6/28/13

RELIQUIÆ #1 (2013)




Reliquiæ #1Corbel Stone Press, 2013


Reliquiæ is an annual journal of poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, translations and visual art, edited by Autumn Richardson & Richard Skelton. Each issue collects together both old and new work from a diverse range of writers and artists with common interests spanning landscape, ecology, folklore, esoteric philosophy and animism.

Full print contents:

Two strange tales from Mark Valentine, including a new work, "For She Will Have Her Harvest", about the graveyard poet Henry Kirke White. Noor de Winter on birch trees, music and the "artist-as-listener" in the work of of German expressionist writer and instrument-builder, Hans Henny Jahnn. Two poem sequences by Richard Harms - "Salt", an 18th-century sea-voyage in five parts; and "Wing", a naturalist's minutely observed depictions of Australian bird-life. Autumn Richardson's translations of a quartet of Inuit songs collected by Danish explorer Knud Rasmussen. John Hutchinson on the "imaginal world" of Sufi mysticism. Richard Skelton's elegy for the now-extinct grey fell fox. Mark Brennan's oil paintings of the Canadian wilderness.

In addition to these there are Knud Rasmussen's account of Simigaq, an Inuit woman from Greenland, and the songs she shared with him; a Finnish legend from R. Eivind; Richard Jefferies on the miracle of hawks gliding; Wazha'zhe & Meskwaki myths; poetry by Francis Ledwidge; a selection of Manx folktales from Sophia Morrison; poetry by Christina Georgina Rossetti; a Greenlandic Inuit creation myth and two stories from W.B. Yeats.

Featuring:
Mark Brennan
R. Eivind
Alice C. Fletcher & Francis La Flesche
Richard Harms
John Hutchinson
Hans Henny Jahnn
Richard Jefferies
Francis Ledwidge
Truman Michelson
Sophia Morrison
Knud Rasmussen
Autumn Richardson
Christina Georgina Rossetti
Richard Skelton
Mark Valentine
Noor de Winter
W. B. Yeats


It is the contemplation and sanctity of inner life that interests Fernando Pessoa in The Book of Disquiet. That he would be more liberated by glimpsing a scene of open countryside over a stone wall on the outskirts of a small town than travelling the vast oceans and different countries across the world, is as much to do with his misanthropic disquiet as it is with the infinite inside the heart of the dreamer and the limitlessness of his dreaming. Pessoa proudly confesses to having done nothing but dream, where in his dreaming he has thought up worlds and vast landscapes populated by people and friends made all the more real by their imagined imperfections. Yet his dreaming and his writing is shot through with a curious kind of nostalgia made all the more painful as it longs for things that have never existed. Pessoa dreams in loss, where the landscapes and people of his dreams cannot escape the fate of never coming to pass and existing only ever in a nostalgic memory.
The collection of writings that make up Reliquiæ circle a similar kind of nostalgia. As the first annual journal of ‘poetry, short fiction, non-fiction, translations, and visual art,’ Reliquiæ (edited by Autumn Richardson & Richard Skelton and published by Corbel Stone Press) contemplates places, people and songs forgotten; forgotten by history and forgotten in their only ever being imagined. Even though it is as much a historical journal as it is imaginary – translations and first time publications of mid-to-late 19th century and early 20th century material, such as Richardson’s translation of ‘Four Inuit Songs’ firstly documented in Danish by Knud Rasmussen in 1930, sit next to the likes of Mark Valentine’s ‘The Other Salt’ written and published for the first time in Reliquiæ – the distant landscapes and forgotten folktales it tries to remember and evoke seem closer to the imaginative memory of Pessoa than any kind of historical remembrance.
It’s a journal with a common interest in ‘ecology, folklore, esoteric philosophy and animism,’ where a tale of the near forgotten 18th century ‘graveyard poet’ Henry Kirk White in Valentine’s other story ‘For She Will Have Her Harvest’ comes after Skelton’s own piece on the extinct grey fell fox called ‘With His Coat So Gray.’ Yet as if anticipating Holdenby, the poetry editor in Valentine’s story researching the life of White, who in compiling his book on the graveyard poets, writes a simple preamble to each author along with some demonstrative footnotes alluding to his expansive knowledge of the 18th century verse, the stories told in Reliquiæ and the history and characters remembered are not done so didactically. Even the notes and bibliography, with the exception of an odd footnote, that might contextualise a piece of writing with its original author and source come at the end, after all the stories have been told. It’s as if, quite literally, the essence of the thing being told lies elsewhere, as Richard Harms so beautifully discerns in his poem ‘Salt,’ the opening piece of the journal. Skelton does not recall the grey fox as one might recall a forgotten date, as if to preserve and lock its presence in place. Rather he poetically evokes ‘something that has gone, that has disappeared beyond reach.’ But like all the writers that make up Reliquiæ, he nevertheless reaches for what has been lost, as if to instead preserve it in a dream-like lyrical remembrance.
Like Pessoa, Reliquiæ dreams up forgotten landscapes, some real and some fictitious but all vivid and colourful in their poetic recall. Noor de Winter’s translation and discussion of the story of fictional composer Gustav Anias Horn and his friend Tutein, in ‘Landscape as the Origin of Music,’ is about music capturing ‘the melody of the soil.’ But more than this, it is about a mutual relationship between human and place, where the soil itself can be said to breathe infinite sadness. As de Winter writes, Anias can only experience certain places in nature as unreal, as they break forth with intangible human qualities, such that place becomes human and human becomes place.
It’s fitting, then, that Richardson and Skelton position Mark Brennan’s oil painting ‘Open Water’ after this piece. A blurred image of dense, dark green trees and a lake conjures a palpable place that is nevertheless equally withdrawn. Just as the limited tonality of the piano in de Winter’s piece cannot capture the harmonious density of birch bark, Brennan’s painting seems to be also deliberately lacking, evoking something closer to a dream and half-remembered than anything clear. But as de Winter writes, it is perhaps the lot of the artist as listener, observer and ultimately creator to acknowledge the limits of what can and can’t be realised in their art, such that the limit, and beyond it limitlessness, become the moment of art. And it’s here where Reliquiæ bobs in and out of focus, as a landscape both visible and hidden, and a collection of writings that circle the limit of what is remembered and forgotten.
This theme of ‘elsewhere’ is what ties an otherwise disparate collection of works together. Paintings sit next to poems, and short fictions follow historical translations because each work asks us, in their different ways, to imagine like Pessoa; to imagine a grey hunter with Skelton; an infinite landscape with Noon de Winter; a winter lake with Brennan; a king with bird feathers instead of hair with W. B. Yeats and even the beyond-nothingness of God in Yeats’ other piece. Even the more religious and philosophical final third of the journal only emphasises the type of metaphysical withdrawal at work. But where withdrawal means something more, where in the limit of our expression and memory something is able to overflow. It’s in the nothingness beyond our limit of thought where Yeats thinks God’s presence in what Simone Weil, years after, will similarly call divine withdrawal. And for John Hutchinson in his essay ‘The Other World,’ it’s the Sufis belief that knowing ‘sees infinity in all things’ that enables us to glimpse the limits of knowledge and the divine itself, not unlike Blake did in his ‘Auguries of Innocence.’ It’s not about what is present that concerns the artists of Reliquiæ but what might allow us to think beyond presence and to travel beyond Pessoa’s stone wall.
Reliquiæ is an almost romantic endeavour that for some might feel a little antiquated. But it’s what withdraws in the prose and paintings, and the deliberate subtleties and nuances that refuse the self-gratification of any kind of sublime truth. Memories, places and forgotten people are not brought into truth even in its more grandiose moments. Throughout, it is closer to Etienne Frank who in Valentine’s closing story of the journal, ‘The Other Salt,’ searches for one of the last sanctuaries of another salt only to find an immateriality, locatable only as a faint fragrance in the air and as a dissipating memory in the thoughts of his hosts. Reliquiæ is about searching more than it is finding, and it is in a certain degree of impossibility and forgetting that its memories and stories are most effectively told. The only real danger of Reliquiæ is that some of its shorter contributions, such as ‘The Herons’ by Francis Ledwig, risk getting lost next to some of the lengthier pieces that are able to evoke such subtleties in landscape and character. But perhaps this is also the strength of Reliquiæ, where everything is not remembered and retained evenly but lingers in a dreamy haze of fragments and stories that leave us with an urgency to return; an urgency that is to do with both remembering and forgetting equally. - Adam Potts


 

6/26/13

Uche Nduka - it is only in the oblique gaze and the excessive and errant language of poetics that we manage to travel to where the rationalist analytics of the social and human sciences do not permit

Ijele-175


Uche Nduka, Ijele, Overpass Books, 2013.

A similar trickster aesthetics is at the heart of Nduka poetics. A Nigerian writer, working out of Germany and America, Nduka, like Göransson, has the unbordered tongue of an immigrant. Also like Göransson he suggests that it is only in the oblique gaze and the excessive and errant language of poetics that we manage to travel to where the rationalist analytics of the social and human sciences do not permit:
“you can be as oversubtle as you want. i’m not interested. why deny the vigor of discordant anagrams. the city-hearted will express errata. disillusionment will grow old between coitus and faux pas. take on magnetism: taste paragenesis. there is no escape from this becoming. you take a step towards a memo for lobsters. i shall mislead all these tourists asking for directions uptown.”
Nduka misleads us through complicated questions regarding multiple migrations, invasions, post-colonial freedom, and the ability to board international flights. His incessant pulsating weaving of innovative poetry with freeform prose brings us deep into the insider/outsider consciousness of the borderlands.
At its very essence, Ijele is a collection of mini-snapshots of “recollections for the tattooed ears of the wind,” a way of remembering—as if exile and recall joined to unravel an autobiography in debris. The text is saturated with references to historical and literary figures: JP Clarke, Achebe, Obafemi Awolowo (“that country? ‘mere geographical expression.’ some historied sepia. my room rejects drapes. chimera is something else.”), Yakubu Gowon (“once a year and once upon a bear. an allergy that needs to be heard. you do sugarcoat it. a solidarity abandoned. who believed that tripe: ‘no victor, no vanquished.’”). But this history never confines or closes the book.
“miles away from where snapshots are,” Ijele’s errant eye scans scenes as an outsider or camera eye to unsettle and fray familiar settings. But his surveillance is not that of the security camera. It does not support – realism, mimesis – for narration, but is rather the narrating force:
“at the soul’s Sulphur Springs, i took photographs. when i went into a darkroom to develop them, the negatives went into a coma and never woke up. say something. break out. break out from twisting your grunts around a bus stop.”
Using both hyper-focus and the long gaze, he draws the reader’s eye to the corners and seams of these spaces, slowing us down, shifting our focus to unseen details, asking us to seek possibility in a hyper-paced present tense. This is the potential dynamite that resides within the image: it both marks and explodes time. And in the perpetual movement and migration of his language, Nduka cleaves a living language open to touch, transit, the transformation and the translations of what is yet to come.
In this disruptive geography it becomes possible to rethink the limits of the world and the modernity we have inherited; it becomes necessary to “countervail rudderlessness with rootedness”; to open a vista on another world, other ways of being in the world; to “eat chocolate and play a piano.”
“must you stage an escape? Must you paint a skinscape? date blunder, not plunder. kick a habit, not a rabbit. intrude on vixens and wizards. shine on roof and briefcase. till the soil of lunatic aromatics. moving like a caterpillar. how do you handle a stressful situation? you eat chocolate and play a piano. are those actions vague and wooly? no. are they palliatives? no.” - Stacy Hardy

The poet Uche Nduka works hard at defying labels and definitions. His new work Ijele, published by Overpass Books, Brooklyn, N.Y. only deepens the enigma that is this seer. Who is Nduka? Well, if you group Nigeria’s post-colonial literature by generations, starting with Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka et al as the first generation, Niyi Osundare et al as the second, Nduka would belong in the third generation. From my perspective, this generation is probably the least studied, which is interesting because they have put together a robust body of work over the years.
Nduka’s generation of writers is mostly scattered all over the globe; the democratization of writing through the Internet has dispersed their works all over the place and it is hard to pin their works in defined volumes. Who are these writers and thinkers? In addition to Nduka, I am thinking of writers like Olu Oguibe, Afam Akeh, Molara Wood, Lola Shoneyin, Victor Ehikhamenor, Abdul Mahmud (Obemata), Obi Nwakanma (Rex Marinus), Sola Osofisan, Obiwu Iwuanyanwu (Obiwu), Chuma Nwokolo, Nnorom Azuonye, etc. Some of them, like Nduka, Akeh, Osofisan, Oguibe, Obemata and Wood, are elusive, if not reclusive. Almost all of them are defined by a common trait: They are not overly eager to publish. Several years ago, when I first came across them in a listserv (krazitivity), I was struck by how much they obsessed over each word of their work, employing rigorous and sometimes brutal peer review to polish their works. The good news is that many of them are finally coming out of the literary shadows. In addition to Nduka, Akeh has a volume of poetry,Letter Home & Biafran Nights coming out soon, Ehikhamenor just released Excuse Me!(Parrěsia Publishing) and more works by these writers are on the way. You don’t have to wait for published works though; simply google their names and feast on the prodigy of these renaissance artists.
I enjoyed reading Ijele. For one thing, it is different. It is billed as poetry, I am not sure we are to call it that. It certainly makes one reflect on how poetry is defined today. Nduka is not merely boundary bending, he is not bothered by it; he leaves that issue to the reader to resolve. By the way, I love traveling everywhere with a book of poetry because there is no pressure to finish reading it ever. I play this game where I randomly open the book to savor a literary treat. Ijele did not disappoint, it is full of treats. Take the piece Rough Plaster; how can you not be intrigued by these delightfully rebellious lines? 
you can be as oversubtle as you want. i’m not interested. why deny the vigor of discordant anagrams. the city-hearted will express errata. disillusionment will grow old between coitus and faux pas. take on magnetism: taste paragenesis. there is no escape from this becoming. you take a step towards a memo for lobsters. i shall mislead all these tourists asking for directions uptown. (p 6) 
In Ijele the poetry seems disconnected from space and context, chock full of enigmatic lines, curt, rebellious and uber-cool. The reader is forced to appropriate and own the poems and assign deeply personal contexts to them. And enjoy them. Ijele is impressive, a pretty little book pregnant with lovely divinations. I was struck by the lunatic, mathematical precision of Nduka’s genius. As an example, the piece, Exit Trampoline is a puzzle; its lines read like concept titles for long poems in the head. 
i will flash you 3 times and then strip. if the sky complains throw it down from a balcony. The dawn may or may not squeal when it falls. razor again but textile not steel. (p 2) 
Ijele is shattered shimmering brilliance, white flapping wings of dying innocence drying on clothes lines, soapy, reeking of malarial feverishness. Nduka is quietly defiant and unapologetic about his life, the sum of his experiences. He declares at the beginning ofIjele, “three continents converse in me, no one can stop their arguments.” (p 3) Indeed, in Nduka’s peripatetic musings the restless angst of exile is acknowledged – and abandoned. In Not Surrendering, everything comes together nicely in a loud vulnerable sigh: 
i see you as you braid her hair, orchids of mire, seven-petaled night. beyond needing time to nurse a child. the art of breaking hoops. Soot undersung otherwise. I must understand & not mock my task of flight. I need your attention. Venice can wait. Someone like you walks through faces i can fade into. the hidden lust of a star teasing the sky can’t stay hidden any longer. i did not know what to say when she told me he kicked her umbrella off her hand into traintracks. the sidewalk painters of prince street need your attention. my seabag hangs on a wall. (p 4) 
There are things the reader sees in Nduka’s words, he blindsides the reader with the cool torrent of his words: Exile, longing, despair, narcissism, all wrapped in the toga of invincibility, of coolness, defiance, even. Here, defiance is an art, a protest march in one burst of a movement. In the lunacy, chaos is disciplined into focus – sheathed machete writing, writhing in pain, refusing the anesthesia of ogogoro. Cool scared, a careful riot almost at the tipping point of manipulative contrivance. We are scared still because we are boys still: 
until the tackle took you. i was charmed by your seminars swear words. stay or be away. damned either way. we lose the world the moment we define it. the clutter of yesterminutes. connecting boundary to source. you rolled into mornings, yestermornings. furnished or not, no room escaped our love, pulse and pause: our entanglement. this clarity of hair-hold. (p 8) 
In the stunning lines of Pedigree, the reader imagines the power of words folding the past into the past, threading the present into the past, and willing a future that is now: 
your appetite parts the day. breaks the day into two. on one side a house. on the other a wilderness. you cover both sides. what stresses them. not departing birds. there are plenty of bridges still to burn. sometimes shriveled flowers. what stresses them. not harmattan threshold. there is still the tooting bamboo. perhaps nailhead perhaps white paper. like leaving a toll gate. one half is a wisp of silk; the other a conversation with bass clarinet. discourse on her abandon. the wanton, the sultry belle. she is at the north gate. in the hallway. at a foyer. in an emergency. her fireflies are wind-bled. (p 9)
Coitus is a recurring encounter. Semen drips from the pages into damp dank drunken stairwells, odes to broken men, women and dreams. The narcissism, the fuck the world attitude never truly overwhelms because there is the constant re-imaging, re-booting of self. In poems like Tactic or Reprisala and Any Way You Want, the reader’s mind is fixated on this intrepid wanderer: You wonder, where has this poet been? Where have those hands touched, what? 
You dared and joined the nudist circus. Later you had nightmares of trekking around town naked, not finding clothes to wear. You remembered Auntie Joy’s store at Ajegunle where she sold 7Up, Maltex, trebor, bread, peppersoup, Gala, kolanut and beer. You recalled me testing how fast my fingers could lift a coin or two from her wooden cashbox without being seen. You knew she occasionally caught me during those pilfering sessions but hardly rebuked me. Instead she always pulled the box nearer her at the discovery of an invasion or impending invasion from me. Most tomes she delighted me with offers of soft drinks and pieces of fried meat. Now these are recollections for the tattooed ears of the wind. (p 44) 
In Estate Too, Nduka alludes to our daily war. In this new war, all we have are words, and we are not winning this war – of words. For they have the machines that staple our angry words together into meaninglessness. 
must you stage an escape? Must you paint a skinscape? date blunder, not plunder. kick a habit, not a rabbit. intrude on vixens and wizards. shine on roof and briefcase. till the soil of lunatic aromatics. moving like a caterpillar. how do you handle a stressful situation? you eat chocolate and play a piano. are those actions vague and wooly? no. are they palliatives? no. (p 53) 
Nduka writes about sad days. And happy days. Everything is mixed up; it is a rich mess, he chants, cowries aloft. He is right, the poet sees. The poet is a seer. Nothing escapes Nduka’s brooding gaze, not even hickeys; I must shroud my lusty neck in turtlenecks. This is not the seventies. This volume of poetry is the sum of the poet’s experience, smashed, broken china in the rain channeling JP Clark hung over from his rage. Periods, full stops, bear sentences like burdens, each almost unrelated to the next. Do not even attempt to connect the periods. For each line is a poem. Brilliant.
With Ijele, one soon ceases to be shocked. You have to read Coming Apart (p 63); these are words trekking onwards with more than a sideways glance at Nigeria, that geographical construct the poet is not coming back to because he never really left in the first place. The poet says these boundaries live rent-free in our heads. There is something schizoid about these lines, feverish, alternating among shades of darkness and light, the clashes blinding the eyes. And nightmares return in reverse order: Aluu, Biafra. 
six children burnt in front of their parents. dying for what they knew nothing of. that country? “mere geographical expression.” some historied sepia. my room rejects drapes. chimera is something else. I whiz with it… this won’t do. this won’t do for meridians or for you. once a year and once upon a bear. an allergy that needs to be heard. you do sugarcoat it. a solidarity abandoned. who believed that tripe: “no victor, no vanquished.” miles away from where snapshots are. 
Nduka the poet is a weaver-bird that has witnessed things. There are words in these meanings weaving more meanings from the diarrhea of the mouth, stages of needy grief, defiant, aloof, defiant, and needy. Nduka the poet is an imp, a mad, brilliant imp. You break into an impish grin at these lines in Counterfactual: 
at the soul’s Sulphur Springs, i took photographs. when i went into a darkroom to develop them, the negatives went into a coma and never woke up. say something. break out. break out from twisting your grunts around a bus stop. i throw way salute-0. Man no die, man no rotten, you may prostrate before those vengeful elders but don’t do it on my mat. not even between clauses and golden pots. (p 67) 
Fascinating. Sometimes you imagine this mad man in the market place wandering around muttering to himself picking up unrelated trash by dusk. And the clutter is art. Sometimes you think the poet is talking about you. There is sense in the broken shards of broken men. You are filled with wonder as you find the eulogy in the lunacy of the lines of Slow Trek and your heart breaks into applause: 
what is connected disconnects itself. grief raps loudly on a windowsill. you head for the fast track ahead of earnest scavengers. in this season of financial homicides, bills rig your worth. rig your worth. but you keep a date with mourners for no one is free from the madness of death. of course the last gasp remains a prophesy on a slow trek to infinity. it badgers wine, flowers, meal for two. it is the voice that speaks undisturbed. a drop of water is its drop of seed. it teaches what holds, what thaws, what delights. hard lives pluck dignity from ancient experiences. (p 69) 
Sometimes the self-absorption grates the poetry into overbearing nonsense. Read Into The Fray and you shake your head at lines like: who gives a shit about how much ice is on your Rolex? (p 71) You want to know and perhaps own the poet’s demons. You have a sense of an interesting, perhaps, dark existence lived in luscious painful narcissism like the rest of us. In Branching (p 72) the bemused reader asks: Why do we waste our lives so? Nduka doesn’t seem to give a rat’s arse what you think. He has written. You figure it out. He has spoken. Listen to the wind-rush of brilliance and lunacy. (p 72)
In Likeness and Impasse (p 73), Nduka is at his most powerful. He keeps the reader at bay, helpless. With the context withheld from view, the reader flounders and begs for context, crack cocaine between the covers, emptiness and nakedness, natural allies in the buff. There are all these phrases twisting in the wind, tart, bad attitude. And funny as hell. The lunacy is almost contrived but not quite. Everything is in place in the way a lunatic’s things are not in place; carefully strewn about with the careful carelessness of a diviner’s cowries. All the emotions are here carefully sifted from the silt, exquisitely calibrated.
Is this poetry? I don’t know. I don’t care, I am a consumer, mine is to enjoy it. This is different, it does not fit anywhere. I don’t obsess so much about the lines of poetry. I simply enjoy them. I enjoyed every morsel of Ijele, even those I disliked. That is the beauty and genius of Nduka’s brooding insouciance. Music is the result. Joy triumphs over the banality of heartache. Listen to the dibia in Through the Gap (p 81)
To countervail rudderlessness with rootedness. I can’t love you unconditionally, you said, I won’t hold that assertion against you. The caucus is of no interest to a poet waiting tables.
Applause. Dambudzo Marechera would approve. - Ikhide R. Ikheloa


“BEAUTY WILL BE CONVULSIVE or it will not be at all,” André Breton thunders at the conclusion of his 1928 Surrealist novel Nadja. But nearly one hundred years later, how potent is the Surrealism Breton championed? Can juxtaposition, surprise, enigma, antithesis, and nonconformity still form a convulsing engine that emits the pulse of force we call beauty? Or does twenty-first-century Surrealism deserve (and prefer) a small “s,” being a well-worn bag of tricks nullified by poets’ non-investment in the political force of poetic form? Does contemporary Surrealism fail to convulse? Does it exist at all?
It does. The work of Brooklyn-based writer and artist Uche Nduka confirms the persistence of Surrealism in its classic, convulsive mode. Born in 1963, Nduka has written ten books of poetry—some published in his native Nigeria; another after beginning a life in Germany and Amsterdam in 1994; and a growing number since settling in the United States more than seven years ago. The signature of his style has been apparent since his earliest works: casual yet tenacious, easy-phrased yet aggressive, brief-lined yet indelible. In book-length lyric sequences, Nduka utilizes a speaker by turns alert to, enthralled with, and pugnacious toward the world—that hypocrite reader, that double, that frère. Take the lyric titled “Acquittal” from the 2002 volume if only the night:
I’m not neutered as you can see.
I’m raining on a town
Where cars prate
And when I move my tongue
The cars slip into my gabble.
I stand with my hands on my waist.
Hatless heads screw themselves
Into the innards of summer . . . .
I see the Gate of Order
The Gate admitting guides inside it
Admitting occasions admitting
     messages.
It has more than a single wish as it
Swings. As it swings between actions
And opinions. As it opens up to
     completeness
And incompleteness. I don’t know
     what
Unites it with itself or what unites it
With cars or what unites it with me.
It obsessively sears the scenery.
You see this and so do I.

This poem exhibits many of Nduka’s hallmarks. There is the seemingly bold but in fact ambiguous title: rather than suggesting relief, “Acquittal” connotes the uncomfortable relationship of a dark-skinned man, or any immigrant, with the justice system of his host country, the provisionality of any acquittal. The first line is literally ballsy, funny, complete in itself; we imagine this speaker’s feet spread and firmly planted on the ground, the alpha male of his own poem, asserting fixity of position in the space of the émigré’s characteristic precariousness. But the next line dissolves this bodily firmness in a Surreal conversion: as rain, the speaker is dispersed everywhere, his actions amplified; cars speak his “gabble.” Next his bodily gesture causes “heads” to “screw themselves / into the innards of summer,” another lushly Surreal, improbable, and bawdy set of transformations pistoned along by enjambment. When we readers arrive at “It obsessively sears the scenery,” we must hunt back through the poem for its antecedent. The true antecedent seems to be Nduka’s poetry itself, relentlessly palpable and attentive to “the scenery,” “searing” in its potency, and never neutral or neutered.
If the strength of Nduka’s poetry has been evident for some time now—he won the Association of Nigerian Authors Award for Poetry in 1997—his three latest volumes, all published since his immigration to the United States, represent a distinctive flourishing. With eel on reef (2007), Ijele (2012), and Nine East (2013), Nduka’s writing has retained its insouciance and easy virtuosity, but it has gained consistency, resourcefulness, and pliancy. In his generous preface to eel on reef, Kwame Dawes connects Nduka’s most overtly political poetry to his (small-s) surrealism. When Nduka’s writing seems to refer to political events, Dawes contends, “The surrealism that emerges is a commentary on the violence and the horrible facts behind the poem. . . . what has become a tragic reality for many Africans can only be articulated through the language of the absurd.”
Radical proximity is a first principle of Surrealism.
I would expand Dawes’s point. To my reading, all of Nduka’s work is Surreal, and in this sense it is all political. The real is not paraphrased or commented on by Surrealism but convulses through it. The real in Nduka’s work carries the resonance not only of his Nigerian identity and experience of political violence but also the dislocation of the émigré and the frightening power relations of intimacy as mapped onto the lyric. eel on reef is a bewitchingly elegant collection of lyrics, and part of its convulsiveness (which in this case might be described as ambiguity taken to its violent extreme) comes from Nduka’s placement of phrases within the whiteness of the page, a whiteness that then beats with competing and deafening resonances. The volume opens:
a season trembles.
the sentience of a season
quivers inside water.
the sun slaps a wall.
where is your face?
tuck your hair
into a band.
where is your face?
pat back your hair
let me see your face. . . .
i wish i could
estrange your starfish
from a pebble.

The poem begins drenched in Rimbaud, alluding both to A Season in Hell and to the fraught tableau that opens Illuminations. The trembling and quivering in Nduka’s opening lines feel at first anticipatory, but once “the sun slaps a wall” this tone is rewritten as nervous, even terrorized. The lyric axis is re-established as interrogation; that is, a character called “you” is brought into the poem through the challenge of an unseen speaker, perhaps the sun itself: “where is your face? / tuck your hair / into a band. / where is your face?” In our contemporary moment and after a long, brutal twentieth century, this series of questions and commands feels frightening, like those of a rogue policeman, our Interrogator Sun. The next two lines—“pat back your hair / let me see your face”—soften the tone, reading like intimacy, like the beginning of a seduction. The poem ends with an almost ludicrously quiet image: “i wish i could / estrange your starfish / from a pebble.” This wish should feel gentle, but after the preceding violent juxtapositions, its hyperbolic diminution in tone cannot relieve the tension. Instead, the wish, like the seductive command, “let me see your face,” illustrates how violence and coercion can change shape to enter the reduced scale of intimacy.
The collection Ijele departs from most of Nduka’s work in that it comprises not lyrics but prose. These prose poems proceed at a breakneck (Rimbaudian) pace, with a speaker propelled along the full, agitated horizon line of the sentence, riding nothing more substantial than a lowercase “i.” In the poem “Jammage,” 
as the first bulletin turned to face the second, i went through another adolescence of fascination with a political circus act. the slow-burn romance reeked of patchouli. i won’t forget the suffocation i fought against. those insufficiencies of libertinage. a friskier reprise. there is no entwining that does not call us. orchid and cumulus. glass and wood. plastic and paper. can we just make faces at the frontman for pogroms and stop at that? here’s the basketweaver. that rod was not spared and i was not spoilt,they thought. beside us a spilt    lotion.
These poems read rapidly, as a fuse burning up the elegant sinuosity of eel on reef in a hectic compressed montage, that most Surreal of aesthetic forms. Nduka’s speaker in Ijele is the classic cinematic running man, with the global/local city on fire around him and a bullet in every bulletin. Instead of giving us a face-to-face lyric, the poem problematizes faces. In the first sentence, the “facing” of the two bullets/bulletins carries volumes of violence in its wake, while adolescent “fascination” recalls the fascist bundle of sticks, by lines five and six reprised as a rod, the pogrom’s cudgel. The “spilt    lotion” in the final fragment recalls the uncertainty of intimacy in this context: Is this lotion like blood, spilt by violence, or like milk,
innocently so?
Ijele is the most chaotic of Nduka’s recent books, though like all of them it is also nimbly assured and fully realized. With his most recent volume, Nine East, the lyric instinct returns to the fore but without reprising the elegance of eel on reef. Instead these poems have the jammed quality of Ijele’s prose; erotic and driven together, the poems seem to deploy in a radiant, jazz-drenched darkness, to entail something like Joycean “writing of the night” (“I really could not,” Joyce said, “use words in their ordinary connections . . . that way they do not express how things are in the night, in the different stages—conscious, then semi-conscious, then unconscious”):
Short breaths, shallow breaths.
unrested, overamped. i couldn’t
capitulate to peace. i slammed myself
between rage and rectitude. honed
and rehoned the poem. sought
     atonement
within it. the poem as sensory assault.
sought excitement within it. was it
     you
or was it the peach petals on my
     limbs.
you want a whiskered awakening. you
     need
to tackle the mathematics of arousal.
the flame in the grate. a prickle of
     caesura.

In this poem we recognize many of Nduka’s accumulated techniques—the headlong motion of the lowercase “i,” the abrupt, almost ear-popping downshifting of tone between “the poem as sensory assault” and “peach petals on my limbs.” This tonal convulsiveness is not resolved by the ending lines of the poem; instead, it becomes a
current transferred to the addressee. But does the poem land on the lover’s “you” or the “you” of the poet addressing himself? The assignment of the tingly “prickle” to the tight, implicitly delimited space of a “caesura” implies that this, too, is an erotic interval, a place of currents, sparks, flames, and exchanges. And we should remember that a caesura is not just a neutral interval or pause in a line of poetry; this is an interval that encodes violence, death, derived from the Latin caedere—to cut, hew, fell, strike, beat, kill. It would be impossible to extricate all these resonances within the work of Nduka, to separate the erotic from the non-erotic, the political from the non-political, to estrange the starfish from its pebble. Nine East, especially, entails an inextricable hyper-proximity.
Radical proximity is a first principle of Surrealism, in which a variety of techniques—automatic writing, cutups, juxtaposition—are designed to force the real up through the surface of everyday reality. “Existence is elsewhere,” the first Surrealist manifesto concludes, pointing to this other zone, which shares a skin with our waking world. But what can this mean for the émigré, his brain formed during a civil war, flung in his maturity into an elsewhere that also renders his home country a permanent elsewhere, himself the skin between a double-elsewhere? He becomes what Don Mee Choi has called a “twin zone.” Surrealism’s precursor movements, such as Dada and Cubism, were created by packs of transnationalized or stateless refugees in Zurich, Paris, Rome, and elsewhere. It was Aimé Césaire’s sojourn in Europe that allowed him to turn the x-ray vision of Surrealism back at the island of Martinique, resulting in his transformational Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, 1939). Maybe it is Nduka’s tenacious virtuosity alongside his émigré status that has confirmed the Surrealist tendency of his work and rendered him a Surrealist par excellence. - Joyelle McSweeney

4 In the Morning

4 in the morning the puddle
the church the parliament;
a cheese slicer to review ethical
standards; would have liked to bring
pennants then mezzosoprano; my
neck craned into ravishment;
you've been told i came to you
only for neural notebooks;
at the junction i discovered
that my country clings to a moth; a half
mile of apricots balletic beside
the macadam; the existence of the horse
named pablo is at stake; your beam is
wide enough for stowage; am not having
an easy time of it looking for
a darker end; dishes surround you;
you adjust for mitosis;

for each wave of a cloud.


Forever Kookiness

forever kookiness with whatever
it takes. he will be trapped in
the middle of a sentence when
a libation cup slips from his
palm. let them in. look for
what's broken in the trailer. i
reach for you while you sit
there sucking a revolver. should
i not stun the stunner. you
keep changing the angle of
your tongue. who says irony is
dead. you believe your own
publicity too much. trouble never
hung up on me and i don't
particularly like cutie-pies. this
is what the city remembers.
could it have been her. could
it have been her. enough was
seen of her before she took a
hatchet to his thoughts. a

tiara for the color of reckoning.


Somewhere Behind the Napes

somewhere behind the napes,
armorial backbone.
ripeness that goes on and on.
a kayak, waist-deep.
in blood is where the acorn grows.
which means the world
is ravenous.
i want to eat my cake
and have it.

lover, am i not your invention?






Uche Nduka— poet, essayist, lyricist, activist, dancer—was born and brought up in Nigeria. His books include Flower Child, Second Act, The Bremen Poems, Chiaroscuro (which won the poetry prize of the Association of Nigerian Authors for 1997), If Only The Night, Heart’s Field, Eel on Reef, Tracers, Belltime Letters and Ijele. Some of his writings have been translated into German, Dutch, French, Serbo-Croatian. Nduka presently lives and studies and works in New York City.

6/25/13

Rainer J. Han­she - a visionary novel of dangerous ideas, a theological thriller concerned with the absence of god and the question posed by the phrase: Dionysus versus the Crucified



Rainer J. Han­she, The Abdication, Contra Mundum Press, 2012.


oulet arrives by helicopter in Rome, where his carnivalesque troupe awaits with a legion of animals and unruly kids. When provoking states of joyous panic through their ritualistic acts, the troupe’s arrival proves restorative, for the world is beset with famines, plagues, and religious conflicts, which Triboulet seeks to neutralize with freeing laughter. As he and his troupe begin constructing strange edifices in the Eternal City, sacred sites around the world suffer terrible, often beguiling forms of vandalism, and rumors abound that the Christ has actually finally returned. Although radical Islamic sects claim responsibility for the vandalism, the culprits remain unknown: is it the Jihadists, anarcho-atheist intellectuals, or eco-terrorists? Religious and political authorities grow leery of the troupe and suspicious of Triboulet, whose true identity remains a mystery. The very future of the world is at stake, and while touring Israel during Christmas, Triboulet and his raucous band of pranksters bear witness to the world’s pivotal crossing into a new reality.

Albert Camus noted that ‘the metaphysics of the worst’ expresses itself in a literature of damnation and argued that ‘we have still not yet found the exit’ from such literature. With his second novel, Hanshe has found the way out, offering in fact something not only promising, but astounding, a pathway that is into a new reality, into a ‘physics of the best.’ The Abdication is a true ero(t)icomic epic.
ENCOMIUMS
“With this new novel, Hanshe reinforces his growing reputation as one of today’s most original and thought-provoking novelists.” — Keith Ansell-Pearson
The Abdication is an extraordinary mythic delirium-philosophy, rich with erudition and wit, chronicling the exploits of a Heraclitean prophet ushering in nothing less than the Age of Heterology. Long may it unnerve.” — Lance Olsen, author of Calendar of Regrets
“Hanshe’s phantasmagoric and cunning prose eviscerates accreted mythologies while revealing the tragedy attendant on the death and births of gods. Its controversial premises will enrage and provoke many, but the quality and elegance of the writing will amaze all.” —Nicholas Birns, author of Theory After Theory
The Abdication is a visionary novel of dangerous ideas, a theological thriller concerned with the absence of god and the question posed by the phrase: Dionysus versus the Crucified. It is as richly allusive as it is physically direct: a novel of revolt that can at times be revolting in its relentless push to break the mold of idealist thought. As well argued as it is intricately arcane, indeed dense with learning and lore, this book is both experimental and assured, a comedy of high seriousness and gospel of the flesh that our winded civilization has needed for 2,000 years. Ridendo dicere severum!” — Stuart Kendall, author of Georges Bataille
The Abdication is so perfectly consistent in its apocalyptic, visionary crescendo of the whole. What is admirable is the almost 360° bulk of Hanshe’s mythological and theological (that is, meta-geological) sources, his learned but burning quotations and his sharp meditations, as well as his Rabelaisian, Nietzschean, and Orwellian grotesque use of ancient paganism and of heretical Christian currents: a massive, widespread recherche indeed to build his chaos cathedral, and a true, bitter monumentum to his sublimated agonies, a labyrinth-shaped one, against Western Religions of the Book: a true ero(t)icomic seqel/sequela to Nietzsche. This helps us understand that the many whirling repetitions-Leitmotif of the ritual “basso continuo” scenes of Dionysian destruction-renovatio, like the dance of Shiva (wild music, symbolic and ludicic buildings, blood, sweat and laughter, orgies and frenzies) are deliberate and circularly shaped. And its apocalyptic vision of the primigenial geological life on Earth in its continental drifts are scientifically Whitmanian. The Abdication, with its very intellectual pathos (much more intellectual and raisonné than Hanshe’s first novel, The Acolytes) requires a chosen audience or brotherhood of refined and “strong” readers. Some may be repulsed by the animal sacrifice scenes, but they have a coherence with Hanshe’s earth and air bestiary and with the pagan wilderness. Many scenes are wonderfully “acted,” including the keen and humorous parody of the Inferno, the fate of the Vatican, the Dostojewskian scene between Triboulet in prison and the fulminating Pope, as well as the final pyramid of kids on the collapsed Triboulet. The Abdication is a true ero(t)icomic epic.” — Maura Del Serra
visionary novel of dangerous ideas” — Stuart Kendall
Spring 2032: an enigmatic bandleader named Triboulet arrives by helicopter in Rome, where his carnivalesque troupe awaits with a legion of animals and unruly kids. When provoking states of joyous panic through their ritualistic acts, the troupe’s arrival proves restorative, for the world is beset with famines, plagues, and religious conflicts, which Triboulet seeks to neutralize with freeing laughter. As he and his troupe begin constructing strange edifices in the Eternal City, sacred sites around the world suffer terrible, often beguiling forms of vandalism, and rumors abound that the Christ has actually finally returned. Although radical Islamic sects claim responsibility for the vandalism, the culprits remain unknown: is it the Jihadists, anarcho-atheist intellectuals, or eco-terrorists? Religious and political authorities grow leery of the troupe and suspicious of Triboulet, whose true identity remains a mystery. The very future of the world is at stake, and while touring Israel during Christmas, Triboulet and his raucous band of pranksters bear witness to the world’s pivotal crossing into a new reality.
With this new novel, Hanshe reinforces his growing reputation as one of today’s most original and thought-provoking novelists.” — Keith Ansell-Pearson
The Abdication is an extraordinary mythic delirium-philosophy, rich with erudition and wit, chronicling the exploits of a Heraclitean prophet ushering in nothing less than the Age of Heterology. Long may it unnerve.” — Lance Olsen, author of Calendar of Regrets
“Hanshe’s phantasmagoric and cunning prose eviscerates accreted mythologies while revealing the tragedy attendant on the death and births of gods. Its controversial premises will enrage and provoke many, but the quality and elegance of the writing will amaze all.” —Nicholas Birns, author of Theory After Theory
The Abdication is a visionary novel of dangerous ideas, a theological thriller concerned with the absence of god and the question posed by the phrase: Dionysus versus the Crucified. It is as richly allusive as it is physically direct: a novel of revolt that can at times be revolting in its relentless push to break the mold of idealist thought. As well argued as it is intricately arcane, indeed dense with learning and lore, this book is both experimental and assured, a comedy of high seriousness and gospel of the flesh that our winded civilization has needed for 2,000 years. Ridendo dicere severum!” — Stuart Kendall, author of Georges Bataille
The Abdication is so perfectly consistent in its apocalyptic, visionary crescendo of the whole. What is admirable is the almost 360° bulk of Hanshe’s mythological and theological (that is, meta-geological) sources, his learned but burning quotations and his sharp meditations, as well as his Rabelaisian, Nietzschean, and Orwellian grotesque use of ancient paganism and of heretical Christian currents: a massive, widespread recherche indeed to build his chaos cathedral, and a true, bitter monumentum to his sublimated agonies, a labyrinth-shaped one, against Western Religions of the Book: a true ero(t)icomic seqel/sequela to Nietzsche. This helps us understand that the many whirling repetitions-Leitmotif of the ritual “basso continuo” scenes of Dionysian destruction-renovatio, like the dance of Shiva (wild music, symbolic and ludicic buildings, blood, sweat and laughter, orgies and frenzies) are deliberate and circularly shaped. And its apocalyptic vision of the primigenial geological life on Earth in its continental drifts are scientifically Whitmanian. The Abdication, with its very intellectual pathos (much more intellectual and raisonné than Hanshe’s first novel, The Acolytes) requires a chosen audience or brotherhood of refined and “strong” readers. Some may be repulsed by the animal sacrifice scenes, but they have a coherence with Hanshe’s earth and air bestiary and with the pagan wilderness. Many scenes are wonderfully “acted,” including the keen and humorous parody of the Inferno, the fate of the Vatican, the Dostojewskian scene between Triboulet in prison and the fulminating Pope, as well as the final pyramid of kids on the collapsed Triboulet. The Abdication is a true ero(t)icomic epic.” — Maura Del Serra
ith this new novel, Hanshe reinforces his growing reputation as one of today’s most original and thought-provoking novelists.” — Keith Ansell-Pearson
The Abdication is an extraordinary mythic delirium-philosophy, rich with erudition and wit, chronicling the exploits of a Heraclitean prophet ushering in nothing less than the Age of Heterology. Long may it unnerve.” — Lance Olsen, author of Calendar of Regrets
“Hanshe’s phantasmagoric and cunning prose eviscerates accreted mythologies while revealing the tragedy attendant on the death and births of gods. Its controversial premises will enrage and provoke many, but the quality and elegance of the writing will amaze all.” —Nicholas Birns, author of Theory After Theory
The Abdication is a visionary novel of dangerous ideas, a theological thriller concerned with the absence of god and the question posed by the phrase: Dionysus versus the Crucified. It is as richly allusive as it is physically direct: a novel of revolt that can at times be revolting in its relentless push to break the mold of idealist thought. As well argued as it is intricately arcane, indeed dense with learning and lore, this book is both experimental and assured, a comedy of high seriousness and gospel of the flesh that our winded civilization has needed for 2,000 years. Ridendo dicere severum!” — Stuart Kendall, author of Georges Bataille
The Abdication is so perfectly consistent in its apocalyptic, visionary crescendo of the whole. What is admirable is the almost 360° bulk of Hanshe’s mythological and theological (that is, meta-geological) sources, his learned but burning quotations and his sharp meditations, as well as his Rabelaisian, Nietzschean, and Orwellian grotesque use of ancient paganism and of heretical Christian currents: a massive, widespread recherche indeed to build his chaos cathedral, and a true, bitter monumentum to his sublimated agonies, a labyrinth-shaped one, against Western Religions of the Book: a true ero(t)icomic seqel/sequela to Nietzsche. This helps us understand that the many whirling repetitions-Leitmotif of the ritual “basso continuo” scenes of Dionysian destruction-renovatio, like the dance of Shiva (wild music, symbolic and ludicic buildings, blood, sweat and laughter, orgies and frenzies) are deliberate and circularly shaped. And its apocalyptic vision of the primigenial geological life on Earth in its continental drifts are scientifically Whitmanian. The Abdication, with its very intellectual pathos (much more intellectual and raisonné than Hanshe’s first novel, The Acolytes) requires a chosen audience or brotherhood of refined and “strong” readers. Some may be repulsed by the animal sacrifice scenes, but they have a coherence with Hanshe’s earth and air bestiary and with the pagan wilderness. Many scenes are wonderfully “acted,” including the keen and humorous parody of the Inferno, the fate of the Vatican, the Dostojewskian scene between Triboulet in prison and the fulminating Pope, as well as the final pyramid of kids on the collapsed Triboulet. The Abdication is a true ero(t)icomic epic.” — Maura Del Serra
ic bandleader named Triboulet arrives by helicopter in Rome, where his carnivalesque troupe awaits with a legion of animals and unruly kids. When provoking states of joyous panic through their ritualistic acts, the troupe’s arrival proves restorative, for the world is beset with famines, plagues, and religious conflicts, which Triboulet seeks to neutralize with freeing laughter. As he and his troupe begin constructing strange edifices in the Eternal City, sacred sites around the world suffer terrible, often beguiling forms of vandalism, and rumors abound that the Christ has actually finally returned. Although radical Islamic sects claim responsibility for the vandalism, the culprits remain unknown: is it the Jihadists, anarcho-atheist intellectuals, or eco-terrorists? Religious and political authorities grow leery of the troupe and suspicious of Triboulet, whose true identity remains a mystery. The very future of the world is at stake, and while touring Israel during Christmas, Triboulet and his raucous band of pranksters bear witness to the world’s pivotal crossing into a new reality.

Albert Camus noted that ‘the metaphysics of the worst’ expresses itself in a literature of damnation and argued that ‘we have still not yet found the exit’ from such literature. With his second novel, Hanshe has found the way out, offering in fact something not only promising, but astounding, a pathway that is into a new reality, into a ‘physics of the best.’ The Abdication is a true ero(t)icomic epic.
ENCOMIUMS
“With this new novel, Hanshe reinforces his growing reputation as one of today’s most original and thought-provoking novelists.” — Keith Ansell-Pearson
The Abdication is an extraordinary mythic delirium-philosophy, rich with erudition and wit, chronicling the exploits of a Heraclitean prophet ushering in nothing less than the Age of Heterology. Long may it unnerve.” — Lance Olsen, author of Calendar of Regrets
“Hanshe’s phantasmagoric and cunning prose eviscerates accreted mythologies while revealing the tragedy attendant on the death and births of gods. Its controversial premises will enrage and provoke many, but the quality and elegance of the writing will amaze all.” —Nicholas Birns, author of Theory After Theory
The Abdication is a visionary novel of dangerous ideas, a theological thriller concerned with the absence of god and the question posed by the phrase: Dionysus versus the Crucified. It is as richly allusive as it is physically direct: a novel of revolt that can at times be revolting in its relentless push to break the mold of idealist thought. As well argued as it is intricately arcane, indeed dense with learning and lore, this book is both experimental and assured, a comedy of high seriousness and gospel of the flesh that our winded civilization has needed for 2,000 years. Ridendo dicere severum!” — Stuart Kendall, author of Georges Bataille
The Abdication is so perfectly consistent in its apocalyptic, visionary crescendo of the whole. What is admirable is the almost 360° bulk of Hanshe’s mythological and theological (that is, meta-geological) sources, his learned but burning quotations and his sharp meditations, as well as his Rabelaisian, Nietzschean, and Orwellian grotesque use of ancient paganism and of heretical Christian currents: a massive, widespread recherche indeed to build his chaos cathedral, and a true, bitter monumentum to his sublimated agonies, a labyrinth-shaped one, against Western Religions of the Book: a true ero(t)icomic seqel/sequela to Nietzsche. This helps us understand that the many whirling repetitions-Leitmotif of the ritual “basso continuo” scenes of Dionysian destruction-renovatio, like the dance of Shiva (wild music, symbolic and ludicic buildings, blood, sweat and laughter, orgies and frenzies) are deliberate and circularly shaped. And its apocalyptic vision of the primigenial geological life on Earth in its continental drifts are scientifically Whitmanian. The Abdication, with its very intellectual pathos (much more intellectual and raisonné than Hanshe’s first novel, The Acolytes) requires a chosen audience or brotherhood of refined and “strong” readers. Some may be repulsed by the animal sacrifice scenes, but they have a coherence with Hanshe’s earth and air bestiary and with the pagan wilderness. Many scenes are wonderfully “acted,” including the keen and humorous parody of the Inferno, the fate of the Vatican, the Dostojewskian scene between Triboulet in prison and the fulminating Pope, as well as the final pyramid of kids on the collapsed Triboulet. The Abdication is a true ero(t)icomic epic.” — Maura Del Serra
Spring 2032: an enigmatic bandleader named Triboulet arrives by helicopter in Rome, where his carnivalesque troupe awaits with a legion of animals and unruly kids. When provoking states of joyous panic through their ritualistic acts, the troupe’s arrival proves restorative, for the world is beset with famines, plagues, and religious conflicts, which Triboulet seeks to neutralize with freeing laughter. As he and his troupe begin constructing strange edifices in the Eternal City, sacred sites around the world suffer terrible, often beguiling forms of vandalism, and rumors abound that the Christ has actually finally returned. Although radical Islamic sects claim responsibility for the vandalism, the culprits remain unknown: is it the Jihadists, anarcho-atheist intellectuals, or eco-terrorists? Religious and political authorities grow leery of the troupe and suspicious of Triboulet, whose true identity remains a mystery. The very future of the world is at stake, and while touring Israel during Christmas, Triboulet and his raucous band of pranksters bear witness to the world’s pivotal crossing into a new reality.

Albert Camus noted that ‘the metaphysics of the worst’ expresses itself in a literature of damnation and argued that ‘we have still not yet found the exit’ from such literature. With his second novel, Hanshe has found the way out, offering in fact something not only promising, but astounding, a pathway that is into a new reality, into a ‘physics of the best.’ The Abdication is a true ero(t)icomic epic.

“With this new novel, Hanshe reinforces his growing reputation as one of today’s most original and thought-provoking novelists.” — Keith Ansell-Pearson

“The Abdication is an extraordinary mythic delirium-philosophy, rich with erudition and wit, chronicling the exploits of a Heraclitean prophet ushering in nothing less than the Age of Heterology. Long may it unnerve.” — Lance Olsen

“Hanshe’s phantasmagoric and cunning prose eviscerates accreted mythologies while revealing the tragedy attendant on the death and births of gods. Its controversial premises will enrage and provoke many, but the quality and elegance of the writing will amaze all.” —Nicholas Birns

“The Abdication is a visionary novel of dangerous ideas, a theological thriller concerned with the absence of god and the question posed by the phrase: Dionysus versus the Crucified. It is as richly allusive as it is physically direct: a novel of revolt that can at times be revolting in its relentless push to break the mold of idealist thought. As well argued as it is intricately arcane, indeed dense with learning and lore, this book is both experimental and assured, a comedy of high seriousness and gospel of the flesh that our winded civilization has needed for 2,000 years. Ridendo dicere severum!” — Stuart Kendall


“The Abdication is so perfectly consistent in its apocalyptic, visionary crescendo of the whole. What is admirable is the almost 360° bulk of Hanshe’s mythological and theological (that is, meta-geological) sources, his learned but burning quotations and his sharp meditations, as well as his Rabelaisian, Nietzschean, and Orwellian grotesque use of ancient paganism and of heretical Christian currents: a massive, widespread recherche indeed to build his chaos cathedral, and a true, bitter monumentum to his sublimated agonies, a labyrinth-shaped one, against Western Religions of the Book: a true ero(t)icomic seqel/sequela to Nietzsche. This helps us understand that the many whirling repetitions-Leitmotif of the ritual “basso continuo” scenes of Dionysian destruction-renovatio, like the dance of Shiva (wild music, symbolic and ludicic buildings, blood, sweat and laughter, orgies and frenzies) are deliberate and circularly shaped. And its apocalyptic vision of the primigenial geological life on Earth in its continental drifts are scientifically Whitmanian. The Abdication, with its very intellectual pathos (much more intellectual and raisonné than Hanshe’s first novel, The Acolytes) requires a chosen audience or brotherhood of refined and “strong” readers. Some may be repulsed by the animal sacrifice scenes, but they have a coherence with Hanshe’s earth and air bestiary and with the pagan wilderness. Many scenes are wonderfully “acted,” including the keen and humorous parody of the Inferno, the fate of the Vatican, the Dostojewskian scene between Triboulet in prison and the fulminating Pope, as well as the final pyramid of kids on the collapsed Triboulet. The Abdication is a true ero(t)icomic epic.” — Maura Del Serra



Rainer J. Hanshe, The Acolytes. EyeCorner Press, 2010.

The Acolytes depicts the yearning of the young artist for success, acceptance, fulfillment. In this dark, searing tale of hope becoming obsession, admiration festering into entrapment, excitement bending into curse, Gabriel starts as a naïve young man full of dedication to high art and to the transformative powers of the imagination. In Amos, the renegade of American letters and cult figure, Gabriel thinks he has found his guiding star, but Ivan, the charismatic yet sinister theater director exerts a strange, mesmeric power over the author and his entire coterie. Terence, the unobtrusive moral fulcrum of the novel, and a cast of others are unable to escape from the welter of exploitation to which their lack of self-knowledge condemns them. Replete with horrors that rise to the grandeur of myth, The Acolytes is a novel like no other.

 "The Acolytes is an original and powerful visionary novel which introduces and explores territory-heroic idealism, its illusions and discontents-rarely touched on in American fiction. It addresses deep longings and aspirations that most artists have swept to the side, which is not only courageous, it could prove beneficial to our culture. Hanshe gives promise of becoming a truly important writer." -Daniel Blue --

The Acolytes "flies in the face of mainstream publishing with its eye on something bigger and vaster than the conventional marketplace. In mode its allegorical approach is so different than the types of Jonathan Franzen 'family sagas' that publishers pick up on nowadays. It's quirky, weird, and mannered and many of the scenes have the strange power of dreams. They proceed according to their own logic, stately as yachts, moving irrevocably, like Time. Like John Cowper Powys, Hanshe has the talent for making other species come to life." -Kevin Killian 

 "The connection between the aesthetic and the religious realm in the term "acolyte" is important for Rainer J. Hanshe's novel as it subtly links his story of masters and disciples in the thespian and literary arts to the contemporary crisis in the Church. In the acolyte's realm the cults of art and religion converge. Hanshe's novel also illuminates, in beautiful and also horrifying ways, the many-nuanced nature of "love." In a deeply poetic subplot it shows the oneness of two beings in and with each other as an evocation of cosmic unity. The novel is a riveting, slightly surreal portrait of the bohemian underworld of New York and it exposes the sinister underside of the ever-beckoning dream of art. It shows with fascinating nuance the multi-faceted nature of artistic ambition, illuminating a range from lofty yearning to diabolical craving for power." - Walter H. Sokel


EXIGENT DEMANDS

DISCIPLESHIP EXAMINED
RAINER J. HANSHE with Audrey Gray


The Acolytes, by Rainer J. Hanshe, depicts an entangled coterie of actors and authors in contemporary New York City. Terence and Gabriel are young actors at the start of their careers, Ivan is their controlling and compulsive director, and Amos is the clairvoyant author/playwright around whom the others gravitate. The novel is an experiment in free indirect discourse, a panoply of tones and voices, and above all, an exploration of art and its concomitant culture, demands, and ramifications. Rainer J. Hanshe is the founder of Contra Mundum Press, a co-founder of the Nietzsche Circle, and senior editor of Hyperion: On the Future of Aesthetics.

Audrey Gray (Rail): Your novel examines the obstacles artists face, both external and internal, in trying to create the art they feel they are meant to create. Gabriel, the protagonist, is relieved to date someone who is “not afflicted with artistic impulses.” What obstacles did you face while writing this book and how do you regard your own artistic impulses?
Rainer J. Hanshe: When I first conceived the book, I felt incapable of writing Ivan and Amos, I thought I wouldn’t be able to convey such enigmatic characters. There are different forms of writing though, or different stages to writing, the most crucial being the incubatory period during which one fantasizes, freely ruminating over characters, events, etc. I call it “silent writing.” I engaged in it frequently, figuring that, eventually, I would be capable of articulating what I envisioned. That process led to a surprising eruption—the book struck me as unexpectedly as a lightning bolt. One summer, after writing two short stories subsequent to a significant loss I underwent, the opening sentence of the novel came to me exactly as it is now. Since I wasn’t then even thinking of writing the novel, I was startled by this “visitation,” but devotedly heeded it. I ended up writing the first half of the book in 90 days; the second half was written the following summer, while in Larache, Morocco, where Genet is buried. Although the structure of the novel is exactly as it was when first written, I significantly revised certain aspects of it. So the force of creation is for me comprised of logical and “alien” and illogical powers.
Rail: Ivan and Amos are certainly enigmatic. Amos is an especially ambitious character in that he is modeled after the mythic Tiresias. He brings foreboding and suspense into the landscape of the novel, yet he also brings lightheartedness and idiosyncrasy. At one point he says wryly, “Visions aren’t like instant oatmeal.” His writing is at the epicenter of the story, with the other main characters devoted to the work, its adaptation to the stage, or hermeneutics. Why do we never read his work?
Hanshe: I could have invented and included his work within the narrative, but that would’ve made for an entirely different novel, disrupting the mythos and altering the focus, which is the phenomenon of discipleship. Amos’s work is part of what makes him so bewitching, but it wasn’t necessary to elaborate what suggestion provokes each reader to imagine. And since Amos is in part forgotten, the acolytes are led to him through Ivan, his gatekeeper; although Amos’s outlaw stature is part of what captivates the acolytes and intensifies his cult status, they are also seduced by Ivan’s tales. What demanded narrative centrality, though, was the dynamic between Amos and Ivan and their respective disciples, with the main two discipleships illustrating different types of acolytes. Ivan is perhaps another type altogether: while a “master” with his own coterie of acolytes, he is as much a sacrificial (though combative and resistant) disciple himself.
Rail: Throughout the novel Ivan develops into something of a villain. His artistic inertia is linked to his sexual addiction and compulsive, hedonistic behavior. Is that a causal relationship? Ultimately he becomes an impediment to the artistic productivity of his coterie and a kind of antithesis to the artist. Does he embody a trend or a force you’ve encountered in the art world or the writing world, or is he simply an antagonist?
Hanshe: There is a fundamental connection between art and sex—the force expended in both is the same, and Ivan is certainly emblematic of someone whose artistic drives are sundered by near violent sexual excess. Perhaps his muse is Erato, however he doesn’t write poetry but is characterized as “poetry in the flesh.” I wonder, though, if he’s even an “artist,” which is a much maligned title far too many claim with such cavalier ease. In any case, Ivan is also majestically uninhibited, one who engages in limit experiences, some kind of exalted—if not decadent—Dionysian figure the acolytes uphold as a sublime archetype. But in pursuing such experiences so wholly and continually, that which is enduring—art—is sacrificed. In my view, Ivan’s various qualities make him more than a mere antagonist—he is indeed an incarnation of different destructive forces I’ve encountered, of those who not only expect uncritical obeisance but whom also wish to rule and consume others.
Rail: He’s certainly a fascinating character who prompts the reader to reexamine the “artist” as a prototype. I think it’s important to mention how many real artists you draw from in this novel as well. At one point Amos discusses Melville. We also hear Wagner, read Whitman, and see Manhattan as painted by Bosch. Which works were most important to you while writing the novel and what do they contribute to this discourse about who is or should identify as an artist?
Hanshe: Instead of speaking of specific artists or works, what is essential to me is a certain sensibility and vision and the notion of the tragic is central to that. But art can be as pernicious an illusion as metaphysics, so one must remain ever critical, yet criticism is not the antithesis of art as all too many believe, but an inherent element of it, certainly of modern art. If those who claim to be artists simply accept their role as something which automatically validates their existence, that is too convenient an expedient, as much a myopic comfort as religion. If one isn’t critical of one’s art one isn’t living up to art’s exigent demands, which involves questioning the value of art itself. A friend said to me that every form of expression has to be respected, but that’s a hell of an erroneous point of view, one my sensei would cut to the quick. In one scene, Amos and Terence speak of Rimbaud and the oft quoted—abused—passage of his about how le Poète se fait voyant par un long immense et raisonné dérèglement de tous les sens. Amos elucidates how before that task of striving to become a “seer” is pursued, what is neglected in the counterculture appropriation of Rimbaud is his imperative that, first, one must acquire total self-knowledge. Although an impossible task, it must still be pursued, despite the inevitable failure; but as Rimbaud himself says, the failure of the innovator is of no consequence because he or she has made advancements; other “horrible workers” pick up the arrows where the previous seers left them and shoot them into new horizons, beginning where the others succumbed.
Rail: Let’s discuss religion since it figures so prominently in your novel. I observed in the book a construction of two simultaneous analogies about art as a process. On one hand, the creation of art is compared to religious worship, on the other, it is persistently compared to sex. In one analogy we find asceticism, decorum, and solitude, in the other we find indulgence, transgression, and intimacy. How did you come to employ this dual analogy and how do you see these two metaphors as interacting?
Hanshe: It’s surely a preexisting analogy, though envisioned in my own idiosyncratic way since it’s instrumental to the conception of the novel, if not a logical outgrowth of it. As for the interacting metaphors, I don’t see that dichotomy as strict—each mode infects and mutates the other; each contains elements of the other. Whereas each of the different characters fails at harmoniously uniting those forces, Amos—hopefully—represents the achievement of that harmonious unity. One of the hazards of discipleship is its invitation of obeisance and exploitation when it demands skepticism. My polemic is with monotheism and with the dynamics of monotheistic religion as manifested in art, politics, and philosophy. I’m not naïve enough to believe my book will lead to the disintegration of “discipleship,” and there are affirmative forms of it that warrant cultivation, but perhaps it can initiate an alternative way of thinking about this phenomenon, of provoking a renewed critical attitude towards it. What is now necessary is not art “as sex” or art “as religion”; the art of the future may instead need to be the hybrid of art and science that Nietzsche called for, but which we still have not fully achieved. A more mathematical and geometrical but still erotic art that is anti-human—an art of dark matter?—as the fundamental rubric, for how many more tales of revenge disguised as justice, how many invocations of pity, how many more redemption narratives can we stomach? Our culture is plagued with these hackneyed monotheistic thematics. Ergo the hybrid, but one must beware of deifying the truth and of sanctifying texts and their interpreters, which is to remain religious, albeit in a masked way, and masks have a terrifying power, and are capable of convincing even those who construct them that they’re not masks but reality itself. I’m all for festivals, but when we mistake our myths for reality, we become despotic beasts.

Against a narcotic culture whose primary desire is stupefaction
Andrea Scrima talks to Rainer J. Hanshe, founder of Contra Mundum Press



Contra Mundum Press, founded in New York in late 2011, is an unusual new press with a distinctive list of publications to date. It debuted with a new translation by Stuart Kendall of the ancient epic Gilgamesh, which unites recent scholarship and a spare poetic sensibility to capture the consciousness of the archaic mind in the early days of our civilization. Thereafter, in rapid succession, CMP went on to publish six more books, including Self-Shadowing Prey, one of the last works written by Romanian Surrealist poet Ghérasim Luca, a stunning linguistic achievement that, as Gilles Deleuze wrote, “makes stuttering an affect of language and not an affectation of speech.” Committed to publishing challenging and innovative writing, including texts that have either never been translated into English or have long since gone out of print, CMP defines itself as “dedicated to the value and the indispensable importance of the individual voice.” CMP champions innovative fiction, drama, poetry, philosophy, essays, and writings on the visual arts and cinema. Forthcoming this fall is the world premiere of Pessoa’s Philosophical Essays and the first English publication of director Elio Petri’s Writings on Cinema. In keeping with its international perspective on exceptional literature, CMP’s aspiration is to eventually publish books in languages other than English, and its founder, novelist Rainer J. Hanshe, has relocated to Berlin to facilitate this aim.
AS:  How long were you thinking of founding your own press, and what was behind the impulse to do it now—in a time when the future of the printed book seems in danger?
CMP:  It’s definitely a Quixotic gesture, but then I’m not sure how accurate the prevailing lament about the fate of the printed book is, let alone how particular to our erarecall Mallarmé’s far more exacting reflections on The Book, and later Blanchot’s, who extends Mallarmé’s thought when conceptualizing the book as an effect that is always already under erasure. Although brick and mortar stores are shuttering rather swiftly, even in Europe, the community of thoughtful, incisive, critically minded readers has always been a minority, but it has sustained presses like ours. And since Hegel, we’ve heard numerous repetitions of the ‘death lament’: the death of art, the death of theater, the death of cinema, and now the death of the book. What are these laments but variations on an eschatological view of phenomena, utterances that demand suspicion. Death is not final, but a process of mutation that carries us into new states.
We hope with Contra Mundum to persist in opposition to many prevailing forces, powers, and trends. The press is informed by a particular aesthetic and vision, as well as a desire for new horizons. A dominant presupposition of our epoch is that ‘everything’s’ been discovered (how can one know?), or is already known, but that’s hardly true—there are seminal writers such as MiklósSzentkuthy and others, whom even very cultivated people are hardly aware of. We, as other presses, can present writers in translation that remain little known to the Anglophone world, writers equal in stature, significance, and value to those who currently dominate the literary landscape. The 21st century can be one of entirely new discoveries.
AS:  Although you’ve only just started Contra Mundum, you’ve already succeeded in drawing considerable attention to your press; the list of translators you work with (Stuart Kendall and Mary Ann Caws, among others) and the writers you’ve published (including Ghérasim Luca, Miklós Szentkuthy, and Pessoa) in a comparatively short period of time is impressive. You’ve already received an award from the Petofi Literary Museum for Tim Wilkinson’s translation of Szentkuthy’s Marginalia on Casanova, the first book of his multi-volume epic St. Orpheus Breviary. While Szentkuthy is regarded by some to be the Hungarian equivalent of Proust, Musil, and Joyce, and the wholly fragmented narrative of his work Prae is probably some of the most experimental writing of the 20th century, he is still largely unknown in the US. Could you talk about the importance of Szentkuthy’s writing for contemporary literature?
CMP: Other cultures, if not literature itself, have suffered a significant loss in not translating Szentkuthy during his lifetime. It wasn’t until two years after his death in 1988 that he was translated for the first time, into Slovakian. Thereafter he was translated into French in 1991, Portuguese in 1992, Romanian in 1999, Spanish in 2002, and now, finally, into English—it’s taken the Anglophone world over 20 years to catch up with the literary consciousness of Slovakia et al., though Tim Wilkinson did translate excerpts of his work, all of which were published in Hungarian literary journals starting in 2005. Imagine Ulysses not being read in translation until 1942 and the effect of that on world literature. The sciences don’t suffer from this problem—it would be unthinkable for the notion of relativity not to have been received during its time, but then, the promulgation of scientific ideas isn’t necessarily contingent upon translation.
AS:  And so his publication in English necessitates a rewriting of literary history, in a sense.
CMP: We’re honestly countenancing a writer of Musil’s stature, if not of others, or a Hungarian Borges. Ferenc Takács compared him to Lucian, Rabelais, and Burton, so you have the testimony of others making similar assessments in addition to the work itself. And there is nothing more definitive than the actual text. With the proliferation of translations of Hungarian literature into English, most of which post-date Szentkuthy’s early work, it will be illuminating to read him within that continuum and for readers to see in what way he foregrounds, is a precursor of, or has significantly influenced other Hungarian writers. As different critics have observed, Szentkuthy uses techniques which were in advance of the modern novel: he was instrumental in undermining realism (Prae was called “an eerie attack on the Hungarian realist novel”), engages in a descriptive analysis of objects (as well as concepts and historical phenomena) akin to that employed in the nouveau roman, though 20 years prior to its development—in other words, he shatters traditional modes, an achievement that led to a certain literary revolution in Hungary. Linearity of time, coherent characterization, and plotline disappeared from his work and were replaced by something alien, a mysterious secret: authorial method.” In some ways, though, Szentkuthy is not really a “Hungarian” writer, not in any folkloric or nationalistic sense, for his work doesn’t deal with Hungarian reality or culture, except perhaps in extremely covert ways. “Homelessness,” said László Németh, “is one of his main distinguishing marks, as compared with kindred Western writers.”
AS:  It’s interesting to think of Szentkuthy as a “homeless” writer when you consider the fact that he chose not to emigrate. In that sense, his “homelessness” was existential in nature, and his only true home was in literature.
CMP:  One can be entirely alienated within one’s own country, especially if one’s politics are not in accord with a ruling regime, or one meets with paralyzing forms of silence. And Németh astutely described Szentkuthy’s homelessness as “a higher form of protection of the mind.” Considering the time he first began writing, such protection was vital. More than contemporary literature, he embodies Goethe’s notion of world literature and, not surprisingly, socialist critics condemned him as being “too cosmopolitan.” Consider what Burton Pike said of Musil, which was that, in comparison to Tolstoy, Proust, Joyce, and Mann, whose primary works essentially remain statements about life, “The Man Without Qualities is more than that, it is an open rather than a closed system of thought, a search on the border of the impossible for new directions of moral development.” One can think of Szentkuthy similarly, especially his St. Orpheus Breviary, which is evident from how he himself described his epic: “It seeks the man beyond every version of culture, beyond every promise and failure of sciences and mythologies, beyond the remotest periods and furthest lands, beyond the countless yet nevertheless finite shades of psychology: what remains of all this mass of experience that he has left behind? What will usable in the future?” There is an enormity to gain from such writing, as well as just the sheer pleasure of reading his prose, following the arc and twist of his thought and how he cuts and shapes words, sentences, paragraphs, etc. Once a readership for him develops in the Anglophone world, I believe he will come to be recognized as one of the most significant and important writers of the 20th century.
AS:  As a wider awareness of your groundbreaking publications slowly but surely spreads, one can’t help but wonder about sales. It’s common knowledge that the commercial statistics on e-books are beginning to alarm traditional publishers. According to an article published on the Smashwords blog, in 2012 e-books in the US will likely approach 30% of trade book sales, up from 8% in 2010, 1% in 2008, and 0.5% in 2007. In view of these statistics, it seems likely that e-books will become an even more serious challenge to the bound book over the next few years. 
CMP:  Admiration is one thing, sales another, so whatever attention and accolades we may have received, sales do remain a serious pragmatic concern, especially in the decade of social media, which has engendered a sense of ‘community’ that is very facile and trite. ‘Liking’ something is not lending it any concrete support, let alone participating in a community—that has far more exigent obligations. We need more than ever to return to the incisive exhortations on community made by the Jena Romantics, Bataille, Blanchot et al. But what isn’t clear from those statistics is what kinds of books those numbers refer to; the data is vague and inconclusive—is it referring to self-help bibles, mass-market fiction, and whatever else the general public is gobbling up? At the risk of overgeneralizing, I don’t think those readers are our readers, nor the readers of similar presses, but people buying predominately disposable ‘books.’
E-books have their benefits, and they’re part of the wave of the future, that’s undeniable, but there are few to no instances of the medium being used as the entity that it is; it’s largely aping print culture, even to the point of simulating the sound of turning pages, or stultifying the imagination through providing maps, images, extraneous articles, etc., thereby turning a poem into a poem-cum-encyclopedia-picture-book that has nothing to do with its intrinsic form and how it was created.
Physical books, as the seemingly obsolete record, will always have their devotees and continue to be made, for those are specific forms which have qualities particular to them. No e-book will replace the kinds of books that Archipelago or Pushkin Press is making, for instance; they are two different beasts. We’ve considered publishing e-books, but I’d prefer to wait and not do that until we find artists actually creating works specifically for that medium, books capable of realizing something entirely new with it, in a manner intrinsic to it.
AS:  Yes, there has to be an aspect of intrinsic necessity. I have just begun reading a book based on the compositional structure of traditional bagpipe music—Kirsty Gunn’s The Big Music. It’s the first time I’ve felt I’m missing an essential dimension to a book—in this case, the sound of the actual instrument and what that communicates on its own. I can well imagine authors working on the borderline between disciplines, incorporating sound or visual material—not to illustrate the text, but to provide an additional, autonomous plane of meaning. 
CMP:  What the e-book can be, and the new type of writer or writer-designer that it calls for, is something we’ve not yet seen—the William Blake of e-culture has yet to arrive. Or maybe I’m just not aware of that new visionary. New types of hybrid texts such as you allude to would be the wave of the future. What for instance is our equivalent of Cendrars’ & Delaunay’s Prose of the Transsiberian? The very medium of the e-book demands an altogether new type of work, something created specifically for that form, as opposed to just taking an existing text and making a digital version of it—a strictly commerce-driven gesture.
AS:  In any case, in view of the speed with which the publishing industry is changing, the size of your press provides you with a degree of flexibility and adaptability larger publishers could never hope for.
CMP:  Whatever threat there might be is one that Contra Mundum may be able to escape, for, although we intend on producing books with traditional printers, we’re largely a print-on-demand company, and this enables us to take considerable risks and publish texts which may have a circumscribed audience, but which remain of fundamental importance. And if we only sell 50 copies of such a book, it remains in print, perpetually, as long as we as a press continue to exist, so with books that develop a readership slowly, there’s no risk of their vanishing. If it takes the Anglophone public five years or longer to recognize Ghérasim Luca, for instance, it won’t affect the availability of our book. The print-on-demand model significantly reduces expenses, too, which enables us to if not compete with the e-book explosion and larger publishers, to at least sustain our venture in the midst of such all-engulfing octopi. A more serious dilemma is gaining recognition in such an oversaturated age, which is a dilemma every small press faces, whether that means getting reviews, interviews, or simply devoted readers, and many prestigious publishing houses remain bound to models of the past, which makes acquiring rights often difficult, a barrier in fact. I don’t see how much longer they can continue to function according to 20th-century models.
AS:  A recent statistic has shown that only three to five percent of all books published in the US are translations; only a handful of American presses like yours are dedicated to filling this frankly embarrassing gap. While we can only speculate on the effect literary isolationism has had on contemporary American perception and critical thinking, I wonder if you see a connection between these developments and the near-complete commercialization of what was once regarded as literary culture.
CMP:  I always presumed different but was shocked into reality when Jill Schoolman of Archipelago Books mentioned similar facts in an interview almost ten years ago, and her press is one of the many exceptional ones dedicated to ameliorating that lacuna. As for literary remoteness, in 1827, long before the sacrosanct paean about multiculturalism, Goethe sought to hasten the development of world literature, which was burgeoning at that moment. Yet while it took root in Europe, in America it never really did. Many American artists continue to exist in an aesthetic vacuum and don’t create within a larger continuum and lineage. Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and Salinger, all highly over-celebrated, rather average writers, are absolute oddities, though not in a positive way. That they wrote what they did post-Huysmans, post-Musil, or post-Hofmannsthal is baffling.
AS:  And yet Tim Parks, in his essay “America First?” (New York Review of Books, July 15, 2010), astonishingly questioned the necessity of translation in his discussion of the Best European Fiction anthology edited by Aleksandar Hemon (Dalkey Archive Press): “It seems to me […] that as we tackle intriguing stories from Latvia and Lithuania, Bosnia and Macedonia, we are struck by how familiar these voices are, how reassuringly similar in outlook to one another and ourselves. […] Across the globe, the literary frame of mind is growing more homogeneous.” Clearly, Parks seems to be forgetting a huge cross-section of what is being written today and what has been published over the past several decades. What is your view of this?
CMP:  Although there are different forms of homogenization at work in the arts, there is scant validity in asserting that there’s a general global literary frame of mind. Would one say that Jelinek and Mathias Énard have homogeneous frames of mind? Or Howard Barker and Krasznahorkai? One could recite more examples but it would be tedious; it’s clear to the adventurous and idiosyncratic reader that Parks is mistaken. Art of any merit is unzeitgemäß in the sense of the term as it was conceptualized by Nietzsche. Whatever parallels or intersections there may be between writers of different cultures, a claim of increasing homogenization in literature elides what is different, alien, and foreign, even if it’s as subtle as nuances of perception. And to be similar in outlook is not in any way reassuring—that is one aspect of the universal humanistic disposition to be wary of, for it eschews or erases what is strange, unknown, and intractable in favor of a reactive idea of the human as some unchanging and permanently fixed monad. Thereby, anyone outside that concept of the human may be subject to ridicule, persecution, or worse, elimination.
AS:  Essentially, it’s a political question.
CMP:  Ultimately, yes, and the necessity of translation remains a fundamental cultural duty, but one hopefully informed by eros. It’s a philanthropic gesture, and more especially on the part of the translator than the publisher since the compensation is generally meager in comparison to the task and the time given to it. The translator’s art is sacrificial, more con amore than con i soldi. I as many other people rely on the gift of the translator for that encounter, and to be displaced or de-ranged, to have universal notions shattered is to recognize the fundamental ambiguity of the human, to see oneself as alien and mysterious and thus, hopefully, to welcome not being continuously reassured and to accept and embrace what is foreign.
AS: Another thing on my mind throughout this interview is the notion of ‘success’—in the US today, many assume they have a natural right to be successful, and they become disappointed and bitter when they’re not. But what is literature, if not adherence to the exigencies of the writing process—even when it doesn’t lead to the marketable work, but something that has the potential to pose entirely new questions about what putting words down on a page can mean. Could you talk a bit about Contra Mundum’s forthcoming publications this fall and winter?
CMP: What’s on the immediate horizon for us is the world premiere of Pessoa’s Philosophical Essays, a series of texts extracted from the Pessoa Archive that have essentially never seen the light of day. As a director who worked with some of the most renowned film artists of the 20th century, Elio Petri should need no introduction, but he remains a relative obscurity here in America. Our edition of his Writings on Cinema and Life should hopefully, at least in part, ameliorate that. To coincide with Richard Foreman’s forthcoming production at the Public Theater, we’ll be publishing his Plays with Films, and then there’s Blanqui’s Eternity by the Stars, a book of essays by and on Robert Kelly, the selected poems of Emilio Villa, and a few surprises we’re working out—it’s the winter solstice, so we’d like to present our readers with whatever unexpected gifts we can.
A press’s survival is contingent upon the practical necessity of having current readers, and we certainly want a devoted readership for our books, which is more valuable than what is commonly understood by ‘success.’ What we have here is a certain absolutely vital force … Like any other craftsman, though, a writer should be able to survive and live from his or her work, especially if they are entirely devoted to it. Yet writing, as most art, is considered to be essentially superfluous. Who is an artist before a surgeon? Or a scientist? But the fact that tyrants and political forces of every age have been threatened by art again and again, condemned it as degenerate or poisonous, and have silenced, brutalized, or murdered artists because of their work only serves to illustrate how significant art is, that it is our one greatest power. I would even go so far as to say that the tyrant ‘understands’ art more than the devotee, for the latter is generally too ‘pious’ and adoring, almost like a simple-minded believer overwrought by faith who simply loves and finds everything ‘great,’ whereas the former suffers the transformative threat of art more, is even endangered by it, hence their terror. It is the Platonic fear of art’s power over the ‘soul.’ And the fear of the destruction of the polis, but destruction only leads to new creations. Art is the life force, the vital breath that sustains us in the midst of our most excruciating trials.visionary novel of dangerous ideas” — Stuart Kendall
Spring 2032: an enigmatic bandleader named Triboulet arrives by helicopter in Rome, where his carnivalesque troupe awaits with a legion of animals and unruly kids. When provoking states of joyous panic through their ritualistic acts, the troupe’s arrival proves restorative, for the world is beset with famines, plagues, and religious conflicts, which Triboulet seeks to neutralize with freeing laughter. As he and his troupe begin constructing strange edifices in the Eternal City, sacred sites around the world suffer terrible, often beguiling forms of vandalism, and rumors abound that the Christ has actually finally returned. Although radical Islamic sects claim responsibility for the vandalism, the culprits remain unknown: is it the Jihadists, anarcho-atheist intellectuals, or eco-terrorists? Religious and political authorities grow leery of the troupe and suspicious of Triboulet, whose true identity remains a mystery. The very future of the world is at stake, and while touring Israel during Christmas, Triboulet and his raucous band of pranksters bear witness to the world’s pivotal crossing into a new reality.
“A visionary noel of dangerous ideas” — Stuart Kendall
Spring 2032: an enigmatic bandleader named Triboulet arrives by helicopter in Rome, where his carnivalesque troupe awaits with a legion of animals and unruly kids. When provoking states of joyous panic through their ritualistic acts, the troupe’s arrival proves restorative, for the world is beset with famines, plagues, and religious conflicts, which Triboulet seeks to neutralize with freeing laughter. As he and his troupe begin constructing strange edifices in the Eternal City, sacred sites around the world suffer terrible, often beguiling forms of vandalism, and rumors abound that the Christ has actually finally returned. Although radical Islamic sects claim responsibility for the vandalism, the culprits remain unknown: is it the Jihadists, anarcho-atheist intellectuals, or eco-terrorists? Religious and political authorities grow leery of the troupe and suspicious of Triboulet, whose true identity remains a mystery. The very future of the world is at stake, and while touring Israel during Christmas, Triboulet and his raucous band of pranksters bear witness to the world’s pivotal crossing into a new reality.

al-Ḥarīrī - An itinerant con man. A gullible eyewitness narrator. Voices spanning continents and centuries. Featuring picaresque adventures and linguistic acrobatics, Impostures brings the spirit of this masterpiece of Arabic literature into English

al-Ḥarīrī, Impostures, Trans. by Michael  Cooperson, NYU Press, 2020. An itinerant con man. A gullible eyewitness narrator. Voices spanni...