Robert Herbert McClean - The collection consists of three interconnected sequences of 23 numbered prose-like poems, arranged as a non-linear manual of observations and ideas. They are fast-paced and explosive, honest and fearless, intimate and unashamed


Robert Herbert McClean, Pangs!, Aldgate Press, 2015.

Pangs! is the debut poetry collection from Irish experimental writer and audio-visual artist Robert Herbert McClean.
The collection consists of three interconnected sequences of 23 numbered prose-like poems, arranged as a non-linear manual of observations and ideas. They are fast-paced and explosive, honest and fearless, intimate and unashamed.
McClean’s writing establishes new possibilities for recording and reacting to the realities of modern life. Poems about love, sex, violence and religion exist in a landscape of CCTV, Skype, YouTube, torrents and hard drives, operating via the propulsion of a cohesive yet fragmentary narrative, set to a soundtrack of synth pop and thrash metal. The recent history of Northern Ireland is a continual presence, impossible to ignore.
It is a poetry book for the digital age, reflecting our modern culture of obsessive notation and text-based communication; words and sentences crossed out yet visible remind us of the indelible digital traces we leave behind.
Pangs! introduces a striking and distinctive new voice, which combines a poetic and lyrical sensibility with a radical and rebellious energy. It is ‘emotionally kaleidoscopic’, ‘a panicked e-dreamscape’, striving to ‘dismiss the poetic’ in a satirical dissolution of the traditional lyric ‘I’ and its associated conventions.

‘As exciting, disturbing and joyful as anything I’ve read for ages. In retrospect it’s as if I sensed this book being darkly prepared, the result of some kind of alchemical process, containing the necessary intensity of a cast charm or secret rite: the product is unlabelled and highly potent. These uniquely-voiced, dynamic and sometimes bewildering poems sift the strewn wreckage of a tradition and history that is both hunted for and resisted, in a strategy boldly at odds with the automatic obliqueness of much poetry with violence and confusion in its origins. Here, a mysteriously driven forensics operates in the wake of an unexplained blast, in a landscape where the dust never settles. Organised like an exploded view at the instant of detonation, McClean’s Pangs! are scary and hilarious, conceptual, elusive, alarming, tragic and personal, full of brilliant syntactical feints and collapses, their diversions, manoeuvres and recoveries consistently and unnervingly inventive – “You’re a linguistic floozy.
You’re like a car bomb. I mean everything.” Pangs! is an urgent renovation of the Northern Irish poetic tradition from within.’ – Sam Riviere

‘Passionate, perverse, unruly and political, Pangs! is a most unlikely melodrama; with the boldness of its imagination and the febrile desperation of its speaker, reading Robert Herbert McClean’s book is like watching someone make a heartfelt apology while doing the international “blow-job” mime. It’s rare you see poems treat themselves so irreverently, while clinging on so dearly for life. In Pangs! McClean has done that remarkable thing that poems can, which is to agitate and organise language in such a way that you can’t tell the difference between an idea and a feeling, an image and a feeling, a feeling and a feeling… “Swans are the best friends of a shoe seller’s ghost” claims the speaker of “2.3”; that you know what he means, and believe him, is testament to the compelling imagination and explorative openness of these wonderful, bright poems.’ – Jack Underwood




Jackie Lewis - an observation of the human psyche - at times at play, at times at its very darkest. Colourful and intriguing, Lewis carefully weaves these bitesized reads into an unforgettable assortment of strange obsessions, curious tales and characters that emerge brightly from the shadows


Jackie Lewis, The Dropped Baby and Other Curious Tales, Vanguard Press, 2015.

Come inside and travel on a journey of curious tales. Jackie Lewis' first explosive collection of short stories is an observation of the human psyche - at times at play, at times at its very darkest. Colourful and intriguing, Lewis carefully weaves these bitesized reads into an unforgettable assortment of strange obsessions, curious tales and characters that emerge brightly from the shadows.

Jackie O’Callaghan, PA and Administrator in the School of Social Sciences, has been working on a collection of short stories for the last 20 years. These stories have now been compiled into a book which is about to be released by Pegasus/Vanguard Press.
Jackie began writing the book 20 years ago when her young daughter was asleep in the evenings. She said: “I have been a single parent since the age of 30, when my daughter was about three years old, so I have had a lot of time on my hands in the evenings to write and explore how to create ideas and formats.” 
“I started off writing to express myself, as a hobby more than anything. Over the many years I kept writing and I suddenly found that I had produced over 20 fairly decent stories that people seemed to be impressed by, and so have eventually found a publisher that suits me. Between us we have been working on my collection of short stories for about six months now.”
Many of the stories in the book have been influenced by Jackie’s own experiences. She said: “I write about odd relationships between people. I write about loss and surviving it, and about the experience of dying, but it’s not as depressing as it sounds as I aim to give an alternative view on most things I write about. I find human relationships quite fascinating and feel I am always learning about new sides to them.” - www.humanities.manchester.ac.uk/humnet/news-events/recent-news/headline-375094-en.htm

“There is in every madman a misunderstood genius whose idea shining in his head frightened people and for whom delirium was the only solution to the strangulation that life had prepared for him.”
Antonin Artaud
Quickly we determine that these characters are not possessed by themselves but are rather aberrations of defeated resemblance. When bodies are non-reciprocal masks then fear is inevitable and uncanny horror just a few steps behind. The characters Lewis gathers in her first collection of tales are like shadows of someone they almost knew, or people they used to be, or are becoming, a congregation of nightmares in the end, and recognizably risen up from the oral tradition of folk, fairy tales which is, as we know, wimmin’s territory. The tales in this arena are whatever outlasts the battle, survivor tales that hint at savagery, random desires and revenge, warnings that no matter how docile, how crushed, how downtrodden a character may seem to be, they are shimmering in a deranged version of eternity, watching the ripped sky defecating violence and immensity in hurled bolts of hatred and vengeance, modes of fantastical and diseased consolation that are versions of a cankered, deranged, moony, slithering, abnormal, hallucinatory, inhuman, begrudging, monstrous, spectral, erotic, horrific, engorged, skewed, insane, psychotic, raving, calamitous, delusion – a shimmering done in Flaubert’s register of the cracked kettle – ‘tapping crude rhythms for bears to dance to, whilst we long to make music that will melt the stars.’ All the horrors and monsters emerge out of that fatal contrast.
These are precisely ‘tales’ – not short stories – and like those of Roald Dahl’s ‘Tales of the Unexpected‘ they are brittle, nasty and limn out the grim, deranged psychosis of a struggling borderline middle class respectability. These are the inner lives of the Waitrose crowd whose grotesque social climb ends in terrifying annulment, neural distortions of delirium, maledicted putrification and diseased fragmentation. The tales are inhabited by a phalanx of contemporary Madame Bovaries and their slaughtering, slaughtered men, bored, repressed, fearful, snobby, petite bourgeois, living lives that are a constant teetering on the brink of elsewhere and driven insane by the thought of the possibility that there even is an elsewhere, and worse, that this elsewhere is something they can’t buy. And like Dahl’s, each tale shows them dropping into elsewhere’s abyss, a twist at the tail of each that is set up to chill as these insane women and men devour their unfed minds in a sequence of fatal, crooked finales.
What the endings give you are warnings about getting what you want and they work like jokes in a suicide note. Here you live happily ever after but that ‘ever after’ is an ugly, psychotic, insane hokem of evil magic way down inside a lost mind. Lewis reminds us that fairy tale endings, fairy tale lives, fairy tale hopes and dreams – like ice cream – are glacial and induce crippling headaches. The shape of the tale tells you what they are – the last lines are bad goblins summarizing what a few lines before has already become clear – as if Lewis wants to strangle the life out of them, choke them one last time. She knows that her characters have nothing but clichés to understand themselves, and so cannot illuminate themselves through any self awareness. The limitation of each character in each story is their inability to understand the emotion of love except from the dumb fix of a shop worn language that can’t ever register what lies outside – the blood soaked murderous gothic massiveness of these cycloramic melodramas writ small. What they fix on is the object of the emotion, and in desperately trying to understand what is happening, to declare themselves and become known, to grasp their own vast subterranean life, they are blind, mad and shipwrecked. These characters are all versions of Norman Bates and his mum, where communication is between the living and the dead but not in that order. These are characters who want nothing more than to live but are forever gravedigging, seeking their own bones in infinities of crude chimeras of passion. The voices attach themselves to costumes of desire – and these can be anything from respectable brown shoes, porcelain dolls and horses to shop mannequins – but they never grasp anything close to beating hearts and the subtle jingo of stupid happiness.
There are engulfing obsessive images of these disintegrating people whose lives are hygiene routines of vigilant assassins, serrated exterior environments, memorized gouged-out mannerisms taken from magazines and novels that zig-zag manically away from ecstasy and elation towards violence and a genocidal mental crash, brutal eruptions of hate, viciousness and envy turning seismic. But the tone takes the commonplace demeanour of the banal and the jute sack humdrum complaint creased by strange infamies of clichés:
‘… he more and more came back to nothing, except finding his wife down on her hands and knees; yet again, in front of the damn cabinets polishing and dusting her precious ever-growing collection of ornaments…’
But from the familiar image of the woman on her knees Lewis will take the image and take its brutal logic to a heinous conclusion. Similarly, Laura slides from the merely imagined into the unimaginable actual with a progression of interiority that presses disconnectedness flat as a flower:
‘Undertones of disturbance began to ripple through Laura’s marriage to Thom, the viciousness with which she had tried to snatch back her daughter, the wine. Thom wouldn’t let this one go without a fight. And fight they did…’
Which ends in a possessed nocturnal hopelessness that nevertheless can’t distract us from the terrible calm destructiveness that lies in the debauched, hallucinatory surface zzz of its prose. And Lewis takes the proposition of Angela Carter’s ‘Passion of New Eve’ and works it into a deranged proposition – ‘time is a man, space is a woman’ in another tale:
‘From the first moment, he had seen her she had occupied his head, woken up with a sleeping heart and filled him with longing he had never felt before in his life. Slipping into the cold bed he closed his eyes slowly, bringing them deliberately to a slit through which he could just conjure up the image of his face; like his own private photograph and the last thing in his sights before drifting into a restless sleep.’
Yet there are also inklings of how even without memory images survive, and obsession survives too. If nothing else, these are gimlet tales of obsession, layered facades of how women endure through voids that are opened up by their men, consciousness forced out of synch with whatever holds them like pieces of junk between the jarred, fragmentary surfaces. Everyone seems to be functioning perfectly, but beneath the sheer momentariness of the erasing disturbances a dislocated reality of delirious hauntings is being enacted. What Lewis reveals is the abomination that unravels with forced recklessness.
‘They are almost at the end, a complete circle. The air is damp but fresh and sweet with the springtime promise of new life. They head back towards the car, hand in hand, ready to tackle whatever the next day brings. Somewhere in the bowels of the earth is the dark hopeless space he once occupied. It remains without an occupant these days – mostly – and she knows that space with slowly crumble and fill up until no trace can ever be found.’
In this there’s a deathly preoccupation poking through like a rib. A murderous precocity of wounded, deathly blight, where desire rots as a corpse fallen under malediction. Alongside the abominable she improvises swift aberrations of the involuntary, buried decisions that would have frightened these agents when children. Although these are sassy and enjoyable tales not always fully realized, they’re sad and sea-sireny at times as well as pulpy fun. They have black whirlpools and drowning screams done, despite the rampant malignity and the massy spite, in ochre and unaffected prose.
Lewis works the Baudelairean field where sympathy is always the result of a misunderstanding. Don’t be fooled by the cruelties inflicted by these men on their women, or vice versa, and don’t miss the deranged panic that slices away any hint of physical pleasure, of communication or harmony. These are the frantic liquid jerks of mediocrity, searing peripheries brought centre stage so we see ourselves in them, the unbridged gulfs widening in the tormented insane voices Lewis dares to listen in on. There’s an erasure snapping shut synapses, and personalities here match the redundancies of their hopes. Just as fame is a way of illustrating our idiocy by finding personalities that fit us like gloves, so here the peculiar horrors are tiny symposiums of our own derangements and deliria.
Modesty defaced to selfishness, and that horrible sense of crouching shy egoism that’s always waiting for something good to happen, a rupture of the constraints of politeness, civility, and the ignominy of social conventions, these are the ingredients of distressed lives too far away from the duty to cherish the beautiful and good and whose last minute effort to fulfill that sensational duty turns out very, very badly. Oh sure, there are some of these tales that don’t end up with mothers killing their babies, husbands not feeding their wives to bears, but even the less murderous ones hold the seeds of hell coming in. The strangeness comes from the fusion of the contemporary urban and suburban lives with all the modern traps – mortgaged infidelity amongst the aga-saga crowd and those wanting to be them – the yawps of boredom, insufficiency, decaying spirits, the curse of satiety and the terrors of deprivation that bind them to a collective cowardice deprived of exaltation, joy and purity. Everything is unbearable and the tales take Madame Bovary’s inclination to see the future as a dark corridor with a bolted door at the far end and imagines what happens when someone takes a bolt cutter and pushes on through to the other side.
Every degeneration is here – the vice of loneliness, the liberating glue of jealousy that binds you to a negative version of the same, the degradation that accumulates as you perfect yourself, and the diminishment too – there’s a particularly sinister tale of miniature figurines that wickedly glints this conclusion, the confusion of scenery for emotions, the substitution of wintry for scalding tedium as if inertia was a matter of temperature and a season, and especially the misidentification of money for love. The regularity and orderliness of these characters make them blind and incapable of any rapture that removes them from where they already stand. This is the where their horror lies, in the circumscribed goals and clichéd dreams of deliverance where marriage, mortgage, babies, dinner parties, the respectable round that circles them and traps them in withered, clenched existences promises a sort of settled comfort. These are the fetishised, shuttered and scandalous lives who have tombs of their hopes stillborn and grave in their skulls, the lives of those who have lived to be old enough to see that their hopes and dreams were puerile and depended on a courage they never had – naïve sensuality, fond cuddles, a happiness that went beyond the bright streak of boredom that like a fragment of ice, nails their corpses to hallucinatory motivations. Lewis lets none of them off the hook, and her twisted endings are apposite conclusions to what she sketches again and again – the mediocrity of any existence that disdains and hates without some scintilla of grace. Her tales carry us to the world where a very definite set of illusions are traded in for unhinged reality. The difficulty – and the fun a reader gets from reading them – is to detect which is which. Someone is deceived in any event.
The toxicity of the exaltation is in the disintegration of life, a decomposition of rank imaginations and timid regressive intellects, instincts that protest against the ascetic shackles, the unitarism, an overflow that here is psychotic and explosive. Ruin and creation against the stifling, closed, sterile social existence that reduces the world to a single god, single truth is emasculated here, and takes the form of a servile inveterate aversion rather than a juiced-up, liberating freeplay. These are crushed liberations, animated by a sense of catastrophe and moribund exhilaration. Against their civil Apollonian stillness Dionysian mysteries lacerate and maim, and the multiple wounds of their obsessions perforate and fray. But this isn’t a soul fire conflagration but more a rotten shit storm as Flaubert described:
‘We are dancing not on the edge of a volcano, but on the wooden seat of a latrine, and it seems to me more than a touch rotten. Soon society will go plummeting down and drown in nineteen centuries of shit. There’ll be quite a lot of shouting.’
Lewis knows her characters lack the means to express the exact measure of their desires, and so they aren’t even idolaters and settle for murder, imitate Norman Bates and don’t swat. Why not swat? Because we recall the end of Psycho and that voice creepily speaking inside Normn Bate’s head;
‘…If she wanted to, she could reach out and swat the fly.
But she didn’t swat it.
She didn’t swat it, and she hoped they were watching, because that proved what sort of a person she really was.
Why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly…”
The ‘Psycho’ reference is apt here. Lewis’s tales are abbreviated versions. Readers become spectators of each brief, ferocious spasm of violent transmission and absorb the impact across the ninety-odd pages as if tracing a pulped skin of desolation. Fury becomes an unleashed, unhinged perspective, a trauma extinguishing previous exhalation. The abject conditioned lives trigger intense reflexes of perverse desire, ferocious, convulsive firestorms that are simultaneously banal, obsessive, shattering and already vanished before the tale ends. Each tale works its frenzied obsessionals into a screwed plot that might flesh out to a film script or aberrant mutated dream sequence from which you’d guess traced the transmitted monotony of this pathological, deranged century. But simultaneously you realize that this is the realm of the solitary normal, that these are retinal images that populate our shopping centres, streets and vaticans of business and exchange, singles or couples or even the deranged family units that engulf us, possessed by despair and enough money to pretend they’re whole. Encased lives of gleaming cars, high and low culture mosh, bienpensant media gloop, designer suits, designer pop, designer sport and digital soft and hardware academia endlessly permeating and proliferating branded ubiquity, plus profit-optimized mortgages, casino culture game players, they are the healthy monsters you pass on the street and work with day in and out who dream of bringing back the death penalty, torture, who thirst for pleasures cruel, perverse and endless but in the style of charity, libertinism and literature performed by actors famous for presenting our stupidity most accurately – a sure sign of boredom. These are the crowd who only consider suicide because they can’t reach your throat. It’s Ballard advising that we play the bourgeois straight-faced as the final act of rebellion, burning at the stake in a delirium dressed as respectable enterprise.
My favorite tale is ‘The Nuisance’. It begins:
‘It was something and nothing. It had started a few weeks before when Jen had happened to glance up and look out of the window, across to the multi-storey car park facing the building.
That’s when she first saw it; a small face, about three or four inches across and made of what looked like some sort of metal. It was barely discernable really but she saw it and she clearly saw that it was, or appeared to be, looking straight back at her.’
This is a story that eats its own delirium and obsessive, maniacal persecution. It is a tale possessed by anguish and suffocating lucidity. It presents a species of degeneration that irrigates the nerves and thrives on a twisted matrix of horror, derangement and mental agony that rots, swarms and unhinges. An occult untranslatable fatefulness, despair that fixes itself like the horrifying metal face, the tale enacts a morbid consciousness that exposes the secret of fascination with evil’s permanent law. It’s a horror tale that signals through the flames consuming us rather than anything dallying with form, style or any other sort of writerly rot. The tales are short, unliterary, sometimes off-beam and too fragile but despite the expected limitations of a first outing they’re very readable examples of an eerie culture written on the fatigue of our nerves. - Richard Marshall

Literature and Intoxication - Intoxication has not only been a way to aid creativity - literary writers have also explored and shaped our experiences of intoxication. In trying to write these altered states, they have made radical experiments to create works that mimic, and even induce, states of intoxication

Literature and Intoxication

Literature and Intoxication: Writing, Politics and the Experience of Excess,  Eugene Brennan and Russell Williams, eds., Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.

Tatyana Shcherbina - life is a masquerade and its participants are characters from classic world literature racing towards destination unknown. The question they all are asking is whether the traditional notion of time's flow from the past to the future is the correct one

Multiple Personalities
Tatyana Shcherbina, Multiple Personalities, Glagoslav Publications , 2015.

Having spent years in a coma, a female protagonist is anxious to lead a normal life. Her miraculous recovery is riddled with falling in and out of our time continuum - she wanders through history in her imagination as if it were her backyard. Notwithstanding her condition, her peers are going through a real change of their own echoing events that engulfed Russia in the past few decades. In Multiple Personalities, life is a masquerade and its participants are characters from classic world literature racing towards destination unknown. The question they all are asking is whether the traditional notion of time's flow from the past to the future is the correct one. Who has the answer?

Author Tatyana Shcherbina is known in Russia for her poetry and prose, as well as numerous essays and translations from French. Her early works had been self-published in the USSR to avoid censorship, and it was only in the new Russia that she gained public recognition. She recieved various literary awards and is considered one of Russia's most celebrated female writers.

At a time when it feels impossible to do anything new in literature, when everything seems cliched and every subject has already been written about, Tatyana Shcherbina has managed to create a completely original work, an intelligent and powerful novel about madness, contemporary politics and the presence of the “other” within ourselves.
One of the heroines of Shcherbina’s novel, Roza, has spent many years in a lethargic stupor and appears to inhabit a number of epochs — from ancient times to the Middle Ages and the last years of the Soviet Union. The other main characters in the novel undergo metamorphoses in their waking hours that are even more surprising.
Shcherbina places major literary figures and themes in a present-day context. Pushkin appears in 2006 in Moscow, presidents take the form of Shakespearean characters, while Laertes is poisoned with polonium.
The influence of Beckett and Kafka are clear in the novel. Senseless dreams suddenly break through the narrative, through the conflicts and details of everyday life. There is the feeling of inhabiting an endless dream from which there is no exit, and it lends the scattered plots a global, even universal meaning. - eng.nlobooks.ru/node/121

Multiple Personalities is, for the most part, nominally narrated by Tanya. It begins with her recounting a "persistent fantasy": finding Pushkin, just before his wedding, transported to 2006 -- where she recognizes him and takes him home with her. This sort of transposition in time recurs throughout the novel, in more and less fantastical variations; complicating matters, too, identities are often in flux: people forget who they are, or are transformed, in name and in person: true to its title, Multiple Personalities includes numerous variations on multiple personalities .....
       Explanations abound: a character introduced as Iris admits that's not her real name:

I got it when I was seven. Iris means Not-Rosa. That's why they called me that -- in order to pull up Rosa's roots and plant Iris in her place. There were other options: Lily, Daisy.
       Another character is called Sylvaine Personne, her first name itself an acronym, containing her multiple personalities (even as her second name suggests the complete absence of identity). It's hardly surprising that one of the authors invoked is the Fernando Pessoa, the man of so many heteronyms -- or, as one person puts it: "The poet was like the earth, inhabited by different peoples, some in contact with one other, others believing they were alone in the world".
       As the character(s) note, the classical unities of place and action are generally seen as a given -- yet: "Unity of person wasn't even discussed". In her novel, Shcherbina certainly puts it in play -- along with strongly challenging any concept of unity of action.
       We're told (well, someone says): "Tanya now, she's real" -- but layering in others' stories and perspectives distances the reader from her, the original narrator. And the other characters aren't as firmly grounded: "Iris has been left here from the future", for example.
       Beyond even the circles of female friends and acquaintances and their stories -- from Tanya to Rosa to Iris (the latter two also confused for one another) -- the novel takes bigger detours too: no less than a fifth of the novel, thirty-five pages, consists of a variation on Hamlet. Another longer section pits the Right and Left Hemispheres of one of the character's minds against each other with a dialogue between them (that eventually brings them together).
       Russian history, and especially contemporary history, is central to the novel too, beginning with Pushkin finding himself in a modern Russia that he first takes to be Hell, and which he can't adapt to. Even the Hamlet-variation is strongly colored by contemporary Russian conditions, moving through recent times. And Multiple Personalities isn't just of the present but also of the future -- where the penultimate chapter, set in 2030, offers some explanations for what has been presented so far, and the questions of identity that have plagued the various characters. But even after this, Shcherbina offers yet another nice twist in her concluding chapter.
       It makes for a web of not entirely neatly intertwining stories: by toying with unities of person and time Shcherbina adds more dimensions to her narrative than readers are generally confronted with, the story shifting with the changing perspectives of its chapters, the fit between them not always clear.
       It is also a novel of the Russian condition in its descriptions of the characters' everyday experiences -- even in the dramatized form of the alternate-Hamlet. There are several cases of a sort of somnolence -- a deep and often prolonged sleep -- that fits the burred vision of events; dreams -- or what seem like dreams -- are also significant. Indeed, reality -- like identity -- seems elsewhere, or at least hard to grasp. As one person explains:

All that is manifest is false and organized so that no-one is able to see real life and thereby encroach upon it or disturb anything in it.
       Which turns out to be very accurate. And is certainly one way of describing the unreality of contemporary Russia.
       Slightly dreamy, and certainly convoluted, Multiple Personalities is an intriguing take on modern Russia and the individual in it, with several inspired episodes (including both the opening and the final two chapters). - M.A.Orthofer


Nikolaj Lübecker - An analysis of what contemporary directors seek to attain by putting their spectators in a position of strong discomfort

Nikolaj Lübecker, The Feel-Bad Film, Edinburgh University Press, 2015.

Read and download the introduction for free here (pdf)

In recent years some of the best-known European and American art film directors have made films that place the spectator in a position of intense discomfort: Feel-Bad Films. These films systematically manipulate the spectator: sometimes by withholding information from her, sometimes by shocking her, and sometimes by seducing her in order to further disturb her. As a result, they have been criticized for being amoral, nihilistic, politically irresponsible and anti-humanistic.
The Feel-Bad Film raises three questions to this body of work: How is the feel-bad experience created? What do the directors believe they can achieve in this manner? And how should the films be situated in intellectual history? Through close analysis of films by Lars von Trier, Gus Van Sant, Claire Denis, Michael Haneke, Lucille Hadzihalilovic, Brian de Palma, Bruno Dumont and Harmony Korine, the book argues that feel-bad directors invite the spectator to think of art as an experimental activity with ethical norms that are different from the ones we hope to find outside the movie theatre. Only when given the freedom to take advantage of this asymmetry can film realize its ethical potential.

Key features:

  • Detailed analyses of the work of some of the best-known contemporary art film directors
  • A stimulating contribution to current debates about the ethics and politics of cinematic spectatorship
  • The conceptualization of a cinematic genre that will allow us to reconsider debates about the social potential of film
    • Case studies include:

      • Lars von Trier: Dogville (Denmark)
      • Brian de Palma: Redacted (US)
      • Gus Van Sant: Elephant (US)
      • Lucille Hadzihalilovic: Innocence (France)
      • Stan Brakhage: Kindering (US)
      • Ruben Östlund: Play (Sweden)
      • Bruno Dumont: Twentynine Palms (France)
      • Harmony Korine: Trash Humpers (US)
THESE DAYS, feeling good is less of an individual aspiration than a cultural, social, and political obligation. As Slavoj Žižek has noted, Western subjects have little choice but to follow the cultural imperative to “Enjoy!” themselves. Pharrell Williams suggests contemporary experience leaves the individual feeling like “a hot air balloon that could go to space” since, he croons, “happiness is the truth.” In his recent book, The Happiness Industry, which examines the close links between capitalist culture and the world of psychology, William Davies describes the “limitless pursuit of self-optimization that counts for happiness in the age of neoliberalism.” In late capitalism, anything that stands in the way of positive thinking and its corollary, blissful consumption, is viewed with suspicion.
As we might expect, Hollywood is also complicit. The narrative trajectories of mainstream cinema from Jaws (1975) to Dead PoetsSociety (1989) to The Intouchables (2011) strive to provide a feel-good experience when the lights go on: whatever the ups and downs of the plot might be, they are ultimately concerned with redemptive closure. Even the end of the first season of Nic Pizzolatto’s nihilistic True Detective (2014) saw the antagonistic main characters buddy up and stare doe-eyed into the starry sky. For the individual subject, the feel-good experience is a conservative one: we leave the cinema or eject the DVD feeling, above all, entertained. Any potential for critique provoked by the film has been neutralized or subsumed into the overall emotional trajectory of the film, restoring our sense of engagement with the world. Our strings have been pulled: we’ve been made to feel a certain way by a director by means of a traditional dictatorial address that propagates the illusion that we are coherent, autonomous, and, most importantly, content subjects. The structures of consumerism, of course, have a vested interest here — the better we feel, the more eagerly we’ll embrace capitalist markets.
For better or worse, then, happiness is the norm. Neither Williams’s happy clapping nor that of the movie industry, of course, reflects all real experience. As Oliver James, Jonathan Crary, and Franco “Bifo” Berardi, among others, have shown, one of the side effects of such wide-eyed market-driven “bliss” is depression, despair, and mental disturbance. The avant-garde edge of culture reflects this: for every Marley & Me (2008) and StreetDance 3D (2010), there exists a Melancholia (2011), Peeping Tom (1960), and Irréversible (2002). How can we start to describe such a state of affairs? How can we find sites of potential resistance to the tyranny of happiness? In challenging the industry, how can we articulate new or alternative politico-ethical paradigms? What would happen if we brought Pharrell’s hot air balloon crashing back to earth?
Nikolaj Lübecker’s exploration of The Feel-Bad Film outlines a theoretical approach to such films that allows us to stress their value, highlight their implicit critique, and to move beyond dismissive descriptions of them as “depressing,” “shocking,” or just plain “weird,” in a way that engages spectators and encourages them to reorient themselves in terms of what they expect from cinema. The films he considers, consciously, knowingly, and, indeed, very deliberately, demand a physical or strong, often unpleasant, emotional response from their audiences. In Lübecker’s terms, these are films that “maximize the possibility of bodily displeasure,” and “assault” and produce “unease” in their viewers. The films under examination are more than just “boring” or unsettling art house movies: Lübecker is interested in a particular flavor of extreme contemporary cinema, such as that of European directors like Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke, Gaspar Noé, and (sporadically) Claire Denis. He also considers less notorious names such as Lucile Hadzihalilovoc and Stan Brakhage as well as, perhaps surprisingly, American names more typically associated with the mainstream, like Gus Van Sant and Brian De Palma.
The most notable precedent for Lübecker’s study is James Quandt’s widely read essay “Flesh and Blood: Sex and Violence in Recent French Cinema,” originally published by Artforum in 2004. Quandt pours critical scorn on much of the French film output of the early 2000s which, he argues, was marked mostly by the filmmakers’ desire to shock rather than produce work with redemptive political or philosophical qualities. He presents as an example the (real) sex and violence of Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh Thi’s Baise-moi (2000), a rape and revenge narrative where a pair of female killers go on a spree of gruesome murder and real, explicit sex. For Quandt, the films he considers the “New French Extremity” were “determined to break every taboo, to wade in rivers of viscera and spumes of sperm, to fill each frame with flesh, nubile or gnarled, and subject it to all manner of penetration, mutilation, and defilement.” He concludes that “the authentic, liberating outrage — political, social, sexual — that fueled such apocalyptic visions as [Pasolini’s] Salò and [Godard’s] Weekend now seems impossible, replaced by an aggressiveness that is really a grandiose form of passivity.” Quandt’s argument is that the contemporary feel-bad film is cynical, anti-humanist, and doesn’t possess the same potential to emancipate its audiences as its more illustrious canonical predecessors.
Quandt’s aim was to criticize what he saw as an early tendency in millennial French cinema, born out of his own disappointment with Bruno Dumont’s twisted road movie Twentynine Palms (2003) (a film Lübecker considers in depth here). Lübecker, however, takes a broader geographical view and looks to sketch some specific tropes, in terms of technique and emotional impact of the films he considers, moving beyond Quandt’s dismissal of these films, as well as taking into consideration other important scholarly work by Martine Beugnet and Tim Palmer on the topic. At the core of Lübecker’s argument is the relationship these films have with the cathartic experience and, crucially, the desire they create for some form of beneficial or productive catharsis in the form of a message, conclusion, or resolution. A feel-bad film “creates, and then deadlocks, our desire for catharsis.” In a feel-good (or at least a feel-better film) this desire is satisfied. Think about Chief Bromden’s heroic walk to freedom at the end of Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) or the revolutionary “O Captain! My Captain!” outburst of Keating’s class at the end of Dead Poets Society.
In Lübecker’s feel-bad films, the deadlock he identifies creates a range of different effects, all of which are related to the viewer’s subsequent frustration. Of von Trier’s Dogville (2003), for example, Lübecker demonstrates how the ending, which is already frustrating by virtue of the film’s length and repetitiveness, further complicates and rejects its viewers’ satisfaction with its final revelation about the true identity of Grace (Nicole Kidman), who, rather than being a down-at-heel and vulnerable stranger, is actually the daughter of a powerful local mobster. This effectively “assaults” a spectator’s ethical position as developed over the previous two and a half hours by forcing them into a position of complicity with the final, devastating massacre she instigates. Lübecker suggests that von Trier forces the spectators to reveal their “inner bastard,” or own latent capacity for angry, violent responses which mirrors, he argues, the effects of discourses frequently mobilized in contemporary debates on nationalism and racial identity which, he in turn argues, provides an important context for the film.
The films Lübecker considers can also be more delicately, or subtly, subversive. His reading of Denis’s Les Salauds (2013), which veers disconcertingly between film noir, corporate thriller, and incestuous melodrama, explains how the viewer’s discomfort is created as the film glides ambiguously between potential sources of meaning and moral attitudes, consequently destabilizing its own ethical and political frames. As the protagonist Marco (Vincent Lindon) investigates the suicide of his brother-in-law, he picks up the strands of several stories that the viewer is invited to weave together, while Denis rejects dictatorial control for a lighter narrative touch. This process, until the shocking (and arguably disappointing) revelations in the final scene, brings about both the frustration and the empowerment of the spectator in the absence of any obvious directorial control of narrative. This offers the viewer a disconcerting amount of freedom to impose their own interpretation on the events leading to the suicide.
The most radical, and critically exciting, aspect of Lübecker’s book is the manner in which he engages with the “why?” question of the broader social significance of his work that — he notes — increasingly besets researchers in the humanities. What, Lübecker asks, are the political and ethical implications of our relationship to cinema when we move out of clearly defined spectatorial positions? To put it another way, what happens when we stop watching Sleepless in Seattle (1993), or movies that don’t make things easy for us? Lübecker argues that in withholding cathartic release, and complicating our broader relationship with art, these films can be seen to provide an alternative model for intersubjective relations and implicitly critique the dictatorial terms of address of capitalist culture. Critiquing Jean-Paul Sartre’s view of the neatly dialectical relationship between art/the artist and his or her audience as presented in the 1947 essay Qu’est-ce que la littérature?, Lübecker argues that feel-bad films destabilize the possibility of such a symmetrical rapport. As such, there is an implicit but provocative lesson in the films he considers, since they introduce a degree of distance between the work and its audience and encourage thinking, reflection, and indeterminacy, as opposed to quick or easy judgments. In liberating the subject in such a way, individual thought is freed and, possibly, a model for freer democratic relations can emerge.
Judith Butler’s work on “framing” is crucial to Lübecker’s argument, which he illustrates with reference to Haneke’s Caché (2005). One of the values of this film is the way it subverts a spectator’s expectation of closure by allowing him or her to locate a definitive “meaning.” Is the film “about” Georges’s childhood? Possibly. Is it “about” Franco-Algerian political relationships? Equally possible. These are complex and broad situations that cannot be reduced to facile movie theater answers, as the traditional frames of interpretation are removed. The ambiguous formal complexity of the film reflects the ambiguities of its subject matter. In this way, Lübecker suggests how there is thus a fundamental tension between the film and its protagonist who is determined to find quick, definitive answers to the mysteries that surround him.
Lübecker suggests that a similar process of subjective contemplation is equally brought about by Van Sant’s Elephant (2003), which he contrasts with another film about the Columbine massacre, Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine (2002). Van Sant’s film is “feel-bad,” not only because of the bleak subject matter but because, unlike Moore’s film, it frustratingly refuses to present reasons which allow the spectator to explain or understand the reason why the teenagers opened fire in their high school. As such, it empowers the subject to reflect independently, as a free subject. In challenging conventional, tired interpretative frames (sociological, parental) the film encourages us, as Butler suggests, to suspend our judgment, think independently, more freely, and more radically.
Lübecker’s analysis of the feel-bad film closes with an attempt to situate the form within the modern and contemporary avant-garde, transgressive, or anti-humanist creative work. He argues in the final chapter that films such as Twentynine Palms and Harmony Korine’s Trash Humpers (2009) should be explored not in the light of what Quandt described as a “rejection of humanism” but more positively and productively in terms of the vestiges of humanism that can be located therein. These films, while they might not immediately offer the radical, emancipatory potential of Salò or Weekend, do indeed have something to say. Lübecker stresses, however, that their value must be situated in the context of a contemporary culture where the potential to transgress, scandalize, and revolutionize is waning, and, thus, viewers need to work a little harder to locate their qualities. Could the end of Trash Humpers, Lübecker suggests, where one of the protagonists steals a sleeping baby, be the sign of a redemptive new beginning for its outsider characters?
Lübecker’s work throughout is illuminating, convincing, and contributes to making The Feel-Bad Film a valuable text, one that helps us to unlock and unpack the complexities of extreme cinema. On, and indeed after, reading, I have been speculating to what extent the analysis he proffers can be extended toward other genres, outside the specifically filmic. It is, then, tempting to suggest that Lübecker’s book can be read as establishing a framework that can be extended to consider the “feel-bad experience” more broadly. His consideration of cinema, and the figures of Korine and Brakhage, indicates that much of what he argues could also be extended to incorporate the world of contemporary visual art, rather than just the world of cinema. Lübecker’s brief consideration of Paul McCarthy points in this direction. If visual art can make us feel bad, then what about music? There appear, for example, to be subjective and aural implications for the work of Mahler, Sunn O))) and Joy Division, which withhold satisfaction, Pharrell-style hooks, and listening pleasure.
Equally, I’m inclined to think that Lübecker’s work allows us to start thinking about the “Feel-Bad Book.” The bleak and deflationary work of Cormac McCarthy and J.M. Coetzee, for example, steeped in brutality, disappointment and ambiguous authorial presence, seems to be calling out for such a reading. Equally, the writing of arch-pessimist Michel Houellebecq (himself, incidentally, a trained filmmaker), whose novels lead a reader into a complex mix of unpleasure and ethical dilemmas that resonate with what Lübecker notes in von Trier and Haneke, also seems to produce a productively feel-bad atmosphere along the lines this book suggests. There is, then, more to the experiences discussed than wallowing or navel-gazing — there is, perhaps, too, a liberating dimension. As Davies wonders, “What if the greatest threat to capitalism […] is simply lack of enthusiasm and activity?” Lübecker’s work provides us with a framework to start thinking through artistic alternatives to the “enthusiasm” and “activity” that consumer culture demands and to describe subjective artistic experiences that don’t fit quite so neatly into the capitalist mainstream. The feel-bad experience as articulated here could indeed be a step toward a productive way of articulating radical, if quiet, resistance. - Russell Williams

Basarab Nicolescu - a new era, cosmodernity, founded on a contemporary vision of the interaction between science, culture, spirituality, religion, and society. Here, reality is plastic and its people are active participants in the cosmos, and the world is simultaneously knowable and unknowable

Basarab Nicolescu, From Modernity to Cosmodernity: Science, Culture, and Spirituality, State University of New York Press, 2015.                         read it at Google Books


Offers a new paradigm of reality, based on the interaction between science, culture, spirituality, religion, and society. The quantum, biological, and information revolutions of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries should have thoroughly changed our view of reality, yet the old viewpoint based on classical science remains dominant, reinforcing a notion of a rational, mechanistic world that allows for endless progress. In practice, this view has promoted much violence among humans. Basarab Nicolescu heralds a new era, cosmodernity, founded on a contemporary vision of the interaction between science, culture, spirituality, religion, and society. Here, reality is plastic and its people are active participants in the cosmos, and the world is simultaneously knowable and unknowable. Ultimately, every human recognizes his or her face in the face of every other human being, independent of his or her particular religious or philosophical beliefs. Nicolescu notes a new spirituality free of dogmas and looks at quantum physics, literature, theater, and art to reveal the emergence of a newer, cosmodern consciousness.

“…a profound and groundbreaking book … the intellectual contribution of this book is a form of beautiful, poignant, heart stopping art. It is an intellectual pièce de résistance; a creation that resists and defies orthodox or common conventions and practices (i.e., modernism), thereby making the whole of the creation unique and special (cosmodernism). Take a deep breath and read it, ideally from beginning to end, but even sampling it will change your life and open intellectual doors.” — Integral Leadership Review

I am very familiar with Basarab Nicolescu’s formulation of transdisciplinarity, having been a keen student of his approach for over a decade. I have a deep respect for the brilliance and the quantum nuances of his approach. And I was not disappointed; this is a profound and groundbreaking book. I did take a conceptual detour before I read it to discover the meaning of one of the words used in the title: cosmodernity. It is not until the last three pages of the book that he defines this in any detail. In hindsight, I now suspect that he did this on purpose. I just need conceptual clarity, so I stopped to figure it out before I read the book.
Just as we have modernity and postmodernity, we now have cosmodernity. Modern means contemporary, up-to-date, and a departure from traditions. Postmodern means after modernism. It refers to a distrust of anything modern, including its theories and ideologies, and it expresses this distrust by drawing attention to modern conventions. Cosmodernity relates to the cosmos, a word that means everything exists everywhere. Indeed, Nicolescu said “Cosmodernity means essentially that all entity (existence) in the universe is defined by its relation to all other entities” (2014, p. 212).
As a side note, Nicolescu coined the term cosmodernity in 1994, in a book titled Poetical Theorems. This book contains 13 chapters; one group of poetical theorems dealt with the aforementioned controversial distinction between modernity and postmodernity. For clarification, he said a poetical theorem is neither a theory nor a poem but is a way to “concentrate in a few pages [concepts, ideas and] theories that would have taken years to be exposed in tens of volumes of scientific and academic discourse” (Dincã, 2011, p. 121). Poetical theorems serve to make everything clear.
Also before reading this book, I recommend you head to pp. 212-213, where he references another book on cosmodernism by Christian Moraru (2011). Nicolescu explained that Moraru’s discussion is an “excellent and necessary complement” (p. 212) to his understanding of the construct. Moraru explained that a “powerful withness,” “a new geometry of we,” distinguishes cosmodernity from modernity and postmodernity (p. 23, p. 7). Given that cosmos means everything exists everywhere, and is in relation to everything else, it makes sense that Moraru described cosmodernity as an ethical project, and “the ethical imperative of cosmodernity is togetherness” (p. 304).
Now… feeling a bit more comfortable with what cosmodernity actually means, I will proceed with my review of Nicolescu’s book. On a pragmatic level, the book is 271 pages in length, organized into 17 chapters. There is an index, notes for each chapter, and a list of references for the whole book. Nicolescu’s Introduction is powerful on its own, convincing and compelling. I read it before I stopped and figured out what he meant by cosmodernity. With my emergent understanding of this new term, his introduction to the topic is even more meaningful in hindsight. He basically argued that the world has witnessed an unprecedented growth of knowledge, but this is tainted because the growth in knowledge happened due to an accelerating proliferation of disciplines and not due to the unity of knowledge, by which he means connecting knowledge with being (connecting science with humans). Because technoscience triumphed over spirituality and human and social happiness, the world is not better for this growth of knowledge.
He also has issues with the modern notion of reality and claims we lost faith in modernity with the events of September 11, 2001. Modernity promised endless progress, fueled by technoscience and the belief that we live in a rational, deterministic, and mechanistic world. Modern science’s penchant for sidelining humanity (the subject) for the sake of objectivity has led to alienation, fragmentation, and the possible decimation of the planet. He is frustrated. He refers to the triple revolution that spanned the twentieth century – the quantum revolution, the biological revolution, and the information revolution. He thinks these changes should have changed our view of reality – to a transreality that accommodates complexity, spirituality (humanity), and consciousness. Instead, the old views remain, and we are blind. However, Nicolescu holds out for the “hope of self-birth” and a “visionary, transpersonal, and planetary consciousness, which could be nourished by the miraculous growth of knowledge” (p.2). His hope is expressed in this book.
I expected him to immediately elucidate his familiar methodology of transdisciplinarity, with its three axioms (below), first articulated in 1985; instead, they are woven throughout the book and only listed at p. 207, nine pages from the end of the book:

  • Axiom one – the existence of Multiple Levels of Reality (ontology), with movement among them mediated by the Hidden Third (the quantum vacuum);
  • Axiom two – the Logic of the Included Middle; and,
  • Axiom three – knowledge as complexity (epistemology); the Principle of Universal Interdependence.
But then I reminded myself that this is a book, not a short article or conference paper. He has the delicious opportunity and luxury to tell a story. Indeed, we are treated to a rich and enveloping narrative about the underpinnings of thought, science, and philosophy that shaped his approach to transdisciplinarity. This book focuses on the intellectual and philosophical backdrop of his musings about life beyond modernity. It is a personal and poignant insight into his journey toward transdisciplinarity, and I felt privileged and honoured to read it.
In chapters 1-3 (40 pages), we are guided through discussions of shattered cultures, contemporary physics and the Western tradition, and the grandeur and decadence of scientism. This part of the narrative paints a portrait of the harmful legacy of the modern era. As he exposes this, he introduces the ideas of the transcultural, a transreligious attitude and the Sacred, and a quantum vision of the world. This sets us up for chapters 4-9 (73 pages), which cover the emergence of the quantum world (quantum physics) and the quantum revolution. Quantum matters (pun intended) in any conversation with Basarab Nicolescu, because his transdisciplinary scholarship is deeply informed by his work as a quantum physicist. He draws on concepts like discontinuity, nonseparability, the quantum vacuum (which is not empty), the bootstrap principle, complexity thinking, plurality, superstrings (the fourth dimension), nonresistance, reconciliation of contradictions, inclusive logic, the logic of contradictions, and so on. This book elucidates how these quantum concepts have shaped his approach to transdisciplinarity. Non-quantum physicists like myself (who struggle with these ideas, see McGregor, 2011), will welcome this contribution of the book.
Chapters 10 and 11 (25 pages) revert back to the topic of the first three chapters. Chapter 10 focuses on dualism (a particularly strong bailiwick for Nicolescu) and Chapter 11 turns to reductionism. Again, as he lays out his discussion of the negative import of these two aspects of classical science (he entitled one section “Are we too deeply immersed in the seventeenth century?”), he introduces exciting ‘new science’ ideas, like unity of the world, the included third, the nature of space and time, the experienced third, and the ternary-quaternary debate. Except for the hidden third, these were all new to me! What an intellectual ride. But he manages to keep you with him, as he turns his attention to other topics.
Chapters 12-14 (29 pages) carried me into even more unfamiliar territory, but having read the previous 150 pages, I felt ready for the intellectual and philosophical challenges, and to be honest, opportunities. He broaches ideas like quantum aesthetics, quantum theatre, and the quantum vision of literature and art. I was excited to see this idea in the book because Nicolescu deeply believes that we should focus on spirituality, aesthetics (beauty and art) and the Sacred if we hope to move forward as a species. He thinks a sign of the cosmodern era is the “interaction between the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics [physics] and art (especially surrealism)” (p. 175.
In Chapter 15, he opens our eyes to the role of imaginary (thinking without words) in the creation of knowledge and the unity of knowledge. He describes imaginary as revelations without the benefit of logical thinking, evidenced by sudden insights like those experienced in “the very short intermediate period between sleep and waking up” (p. 180). I have personally experienced these aha moments, when I have been mentally chewing on something and then everything – everything – just clicks. Witness this book review, when I finally “got it.”
Like bookends, Chapter 16 mirrors Nicolescu’s angst expressed in the Introduction about adhering to the tenets of classical science despite the power of the quantum. As he debunks classical science, he identifies the basic features of cosmodernity, which I gleaned from reading Chapter 16:
  • Relationships, the interaction, the interconnection of natural phenomena.
  • The universe of interconnectedness, of nonseparability.
  • Harmony between humans and nature (includes intuition and spirituality).
  • The subtle concept of substance/energy/space-time/information (replaces concept of matter).
  • The power of discontinuity and global causality (replace continuity and local causality).
  • Bridge between science and religion.
  • Intersubjectivity and the included third.
  • A new cosmodern objectivity – the subject, the object, and their interaction.
  • The cosmodern world is a vast cosmic matrix, where everything is in perpetual movement and energetic restructuring -– this is what unity of the world means, the movement of energy, not matter.
I think the intellectual contribution of this book is a form of beautiful, poignant, heart stopping art. It is an intellectual pièce de résistance; it is a creation that resists and defies orthodox or common conventions and practices (i.e., modernism), thereby making the whole of the creation unique and special (cosmodernism). Take a deep breath and read it, ideally from beginning to end, but even sampling it will change your life and open intellectual doors. - Sue L T. McGregor

Transdisciplinarity: Theory and Practice, Trans. by Basarab Nicolescu Hampton Press, 2008.

In this fascinating volume, the contributors make it very clear that far from being a faddish and superficial phenomenon, transdisciplinarity is potentially the foundation for a new, and much needed approach to inquiry. Because transdisciplinarity is radical, in the sense that it goes to the roots of knowledge, and questions our ways of thinking and our construction and organization of knowledge, it requires a discipline of self-inquiry that integrates the knower in the process of knowing.

Contents: Foreword, Alfonso Montuori. In Vitro and In Vivo Knowledge--Methodology of Transdisciplinarity, Basarab Nicolescu. The Reform of Thought, Transdisciplinarity, and Reform of the University, Edgar Morin. Transdisciplinarity and the Plight of Education, Giuseppe Del Re. Transdisciplinarity, a Path toward Peace: An Impossible Interview with a Poet, Antonella Verdiani. The Hidden Hand between Poetry and Science, Michel Camus. Levels of Being and Reality--Ancient Indian Perspective, Kesiraju Venkata Raju. Where Are You Based? Jan Visser. Towards an All-Embracing Optimism in the Realm of Being and Doing, Maria de Mello. Transdisciplinarity and a More Meaningful Past, Donald A. Yerxa. Perception of Time and Continuity of Development in Transdisciplinarity Perspective of Cultural Heritage, Paulius Kulikauskas. Prologemena for a Transdisciplinarity Approach to Esotericism, Karen-Claire Voss. Transnational Society as a Reasonable Utopia, Paul Ghils. On the Transmutation of "Violence" into Creative Energy, Jean-Francois Malherbe and Claude Liberson. Ethics and the Interplay between the Logic of the Excluded Middle and the Logic of the Included Middle, Diane Laflamme. The Logic of Transdisciplinarity, Joseph E. Brenner. Transdisciplinarity Approach in Therapy, Roberto Crema. Transdisciplinarity: A New Approach to Metadynamics and Consciousness, Marc-Williams Debono. Scientific Research, Fragmentation, and Self-Awareness, Richard Welter. The Social Construction of Biotechnology: A Transdisciplinarity Approach, E. Haribabu. Transdisciplinarity Potentials of Information, Marilena Lunca. Transdisciplinarity Interface in Cyberspace, Rene Berger. On Connection and Community: Transdisciplinarity and the Arts, Rosemary Ross Johnston. Design Studies: A Transdisciplinarity Perspective, Francois-Xavier Nzi iyo Nsenga. Is Transdisciplinarity a New Learning Paradigm for the Digital Age? Ron Burnett. About the Authors. Appendixes. Indexes.

Basarab Nicolescu, Science, Meaning, & Evolution: The Cosmology of Jacob Boehme, Trans. by Rob Baker, Parabola Books, 1991.

Basarab Nicolescu, The Hidden Third, Trans. by William Garvin, Quantum Prose, forthcoming

“We could ask Basarab Nicolescu about the last constituents of matter or language, since language is a truly quantum phenomena according to him. I believe and I foresee that behind the bootstrap enigma or the infinite interactions between energies at the origin of the concept of full emptiness, there is Another Thing which is ineffable: poetry itself, the infinite knowledge that runs through and beyond us. There is transcendence because our mysterious entity being-conscience-knowledge is not infinite. There are two ways: one of them, that of Basarab Nicolescu, is to introduce rigor in gnosis. Nicolescu also takes a step further by introducing the logic of the third secretly included in the classical Aristotelian logic, which obeys the principle of identity, of non-contradiction and of the excluded third. It is an absolute revolution. The principle of the third secretly included plays the role of a living symbol that unites contradictions, by embracing and fusing them”. - Michel Camus

BASARAB NICOLESCU: Transdisciplinarity and Complexity: Levels of Reality as Source of Indeterminacy


Ben Segal - From an oceanic bedroom to a restaurant overrun by hedgehogs, a man who stumbles across strewn—about human—limbed planters to four people in an enclosed room where their every action is prescribed by cards drawn from a slot, Pool Party Trap Loop perambulates space and potential and in so doing plots a humanizing intersection

Ben Segal, Pool Party Trap Loop,  Queen's Ferry Press, 2015.

If space determines the contours of possibility, Ben Segal’s domain delineates limitlessness. From an oceanic bedroom to a restaurant overrun by hedgehogs, a man who stumbles across strewn—about human—limbed planters to four people in an enclosed room where their every action is prescribed by cards drawn from a slot, Pool Party Trap Loop perambulates space and potential and in so doing plots a humanizing intersection. For the human condition—as revealed in these short yet shapely fictions—is dislocated, and dangerously so; repositioning requires the daring elasticity in language and form that pushes against the surreal sides of this boundless collection.

Ben Segal’s Pool Party Trap Loop is a collection of captivating stories sheathed in grammatical glitz. In each of these narrative nuggets Segal exploits form and conceit while simultaneously tightrope walking the excitingly dangerous arena of the artful sentence. A recent graduate of the prestigious cross-genre UCSD MFA program, Segal came of literary age editing his fiction with input from poets (and vice versa) and it shows in his prose in ways that should convince everyone that there is no better method. Admitted to the program by National Book Award finalist Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, and mentored by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Rae Armantrout, it is no wonder that Segal’s collection debut is such a dazzler. One could find traces of both Armantrout and Bynum in his stories, but Segal’s work stands alone in its strange, winding, sudden candor.
Perhaps the most distinctive experience that Pool Party Trap Loop elicits is the feeling of being exposed to a compendium of transposed photographs. Reading sentence by sentence, story to story, one gains the repeated feeling that there are other narratives stuck in between the pages, other narratives overlaying the stories on the page one can readily see. This transposed story sensation is most present in “I Would Kiss Him Back All Over Too,” which has an extremely innovative form, with the image of a tiger placed over that of a male lover whose female counterpart has mysteriously disappeared. The story is structured in dualities, alternating between tiger phylum reportage and this couple’s existence or (horrifically) possible lack thereof. Through describing the tiger and then the couple and then the tiger and then the couple again the descriptions begin to creep in on each other and overlay in the reader’s mind. We start the story thinking the tiger and the couple are separate entities, but as we read on they become closer and closer together, each separate description bolstering and implying the other until the two stories collide and the reader is forced to conclude that these two separate images the story started with are, in fact, inseparably intertwined. The way Segal deliberately delivers a glut of information (both about the tiger and the lovers) to get at his subjects’ separate, and, later, synonymous reality is reminiscent of Anne Carson’s “Short Talks” and Lydia Davis’ Almost No Memory.
In addition to his formally innovative structures Segal also, in many of his stories, takes on the tool of the fantastical conceit. In “A Room That Is and Or Is Not Past Tense” a group of prisoners exist contained in a felt chamber that has a “soft spot” in the center that shoots out daily tasks and instructions. For a moment, while reading, I thought I was in another wing of George Saunders’ Spiderhead, but the room of Segal’s imagination was far too surreal and pliable, too other world, other mind to be a Saunder’s story, and thus much more like how I would imagine a George Saunders fever dream, some conceit pushed through at high heat till it melts over the edges and burns at the fringe. Similarly, in “Bright Paper/Blood Sand” Segal builds a pyramid of corpses atop which people play volleyball and keep score by slashing tallies on their hands. And again, in “Childpainter,” Segal reveals his vast imagination through Arnold, a failed landscape painter, who found fame by painting portraits of children. Segal explains:
[Arnold] had a way of pulling out the perfection of children that faded in his pictures of teenagers and was gone entirely for any subjects beyond their early twenties. The adult portraits didn’t lack for competence, but they lacked for something else, something more important and less easy to define.
In this story Segal takes his conceit and walks it all the way to the end of the diving board. By the middle of the story Arnold has evolved from painting portraits of children to painting directly on children, and by the end Arnold has taken to “[painting] lost childhoods back on adults.”
But beyond the innovative conceits and the transposed narrative trickery, Segal makes the most immaculate sentences. Gary Lutz, literary leader of the cult of the beautiful sentence, says of Pool Party Trap Loop, “The fresh, previously unheard notes of Ben Segal’s brain-feverish surrealism arrive in the reader’s mind with an audaciously hyper-compact lyricism.”
And there are ample examples to support Lutz’s “hyper-compact lyric” claim. Take the below sentence from “Mrs. Van Pelt’s Class Is Not Coming to the Assembly”:
Allison’s all covered already in those black and purple welts that make you fear her father.
And then this sentence from “Halfingers”:
She took a hold of his little wet hand (a thick and difficult wet, slicked out of her), and she took him by it towards the room that was all light and fuzz.
One of the effects of these lyric sentences is the blurring of the borders between the stories. Although each story is presented as its own world, the consistent sentence-level style in which Segal writes all his stories links them to each other and causes the reader to question exactly where one world ends and another begins. Thus Segal’s narrative gifts don’t only give us ear candy, but, through their lyricism, also lead us to a questioning of our own mind’s compartmentalization. Why did I view these two stories as separate when they may be connected? Why have I separated this world into rooms when it may be an anti-gravity sphere? Although Segal attacks boundaries throughout his collection, the blurring of body and borders and story is most overt in “The Reason I Get So Many Parking Tickets,” when the narrator is stuck in a jail cell and a cop’s little sister says the below to the narrator who is behind bars:
She was saying to someone that she didn’t really know what virginity meant because as far as she could tell, it was impossible to determine where the interior ended and the exterior began and so then how do you ever know if and when penetration has occurred?
This idea is so startling it might be considered violent. It raises the stakes of the story and takes you outside the story. It makes the reader question their own borders, what they are and why they need them to exist.
In this way, Pool Party Trap Loop is a collection for the intellectually adventurous and the unafraid. The sentence level beauty and large-scale conceit ingenuity make it a serious read that requires, between stories, even more serious pause. Reading Pool Party Trap Loop is wounding to the memory — it’s a collection that will pull you in, swirl you around, and spit you out mangled and changed. - Rita Bullwinkel


Ben Segal, 78 Stories, No Record Press, 2008.

As the price of oil skyrockets to heaven, NASA flights plummet back to earth, contemporary philosophy runs on dualistic fumes and the National Football League all but forbids end zone dance fiestas, you decided that humanity was officially out of good ideas. But you were thinking in terms of "left" and "right." 78 Stories, unlike the vast majority of the Western hemisphere's chirographic offerings, conceived of the world in terms of "across" and "down." Challenging our core assumptions of textual linearity while tickling our funny bones, Ben Segal's astonishingly original debut pirouettes from the Mayan Long Count, ghost/human romances, seedy Native American hotels, pie-creamed art critics, bears transfixed by cellular phone ringers, and much more. As in an American crossword puzzle, the text is readable in two directions. 

This book is a giant fold-out with multiple puzzles and blocks of text, an experimental text in the form of a crossword puzzle: 

Ben Segal's 78 stories are the interleaved answers to non-existent crossword clues, stories composed a paragraph at a time in the successive boxes of a giant crossword puzzle printed on one side of a large sheet paper, folded accordion style like a road map. Read the paragraphs in the five squares that might ordinarily contain the letters to be an answer to the clue "DIAGRAM Reviews Editor," and you've read a story. The same paragraphs, of course, are part of stories that must be read vertically as well, to answer a hypothetical "down" clue.
     The space at the bottom of the sheet of paper typically reserved for clues is taken up with interesting but inessential material about the development of the crossword puzzle and its European cousins—but there are so many we don't miss the clues, ones that feature a homicidal mouse crossed in love, a pet psychic named Sandra's experiences during the end of the Mayan long-count, and an overweight bear with a taste for human flesh. It's a broad panoply of possible experiences, and while the range of experience required to finish the Sunday Times crossword might be broader (I wouldn't know; it's beyond my experience), a wide ranging and not-too-serious cross sample of contemporary narrative possibilities jostle for space on the page.
     Segal doesn't play entirely fair with his structural conceit: in a traditional crossword puzzle, you are limited to one letter per square, yet Segal doesn't limit himself to a single sentence, or even a set number of sentences or words per square. Instead, the rule seems something like "include enough information to move the two stories, across and down, forward one measure." So one square, selected at random, captures a character investigating his relationship with his father, and acting to understand it by writing a letter. The adjacent squares, then, follow the letter or the reflection, depending. And as far as that goes, Segal's process works—the stories have an almost serial effect, as if each chapter is a frozen moment (if not a cliffhanger) like the panel in a comic strip, recording a significant exchange, something to advance the stories.
     With very few exceptions, Segal succeeds; there's one part of the collection where I found myself a little bit confused, unsure if the Carl I was reading about is a mouse who is in love with a man named Paul, or else the ghost of Paul's father. And in another section, the resolution of certain stories is conclusively unsatisfying: what exactly is going on with the invisible pit Paul is knocked into by some errant elk? A collection that stakes so much on structural ingenuity invites structural scrutiny, and on occasion, I felt as if I'd opened the wrong door in the funhouse and found myself in a custodian's closet, or some narrative engine room where a belt had slipped. But in almost all the stories, the experiment with branching narratives works to show Segal in control of whole swathes of experience, human and animal.
            Of course, it's worth asking about the value of a project like this. What passes for back matter positions 78 Stories alongside Cortazar's Hopscotch, Abish's Alphabetical Africa, and George Perec's Life: A User's Manual (I had to look that last one up). The idea that the form guides content isn't a new one, really, but the mechanical experiments of writers like Perec and his OULIPO peers gave them the means to investigate the workings of arbitrary state power. Stripped of a similar context, Segal's project will be read differently. 78 Stories reveals the writer, his quirks and particularities in a way that A Void or Exercises in Style maybe doesn't. Segal is a witty observer of people's awkward foibles, as the following sentence shows: "Paul and Sandra had only brought a small amount of food with them for their honeymoon because they had planned to eat out for the most part." It's funny because the situation is recognizable to me and most of Segal's likely readers—erudite, cosmopolitan people who enjoy the challenge of a crossword as much as we enjoy finishing one. Segal's stories build downward and rightward toward an apocalypse in the puzzle's final squares, and humans play a smaller and smaller role as history winds down. What is perhaps less immediately noticeable is that the collection starts with a death, too, that of Dennis Winston, a fifty-three year old architect, husband and father. Maybe it's just a desire to conclusively end so many stories, but Segal's presence shadows the collection; instead of obscuring the author, Segal's scrupulous arrangement becomes the clue that needs to be solved for: who is Ben Segal? I suspect he is like his readers, worldly enough to recognize when a coincidence is nothing more than that, but ultimately drawn up short by the way lives–ours and those of others–end so suddenly, whether we did them justice or not. - Matt Dube

Ben Segal: Wearing Thin

So much is made of Simone Weil having starved herself to death. The Nazis, you know. I could starve myself to death for a thousand good reasons and none of them would be good reasons after all. I would still lack the saintliness for righteous starvation. I would only be bodily dysmorphic.
Or maybe saintliness has been pathologized.
Maybe what was good about the Nazis was that they wore those stupid signs that read EVIL with such semiotic boldness. You could starve against them without question.
Some of my friends are photoshopping a hunger strike. You can watch them turn to wraiths. Limp skinned, bonesome. It’s too much competition for the real. I stare and feel obese. That dysmorphic thing again.
What I don’t mean to say is that hunger is always saintly.
Knut Hamsun, of course.
But still.
Simone Weil wrote a book called Gravity and Grace. Can we set grace apart from weight? Can we place it only in the image-body, in the body at a remove? My friends are fasting electronically.
When a person doesn’t eat, the body eats itself. Starvation is the activation of different kind of eating, a total eating. A phone call, concerned: Are you eating? An honest answer: Of course I am.
Simone Weil tried to be an anarchist freedom fighter in the Spanish Civil War but her comrades would not let her into battle because she was so clumsy and such a terrible shot.
She had to get picked up from the war by her parents.
She failed also, several times, to become a spy.
That is to say, she was trying to disappear into her self. She succeeded by way of starvation. To spy, though, is a dissociation of the self from the body, to starve a dissociation of the body from the self.
I am on a train right now. I did not say that before. I am draped in baggy clothing on a train.
If you starve to death, quietly, on a train, that will cause quite the to-do. But you have to time it right. It’s important not to only almost starve. God forbid some rough Samaritan snatches you up and deposits you in an ambulance. Those I.V. fluids, those feeding tubes.
There are so many ways to eat besides by mouth!
If I were a saint, my miracle would be some new kind of eating. A pure eating, through the eyes or the air. Nothing to get stuck in the depths of my teeth, the mounded valleys of my throat. Nothing to coat my tongue in untonguely color.
On their website, my friends are so devastatingly skinny. They’re getting attention too. The news. Such tiny bodies eclipsing whatever cause they’ve claimed.
And those bodies of course, not even theirs. But theirs indisputably. So I’m wondering who’s pulling off miracles now? My stomach is growling its mouthless language, my body is eating my body. Then there are my friends, saintly, on the internet.
I do like the trees that are passing my window. I am always happy for my friends and acquaintances. It is pleasant, these days, to ride on American trains.

OnlineJelly Bodies- Lamination Colony (forthcoming)

Halfingers- Elimae, June/July 2009
Over Dinner, The Life Story of the Wandering Jew- 3AM Magazine, 2009
Youth and Beauty (Short Version)- Abjective, February 2009
Mrs. Van Pelt's Class is Not Coming to the Assembly- Corduroy Mtn, 2009
The Pork Shunter's Fingers- Eyeshot, May 2009
Switzerland, 1471- For Every Year, 2009
Tender is a Nice Way of Describing Meat- Willows Wept Review, Spring 2009
Underground, in a Cave, in a Shallow Bed of Freezing Water- Pequin, 2009
The Wrestling Bear- Wigleaf, 2009
Reunion- Why Vandalism?, December 2008
Underwater- Hotel St. George, Fall 2008
Shaving- Lamination Colony, 2008
Glue- Elimae, 2008
The Thing about Elephants- Johnny America, 2008
Sometimes Girls- Dogmatika, 2008
Mr. Pibb, etc.- Dogzplot, 2008
Perfection- Flatman Crooked, 2008
Henry- Holy Cuspidor, March 2008
June Bug- 55 Words, 2007
Donny- Monkey Bicycle, 2007
The Old Man- Zygote in my Coffee, 2007
Towards A Dead Father- Word Riot, 2006
Tell It (Again From Your Mouth)- Text installed on site as part of the exhibition 'In The Light Cone' at the Department of Saferty art space on Anacortes, Washington, July 2009. Painted in black and glow-in-the-dark paint on on the gallery wall. See the website.

Frequent contributor at Ghost Island- www.ghostisland.wordpress.com
Dear Wigleaf- Wigleaf, 2009
From Batailles to Christ in 4 Moves- Diet Soap, 2007 (Print Journal)

Worm Organ Transit
Hair Land Instructional
Eight Paragraphs Involving an Ouroboros
Flash Fiction by Ben Segal
The Happy-Enough Family on the Day of the Sorrows-Weighing
The Beards and Chair Legs are Not in the Frame
Loved Ones
You are Today a Man
Dear Confessor

Feliz Lucia Molina and Ben Segal: from THE MIDDLE

"The Darkest Inevitable Logical Conclusion": An Interview with Ben Segal

Ben Segal is the author of 78 Stories (No Record Press), co-author of The Wes Letters (Outpost 19), and co-editor of The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature. His short fiction has been published by Tin House (Online), The CollagistGigantic, Puerto del Sol, and many other magazines and journals. He holds an MFA from UCSD, an MA from the European Graduate School and a BA from Hampshire College, and has been a visiting scholar or writer at the University of Pennsylvania, the Haisyakkei residency in Toride, Japan, and Mustarinda House in eastern Finland. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

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