Dadaoism - An anthology that is the literary and psychic equivalent of a tour around the edges of a dying galaxy in a spectacularly malfunctioning space vehicle






Dadaoism (An Anthology), Edited by Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp,  Chômu Press, 2012


Dadaoism is the first anthology from Chômu Press. Editors Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp have selected twenty-six novellas, short stories and poems setting out an aesthetic manifesto of rich and stimulating prose style, explosively unhindered imagination and anarchic experimentation.
In their submissions guidelines, they challenged would-be contributors as follows: “We aspire to edit and compile an anthology that will be the literary and psychic equivalent of a tour around the edges of a dying galaxy in a spectacularly malfunctioning space vehicle.” Please “take your protein pills and put your helmet on”; this is not easy reading. Expect views of some fantastic literary nebulae, and encounters with word-form singularities.
From Reggie Oliver’s ‘Portrait of a Chair’, in which consciousness is explored from the point of view of furniture, to John Cairns’ ‘Instance’, a nano-second by nano-second account of a high-speed telepathic conversation, to Julie Sokolow’s ‘The Lobster Kaleidoscope’ in which naïve wordplay acts as a foundation for existentialist philosophy in a story of inter-species love; from those such as Michael Cisco, with growing followings, to unexpected new voices such as Katherine Khorey, Dadaoism presents a mystery tour of the literary imagination to demonstrate that outside of exhausted mainstream realism and uninspired genre tropes, contemporary English-language writing is thriving and creatively vital.

Contents

1 ‘Portrait of a Chair’, by Reggie Oliver
2 ‘Autumn Jewel’, by Katherine Khorey
3 ‘Visiting Maze’, by Michael Cisco
4 ‘The Houses Among the Trees’, by Colin Insole
5 ‘Affection 45′, by Brendan Connell
6 ‘M-Funk Vs. Tha Futuregions of Inverse Funkativity’, by Justin Isis
7 ‘Spirit and Corpus‘, by Yarrow Paisley
8 ‘Timelines’, by Nina Allan
9 ‘Jimmy Breaks up with His Imaginary Girlfriend’, by Jimmy Grist
10 ‘Body Poem’, by Peter Gilbert
11 ‘Testing Spark’, by Daniel Mills
12 ‘Noises’, by Joe Simpson Walker
13 ‘Romance, with Mice’, by Sonia Orin Lyris
14 ‘Grief (The Autobiography of a Tarantula)’, by Jesse Kennedy
15 ‘Orange Cuts’, by Paul Jessup
16 ‘Instance’, by John Cairns
17 ‘Kago Ai’, by Ralph Doege
18 ‘Fighting Back’, by Rhys Hughes
19 ‘Nowhere Room’, by Kristine Ong Muslim
20 ‘Koda Kumi’, a Justin Isis re-mix of ‘Italiannetto’ by Quentin S. Crisp
21 ‘The Lobster Kaleidoscope’, by Julie Sokolow
22 ‘The Eaten Boy’, by Nick Jackson
23 ‘Poppies’, by Megan Lee Beals
24 ‘Abra Raven’, by D.F. Lewis
25 ‘Pissing in Barbican Lake’, by Jeremy Reed
26 ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicides’, by Jeremy Reed

“Since it was established in 2010, Chômu Press has released… books that deploy a range of styles to disturb and delight fans of mind-expanding fiction.”- Chris Jozefowicz

“There is no easy category in which to place Chômu’s releases; the closest thing I can come up with is ‘disturbing fiction,’ where ‘disturbing’ is more than an elite way of saying ‘frightening.’ It means breaking up, if only temporarily, the way one looks at the world, providing a new and baffling perspective on the reality we all inhabit but rarely observe.”- Brendan Moody  


The Cover of Chômu Press’ Dadaoism anthology resembles a certain, familiar monolith. Still from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
A year ago, I dispatched my idiosyncrasies overseas.  I had been reading the work of a UK-based publishing house called Chômu Press and felt a kinship with their unabashed promise:  “If you are tired of tepid, humanistic realism on the one hand, and the narrow fixations of genre on the other, Chômu Press may be what you have been waiting for.”  There was something devilishly discourteous about it, but I was intrigued by the Steppenwolf-style invitation to Chomu’s own Magic Theatre.  Now, seven years since I originally penned the drug-addled artifact that is “The Lobster Kaleidoscope”, I find it “trippy” to experience it anew within the context of Chômu’s impressive Dadaoism  anthology.

M.C. Escher’s “Another World”
Dos Dazzling Deets re Dadaoism (An Anthology):
1) Metaphysical Portals:  As a devotee of Borges, Kafka, and Beckett, I get kicks out of masterful meta-ness, psychological terror, and gallows humor, all of which Dadaoism’s opening piece, “Portrait of a Chair”, possesses in levels of toxicity.  In Reggie Oliver’s story, a retired antiques dealer, keenly aware of his mortality, attends an auction where he purchases a captivatingly simple portrait of a chair.  The portrait is not just some symmetrical schlock to mount over a mantel, but rather, a metaphysical portal to a dimension in which inanimate objects are paradoxically conscious, and the narrator, having undergone a paralyzing transformation, must fight through telepathic intellect alone to survive.


Photo of Jeremy Reed by Gregory Hesse
2) Street Cred:  Dadaoism ends with two poems by Bjork and J.G. Ballard’s darling favorite, Jeremy Reed.  Called by the Independent, “British poetry’s glam, spangly, shape-shifting answer to David Bowie”, Reed’s poems read like lyrics to a song you’ll want to air guitar solo to.  That is, before the anxiety-provoking subject sinks in.  In his poem “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicides”, he samples the true story of Joe Meek, the pioneering record producer, songwriter, and paranoid occultist, who shot and killed his landlady before turning the gun on himself.  Reed weaves together the details of Meek’s particular story and the greater mythos of rock ‘n’ roll’s dark side.  Meek’s loft is “a sounds lab–pop and Ouija and blue pills…”.  Reed canonizes Meek with those other archetypal “death-inducers” (e.g. -Presley, Hendrix, Cobain), “excess bingers hallucinating in the drop/into the roaring underground.”

Somewhere between metaphysical portals and street cred lies my short story, “The Lobster Kaleidoscope”.  Stylistically, it is a circular narrative that poses existential questions through naive word play – a sort of children’s tale for adults, recalling the work of Lewis Carroll and Tom Robbins.  When I dispatched my story overseas, I told Chômu all this, but omitted one major detail:  “The Lobster Kaleidoscope”  was conceived on my virginal LSD odyssey.  Now that the story is in print, I feel compelled to explain its origins to aspiring psychologists and the merely curious, keen on the link between drugs, creativity, and memory.

My mirror image. Still from Todd Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995).
Suburbia, 1995 – I was a pre-teen waiting for health class to commence, drawing a heart around the name “Jonathan Taylor Thomas” and dreaming up the next beanie baby I’d add to the toy hammock above my bed.  I wore knit pants, because denim chafed my legs.  When nervous, I poked tiny holes in my knit pants with number two pencils.

Barbara Weissberger’s Meaty Abstraction 9 (2011)
Some peers were nursing their tamagotchis in isolation; running poignantly from the classroom in tears when called names such as, “Sissy”.  Others had blonde highlights in their hair and the unfathomable grit to withstand jeans.  On this particular day, they were blasting the Offspring from their Sony Discmans and chanting in unison, “Give it to me baby, Uh Huh, Uh Huh.”The pre-class ritualistic chaos was still in full swing, when our teacher, Mr. Ruins, burst through the door.  His face was as red as a sunburn, either from the sun or decades of alcoholism, the latter, a possibility that only occurs to me now, as a non-child glancing back at the ruins of youth.  Mr. Ruins rolled in a giant cube of a television perched on a monolithic, roving entertainment unit.  Neither the whiteness of his New Balance running shoes or the muscular superiority of his calves detracted from his raw-meat complexion.
“Listen up.  Today, you’re going to learn something real,” he said.
He popped in a VHS tape and a documentary faded in:  “Meet Larry.  Larry used to have a nice life.  He had great parents, a lot of friends, and was even the star of the track team.  He graduated top of his class and went on to university with plans of becoming a doctor.  Then, one day, Larry’s friend offered him a street drug called LSD-”

Drawing by Theodoros Pelecanos in alchemical tract titled Synosius (1478)
Suddenly, a synth soundtrack took hold.  The picture of handsome Larry, smiling in cap and gown, cross-dissolved into black-and-white footage of a bald, overweight man restrained by leather straps in a white-walled institution.  He let out a battery of incomprehensible shrieks as his eyes rolled back into his head.
“Snakes!  Oh god, they’re everywhere!”  Larry, the mutant, howled from his gurney.
I looked around the room.  Even the cool kids were staring with their mouths agape at the horror, the horror, of poor Larry who had it all, but now, was damned to hear the hiss of invisible snakes for the rest of his mortal life.
“Some people learn the hard way,” Mr. Ruins said.  “Don’t be one of those people.”
***

LSD Blotter (Bart Simpson - Front & Back), Photo by Acid Crash, © 2001 Erowid.org
Urban College Campus, 2005 – Fast-forward to my freshman year of college.  As a scholar of the liberal arts, I met a lot of kids who aspired to overthrow the government and spike the water supply with LSD – supposedly, in a humanitarian, rather than sadistic, effort, to spark the next evolution of mankind.  I met a new friend in a philosophy class who was of this mind and one day, after hours of talking provocatively about rebellions we didn’t have the guts to wage, he turned his scrutiny on me.
“You want to be a writer, but you grew up sheltered in suburbia.  How are you going to expand other people’s minds, when you haven’t even expanded your own?”  he said.
He handed me a tiny piece of paper with Bart Simpson’s face on it.  I stuck it to the roof of my mouth and was instructed to keep it there for approximately five minutes.                                                                                                                            
“I don’t think it’s working,” I whispered into the ether of my friend’s efficiency apartment.


Another mirror image. Still from Todd Hayne’s Safe (1995).
Twenty-five minutes later I was crawling under the kitchen’s bar, watching a tapestry flap against a wall like a bat trapped in a net.  Frightened, I crawled to the bathroom and a beam of magenta light shot through the window directly at me.  Under my crusty paws, a foggy mist shifted over the yellow, speckled tile floor.  I stared unblinkingly into a full-length mirror.
“You’ll be okay, I said to my reflection.  “I love you.”
Then I started crying.
I tried to calm down by chain-smoking and drinking a 67 oz. bottle of Coca-Cola, and when that failed miserably, I told my friend I had to go home and get some work done.
“It’s two in the morning,” he said.
***

An illustration called “Baby Overboard” based on “The Lobster Kaleidoscope” (2005)
At home, I sat at the computer and stared at a blank Microsoft Word document, noting the unsettling sensuality of my fingers kneading the keys.  Then suddenly, I became possessed.  I typed without pause, overcome by a vision, not unlike Larry’s snakes.  The story scribed by forces outside of my control was about a painfully naive girl, who traced the steps of her life and death back to one key locale:  the waiting room of a Red Lobster restaurant – a setting so emblematic of my experience with suburban mundanity that I am now utterly convinced of the subconscious’ power to drudge up the most effective symbolism for any circumstance. It is in the limbo of a Red Lobster waiting room that a warped magic takes hold.  As the girl waits for her date to arrive, she enters into a Socratic dialogue with a miscellany of anthropomorphic sea creatures and discovers something akin to the meaning of life.                             

Crackin’ open ye olde monolith.
I wrote straight from 2 AM to 2 PM, and upon finishing the final sentence, I collapsed on the IKEA mattress of my college apartment.  I laid there blissfully, believing my existential questions had found their answers, coded in the story’s absurdity.  In the months that followed, I would revise it and revise it, print it, and circulate it among unsuspecting acquaintances, before ultimately, dispatching it overseas..
***
It is now 2012 and “The Lobster Kaleidoscope” remains a portal jam-packed with flashback fodder – uroboric thought loops, melting mirrors, and a colorful landfill of junked up metaphors.  In the past couple of years, I’ve veered away from psychedelics, having witnessed the anxiety and paranoia they can breed in otherwise functional minds.  Still, nostalgia has a way of veiling old threats and seductively spotlighting the ecstatic creative state; the confidence with which a vision can overtake a person, for better or worse." - Julie Sokolow


"Quentin S. Crisp states in his fine introduction to this strange book that the word `dadaoism' was coined by his co-curator Justin Isis as the pitch point for collecting works from contributors to Chômu Press - an anthology of works that push the boundaries of current literature, releasing normative bonds of writing practice. Conspicuous by its nonsense, the artistic and literary movement of Dada is kind of like The Fight Club. There is only one rule to follow: Never follow any rules. Dadaoism is the Crisp and Isis concept to attain `the literary and psychic equivalent of a tour around the edges of a dying galaxy in a spectacularly malfunctioning space vehicle, encouraging contributors to take your protein pills and put your helmet on, the results being for the most part an often challenging but ultimately rewarding collection of angst, anxiety, and alienation as conveyed in whimsy, wit, and wordplay.'
As Isis adds, putting a primacy on showcasing writers who `would like to create language which is like ... bared teeth. Perfection of such writing is not the end result....The stories in this book which escape boredom do so by corrupting their own forms, digesting themselves. Feel free to eat this book, tear out any pages which displease you, add corrections and emendations. Feel free, as always, to write lies in the Book of Life.'
What this bizarre book contains, then, is a collection of works that stretch the imagination and in doing so force us to think in different pathways than those to which we are accustomed. There are short stories, poems, and novellas that at times border on the absurd and at other times preach the absurd. In addition to the gathered writers, editors Crisp and Isis contribute some of their own work. Apparently the two writers wanted to explore in Dadaoism what happens when `two (or more) minds work together creatively, producing results that neither could produce alone. The result, greater than the sum of its parts, comprises a new and distinct entity, which is one avatar of the Dadaosim, a bustling and jostling chaos-butterfly whose dream wings, when they flicker, lenticular, show us a number of different panels in an endless folding screen.' - Grady Harp


"Conspicuous by its nonsense, the artistic and literary movement of Dada is kind of like The Fight Club. There is only one rule to follow: Never follow any rules.
Does that  mean you have to read between the lines of the flights of fancy and philosophy anthologized in Dadaosim, from Chômu Press which takes us every which way but lucid in the course of 26 novellas, short stories, and poems? Don’t be absurd. Or rather, do.
Whether we’re discussing Dada psychology, dada Germany cum indigestion and fog paroxysm, dada literature, dada bourgeoisie,”  the dictates of the Dada Manifesto of German writer and dada artist Hugo Ball celebrates the provocateurs and poets who are "always writing with words but never writing the word itself, who are always writing around the actual point.”
Or pointlessness, as the case may be, as we take heed of the titular conflation – a portmanteau parallel —  that mitigates any capriciousness in dada with the gravitas lent by the Chinese tradition of Daoism in its advocacy of a simplicity and noninterference with the source and essence of all that exists. Moreover, that the character of "The Tao that can be told of / Is not the Absolute Tao" finds an echo in Ball's declaration.
Which is not to say that the pedestalled purposelessness and high-falutin’ head-scratchers constituted in Dadaoism are necessarily to be equated with anything less than mindpower to a max. Citing William Burroughs and Bryan Gysin in their “cut-up” compendium The Third Mind, editors Justin Isis and Quentin S. Crisp sought an outcome produced when “two (or more) minds work together creatively, producing results that neither could produce alone.” The result, greater than the sum of its parts, comprises a “new and distinct entity, which is one avatar of the Dadaosim, a bustling and jostling chaos-butterfly whose dream wings, when they flicker, lenticular, show us a number of different panels in an endless folding screen.”
Indeed, Isis and Crisp, in an aim to attain the “literary and psychic equivalent of a tour around the edges of a dying galaxy in a spectacularly malfunctioning space vehicle,” encouraged contributors to “take your protein pills and put your helmet on,” the results being for the most part an often challenging but ultimately rewarding collection of angst, anxiety, and alienation as conveyed in whimsy, wit, and wordplay.
To paraphrase the opening tone-setting tale “Portrait of a Chair” – an account of duality and consciousness narrated by a main character-turned-armchair — these entries are ones of potential “frisson, not exactly of pleasure, but certainly of a kind of alertness, a sense of being alive, and for a purpose. ”I’m not sure if the ideas and images in “Portrait of a Chair” (which evokes for me a featured piece of ostensibly anthropomorphic furniture in Neil Diamond’s “I Am, I Said”), dissipate entirely in another cautionary tale of interior décor, but "Nowhere Room" traces a miniature portrait of a boy forced to spend his formative years wedged in the wooden floor of his room. Kid-tested, Mom-reproofed!
This kind of curt quirkiness and characterization finds more extended wordplay and repartee in such accounts as Julie Sokolow’s "The Lobster Kaleidoscope," as it probes an inter-species love that dares not speak its coordinates. More stylistically, clipped forms of experimental lit lie in bite-size increments peppering the prose of "Instance" by John Cairns, marked as well with self-referential torn-wall asides (“Somebody’s reading this! I felt something. I’m a character in a story. Am I being read now?”).  And the seemingly straightforward narrative of Katherine Khorey’s "Autumn Jewel" still makes for an intriguingly enigmatic portrait of a teen coping with the death of an older sister. In poetry, the striking verse of Jeremy Reed's “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicides” expressively counts off the deaths of “excess bingers hallucinating in the drop / into the roaring underground.”
Putting a primacy on showcasing writers who “would like to create language which is like … bared teeth,” Justin Isis notes how “Perfection of such writing is not the end result....The stories in this book which escape boredom do so by corrupting their own forms, digesting themselves.” It’s not fast food for thought, however, even as Isis goes on to declare, “Feel free to eat this book, tear out any pages which displease you, add corrections and emendations. Feel free, as always, to write lies in the Book of Life.” A truer characterization of unbridled rebel spirit and richly attitudinal contents under pressure could not be made. – Gordon Hauptfleisch

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