8/31/17

Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski - Drawing from innovative experiments conducted around the globe, authors show conclusively that the fear of death and the desire to transcend it inspire us to buy expensive cars, crave fame, put our health at risk, and disguise our animal nature


Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski, The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, Random House, 2015.




A transformative, fascinating theory—based on robust and groundbreaking experimental research—reveals how our unconscious fear of death powers almost everything we do, shining a light on the hidden motives that drive human behavior.
More than one hundred years ago, the American philosopher William James dubbed the knowledge that we must die “the worm at the core” of the human condition. In 1974, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Denial of Death, arguing that the terror of death has a pervasive effect on human affairs. Now authors Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski clarify with wide-ranging evidence the many ways the worm at the core guides our thoughts and actions, from the great art we create to the devastating wars we wage.
The Worm at the Core is the product of twenty-five years of in-depth research. Drawing from innovative experiments conducted around the globe, Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski show conclusively that the fear of death and the desire to transcend it inspire us to buy expensive cars, crave fame, put our health at risk, and disguise our animal nature. The fear of death can also prompt judges to dole out harsher punishments, make children react negatively to people different from themselves, and inflame intolerance and violence.
But the worm at the core need not consume us. Emerging from their research is a unique and compelling approach to these deeply existential issues: terror management theory. TMT proposes that human culture infuses our lives with order, stability, significance, and purpose, and these anchors enable us to function moment to moment without becoming overwhelmed by the knowledge of our ultimate fate. The authors immerse us in a new way of understanding human evolution, child development, history, religion, art, science, mental health, war, and politics in the twenty-first century. In so doing, they also reveal how we can better come to terms with death and learn to lead lives of courage, creativity, and compassion.
Written in an accessible, jargon-free style, The Worm at the Core offers a compelling new paradigm for understanding the choices we make in life—and a pathway toward divesting ourselves of the cultural and personal illusions that keep us from accepting the end that awaits us all.




“The idea that nearly all human individual and cultural activity is a response to death sounds far-fetched. But the evidence the authors present is compelling and does a great deal to address many otherwise intractable mysteries of human behaviour. This is an important, superbly readable and potentially life-changing book. . . . The lesson contained within The Worm at the Core suggests one should confront mortality in order to live an authentic life, as the Epicureans and the Stoics suggested many centuries ago.”The Guardian



“A neat fusion of ideas borrowed from sociology, anthropology, existential philosophy and psychoanalysis . . . [The] sweep-it-under-the-carpet approach to death is facile and muddle-headed. More than that, it has consequences more far-reaching than we could possibly imagine because, as [the authors] see it, death informs practically every aspect of human existence. From the way we organise our societies to the moral codes we live by, even down to how we have sex and what rituals and emotions we ascribe to it, death is the bedrock.”The Herald

“Deep, important, and beautifully written, The Worm at the Core describes a brilliant and utterly original program of scientific research on a force so powerful that it drives our lives, but so frightening that we cannot think clearly about it. This book asks us to, compels us to, and then shows us how—by shining the light of reason on the heart of human darkness.”—Daniel Gilbert


Social psychologists Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski provide an intriguing but uneven volume aimed at lay readers that attempts to show that humanity’s unique awareness of death “has a profound and pervasive effect on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in almost every domain of human life—whether we are conscious of it or not.” They cite a number of interesting experiments that contrast the behavior of subjects made more aware of mortality with those who are not. Readers might be surprised to learn that judges belonging to the first category sentenced prostitutes more harshly than their colleagues in the second. The authors explain that those forced to think “about their own mortality [react] by trying to do the right thing as prescribed by their culture.” The language sometimes lapses into cliché (“We have a lot to learn from the ancients”) or overstatement. For all the book’s arguments, some readers will arrive at the end unconvinced that every instance of human cruelty to other humans “stems from humankind’s fundamental intolerance of... those who subscribe to different cultural worldviews.” - Publishers Weekly


Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death (1973) made the striking claim that human activity is driven largely by unconscious efforts to deny and transcend mortality. “We build character and culture in order to shield ourselves from the devastating awareness of underlying helplessness and terror of our inevitable death,” observed Becker. The authors of The Worm at the Core extended Becker’s work with a presentation in 1984 at a meeting of the Society of Experimental Social Psychology. They called it “Terror Management Theory”. The reception was lukewarm. As the authors recount, “renowned psychologists were storming for the exits”.
Undeterred, they approached the journal of the American Psychological Association with a paper on the theory of terror management. The editor insisted their ideas wouldn’t be taken seriously unless some hard evidence could be provided (Becker’s work was built largely around psychoanalytic theory rather than empirical research).
The authors spent the next 25 years measuring the influence of the fear of death on human affairs. The results not only confirmed Becker’s speculation but built on it. “Over the course of human history,” they write, “the terror of death has guided the development of art, religion, language, economics and science. It raised the pyramids in Egypt and razed the Twin Towers in New York.”
The book addresses the two pillars of terror management – cultural worldviews and self-esteem. To demonstrate how fears about death influence societal opinion, judges were prompted to set a bail figure nine times higher for a (putative) prostitute after being reminded of death. This, and substantial other evidence, suggests that reminders of death accentuate our negative feelings towards those who do not share our values. The closer our death fears are to the surface, the more we cleave to social norms – not necessarily those of wider society, but any group we have chosen to identify with (on this definition even support for, say, Islamic State, is an assertion of a “social norm” and therefore an extension of our “immortality projects”. Suicide bombers ultimately act out of fear of death).
Consciousness of death also, crucially, feeds into people’s assessment of their own worth. “Unlike the baboon who gluts himself only on food, man nourishes himself mostly on self-esteem,” wrote Becker in The Birth and Death of Meaning (1962). Intriguingly, the greater your fear of death, the lower your self-esteem – and vice versa. Self-esteem provides psychological protection against existential terror.
The book also charts the history of man’s relationship with death, asserting that it was primary in creating civilisation. Religion did not develop as an offshoot of settled society – it seems probable that the earliest settlements, marking the stage of human development from hunter gathering to agriculture, were built around sites of ritual and worship. The need for immortality predated the requirement of settled economic activity. Strategies for denying death have been there since the dawn of human cognition – the cave paintings at Chauvet, dating back 30,000 years, featured spirit realms and depictions of the supernatural world.
In the modern secular world, we seek to overcome death through fringe cod-scientific activities such as cryogenics. More subtly, we convince ourselves that scientific progress, by curing cancer, or finding a way to upload a human personality on to a hard disk, will rescue us from oblivion. Meanwhile, we distract ourselves from our mortal terror – which would impair functional human activity were it allowed free rein – by working hard, staying busy, shopping and entertainment. Or we seek immortality via the everyday heroism of our jobs, by means of our children who will carry our genes forward, or through connections with our ancestors (hence our obsession with the family tree). For those who have the capacity to create, works of art and invention will stand as our legacy.
The idea that nearly all human individual and cultural activity is a response to death sounds far-fetched. But the evidence the authors present is compelling and does a great deal to address many otherwise intractable mysteries of human behaviour. This is an important, superbly readable and potentially life-changing book – if uncomfortable at times. The lesson contained within The Worm at the Core suggests one should confront mortality in order to live an authentic life, as the Epicureans and the Stoics suggested many centuries ago.
Denial does not remove the problem of death – it merely buries it. This can lead not only to an intractable and inflexible worldview, but collective neuroticism – all in the service of creating an effective psychological barrier against reality. Yet for those with courage and clear-sightedness, facing up to our common destinies can mark a kind of rebirth. As Camus wrote: “Face up to death. Thereafter anything is possible.” -


Given the inevitability of death and its power to render human life meaningless, why read a book about this existential quandary, the authors of such a book ask.
Furthermore, they ask, why write it?
They have written a book to try to prove it — and one worth reading.
For them, the recognition of the power of death in life comes from Ernest Becker, a cultural anthropologist who died in Burnaby, B.C., in 1974, two months before his book “The Denial of Death” won the Pulitzer Prize. Becker argued that unconscious efforts to deny and transcend death are behind much of human activity.
Solomon, Greenberg and Pyszczynski wrote their book to explain the empirical evidence they have developed in the past 30 years to support Becker’s theory. Mostly their proof consists of experiments where one group of people was given some reminder of death — anything from a slightly morbid question on a survey to being shown a grisly movie — and a control group received a neutral substitute. Then the groups were asked to perform some task and the differences were measured.
Judges asked to describe their emotions about their own deaths were more harsh in sentencings than the neutral group. People reminded of death were more susceptible to charismatic political candidates. Give Americans a death reminder and they are more likely to apply stereotypes to those different from themselves.
All these experiments involve the ways humans have devised to keep death at bay, constructing “cultural world views” that give a sense of meaning and then operating successfully within those constructs to provide self-esteem, another key to believing that life is worth living.
Explaining each experiment to show another aspect of “terror-management theory” makes the book somewhat repetitious. But whether you believe the experiments offer definitive proof of how the fear of death shapes human behavior, there is insight here about how and why we live our lives.
The book’s language is straightforward and even light at times, making a weighty subject approachable.
The three psychologists’ exploration delves into religion, sex, mental illness and our conscious and unconscious defenses deployed to ward off the fear of death. That includes efforts, often desperate and perhaps silly, to achieve immortality through means both literal (for $80,000 you can have your head frozen for a chance at a second time around) and symbolic (my name will be remembered as long as this review is read).

Will the book make life meaningful or stay death’s sting? Maybe not, but there’s no question it will shine light on why we do the things we do. -



Drew B. David - This is a work of marginality, of malarkey, as it were. Happy refuse for your darker days

The Toilet Reading Remixes 1
Drew B. David, The Toilet Reading Remixes 1, A Wanton Text Production, 2017. 
read it at Google Books


This is a work of marginality, of malarkey, as it were. Happy refuse for your darker days. It is, however, hoped to be read and studied and lauded, unlike the works of the High Conceptualists, whose works, according to them, are destined for the unholy ash heaps. This book is intended only for toilet reading. After all, we do our best reading on the can.


The Salad Rhapsodies
Drew B. David, The Salad Rhapsodies Vol.1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, A Wanton Text Production, 2016-2017.


read Vol. 3 here


A semi-long visual/pattern/concrete poem by Drew B David, crafted expressly for millennial tastes. Is Dada dead, or has it been mysteriously resurrected, in a new, nefarious iteration? You decide.


The Fiddle-Faddle Songs: An Experiment in Intermedia
Drew B. David, The Fiddle-Faddle Songs: An Experiment in Intermedia,  A Wanton Text Production, 2017.

8/28/17

City Primeval. New York, Berlin, Prague - a personal journey through time in each city told by writers, artists and photographers from each city


City Primeval. New York, Berlin, Prague, curated by Robert Carrithers & Louis Armand, Litteraria Pragensia Books, 2017
excerpt 1 + excerpt 2 (by Louis Armand)


CITY PRIMEVAL is a constellation of personal documentaries of place & time by key contemporary writers, poets, musicians, designers, filmmakers, photographers, artists, editors, performers from within the New York, Berlin & Prague underground scenes from the late 1970s to the present; from New York Post-Punk & No Wave, to the fall of the Berlin Wall & Reunification, to the Velvet Revolution & the Prague Renaissance; including contributions by Bruno Adams, Penny Arcade, Louis Armand, Dale Ashmun, J.Jackie Baier, Markéta Baňková, Varhan Orchestrovič Bauer, Lina Bertucci, Gaby Bíla-Günther, Mykel Board, Victor Bockris, Christoph Brandl, Gary Ray Bugarcic, Robert Carrithers, David Černý, Roman Černý, Michal Cihlář, Antonio Cossa, William Coupon, Max Dax, Christoph Dreher, Sara Driver, Glen Emery, Vincent Farnsworth, Nat Finkelstein, Roxanne Fontana, Thor Garcia, Susanne Glück, Carola Goellner, Anthony Haden Guest, Carl Haber, Jere Harshman, Henry Hills, Nhoah Hoena, Michael Holman, John Hood, Chris Hughes, Jolana Izbická, Timo Jacobs, Bethany Eden Jacobson, Tobiáš Jirous, Bettina Köster, Julius Klein, Hubert Ketzschmar, Jaromír Lelek, Lydia Lunch, Rinat Magsumov, Peter Milne, Steve Morell, Mona Mur, Julia Murakami, Shalom Neuman, Paul Pacey, Puma Perl, Rudolf Piper, Rudi Protrudi, Mark Reeder, Marcia Resnick, Ingrid Rudefors, Ilse Ruppert, Šimon Šafránek, Honza Sakař, Oliver Schütz, Marcia Schofield, Tom Scully, Semra Sevin, Phil Shoenfelt, Peter Smith, Azalea So Sweet, Mark Steiner, Kenton Turk, Andre Werner, Ian Wright, Nick Zedd, Dave Zijlstra, Richard & Winter Zoli, Miron Zownir.
CITY PRIMEVAL: NEW YORK, BERLIN, PRAGUE is a personal journey through time in each city told by writers, artists and photographers from each city. Robert Carrithers acts as a tour guide throughout the book with stories, photographs and art. The book will be published in September.

The Word for World Is Still Forest - we suggest you stray far from paths cut by familiar habits and explore some of the innumerable perspectives on and of the forests that sustain this world.

Image result for The Word for World Is Still Forest, Ed. by Anna-Sophie Springer,
The Word for World Is Still Forest, Ed. by Anna-Sophie Springer, K. Verlag, 2017.


annasophiespringer.net/


"Taking its title from Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1972 novella, The Word for World Is Still Forest curates an homage to the forest as a turbulent, interconnected, multinature."


Contributors: Etienne Turpin, Sandra Bartoli, Shannon Lee Castleman, Dan Handel, Katie Holten, Elise Hunchuck, Eduardo Kohn, Ursula K. Le Guin, Silvan Linden, Yanni A. Loukissas, Pedro Neves Marques, Abel Rodríguez, Carlos A. Rodrígues, Catalina Vargas Tovar, Suzanne Simard, Kevin Beiler, Paulo Tavares


Contents:
The Word for World is Forest: Excerpts from Ursula K. Le Guin
Mimetic Traps: Forest, Images, Worlds by Pedro Neves Marques
It Goes on Like a Forest by Dan Handel
The Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard with visualizations by Kevin Beiler
Life and Death of Data by Yanni Alexander Loukissas
Shannon Castleman: Tree Wounds
The Ancestral Tree of Plenty by Abel Rodríguez with Carlos A. Rodríguez & Catalina Vargas Tovar
The Political Nature of the Forest: A Botanic Archaeology of Genocide by Paulo Tavares
Leaving the Forest
Eduardo Kohn in conversation with Anna-Sophie Springer & Etienne Turpin
Wildwuchs, or the Worth of the Urban Wild
Report by Silvan Linden
Sandra Bartoli: The Old Trees of Berlin’s Forests
Katie Holten: Tree Alphabet




Not to find one’s way around a city does not mean much. But to lose one’s way in a city, as one loses one’s way in a forest, requires some schooling. - Walter Benjamin, “Tiergarten”


It is fitting that the launch for Intercalations’ newest volumes—The Word for World is Still Forest and Reverse Hallucinations in the Archipelago—will take place today in Berlin’s Tiergarten park. Like Walter Benjamin in his wayward rambles through the park and its artificial islands, which become the “first chapter in the science of a city” that is Berlin Chronicle, so too do editors Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin in The Word for World is Still Forest offer a schooling in disorientation:
If you get lost in the forest, authorities advise that you stop moving and stay in one place to avoid confusion and increase the chances of being rescued. We see things differently: we suggest you stray far from paths cut by familiar habits and explore some of the innumerable perspectives on and of the forests that sustain this world.
Kaleidoscopic practices of reading and writing have informed the Intercalations series from the very outset, as I observed in a review of the first volume, Fantasies of the Library. These new volumes are no less prismatic. But while the library and its paginated affairs determined the promiscuous layout of the inaugural volume, in The Word for World is Still Forest arboreal affairs facilitate an entangled book that consists in photographically touring the Tiergarten and its ancient trees, observing riparian erasure along Berlin’s Landwehrkanal, thinking with the tropical rainforest of Ecuador’s Upper Amazon, visualizing genocidal violence through a botanical archaeology of central Amazonia, witnessing the incremental decimation of teak trees in an Indonesian conservation forest, visualizing the extensive data sets of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum, surfing the subterranean “Wood Wide Web” via elder Douglas fir trees in British Columbia, chronicling the interplay of apocalypse and exuberance in forest mythologies (on this see also Simon Schama’s chapter on forests in Landscape and Memory), remediating the fictional forests of an imaginary exoplanet in Ursula Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest, and, finally, becoming lost in (and, for the patient transcriber, finding one’s way through) the literal forest of a tree alphabet. (This is just one possible reading itinerary among others.)
Multi-perspectival, The Word for World is Still Forest takes as its object of inquiry the multinaturalism of the forest that perhaps can be best glimpsed through “the Amerindian way of perceiving images in and of the forest” that Pedro Neves Marques elaborates in his contribution. Though its method may be one of defamiliarization, this volume—a forest school staffed by visual artists, curators, ethnographers, anthropologists, forest ecologists, data scientists, and forensic architects—can be judged not by its capacity to disorient but rather by its potential for emancipatory orientation that for Marques consists in the question of
how to inhabit the space of the in-between, the interval between “worlds”—collaboratively and politically—in order to contribute to a decolonization of the many worlds from the imposition of the “one world.”
Taking place in an urban forest in the historically divided and fragmented metropolis of Berlin, the launch-walk promises to rehearse this volume’s main discovery: that the city haunts the forest just as the forest haunts the city. Curiously, it is a walk that has been rehearsed by Benjamin’s collaborator Franz Hessel, whose path in Walking in Berlin (1929) takes him past this walk’s very starting point (Tuaillon’s Amazon on Horseback sculpture) and then onward “without a specific direction” (ohne eine bestimmte Richtung) only to find himself “auspiciously astray” (glücklich verirrt). May its participants be so lucky. These rehearsals, like the one announced in The Word for World is Still Forest, are vitally important for maintaining the extremely tentative ecological relationships that sustain “worlds” and for recalling the forgotten colonial histories that still threaten to undermine them. - Jason Groves







Reverse Hallucinations in the Archipelago unfolds an itinerant encounter with nineteenth-century European naturalists in the Malay world, where the theory of evolution by natural selection emerged alongside less celebrated concerns about mass extinction and climate change; by re-considering the reverse hallucinatory condition of colonial science in the tropics—how scientists learned to not see what was manifestly present—the reader-as-exhibition-viewer may exhume from the remains of this will to knowledge an ethical conviction of particular relevance for confronting forms of neocolonization in the Anthropocene.
Reverse Hallucinations in the Archipelago reflects on the changing role of colonial natural history collections in the current ecological crisis called the Anthropocene. The volume features an essay by Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin, which considers in parallel the histories of scientific publications and personal letters sent by European naturalists from the tropics in order to discern a schizophrenic dilemma at the core of the colonial-scientific project. The book also includes a science fiction graphic novella by Mark von Schlegell, Iwank Celenk, and The Slave Pianos (with Punkasila) about a futurist entomological meltdown. Photographer Fred Langford Edwards presents a series of works documenting tropical specimens held in the natural history collections of the British Natural History Museum, while artist Lucy Davis uses DNA tracking and oral history to retrace the path of teak furniture from Singapore to Indonesian plantations. Also featured in the collection are interviews with the director of the Wallace Correspondence Project and entomologist, George Beccaloni, and the geologists James Russell and Satrio Wicaksono, who discuss, respectively, the history of biological specimen collecting and a drilling project in the Malay archipelago which recently obtained 300 meters of soil samples containing 800,000 years of Nusantara climate history. To compliment these collections, musician Rachel Thompson adds a two-part composition relaying the Javanese osteo-mythology of the Dutch paleoanthropologist Eugène Dubious. Finally, the volume includes an original translation (from German) of a text by Matthias Glaubrecht, Scientific Director of the Hamburg Center for Natural History, which outlines the maddening rate of species extinction in the rapidly transforming Malay world, an interview with Zenzi Suhadi, Head of the Department of Research, Advocacy, and Environmental Law at the Indonesian non-governmental organization WALHI/Friends of the Earth, as well as a series of aerial drone photographs documenting some of the most recent transformations of forest landscapes in Nusantara.

Contributors: Akademi Drone Indonesia, George Beccaloni, Iwank Celenk, Lucy Davis, Fred Langford Edwards, Christina Leigh Geros, Matthias Glaubrecht, Geraldine Juarez, Radjawali Irendra, James Russell, Mark von Schlegell, SLAVE PIANOS, Anna-Sophie Springer Zenzi Suhadi, Paulo Tavares, Rachel Thompson, Etienne Turpin, Satrio Wicaksono

Naoyuki Ii - A rare work of fiction focused simply on a man of integrity,'The Shadow of a Blue Cat' meticulously renders his life and opinions as Yuki tries to find a middle path between the radicalism of his uncle’s life and the quiet bourgeois home he’s worked so hard to build

Image result for Naoyuki Ii, The Shadow of a Blue Cat,
Naoyuki Ii, The Shadow of a Blue Cat, Trans. by Wayne P. Lammers, Dalkey

Businessman Yuki Yajima is fifty-one years old. He and his wife, Asako, are the parents of two daughters: Ryo, seventeen, and Yuka, an infant of only two months. Asking himself why he’s allowed himself to become a father again at his age, Yuki begins to remember his uncle, who died quite young—younger, indeed, than Yuki is now. Thinking of this man, whom the young Yuki idolized, and who first introduced the boy to authors like Kenzaburō Ōe and the Marquis de Sade, serves as a strange tipping point: allowing a sense of chaos and complexity back into his otherwise well-heeled life. A rare work of fiction focused simply on a man of integrity—a dying breed, in novels—The Shadow of a Blue Cat meticulously renders his life and opinions as Yuki tries to find a middle path between the radicalism of his uncle’s life and the quiet bourgeois home he’s worked so hard to build.


Several years ago Kei's husband disappeared, leaving behind a diary that included the word "Manazuru," the name of a town two hours to the south of Tokyo by train. Had he disappeared because he was suffering from an illness? Had he wanted to die? Had he disappeared because he wanted to live? - Kei has no idea. Even after the time period required for a legal divorce passes, Kei does not remove her name from his family register and continues to use his last name.
Living with her mother and daughter, Kei harbors a feeling of resentment mixed with love, but she has repeated trysts with her lover, a man seven years her senior, with his own household. And when she is not meeting her lover, she travels to Manazuru, as though being dragged there by something.
For some time now, Kei has been feeling as though an invisible woman is following her around. This feeling has been there since before her husband's disappearance, but Kei has never talked to anyone about it. Initially, it seemed she was being followed from afar, and the gender of the pursuer was unclear, but the mysterious presence has become increasingly tangible, to the point where Kei can actually converse with it. Sensing that the presence is a "woman" who had some kind of relationship with her husband, Kei asks about this during her conversations, but the "woman" always gives vague responses on subjects related to her husband.
Kei's daughter, who had been just a baby at the time of the disappearance, is growing up with hardly any memory of her father, and Kei's lover is jealous of the invisible presence. Suffering from her actual human relationships and continuing to feel strongly about her missing husband, Kei repeatedly travels between Tokyo and Matsuru, because she has become determined to undertake a kind of memorial service for him.
This is a beautiful, if frightening, work in which Hiromi Kawakami has pioneered new literary territory. - www.jlpp.go.jp/en/works/03_06.html






In this bittersweet and satisfying novel, 51-year-old Yuki Yajima contemplates the events that have led to his recently having become the father of a two-month-old, his unplanned second child born 17 years after his first daughter. Yuki, who has "a tendency to forget that institutions and laws are merely a thin outer shell covering the living bodies and myriad desires that lie underneath," revisits three main periods of his past: the summer in his teens when he visited his bachelor uncle; his early employed life alongside Ogita, a college friend who would later betray him; and the past year of his life, in which Yuki discovers that Ogita is dying of cancer and Yuki's teenage daughter starts hanging out with a guy Yuki doesn't approve of. As the narrative cycles through layers of time, what emerges is a ruminative and deliberate (some might call it slow) portrait of a man who does his best to think things through and forge ahead despite life's disappointments and curveballs. - Publishers Weekly




It is rather disconcerting to read a novel that opens with the assertion that “I’ve already slid right on past the big five-oh — a milestone no one thinks is very pretty and few are eager to reach — to become a man of fifty-one,” particularly when this reviewer reaches that milestone this coming January.
However, rather than a list of maudlin reminiscences, businessman Yuki Yajima’s tale is one of sharp memories, familial influences and inspiring literature. Central to his life, his uncle — who died at the age of 39 — an Anglophile and admirer of the Marquis de Sade, Norman Mailer and Kenzaburo Oe, holds a strange fascination for Yuki as he weaves personal incident into historical events.


Things are not quite what they seem. As he discusses his friends, tells of his college and career, and explains his concerns about his daughters — one 17, the other barely two-months old — Yuki mixes into his narrative contemplations on art and literature.
Longer sections on the meaning of love, group dynamics, and ethics add an intellectual heft to the everyday tale of a businessman and his seemingly normal life. Chances not taken, the politics of family life, and the necessity to be true to one’s principles inform the novel with an almost 19th-century feel — despite the presence of cell phones, emails and Amazon.com.
Meanwhile, in London during the 1970s, Yuki’s uncle finds himself embroiled in a weird erotic game with the mysterious Rieko. Here, the author deftly contrasts and compares the rules of familial behavior — father/husband, daughter/wife relationships — with the rituals of sadomasochism, asking, “Love? … What could you possibly mean?” For Yuki, love and life are all about control.
Personal, social and artistic responsibilities provide the moral background for a novel also interested in the intricacies of ethical bondage. Yuki’s strained conversations with his 17-year-old daughter, Ryo, show the tension between the generations and the attendant shifting of morals in Japanese society.
Yuki’s story about his business career pinpoints the hypocrisy in ruthlessly acquiring wealth and status while propounding a philosophy of impartiality and fairness. The vicissitudes of employment, the complexity of negotiations, and the power brokerage between colleagues mirror the changing tides of family interaction. The narrator is caught in a whirlpool of personal problems that threaten to suck him under. He almost drowns in his need to understand actions and events while falsely believing that he is a distant observer of chaos and catastrophe. This is evident in the scuffle he has outside the hospital room of an ex-colleague dying of stomach cancer.
Yuki fuses tales of the grim upbringing of his daughter’s boyfriend with comments on suicide and social dysfunction, realizing that, even though he disapproves of the young couple’s relationship, it reminds him of his first love during the summer he spent with his uncle in Yokokawa.
Yet, no matter how hard he tries to ignore and rationalize it, chaos is never far from Yuki’s life. His daughter is pregnant, his ex-colleague’s cancer worsens, and a client complains about a business foulup. Slowly, Yuki’s prejudices rise to the surface — not only is he having trouble communicating with his daughter’s generation, he is also unsure how to deal with what he thinks he knows and believes, stating, “I have a tendency to forget that institutions and laws are merely a thin outer shell covering the living bodies and myriad desires that lie underneath.”
Economics and eroticism merge in a novel sometimes reminiscent of Georges Bataille and sometimes of George Eliot. A tale of love, fate and responsibility, “The Shadow of a Blue Cat” combines philosophy and sociology in a tale of a man who would be a character in a tale by Yasutaka Tsutsui or the Marquis de Sade if it were not for his entrenched morality. Naoyuki Ii impresses with the wide scope of his societal view and the concurrent meticulous gaze into the life of a seemingly ordinary man. - 


The Shadow of a Blue Cat is narrated by Yuki Yajima, who has already: "slid right on past the big five-oh" and who is struggling a bit in coming to terms with his "fifty-something self". He begins at something of a new crossroads, explaining that he has two children, one daughter, Ryo, who is seventeen (and recently dropped out of school), and another who is just two months old; this is not so much the starting point of the novel, but rather the point he finds himself at that sets off his reflective mood: The Shadow of a Blue Cat is, more or less, the story of how he got to this point in his life, and this particular situation.
       Yuki assesses his life, and describes what he's been through. There are several main narrative threads here, the dominant one being that in which he describes the past year or so, concentrating on his family life and especially Ryo, a budding artists who had trouble adjusting to her new school and whose rebellious streak occasionally flares up. In this period he not only faces the addition of a new member to the family -- the baby -- but also the decline and death of a former colleague and friend, Ogita, whose betrayal still bothers him. Ogita was married to Momo, whom Yuki remains close to, and as Momo is drawn back somewhat into Ogita's orbit as he faces his terminal illness Yuki dredges up some of the past between them.
       Yuki's account isn't one of simple reflection: he allows several tracks to slowly unfold. He chronicles his career, for example, and how he wound up running his own business -- with Ogita's betrayal both undermining and freeing him -- a slightly unusual entrepreneurship-tale. He also goes further back, to a summer he spent with an uncle who introduced him to books by authors such as Oe, Henry Miller, the Marquis de Sade, and Tsutsui Yasutaka (author of books such as Hell and Salmonella Men on Planet Porno) -- and, for a stretch, a significant portion of the narrative is then devoted to the uncle's account of an unusual situation he found himself in, a story he told the teenage Yuki. This much more daring bon vivant died when he was was only thirty-nine, some three decades earlier, but he -- and his life -- still cast a long shadow over Yuki.
       The story the uncle told was one of those life-changing ones: "My life basically came to an end during those three days", the uncle told young Yuki. Yuki also finds himself in emotionally wrenching (if not quite so luridly (melo-)dramatic) situations -- though typically it is a job-related incident that is the most affecting, leaving him still: "unable to refill the void that opened inside me that day".
       Yuki is not solely defined by his work, but his identity is clearly shaped by it. He feels great pressure to be a proper provider to his family, and carefully weighs risks in what steps he takes. Yet he does take risks -- perhaps not on the scale his uncle did, but nevertheless -- and with risks comes both failure and success. It also leads to somewhat of a disconnect from his family: The Shadow of a Blue Cat is, ultimately, a domestic novel, and Yuki does try hard to be a proper guide and help in his role as father, but he is also away from home a great deal, misses family dinners constantly -- and seems to be more attentive to Momo than his own wife. He comes across, ultimately, more as a manager than family-man, even in his dealing with his family. In part this reflects Japanese culture -- as in his dealings with Ryo's school and her boyfriend's family --, where things are done as much for appearance's sake, but nevertheless it feels odd how carefully he plans many things: when it comes to the baby, for example, he has it all figured out like in a PowerPoint presentation.
       At one point Yuki reflects on "family dysfunction -- the problem that afflicts out own era", yet he seems oblivious to how he contributes to the dysfunction of his own family. He is not entirely self-absorbed, but his perspective is limited. He proves creative and he has a bit of ambition -- he is willing to think 'outside the box' -- but he remains consistently too managerial in his approach to everything.
       A very deliberate man, his caution has also left him unfulfilled: typically already during that summer he spent with his uncle he fell in love for the first time -- and it went nowhere. Indeed:
     Kanoko and I exchanged addresses and promised to write. "We'll see each other again, okay ?" I said, and she nodded in assent as she squeezed my hand. But I never wrote a single letter, nor did I ever get one from her.
       The Shadow of a Blue Cat falls similarly short, too much of it just pottering along, without sufficient follow-through. Most notably, after his sensational story is recounted, the uncle doesn't figure prominently any more. Yuki's account of his professional path is of some interest -- The Shadow of a Blue Cat is also a career-novel of sorts -- but stands somewhat at odds with the domestic part of the novel. And in the domestic part the underdeveloped figure of the wife, and Yuki's obliviousness to much of day-to-day life at home -- for one reason: because he so rarely seems to be at home -- weaken that part of the story.
       Yuki is a a sympathetic narrator, and his story isn't uninteresting, but the telling is a bit too bland and unfocussed. Bit by bit it's all quite interesting, but the whole remains somewhat shapeless. The social critique that bubbles throughout the text -- Ryo's difficulties with her art in particular, as seen both in the issues she has with the establishment at her school as well as her sense that: "it's more about painting as a medium of expression being out of whack with the pace of things these days" -- is interesting, too, but it too fails to properly coalesce.
       A decent read, The Shadow of a Blue Cat nevertheless feels very much like a near-miss rather than truly successful novel. - M.A.Orthofer



James Knight - Set in a surreal totalitarian state populated by spies, vampires, robots and chimpanzees, Mono offers the reader a kaleidoscope of mutating story-lines

Mono
James Knight, Mono, Cipher Books, 2015.
read it at Google Books
thebirdking.com/




Set in a surreal totalitarian state populated by spies, vampires, robots and chimpanzees, Mono offers the reader a kaleidoscope of mutating story-lines. Eve is abducted and imprisoned in a subterranean compound. The sinister Mirrors inject readymade dreams into the minds of citizens. Dr Mort brings extinct animals back to life. Serge plots the assassination of a dictator... Binding all the strands together is the portrait of a writer who is desperate to expose the truth about the bleak world in which he lives, but who cannot distinguish between memories, fantasies and dreams.
Accompanied by sixty monochrome illustrations and written in Knight's characteristically terse, darkly humorous style, Mono is perhaps best described as an entertaining nightmare.




The mannequins are more real than you                   
The mannequins are more real than youBy James Knight
                                                              
"Sometimes the mannequins get behind my eyes I feel them tugging the strings of my nerves playing with my mechanisms They make themselves at home in the lumber room of my skull.." James... More > Knight's latest collection of poems and prose poems takes the reader to the other side of the mirror, where the Bird King reigns and mannequins are more real than people.                            
                    
The Mannequin                    
The MannequinBy James Knight, Susan Omand
                                                              
A coffin or cocoon, a hollow container. To avoid disappointment, don't expect to find a fleshy thing pulsating inside. On Valentine's Day it's common practice to express amorous feelings by sending the object of one's desire a greeting card, depicting an internal organ, skewered on a sharp implement. So much for romance. Knock knock. Who's there? No one, just a voice, echoing grandly.                             
                    
The Madness of the Bird King                    
The Madness of the Bird KingBy James Knight, Diana Probst
                                    
"A brilliant piece of work." Jeff Noon, author of Vurt, Falling Out of Cars & The Automated Alice The Bird King is mad again. He caws through empty midnight streets, moulting tar-black feathers. James Knight's poetic account of the weird world of the Bird King is accompanied by Diana Probst's beautiful, unsettling watercolour illustrations, rendered here in full colour. Look the Bird King in the eye, see into the clunking clockwork of his dark heart.                            
                    
In the Dark Room (full colour edition)                    
In the Dark Room (full colour edition)By James Knight
                                                              
"The mannequins are here again. I can feel them throbbing in my ears. They’re standing around in the kitchen, impassive as stone. But inside they’re laughing. I’m not getting out of bed for them, not this time." In the Dark Room is a surreal novella written and illustrated by James Knight, author of Head Traumas. The story is narrated by a bedridden man who finds himself besieged by memories, fantasies and the mannequins at the bottom of the stairs. Knight's combination of words and pictures invites us into a strange yet familiar world, governed by the logic of a dream. This special edition includes 40 full colour "oneirographs", Knight's trademark dream pictures.


Head Traumas Head Traumas By James Knight                                               
       

13 13 By James Knight, Diana Probst                                              


Mr Punch Dreams Mr Punch Dreams By James Knight, Maxim Peter Griffin    
                           



















8/26/17

Asaf Schurr eloquently plays on the disquieting relationship between friends (or is it victim and bully?), and between the worth of a life lived richly on the interior, versus one lived falsely and loudly in public.

Image result for Asaf Schurr, Motti,

Asaf Schurr, Motti, Trans. by Todd Hasak-Lowy, Dalkey Archive Press, 2






Calling to mind the minimalist novels of Jean-Philippe Toussaint, Motti is at once an exercise in simplicity and a self-conscious investigation into storytelling . . .


Schurr (Amram) sets up a chilling ethical compromise in this spare, sober narrative. Told by an outside observer who doesn't hesitate to share his opinions, the novel depicts the unequal friendship between Motti and Menachem, two middle-aged men living in Jerusalem who probably (surmises the narrator) met in the army years before where "these things are established just once and never budge." Motti is an unassuming elementary school teacher who lives alone with his beloved dog and adores from afar a teenage girl living in a neighboring apartment. Menachem, meanwhile, is married with two young children, brash, self-serving, and frequently insincere. After a night of drinking together, Menachem hits and kills a pedestrian while driving drunk, and Motti, also in the car, steps up and takes the rap—five years in prison. ("hat was that but five years in which he wouldn't have to struggle," he thinks.) But after Menachem loses Motti's dog while Motti is locked up, what will transpire between the two? Schurr eloquently plays on the disquieting relationship between friends (or is it victim and bully?), and between the worth of a life lived richly on the interior, versus one lived falsely and loudly in public.






“Exciting, wonderful, funny, charming, appealing . . . Those who don’t read Asaf Schurr’s new book are simply losing out . . . I have not read such a beautiful book for a long time, for really a very long time.” - Haaretz



“One of the most gifted young writers we have.” - Yedioth Ahronoth



“Schurr’s writing is a work of a genius.” - Yedioth Tel Aviv


Schurr (Amram) sets up a chilling ethical compromise in this spare, sober narrative. Told by an outside observer who doesn't hesitate to share his opinions, the novel depicts the unequal friendship between Motti and Menachem, two middle-aged men living in Jerusalem who probably (surmises the narrator) met in the army years before where "these things are established just once and never budge." Motti is an unassuming elementary school teacher who lives alone with his beloved dog and adores from afar a teenage girl living in a neighboring apartment. Menachem, meanwhile, is married with two young children, brash, self-serving, and frequently insincere. After a night of drinking together, Menachem hits and kills a pedestrian while driving drunk, and Motti, also in the car, steps up and takes the rap—five years in prison. ("[W]hat was that but five years in which he wouldn't have to struggle," he thinks.) But after Menachem loses Motti's dog while Motti is locked up, what will transpire between the two? Schurr eloquently plays on the disquieting relationship between friends (or is it victim and bully?), and between the worth of a life lived richly on the interior, versus one lived falsely and loudly in public. - Publishers Weekly


It is not obligatory for an Israeli novelist to double as national prophet, but it helps secure publication in the United States, where translations constitute less than 3% of books. Writing about and against public injustice, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Václav Havel and Reinaldo Arenas found American readers. Compatriots who pursued private themes did not. “Motti” is the second of Asaf Schurr’s three novels, but it is the first to be published in English, three years after its release in Israel. Nowhere in “Motti” do the words “Palestinian,” “Hamas” or “settlements,” appear, nor does the novel make reference to conflicts between secularists and Haredim. Except for the fact that he writes in Hebrew, Schurr has little in common with David Grossman, Amos Oz or A.B. Yehoshua, who use their fictions to confront crises of communal identity. Surveying the boundaries of genre rather than those of nation, he is literary landsman to Italo Calvino, J. M. Coetzee and Milan Kundera. Though he sets his story in Israel, Schurr abjures the role of narrative radiologist; “Motti” is not an MRI of his country’s troubled psyche.
Instead it is a short book composed of 58 brief sections, most occupying two or three pages. Epigraphs from Ludwig Wittgenstein, the philosopher of linguistic determinism, signal a novel that is self-conscious about its own verbal medium. “I believe,” the author/narrator says, “that a creation must bear the scars of its creation,” and “Motti” is pocked with the metafictional cicatrices of its verbal origins. Opening with a direct address to its readers, the novel acknowledges its author’s limitations: “You’re the performers and the audience all at once,” the author/narrator tells his readers, “and everything is already out of my control.” Describing the protagonist Motti’s pet dog — named Laika, after the canine casualty of the first Soviet space launch — he renounces any special authority, admitting, “I imagined the Laika in this book as a German shepherd, but everyone else will imagine her as they like.”
If readers are encouraged to imagine, so are characters. A Walter Mitty of the Middle East, Motti is a meek schoolteacher whose vibrant inner life belies his drab outer existence. He fantasizes about romance with a neighbor, Ariella, who lives just the other side of his apartment wall. Though he cannot muster the courage to start a conversation, he dreams up elaborate scenarios of courtship, marriage and even parenthood with her. Just as readers are likely to improvise their own extrapolations from the minimal information that Schurr provides, Motti generates multiple plot lines for his life with Ariella. She becomes by turns a receptionist, a meteorologist and a plastic surgeon, but he actually knows almost nothing about Ariella, except that she is a prepubescent. But he is no more pedophile than Dante, who spun celestial poetry out of a brief encounter with 8-year-old Beatrice Portinari.
Motti’s only friend, Menachem, is as gregarious as Motti is introverted. When, driving home after too many beers, Menachem kills a pedestrian, Motti impulsively decides to take the rap. Menachem, after all, has a wife and children, while Motti is just a solitary schlemiel. The five years he spends in a prison cell, conjuring up plot lines for Ariella, differ little from the life he leads within his apartment walls, imagining the off-screen reality of bit players in movies. A prison guard who passes time by recounting personal experiences offers further evidence of the universal impulse to generate stories; however, the most important story in “Motti” is the transaction between the text and its readers. An apologetic author interrupts the proceedings so often that it is the Motti story that seems an intrusion into the commentary. The author/narrator anticipates that many will dismiss him — and his book — as “a pest, a nuisance, an irritation, etc.” He suggests, however, that “if art has any obligation, if the people trying to make it have any obligation at all, it’s only to be utterly human.” The novel is at its most human when it dramatizes the attractions and distractions of storytelling.
Schurr minimizes the importance of content to his art. “The heart is the sentence,” he explains. “Always the sentence. It doesn’t even matter what I say in it, it’s just the labor that’s important, always this labor, word after word after word….” Todd Hasak-Lowy’s lucid translation is faithful to the original, word after word after word. Following the Hebrew literally, though, he repeatedly renders the if clause in conditional sentences in the future tense: “… if I’ll have kids, he’ll be their doctor too.” Though the Hebrew kmo could mean “like” or “as,” Hasak-Lowy translates it only as “like”: “… like officers in the army are so fond of doing….” This has the effect of making the narrator seem more colloquial and less in command of his carefully crafted sentences than he is elsewhere.
In a typically metafictional moment a third of the way through the book, Schurr likens his novel, containing more spaces than words, to a net: “The body of the plot is full of holes like a fisherman’s net or an old stocking, and as with the net, it gathers up, without discretion, miscellaneous thoughts and meaningless fantasies and so forth.” A spry affirmation of the freedom to imagine, “Motti” is a net gain for Israeli fiction. - Steven G. Kellman


Israel is not the easiest place to live. Indeed, this country confronts its highly diverse population with a similarly varied set of difficulties. A very partial list includes national conflict, ethnic tension, and religious strife, all three of which are often described as intractable. But this almost unimaginable difficulty presents certain advantages to writers, even or especially writers of fiction. The world, after all, finds difficulty fascinating. At home and abroad people want to understand the difficulty that is Israel, want someone to give it all a name, want to read the words of a writer equipped to tie it all up with a poetic flourish. Readers from Korea to Brazil are searching for someone capable of positioning a few well-drawn individuals against that wide canvas of historical, political, social, and religious overabundance (also known as “the Conflict”), thereby making this overabundance a bit more intelligible. This is how the novel, as a genre, compensates for its fictional status, how it manages to constitute a form of knowledge despite never having happened: it takes the political and the historical and translates them into the personal and the biographical so that the individual reader can finally understand.
The global desire to understand this bottomless difficulty is remarkable. There are seven million people in Israel (depending on how you count—even the straightforward matter of counting inhabitants is far from simple over there), which is roughly the same number of people who live in Bulgaria or Honduras. But how many of their writers get translated into English? In the last twenty years over five hundred book-length works from Hebrew literature have been published in English.1
But this worldwide interest comes with strings attached. People read Hebrew writers primarily to get The Story. The big one. The national one. Or the religious-cum-national one. People read for the epic story, the one with all those wars fought over and against that possibly mystical two-thousand-year-old backdrop. Israeli writers can be critical, their stories can be ironic, tragic even, so long as they include The Story.
In this regard the book before you disappoints, or, more accurately, disobeys. Take Asaf Schurr’s Motti, change the names of the main characters, switch around another fifty words scattered here and there, and delete, by my count, a single three-sentence stretch (describing a dream of all things), and this novel could be set in any of a thousand cities around the world. Unless I’m way, way off here (or unless you’re one of those readers who thinks absolutely everything is an allegory2), I’d say that this book, despite the language and country in which it was written, is not about Israel. It just isn’t. This in itself is noteworthy. The very absence of Israel in this Israeli novel does tell us something about contemporary Israeli culture,3 but contemplating the presence of this absence only takes us so far. To understand Motti, one must look elsewhere.

So what is Motti about? Plot summary won’t really explain it. There’s a man (Motti), a dog, a friend, an object of affection, an accident, and an extremely difficult (there’s that word again) decision. Even for a short novel, not that much really happens. As such, some readers will dismiss Motti for failing to tell a conventional story (if they didn’t already dismiss it for failing to tell The Story).
But this book most certainly should be understood as a novel, and a novel tapping into one of the genre’s central traditions. Motti is a novel riddled with self-consciousness. Asaf Schurr—or Asaf Schurr as implied author—is everywhere in this book, reflecting on the story being told, interrupting the story no longer being told, and drawing attention to the contrived nature of the project of novel writing as a whole.
This approach to the form, this refusal to let the story simply be, this impulse to draw back the curtain, is a tradition stretching back to what may well have been the very first novel, Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Unfortunately, the gradual resurgence and apparent ubiquity of this gesture during the last half century—following a longer stretch that included nineteenth-century realism, during which period this narrative strategy receded—has lead many people to mistake it as a recent (and thus trivial or frivolous) trend. Nowadays the self-conscious novel is often identified, categorized, and then dismissed as “postmodernist” (or, even worse, as “po-mo”), and that’s that. Such thinking seems to believe that the “serious novel” and the “postmodernist novel” occupy mutually exclusive categories.
But identifying a strategy at work in a novel is not the same as explaining the meaning of either. In other words, not all self-conscious novels are created equal. Indeed, the technique is remarkably flexible, which explains, in part, why novelists have returned to it again and again throughout the genre’s four-hundred-year history. Motti is most certainly—to quote Robert Alter’s description of the self-conscious novel in general—“the kind of novel that expresses its seriousness through playfulness.”4 Though even this may be overstating Schurr’s interest in anything smacking of the antic. In contemporary American fiction, the appearance of the writer in his or her own plot, or even the mention of a third-person narrator’s self-awareness within a narrative, often operates as a distancing gesture. Through this move the writer flaunts a certain cleverness, demonstrates his or her mastery of the genre’s many incarnations, or simply compels the reader to recognize the underlying absurdity of fully caring about this illusion we call fiction.
By contrast, Asaf Schurr employs this strategy with almost deadpan candor. As I read it, this novel’s many self-conscious asides seem the product of pure, unadorned honesty and sensitive, lucid contemplation. Put differently, this novel is in large part an oddly humble reflection on writing, on imagining a world, and on trying to make sense of our real world through an extended exercise that relies on nothing but words. Schurr’s “playfulness” is perfectly sincere and thus raises the emotional stakes of the narrative. He might spoil the illusion that is his story, but this is a small price to pay for the multi-dimensional clarity and unlikely wonder this novel offers again and again. As he says at the end of his preface about the book to come, “everything is on the table and in midair the table stands.”
I suspect that this tendency toward self-consciousness reflects one of Schurr’s central motivations as a writer, but Schurr and/or his narrator are hardly the main characters in his novel. Motti revolves, as its titles suggests, around the eponymous protagonist. Schurr’s Motti is quite nearly a loner. He has a dog, a single friend, and an infatuation with his neighbor, Ariella. Beyond this we know virtually nothing about his external reality. No mention of family, no mention of his relationship to the city or country in which he lives. From a slightly different and uncharitably critical perspective, we could even say that Motti is an incomplete character.
But Motti comes to life for the reader through our access to his inner world, where we find him endlessly preoccupied with his possible futures. In particular, Motti thinks about his future life with Ariella, about the passion they’ll share, the difficulties they’ll encounter, the family they’ll make, and the inescapable end patiently waiting for both of them. Much of the events in Motti never happen at all, not even within the novel’s imaginary world. Instead, we learn about Motti’s life by learning about all the lives he imagines himself living in the future. Motti is hardly a hero in any conventional sense, but the reader identifies with him nevertheless, since we all live so much of our lives in the private ether of our endless speculations.
By casting as his protagonist a master of anticipation, speculation, and fantasy, by allowing possible futures to dwarf the immediate present again and again, Schurr reveals what it means to be a novelist in the first place. Or, from a perhaps more telling perspective, allows us to see the extent to which all of us are novelists of a sort: preoccupied with crafting our plot, overwhelmed by the burden of choosing from among the endless possibilities, and hard-pressed to come up with anything even approaching a satisfying ending. By portraying his protagonist in this way, Schurr both motivates his own asides and vindicates the frankness informing this playfulness as well.

I detect a certain inescapable melancholy at the center of all this, a feeling somewhere between despair and sorrow stemming from a shared failure to experience our external worlds as richly as we experience all the private events in our minds that never quite happen. The external real, it seems, will always pale next to the internal unreal. The main consolation, at least in Schurr’s case, seems to be expressing this last sentiment so poignantly. Motti’s ultimate achievement (and the reason I hoped to translate it) is its language, which is at once precise and daring, sober and inventive, self-deprecating and ambitious. In a book so small that covers so much novelistic territory that has apparently already been covered (and dismissed as not just covered, but as exhausted, too), the pitfalls are numerous. But by finding just the right word time after time, by establishing and maintaining a singular tone located somewhere between amazement and defeat, Schurr justifies his refusal to follow so many often-imposing novelistic rules.
None of this is to say, of course, that all Hebrew novels, let alone all novels, should be like Motti. We should continue to read Hebrew novels to get The Story, we should read Yehoshua, Grossman, and Castel-Bloom if we really want to understand what life is truly like over there. But we should make room for something else, too, something utterly different, something concerned with a rich inner world somehow prior to the great, messy world outside. That a person could maintain the sensitive faculties necessary for detecting and then transcribing the elusive and fragile language of this private territory, all while living in that overwhelming and difficult reality called Israel, is all the more reason to read Motti with a serious and generous eye. - Todd Hasak-Lowy

Notes:
1 This figure—which includes fiction, poetry, and books for children—comes from Nilli Cohen at the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature.
2 The influential Marxist critic Fredric Jameson has advanced such an approach to so-called “third-world” literature (an obviously problematic category, especially in the Israeli case). In “third-world texts,” according to him, “the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society.” Jameson’s widely read article is typically rejected in scholarly circles, but I think it’s fair to say this allegorical shadow looms over much reading of, in this case, modern Hebrew fiction. See Fredric Jameson, “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism,” Social Text, No. 15 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 65–88.
3 It should be noted that Motti received considerable attention upon its publication in Israel, including a glowing front-page review in the Haaretz book supplement (more or less the Israeli equivalent of the New York Times Book Review or the Guardian). The Israeli reading public’s (and/or its critical establishment’s) readiness to accept and even embrace Motti on its own unconventional terms says something about the expansive sense of what constitutes Israeli culture within Israel here in the early twenty-first century. Anglophone reading sensibilities, I’m guessing, are rather parochial by comparison, as I’d more confidently recommend Motti to a fan of David Foster Wallace than to one who prefers Amos Oz.

4 Robert Alter, Partial Magic: The Novel as Self-Conscious Genre (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975), ix.


Asaf Schurr on Writing a Rooster

Sozialistisches Patienten Kollektiv - In future there will exist more and more groups formed by special forces of illness, developing real in-dividuation. A special force of illness is mania which, if developed collectively, works like a musical species killing all discipline, by transcendence

Image result for Turn Illness into a Weapon
Sozialistisches Patienten Kollektiv, Turn Illness into a Weapon, KRRIM, 2002.




During the times more remote there existed astrological maps in which the governors of your brain took names like moon (luna) or cancer, the governors of your muscles Mars and so on. Those oldy names which nevertheless represent still existing pathways and exchange banks for other demons and devils, possessing and obsessing, interested in imperialism, but enemies of every kind of revolution concerning both, namely cosmic and social matters, for sure (kosmisch-soziale Revolution).
In future there will exist more and more groups formed by special forces of illness, developing real in-dividuation (MFE). A special force of illness is mania which, if developed collectively, works like a musical species (Musikgattungswesen, nicht harmlos) killing all discipline, by transcendence. The same about a collective which develops its self-chosen addictions (Körpersüchte) exercised body by body, for addiction then is a deadly weapon against drugs, while turning all bodies to a well tempered species (Wärmekörper, wild), thus by immanence. Did you ever divide a melody, a lot of warmth, an illness or some other species? Of course not, for such individualities are either individuals or divisible, thus no individuals.
Perhaps Plato and Bergson forgot to mention it in the completeness, now necessary to enable the doing it, and Pluto, grouping the imponderable into weight, the weight into imponderability, therefore now is mad at them and resorting to earthquakes. Make use of your own experiences about illnesses and put fantasy into action.
Those things are meant if there is the question about how to be up to date. SPK - TURN ILLNESS INTO A WEAPON is the first glance to a future to be done free of (Endlösungs-) names, governors, health factories and so on. We call it Utopathie.


“Dear Comrades,
I read your book with the greatest interest. In it I found not only the sole possible radicalization of anti-psychiatry, but a coherent practice which aims at replacing the so-called “cures” of mental illness. To put things generally, what Marx called alienation-a general fact in capitalist society – you have given the name illness. It seems to me that you are right. In 1845, Engels wrote in Situation of the Working Class: “[industrialization has created a world in which] a race can only exist once it has been dehumanized, degraded, rendered physically morbid and lowered to a bestial level both intellectually and morally”. As atomizing forces applied themselves to systematically degrading a class of men into sub-men, from the exterior as well as the interior, one can understand how the ensemble of persons of whom Engels spoke has been affected by the “illness”; it can be grasped at one and the same time as an injury that wage-earners are made to suffer, and as a revolt of life against this injury which tends to reduce them to the condition of object. Since 1845 things have changed profoundly, but alienation remains and will remain as long as there is a capitalist system; since it is, as you say, the “condition and result” of economic production.”
Illness, you say, is the only form of life possible in capitalism. The psychiatrist is at once a wage-earner and a sick person like everyone else. The ruling class has simply given him the power to “cure” or intern. Obviously, the cure cannot, in our regime, be the suppression of the illness: it is the capacity to continue producing all the while remaining ill. Thus in our society there are the sane and the cured (two categories of ill persons who are unaware of themselves, and who observe the norms of production) and, on the other hand, the identified “ill persons”– those whose disturbed revolt places them outside the conditions of production and against the wage given the psychiatrist. This policeman begins by outlawing them, in so far as he refuses them their most elementary rights. He is a natural accessory to atomizing forces: he considers individual cases in isolation, as if psychoneurotic disturbances were the characteristic detects of certain subjectivities, their particular destinies. Thus bringing together ill persons who seem to look alike as singular beings, he studies diverse behaviours-which are only effects-and the connection between them, thereby constituting nosological entities that he treats as illnesses and then submits to a classification. The ill person is thus atomized in so far as he is thrown into a particular category (schizophrenic, paranoiac, etc.), in which are found other ill persons with whom he cannot relate socially, since they are all considered as identical exemplars of the same psychoneurosis.” -
Jean Paul Sartre


Turn illness into weapon: Mental distress from a Socialist perspective Bruce Scott

Liberating the Canon - an edited anthology capturing the contemporary emergence of radically innovative and non-conforming forms of literature in the UK and US

Liberating The Canon: An Anthology of Innovative Literature , Ed. by Isabel Waidner, Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018. "If there were a...