Richard Makin - Owing much to Nouveau Roman particularity and the decadence of fin-de-siècle prose, privileging arcane objecthood over organized personhood, MOURNING is richly dark and thick with corporeal and writerly materialities

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Richard Makin, Work, Great Works, 2003-06.

We're not going to forget it, the opening screen: poultry, jack or tin and paper case, ditto section. You have to move in close to read all this, using negatives, saying what is not—torn in a seacup, eye full of clipse. First the green line. One thing I am certain about: the language filched from passers by. Immaculate simplicity of narrative. It's a method known to stop anything in its tracks. She is born with her head wrapped around a name, a big chunk of it. (Opening moves of St Leonards, Chapter 6)
For the last few years Richard Makin (the "A" seems to be optional) has been publishing in monthly instalments on the Great Works site run by Peter Philpott. Work in Process began publication in 2004. It was supposed to run for a year, but in the event it carried on for more than two, so the complete text runs to 30 parts, separated by photographic images. St Leonards followed immediately and is, as I write, on its seventh instalment: not too late to get with it and to enjoy - if that is the right word - the curiously compulsive exercise of waiting for the next episode and its surprising turns (which are always a surprise) and its revelations (which never materialize). Right now, this is one of my favourite books.
The two works are not entirely discrete, so that for example "a rust chute emptying into the sea" in SL2 repeats an image that first showed up as far back as WiP2; "the great arterial trunk that carries blood from the pump" varies a definition of aorta first seen in WiP29; longstanding motifs such as the descent and the hexagon continue to outcrop; the "young man with an ashplant" of WiP30 returns fragmentarily in SL3, part of a narrow thread of references to the Telemachia of Ulysses that still makes a remote rumble in SL7 when "She loses her implant".
Serial publication posits an active relationship with a public; it recalls, perhaps, the popular frenzy whipped up by Dickens' early novels, the anguished letters and the tearful crowds waiting for news of Little Nell. Or the ill-fated serialization of Ulysses in Pound's Little Review, which finally foundered on the Nausicaa episode. Makin's serialization bears only an ironic or parodic relation to those analogues ("What she misses is that he has silenced the crowd"): what invisible audience there may be is subjected to a continuous mockery of its expectations and motives: "I am so grateful to listen in on all sorts of people thinking aloud" (SL2).
Still, there are certain analogies that bear investigation. Reading a serial work as it comes out, we know that the book is still being written; we are involved in a narrative about the author's progress - something that Makin self-referentially feeds into the text. We receive the text in a series of timed releases, each advancing and not advancing our conception of the book that does not yet exist, resembling and not resembling the parts that came before. When the book is published complete, if it ever seems complete, this particular aspect of its generation of radical indecipherability will disappear, only to be replaced, however, by the ironic suggestion of indecipherability proposed by book-spines along a shelf.
We also know that the book title has been made up in advance of composition; we tend to assume that it provides an insecure and provisional marker (like the material on which this note bases itself) to how the book will actually pan out. St Leonards refers casually to where the author now lives, but the book is not about the place in a simple way (it is not a simple place, except in Thomas Campbell's poem). Very occasionally, almost with a joke-like effect, a local reference crackles into view: "castle nowhere near camber, swift running flame" (SL6).
And finally, Makin's serial works, like The Old Curiosity Shop, are illustrated. Illustrations for St Leonards have yet to emerge; this one is from early in Work in Process and has the caption "RX12+?".

What relation the images bear to the text is a question. Perhaps a few of the recurring motifs, the pyramid and the rust chute for example, owe their origin to the images. What the text tends to emphasize about the images is how much you can't understand about them; a radical indecipherability of our surroundings, not at all diminished by me supposing this to be Dungeness and knowing that RX12 specifies a boat registered in the port of Rye. Topography, both in and of the text, is stretching; reading it tugs at our patterned conception of our surroundings.
Serial publication is an invitation to read; Makin's work is an experimental prose that connects, at its extremes, with both the novel and the installation - I would call it, in our present state of incompetence, partially readable. In some of his earlier work that meant reading a few words here and there. The work I'm writing about here accommodates - yes, invites, - a reading-through somewhat as a book of reflective essays or even a novel, but it does not resolve into characters, action or locale, and in fact it's impossible to hold the non-sequential material sufficiently in the mind to perform the mental exercise that we normally think of as reading.
What kind of a serial is this?
I have heard Makin's work described as "non-generic prose" and I like that description, which emphasizes the freedom of the reader, the potential for pioneering into land that neither author nor reader may recognize. But I know it's not so easy as all that to be truly non-generic. Makin knows it too. Programmatically self-referential, the text constantly implies descriptions of itself, as an essay ("Let's start with some basics"), lecture ("whether you might be persuaded to say a few words"), novel ("no story although a great many things happen"), automatic writing ("This is an underthread"), travelogue ("we're heading off to the opening sea"), anthology ("A selection is given"), residue ("charred leaves go up the flume"), apology ("He's reduced to justification"). Those are all in the first section of St Leonards. In the second, there's others; a trunk in the attic ("This is where I put things I reject but wish to keep"), and a crime fiction ("They believe his motive was revenge..."). That last one keeps nagging at us: coroner's reports and post mortems, archaeological pathology, provide a sinister undercurrent. Without fixed characters or locations it's going to be a tough case to crack.
Where the "non-generic" tag really falls down is that it doesn't suggest the definite character of the writing, which I suppose is in this case the thing that makes anticipation (and therefore serialization) possible.
This, for contrast, is a stretch of one of Makin's earlier works:

the list of loss ashen graille sunk low in the minute past participles of braun sand. pin umbrella tube epic horrorscope pictures worlds for collapse in monte de pietá of wergild. an equivalence of chunnel hoping. kufa kef impulse alienated from the bable televisionary progrom twighlights of the idle of the tribe the den the cave the forum the theatre the fumes from music rising verdigris.
(from Forword)
This is fantastically inventive, but it's a bombardment. The tempo of the serial works is less frantic. Space, silence and nervous tension have crept out to the surface of the text.

Animals are box office. The first impression is recovered. Box of fire. Box of ash. Words stuck to the concrete redeem the evening — ground and delivered, with screed pull to deep background square, collided. What if one of us expires on route. The ghoulest thing is the image of her face at the fourth floor window. He is conscious of, but cannot apprehend, its wayfare and flickerbook existence.

Tell them the general needs you, he allows you to breathe in the sea tonight. I break away. First train back. He goes to search in his pack. Now you must away too. Carry with you this common place book. Utilize primary methods of sensation, the quality of being limited by a condition, like rising earth each side of a furrow, the ineluctable etcetera. I don't have time for this now.
(from SL3
Perhaps the right question to ask is not about the meaning but about how the text was made. Some is arrived at by direct transmutation: "Box of fire" a typo variant of "box office", for example. Some responds to a particular groove within the chapter: in this case, a recurrent sequence of transformed cricketing terms ("pull to deep background square").
Then there are unmarked quotations and allusions: "breathe in the sea tonight" inevitably induces a spectral hint of that pained Phil Collins ballad In the Air Tonight. "The ineluctable etcetera" alludes to the start of the Proteus section of Ulysses. Other sentences look like they could be quotations but are possibly invented ("Carry with you this common place book"), like those epigraphs in the Waverley novels that are attributed to Old Play. No reader is going to know them all: the text's materials are unlimitedly various (it was by the merest accident that on second or third reading of a sentence elsewhere, "the madness in my area", I remotely recalled a Fall B-Side from 1979).
Almost as tricky, if you like difficult games, is the use of dictionary defnitions that are detached from their headwords; as here, "the quality of being limited by a condition", which I am still trying to work out. Sometimes the headword may show up in due course, as happens elsewhere with distal and bearings. Often the definition is mutated, like "the part of a cartel that receives pollen" (SL7) - which would have defined stigma, when the fifth word was "carpel".
Perhaps most crucially, the text develops from its own foundations. Take the penultimate sentence from the passage above; this, three chapters later, is what sprouts from it:

She stands in a timely passage: the inenarrable modality of the invisible. There is a clerical boundary, the quality of being limited by a condition (law). In the middle of the compass a kidnap, a net: feldspar whose tissues are not at the right angles—all that bite, any mixture of them—oblique fractures, crosswise of mouth like sharks and rays, crosswise returning with transverse slit on underside of head. Vouchsafe, the walk is round the back of myself. Climb the ascent and back on to the road. Use any of the primary methods. His tendons are crushed. Classify the sensations as to whether true, false, necessary, possible or impossible (log).

It's a method of progressing that makes one persistently aware of vague recognition; it suggests the illusory idea that if you could only hold the whole text in your mind at once, you'd learn something. At least, I think it's an illusory idea, but maybe it's only impractical.
If that long-distance grasp of the material seems difficult for readers with the vital thread of fixed text to work with, it seems nothing short of astounding in the writer. A method there must be, or it would be impossible to bring this book together, page after implacable page. Though one category of favoured words witnesses to where Makin begins from in British writing (revenant, simulacra, mephitic....), yet he utterly transcends that point of origin through the vast scope of his content/allusions, his multi-threaded scenae, eye-opening wordplay, most audibly perhaps through such casually skilled sentences as these (all drawn from the same page):

He touches his cheek. It's dry, but still the sting of cold spray, the taste of salt.

Glister on beaded rubble, a collapse of boulders.

His knuckles knock against the uneven surface of the table like dice.

Erosion and sand-drift, the itinerant pebble.

One flies towards him with a live coal and purifies his lips.

Bringing these together (they are not adjacent in the text) reveals them as more or less closely connected; they ignite each other. The elegance too is not there for its own sake, just part of the procedure. - Michael Peverett intercapillaryspace.blogspot.hr/2007/04/richard-makin-st-leonards.html

Richard Makin, Dwelling, Reality Street, 2011.

Dwelling, like many a 19th-century three-decker, started life as a serial publication - online, under a working title. Now it has emerged in print, this immense work, without recognizable characters or plot, can be seen to offer a radical and contemporary take on the function of the novel in history: giving a fractured panorama of the conditions of living now.

Dwelling was serialised electronically by Great Works (2006-09) under the working title of ‘St Leonards’. It is the second in a trilogy of books.

Download and read an extract from Dwelling (pdf)
Video of launch reading of Dwelling
A film by Lucy Clarke and Andy Moore with words by Richard Makin from Dwelling

An interview with Richard Makin by Michael Peverett 

Context is everything when it comes to reading Richard Makin’s dwelling. To do as I did and approach the text with no knowledge of its background will almost certainly result in hours of tedium peppered with bewilderment. The book as an object is inoffensive enough, being the size of a solid doorstep and suggesting to the enthusiastic reader that it will last them comfortably through the next two months. However, before bending back the front cover it is useful to know that dwelling is a piece of non-generic prose, published by Reality Street as a part of their ongoing promotion of experimental writing. It follows that you must be ready to indulge in this experiment and actively work with it, a process which begins with the opening lines:
Exit one London. Wandering into the root of to dwell. I will not provoke. I will not provide. Let us through. The first big test is to dig a ditch. In guerrilla warfare it’s said you use your strengths as weaknesses.
Do not, as I did, spend the next fifty pages waiting for a plot to emerge and characters to be sustained. Makin continues in this fragmentary and challenging manner for six-hundred and seventy pages, stopping for chapter breaks but nothing else. It is not that his writing is bad (a glance at the quote above should show that this is not the case) only that there is so much of it. At first I considered the meaning of every line and tried to uncover the connecting threads between each one, but after twenty pages or so I entered into a passive, semi-hypnotic state and had to take a nap. Richard Makin’s writing would perhaps be easier to accept if he didn’t seem so self-conscious about his style. He seems to acknowledge that his work isn’t entirely reader-friendly, going as far as to occasionally coax you onwards. At one point he promises, ‘If you can make it beyond this chapter things start to get a lot easier on the eye,’ and after being buoyed up by this statement you race forward, ploughing through one chapter and into the next, only to find that he lied.
I came to realise that dwelling is like a dictionary or encyclopaedia, being enlightening in small doses but punishing when read from start to finish. Context is again useful for understanding why this might be. The text was originally produced electronically by Great Works, being published as it was written, and serialized over a period of two years. Knowing this, it is possible to argue that the book was never meant to be read as a singular whole, but in sections over a very long period. I cannot help thinking that the original dwelling must have been a less intimidating text, as the readers would have had no notion of its length, not knowing exactly when it would end. The online version must have also had a less definite and more organic feel, having been written as the reader moved through it and easily accessible at any moment in a busy day. The paperback prescribes a different reading experience, being too heavy to carry around and read spontaneously, it requires designated timeslots in comfortable armchairs or quiet libraries. It is a shame that a text which is filled with images of movement and activity must be read in situ, and often away from the chaotic world that inspired it.
As the title of the book suggests, dwelling is a meditation on the activity of habitation. This includes the way we inhabit and practice being, and those nests we create out of custom, culture and instinct. Makin explores those dwellings generated in time, place, language, myth, tradition, body and text, and draws them out in all their complexity. His rendering of different landscapes and environments is consistently vibrant and original, combining candid portraits with personal musings and abstract diversions. His writing is interwoven with allusions to the work of previous authors and literary movements, as well as to the grammatical particulars of language and traditional narrative tropes. This creates a narrative which is seemingly self aware, one which acknowledges (and is thus composed of) its debt to linguistics and literary tradition. Take, for example, the following extract:
An elegy in a dusty boneyard, with solitary beast. I say break it for me. I break speech for you. It is a master-slave relationship: the men in question. She comes with dog (the third person).
Makin’s reference to Thomas Gray’s canonical elegy is typical of the way he both emphasises and deconstructs established methods and trends. The same goes for language; he doesn’t obliterate the components of speech in his effort to ‘break’ it, instead he rearranges the fragments in a way that questions their meaning and use. In this sense dwelling is an exploration of literary representation, providing insight into textual convention while dismissing it in the same move. It is Makin’s playfulness with language and narrative that make this book worthwhile, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to unsettle their literary preconceptions. - Karina Jakubowicz

Everything is abolished. I walk out through the international exit. All the signs indicate a sidereal thing—earthshock—an incomplete mechanism in butterflies and moths. I am at home in whatever abandoned shell I can find. This zone is the much talked of buffer zone. Here, sedation triumphs over malfeasance, love too. In the first vision of this chapter he writes less provocatively. Shell tracers crisscross the sky. A probe is tracking a nerve. We are the rare doing of not. He leads me out of and into myself, away from the ghost we call things. It is dark, not light. He turns against me, attains and touches. He compasses me. Glimpsed in the darkness are creatures driven to alien forms of locomotion. (One counterfeits my death.) A projectile leaves a smoke trail. Greengold lichen or moss clings to the hull of our vessel. Likewise he cordons me about. We have triggered a chain reaction. Crew force broken glass into their mouths, between their lips. It’s a kind of game. A chemical substance is used to mark the course followed by the process. He forges a chain for me. . . . Mouths stretched taut by shafts of glass. . . . There are bodies in the water, quick and not, living or dead. Pictures rise up out of the words: I am shout. My voice is shuttered. I gather. No, my voice is gathering. I shout something white rears up out of the water, breaking the surface by the gunwale like a hand. It raises a cloud of sparks. These form a pattern in the air. My path is closed by boulders, felled trees and flytipped mattresses—looming planet at event horizon, at peripheral vision. He is a walking encyclopaedia, recently incorporated within the town museum. I am pulled to pieces. (from Dwelling, pp.180-81)  
Michael Peverett: When I discovered Work in Process [Dwelling’s predecessor] being serialized on the Great Works site, it was like a bolt from the blue, I'd never really read anything like it. But is that because I don't know the experimental prose scene at all? Is there an experimental prose scene in the UK, and are you part of it? Or should I be looking elsewhere for an artistic context, maybe something that transgresses writing and "prose"?

Richard Makin: I don’t recognize an experimental prose scene in the UK; if there is one, I can’t see it, so I suppose I’m not a part of it. I know of writers of experimental prose, of course, though how connected they are is uncertain.
MP:  I remember hearing your recent prose works described as "non-narrative fiction" (I think it was that). Is that a description you'd endorse, or at least accept? Are there ANY unhelpful ways to read Dwelling?
RM: The expression ‘non-narrative fiction’ has its uses, it tells you something, though is partial—my prose is other things, does other things. ‘Non-narrative’ perhaps overemphasizes the absence of a plot or story, as if this were the essential function of my writing, which it isn’t. It might be more pertinent to say that the material drawn from the world about and from memory is inenarrable. Notwithstanding, Dwelling does contain narrative strands, tributaries.
It would be unhelpful to read Dwelling while insisting on the presence of a conventional storyline, characterization, a sense of locations, events occurring that connect to one another, linear time etc.
MP: Dwelling is an extraordinary work on a formidable scale. This is impertinent perhaps, but I'm really intrigued about the circumstances in which someone would undertake such a quixotic venture in the conditions of
UK writing today. Can you say anything about how you got to this?
RM: I appreciate the use of ‘quixotic’ to describe the writing of Dwelling. The circumstances in which I undertook it are just the circumstances of a common existence.
MP: Are there models (inspirations, influences), however remote, that you can point to as being analogous to what you're doing in Dwelling?
RM: I feel that every detail experienced, every detail remembered, is an influence. As for writers, they all touch different nerves, and I’m reluctant to credit one before another. I began to make a list of writers who are important to me (any excuse for a list), then felt a resistance to including it here. I feel empathy with, and acknowledge the influence of, other art forms: visual art, film, music, architecture etc, which may be apparent while reading Dwelling.
MP: The scale of Dwelling is one of several features that seem to bring it into confrontation/conversation with the NOVEL, maybe the traditional 19th century novel in particular. Why do you think it turned out that way? Is there something about naturalistic novels that you're interested in, in spite of the drastic contrast with your own practice?
RM: In terms of scale, Dwelling turned out the way it did because I kept writing. I’m not sure I know what a naturalistic novel is. I think of Dwelling as a mode of realism, something concrete. The idea was to attempt to simply remake being here in words. This is impossible, of course, but I feel driven to make the attempt.
MP: While I've been reading your work and trying to frame analogies with other things I vaguely know about, one that occurs to me quite often is with the programmatic secrecy of the 30s Hermeticists - Quasimodo, Montale etc (and for me, also filtered through Gunnar Ekelöf); the other, I suppose because it's current, is with the big books of Conceptualism e.g. Kenny Goldsmith, Leevi Lehto, Emma Kay . . . Do you feel any sense of common cause with either movement?
RM: It’s an interesting question, regarding Conceptualism; Goldsmith I’ve glimpsed, and I’m interested in Nick Thurston of Information as Material. Though I wouldn’t describe Dwelling as Conceptual Writing, there are perhaps some common concerns: defamiliarization, citation, words reived (if they may ever be said to be so), re-writings, and found language. Dwelling is very much a collage of such strategies, and much else besides, including many pages of spontaneously produced passages, glimpses of numerous interweaving fictions. There is much dream-work too in the book. Can I say Dwelling involves a degree of resistance? There are numerous references to Hermes in Dwelling; I would like to think of the book as hermetic.

Beat at the water with their sticks. He says the death in each case is my own. The idea of such food is a symbol.
Jammed between their silhouettes, the other woman in the film. (Which?) The man who kills himself is uncredited. Nobody demands anything of the graphs.

Apocalypse, a small antique commode. Extract of pineal. I want things triplechecked. (You don’t do grotesque, do you?) I forgot. In the original, the exterior orbit is the sphere of the sun. The third figure shows the eruption. And yet these relations are nothing akin to fiction. As if on cue two microlights rise above the ridge.

Icy blast on the horn, a whiff of turpentine, putrescence. (Looks towards door.) A layer of varnish makes the corpses gleam. The corporation is nomadic. All this talk, years of stretched light.
Note the blue reflection, a nebula, caused.
We shall meet again at the molten core. Look elsewhere for an explanation of the phenomenon. Some are anxious about why such a futuristic story was ever accepted.
A square of shining substance rushes straight out of my mouth. Four times I obtained the correct number of raps.  (from Dwelling, pp. 482-83.)

Richard Makin, Mourning, Equus Press, 2015.

MOURNING is the final part of a trilogy by writer, poet and artist Richard Makin, following Work (Great Works) and Dwelling (Reality Street).

"Opening with a necessary forgetting, this beautiful and disturbing book works through an accumulation of faltering incipits which force us, quoting Gertrude Stein, to 'begin again and again and again.' Owing much to Nouveau Roman particularity and the decadence of fin-de-siècle prose, privileging arcane objecthood over organized personhood, MOURNING is richly dark and thick with corporeal and writerly materialities. It is also, as it recognises only partly with tongue-in-rectum, 'screamingly funny in its own way.'"—Jeff Hilson

It’s now something of a convention for a writer to complain about the inadequacy of language. How difficult it is to apprehend the world by way of sentences. I can’t help thinking that it isn’t language that is inadequate, but our use of it, our insubstantial grasp. We seem to flicker in and out. Some days I am so articulate; other days I can barely form a sentence. Language can certainly be inadequate, I think, when you cast it away from you, which some writers do, like throwing dice.
Richard Makin is a writer with a tempestuous relationship to language. His writing, whatever else it happens to be about, also has, at all times, itself as its subject. He writes urgently about the negligibility of language, of literature. His novels communicate hopelessness as to the possibility of effectively communicating. He writes sentences about how nonsensical sentences necessarily are. “Consider the arrangement of vowels and consonants that compose any random sequence,” he writes in his most recent novel, Mourning. And so I have been. And as I have, I’ve also strayed further away from any sympathy I might once have had with Richard Makin and his linguistic despair.
Most days, I’d like to have been a musician. I’d like to play the saxophone. I’ve never even touched a saxophone. I’d like to think that music is somehow more immediate than language is. But this is such an easy complaint for a writer to make, and it is so frequently made.
Langston Hughes famously described James Baldwin as being able to use words “as the sea uses waves.” How appealing to think of language as tangible, as tactile, mercurial, and palpable as water. Or to think that it could be.
Baldwin himself told the Paris Review that when writing, “you have to strip yourself of all your disguises, some of which you didn’t know you had.” Baldwin’s model is a paradigm of raw, brutal honesty. “You want to write sentences,” he said, “as clean as a bone.”
I was reminded of this as I read Makin’s Mourning. Richard Makin is a writer of many talents, but he does not write sentences as clean as a bone. Nor has he stripped himself of his own disguises, or delusions; in fact, he sometimes seems swaddled with them.

Mourning is the third of a trilogy; it follows Work and Dwelling. Mourning deals, in part, with the various limits and failures of language. It is a piece of fiction about the impossibility of making fiction, a narrative about the violence that narrative-making must necessarily wreak. There are characters and there is dialogue in Mourning, but we are not really told who the characters are, and when someone is speaking, it is often hard to tell who that is. The narrative, such as it is, does not proceed chronologically, or along any other linear route we might find familiar.
The first line is: “I can’t remember.” Flip, impertinent, to begin this way. It’s difficult to convey Makin’s disparate, cut-up style without quoting rather extensively from it and so, to give you a taste, the rest of this paragraph continues: “We’re just below the hospitality hoax at the riverend. By then I was sold: low ebb of gravity hence had already the vision. The things that hatched out of the eggs resembled lizards.”
They certainly did! I can’t help being reminded of Naked Lunch. Makin seems to share with Burroughs his distrust of straightforward narrative. “I cannot recall a single detail,” his narrator announces. “There are characters, then the dilemma forms its own solution.”
Occasionally, Makin will mimic the conventions of storytelling before undermining the validity of those conventions. Midway through the first page, he writes, expansively, “It was a warm night in July. Picture me.” Then comes the subversion: “I once was named, now I go about the earth uncalled for; I’m one of the thirty-six.”
Makin’s little subversions can be tart, ironic, and smart. Unfortunately, he can also fall into a kind of juvenile pathos, as in this same passage, which continues: “No one seems to care or notice. I’m the past dug up and lost again, forbidden archaeology.” Or, a bit later: “I began my philosophical career under the influence.” Or, yet again: “Self-loathing gets you everywhere.”
He is occasionally prone to hopeless grandiosity: “I encompass the need for your discontinuance,” he—or his narrator—says, early on. “Origin is a kind of fatality.” “[C]haos is a dying art, it needs reviving.” These statements become tiresome rather quickly. We’ve all, I think, met, or observed, or been, the boy in the basement, widening his eyes, pondering the Big Questions, speculating wildly. For all his subversiveness, I don’t see a great deal in Makin’s work that I haven’t seen before. His observations—about self-loathing, or chaos, or time, or language—don’t seem as original, as groundbreaking, as he might have expected, as we might have hoped.
“Every word lacks consequence,” he writes, on his very first page: “There’s an inexplicable clouding of the clarity, followed by a long period of quietude.” Here and elsewhere, Makin seems to pursue alliteration to his own detriment. Meaning seems occasionally to spiral away from the music of a line, rather than to be bound up in it. The sentence quoted above, for example, clacks along delightfully, even devastatingly, through its hard “c”s: in “lacks,” “consequence,” “clouding,” “clarity,” “quietude,” and twice in “inexplicable” (the “x” and the “c”). But is the clouding of clarity really all that inexplicable? A non-linear narrative, indistinct attribution of pronouns, associative logic, a private frame of reference—these all seem to contribute rather explicably to a clouded clarity.
Makin bewails the distances that separate us, one from another. Language does nothing to bridge those distances: “Impossibility of communication – to bring one’s partner across a dangerous situation, i.e. a creeper bridge. The former had moved back and awaited instructions (risk of greenstick fracture, dissolving hull integrity).” We are, each of us, left stranded. Not only can we not communicate, we can’t even think on our own, individually: “He dare not dream of identifying himself, quite the contrary: that word may well not exist.” We have no way of recognizing ourselves; we haven’t the language to do so.
If our inability to communicate with ourselves and each other leaves us in a kind of desert of insignificance, it also leaves time in that desert. “Other insignificances,” the narrator says wearily, listlessly: “chronicles of wasted time, lost seasons.” Without language, we can’t track time. “Objects and events were entering me from all directions at once,” somebody—who knows who?—says at some point.
The logic here is circular. Makin inhabits a world in which time sweeps past without meaning or significance; in which our lives, therefore, lack all significance; in which we do not even hold significance for each other—in which we can’t—lacking as we do any effective means of communication.  There’s no helping each other across any bridges. Or, as he says a few pages later, “we can’t do anything for one another.”
As he circles through these questions, Makin—or his narrator, or his nameless characters—continually undercuts his own method of questioning. “Is this writing?” he asks. “Once hatched they”—who?—“promptly chewed their way through every volume of the dictionary.” Did the chewing help? “There was literally nothing to write about.” Ah, cruel fate! “Stop me if I say something stupid.” “Some people read it and scream wordplay.” What’s the alternative? “Simply avoid hearing about it or speaking about it or thinking about it or being affected by it in any way.” What is “it”?
Occasionally, Makin is unabashedly solipsistic. “You need not answer back,” he says: “I can readily resume the dialogue.” And yet he is quick to lash out at the overly earnest, the self-involved, anyone else he finds deserving of contempt. “What people really love,” he says, ferociously, “is that they hear their own sound being scored, within these already familiar patterns.” Indeed! Sharp and sarcastic as he frequently is, Makin seems entirely unironic when it comes to himself. For all his undercutting, undermining, etc., he takes himself dead seriously.
What I’d like more than anything is to see him strip away his own disguises. How badly I craved a sentence stripped clean as a bone. But maybe Makin did anticipate this response. I couldn’t always tell when he was in earnest and when he wasn’t. “Believe me,” he writes: “I would rather not be here.” - Natalia Holtzman con-text.co/post/126353773982/the-hospitality-hoax

Richard Makin is a writer, poet and artist. His novel Dwelling (2011) was published by Reality Street, the second book in a trilogy. The first novel was titled Work, and was published by Great Works (2009). The third book, MOURNING, was published with Equus Press (2015). Chapters of this have been published in VLAK, the anthology In Conversation With Stuart Sutcliffe, and by Golden Handcuffs Review. Other publications include Forword and Universlipre (both Equipage Press), and the anthologies FOIL: DEFINING POETRY 1985-2000 (etruscan books, 2002) and The Reality Street Book Of Sonnets. He lives in St. Leonards on the south coast of England.

Holly Tavel - The 18 stories in this collection offer a kaleidoscopic view of childhood's forgotten tropes and dizzying leaps of logic, and are by turns hilariously paranoid, discombobulated, claustrophobic, and filled with yearning

Holly Tavel, The Weather in Fritz Bemelmans Park, Equus Press, 2015.

If the past is a foreign country, childhood is a vanished civilization filled with mysterious monuments and charming ruins, and always colored by our own wildly unreliable memories. The 18 stories in this collection offer a kaleidoscopic view of childhood's forgotten tropes and dizzying leaps of logic, and are by turns hilariously paranoid, discombobulated, claustrophobic, and filled with yearning. A parrot regales his new owner with an increasingly outrageous story of his own picaresque past; a woman taking care of her aging mad-scientist father is alarmed by his new teenage sidekick; a dying superhero recalls himself and his archnemesis as lonely grade-school outcasts; coma victims become the unwitting vessels of a shadowy weather-control project; suburbanites, menaced by their material possessions, regress to a prelapsarian state; a trio of bumbling fools in a near-future dystopia try to decide what to do about a giant robot that suddenly appears without explanation.

"I had only had a tiny taste of Holly Tavel's work, and my pulse quickened to learn she at last has a whole book of stories. Tavel's fiction has the delicious feel of children's literature, without being child-like, or for children. Her worlds are magically palpable, rendered in precise detail and a moody palette just beyond reach of reality. They elicit an enormous craving to cross into them and abide there. In 'Ars Poetica,' a woman finds a 'dove-gray mass lightly furred and blurred, as if seen through a pair of smudged glasses' pulsing quietly under the rhododendrons in her garden. This slightly noxious mass is a poem. It won't go away. The story 'Last Words' is in part narrated by a pet macaw, who tells of the destruction of many birds it has known far back in history. Tavel's voice is both comic and elegiac, with a deep sadness underlining the absurdity."—Angela Woodward

Holly Tavel is an American author, translator, and editor whose work has been variously published in McSweeney’s, Torpedo, Elimae, the Brooklyn Rail, VLAK magazine, and Diagram. Her first book, The Weather in Fritz Bemelmans Park, is a collection of aggressively original, enticingly fresh short stories. Though now based in the U.S., Tavel lived in Prague for some time, and published The Weather in Fritz Bemelmans Park with the independent Prague- and London-based Equus Press in 2015. The collection subsequently occupies a strange position: localized yet international, fragmented but coherent, edging towards collage and ultimately a collection of “overtly fictional realities.”
Two years later, she is working on a novel. As we (patiently) salivate in anticipation, she speaks about writing, process, and form regarding The Weather in Fritz Bemelmans Park.
Kalie McGuirl: A lot of contemporary fiction plays around with perspective and time to the point of fragmentation into tenuously connected shorter works — the distinction between short stories, collections, longer works, and experimental fiction has become distinctly murky. The Weather in Fritz Bemelmans Park contains a lot of stories which are notable for their lack of adherence to a standard short story format, such as “On the Mysterious Appearance of Philo S. in Other People’s Photographs,” a question-and-answer qualitative investigation into a phenomenon which the reader must attempt to understand almost completely between the lines (and photographs), and “Man, 30, Struck by Lightning,” which resembles a poem but reads like a series of simple statements, painfully strung together. Do you feel like you’re actively trying to experiment with what a short story can be, or is the standard short story simply no longer a viable form to work with? Where do you see your work fitting into the contemporary category of the “short story,” as a single unit and also as a type of work often presented as part of a collection?  And do you have any thoughts on the current state of the short story (or the short story collection) and where it might be going?
Holly Tavel: The basic motivation in all my writing is to not bore myself. Haha. Really. I try to write what I’d like to read, more or less. I don’t think when starting to write a piece that I have this set goal of playing with form, or doing something intentionally experimental. I’ll generally start out with one building block, one element—maybe it’s the title that comes first, maybe it’s an image or a sentence. With Philo S., I had come across these amazing photos online from the collection of John Foster, a collector of vernacular photos and outsider art, who’s since become a friend. I was so inspired by them, and the problem became: how can I best utilize these? What kind of language do these photos ask for? In that case, the text became a sort of architecture or scaffolding around the images. In other stories, I’m referencing existing tropes, I think: the travelogue, the fable, the screenplay (as in the case of “Danger Twins”). My basic feeling, I guess, is that short stories can be and probably should be approached as a discrete form. They can do specific things that novels can’t do. A story like “Man, 30, Struck by Lightning,” wouldn’t work as a novel—it couldn’t sustain itself as a long piece. I don’t honestly read a lot of new short fiction—I tend to look backwards, to early modernist outliers like Robert Walser and Daniil Kharms and Leonora Carrington.
KM: As you mention, The Weather in Fritz Bemelmans Park includes some visuals — do you work with any other artistic mediums besides writing, and do you see yourself wanting to combine images and text in future works? Why have short stories always been your chosen form?
HT: Mainly because I wasn’t sure I could sustain interest in a novel over the long haul—I’m very ADHD, so the short form suits me. But actually, I am writing a novel—I’ve been working on it for a little over a year. It will have some visual elements, but only in one section. It’s a very, very different animal from my short fiction, in terms of voice and approach—it’s much, much more linear and character-driven. I play music and I’ve done different things in visual art—I’ve made some audio pieces and some short films—I don’t shoot them; they all use found footage. I’m interested in collage in all forms. Someone (I forget who) said that collage is the true twentieth century art form—if you extrapolate that to pastiche and mash-ups and the like, I think it’s true. It doesn’t have to be in terms of form, either—you can have collages of voices, of points of view, of styles.
KM: The Weather in Fritz Bemelmans Park seems preoccupied with the future. Many stories, such as the title story and “Fearless Leader,” seem to take place in a more-advanced reality, where, for example, weather technology has advanced beyond conception and buildings can be made out of candy. Do you see these stories as futuristic, or as simply taking place in different or alternate realities? Are science and technology the focus of these stories, or are they part of a backdrop or landscape that highlights characters and their emotions?
HT: I think I’m more interested in the retro-future—that is, previous visions of the future from history, or futures from fiction or movies. I have a deep love for the heady dystopias of the 70s, for instance (A Boy and His Dog (2001), Silent Running, etc.) But, for example in “Child Grenadiers,” there’s this sci-fi element—the mad professor and his strange invention—but linguistically I’m parodying the syntax of the early 1900s. I’d call it steampunk, except I hate that term. With “Fearless Leader,” I don’t think I was trying to create something futuristic per se. I don’t remember my intention, but when I read it now it feels like a children’s story gone off the rails. Haha. I don’t think of them so much as “alternate realities” as much as overtly fictional realities. In other words, the stories are always, on some level, aware of themselves as fictions and calling attention to that. But yes, I do think, at least in a few of the stories, that they are vehicles for, or manifestations of, the characters’ fears and anxieties.
KM: Many of your stories have what could be called apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic overtones. “A Revolution, In Five Parts” — a story of the overthrow of materialism, houses, modern society, everything, which terminates in a return to the status quo — is perhaps the best example, but the dead angels falling from the sky in “Angels” also seem indicative of some larger doom. Even “The Truth About Wayne” and “Last Words” feel apocalyptic in the way that both their narrators spiral towards inevitable collapse, talking themselves into inhabiting the world of television or the reality of the Hyacinth Macaw. It’s a deliciously dizzying downfall, but why do so many of your stories feel like they move towards decay or nothingness? Why does the end of the world play a big role in your work?
HT: Well, I think things moving toward decay and nothingness and entropy is just—it’s reality. Loneliness and inevitable collapse are part of life. But also, I’m deeply, deeply suspicious of the versions of reality foisted on us vis a vis capitalism, mass media— “the spectacle” as the Situationists referred to it. So I think I’m always looking at that and critiquing it, even unconsciously. It also could just be my personality—I’m a fairly anxious person, generally speaking, haha. But it’s also about following things to their logical conclusion.
KM: It’s been two years since The Weather in Fritz Bemelmans Park was published. Have your feelings about it changed since it came out? Is there anything you would do differently if you published it now?
HT: I definitely have a distance from it, since I’m deep into another project, but also because the oldest story in that collection’s from like 2001. Several of the stories were written when I was in grad school in the mid-2000s. So, yeah, it took me a while to get around to publishing them as a collection, though most had previously been published elsewhere. The only thing I’d do differently is—I’d hire a publicist! I really have no self-promotion or marketing savvy, so I regret that the book did not get the attention I feel like it otherwise could have.
KM: Finally, you referenced a novel you’re currently writing — could you talk about your current projects and where you see things going?
HT: Yes, as I mentioned, I’m working on a novel. In many ways it’s the complete opposite of my short stories. It’s somewhat epic—it takes place over a span of like fifty years—and there are several narrators. I had actually spent several years on a previous novel which was more of an extension of my short fiction—it was much more formalist, set in a satirical, alt-reality version of the early 20th century. But it went nowhere. I couldn’t get past one hundred pages or so. I actually didn’t write anything for a few years after that. Then I started this new thing, and just let it go where it wanted to, which was more toward psychological realism, but with some fantastical elements. It’s a tough, tough slog, but I’m (most of the time) happy with where it seems to be going
Kalie McGuirl  minorliteratures.com/

Holly Tavel is a writer, editor, and translator. She lives in New York. Her work has appeared in Torpedo, Elimae, McSweeney's, and Diagram. She is formerly editor of Neuroscape Journal, and a co-curator of Psy.Geo.Conflux, an annual New York-based psychogeographic project. Her fiction has appeared in VLAK magazine, Brooklyn Rail, and The Return of Kral Majales: Prague's International Literary Renaissance 1990-2010. Her visual/ conceptual art has featured in group shows at the Participant Gallery in New York.


Jean-Jacques Schuhl - Consisting of memories, mixing real and invented people and events, Ingrid Caven reveals the cold heart of the European counterculture of the 1970s, an era of celebrity glitz, cocaine-fueled excess, gay bathhouses, and young idealists-turned-terrorists

Jean-Jacques Schuhl, Ingrid Caven: A Novel, Trans. by Michael Pye, City Lights Publishers, 2004.                 

A novel about the life of German cabaret singer and film actress Ingrid Caven, who was once director Rainer Werner Fassbinder's star, and his wife, muse to Yves Saint Laurent, and a protege of Pierre Berge. Consisting of memories, mixing real and invented people and events, Ingrid Caven reveals the cold heart of the European counterculture of the 1970s, an era of celebrity glitz, cocaine-fueled excess, gay bathhouses, and young idealists-turned-terrorists. Ingrid Caven was an immediate bestseller in France, where it sold over 235,000 copies in its first year of publication. It has been translated into 18 languages.

"Adolf Hitler, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Yves Saint Laurent – German-born cabaret singer Ingrid Caven's life flowed around these icons of 20th century European counterculture.... a collage of that strange postwar period in Europe of high artifice, drugs, terrorism, leather jackets and cinema." —Los Angeles Times Book Review

"The novel... could be read as an intimate, literary dialogue between France and Germany. (Caven is German and Schuhl is French and Jewish.) That such a dialogue can be embodied in a single female character as seen through the eyes of her lover is a testament to Schuhl's originality and narrative imagination." —Speakeasy

". . . a semifictional 2000 Prix Goncourt winner about the vagaries of 1970s European counterculture. . . . Schuhl's staccato yet contemplative prose (transl from the French by Michael Pye) illuminates celebrity excesses against a decadent and violent world backdrop." —Publishers Weekly

"[Ingrid Caven in]. . . her many metamorphoses: a bohemian Madame Bovary, a redheaded noir vamp, an aristocrat in a boa, a singing sleepwalker." —Frédéric Bonnaud

"Magnificent and violent, strange and disquieting. Provocative and harshly moving." —Josyane Savigneau

‘”I have a very small cult reputation to protect,” Jean-Jacques Schuhl protested to me a few months ago in Paris when he learned that he’d been nominated for the Prix Goncourt (and the four other top French literary prizes) for his first book in twenty-three years. Now that he’s won the Goncourt, this avatar of Duchampian wit and encyclopedic misanthropy will just have to live with a much bigger cult. Ingrid Caven, his novel, is named for the celebrated singer he lives with, the former wife of Rainer Fassbinder and muse of Yves Saint Laurent; La Caven returned to the concert stage in November, at the Theatre de I’Odeon, in postmodern triumph, as a fictional character who sings. Ingrid Caven is not her biography, however, but a phantasmagorical riff on the social, political, and artistic history of our times, filtered through a meditation on stagecraft, the voice and attitude of the singer, the diva, the personae of history’s actors.’ — Gary Indiana

‘Jean-Jacques Schuhl was born in 1941 in Marseille. In 1972, he published Rose Poussière  mixing pop collages (extracts from newspapers, scores …) and descriptive fulgurances on real characters (Mao, Marlene Dietrich, the Stones …), elevated to the rank of myths unique and yet all interchangeable. Rose Poussière will become the fetish book of a whole generation. And the next one. His second text, Telex n ° 1 (1976), remains unavailable for a long time before his reissue this spring at L’Imaginaire. In 2000, Schuhl, after 24 years of absence, signed his great return to the literary scene: he received the Goncourt Prize for his novel Ingrid Caven, around the life of his companion, German singer and actress in the years 1960-70 . His latest book, Entry of the Ghosts, was released in 2010, again at Gallimard, in L’infini, the imprint of his friend Philippe Sollers.

‘Jean-Jacques Schuhl is an esthete who perceives the mutations of society with a deliciously feigned distance, at the periphery, that of the half-world. His taste for the observation of majestic decadences and his writing, elegiac or luminous, always chiseled, made him one of the most precious French authors (in the sense of sacred). And rare. So valuable. We are careful not to tell him, fearing to pass, like his alter-ego against Fred Hughes in the news of Vanity Fair, for “a complacent memorialist” (passage that will be cut in the course of the numerous discussions and corrections which will enlace the Elaboration of the text.) One evokes his readings of the moment: Reverdy therefore, and Proust, regularly. In the face of our avowed reluctance, he suggests that the best way to approach the work of the author of  Swann is to leave aside all the sociological and theoretical analyzes “rather boring, it must be said” To the benefit of descriptions of atmospheres, portraits and dazzling associations of ideas.’ — Jean Perrier

‘Jean-Jacques Schuhl was only 50 francs (about £5) better off yesterday after winning France’s top book award, the Prix Goncourt, for a difficult and experimental novel based on the life of his lover. But his back manager will not be worried: Schuhl can expect to sell up to 500,000 copies of his book, Ingrid Caven, such is the prestige of the award. And the real Ingrid Caven, a German singer and actor, will not do too badly as a result of the book’s success, either. She tells this morning’s Le Monde that she has received several film offers as a result of its publication earlier this month.
‘Schuhl, 59, is hardly a well-known writer in France, not least because Ingrid Caven is his first novel for nearly 25 years. “It’s been a long time since I’ve written, and it’s a dramatic turn of events,” he told France-2 television after winning the award. “I didn’t expect it.” Caven was married to the film director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and starred in many of his pictures. She was later a lover of Yves Saint Laurent. Caven was last seen in Britain in Raoul Ruiz’s movie adaptation of Proust, Time Regained.
‘The choice of Schuhl’s novel is certainly a vote for French literary iconoclasm at a time when the country’s literary prizes in general, and the Goncourt in particular, have been widely criticised for not rewarding literary merit but bowing to the pressures of leading publishers. But Schuhl’s award was described as the “a vote for quality” by Michel Tournier, one of the judges and a previous winner of the prize. “Jean-Jacques Schuhl’s novel isn’t a commercial book and it won’t be displayed prominently in bookshop windows,” he said. That last point may well be an exaggeration, since the award of the Prix Goncourt usually guarantees huge sale, the winner’s book often bought as a Christmas gift in France.’ — Stuart Jeffries

‘Singing for the Führer’s troops at age five makes material for Ingrid Caven’s lifelong running gag—and the definitive event novelist Schuhl returns to again and again in recounting her life. Ingrid is a plucky girl from Saarland with a terrible skin problem and a wondrous voice, which propels her through classical training and on to accolades on the Munich stage (that’s when she meets a lonely boy in black leather who wants to make films—the Wunderkind of German film). Over the years, Ingrid will mingle with the likes of Andy Warhol and Yves Saint Laurent, and even become embroiled with the Baader Meinhof Gang. A sensational Paris debut and suddenly the “little hurting girl in borrowed clothes” becomes really famous, meeting Bette Davis and Satie, flying about the world as the wife of Fassbinder, who turns out to be a drug-using homosexual. In telling Ingrid’s story, Charles is a kind of misanthropic alter ego: he follows the singer around, has affairs of his own, reports a lot of hearsay and snatched dialogue, but provides little sense of interior life. The climax comes at Fassbinder’s untimely funeral (he was 38), when, with all his actresses linked up front as if at a premiere, a posthumous piece of paper is discovered detailing Fassbinder’s outline for a script about the life of Ingrid Caven, “the woman he loved.”’ — Kirkus
‘Adolf Hitler, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Yves Saint Laurent — German-born cabaret singer Ingrid Caven’s life flowed around these icons of 20th century European counterculture. Caven was married to Fassbinder and starred in many of his movies; she was Saint Laurent’s model and muse. At 4 1/2, she sang “Silent Night” in the barracks for the German troops. This novel, by her current lover and based on her life, is a collage of that strange postwar period in Europe of high artifice, drugs, terrorism, leather jackets and cinema. Behind the glamorous backdrop of hotel rooms, the Brasserie Lipp, the Rue de Bac, the clothing by Saint Laurent, Issey Miyake and others, you can still smell cities burning, lives decaying. Artists drape themselves over rich American producers and patrons. The “era of Potsdam and Sans-Souci … matching plates and Meissen dancers” is over. But so is the era of cabaret, and Caven finds herself a relic: “The time of stars and divas was long gone, and haute couture was disappearing, too…. Why go on singing when all the voices have been flattened, standardized, synthesized?”‘ — Los Angeles Times

OLIVIER ZAHM – Do you still belong to the underground?
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – The underground, it does not exist any more since now everything is in the light. It’s horrible ! It’s no longer attractive … It’s like poetry. In France, a poet is someone who has not known how to make a novel … In Germany, it is different: poetry has another status. Kafka, for example, is considered a “dichter”, that is, a poet in a very strong and wider sense … In America, too, with the poets of the Beat Generation … Even Edgar Allan Poe is Curse, but with all that entails prestige. Here, it is still and always head in the moon! The underground, no longer exists because it was recovered by the mainstream. And it is no longer erotic to say underground in the current context of the unprecedented cult of money and power.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Is the term “novelist” better for you?
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – I received the Goncourt prize with Ingrid Caven  … I have no problem with it. At the bottom I have almost written nothing … Three books in all and for all … That I am hardly classifiable, I want … Well!
OLIVIER ZAHM – You have written little, yet you play the figure of the novelist for a whole new generation.
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Maybe it’s because I’ve disappeared! After Rose Poussière came out in 1972, I did not write for very long. There was indeed Telex No. 1 . Then I left in the stratosphere: radio silence … But I returned with a literary brilliance and a price for Ingrid Caven.
OLIVIER ZAHM – Your trajectory is enigmatic, mysterious, very unusual today. It has an elliptical shape that enhances the “Schuhl myth”.
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – In silence and absence are made fantasies … What has he done all this time? Where was he ? If I had definitely disappeared, we would no longer ask the question, but I came out of the silent desert to make a surprise mediaatic-literary hold-up! A beautiful booty indeed! Surveillance cameras have not spotted me! Stories of ghosts, it works
OLIVIER ZAHM – But this mystery has been linked with your vision of writing and probably with the decline of literature which is now a machine to reveal everything from the author (memoirs, autobiography, autofiction …).
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – For there to be an echo or a resonance, there must also be a little emptiness around. The music resonates with silences that count as notes, as in printing, the white has value in the typography of signs in its own right. We must never lose sight of silence. One always thinks of the full, it is the fault of the West. Without silence, without emptiness, things do not resonate or very badly.
OLIVIER ZAHM – This silence for more than twenty years has not been deliberate?
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – There is undoubtedly a share of powerlessness in that or the requirement of something I could not develop after Rose Poussière . This narrative was intended as a manifesto for a sort of impersonal writing, made up of a mosaic of genres, quotations, observations, press articles, poems made of AFP dispatches, telexes with horse names Or hotel listings … It was something very personal. And impersonality leads quite normally to withdrawal and silence. I wanted to capture the air of the time without being too present. It was about being a simple sensor-transmitter … It was three times nothing, hardly a book, and that wrote itself, without me … I should not have signed it!
OLIVIER ZAHM: But why have not we pursued other texts?
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – As of 1975-76, for me things are a little extinct. I was no longer stimulated as I had been in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Perhaps I could no longer observe, seize, listen to or see all these frail indecisive indices, but it was That I had no more matter. It was perhaps an alibi to justify a personal state. Perhaps a laziness. Take fashion in 75-76 for example, it has already swung into what it has become now: a market, economic powers, a kind of globalization and standardization, the dictatorship of commercial demand. Already was foreshadowed the resumption in hand by new forces … All that there was of savage and which had interested me, a kind of spontaneous emergence, was diluted … Everything that had fascinated me also in the English musics , Or the stuff that came from the East – including the history of the Chinese Red Guards – all this happened without warning, strikingly and unpredictably … It was very clear in fashion. I remember one of the first parades of Claude Montana in 1976-77, room Wagram, an old boxing room. There was an effect of unpredictability, of sudden emergence. I do not want to be nostalgic, say it was better before! Not at all ! But today we see quickly where things happen: revival, cloning, return of the same, reinterpretation, mixing weakened … So in more and more stifling … We see where it comes from! Not that before, it did not come from somewhere, but there was a dazzling and subversive rise that blurred immediate comprehension. What inspired and fascinated me was the savagery of something remote or foreign. Maybe I can no longer see or hear him. I always ask myself the question. Is it me or the world?
OLIVIER ZAHM – This is the question that despairs everyone …
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Hence the persistent fascination for the 60s and 70s. It is this period of emergence that keeps coming back to the heads and phagocytating us. Retro fashion and disembodied technology. But I’m still alert. In Search of the Present Time!
OLIVIER ZAHM – During all these years of silence, I have the impression that you have never given up, nor stopped observing, refine your perceptions. One feels it in Ingrid Caven which finally covers the time of this prolonged silence. As well as in your next novel of which I have read a few pages.
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Rose Poussière was made in chance. It is an assemblage of things that were in the air: the newspaper, the English fashions, a few dialogues of films, short portraits, a personage that I had wanted a little futuristic, Frankenstein-le-Dandy. All that made scarcely a book, between the manifesto, the narrative, the newspaper. Rose Poussière was directly connected to what can be called “reality”. With Ingrid Caven , I told a biographical romanticized story. Now I write through the screen of artistic elements, with filters. I look at David Lynch. I dive into Edgar Poe. Whereas at the time I read very little, and almost not … except the press, France Soir and magazines … I went out at night in clubs, I watched the street, fashions, styles, clothes … The Red Guards wanted the books burnt … Today I keep looking around. I read fashion magazines, but I’m less interested. I return to literature and cinema … In the excerpts of my next novel you read, I placed a character of mannequin with a certain reluctance, because it interests me less than before. It’s just the idea of ​​the mannequin, this automatic, inhuman or say non-human and manipulated thing, that always fascinates me.
OLIVIER ZAHM – How do you explain the confidential and persistent success of Rose Poussière through the years?
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – An extract from a newspaper can be as important as a book. I like what passes and leaves very little trace: an extract of article, fugitive tracks on newspapers or magazines, words on the sand … But precisely, Rose Poussière which was hardly a book, Crossed the time. Before it was published, I brought some fragments of texts to Gallimard, like that, without thinking of anything … It was made of bric-a-brac, a kind of ephemeral collage of telex, newspapers, film dialogues and a few Texts from me. I am glad that this thing has become a little cult book … A friable and light thing that first sold to a hundred copies and then a few thousand and more. You yourself asked me to use the title for an exhibition on French art at the Grand Palais, La Force de l’Art . One day I was at a parade of Christian Lacroix. I did not know him personally and he whispered in my ear: “Rose Poussière” … Like a password … I had wanted to put in
Featured accessories. Pink Dust was a shade of make-up I’d seen in London: Dusty Pink . My title is a makeup! Now, accessories have become the essential, 70% of the brands revenue. They clutter up everything, they see nothing but themselves. They too are in full light. I do not care. What I like, these are the stars in the shadows! Personally, I prefer Ingrid Caven , I think it is a novel more accomplished.
But what made it so that Ingrid Caven shot 350,000 copies and Rose Poussière became a cult book with so much resonance, the great echo of a little thing …
OLIVIER ZAHM – It’s the butterfly effect!
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Yes, it’s relatively hushed for years and it’s growing and spreading. In fact objects found came to fit in a book and I was medium of the times. The best of arts is a medium. People are barring this today with the cult of “Me I”. If one is a medium, as the fisherman tends the net, things come to it.
OLIVIER ZAHM – You still have to know how to throw the net, because you are a great stylist.
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – Yes, of course, you have to open your ears and your eyes, be there without being there … Everyone can be a medium at times on his zone. Go for a walk in the night for example and let things pass through you … Intermittent medium, voila!
OLIVIER ZAHM – There are very few writers who, like you, go out at night, read fashion magazines, are interested in modern and contemporary art. In Paris, it is the self of the writer, self-fiction and psychology that predominate …
JEAN-JACQUES SCHUHL – I really like journalism. Mallarmé directed and wrote his own newspaper, La Dernière Mode , all the sections, including under feminine pseudonyms … I put my rare articles on the same level as my books. I do not make any difference. A writer should be at least a little journalist in the twist: openness to the world, capture of what is happening, precision of copyist, scribe …

Excerpt #2:
It wasn’t the sight of the saucepans, it was the noise they made that seemed so unholy, such a vulgar noise for a singer and such a seedy noise, too, as though her whole past was dragging behind her, and above all the sound was so entirely out of place, nothing at all to do with the luxurious and old-style setting – carpets, wall hangings, such well trained staff: the hotel was like a ventriloquist’s dummy, letting out a cry that didn’t belong to it, something irritating, agonising, making the brain falter. Maybe Ingrid also remembered Sundays at home, her mother cooking in the kitchen with a clatter of pans that mixed with the Liszt, ‘Hungarian Rhapsody,’ that her father used to play over and over in the next-door drawing room. That, too was in her mind, making it tilt like a pinball machine. A saucepan bumped up against one of the metal bars on the stairs, and came to rest, dumb.
There’s a photograph of Marlene Dietrich, which she once gave to Hemingway (1): She’s all legs, sitting, like in those famous shots for the Blackglama furs, her head is down, so all you can see is the line of nose, mouth, chin: enough to identify her at once like a logo, a Chinese pictogram, a coat of arms, and, alongside those long, bare famous legs that were insured for $5 million at Lloyds, she’s written: ‘I cook, too.’ Were they lovers, friends, loving friends? The old story keeps the crowds agog: the writer and the actress, or the singer, D’Annunzio and la Duse, Miller and Monroe, Romain Gary and Jean Seberg, Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange, Phillip ‘Portnoy’ Roth and Claire ‘Limelight’ Bloom, the marriage of word and flesh, intriguing, puzzling, riotous.
Hemingway? Maybe, if it comes down to it, the picture wasn’t dedicated to him at all but to one of her other men – Erich Maria Remarque, or Alexander Fleming who discovered penicillin? Jean Gabin, perhaps? Or to Mercedes d’Acosta, that exotic lesbian? Or just to some nameless fan? Doesn’t matter, it’s all ancient history, the young woman with the saucepan is also a chain smoker, but she uses a common black plastic cigarette holder, Denicotea, only twenty-five francs from your neighbourhood tobacconist.
She’s still laughing in the elevator and when, with the manager going ahead, she enters her suite, she’s amazed by what she sees: white lilies, on the night table, on the desk, the vanity, in the bathroom, in the entrance hall, everywhere white lilies. Yves paid tribute to his queen with a suite in white. After saucepans, lilies, after the hausfrau, the vamp. Pans and lilies – a good title if one day she wrote her memoirs; Eva Gabor, sister of the more famous Zsa Zsa, called her book Orchids and Salami.
From the ridiculous to the sublime, could be one of those surprising productions of her friend Werner Schröter whose nickname – but why on earth? – was ‘The Baron’: Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, The Death of Maria Malibran … she was bound to arrive in Paris under this particular sign, because, truth to tell, her real range of mind is more from lilies to saucepans, if you see what I mean, just as at the end of some exquisitely turned sentence – like this one – you need a break, but even the break is still too exquisite, those lovely rhetorical cadences I never quite escape. On stage with a flourish of her hand followed by a broken wrist, a back kick in the air that was a wink at flamenco, she knew just how to break up all that virtuosity, that panache, to do it neatly and dryly, to cut things short, never to make them too rich, yes, that was it, heading for the world of lilies and orchids, then turning back abruptly to saucepans and salami. Lupe Velez was engaged to Johnny Weismuller, but she fell out with Tarzan, wanted to kill herself, but looking lovely, image before everything, even when dying, hours and hours of fixing her makeup and her hair. She had no luck at all, pills and booze upset her guts and so it was that they found her, in her loveliest frock, immaculately styled, powdered, bejewelled, virtually embalmed, but stifled on her own vomit with her head down the toilet. That’s the art of breaking a mood, a right-angle turn of mood, art upside down, the leftovers restored, and anyway a kitchen utensil is always handy: John Cage wrote a concerto for mincer and beater.


Brian Willems at how nonsense and sense exist together in science fiction, the way that language is not a guarantee of personhood, the role of vision in relation to identity formation, the difference between metamorphosis and modulation...

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Brian Willems, Speculative Realism and Science Fiction, Edinburgh University Press, 2017.

Imagines the end of anthropocentrism through contemporary science fiction and speculative realism
A human-centred approach to the environment is leading to ecological collapse. One of the ways that speculative realism challenges anthropomorphism is by taking non-human things to be as valid objects of investivation as humans, allowing a more responsible and truthful view of the world to take place.

One of the reasons that speculative materialism challenges anthropomorphism is that a human-centred approach to the environment is leading to ecological collapse. Therefore, when non-human things are taken to be as equally valid objects of investigation as humans, a more responsible and truthful view of the world takes place. Brian Willems draws on the science fiction of Cormac McCarthy, Paolo Bacigalupi, Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Doris Lessing and Kim Stanley Robinson alongside speculative materialists including Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux and Jane Bennett. By questioning it, these writers and philosophers both develop and challenge anthropomorphism. Willems looks at how nonsense and sense exist together in science fiction, the way that language is not a guarantee of personhood, the role of vision in relation to identity formation, the difference between metamorphosis and modulation, representations of non-human deaths and the function of plasticity within the Anthropocene.

Henry, Henry

Brian Willems, Henry, Henry: A Novella, Zero Books, 2017.

read it at Google Books

A brilliantly conceived, wild and thought-provoking tale of composer Henry Purcell and his unscholarly contemporary biographers

Henry, Henry is a brilliantly conceived experimental novel comprising two alternating stories: a factually inaccurate pseudo-biography of 17th-century composer Henry Purcell and the mid-20th-century story of the people writing the biography.
In the 17th-century narrative, the young Henry is repeatedly imprisoned, has an affair with the choirmaster's wife, and is afflicted with an unusual fondness for nice clothes. Falsely accused of stealing all of the cornets from the royal stock of instruments, Henry is banished to a town infested with the plague. There he starts an affair with another woman, Cathleen. Upon his return to London, Henry is confronted with the complexities of his love life.
The 20th-century narrative tells of faux-scholar Mr Austen who has taken up residence in a small coastal town to get on with his work. There he befriends the Purcell family: mother and young son Henry.
At once wild, philosophical and thought-provoking, Henry, Henry is a novella that will stay with you.

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Brian Willems, Shooting the Moon, Zero Books, 2015.

Films about the moon show that even after the lunar landing of 1969 our celestial neighbor has lost none of its aptitude for being made of green cheese. In fact, as soon as you put the moon on screen it is lost. This is equally true for a wide range of moon films, including the theatricality of Méliès, the incredulity of camp, the illegibility of footage shot by Apollo astronauts and the revisionary history of Transformers 3. Yet, as paradoxical as it might seem at first, it is only when we ""lose sight"" of the moon that lunar truths begin to come forth. This is because fantastic elements of the moonby their mere absurditycan indicate non-fantastic elements. However, what is of interest here is not realistic or fantastic lunar truths but rather that the moon is an object which invites, or even demands, more than one truth at once.

Shooting the Moon: Interview with Brian Willems. By Kailyn N. Warpole


Russell Persson - The Narváez expedition continues to be a failed one, of course, but getting lost in Russell Persson’s strange language feels like a beautiful and hallucinatory triumph


Russell Persson, The Way of Florida, Little Island Press, 2017.



Relentless, urgent and above all musical, this expertly crafted début novel recasts the tragic story of the failed Narváez expedition – a calamitous attempt to establish Spanish colonies along the Gulf Coast – in bracing, beautiful language. A timely narrative of botched colonialism, The Way of Florida radically reimagines the parameters and responsibilities of the historical novel.

Russell Persson revisits the ill-fated Narváez expedition of the sixteenth century, which saw a group of some 600 Spanish, Greek, and Portuguese explorers arrive on the coast of Florida intent on establishing preliminary colonial settlements and garrisons. Of the 300 sent inland to explore, only four survived an eight-year ordeal: three minor members of the Spanish nobility and an enslaved Moor. Their story comes down to us via La Relación, the official report compiled by one of the nobles, published in 1542, as well as many other subsequent retellings. Persson’s The Way of Florida is arguably the most linguistically complex, rich, sinuous, and maybe even heroic.

"The Way of Florida is, for the figures in the narrative, a doomed and reckless course. But for Russell Persson it is the manner by which he achieves absolute triumph. Here is a strange, bracing, wholly original novel, just when we need it."  – Sam Lipsyte

"Russell Persson does with Cabeza de Vaca's narrative what Nick Cave did with traditional murder ballads: hones it, gives it a sharp edge, and makes it seem almost uncomfortably close. An incantatory and compelling read, one that will stick with you long after the book is closed." – Brian Evenson

“I am old, and am, therefore, in accordance with nature's regime, not the fertilest field for new fruit to find a furrow in and flourish therefrom skyward, spreading its yield over all below, capturing in shadow the occult origin it sprang from. Dark, dark, dark, this incessantly numinous account of the funding of the planetary genius which, at any cost, the terrible genies of appropriation disport themselves on native soil, makes for an unprecedented work of language gorgeously twisted by the torsions of narrative necessity. It also makes for a great book. Entrancing in its choral pursuit of the realities of man’s irresistible consumption of man, The Way of Florida rushes Russell Persson to the fore of notable American novelists, men and women who refuse the conventions handed them and confound the vicious lures of the marketplace. Ah, good conscience tells me I might instead have simply – and thus more truly – said, 'I’m floored'.” – Gordon Lish

"The Way of Florida is a brilliant take on the historical novel. The Narváez expedition continues to be a failed one, of course, but getting lost in Russell Persson’s strange language feels like a beautiful and hallucinatory triumph." – Michael Kimball

"Persson, God, where does one begin? There is a seriousness to the pages of Russell Persson that is rarely seen in this age of the instantaneous. Read Persson closely and you will see that he is extremely defiant. He is also extremely subtle in his defiance. Persson will further subvert a beautiful acoustical event if he sees that the event can be anticipated before its conclusion." – David McLendon


There is a beyond madness I believe we have in us. A deep yellow like a metal stone who turns and as an ember it heats with the wind up against it. The madness lugged in and out of the rooms of us through doors of us we hide it from the wind the lightest duff which up against the madness it fans the ember into that hottest stone who puts a body along some odd path and writes a script for each man differently and strange this hottest babel is unheard the notions peculiar to each man come alive and now freed enact a rite wholly fucked and bright to only that man and none other. This solitary trip at once outside the man and truly within. A beyond madness who somehow does not ride with us floated here aloud but instead the madness though fanned I do not know how it remains inside these men. It seems for some the lightest alter can throw him into the gut of it. It could be that our hunger has a taller role or the water we have needed and without these deep wants it would avail the stone to become odd within us. But instead we ride floated here and our madness is small for now though I can not believe for good.

Read an interview with Russell Persson about the writing of The Way of Florida:
UNSAID: What role does research play in your treatment of what appear to be historical events? In what ways is research either a help or a hindrance?
RP: Research has provided the factual armature that my narrative is built on. Throwing clay on that armature and pushing it around and forming the contours that I find engaging or musical or surprising or terrifying is the real joy. I do end up at times going back to the facts to give a rough form to where the story is going, but I try not to get too deep into the research because if I feel like I am guiding or anticipating the story too strictly then I’ll lose that sense of play and abandon which is required for me to get at least that first draft down.
UNSAID: Your treatment of mapping and chronology, combined with your description of jungle landscape, create a strong sense of anxiety, the feeling that a creeping reality will invade and engulf all, unless the world is constantly rationalized. Is this feeling merely an effect within your story, or is it expressive of your own understanding of human experience?
RP: In the Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca, it’s a disaster from the start. The ships are blown by a storm, the navigator doesn’t know where they are, the competency of the commander Narvaez is questioned. After they reach land and decide to explore inland, they are walking through a place unknown, unmapped, populated by an unknown, possibly hostile people. When I was reading the Narrative, it made me anxious to imagine what it must have been like in those circumstances. I wanted to try to convey some of that anxiety, and to bring some of that anxiety to the idiom.
The sense of anxiety and that creeping reality you mention might also have to do with the process of writing. When I am writing well, I feel like I’m an actor playing the role of some overwhelmed scribe trying to keep up with the story. It’s a fugue state that is wonderful to be in and it produces its own kind of anxiety, but like any ideal state it’s not always easy to access. That creeping reality is daily life, just outside the gates, constantly reminding me that I need to go back to my job, pay the bills, mow the lawn. So that anxiety might have more to do with not so much my understanding of the human experience but instead my understanding of the experience of writing.
UNSAID: It was hard for me to read The Way of Florida without thinking of Orlando, the title of two literary landmarks, and also the home of one of the world’s great theme parks. For me, your story connotes a wide variety of texts, historical and contemporary, aesthetic and vulgar, heroic and absurd – all of which add to the richness of the experience of reading. To what extent did writing proceed and work with an awareness of your production arising within an intertextual field?
RP: I wonder sometimes if it’s possible to start over with a word. In the original Narrative, “the way of Florida” simply refers to a direction of travel. But a contemporary reader can find so many different meanings for the word Florida. We all seem to have an emotion or an opinion about Florida. When I decided on the title “The Way of Florida,” I loved how ambiguous and loaded it was, how it could be filled up and decorated before you read a line of the text. And at the same time, I loved how it might be possible to rebuild the word itself.
Maybe it’s not possible to start over with a word, but I like the idea of trying. Jack Gilbert resurrected the word heart for me, which I believed had been lost for good. So I think there is still the possibility to take words to which we have assigned almost inseparable meaning and to present them for reevaluation.
UNSAID: The sudden appearance of complex run-on sentences in your story catches the reader off guard, demanding great feats of cognition or respiration if the movement of the story is not to be interrupted. To what extent do you find writing and reading to be not pleasures so much as mental and physical ordeals?
RP: I feel those longer sentences are a natural product of the story, told at pace and rhythm and length at which certain passages should be told to reflect the subject. Writing those sentences is a pleasure and I hope that pleasure is felt by the reader as well. But I do understand that those wandering sentences require a form of attention that we’re not used to working with. So in that way I can understand that it might take some persuasion or some kind of instruction to get the reader to that place where that form of attention lives. These lines might serve to, indirectly, instruct the reader on what might be an appropriate form of attention to bring to the pages.
UNSAID: I’m fascinated by what I might call infixes or intrusions in the course of your narrative. I see these principally in the form of sudden expletives, conjectures, and proclamations. Each of these seems to figure as a moment of shock, a repetition of an unsaid trauma driving the underpinning of the narrative. Can you say anything about the origin or function of exclamation in your work?
RP: The first expletive came about as a way to speak to the muted nature of the original Narrative, in which almost all emotion is removed to make room for place names, directions, distances traveled, measurements of time, descriptions of the native people. In my retelling of the narrative, I wanted to inhabit more of the reactionary and the felt. But once I started using these expletives I realized they were assigning themselves a different role, like a crash that breaks into an expected rhythm of sounds. I often listen to music that has elements of dissonance, and I realized these expletives were like those notes you don’t expect to hear, notes whose function is to intentionally bend away from the expected note to give you something odd and unexpected. This can be unsettling, or shocking, but you’ll see that bend in the path and by following the path you might get to see or hear something differently than if the path was straight.