start with this book. However, the new additional narrative relies on readers' memory of details from The Islanders in order to unlock some of its narrative intricacies. For instance, towards the end of the Prologue, our narrator Only McFew informs us that as he began to explore the port of Onomatopy on the Island, he "exercised my new status as a tourist by standing in line to purchase a poke of moules and two eggs from Marcel's Casserole". Ordinarily, this is not particularly surprising information. Yet readers of The Islanders are aware of the infamy of the Island's eggs: In The Islanders, we learn that they are branded Henderson's eggs, and are "bitterly disgusting, yet ruinously addictive". The most any one can eat is three apparently, before they are "completely hooked". Indeed, Avery writes, "Many of the prospectors who came to the Island during the kelp rush did not prosper, but instead found ruin in the form of the eggs". Thus, at the end of Onomatopoeia's Prologue, when the narrative ends with the words, "I bit into my second egg", those readers who know of the eggs' power interpret the sense of foreboding these words contain, and the slippery downfall for Only McFew at which they hint...
After the Prologue, Onomatopoeia really consists of Avery's stunning illustrations. It opens with a reproduction of Avery's large scale drawing of the port of Onomatopoeia (which featured in British Art Show 7).




Since the original image is so large, the subsequent illustrations are essentially close-ups of areas of this initial picture, allowing the reader/viewer to really admire the detail of Avery's drawings.




Finally, echoing the structure of The Islanders, Onomatopoeia concludes with an Epilogue. As the final words of the Prologue implied, all is not rosey for Only McFew who states that he is "profoundly lost". He tries to write an inventory to keep his mind sharp, detailing the contents of his bag as well as "Self: I am called Only McFew (really!)" - Incidentally, this is troubling since this is the name Miss Miss understood, and seems unlikely to be the narrator's real name. In itself, this raises all sorts of questions for the reader concerning Only McFew's state of mind and well-being.
Enigmatically, the Epilogue to Onomatopoeia ends, "And finally I have started to wonder if, beyond the shops and bars and lights of Onomatopy, beyond the Plane of the Gods, where the defunct machines and litter are strewn, underneath the mountains and the flowers and the dust and the bones of the hunters, there is an island at all?"- Alison Gibbons
The Islanders: An Introduction was the latest instalment in Scottish artist Charles Avery's epic project which began in 2004. For the first time, the whole project thus far was brought together including several new works. Avery has created texts, drawings, installations and sculptures which describe the topology and cosmology of an imaginary island, whose every feature embodies a philosophical proposition, problem or solution. Imbued with a formal beauty, humour, and a spirit of philosophical enquiry, these vivid and intricate works invite the viewer to recreate the Island in their own minds, and to use it as an arena for exploring philosophical conundrums and paradoxes. Since 2004 Avery has been describing, in forms of drawings, texts, and objects, a fictional Island. The Island is located at the centre of an archipelago of innumerable constituents. For the exhibition at Grimm Gallery, Avery presents new works that explore as yet entirely undepicted features of the Island.
The show takes you through several parts of the Island, for example: The gateway to the Island is the town of  Onomatopoeia, once the stepping off point of the pioneers who first came to the place, turned colonial outpost, turned boom town, bustling metropolis, depression ravaged slum, and regenerated city of culture and tourist destination. Then there is The Jadindagadendar, the name of the municipalpark of Onomatopoeia. On show will be several specimens of the flora, including a ‘weeping’ tree of over four meters in height and a meticulous architectural study of the tree, demonstrating the pure mathematical system which gives rise to its form. And there is The Qoro-Qoros: the given name of the near endless, miasmic network of windless mounds and pools which separates the Island from its colonial master, the state known as Triangland. A spectacular four meter drawing depicts three individuals attempting to navigate monotonous wilderness.“


„Parasol unit is delighted to present The Islanders: An Introduction, the latest instalment in Charles Avery's epic project which began in 2004. For the past four years, Scottish artist Avery has created texts, drawings, installations and sculptures which describe the topology and cosmology of an imaginary island, whose every feature embodies a philosophical proposition, problem or solution. Previous exhibitions have presented chapters in this ongoing endeavour, revealing individual aspects of the Island. For the first time, the whole project thus far will be brought together including several new works. This major exhibition at Parasol unit will be accompanied by a large-scale publication.
Avery's mapping of the Island, to be completed over a projected ten-year period, can be interpreted as a meditation on making art and the impossibility of finding 'truth'. The artist is characterised as a bounty-hunter, retrieving artifacts and documenting scenes from the
subjective realm. Some of the works on show will focus in absurd detail, on particulars such as the sale of pickled eggs in the marketplace. Others present mysterious landscapes, such as the Eternal Forest, a place no one can ever reach but where a prized beast called the Noumenon is rumoured to live. A specimen of the Island’s wildlife will also be on show, having been realised in the form of a large taxidermy sculpture. These vivid and intricate works invite the viewer to recreate the Island in their own minds, and to use it as an arena for exploring philosophical conundrums and paradoxes.
Avery's art is imbued with a formal beauty, humour, and a spirit of philosophical enquiry. It has roots in the work of such diverse figures as William Blake, P.G. Wodehouse, Jorge Luis Borges, Joseph Beuys, Joseph Kosuth and Ludwig Wittgenstein, but above all contains echoes of Avery’s own life, such as his upbringing on the Isle of Mull. Once this sprawling project is complete, Avery plans for it to be encapsulated in several large, leather-bound encyclopaedic volumes.“



„For the past four years Charles Avery has been documenting his impossibly detailed ‘discoveries’ of a new world. ‘The islanders; an introduction’ initiates the curious into this world, led by the Chinese whisper of fantastical imaginings. Avery, self-appointed explorer, cosmologist and archaeologist, presents his findings through drawings, installation, sculpture and accompanying text.
1/4 size maquette of the eternity chamber’, one of the sculptures within the project, is a physical realisation of his imaginings, which allows the audience to visualise a section of the islander’s world. A hexagonal vessel walled inside by mirrored glass, illuminated by a rainbow spectrum of lights in the ceiling and floor, chequered like that of a Victorian tiled parlour. A door is left slightly ajar; as to let the audience peer into the booth, with a repeated pattern of their face staring back. The shrunken size of the ‘chamber’, could possibly allow the audience to feel more of an affinity to the idea of this chamber, giving one space to imagine it in its full size, being enclosed within it, to have faith in its ‘power’. It is explained by Avery that an outside tribe of the islanders believe in the ‘teachings’ of a gull, believed to be an incarnation of an unworldly being, named ‘meduso’. Images of gulls adorn the outside walls of the prism, and nearby a large drawing presents ‘the palace of the gulls’, where the eternity chamber is housed, atop a cliff facing the sea.
The symmetry, pattern and embellishment of the two structures, resembles that of middle eastern architecture, specifically a mosque or temple, coupled with the thought of inhabitants flocking to become “like the man” presumably that of the demi-god of ‘meduso’ mentioned in the accompanying text. Though rather than drawing devoted believers, Avery characterizes his worshippers as outsiders, striving for the eternal life promised by the few seconds spent within the chamber. ‘A trio smoking minutes before entering the eternity chamber’ (pencil and gauche) depicts, with Avery’s familiar precise draftmanship, the hallowed interior as a dark, dirty and foreboding place, with queues for the shining and auspicious eternity booth. The outsider’s look as though they are dispossessed people taking turns in the eternity chamber to keep warm; there is no sense of occasion or excitement, and gives a distinct impression that the artist is using his world of fantasy as a satirical mirror to our own society.
The project itself does not prompt me to wander upon the shores of this world and its islanders, as I have more than enough information presented to describe it and these leads to no space for speculation. Though it does lead me to wonder upon the avid documenter himself, and how he wants his work to be perceived. He presents himself as a character, the fictional explorer, and I find it curious; the schizophrenic nature of artist and explorer, onlooker and controller, the obsessive character himself, and whether he wants to satirise our on world through his. The engineered quality of Avery’s collection deems the project constricting in its academic nature, and with the weighty force of Avery’s masked intentions looming large in the background, it becomes a shadow over the beautifully engaging constructions of his imagination.
It is said that Avery is one of a new generation of artists practising under the brand “Altermodern”, meaning “Art made now in response to a global society and as a reaction against standardisation and commercialism.”
 Outsider artist Chris Hipkiss addresses such issues, a passionate environmentalist and prolific visionary, his large-scale pencil drawings also bearing resemblance to Avery’s graphic and meticulous depictions.
Hipkiss’s work mirrors our own planets influence of industry upon nature, though through his beautiful and strange post apocalyptic visions of agricultural landscape, peppered with alien army’s of workers and overshadowed by curious mechanical structures. The ground in which Hipkiss has been placed; outsider art, is due to the fact he has no formal art training; no education after 16, and the illustrational and almost naive quality of his drawings. In conjunction with this and the repeated subjects of his work inform and arouse the curiosity of the audience into his psychological tensions, seemingly spilling onto the paper. Avery’s islanders are, while being intriguing and engaging creations, held to ransom by the constricting justifications of the artist.
With a project of such scale, the audience could participate in unearthing the relationships between the assorted pieces, how they interact and overlap, though with ‘the islanders..’ it seems the reading of the text may decelerate the coherence of the collection, dividing rather than bringing together his vision. Philosophical propositions and extensive explanations accompanying each piece could lead the audience to prioritise their time in absorbing the information presented, with the physical works becoming pushed to a secondary level of concentration. This is unfortunate for his sculptures, as they struggle to achieve the magical sentiment has scope to. It is obvious from Avery’s prolific nature that he plans to publish ‘The islanders’ inside an encyclopaedia upon conclusion, and one may wonder that the ‘research element’ may gain more attraction within this format. Avery’s inventive capacity is no doubt remarkable and his variety of work entirely alluring, while his intellectual rigor may overwhelm the project and its capacity to engage, and pivots upon the audience’s willingness to comprehend.“ - Lotti V. Closs



„There are few artists brave enough to play God, but Charles Avery has no problems on that score. Over the last 10 years he has been building an island and painstakingly documenting its inhabitants, landscape and cosmology in text, paint and sculpture. The premise could be straight out of Tolkien, except that Avery is much more sophisticated than that. His world is populated with mythical beasts that haunt the inhabitants' psyche, decrying their very nature and usurping their sense of reason.
Many of the natives are addicted to the local delicacy, pickled eggs, which enslaves them to the island. Hunters in tweed jackets and shotguns search out a Kantian dichotomy while hawkers in the local flea market sell pictures of nude women for the price of peace of mind.
All this would be academic if it wasn't for Avery's skilled draftsmanship. His pictures are so compelling it is impossible not to become embroiled in the life of this secret community.
Born in Oban in 1973, Avery grew up on the Isle of Mull, and there is no question that his childhood haunts this epic narrative. His new show is an anthropological survey of island life. Like a 19th-century explorer returning from a fact-finding mission, he offers the intrepid viewer a sampling of the many curious species and social customs he has experienced.
Why we like him: For a dodgy dealer called Mr Impossible, a platypus looking chancer who got himself elevated to demi-god status.
Any similarities?: He managed to get kicked out of Central St Martins after six months – a feat thought to be impossible.
Move over YBA: He is part of a new generation of artists practicing under the banner of Altermodern.
 Alter what?: A term coined by the French theorist Nicolas Bourriaud, meaning art made now in response to a global society and as a reaction against standardisation and commercialism.“ – Jessica Lack

‘Be not afraid,’ says Caliban in The Tempest, ‘the isle is full of noises that bring delight and hurt not.’ Charles Avery might disagree. For the Mull-born-and-bred artist, it was the sounds of the woods around Lochdon that got his childhood imagination working overtime. ‘I had to walk past a forest every day on my way home, and the noises that came out of there were terrifying. To me it sounded like a lion killing a gazelle.’
In his epic charting of the life and times of an imaginary island Avery has approached his subject like an explorer, recording the topography, history and culture of the place. But his role, like that of the artist, is ambiguous. While in awe of his subject, he also shares something in common with the island colonisers who hunt down wild, mythical beasts, kill them and pose for the camera with their quarry.
While this show, part of an endeavour begun in 2004, brings together the on-going project for the first time and includes new works, Avery insists he has no deadline: ‘Finishability is a moot point here,’ he says. Aside from the scale of the project, Avery’s ability to turn his hand to several disciplines, including drawing, sculpture and taxidermy, is impressive.
In the prologue to the show an unnamed narrator writes, ‘I had sought this strange land with a view to beings its discoverer.’ So begins a journey that is a feast for the eyes and a serious workout for the imagination. The island and its inhabitants come to life as we progress around the exhibits, from collected souvenirs and keepsakes via elaborate maps brimming with references to philosophical conundrums, to accomplished drawings and sculptures. Avery’s cast of characters is extensive, among them a group of steely-eyed fishermen, some fantastical beasts such as the Noumenon, a pantheon of gods (two headless fighting dogs joined at the neck; a tiny lovable duck-billed creature in a white tux and top hat called Mr Impossible). Gradually, a narrative takes shape and the cast of characters becomes so vivid it feels like we are watching scenes from a movie. ‘Film is my most important cultural medium,’ agrees Avery. ‘The characters in The Island are similar to a Coen Brothers film in the way [the Coens] favour the same actors from film to film.’
A love of nonsense, fantasy and humour are at work here, but that doesn’t stop Avery posing some big questions about the nature of truth and reality, the essence of creativity and the role of art in society. But it’s the dazzling draughtsmanship that shows his pedigree as an artist and keeps us engaged: ‘Drawing was the only thing I was any good at when I was a child,’ he says. ‘I learned from trial and error, from drawing from my head.’ While a few of the characters in the exhibition are drawn from life, the majority are imagined. In the wall-sized drawing of a bustling market place, ‘The Place of the Rout of the If’en’, certain characters and objects are meticulously worked into a kind of hyper-reality, while other areas are left sketchy and unresolved. But appearances on the island are deceptive: the harder you look, the more you discover. Just like the eerie forest that inspired Avery’s childhood, it’s what we don’t know that fuels our imagination.“ - Lila Rawlings




„Visitors to the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis would have had plenty to keep them occupied: eating a newly invented ice-cream cone, or walking among the ‘parade of human progress’ of the human zoo. Here you could find replica villages of the indigenous people of Congo or New Guinea, or the tribes of the new American territory of the Philippines, including the dog-eating Igorots, who created countless rumours of missing pets across the city. You would not have been surprised, then, to find a stall nearby detailing with text, sketches and sculptural curiosities the views and inhabitants of a distant land known simply as ‘The Island’. Witness a taxidermied Ridable, a beast with the stature of a llama, the face of a dog and chicken’s feet. Marvel in disgust at a jar of the highly addictive local snack of Henderson’s boiled eggs pickled in gin. Or hear of the Islander’s most popular tourist attraction, the Plane of the Gods, where living Island deities can be visited.
Standing alongside, sporting a safari hat, awkwardly holding a rifle in one hand and a leather-bound travel guide in the other, you might find The Island’s creator, Charles Avery. At Parasol Unit, he presents ‘The Islanders: An Introduction’, an anthropological museum of his findings, bringing together several smaller exhibitions since 2004, when he began work on his imaginary territory. A mixture of Cairo, New York and Avery’s own childhood home on the Scottish isle of Mull, the Island is peopled by faint, tetchy-looking women and gruff, wizened men who occupy a world where there is no distinction between imaginary and physical reality. Taking a range of philosophical theories as guidelines, Avery has created a sort of metaphysical ant farm. On the map of the mirrored archipelago that forms his world, clever puns abound: the Analitic Ocean, Cape Conchious-Ness, the Causeway of Effect. The noumenon – Immanuel Kant’s concept, which describes an unknowable thing that cannot be observed with the senses but only conceived of or believed in – is here a debated beast whose existence is unconfirmed but for which the Island’s hunters relentlessly search.
Wall texts describe this society’s paradigms, cults, creatures and places. Large drawings and physical artefacts accompany each text, fleshing out The Island as a vibrant place of constantly shifting existence, but the incessant dialectic of which inevitably seems to arrive at an existential stalemate.  The drawings are unfinished, erratic in the precise minutiae they focus in on, as if excerpts from Avery’s ethnographic notebook.  The black and white drawing Untitled (Place of the Route of the If’en) (2007) depicts a busy market scene, with peddlers of watches, second-hand junk and geometric sculptures selling their wares to an indifferent crowd. Like William Hogarth or George Cruikshank’s bustling street scenes, there is a distinct sense of alienation, highlighted further by his characters’ detailed, emotive faces, whose grim caricature recalls more contemporary illustrators such as Daniel Clowes. The installation Untitled (Diagram of the Plane of the Gods) (2006) produces in miniature the the Islanders’ bizarre pantheon, including two headless dogs joined at the neck in endless tug-of-war and a small creature called Mr Impossible, who resembles an aristocratic, duck-billed version of Guns ’n’ Roses guitarist Slash.
The gods, however, like everything else on The Island, are a profane embodiment of abstract concepts. Take, for example, Mr Impossible, who was deemed a god by a trio of drunken philosophers, arguing that owing to his ridiculous physique he was ‘highly improbable’ and ‘therefore he is essential’. The role of philosophy as status-giver in Avery’s project is telling. The drawing Untitled (Avatars) (2006) shows the interior of a shop full of The Island’s small creatures, both mythical and mundane, apparently being sold as personal avatars. The endowing act of creating an avatar pervades his world, each aspect of The Island an emblematic transcription or one-to-one analogy of some philosophical tenet. This endowment extends to our guide’s own choice of presentation, using the museum set-up to provide us with a static portrait of this foreign place. The philosophy of this exhibition is meant to be an exhaustive epistemology, a summary of characteristics presented to us with an air of finality and predetermined readings. Despite humorous moments in Avery’s writing and the seething life of his drawings, it at times feels like a cross between the obsessive detail of the Klingon Dictionary (1985) and the fictionalized ‘Philosophy 101’ of Sophie’s World (1991). As a result, The Island does not feel like a living place we can imaginatively inhabit. Like the badger-esque King in Exile (2008), this is a stuffed and preserved presentation. Rather than taking part in his explorative creation, we are forced to rely on the artist’s numerous explanatory texts, which relegate the visual elements of the show to pure illustration. Chris Fite-Wassilak

"With great pleasure we announce the first gallery exhibition in the Netherlands by Charles Avery (Oban, 1973) after his solo museum presentation at the Boijmans van Beuningen museum in 2009. The exhibition will cover both gallery spaces and will feature new sculptures, drawings and film works. 
Since 2004 Avery has been describing, in the form of drawings, texts, and objects, a fictional Island. The Island is located at the centre of an archipelago of innumerable constituents. The gateway to the Island is the town of Onomatopoeia, once the stepping off point of the pioneers who first came to the place, turned colonial outpost, turned boom town, bustling metropolis, depression ravaged slum, and regenerated city of culture and tourist destination.
For the exhibition at Grimm Gallery, Avery presents a great number of new works that explore as yet entirely undepicted features of the Island.
There is The Jadindagadendar, the name of the municipal park of Onomatopoeia. On show will be several specimens of the flora, including a ‘weeping’ tree, over four meters in height, and a meticulous architectural study of the tree, demonstrating the pure mathematical system which gives rise to its form.
There is The Qoro-qoros, the given name of the near endless, miasmic network of windless mounds and pools which separates the Island from its Colonial master, the state known as Triangland. A huge four meter drawing, depicts three individuals, attempting to navigate the monotonous wilderness, home to bloated giant eels who have become disorientated in the labyrinth of stagnant waters and who live by feeding off the other luckless beings (including humanity) who have come to pass here. It seems that these people in this drawing — unlike the subsistence fishermen who , unable to afford a boat, come to harvest the great eels from their pools with a view to trading their insipid flesh — are visiting simply out of curiosity, and for the thrill of jumping from qoro to spongy qoro. ( A dangerous game to play because although one may push off from the rocky land that borders this territory with a jaunty spring in ones step, and that one may continue with a feeling of near weightless indomitability and travel some distance from the Terra Firma, all of a sudden one will be overcome with fatigue, and the spongy mounds that had propelled you forth start to suck you in. That phenomenon is what is called The Lull.)
And there is the relatively comforting bustle of Onomatopoeia. Another large scale drawing depicts a party of young women and men, gathered on the quayside with cart loads of provisions, ready to set out on a expedition in search of the Noumenon, a creature which is believed by some to exist, uniquely, somewhere in the dark wilderness of the Island, and has been held to have done so, without capture, for as long as people have sought it. The party is full of enthusiasm, checking their equipment, studying maps, ingesting recreational drugs and sky-larking.
In the background, on the gable-end wall of the Penrose Trading Co. there are several poster-advertisements — some of which are rendered full size and full colour in the gallery space — promoting businesses and cultural activity of Onomatopoeia. Central to the Island’s cultural identity is the phenomenon known as The Eternal Dialectic, an endless philosophical discussion which is acted out in the form of debates, happenings, and theatrical revues and which covers a gamut of philosophical activity from the Logical Positivists to the Metas, a band of thugs who issued, via a poster campaign, the declaration that they renounced the Dialectic in favour of violence (which they hold to be the purest from of expression), and who roam the streets in search of rival factions to assault.
There is no overarching theme to this exhibition beyond the structure of the Island itself, although ideas of eternal return and pure mathematics are especially apparent. The work here represents the output from several new explorations into various aspects of the Island, the product of six months of intense and happy activity in the studio." 

„STEP into the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in the next couple of months and you might just discover yourself in a different country. Or, at the very least, in an undiscovered part of our own land, an island off the coast of Charles Avery's imagination.
The 35-year-old artist has spent four years making work about the place he simply calls the Island. He has mapped its topography, drawn its inhabitants, created models of its creatures. It has become the focus of his practice, what he describes as "the defining project of my life".
Avery was one of the six artists chosen to represent Scotland at last year's Venice Biennale, the only one who did not go the Glasgow School of Art (he is largely self-taught), and the only one whose work is not predominantly conceptual. He is known particularly for his drawing, which one critic described his work as "probably the finest contemporary figurative drawings I've seen in the last 15 years".
His show at the SNGMA, created at the London gallery Parasol Unit, is five times bigger than any other solo show to date. It is an indication of how much work he has produced in the last four years. Last spring, when I visited his studio and saw him working on a large, detailed drawing, I assumed it was one of a handful on that scale. Now I realise it is one of many.
Avery draws fast and fluidly. He likes the medium because "it allows me to work at the speed I think". But he insists that he was not working at full capacity. "So much of the project up to this point has been about working out how to do a project like this – like a dog trying to get its teeth around a football. It hasn't been sheer production by any means.
"I'm surprised how well this show has come together. It was extremely well planned but I'm very pleased – it's not often that anything I plan comes together that well! This exhibition serves as a kind of beach-head, a position gained. It's time for an extended period of reflection."
The scale of the current show, taking up the space that housed the Tracey Emin retrospective during the summer, is an indication of the regard in which Avery is now held. Philip Long, senior curator at the SNGMA, first noticed his work at a show at doggerfisher in Edinburgh in 2002. "When we were selecting the artists for Scotland in Venice 2007, he was an artist we wanted to choose.
"I think he's an extraordinary talent. His ability as a draughtsman and his ability to produce images of the world which he has invented is quite extraordinary and really quite dramatic. Like a lot of great artists, his work makes an immediate impression, potentially to a wide audience, but it also offers the possibility of more and more intellectual stimulus, the more you go into it."
Avery describes being shown in Venice as "a great experience from start to finish". "Everybody in the art world was there. It was a great way of introducing part of the project to people. I hope the Scottish Arts Council sees the value of it and does it again, it's extremely good value for money in terms of what it does for the international profile of the artists who participate, and the knock-on effect in terms of how Scotland is perceived. It seems there is something eternally exciting about Scotland and Scottishness."
And the Island is definitely a Scottish island. Avery spent his formative years on Mull and once described it as "the total basis of my subconscious". "A lot of writers say: 'Write what you know', so I've based it (the Island) on my direct experience, which is growing up on the West Coast of Scotland, some time in Edinburgh, some time in Rome and a lot of time in Hackney. You'll find a distillation of these in the works."
While he freely acknowledges that the Island is "a fiction" and "an intellectual pursuit", a place for exploring philosophical ideas, he has a disconcerting habit of talking about it as if it was just a few miles down the road, and the characters were known to him personally. He tells me, almost apologetically, that the main town – Onomatopoeia – "is a bit of a building site at the moment".
We are talking in the room given over to the marketplace "which sits on the Avenue of the Gods, which leads to the Plane of the Gods, which is next door". He jerks a thumb towards the next room of the gallery. There, the model figures of the gods are in an undigified cluster on the floor awaiting placement on the Plane: Wi, the giant swimmer, clutching his rolled up towel, the tiny top-hatted, duck-beaked figure of Mr Impossible.
As we talk, we are eyed by a taxidermy model of a creature that has the snout of a pig, the body of a badger and the tail of an armadillo, and is trying to reach inside a jar to capture a pickled egg. (Pickled eggs are important on the Island, there are several jars displayed on a nearby plinth).
In the further room is a "ridable", a larger animal somewhere between a wolfhound and a llama. The human characters are "drawn from my imagination, with the odd exception of a cameo role for a friend, or an intellectual superstar". His wife gets to put in an appearance, as does Bertrand Russell.
Perhaps not surprisingly, comparisons have been made with Mervyn Peake, the creator of the Gormenghast stories, and with Tolkien, which Avery says "sends a shiver down his spine". He's more comfortable with allusions to Borges, Blake and Jonathan Swift. The Island more an eccentric offshoot of Mull than Middle Earth.
"I don't want to it to look like sci-fi, or 'Hey, this is weird and wonderful!' I sometimes think, have the people who say these things actually looked? What is so weird about this place? There are a few weird animals, but nothing weirder than would turn up in Australia, they're just different, they're completely plausible. The Gods are a strange-looking bunch, but if you look at all the gods human beings have evoked I don't think they're particularly weirder."
Nor, he says, is it meant to be a satirical comment on the "real world", which was part of the intention behind invented worlds of writers such as Swift and Thomas More. "People have perceived some kind of satirical content to this, and there really isn't. I think maybe people have mistaken my ultra earnestness for cynicism. I don't see it that way."
The work he calls the "showstopper" is a couple of rooms away, the Eternity Chamber, a structure a little bigger than a telephone box where a combination of mirrors and geometric patterns make the inside look infinite. The installation team are referring to it as "the Tardis".
"You can't go in there, for health and safety reasons," says Avery. "That's not the gallery rules, that's the conceit. It would drive you mad. I've been in there a couple of times and you do think 'Hang on, where's the door?'" He says that confining his work to a single imagined world is anything but restrictive.
"Some people talk as if it's a prison I've created, but it's the opposite. It gives to freedom to explore the ideas I want to explore. I might have a drawing which is more about mathematical philosophy, and one which is more about people. If you create a space where you put the things you don't have to relate them intellectually, you relate them spatially. It's about turning that intellectual space into a physical space.
"The Island is not a parallel world, it's part of this world, therefore it is a fiction. I use the word 'fiction' very broadly. History is a fiction, art history is fiction. Maybe reality is the biggest fiction of all!"
„Scottish artist Charles Avery (born 1973) has devoted himself exclusively to the creation of a fictional island archipelago since 2004. In detailed, large-scale drawings, installations, sculptures and objects, Avery forms a bizarre imaginary reality out of diverse philosophical ideas and concepts: Fabulous creatures, deities, tourists and adventurers are embedded in a complex social structure, merging into an entire cosmos that ranges between pure fantasy and theoretical reflection.
Around 40 works are assembled in this solo presentation that not only represents his debut in Germany, but also his most comprehensive exhibition to date. As if in a reportage, it invites viewers to immerse themselves in the bustling activities of Onomatopoeia (the term for a word sounding like the sound it describes), the capital of this world, where objectivity is believed to indicate imbecility.
Avery constructs his island world on a visual and a literary level: The ink, pencil and charcoal drawings executed with convincing precision and imaginative detail illustrate scenes from the islanders’ everyday life while objects suggested as “souvenirs” — stuffed creatures such as a one-armed snake or curiosities like a collection of philosopher’s hats — underscore the believability of the place and make the island tangible. The pieces are accompanied by texts from the books The Islanders: An Introduction (2008) and the catalog published on the occasion of this exhibition Onomatopoeia: The Port (2010) in which Avery introduces the island’s characters and special features in a robinsonade style.
The core of the exhibition is the drawing of the Port of Onomatopoeia (2009/10) measuring 2.5 by 5 meters: The “Utility,” one of the numerous ships that bring tourists and adventurers to the island, has just landed. The jetty is populated by native if’en, stone-mice and eel sellers, tourists wearing the popular “I counted the gods and they are infinite” t-shirts and the ever-present dog-like silverbobs. There, the two ports of entry, “Duty” and “Identity,” provide an initial indication of the city’s main attraction: the eternal dialectic.
The eternal dialectic is a collective debate that takes place day and night on the streets and in the many cafés and bars of Onomatopoeia, the interiors of which have been captured in numerous drawings (Magregors Bar, 2008 / The Bar of the One Armed Snake, 2010). The dispute is sparked off by fundamental philosophical questions — If both sides of the world are identical, is it really two different sides? Is the world an entity or can it be divided into parts? — and not least the question regarding the existence of the noumenon.
While the concept “noumenon,” meaning “what is conceived” as the antonym of “phenomenon: what is perceived,” was used for example by Kant as a synonym for the expression “the thing-in-itself,” in Charles Avery’s work it appears as a legendary creature which is said to live in the mountains “phenomenon of the noumenon” but has never been seen, let alone captured, despite the efforts of hunters and adventurers on countless expeditions.
The main debaters of the eternal dialectic are, on the one hand, the positivists who support the hunters of the noumenon and are convinced of its existence, and the rationalists on the other, who make fun of the hunters and positivists. There are numerous other convictions between these poles ranging from the solipsists (Solipsist, 2010) who only believe in their own existence and the balance obsessed dualists (Dualist, 2010) who constantly seek parallels and equivalents, to the radical metas who, beyond all dialectics, have come to regard violence as the purest form of expression and whose rebellious posters appear on house facades in numerous drawings.
The most eloquent speakers in the individual groups are the “dooks” who are easily recognizable by their hats, seventeen different examples of which are gathered together in the exhibition. The form of the hats is oriented on the wearer’s philosophical direction: The esoteric Diskworlders who comprehend the world as area and whose approach is most closely related to the creationists in our reality, wear a flat round headdress while the hat worn by the solipsists has a prickly construction that aggressively protrudes into its surroundings. The metas, by contrast, do without any form of symbolism and appropriate the city for themselves by making their hat out of Onomatopoeia’s emblem.
Not only the inhabitants of the island follow theoretical principles, the fauna does as well: In Charles Avery’s most recent piece, he captures the “Dihedra” (from “dihedral angle,” i.e. the angle between two theoretical plains). Popular as pets and souvenirs, they are attracted by geometrical structures, fluttering around them like schematic butterflies (Dihedra, 2010, installation, 8mm projector and steel construction). Their wings are so delicate that they only have one side and they appear to be the same size from any distance across the world.
Although the islanders regard a precise geographical location of their world as useless, its improbable geography and philosophical range can be comprehended in detail on a meticulously drawn, unfolded World Map (2008).
It is an island archipelago on both — exactly equivalent — sides of the globe, that spans between the two epistemological poles: The truth about the truth is to be found at the South Pole, referencing the basic problem of the correspondence theory that questions the verifiability of “truth,” while there is an endless forest at the North Pole beyond Descartes’ axiom, whereof one cannot speak and, in keeping with Wittgenstein’s seventh proposition, must therefore be silent.
Between them, there are places with charged associative names such as the island called The Causality of Effect or the Bay of Senility. Via the Sea of Clarity, sea voyagers reach The Memory of Familiarity, an inland water on the shore of which Onomatopoeia is located.
Despite the meticulousness with which Charles Avery formulates his cosmos, he does without a plot that would recapitulate the world in any epic narrative: The island world is a theoretical playground that invites the viewers to think one step further and equip with their own stories — or to look on from the edge and wonder if there really is an island at all.“ - arttattler

„Pilar Corrias Gallery is delighted to present ‘Place de la Revolution’: the latest installment in Charles Avery’s epic project, The Islanders.
Since 2005, Charles Avery has devoted his practice to the perpetual description of a fictional world. Replete with its own population and geography, Avery’s intricately conceived territory exists today through drawings, objects, installations and texts. Exhibited episodically, these heterogeneous elements serve as terms within the unifying structure of the Island – as multiple emissions of Avery’s imaginary world, and as a meditation on the central themes of philosophy and the problems of art-making.
The centre piece of this exhibition is a sixteen foot drawing depicting the eponymous Place de la Revolution, a large circus where hundreds of cyclists converge, before spinning off on their personal trajectories. Accompanying – and relating to – the Place de la Revolution are several other drawings, sculptures and one moving image.
Avery’s vivid works articulate a space of potential discovery and intrigue, which bids the viewer to recreate the Island in their own minds.“

Charles Avery lecture at Stroom Den Haag (video)

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