Spencer Madsen - His writing helps clarify our complicated and subjective world into one of simple truths. His poetry is both heartbreaking and heart mending

Spencer Madsen, You Can Make Anything Sad, Publishing Genius Press, 2014.

“When I read Spencer Madsen’s poetry, I not only feel awe because he’s so good, one of the best, but I also think about how everything in the world is happening at the same time, and how the world we get to know is so heavily edited down. It’s the hugest, weirdest feeling. I wish Spencer Madsen could be everywhere at once. I really love You Can Make Anything Sad.” — Dennis Cooper

“If I had published this I would’ve cut the ‘dick like Gogurt’ line.” -Giancarlo DiTrapano

Madsen’s poetry has always been, to me, staggeringly honest. His writing helps clarify our complicated and subjective world into one of simple truths. His poetry is both heartbreaking and heart mending. Madsen’s work is important. This book will be important.—Rhys Nixon

Spencer Madsen’s You Can Make Anything Sad is filled with movement, mortality, and masturbation. Natural disaster intervenes young love. Everyone leaves. Frozen pancakes are peeled apart.
You Can Make Anything Sad captures gradual melancholy that is difficult to detect or articulate, but inevitably reaches all of us. Sadness is not necessarily dramatic. Often, it is calm and disappointing, even speculative. Watching snow descend outside his window, Madsen identifies with the heft the branches are forced to bear and is hurt but not surprised that, inevitably, change/time/cold will reach them entirely. We do not fall out of love in any one moment. Though it can be possible to pinpoint a specific day or moment or cause, we feel loss as distilled across time and experience.
Madsen’s poems transmit a sense of intimacy and coincidence structured together as a series of journal entries and colloquial lists; they oscillate between interiority and everyday encounters. The book is a chronological account of a waning relationship interrupted by the speaker’s reflections, asides, and what occurs on the outside world. There is an acute bleakness: the heartbreaking accumulation of minutiae that comprises lives and stories and self-obsessed states through which we often perceive them. “This is my real life,” the author reminds himself numerous times throughout the collection (sometimes, in different words).
I am reminded of Joshua Beckman’s “[Lying in bed I think about you]“: stale air is a synecdochic representation of a stale relationship/world and is used to describe something becoming less vivid and eventually lost. Also, of David Berman’s poem “Imagining Defeat,” which is also about departure and the mood that follows it or surfaces when it is remembered.
I remember running late at night. I remember the 24-hour gym. I remember running in place for hours on machines that ensure no actual progress. I remember sweating in the industrial blue glow.
I remember the feeling of winter coming.
The word elliptical comes from the shape of an elongated circle. It is also is a poetic term: a way of speaking that moves towards clarity and concealment at the same time. The technology of an elliptical machine allows us to run in place, as if we are moving forward and around, without covering any “actual” distance. There are buttons to change the shape of the circle, so it distends in different directions, to emulate various running conditions, speeds, and landscapes.
This is a familiar place—this feeling: the illumination given off by cold, human fixtures, like in a waiting room or a Fed Ex shop late at night. Somewhere machines light up and stir to remind us they’re doing a job. The dim glow of machinery fills a room, trying to imitate sunlight. I have no idea what Spencer Madsen’s gym routine entails. I kind of ‘get it’ though, or feel like I do. I think the best books can do this; they make a world feel foreign and familiar at the same time. Something about You Can Make Anything Sad— its content and physical character, I think—seemed too stark or honest to deface. Without thinking, I strayed from my post-it-note-commentary policy once reading Spencer’s book, marking in the margin below the line “It’s hard to imagine anything but Tuesdays everyday.” my own words, I know what you mean and I also don’t. I think that’s how it is between and for people.
Consistently, tropes of masturbation act as a connecting thread throughout the collection. Self-pleasure is returned to, though not quite elevated, as it again and again fails to gratify. Madsen remarks that “if writing really were masturbation I’d be so much better at it”; the obvious dramatic irony being that his writing frequently explores self-pleasure as a stylistic tactic as well as a subject matter and it’s very good. Writing provides a forum to enact personal fantasy that, like masturbation, can appear an attractive alternative to the complications and compromise involved in engaging with another person. Neither of these alternatives can be sustained.
Towards the end of the book, Madsen recounts masturbating to porn. What is unusual about this is that his arousal is linked to empathy he feels for the dejected/jealous cuckolded male rather than the one engaged in the… actual fucking. I think there’s something there. On an obvious level, this is what it looks like: of course a sensitive/self-identified ‘lonely guy’ relates to the isolated figure in the film rather than the alpha-male. But I do not think this is mentioned solely as an example of self-effacement. This feeling, also, on some level, arouses the speaker of the poem: not in a homosexual or even homosocial way, but in an empathetic one, as if the arousal comes out of a newly evolved emotional release and signals a capacity to feel concern for other people that that the speaker has previously shied away from.
Ironically, the climax reached through stereotypical masturbation techniques (watching porn) is perhaps the least masturbatory moment of the book. Up until this point, Madsen’s voice is primarily self-concerned, describing an emotional life conducted almost sociopathically: he interacts with other people while failing to acknowledge their lives as real or important except as part of a self-effacing account of his own behavior. Women exist as devices or even less: as waste left by the author’s misguided self-search. None of this is to say it is not well executed, but just on an emotional level, it’s a pretty crappy way to be.
As a reader, I have a hard time “rooting for” or sympathizing with the speaker’s malaise when, despite his keen ability to perceive his habitual use/abuse of others, he displays little remorse or desire to change his ways. This is to say, I think “Tuesday, January 23, 2013” illustrates a great
departure from the behavior depicted before it.
I do not think it a coincidence that the speaker reaches the conclusion that he is “a destructive thing on this earth” and has inflicted pain on other people at this moment. It begins – what a psychiatrist might deem some kind of emotional breakthrough – with the simple experience of perceiving someone else’s pain as the most acute and real part of an experience. In one of my favorite arcs in The Sopranos when Tony’s therapist remarks that his attachment to a horse illustrates immense progress, though it is still not a kind of compassion he is capable of extending to his fellow human beings.
Similarly—and despite its almost ubiquitously negatively painted human interactions, You Can Make Anything Sad consistently voices affection for dogs. The shrink in me (or, well, the based on TV pseudo-shrink in me) wants to say this represents something more beneath the surface: that when the poet “recommends dogs” he is recognizing the value of other living beings, humans among them and saying he cares about how they feel. That other people matter. That, however much we want to be by or with ourselves, we also are, as Madsen eloquently puts it: “Grasping for something in another person, the way seats on the train become available right before your stop.” And though moments like these characterize romance through its almost inevitable failure, they also say that we want and need it. Self-obsession cannot sustain us. Talking to ourselves, touching ourselves is not enough, though we may wish it were.
Ultimately, You Can Make Anything Sad has a sort of bildungsroman quality, recounting an emotional coming of age in honest, quietly elegant language. It is sincere and patient and weirdly life-like. Everything changes very slowly: so slowly that you could also say nothing’s changed at all. It is tempting to read the title as a kind of model attitude: either seizing authority through our endless capacity for pessimism, or the opposite—suggesting that since we can make anything sad, we can also make anything happy. I think that’s too easy. Either way. I would rather focus on the verb to make and the possibilities it presents: we are both freed and made responsible by acknowledging that our experience is largely self-created. Most of all, this means that people are capable of change, however staggeringly bleak they perceive their circumstances to be. Closing in March, the collection’s last line is a calm reminder that we still have a chance to make things different: it will “be a new year soon.” And no matter who, where, or when we are, it will be. - Lucy Tiven

On the first read, Spencer Madsen's second book of poetry, You Can Make Anything Sad, out on April 29 with Publishing Genius, is overrun by an overarching angst. The poet is depressed and despite repeated attempts he struggles with the fundamental impossibility of connecting with others – he sees it happening but ultimately can't help himself. In one poem, a girlfriend tells Madsen, who is being particularly fatalistic, "You have two options and you’re choosing the sad one."
The book is very relatable, but that’s partially because it deals with an everyday that is inherently colourless, dull and repetitive. In one poem titled "A NEW REALITY SHOW CALLED:" Madsen reels off a list of ideas for reality TV shows, at once both emphasising how the mundane can feel incredibly dramatic ("A new reality show called I wish I didn’t have to pee that consists of people lying down comfortably in bed and then suddenly having to pee") and suggesting the potential for creation without following through with any actual creating. It’s wanting to make something out of what will seem, to anyone but you experiencing it, like nothing – one of many laments for the human connection that feels more and more impossible.
This explicitly fatalistic solipsism meshes with Madsen’s tone of ‘I didn’t spend a lot of time writing this and now I’m publishing it’ (see also: Madsen’s essays for Brad Listi’s recently re-launched otherppl magazine, which begin with qualifications like ‘I haven’t read what’s below. I wrote it in a panic.’  to really drive home what seems, at first, like a pretty standard sense of futility. When so much is shitty – and when a big part of that shittiness is related to the fact that it’s impossible for other people to understand and connect with you – you might as well publish whatever you want. If we interpret this tone as Madsen prioritizing putting work out there over the reader’s experience – if we, in other words, interpret this as him not caring if we’re engaged or bored, as long as his words might have readers – then we hit a logical wall: why would he, or anyone, feel compelled to put writing into a world that consists entirely of other people who fundamentally cannot understand it?
An easy answer, and one that many critics of alt-lit have leveraged against writers like Madsen, is: selfishness. But there’s another inconsistency here: Madsen’s first piece for the otherppl magazine project, Notes From My Notes App, implies a distinction between the note-like tone of his poetry and the actual notes he’s taking – that his artistic work is fundamentally different (and, presumably, more polished or considered) than the thoughts he – and many writers – jot down, virtually or otherwise. "I keep a list in my phone of miscellaneous thoughts, ideas, dream descriptions, etc." he writes in the essay. "I often refer to it when looking for inspiration, or to gauge where I’m at creatively. Some of these notes have been incorporated into books, poems, tweets, etc." This suggests, despite the sense of hopelessness that weighs down much of this book, that there is some will to try.
The lines "But you can write a whole book. / You can call it anything you want. / You can print it out and stare at it." seem to reinforce the sense of ‘fuck it’ out of context. But when you consider what comes before them, they become a challenge to the (perceived) futility of an existence spent in failed attempts at connection ("My forehead, marked permanently by attempts at conveying sincerity.") and disappointment in having to come to terms with the way the world and other people foster those failures As a rebuttal to the negativity that comes before, they function less as a cop-out kind of justification for the book – or any book potentially deemed worthless or narcissistic – and more as one of those statements of fact: just as you can make anything sad, you can, definitely, write a whole book. These lines come late, but they aren’t the first time books or writing conjures a relative optimism.
Much of You Can Make Anything Sad supports its title, sure, but at its core is a poet trying to resist that – just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. There’s a disconnect between the narcissism Madsen and his alt-lit contemporaries have been accused of and the truly original insights you find yourself reading. Amidst the ‘and then I did this daily activity/drug’ lines are hyper-articulate moments of ingenuity and observation. Madsen calls his sinuses the "tubes that justify my nose"; the insight "The illusion of relationships is the lessening of distance but a new distance arises when a stranger becomes a friend." is not only thoughtful, but it also offers the reader space to imagine how it might be true – a deft, evocative maneuver that many writers might mess up. One suspects these bright spots in the writing are also bright spots in the despair that characterizes Madsen’s work: it’s empowering to create something.
And actually, ‘A NEW REALITY TV SHOW CALLED:’ is an example of that empowerment. While its form inherently implies a lack of one kind of creation, in making the list of what’s not made, Madsen creates something else: a poem. And poems are one of the only ways to (try to) bridge the gap to other people. When we consider that so much of the force of alt lit as a contemporary literary movement comes from its community, the lines “I read poems by my friends. / I feel something for the poems and something for my friends.” are particularly poignant. The tone is dry and declarative, largely prohibiting the reader from empathizing fully, but there’s hope there. We have no idea what these poems are or what they make Madsen feel, but at least we have the fact that we both still can. - Lauren Oyler

Interview by Alex Frank

Review at The Small Press Book Review
Review at Splice Today


Philippe Soupault - A haunting depiction of a world in which the characters find themselves both the ghosts and the spooked

Philippe Soupault, Last Nights of Paris. Translated by William Carlos Williams, Exact Change; Reprint edition, 2008. [1928.]

Written in 1928 by one of the founders of the Surrealist movement, and translated the following year by William Carlos Williams (the two had been introduced in Paris by a mutual friend), Last Nights of Paris is related to Surrealist novels such as Nadja and Paris Peasant, but also to the American expatriate novels of its day such as Day of the Locust. The story concerns the narrator’s obsession with a woman who leads him into an underworld that promises to reveal the secrets of the city itself… and in Williams’ wonderfully direct translation it reads like a lost Great American Novel. A vivid portrait of the city that entranced both its native writers and the Americans who traveled to it in the twenties, Last Nights of Paris is a rare collaboration between the literary circles at the root of both French and American modernism.

“Soupault’s nocturnal ramblings include street murders, stopped clocks, and unexpected breezes. This sweet strangeness may very well make you sentimental.” — Voice Literary Supplement

“A haunting depiction of a world in which the characters find themselves both the ghosts and the spooked.” — Review of Contemporary Fiction

Philippe Soupault is perhaps best known as one of the pioneers of the Surrealist (literary) movement, together with the irrepressible André Breton.
However, his writings in the early 20th century, thriving with avant-garde experimentation, have been overlooked somewhat - perhaps overshadowed by Breton's Nadja, which many consider to be the seminal Surrealist text.
The Last Nights of Paris, however, is a masterpiece. Ably translated by American expatriate poet William Carlos Williams, the text reads much more fluidly than Nadja, as the nameless protagonist stumbles upon a murder scene, and becomes infatuated not merely with the details of the crime, but also with a woman he happens upon at the scene, the femme fatale Georgette. 
The unattainable Georgette is also a prostitute. Such unlikely juxtapositions scatter Soupault’s novel, as well as unexpected metaphors. Just like the (recurring) dogs in the text, the prose is gloriously aimless; conscious decisions and rationality are unimportant - in nocturnal Paris, one must surrender oneself to the vagaries of chance, investigating and musing upon details of intrigue, drifting from chance encounters with no discernible motive.
The real triumph of the novel is Paris itself. Humans are mere accessories to the evolution and motion of the city, reduced to two-dimensional stereotypes as the convoluted city heaves to prominence. 
Time is constantly stopping, starting and re-starting, it is fluid and changeable, just like the narrative thread.
When a conclusion is reached, it is predictably, almost comically, anti-climactic. However, the weaving intricacies of the journey and the vivacity of Soupault’s prose ensure that the novella itself is anything but. - Danny Arter

But what gave her person a charm that could be described as special was her resemblance to a shadow. One might well be astonished, and I never failed to be so, by her strange ability to escape judgment. She resembled at times gleams of light, at times their sisters the shadows. Before memory and words she was as evasive as a fish. She withdrew, even while she remained present, or even when she became burdensome and immense.
Philippe Soupault (1897-1990) was a French poet and novelist. Though initially attracted to the anti-rationalism of Dadaism, Soupault eventually rejected its nihilism and, along with André Breton, sought to explore other revolutionary forms of self-expression. In 1919, Soupault, Breton, and Louis Aragorn (author of Paris Peasant, which I'll be reading next) founded the magazine Littérature, an event which for many marks the definitive start of the Surrealist movement. The following year saw the publication of Les Champs Magnétiques, a collaborative effort by Soupault and Breton to compose the very first book of automatic writing. 1928's Les Dernières Nuits de Paris (Last Nights of Paris), though authored solely by Soupault, may also be thought of as artistic collaboration. Its translator is none other than William Carlos Williams, who was introduced to Soupault by a mutual friend.
Last Nights of Paris concerns the after-dark exploits of its narrator (who never seems to sleep - or work, for that matter), who gradually becomes acquainted with the various nocturnal creatures of the City of Lights. Ever since witnessing a bizarre, weirdly staged spectacle conducted on the rue de Seine around midnight - involving a procession of laborers, a desperate woman, and a giant sack - the narrator has grown obsessed with his companion at the time, a young prostitute he had just met named Georgette, who seemed all too knowing of what exactly they were observing. Hearing a newspaper account the next day of a sailor who had killed and dismembered one of his friends, the narrator finds himself slowly drawn deeper and deeper into an underworld that comes to life only in the dark. Presiding over it all is Georgette, whom the narrator comes to view as the embodiment of all the moods and mysteries of the Parisian night.
Last Nights of Paris is set in the same city chronicled by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler in their recent non-fiction book, The Crimes of Paris, which covers not only the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, but also a place alive with the experimental spirit of Modernism and in love with spectacles of all kinds. Parisians especially enjoyed hearing about criminals and crimes of all sorts, as seen in the gruesome productions of the Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, the wildly popular anti-hero Fantômas of the French pulps, and the sensational stories publicized by newspapers since the repeal of the censorship laws in the 1880s. The Great War may have ended the Belle Époque, but the provocative character of Paris survived into the 1920s, along with its place as the epicenter of radical thought in art and literature.
(Note the muted colors of the Fantômas poster, which are very Art Nouveau. Its cleaner, more streamlined look, however, seems to indicate the growing influence of Art Deco. Not surprising, since it is an early film poster and nothing reflected the speed and spirit of modern times like Art Deco.)
If real-life career criminal-turned-police investigator Eugène François Vidocq influenced Edgar Allen Poe's creation of the detective story, so too does Last Nights of Paris represent a mingling of two distinct cultures. "As the many memoirs of Paris in the twenties attest," says my edition's introduction, "the disparate worlds of the French avant-garde and the American expatriates rarely collided." As such, Williams's translation "stands at the unlikely juncture of both French and American literary modernism." With its cast of tough, amoral characters (including the obligatory femme fatale), evocative urban setting, and the protagonist's quest into the urban labyrinth unlock a puzzle, Last Nights of Paris is very reminiscent of the contemporary development of American noir and hardboiled detective fiction. Sam Spade would hardly be out of place.
At the same time, however, Last Nights of Paris is an undeniably Surrealist novel, following a recognizable plot but infused with the atmosphere of a dream. The night is a living character in its own right, personified by Georgette. It stands for the Surrealist fascination with the subconscious and for its desire to create art out of pure imagination, unordered by thought or reason.
I knew well that Paris is a city dark and full of mysteries, that the men who haunt it are often creatures in hiding, tracked or lost, but I had not believed it really possible thus to escape the power of all those laws which constantly threaten innocents like me. I seemed to forget the night, but suddenly I called to mind long solitary walks during which it would have been possible for me to commit the most irregular acts without drawing attention. And to give myself immediate proof of it: I was surprised that no one seemed to be concerned with the singular posture of the two of us, the sailor and I, seated on the steps of the Pont des Arts.
Although the narrator eventually arrives at an explanation (of sorts) for the events that transpired that first night he met Georgette, he does not get there, as your average detective hero would, by seeking, arranging, and interpreting clues. He drifts. He meanders from place to place. He pursues Georgette like the white rabbit. Coincidences arise: he meets a man in a cafe who claims to be a thief who meets regularly with other thieves to discuss the news of the trade. Later on, wandering through one of his favorite nightly haunts, the aquarium at the Pont d'Jena, the narrator comes across precisely that meeting, and hears Georgette's name mentioned.
Soupault's portrayal of Georgette is another fascinating aspect of the novel. She could have very easily turned into yet another stereotypical female symbolizing mystery and instinct and all that stands in opposition to the "male," Apollonian perspective of a rational world. Instead, Soupault makes it very clear that she is a fiercely independent woman who is well-respected by otherwise misogynist men. I wouldn't go as far as to call her a feminist character, but nor is she simply a reiteration of one of Western culture's long-running female tropes. And considering the basic tenets of Surrealism - its embrace of precisely those "female" realms of dreams, emotion, and intuition - Georgette, placed in this context, carries different connotations. She is exactly what Soupault's narrator (who may well be an author surrogate) is seeking as he lets the random power of chance take hold and strays further into a world that materializes only when most people are sleeping.
I have been dying to read Last Nights of Paris since I first heard of it. So many of my favorite things intersect in it: Paris, Modernism, the literary avant-garde, the 1920s. I was absolutely not the slightest bit disappointed. Despite its experimental nature, Last Nights of Paris is a very accessible read that can be enjoyed by a broad audience, even without any background in Surrealism, Modernism, or French social history. I absolutely recommend it to anyone and everyone.

What has happened
                    since Soupault gave him the novel
                                        the Dadaist novel
to translate -
The Last Nights of Paris
                                        "What has happened to Paris
since that time?
                    and to myself"?

                                        A WORLD OF ART
~ William Carlos Williams  - E. L. Fay

I'm Lying: Selected Translations - Philippe Soupault, Paulette Schmidt

Philippe Soupault, I'm Lying: Selected Translations of Philippe Soupault, Lost Roads Pub, 1985.
Lost Profiles: Memoirs of Cubism, Dada and Surrealism
Philippe Soupault, Lost Profiles: Memoirs of Cubism, Dada and Surrealism, Trans. by Alan Bernheimer, City Lights Publishers, 2016.

 Poet Alan Bernheimer provides a long overdue English translation of this French literary classic. LOST PROFILES is a retrospective of a crucial period in modernism, written by co-founder of the surrealist movement. Opening with a reminiscence of the international Dada movement in the late 1910s and its transformation into the beginnings of surrealism, LOST PROFILES then proceeds to usher its readers into encounters with a variety of literary lions. We meet an elegant Marcel Proust, renting five adjoining rooms at an expensive hotel to "contain" the silence needed to produce Remembrance of Things Past; an exhausted James Joyce putting himself through grueling translation sessions for Finnegans Wake; and an enigmatic Apollinaire in search of the ultimate objet trouvé. Soupault sketches lively portraits of surrealist precursors like Pierre Reverdy and Blaise Cendrars, a moving account of his tragic fellow surrealist René Crevel, and the story of his unlikely friendship with right-wing anti-Vichy critic George Bernanos. The collection ends with essays on two modernist forerunners, Charles Baudelaire and Henri Rousseau. With an afterword by Ron Padgett recounting his meeting with Soupault in the mid 70's and a preface by Breton biographer Mark Polizzotti, LOST PROFILES confirms Soupault's place in the vanguard of twentieth- century literature.

"Philippe Soupault was a central figure in both the Dada and Surrealist movements but throughout his long life walked under no banner except the one of artistic freedom. In this previously untranslated book, he gives us a collection of richly remembered portraits of some of his best-loved friends from the old days of the new modernism. As a glimpse into that time, these lost portraits are invaluable—and often deeply moving."—Paul Auster

"Reading Alan Bernheimer's splendid translation of Soupault's memoir, I forgot that it was a translation, that it was Soupault writing or talking about another time, about his friends of one century past. I read myself into these vivid and virile (so, sue me!) assaults on time, and Time stopped."—Andrei Codrescu

"Philippe Soupault was present at the creation of both Dada and Surrealism—collaborating with André Breton to produce The Magnetic Fields, the first book of automatic writing—before going his own way as a poet, novelist, and journalist. In this present volume, Soupault's fierce independence, deep wit, and generous heart shine through a set of sharply observed portraits of European writers—fellow geniuses, most of them known to him personally. Alan Bernheimer's fine translation allows Soupault's vibrant voice to come to life in our time, and to reanimate in turn some of the greatest spirits of the past century's literature—a marvelous and much-needed apparition."—Andrew Joron
"In this dazzling book-adroitly, smoothly & accurately translated by poet Alan Bernheimer—poet & co-founder of Surrealism Philippe Soupault trains his great secret eye & ear to auscultate an astounding range of core 20th century literary figures he knew personally. And does so with serenity, humor & profound insight. Like none of the academic histories covering this period, no matter how well written and documented, this book makes you say as you devour it: 'Wish I had been there.' Enough said, I'm going to call René Crevel right now."—Pierre Joris


Mark von Schlegell invented his peculiar brand of ficto-criticism and philosophical pulp fiction by publishing almost exclusively in the international art world, putting its global commitment to avant-garde experiment, futurist visions and amateur left-wing agitation to the service of radical speculative fiction

Mark von Schlegell, Ickles, Etc., Sternberg Press, 2014.

Edited by Nikolaus Hirsch, Markus Miessen
Featuring artwork by Louise Lawler

Website: http://www.sff.net/people/schlegell
Facebook: Facebook profile
Blog: http://dreamingthemainstream.tumblr.com/

It’s the late twenty-first century. Technological, environmental, and social catastrophes have changed the meanings of culture, nature, and landscape forever. But in what remains of the international urban scene, architecture still refuses to admit it hasn’t been modern since the early twentieth century. Enter Ickles, Etc.
Helming Los Angeles’s most misunderstood info-architecture practice is Henries Ickles, “the man without self-concept.” Time and again Ickles offers practical solutions to the most impenetrable theoretical entanglements of art, architecture, and science in the 2090s.
In the fifth book in the Critical Spatial Practice series, Mark von Schlegell’s fusion of theory and fiction puts the SF back in notions of “speculative aesthetics.” A collection of interconnected comical sci-fi stories written for various exhibitions, Ickles, Etc. explores the future of architectural practice in light of developments in climatology, quasicrystalography, hyper-contemporary art, time travel, and the EGONET. Occupying New Los Angeles, visiting the Danish Expansion, Nieuw Nieuw Amsterdam, and 1970s St. Louis, the practice finds selves embroiled in very spicy mustards indeed, redefining info- architecture and jettisoning the burdensome “self-concept” of the Western tradition in the process. Just don’t expect a visit to the ruins of Disney Hall!

Mark von Schlegell, High Wichita, Smashwords, 2013.

It's 2133. A priceless Vermeer is making its way back to Earth. Freelance Spacer Nick Wesley is charged with protecting the painting as it comes on board The Polly-Ann, the eccentrically re-fit cross system space-hauler of notorious Count Simwe Skaw. WIth Skaw poised to make a move, Nick secures the masterpiece with a so-called quantum lock. Meanwhile, back on Earth riots in Equator City are threatening stability of the C. Clarke Elevator. Even if he manages to outwit Skaw and his minions, Nick just might not make it back for Nora's Sunday Brunch on Penobscot Bay...

High Wichita is a key novelette in Mark von Schlegell's still un-winding science fiction future history, The System Series. A missing link between the novels Venusia (2005) and Mercury Station (2009), High Wichita is both a love-letter to pulp fiction and a pot-boiling caper story of its own.

Mark von Schlegell, Andro Wekua: Dreaming Dreaming JRP Ringier, 2012.                        

Drawing on genres such as fantasy, sci-fi and horror, Andro Wekua (born 1977) creates fantastical, macabre tableaux that explore personal, collective and fictional memory. This book includes works from the artist's 2012 exhibition at Gladstone Gallery--large colorful abstractions--as well as Wekua's signature collages and portraits.


Mark von Schlegell, Mercury Station, MIT Press, Semiotext(e), 2009.

Published by Semiotext(e) in 2005, Mark von Schlegell's debut novel Venusia was hailed in the sci-fi and literary worlds as a "breathtaking excursion" and "heady kaleidoscopic trip," establishing him as an important practitioner of vanguard science fiction. Mercury Station, the second book in Von Schlegell's System Series, continues the journey into a dystopian literary future.
It is 2150. Eddard J. Ryan was born in a laboratory off Luna City, an orphan raised by the Black Rose Army, a radical post-Earth Irish revolutionary movement. But his first bombing went wrong and he's been stuck in a borstal on Mercury for decades. System Space has collapsed and most of human civilization with it, but Eddie Ryan and his fellow prisoners continue to suffer the remote-control domination of the borstal and its condescending central authority, the qompURE MERKUR, programmed to treat them as adolescents.
Yet things could be worse. With little human supervision, the qompURE can be fooled. There's food and whiskey, and best of all, the girl of Eddie Ryan's dreams, his long-time friend and comrade Koré McAllister, is in the same prison. When his old boss, rich and eccentric chrononaut Count Reginald Skaw shows up in orbit with an entire interstation cruiser at his disposal, there's even the possibility of escape ... back in time.
Like Venusia, Mercury Station tells a compelling story, drawn through a labyrinth of future-history sci-fi, medieval hard fantasy, and cascading samplings of high and low culture. The book is a brilliant literary assault against the singularity of self and its imprisonment in Einsteinian spacetime.

"Myles's unique writings on art and culture manage to stay right on target while simultaneously misbehaving. Come to think of it, that's not so far from the spirit of Oscar Wilde summoned by her book's title." - Alan Gilbert

Although science fiction is known as a “literature of ideas,” many recent novels in the genre have been stuck in a rut of fun but safe geek technophilia or retro “boy’s adventure” stories. In a way, then, Mark von Schlegell’s Mercury Station feels both fresh and dated, because it ignores most of the current scene. Instead, the novel harks back to the heyday of such New Wave giants as J. G. Ballard, as well as such glorious eccentrics as Ursula K. Le Guin, John Calvin Batchelor, and Philip K. Dick, while shooting off stylistic fireworks reminiscent of Vladimir Nabokov.
In 2150, Earth is an ecological wasteland. Humankind has colonized the solar system, but survival is far from assured. Eddard J. Ryan is locked up in a prison on Mercury for terrorist activities. His jailer is a somewhat dysfunctional artificial intelligence, the “moral imbecile” MERKUR qompURE. The arrival of Count Reginald Simwe Skaw, “a collector by trade,” complicates Ryan’s existence: Ryan once helped Skaw research temporal “gaps, breaks, anomalies, evident whitewashes,” and other “evidence of chrononautic penetration”; now Skaw’s return suggests that he has confirmed the existence of actual chrononauts, or time travelers, and that revelation involves Ryan in a much larger game that concerns the nature of time itself.
Von Schlegell meanwhile spins a medieval tale that follows a mysterious chrononaut known as Peregrine. The author uses atmospheric images—for instance, tents that whisper “indecipherable secrets, there against shadow-muffled lanterns, wax-burned fingers”—and intricate wordplay to portray a distant time. Ultimately, Peregrine’s quest provides context for Ryan’s memory loss and for how Skaw came to possess evidence of chrononauts.
The many delights of Mercury Station include Ryan’s jousting with MERKUR qompURE during interrogations about the gaps in his memory, the inclusion of Ryan’s rather suspect résumé, and the author’s extended riffs on the nature of time travel; a description of chronautics as “time’s sex organs” is particularly good. Most important, von Schlegell offers an explicit rejection of Ray Bradbury’s “butterfly effect,” which asserts that tiny alterations to the past can lead to irreparable changes in the present. Instead, an avatar of MERKUR qompURE, noting anomalies in fourteenth-century Europe, theorizes that during certain periods “a time traveler might not disrupt the history at all, as so much of that history was so soon to be disrupted on a greater scale”—in this case, by the black death.
Early on, von Schlegell writes, “If Earth’s fate was sealed then its history was now a closed system.” Later, however, and despite a fair amount of tragedy, he suggests that as long as the past is alive, our future is, too: “The war for Earth is still winnable . . . a valuation of the past.” Whether that’s true in the real world, von Schlegell addresses the realities of a grim future with grace, humor, and intellectual honesty. - Jeff Vandermeer


Mark von Schlegell, Venusia, MIT Press, Semiotext(e), 2005.

Primitive literacy is redundant. Mere words are expelled. We inaugurate a world of pure presence. The mind, that intrudes itself between ourselves and those memories too terrible to know, must keep us moving beyond the grasp of their claw. To control the flow, it will be necessary that political order be imposed always temporarily. The state shall enjoy direct, creative access to the real.

It’s the end of the twenty-third century. Earth has violently self-destructed. Venusia, an experimental off-world colony, survives under the enlightened totalitarianism of the Princeps Crittendon regime. Using industrialized narcotics, holographic entertainment, and memory control, Crittendon has turned Venusia into a self-sustaining system of relative historical inertia. But when mild-mannered junk dealer Rogers Collectibles finds a book about early Venusian history, the colony—once fully immersed in the present—begins losing its grip on the real. With his Reality-V girlfriend Martha Dobbs, neuroscop operator Sylvia Yang, his midget friend Niftus Norrington, and a sentient plant, Rogers wages a war to alter the shape of spacetime, and in the process, revisions the whole human (and vegetable) condition.
Mark von Schlegell received a PhD in English and American literature from New York University. His criticism and fiction has appeared internationally in anthologies, artist books, magazines, and catalogs, from Brazil to Denmark. He has worked as an editor, archivist, cartographer, security guard, librarian, and plumber’s assistant, but currently divides his time between Los Angeles and Cologne, writing and teaching. Venusia is his first novel.
"A psychedelic sampling of high and low literature that reads like the best of the genre. . . . like a head-on collision between a David Lynch film and a Philip K. Dick novel in the 23rd century." - Mike Errico

"A heady, kaleidoscopic trip into a dystopic future as well as a backward look at the necessities of the past." - Jackie Cassada

"a mind-bending excursion through the plastic neuroscapes of quantum reality." , Cheryl Morgan

"Mark Von Schlegell would be my candidate for the writer/critic of our emerging future."
Norman M. Klein

Mark von Schlegell's Venusia, described as a "dystopian fantasy novel" is the work of a writer with obvious imagination. Almost every page is full of marvelous new mindscapes, previously unimagined and yet oh-so probable gadgets and political maneuvers.
The human world on Earth as we know it ended suddenly and now humanity lives on a part of Venus, the planet all human scientists insisted was inhabitable. People's lives appear to have continued as before -- they sleep, they eat, they exist, there is a version of television, some even try to work. Surrounding all this apparently innocuous routine is a shrouding fog of mystery.  
Many radical changes have taken place since Humanity attempted to make a home on Venus, but no one seems to have really noticed. The "flesh" of flowers is provided to everyone as food, part of "the Feed" ritual that takes place many times daily. Feeding on these flowers works to keep people in a state of oblivion where they do not remember their past and barely even know who they are or what their goals or dreams ever were. It is sad to read how it has become a part of even innocent children's lives "Already glutted, the children held hands in circles. Wide-eyed, they chanted their sound-churning songs," songs that remind us of "Ring a Ring O'Roses."  
The government in place, wants to "make Feed our religion… We must dedicate ourselves to its observance." Ironically, anyone abstaining or choosing to go without flowers is called an "addict." Attempts to "desist" from feeding on the flowers happen surprisingly often, so much so that it is a legally punishable offense to try and abstain from Feed. Even our main protagonist is setting out on this brave route when we are first introduced to him. He experiences strange hallucinations, a slow filling of the mind with the past.
We get different parts of this big story through the psyches of its major characters, a bookseller who due to a quirk in the system is mostly invisible to the intrusive state spy system, a beautiful high-level psychiatrist who still clings to a sense of right versus wrong, a midget government law enforcer with much to prove and a puzzling television anchor. The main characters are led into a self-chosen route that takes them away from their Feed centered, Venusian lives. We follow them through their decisions, indecisions, indiscretions and adventures as they begin to unravel a mystery bigger than any of them could ever have imagined, one upon which hinges the future and past of Humanity and the Universe. Through the Venusians' fascination with antiques, a lust fueled by a lack of their own concrete memories to give them a proper past, we follow along as Humanity's forgotten history is pieced together, individual characters' pasts threaded together, and eventually a satisfactory revolution against the evil powers-that-be attempted.
Due to the intertwining lives and emotional explorations of these individuals, it could have been confusing to witness the shifts in time and perception, history and future altogether, but the author manages to keep everything quite easy to follow. Some of the details, like a mind's ability to manipulate time and place, lend themselves to multiple readings due to their complex multiple layers but at no time is one lost as to what is happening or wondering why it is happening.
This book by Semiotext(e) Sci-Fi, one of the first in their series of Sci-Fi books under the Native Agents imprint, truly lives up to Semiontexte's aim to "speak to the present demise by assembling radical models for unlikely futures." Compellingly written, with brilliant details, any Science Fiction appreciator would fall in love with this book. - Sumita Sheh 


Mark von Schlegell, New Dystopia, Sternberg Press, 2011.
“To gain that which is worth having, it may be necessary to lose everything else.”—Bernadette Devlin

2011. A kulturnaut, a squid, a Shakespeare, a dog, an artist abstract, a chrononaut, a washerwoman, Tom Ripley and his bones all pass through New Dystopia. Their sped-up speculations lead to new models of deterritorialized life. Visionary and hallucinatory models. Through them, Mark von Schlegell “displays” some of the facets of the invisible catastrophe breaking up our world, which artists in particular are responding to.

Put together in the wings of the “Dystopia” exhibition at the CAPC musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux, acting as a resonance chamber, this illustrated novel raises the issue of possible futures in the form of a critical fiction, and involves the outposts of the novel to come. About New Dystopia, the city in which the novel’s protagonists live, the narrator states: “As an American … one only came to New Dystopia City to become an artist. That only there was it a way of life.” According to von Schlegell, we are living in that new metropolis. He states, “Dystopia is today.”
Dystopia has been called "utopia's wretched flipside," yet contemporary science-fiction author Mark von Schlegell has figured out how to see dystopia not as pure apocalypse, but as a tabula rasa - a context from which luck, hope and a possible utopian future can emerge. Von Schlegell's illustrated screenplay-as-science fiction novel is the jumping-off point for this exhibition catalog from the Musee d'Art Contemporain, Bordeaux. With many illustrations, reproductions and installation photos on the theme from several dozen important contemporary artists, including Wallace Berman, Isa Genzken, Franz West, Cosima von Bonin and the Pathetic Sympathy Seekers, among others

Petting the Singularity: An Interview with Mark von Schlegell      By Claire L. Evans

Mark von Schlegell is something of an oddity. Based in Cologne, Germany, this American author began his career more as a cultural critic than a science fiction scribe; he was a longtime mainstay of the contemporary arts scene in Los Angeles, and his diversion into speculative fiction—and a psychedelic, intellectual one at that—happened sort of sideways.
This is immediately obvious in his work, which is dogged and incredibly esoteric, a wry mix of stupid fantasy and devastating insight; although they're clearly influenced by the awe and slime of pulp paperback sci-fi novels, his are the kind of books that get published by MIT and the anarchist philosophy press Semiotext(e). His first novel, Venusia, throws the "dystopian future" paradigm out with the acid-bathwater, transcending spacetime and spacereason in a feverish gallop, telling the story of the totalitarian psycho-holographic regime of a future Venus. It's confusing, it collapses in on itself, it reaches across a broad length of fictive time, and it's narrated by a plant.
His second novel, Mercury Station, is due out in April 2009.
Claire L. Evans: Donna Haraway, in "A Cyborg Manifesto" [Simians, Cyborgs and Women], proposes that the novel is a nineteenth century form. Do you think the novel is still relevant? If not, what is the literary form of the future?
Mark von Schlegell: The novel is still relevant; it's the "Manifesto" that's old news. The novel was and is the great forge of enlightenment and it was invented, so I believe, not in the nineteenth but in the early seventeenth century, in Don Quixote, a book so long it's almost impossible for one mind to handle.
Yes, we're at a low point today. Not only in novel writing, but in all the arts except TV. This is no reason to run about and say a particular form is dead. There have been low culture points before. Late empire Rome in its full decadence, for instance, fascist Europe, Stalinist Russia. Guess what? The larger cultures sucked. When reason, peace, and economic and social justice are on the rise, so then is the good, published, available novel. There are signs of things getting better already.
Though there's a myth of a quickening, our lifespans are about to get incredibly long and perhaps multidimensional. The novel will have to expand if we hope to keep track and take control of what these lives might mean, into dimensions it hasn't even realized it's had. When space travel is the norm, long hours of flight will best be filled by long novels—longer, I think than we even imagine. Presumably, off Earth, one-third gravity will be the norm so we'll be able actually to hold enormous books rather easily. These extreme books of the future will be extreme-length narratives constituting alternate realities and economies of their own. You can already see this happening in popular literature.
CLE: Do you think a technological singularity is likely?
MvS: This idea of the technological singularity, so I believe, is the theoretical outcome of planned obsolescence in the computer industry. It's very impracticable. Moore's Law is no longer valid by most accounts, and the relation of capitalist technology to utopia is necessarily asymptotic. I don't see it happening.
Skippy as Asta
Male terriers played Asta in adaptations of The Thin Man, yet in Hammett's novel Asta is a female schnauzer.

My novelette High Wichita is narrated by a "pet singularity," ASTA. ASTA can do everything, ride a photon, write a book, make 3D holograph recordings, even love, especially love. It's very expensive, illegal (though impossible to be contained), and just at the most miraculous point, just where it saves the day, it's somehow insignificant, a sort of cute little dog. It's modeled on Asta, actually, from The Thin Man.
We don't need the singularity from our technology. We need privacy, good health, free clean energy, renewable resources, and a space elevator.
CLE: Are there writers working outside the realm of science fiction who you feel are on the same page as you?
MvS: For contemporary writing I like to read things where I'll learn tricks of the trade and taste current zeitgeist. You'll find me being inspired by fantasy stuff in the Marion Zimmer Bradley or George R.R. Martin direction, or by romance à la Diana Gabaldon or by more literary writers like Chris Kraus and Fanny and Susan Howe. The ficto-historian Norman M. Klein and I have been on pages together. After Larry David, perhaps my favorite living writer is the comic book writer Alan Moore. I also loved Pynchon's Against the Day, though maybe after all, it is science fiction. I have so much choice that I enjoy most things I read on the Internet. If the whole Internet was one giant webpage, written by Allperson, I would have to say Allperson is a pretty amazing writer from what I've seen.
CLE: Is Venus Los Angeles? Why is so much contemporary science fiction inherently about Los Angeles?
MvS: It remains a city able to inspire the sort of love-hate that helps writers make books. It's a field of paradox. Perhaps it's something like a muse. Venusia was mostly written there and is inseparable from the place in my imagination. But until such moment as the greenhouse effect finally runs away with the bag, L.A. is not Venus.
Starfleet Academy
Despite the backdrop of San Francisco, this scene of Starfleet Academy was filmed in Los Angeles at the Japanese Garden of the Donald C. Tillman Water Reclamation Plant.

"Los Angeles," like all city-worlds, is a function of certain particular common desires and fears. I would list apocalypse, freedom from history, glamor, trash, environmental masochism, futurism, sin, tacos, and incredible gardens. An artificial ecology, it's the well-known end of the line. Where the dream busts and shines anyway with insistent beauty. Of course there's a real beauty to Los Angeles, on those perfectly real fake days. Something bordering on the miraculous.
It's not only a site of riot and rip-off, but of inspiration and achievement in the arts. Because of the entertainment industry, it articulates the imaginations of different generations in interesting ways, cutting across class, race, gender, politics. For my generation of Americans it was the invariable background of every film, every show that babysat our minds in those formative years. The very stage of our dreams. Star Trek, for instance, a representative best possible future, was filmed [primarily] there and you can see it everyday, wherever you look. Still, I'd say a lot of SF is about other city-worlds as well: New York, San Francisco, the Pacific Northwest, Glasgow . . .
CLE: Does your work as a critic inform your work as a science fiction writer in any way, or vice-versa?
MvS: It helps science fiction to have a tinge of the journalistic about it. An argumentative spirit of common-sense debate and politics should be in SF if I'm going to like it. A critical voice can be welcome. Poe (the creator) first published SF, in fact, in newspapers as hoax journalism, and he was a savagely intense critic. I came of age as a writer just before the blog and when I came to L.A. there were a number of small-budget, good, lively local magazines that had real local and international effect, particularly in contemporary art. As a critic, I could offend people and do favors, tributes, write about almost anything I wanted to in the guise of anything else and be expected to argue about it in the bar at night with other writers. I even published my own newspaper. Having been that sort of critic taught me a lot about worlds. Nevertheless it didn't lead anywhere professionally. In fact, editors grew increasingly conservative, friends died, ideas were stolen, reused, disrespected, all sorts of depressing things occurred, and the magazines all folded. I discovered how rare an opportunity I had enjoyed only later.
These days I look at it like this. For me, the only way to get at the truth is to admit I'm lying from the beginning. So if you ask me for criticism, expect a story. Science fiction helps my criticism. I often mix it in directly now. I found it adds humor, imagination, makes what is often a terrible chore done for money suddenly fun to do. Of course, this means my criticism is pretty "out there," and appears in publications of the sort rarely available to U.S. readers. But wherever they're interested in cultural criticism by trees, collaborations by time-traveling Stalinist collectives battling time-traveling fascists, fake diaries of schizophrenic eighteenth-century botanists, I'm the go-to guy.
CLE: So what's the trajectory been like between Venusia and your new novel, Mercury Station? Are they related?
MvS: Mercury Station is the next novel in the "System Series." It occurs in the same alternate future history as Venusia. Earth has self-destructed and various human settlements in the Solar System must cope with the loss to survive. However, Mercury Station takes place on another settlement, roughly a century earlier than Venusia, and there's no reference to the Melton colony in the new book. It's a self-contained time-travel adventure, half science fiction and half medieval fantasy.
CLE: I'm curious about the "hard" medieval fantasy aspect of your new book. Is this something you've been interested in?
MvS: Hard fantasy is a growing term, defining fantasy books whose worlds work with a sustained appearance of conceptual logic and physical laws, even with respect to their magic. They often "go medieval" à la Tarantino. Hard medieval fantasy I suppose would involve similar adult rigor as HF [hard fantasy] but try to place the story in the actual medieval culture hard fantasy usually presents as an alternate reality or alien world. HMF [hard medieval fantasy] could also define actual middle-ages fantasy, the pure delicious tales of Marie de France, for instance. These kind of generic definitions serve a great purpose in the organizing of reading (for the fan, the critic, and the publicist) but I don't really think of these terms when trying to write science fiction. What I love about science fiction is that it alone can contain every genre, every book ever written. It's a set of all sets that contain themselves, or something like that.

Fiction’s step away from the real world occasions the step towards an always immanent reconciliation, forming by its articulation a new Space, a Space on the verge of becoming.
(Mark von Schlegell. Realometer: American Romance)

Experimentation and risk were increasingly frowned upon by the American literary establishment in the Bush years. Mark von Schlegell invented his peculiar brand of ficto-criticism and philosophical pulp fiction by publishing almost exclusively in the international art world, putting its global commitment to avant-garde experiment, futurist visions and amateur left-wing agitation to the service of radical speculative fiction. In the suite at Hotel Marienbad Mark von Schlegell will read from his two latest publications, the novel Mercury Station and the critical essay Realometer: American Romance. The reading is followed by a rare screening of the 30 minute “upside-down documentary“ My Dinner With Merlin, co-produced with artists and writers in Los Angeles 2005.


Hito Steyerl - Twisting the politics of representation around the representation of politics, these essays uncover a rich trove of information in the formal shifts and aberrant distortions of accelerated capitalism, of the art system as a vast mine of labor extraction and passionate commitment

Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, Sternberg Press, 2012.    download (pdf)

In Hito Steyerl’s writing we begin to see how, even if the hopes and desires for coherent collective political projects have been displaced onto images and screens, it is precisely here that we must look frankly at the technology that seals them in. The Wretched of the Screen collects a number of Steyerl’s landmark essays from recent years in which she has steadily developed her very own politics of the image.
Twisting the politics of representation around the representation of politics, these essays uncover a rich trove of information in the formal shifts and aberrant distortions of accelerated capitalism, of the art system as a vast mine of labor extraction and passionate commitment, of occupation and internship, of structural and literal violence, enchantment and fun, of hysterical, uncontrollable flight through the wreckage of postcolonial and modernist discourses and their unanticipated openings.

With an introduction by Franco “Bifo” Berardi
Edited by Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle

Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Introduction
In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective
In Defense of the Poor Image
A Thing Like You and Me
Is a Museum a Factory?
The Articulation of Protest
Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy
Art as Occupation: Claims for an Autonomy of Life
Freedom from Everything: Freelancers and Mercenaries
Missing People: Entanglement, Superposition, and Exhumation as Sites of Indeterminacy
The Spam of the Earth: Withdrawal from Representation
Cut! Reproduction and Recombination

One of the most striking features of the recent wave of global protests, from Athens to Occupy, Tahrir Square to Taksim, has been the profusion of images and slogans they have generated, a creative ferment that has fired radical imaginations in one country after another. [1] Yet the successes that many of these movements have achieved in the realm of discourse—the concept of ‘the 99 per cent’, for example, is now common currency—for the moment far outstrip any actual political gains. There are several possible explanations for this disparity: the sheer weight of elite power and privilege, the absence of fully worked-out programmes for radical change, combinations of co-optation and repression. But is it possible that the gap between the two forms of representation—political on the one hand, cultural on the other—is a constitutive feature of contemporary reality? And that the explosion of communication enabled by new technologies and social media, as well as bringing ever more people onto the political stage, is simultaneously a mechanism for the exclusion of millions of others? According to the art critic and film-maker Hito Steyerl, the link between political and cultural representation, never straightforward, has become profoundly unstable in the image-saturated neoliberal era; we live in ‘an age of unrepresentable people and an overpopulation of images’, in which ‘a growing number of unmoored and floating images corresponds to a growing number of disenfranchised, invisible or even disappeared or missing people’ - Tony Wood

Hito Steyerl: The language of things

Memorials, Along With Some Mischief: Hito Steyerl Has New York Solo Debut at e-flux


Laura Ellen Joyce considers the ongoing brutality of the femicides in Ciudad Juarez and the institutional misogyny of the Catholic Church. She finds the blue-glowing, b-movie heart of Plath’s and Ballard’s atrocity exhibitions and the parapornography of reliquaries

Laura Ellen Joyce: The Luminol Reels

Laura Ellen Joyce, The Luminol Reels, Calamari Press, 2014.

excerpt & interview in The Collagist

When human blood reacts with luminol, it lights up a ghostly blue. This reaction, most commonly used to detect whether violence has taken place at suspected crime scenes, combines the human and the chemical, it invokes violence and disposability but also transformation. THE LUMINOL REELS takes its imagery from pornography, Catholicism, and crime scene investigation to interrogate the violence done to women. It considers the ongoing brutality of the femicides in Ciudad Juarez and the institutional misogyny of the Catholic Church. Violence is intrinsically linked to location, and the shrines, quinceañera parties, holy communions, and seances of this book are all stained luminescent blue.

«A fierce and deadly little fantasia that bites its way deep into your brain.»—Brian Evenson

«"We were plump and pretty, our skin glowed like Chinese lanterns and he wanted our laughter for himself": In THE LUMINOL REELS, Laura Ellen Joyce finds the blue-glowing, b-movie heart of Plath’s and Ballard’s atrocity exhibitions and the parapornography of reliquaries. Joyce may write: "This one is for the sickos," but this is a book for readers who are into David Lynch, Aase Berg, Bluebeard (any version), hagiography; "splatter gurlesque" and media theory. In other words: people who want their reading to feel like drinking "luminol margaritas.".»
Johannes Göransson

To say I consumed Laura Ellen Joyce's The Luminol Reels quickly is to suggest I took it all in willingly and with abandon. But I prickled and bruised while I read. And yet, despite the cringe-worthy, ultra-violent imagery, I couldn't keep the reel from slowing or stopping.
The Luminol Reels is a small artifact, about 100 pages choked into a 6" x 4" frame, with sinister photo collages as section dividers and an ever-present film reel frame along the top and bottom of the pages. I read quickly, as if the only way to escape was to get to the end. This novella pretends to be a compact and obvious thing, not only in size, but also in scene description. The work revolves around blunt images: blood, fluids, gouging, slashing, sores, holes, and damaged flesh and bone that could have spilled out of a B movie. But it's not just flashes of cool and gross shit, even though I said aloud to no one more than once: "This is some really cool shit. And gross. This is some really cool and gross shit." More than just a work of shock, it's a horrifying and too true account of the unstoppable violence against women and the body parts and viscera that pile up. And pile up. And pile up.
The Luminol Reels consists of small prose pieces, evidentiary splatters of rape, murder, mutilation, and physical assaults. We've all seen luminol used in every crime show around. Someone sprays something, the lights go black, and bright blue goo traces the movement and spoiling of every victim. It's a revelation — a step towards solving the scene, but one of repulsion and viciousness. It's a piece of data used to trace a crime and humanity's sickness.
Joyce revels in this fluid's abjection, in this phantasmic relic. Some scenes are specific to the multiple and brutal homicides of women in Ciudad Juárez, while others find their setting upon the stage of Catholic ritual and dogma. Several moments utilize an everywhere-at-once space with an anonymous character; as readers we understand there is no assured safety, not in setting or identity. However, the most difficult passages utilize second person narration, tying us directly into the work. We are forced to recognize (or even to permit) the danger undoing us and we are given commands and rules, which seem set up to fail us. This isn't just a record of assaults; it casts them out at the reader without mercy. I imagine for some the continual barrage of violence will stir up a readerly distance. One might say the images don't always teeter nicely between the horror that is a reality and the absurdity of pulp horror imagery. I agree that some pieces provide more convolutions than others, but I don't think the point of the read is to be always in the moment of negotiating institutional misogyny, pornography, and femicide, with some level of outsider distance. Rather, we are to sit (wriggle and panic) and take it. This novella is a dangerous exhibit of bodies taking it, a quality that's spelled out for us in Joyce's careful choice of words and in the blood, gore, and unapologetic imagery.
In order to keep the tension in a filthy workshop such as this, Joyce's prose is deceptively easy. The clean starts of the sentences seem ordinary. One sentence begins, "Threads of red hair," and another starts, "She tanned her small breasts." But each, like so many others, fall into an action or image that snags this steady line back into a complication: "Threads of red hair loop you shut," or, "She tanned her small breasts, ironed flat, like all of ours, from birth." We begin in one world: "You can lie on their soft, brown pelts," and end in another: "and make generic love." Other lines do not allow that safe admission: "There is time that is blank. You are on her and you are guilty." But these lines always build up to a contorted image, a knot of violations: "She slammed outwards, y-shaped, our mermaid openings began to empty of scales." In the end, what we can find of hope is only caught up in a strange type of comfort—one that builds and reinforces a system of defeated relief and ghastly transformation. The language assures us that despite the steady piles of flesh and loss, we will never know what we are becoming.
As readers we are comfortable in monitoring or steadying our own intake of text. We watch it on our time. We carry our e-texts here and there. We set things down to do something else. We tend to say a book that we can't stop reading is a good book, one that's lured us in. We are engaged. I'm not sure if I was lured in to The Luminol Reels. I had no desire to root there. And I didn't find myself wondering what would happen next or what mystery would be revealed, because there was no mystery; the female body made messy and chunked always happened next. I read this text quickly and did not put it down, because not reading was a lie and because pausing to process and accept this reality splashed on and gouged into these pages is a luxury. That is, only the privileged have the time and energy to reflect. This read is a gutting, but it's also a testament—a necessary one. - Natanya Ann Pulley

You can afford to read Laura Ellen Joyce’s The Luminol Reels, which runs a slender ninety-seven pages, multiple times. Plan on doing so. This novella cum how-to-manual — replete with pronouns demanding considerable detective work to identify the referent; page-length sections of vexing connectivity and often dim internal legibility; and objects with some function in the world Joyce constructs but which could arguably use a clarificatory glossary entry — acknowledges its difficulty: a section labeled “Reading” notes, “The first time will be grueling. You will be in handstand position, paper fed roughly down your gullet until you are blue. If you lose height, poise, or grace repeat the task.”
A passable summation seems to be that The Luminol Reels adumbrates a dystopia in which women’s bodies and interiors are violenced in the same ways they are outside Joyce’s novel — including rape, murder, compromised reproductive freedom, coerced display — and in which the manifestations of these brutalities are presented at and beyond the semblance of Hollywood horror script: there is a factory where young girls are drained of blood and hung on hooks to cure, after which they will be cannibalized; there are pageants of, it seems, dead bodies. Simultaneously the work forms an instruction manual for how the protagonist might be able to journey to “bring the girls back to life and make their bodies whole.” This protagonist appears to be a mother whose daughter has been stolen from her, and is addressed throughout as “You.”
The novella employs the conceit of luminol, a forensic substance used to detect blood at crime scenes, and through this conceit it investigates violence against women. While this violence is recognizable in the fiction generally, the novella’s specific investigations of misogyny and violence within the Catholic Church and in Ciudad Juarez demands that the reader bring their own background knowledge. These locations of violence are gestured at throughout The Luminol Reels — the novella’s factory evokes the maquiladoras in which many girls and women come to Ciudad Juarez to work, and the recurring mention of saints and martyrs invoke the Church, as do section titles such as “Black Mass.” But Joyce chooses not to write journalism, which could provide for the reader an expository informing or analysis of what is occurring in these locations. As far as insight to these specific sites of misogyny goes, for a reader to take from The Luminol Reels more than the very apprehension that it concerns itself with these sites via allusion and allegory, the reader will need to have (or acquire) knowledge of these sites from a source other than Joyce’s novella.
The novella’s structure, too, can be opaque, and is admirably inventive. It’s chapters — titled “Agonies,” “Martyrs,” “Murderers,” “Porno,” “Rituals,” “Bodies,” “Virgins,” “Sacrificial Laws,” “Saints,” “Luminol,” and “The Dead Return” — are broken into sections. Some of these sections are described as reels. One such section, titled “Holy Water,” is subtitled, “This reel should be handled with care. Once dried out it has no further effect.” Other sections refer to objects within the world of The Luminol Reels. For example, “Stars” refers to some psychotrope, and is subtitled “When you eat the stars there will be a psychosis,” with further instruction that “Stars are to be used with the following reels: Big Dipper, Oracle.” It is as if the sections, while constituting a narrative and manual for how to rescue the protagonist’s daughter and resurrect the dead girls, simultaneously constitute post-its tacked onto objects in the toolkit for this journey.
Joyce’s deployment of reels helps construct, and reflects, the novel’s cinematic mode of presentation. The contents of the reel are sometimes displayed to the reader for viewing, as in “This one comes next. A close-up of her clean dollflesh. It is sewn up but there is a special effect — it blazes. . . . Cut back to her treacly hair scraped back. The braids you twisted in have been displaced. Blood on her lips.” For other reels, though, only a summary of the reel’s content is provided, as in, “This is imported footage of a multiple cadaver show”; alternatively, only instructions for the reel’s use is provided, as in “This reel must be played only at dawn and twilight. It may accompany the deaths of children; vigils and funerals if there has been no sexual contact (forced or natural). Or at any séance where two or more gods are invoked. It may never be used pornographically or for vaginal pleasure.”
This refusal to display the contents of many of the reels seems to be motivated in part by a concern that the novella’s gruesome details not blur, in some way, into entertainment, and that readers not take their gaze for granted. Announcing that “This is imported footage of a multiple cadaver show,” while withholding the actual footage, renders the reader self-conscious of having watched a presentation of the footage displayed in other sections.
Some sections, though, seem to label neither a reel nor a material object. The section “Fur,” for instance, begins, “This is the season for hunting. There are foxes, squirrels, deer and baby beers.” On one reading, “Fur” might be the name, within the world of The Luminol Reels, for a season of the year. (Perhaps replacing “Summer.”) In an alternate reading, it could simply be the case that this section is titled in the same manner as the section of a traditional work of fiction — i.e., thematically in some way — and this section’s title happens to be “Fur.”
This ambiguity has divergent implications for the interpretation — and experience — of reading The Luminol Reels. Consider that the section “Factory” is subtitled, “This reel is educational and must be broadcast during the entirety of Fur.” If we read “Fur” as a season in the world of The Luminol Reels (i.e., the first reading in the paragraph above), then the interaction of the sections “Factory” and “Fur” seems simple enough: the novella’s protagonist — whose identity the reader is encouraged to try on through Joyce’s use of “you,” producing an effect that is constructive insofar as it assumes a female role for the many readers who are male, but, if abstracted analytically from its gendered context, simply produces the fairly well-worn effect that this archetypal form of second-person narration is known to produce — must play the Factory reel during the season of Fur, on her journey to rescue the girls.
If, though, we read “Fur” as simply the title of a section in the novella The Luminol Reels, then it is as though readers simultaneously embody the “you” — the mother — presented in the novella, and also separately embody themselves, the readers. This multiplicity results from the facts that the Factory reel is presented to the mother (and the reader-as-mother), but the instructions for this reel apply, in at least one way, to the reader considered simply as the reader. (This reader-as-reader address results because the instruction that Factory “must be broadcast during the entirety of Fur” can be read as instruction to the reader to read the section [not reel] “Factory” alongside the section [not during the season of] “Fur” [and, in all likelihood, based on this reviewer’s experience, then wrack their brain wondering what the purpose or effect of reading these two sections alongside should be or, even, is.])
Insofar as the section “Fur” is engaged with in this latter manner, a destabilization of identity is achieved: the reader is simultaneously the mother within The Luminol Reels and the reader reading about this mother. This out-of-body effect — this encouraged alienation from one’s body — may be experienced and regarded in any of a number of ways within a novella so focused on violenced bodies. And through this narratorial construction Joyce again makes the reader self-conscious of their gaze.
It should be clear by now that The Luminol Reels is both difficult and smart. It is also brutal. While most readers will share with this reviewer the sense that they failed to grasp so much of the novella, it should nevertheless succeed as a whip to attention, an invitation to learn more about various crime scenes of misogyny, and an expression of hope for resistance. - Luke Taylor

 Today’s fun definition, brought to you by Wikipedia: “Luminol (C8H7N3O2) is a versatile chemical that exhibits chemiluminescence, with a striking blue glow, when mixed with an appropriate oxidizing agent…Luminol is used by forensic investigators to detect trace amounts of blood left at crime scenes, as it reacts with iron found in hemoglobin.” You’re welcome.
            What this book is is—and it’s so small, physically, you’ll be kicked several inches back to feel it—this incredibly dense, fragmentary list of atrocities or harms, basically, each of which is small (<300 a="" and="" are="" blunt="" describing="" directness.="" disquieting="" feature="" feeding="" from="" girl="" lengths="" martyrs.="" moving="" murderers="" obotomy="" of="" on="" p="" pictures.="" porno="" ranging="" rituals="" saints="" scenes="" sections="" seemingly="" ten="" texts="" the="" there="" titled="" titles="" to="" various="" virgins="" words="">
            But there’s something happening here that’s more than just a gross-out or brutalizing: Laura Ellen Joyce is trying to get the reader somewhere: we start at “Mothering,” in which the blood and ruptures of flesh are already (of course) present and we end on “Revelation,” which is as follows:
Oxidation of luminol is attended by a striking emission of blue-green light. An alkaline solution of the compound is allowed to reac with a muxture of hydrogen peroxide and potassium ferricyanide. The dianion (5) is oxidized to the triplet excited state (two unpaired electrons of like spin) (6) of the amino phthalate ion (Scheme 2). This slowly undergoes intersystem crossing to the singlet excited state (two unpaired electrons of opposite spin) (7), which decays to the ground state ion (8) with the emission of one quantum of light (a photon) per molecule.
            Is it already obvious that the back of the book’s got an image of the Shroud of Turin? Or that the first-person-plural that feels weirdly exclusive at book’s start by the thing’s end feels radically, harrowingly inclusive? That the book reads like an assortment of the atrocities we visit on each other and that, because of the causelessness of the book—these things just happen, a priori, idiopathically, right from the book’s first entry—you’re left at book’s end suffering a raft of questions as applicable to your extra-book existence as they are to the text you’re just leaving?
            This should all be obvious. - Weston Cutter

Luminol is the stuff cops use at crime scenes to discover remnants of spilled blood. In that spirit, The Luminol Reels provides an index of the long array of mankind’s atrocities, particularly those in the form of violence against women.
The book is divided up into the ten types of traumas it relates, a Dante-like relation of the rings of pain: Agonies, Martyrs, Murderers, Porno, Rituals, Bodies, Virgins, Sacrificial Laws, Saints, and, finally, Luminol. Each section contains a handful of one- or two-page texts, somewhat like specimen slides, describing sick little short films that each provides an eye into a hellish scene or mind. “Mass Burial,” for instance, reads: 
The smell is rotten in the desert. Putrefaction is scrambled in the heat. Some of the girls lie with their faces missing, brains leaking from the dead zone, but with their right arms or feet still covered in creamy flesh.
Relief can be gained by visiting the mass grave. Run your fingers through their hair and breathe in their sharp violent scents. Lie on top of them, rolling your heavy body over theirs, catching blue-black hair in your teeth and tasting their sweet perspiration where it collects underneath the fester and damp of their corpses.
There is little hope here, and even less relenting. Joyce’s hand is as unflinching in its force as any of the deathly actions rendered to the bodies on any page, almost like an alarm light throwing its glow over room after room, or stations in an exhibit of twisted murder scenes. Each leg is mercifully brief, landing its blow and moving into the next.
Like its namesake, The Luminol Reels coats the floor of every surface it presents with a stain that won’t be easily forgotten. - Blake Butler

I read a lot of fiction that sometimes goes by the unhelpful label of transgressive writing, a term initially coined by Bookworm’s Michael Silverblatt back in 1993 to describe the work of people like Kathy Acker, Mary Gaitskill, Bret Easton Ellis, and of course Dennis Cooper. These writers portrayed in sticky, stinky, and to my mind magnificent detail, scenes of brutal and often sexualized horror; for Silverblatt it was as if the Marquis de Sade had stopped by an American orgy and ended up choreographing the bloody thing.
Transgressive writing, like every other genre, pigeonholes the work it describes and limits its potential audience, but I don’t blame Silverblatt for coming up with it: part of a critic’s work is to file the inconvenient burrs off a piece of writing, make it agree to a greater or lesser extent with other writers, and fit it into a genre that a reader can readily understand. I get that. And it’s not bad as genres go: better than the fatuous “new sincerity” but maybe not as good as “alt-lit,” whose inadvertent evocation of .alt in its description of a bunch of young writers who can’t remember dial-up has always tickled me.
Plus, in the basic sense of constituting an offence against certain laws, spoken and unspoken, there is something transgressive about this writing. A hot kid taking a dump into his adult lover’s hand in Cooper’s Closer; a girl lusting after her father in Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School; Patrick Bateman’s laudatory appraisals of Genesis and Huey Lewis and the News in Ellis’ American Psycho: these works pit themselves against everything the reader thinks is right and true, forcing them to reflect on their unconscious adoption of social codes and demanding the reevaluation of normative assumptions about art and sex and the Oedipal family.
But one of the things about transgression is that the boundaries keep moving about. This was Bataille’s lovely maze-like logic: once whatever it is that is transgressive is codified and drawn into the realm of the understood as transgression, it ceases to be truly transgressive. Transgression is in the crossing-over, not in the being-beyond, and for Bataille, fellow traveler of a number of clandestine societies, it’s often better done in secret. Similarly, as soon as it is defined as such, transgressive writing loses its original punk frisson and becomes bounded by its own codes and exceptions; like punk rock, it becomes accepted and normalized.
So the thinking goes. Yet reading through Laura Ellen Joyce’s The Luminol Reels on the Tube recently, it was immediately apparent to me that although transgressive writing may be dead as a genre (hey, it’s as easily murdered by a critic as it is conceived by one), writing such as hers that errs on the side of transgression still does vital work. Her book throws into razor-sharp relief the intricate lattice of social and sexual codes that ensnares consciousness, which covertly determines the way that we behave, and into which we have been interpellated as subjects.
Put it this way – surrounded by the frowning, conservatively-dressed men and women of London, which chapter of Joyce’s work should I crack open: “Fingerlube” or “Child Killer”? In fact, I settle for a section called “Coat Hanger,” (subtitled “This may be used when a girl gives false urine for her daily sample”) and I immediately imagine the mother of a cute baby across the way eying me with suspicion. Then I flip to a section called “Masturbation” (“Following fasting, you may masturbate for two hours continuously…”) and as I do I think I see a laborer to my left raise a defensive eyebrow. One of my students sits down in the seat beside me and I quickly stash the book in my bag: trigger warning (TW)The Luminol Reels contains passages like:
Take off your skin to the elbow to begin this reel
Rough hacking is effective, but for quicker results use domestic flesh stripper. Once the muscle plate is revealed, burn your number into it. Once you have been branded, take the flesh heap (if there is any remaining) and throw it down the kitchen chute.
It’s like that scene in Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods when the film’s teenage protagonists suddenly realize they’ve been trapped by a giant invisible net. One of the kids jumps his motorcycle across this gaping chasm and just when you think he’s going to make it, PAF! he hits the net. Sparks fly and pulsating orange threads spread out from the point of impact, illuminating an immense web, apparently without beginning or end. So reading The Luminol Reels in public is a bit like that: PAF! the social web that surrounds you and conditions your behavior is suddenly, oppressively apparent. Except here you realize that in some ways you’re the source of that web; you’ve been complicit in its construction.
Not to say that this is the only thing Joyce’s beguiling little handbook of transgression has going for it – far from it. In fact, I’ll admit to being intimidated by the sheer sprawling menace of the work, and the way it willfully eludes any straightforward summary. Perhaps it will suffice to note that most of it seems to imply the notion of ritual – ritual mutilation, ritualistic horror presided over by initiates of a shadowy religious order – and that the eponymous luminol is a chemical sometimes used in crime scene investigation, glowing blue when it reacts with iron in the blood. So the brief, disturbing episodes that make up the work are framed from the outset as a mere trace of the horror that happened before the reader chanced upon the scene.
What exactly a “luminol reel” is changes throughout the work, but it sometimes denotes celluloid film stock upon which the details of a crime have maybe been recorded. Joyce’s sequence of cinematic chapters are presented as a mute, flickering montage that Blake Butler likens to “an alarm light throwing its glow over room after room, or stations in an exhibit of twisted murder scenes.”
In fact, The Luminol Reels closest contemporary is Butler’s 2009 paean to despair, Scorch Atlas, whose disconnected scenes of lathed horror set in some godforsaken elsewhere recall the more buoyant moments of Joyce’s work. There as here there is no love or joy or pity, and only an overriding sense of devastation joins the parts together. All that appears to proliferate is grief and putrescence. Spores, too. Indeed, the “off-green spores that blister into faint rings” in Atlanta-born Butler’s book seem to have been carried on a warm southern wind across the sea to Joyce’s native England, where they’ve become her “cardiac spores,” mysterious substances that when ingested bring on quasi-religious visions of luminol.
The spores that stick to The Luminol Reels could also have been blown in from Joyce’s 2012 debut, The Museum of Atheism, a Lynchian detective novel set in small town America, which is teeming with toadstools. At the top of each of the book’s chapters, Joyce names and describes varieties of fungus called things like Slime Cap, Destroying Angel, Disco Cup, Midnight Bolette; the inclusion of fungi invariably portending some dead matter that the reader unearths beneath. This is more than just a clever ploy that sets an unsettling tone, it also hints at Joyce’s take on writing in general, and encourages us to consider the parallels between the written text and the mushrooms it describes.
This is perhaps Joyce’s improvisation upon the deconstructionist adage that all writing is parasitical: for her, fiction writing may instead be fungal, nourished by the moldering work of dead and decaying authors, springing up threadlike and dangerous in the dark. Although both this and the deconstructionist procedure see reading and writing as a kind of vitalist ecosystem, Joyce’s work seems to linger longer upon the moment of decomposition – the transgressive moment that dawdles at the boundary between death and life. The opening of The Museum of Atheism, for instance, details the progressive disintegration of a rotting corpse, complete the “violet scum [that] bubbled out and formed a hard shimmering caul like blown glass.” With The Luminol Reels, Joyce once again pens a door to the depths that, creaking open, eerily lights a world of abject horror. To read it is to have its seeds take root in you. - Diarmuid Hester

The Luminol Reels developed over the course of around three years. It began as part of my doctoral research, and then took on a shape of its own. Derek White’s artwork brought the book into being, and created a visual dimension to the work. The Femicides of Ciudad Juarez are the subject of this book, but I couldn’t represent those horrors directly so I looked for other ways to approach the material. I have been influenced by the following artworks, disasters, crimes, and myths (in no particular order):
Greek tragedy is perfect. There is an excess of emotion, hysteria, blood lust. But amongst this chaos there is control: Greek tragedy follows a carefully observed set of literary conventions, and, ultimately, these plays were created as a form of worship, as religious observance. This controlled excess is something that The Luminol Reels attempts to emulate. The tragedies that most inspired this book are Euripides’ Medea and Sophocles’ Electra, in both cases for the vengeful female protagonists. Related interests include: The Oresteia; The Bacchae; Antigone; The Virgin Suicides and tragic choruses.
Catholicism obviously, but especially rosaries and novenas: The exquisite sadism of rosary meditations have always interested me. The names of the prayer cycles are so rich and resonant: sorrowful, glorious, joyous, and luminous mysteries — full of agonies, scourging, and miracles to meditate upon. As a child I collected rosary beads: plastic, glow-in-the-dark, crystal, and kept them in secret places, to ward off danger. The structure of the rosary is a direct influence on the layout and tone of The Luminol Reels. Related interests include the game Bloody Mary shrines of any kind; crucifixion images; Catholic memorabilia; and gold robes, altar cloths, and tabernacle covers. All of these find their way into the text in one way or another.
Cunt Space is a corruption of Rem Koolhaas’s essay “Junk Space”. “Junk Space” is a major influence on the topography of The Luminol Reels — the tone of space as psychosis, art as horror, is something that came through from my reading of “Junk Space.” Cunt Space takes Koolhaas’s thesis and views it through the filter of the female body. The landscape of The Luminol Reels is cunt space, as articulated by Elfride Jelinek on Josef Fritzl, whose subterranean prison which was created for the abuse of his children. Jelinek states that Fritzl: 
Constructed an idyll which he has artlessly built in the form of a female body, with its many niches and passages, where you can’t look in at everything from everywhere, it is not art to use something as the female body, even if you don’t have one, there are blow-up sex dolls, hollowed out apples, animals, etc., but it is an art to build spaces as a woman might, and decorate them with pretty patterns, a temple, only built for the lust of the father.
Related interests include: Extimacy “Soft as Snow (But Warm Inside),” by My Bloody Valentine; Carolee Schneemann’s Interior Scroll.
Excessive Female Voice is important to The Luminol Reels. This is perhaps most easily represented through vocal expression, and many of my favourite female artists are those who use their voices in unpretty, unharmonious ways. “Portrait of Linda in Three Colours, All Black” is one of the best examples of this. On this record by Sonny and Linda Sharrock, Linda begins singing melodically and ends the track by screaming in an excessive, but precisely controlled way. Tanya Tagaq’s vocalization is rooted in Inuit throat singing and is absolutely electrifying. Pharmakon has live sets of exactly 20 minutes. Her screams are intensified and looped and yet she has absolute control over her sound and her physicality. Related interests include Diamanda Galas; PJ Harvey; Hole; Riot Grrrl.
Found or Repurposed Material makes its way into the book. I’ve taken material from scientific journals, religious pamphlets, etc. The artwork includes found photographs that have been treated and repurposed. Examples of repurposed, collaged, remade, and found material that I have loved include Sara Tuss Efrik’s Persona Peep Show, Tytti Heikennen’s Fatty XLThe Atrocity Exhibitionfound footage cinema. - Laura Ellen Joyce

Saints by Laura Ellen Joyce {Click here for PDF version}

Bone Saint
There is nothing left of her. She sways in the wind. Her platform is a meatheap—the slough and offcut of her flagellations lay in thick layers on the wood.
The shucking knife is in her waistband. She feels every scrape of it against her bare belly. A neon thrill goes through her as metal licks flesh.
She raises her eyes to the virgin and blue light rainsdown. She is luminol pretty. Her scabs become a lace of glitter. The untouched pattycake, piped in yellow roses for her birthday, melts in the sun and she smiles.

Metal Saint

The first time you watch this reel, do it with a blindfold.
Slowly lift the silk from your eyes and let the sharpness come into focus. Unless you want an iron shock—in that case pin open your eyes and let it flood you.
There are one hundred precious metals in this reel. They have been slaughter mined.

Flash Saint

This reel has been sealed in plastic and buried in the blue sand. When you open it, do it with tact—there is a gelignite sanction internally. Touch it once and the saint will appear, or you may touch it a hundred times and nothing happens except the flesh burns from your fingers.
The explosives are tiny crystals of light—afterbirth, coeliac and winedark.
Once you release the saint from this reel he will be thick upon you. He will mist you in ghoul smoke. He will suck.
If you see his face, you are ended. It is the face of the bad man.

Jewel Saint

If you use the oven terminally, you become a jewel saint.
This reel is a compilation of all the gassings. The oven is wiped clean, silver. Stop motion poisons leak from it.
If you look deep into the mouth of the oven, you can see death, the apocalypse, violence.
You can be in the metal tunnel.
Throw the following items into the flames: water, glitter, foil, food.
The flames will change colour and sputter.
Blow out the flames on your sweet sixteen and lie down.