Travis Jeppesen - a post-punk nouveau roman; artfully fractured vision of memory and escape. The book is almost like a continuous orgasm of images, syllables, and hell. Jeppesen doesn’t mind switching modes and tones and voices right underneath you, nor does he mind pushing the boundary immediately so far out of the frame that you forget there was a boundary to begin with
Travis Jeppesen, The Suiciders, Semiotext(e), 2013.
'During the first decade of the second millennium, a group of seven friends—Zach, Lukas, Adam, Matthew, Peter, Arnold, and Taylor—occupy an indeterminate house in an unidentified American suburb and replay a continuous loop of eternal exile and youth. Permanently in their late teens, the seven young men are as fluid and mutable ciphers, although endowed with highly reflexive, and wholly generic, internal lives. “Once you learn how to love, you will also learn how to mutilate it . . . I want to feel so free you can’t even imagine . . . Let’s get out there and eat some popsicles. There is work to be done.” Eventually, the group decides to remove themselves from the safe confines of the house and to embark upon a road trip to the end of the world with their friend, the Whore, and their pet parrot, Jesus H. Christ. The Suiciders is their legacy.
'Chronicling the last days of a religious cult in rural America, Jeppesen’s debut novel Victims was praised by the Village Voice for its “artfully fractured vision of memory and escape,” and by Punk Planet for its masterful balance of “the laconic speech of teenagers with philosophical density.” In The Suiciders, Jeppesen ventures beyond any notion of fixed identity. The result is a dazzling, perversely accurate portrait of American life in the new century, conveyed as a post-punk nouveau roman.' -- Semiotext(e)
'The Suiciders is born out of failure. It started out simply enough – an ultra-realistic account of teen serial killers on a road trip. I wrote it and re-wrote it and re-wrote it again countless times, and I could never manage to get it right. There was always something wrong. It felt like I was trying too hard – and it read that way, too. Until I asked myself one day, what if I were to not try at all?
'What does it mean to set out to write the ultimate “bad novel”? Not just bad as in subject matter, but method — grammar, syntax, narrative — not to intentionally be wrong, but to not care about the possibility of getting it all wrong. Everything you are told not to do in writing. Critics would be forced to come up with a new language to praise or reject it — neither an enviable nor a pitiable task. But as a project, perhaps it represents one way forward — or at least a way of correcting certain age-old prejudices.
'At the same time, I have to admit that this isn’t really what I’m doing. Even when I’m being anti-form, I’m still too much of a goddamn formalist. If you read the manuscript, there’s too much language there, too much structured noise, to convince any thinking person that all I’m doing is merely flinging words upon a page. The key is the language – the materiality of the structure itself. Finally, with this novel, I am allowing myself to do what I’ve done with my previous novels – which is to re-invent the Novel. This is a task that every novelist should set out to do, each time she sits down to write. But so few do these days. They want to be Philip Roth, a pillar of the establishment, even though so many claim (fashionably) to be against that establishment. In my case, or the case of The Suiciders, I allow the language to play an equal, perhaps even dominant role in regards to all the other components that have traditionally formed the Novel. The “characters” are not, in fact, characters. They are proper nouns. Proper nouns that are allowed to melt into, become, deflate other, less proper nouns. Language = character = plot, etc. In releasing language from its submissive servitude to meaning (meaning as it is traditionally constituted in the Novel), new meanings emerge, new linguistic structures, new narratives, new modes of perception, new possibilities of being.
'I’m still naïve enough to believe in the figure of the artist-revolutionary, but this naiveté is balanced with the realization that revolutions caused by art are seldom acknowledged at their inception by the wider cultural milieu, and that the changes they impel thus occur at a rate comparable to the shift in tectonic plates beneath the earth’s surface.
'This is a very different way of creating revolution, one that necessarily avoids politics, avoids collectivity, and celebrates the power of the individual consciousness while simultaneously rebuking both the traditional bourgeois conception of the alienated urban individual and the quasi-fascistic cult of personality that continues to be celebrated wherever art is publicized. Where the life of the mind is concerned, totalitarianism has already triumphed, and its benefactor has been American-style democracy. This is reflected widely in the “literature” that is most praised and consumed in our culture, a literature that can no longer be considered an art. Enough cynicism, enough irony-coated “minimalism,” enough anti-intellectual hipster posturing. Up with the anarchy of the signifier, with the creation of new myths, with momentary lapses of cognition, with an embrace of psychoses, with an outpouring of unmitigated sexuality – in short, with the freedom that we only find in the realm of the imaginary.' -- Travis Jeppesen, Open Democracy
You hear a lot of talk in literary circles about the power of the sentence. How a sentence can do anything. How words are powerful, and contain manners that other media do not. Usually this means, for many sorts, that the sentences employed are lyrical, musical; that they sound really strong together, even sometimes at the expense of what they mean. Though, often, at the same time, the effect of those sentences are more dressed up versions of more basic sentiments: that is, the language is the only thing interesting about the writing. Take away the bells and whistles and what you have at heart is still a story about the nature of various relationships. The story, then, still rides the same hackles as the apes of any modernist you want to name.
Travis Jeppesen’s new novel, The Suiciders, is an entry for the far opposite-of-field. It takes less than a page to establish that over the next 224 pages you will be worked over at every turn, within a machine of language that not only works the hell out of its own sounds, but makes language force its way to things not previously construed. Those familiar with Jeppesen’s previous work, the novels Victims and Wolf at the Door, will likely have a high bar of expectation for the insane theatrics and death-knell imagery to come, yet I can assure you, this book resets the bar, both for Jeppesen, and for you.
At its most basic, The Suiciders portends the tale of seven squatter punks who form a cult. They live and fuck and do drugs together in a suburban household without concrete location; it could be anywhere, one imagines, much to perhaps the fear of the possible neighbors. There is a loosely-framed story guiding the plot in which the guys go out into the world and wreak their havoc on a zoo, in a nightclub, and continuously in the house serving as their base of operations. But where the actual action is, even as far as plot goes, happens line by line. There is so much placed in each fragment alone, and thereafter in how they string together into monologues and shifting scenes of often absurd violence, that makes any page in The Suiciders particularly ripe and open, nearly overflowing with the old challenge of plot. There are 10,000 plots per page. It is in the accumulation of the plots, and the fantastic charging of Jeppesen’s total mish-mash of syntax, physics, framing, voice, and possibility, that keeps you reading.
The book is almost like a continuous orgasm of images, syllables, and hell. Jeppesen doesn’t mind switching modes and tones and voices right underneath you, nor does he mind pushing the boundary immediately so far out of the frame that you forget there was a boundary to begin with. Here’s the first paragraph, to set the tone: “The house, a Gothic approximation of a dump with lots of stains, abandoned when found. Matthew’s friends were there a lot⎯when they weren’t running away. Fed it dead possum every night at the same hour⎯when he remembered he was still alive. The parrot’s name was Jesus H. Christ. Matthew sat there. Adam is over on the floor. Peter sniffing whiteout. Yellow cup drools. I have so many friends.” Simple enough syntax, but at the same time spinning, fast enough as if to point you in one direction only to spin you again toward the next. I consider this kind of writing––the kind without the bells and whistles of narrative’s way of carefully keeping the reader at all times in the game––a promise that the author both assumes someone reading is smart enough to work their way along, and, soon, a promise that the author was hell bent to say it as it meant to be said, and fuck the reader.
The reader certainly gets fucked. I mean this in the way it’s sometimes as if, reading the book, you are entered into a relationship where people touch you in your holes and want to rub it and get warm and make moaning noises. That’s an elaborate way of saying the characters in this book seem actually alive and entirely scatological, horny, fiendish. I could try to say more about the plot and the images of what goes forward, but really it is the experience of the book itself that makes it alive. The most minimal action causes the biggest shifts of energy, and allows the sound of the language to hit the reader in the head, over and over. There is an almost 3D mania to Jeppesen’s orchestrations of the people in the book, which as the book continues from its relatively calm opening only builds and builds. Here’s the second paragraph on the second page: “Pretty song plays. Adam bit himself just for fun. Bit his wrist until the blood came. Flowers for Algernon. That’s the name of the TV Movie of the Week. Forcefeed television demented fears, it will reciprocate via Evening News. Jesus H. Christ flew over, landed on Adam’s head, fluttered its feathers. Hey Matthew, can a parrot fart?” Again, another level higher than even the previous page in its direction, and beginning to split the reader from where he or she began. Guys fuck cows, skin is smoked, bibles are read on toilets, hangovers appear instantly, porn stars hang out, sentences say shit like “Scrotal definitionism, the mindblogs fierce.” It doesn’t matter if you gather what that means; you already heard it.
The brain of the machine of the picture chops in and out, narrated by turns by these seven friends all of whom seem to share a mind. Soon, as the sentences continue shifting, not by lyricism as much as the permutations of a contemporary Sade, on better drugs than they had back then, and surrounded by more and more humans and devices. There is more packed into a page here than you might find in many other sorts of novels, if you are the sort who likes unpacking puzzles in a frenzy, letting the action and colors and ideas wash over you and absorb into you, kind of the way you end up in a cult. Does this book cause cult behavior in its reader? It might, considering how, thankfully, it is a book that promises to give more and more the longer that you stare. Certainly, The Suiciders is one that would give off more body each time it reads, as over time the structures employed begin to take such a heavy level in their onslaught that you can hardly remember where you are. There are no pulled punches here; if anything, the punches are punching even at themselves, trying to bruise the work into the paper, keep it changing.
In all its insanity, the book is not, in the end, only a fantastical, addled, hyper-Kenneth Anger on parade. It is that, but also, buried in the pages, are countless icons of ideas, of intentions, of, yes, even wisdom, born in the light of what whirlwinds cause shitty insane people to be shitty and insane. “I’m so open to experience, I’m like a toilet,” says one character about halfway through the book, and that seems a wonderful display of the attitude of the book itself; it is awoken from a hole where shit of thousands passes through and becomes mushy color, so much sound and smell you can hardly tell where you are, nor do you really want to. Unlike a toilet, though, this book is bottomless, and provides. - Blake Butler
The house. A stained gothic apparition of a dump, abandoned when found. Matthew’s friends were there a lot, when they weren’t running away from him. To keep him company, he bought himself a fat fuck parrot. Fed it dead possum every night at the same hour, when he remembered he was still alive. The parrot’s name was Jesus H. Christ. Matthew sat there. Adam is over on the floor. Peter sniffing whiteout. Yellow cup drools. I have so many friends, it hurts me to know them at times.
These bad boys had stopped going to school. They had better things to do, like fuck knows what. They would be great artists some day, if only you could learn to consider death an art. Get that fucking whiteout out of your nose, Peter. The whiteout is my muse, Peter responds. A milk stain around his nostrils. Goddamn entropy hovering like a cloud.
Peter disarranged some wires. Some fancy music got played. A song of evil spirits getting naked in the zoo. Let’s go to the zoo! Matthew protested. Which one am I. I don’t want to go to the zoo, they don’t have any goddamn art there. Matthew will be a pedophile and look at all the children. Children have brains they don’t get for free. Their parents must pay a lot of money for them. Then they destroy the state, everyone gets fucked in the ass. My sooty membranous gyration.
I decided to go take a dump and read the bible. Multi-tasking has come to define this century I woke up one day and found myself in. You can’t blame us for the state of the world. We’re just some teenage kids with bad hair.
Adam, meanwhile, was squeaking. One of the reasons he got kicked out of school. Because he’d just sit there all day making high-pitched noises to himself. Like a mouse dying of cancer but really really enjoying it.
Pretty song plays. Adam bit himself just for fun. Bit his wrist until the blood came. Flowers for Algernon. That’s the name of the TV Movie of the Week. Forcefeed television demented fears, it will reciprocate via Evening News. Jesus H. Christ flew over, landed on Adam’s head, fluttered its feathers. Hey Matthew, can a parrot fart?
Adam continued to squeak. Matthew picked up a guitar. Peter covered himself with a blanket. He wanted to forget something. He didn’t remember what.
Joy can only be excavated from ruins. It has to match a definition of primal. Every which way you yearn, you still prefer doing nothing. Maybe that’s what’s so philosophical about your bodily movements.
I want to go to the zoo. I want to go to the zoo. I want to go to the zoo. I want to go.
The teenagers had so many friends. That’s why they didn’t need each other – they had all the others. Still, they wanted. One day you will grow up and want something too, then you’ll realize it’s all been a big mistake. I cleaned my butthole with a page of genesis. I found the story dry. Whoever wrote the bible didn’t understand the mechanics of language. Not the way Adam does. He’s a real poet, sitting over there squeaking. Sometimes when he gets carried away, little white things appear in the corners of his mouth. The teacher threw him out of class. Then he came over here where he could squeak in peace, away from the dictates of the western world. Here, we leave our televisions on in silence. You can even make love to the radiator if you want. Situational broadcast from the radio in the kitchen. Sometimes I go in there to hallucinate a girl. She never comes back twice. She must be afraid of what she finds here.
The house we found ourselves. It didn’t even cost anything. People moved out, no one wanted it, we invented ourselves in here. Rush through the introductions so as to not find out too much about each other. The only thing we had in common was this desire to be teens for the rest of our circumstance.
Satan’s ashtray. This part of the world the sun don’t come out too often. At least we had the animals. The animals are there for us when the sun isn’t. Sometimes you dream the animals going into the sun. The sun swallows all the animals on this planet and burns them up into magma. We have to live in a world without animals, it is so sad, you want to die. But you become an animal instead, and therefore death will never come to you. Peter bit himself again. Or was it Matthew this time. Wait I’m so confused. I have difficulty telling my friends apart from one another. That is because they all look exactly the same. The same stringy black hair, empty eye sockets, hollowed-out expression. My friends are merely effigies I keep to remind me of the animal inside my mind.
Travis Jeppesen reads 'Wolf at the Door'
Motile 'Blid Drip' based on a poem by Travis Jeppesen
Rabbit Hole @ ZDB
Travis Jeppesen, Victims
Travis Jeppesen, Wolf at the Door