Allegorithms - Oscillating between the algorithmic & the representational, the human agent navigates its environmental niche in a way which is conducive to its further psychological, social, & biological existence

Allegorithms: Vit Bohal & Dustin Breitling (eds.): 9788073087081:  Amazon.com: Books

Allegorithms, ed. by Vít Bohal & Dustin 

Breitling, Litteraria Pragensia, 2017.

Contributors: Alexander R. Galloway, Marco Donnarumma, Sam Samiee, Paul Chaney, Sarah Kember, Martin Štefl, David Bates, Louis Armand, Václav Janoščík, Inigo Wilkins

The title of the book is predicated on the basis of a tri-partite framework – the algorithm, the allegory & the rhythm of their mutual interaction. Oscillating between the algorithmic & the representational, the human agent navigates its environmental niche in a way which is conducive to its further psychological, social, & biological existence. Yet how transparent & how predetermined is such a dynamic? Where are the points of contact, friction & overlap within the variegated pulls & counteractive flows inherent in the choreography of the “democracy of objects,” & how conducive is such an ecology of relations to the continuing survival of the human, here understood as an intersectional juncture between the biological, technological, cultural, semiotic etc?


Zuzana Brabcová - a brutal vision of present-day Prague where life has become a morass of the bizarre and the grotesque... a phantasmagoria of the life of a woman navigating a city indifferent to those living on the margins

Zuzana Brabcová, Aviaries, Trans. by Tereza Novicka, Twisted Spoon Press, 2019.

Aviaries is a novella composed of random diary entries, vignettes, dreams, observations, interior monologues, meditations, short anecdotes, newspaper headlines, and excerpts from poetry and prose, central among which is a passage from C.G. Jung's essay on the Kore. All these elements meld together in a collapse of time to create, similar to the work of Unica Zürn and Leonora Carrington, a phantasmagoria of the life of a woman navigating a city indifferent to those living on the margins. Interactions with other residents of Prague’s Smíchov district, characters who might be figments of her imagination, and the other women in her life – infirm mother, artsy sister, absent, dumpster-diving daughter – have reached a point where fantasy and reality have seamlessly merged. The death of Václav Havel in 2011 provides the opening, and from there the prose throbs in a kaleidoscope of contemporary news reports, flights of hallucination, wordplay, and metaphoric association to testify to what it is like to be alone and lost and indigent in a world that has stopped making sense. It is a brutal vision of present-day Prague where life has become a morass of the bizarre and the grotesque.
Brabcová's final book before her unexpected death, Aviaries received the Josef Škvorecký Award in 2016 for best prose of the year and was shortlisted for the Magnesia Litera Book of the Year Award in 2017.

‘A day devoted to staying in is the music of a melody nobody has ever played. And when I do have to go out, there’s a bloom coating the people I pass, a frost blurring their features. I can imagine they don’t exist, and in this way love them.’

The Czech writer Zuzana Brabcová opens her novel in her unique and free-flowing style, in which the absurdity of everyday life blends with the figments of the imagination of its protagonist, Bĕta, a middle-aged woman who suddenly finds herself on the fringes of society in Prague, ‘a city full of injustice that nobody ever got used to, not the nation, not the private individual’. The labyrinth of her life is asymmetrically constructed through snippets of grotesque diary entries, surreal dreams, lyrical verses, witty word play, insightful and clever dialogue, bizarre journal entries, symbolism, and mythology. It is as if she has found refuge in her insanity. Bĕta’s misery, alienation and post-communist disillusionment are well crafted, and captured without self-pity, reflecting the ageing woman’s dignity and humour as she searches for humanity. In spite of numerous failures in her attempts to get a job, she stays pragmatic and unfazed:

‘I was likewise unsuitable for the position of housekeeper, as would become evident later when visiting some high-end villa in Vokovice, because apparently I looked – so said the owner – like a Shishimora …Wikipedia soon informed me that this is a female boogieman from Slavic mythology – Kikimora in Czech – a hideous old hag dressed in rags who kidnaps kids.’

Bĕta’s interaction with her mother and daughter and her friend Melda, homeless like her, gives a particular edge to the narrative that swings from past to present and back again, oscillating between fantasy and reality, provocation and preposterousness. Bĕta’s story is that of an invisible woman, forgotten and abandoned, holding on to her only possession: memory, intertwined with surreal hallucinations. Through Bĕta, Zuzana Brabcova gives a voice not only to her but to all overlooked women who have been swallowed and forgotten in the dark and brutal transformation of society that followed the collapse of communism.

This book is best tackled slowly, for its subtleties and rich cynicism. Tereza Novická’s lively translation makes it a pleasure to read. - Silvia Sovic


The critic was at the park with her four-year-old niece. They had snacks, sang songs, played on the swings and the slide before the girl found a large stick, went over to a maple, and began hitting its trunk. Concentrated, determined, she whapped the bark methodically. The critic wasn’t sure what to do.

As she watched, an image came to mind from the novel she was reviewing next, Aviaries, by the Czech writer Zuzana Brabcová, who died in 2015. It was the last book she’d written, but the first of her works to be translated into English. On the title page was a black-and-white drawing of a woman with the body of a tree; in her womb a snake with bared fangs encircled a globe with a human face.

Her niece’s stick broke. She laughed, found another, and went on smacking the tree. It seemed disrespectful—a word the critic associated with her father, gone six years now. If he’d been there he would’ve put a gentle but quick stop to this tree-bashing. Disrespectful. Not constructive.

She wasn’t sure how she’d review the novel in just four-hundred words, the limit her editor had given her without a hint of apology. The unspoken facts were: novel in translation, small publisher, unknown dead female Czech author. It was the kind of disappointment she’d begun to accept, telling herself any press for books like this was worthwhile. Maybe a long blog post about it, in addition to the short, paid review, would make her feel better.

Because it deserved more. With singular, controlled balance Brabcová had delivered one of the most unrelenting character portraits the critic had ever read. The narrator, Alzběta, who goes by Běta, is a destitute writer in modern-day Prague. In very short chapters she looks at her life and the world, confronting memory, poverty, imagination, entropy, exhaustion, substance abuse, loneliness, and artistry, the entire range of physical, emotional, quasi-spiritual experiences. It’s as if she’s found a way to leave her body, at age 54, and see her existence from all sides, with fearsome insight. Several times, she uses a tree as the key symbol of herself, sometimes walking, sometimes bloody and damaged.

At a little more than a hundred pages, the novel seemed to contain more than entire shelves of books. Its detailed structure of themes and motifs formed a conceptual framework with great connotative power, like a field of emotional constellations. It was mesmerizing, adopting the conventions of a romantic, humanistic novel; no overwrought dramatic irony or sarcasm, an almost impossibly successful narrative order of personal and political events depicting a gloomy quest to see reality for what it is as a loner, writer, friend, mother and daughter, made compelling through Běta’s palpably real character, who’s vulnerable, contradictory, funny, erudite, curious, and frustrating, focused on the essence of life and death, from the underground of Prague.

For Běta, it’s as if the rotten state of the world and her health leaves her no choice but to take stock at this point in her life. After being laid off, she’s terminally unemployed, without work for 428 tedious, desperate days. She lives in a basement apartment she calls a cell and considers herself homeless. She writes, but on “a computer too old to sell” arranged atop “a baking sheet propped up on two bricks.” She’s been hospitalized 21 times in three years, mostly for mental illness. “I simply became addicted to the white coat,” she says, making light of it, but later admits she sometimes visits four doctors a day because her heat’s been turned off at home.

Some of the small sections bear dates like diary entries, ranging from December 2011 to February 2015. The story begins two days after Václav Havel’s death, prompting statewide grief that Běta says “reigns” over life, part of the larger “process of disintegration” she can’t help but scrutinize with fearsome intensity.

As the critic read, it was as if each day for Běta without work, living alone, had been snapped off from the world and examined as a small piece of text pasted to each page like a specimen of time. Her first thought was to call them fragments, but the term carried interpretative weight, and clumsily so. There was no prefabricated structure Brabcová had cracked up and re-used. This was a sophisticated, nuanced shifting set of tones, voices, and relative meanings within a layered, philosophical whole.

As for key characters, Běta’s sole friend, a man named Melda, whom she met in the neurological ward five years ago, isn’t much comfort. “You’re a sieve, Běta, just a sieve merely sifting through other people’s identities,” he says, sounding much like an inner voice at times. She’s so lonely, though, that she invites him to live with her, calling him a “pot” she can pour her life into. It’s one of several believable blind spots the author gives her—rather than pour her life into her writing, or finding another person to confide in, she favors a toxic relationship with Melda. He provides a reflection she craves, for better or for worse: “(I) truly saw him, powerless and paralyzed, in all the glorious shabbiness of his lost existence: the graying façade of a face cracked with wrinkles, thin, greasy hair, colorless fish eyes. I felt ashamed for the sympathy that gripped my heart, for his plastered wretchedness was indistinguishable from my own.”

In the margin near this quote, the critic would later notice she’d written, “Friendship, bodies, sickened by time.”

At the park, her niece had started to hit the tree like a drummer, with a stick in each hand. The critic let her, even as bits of bark began to fly. She doubted the girl knew what she was doing. Just acting on bored impulse. Maybe this was bad babysitting. She’d step in, somehow, soon enough. Maybe offer her some juice.

Out in the world, Brabcová shows Prague as Běta sees and feels and breathes it. “(When) I do go out, there’s a bloom coating the people I pass, a frost blurring their features. I can imagine they don’t exist, and in this way love them. All that exists: just disrupts and mars.” There’s a masterful balance of the real and surreal in Běta’s mind, letting neither the objective nor the creative view dominate as she looks through a sort of dark kaleidoscope with X-ray vision. To her, a parked SUV isn’t merely a symbol of excess, it’s “a Land Rover smothering the entire street like a gigantic tombstone,” a specific marker of a dead world. A neighbor’s pet snake is at first a pest she fears upon first seeing it loose in the hallway outside her apartment. Later, it’s a way to connect with the neighbor, when she also buys a snake, so they can breed them. Then she sees the serpent as an archetype of chaos and dangerous memories, a natural force loose in her thoughts with the power to crawl through holes in reality. Last of all, her grown daughter, Alice, becomes a cobra towering over a train station.

When Brabcová writes more playfully — “I reached for a cloud and shoved it under my sweater,” or “the wind deftly scooped me up with its spatula like a pancake and we flew over the rooftops” — a contrast occurs, one of empowering statements that subvert the limits of the physical world momentarily in an otherwise dark stretch of time.

Within this balance, Brabcová adds scientific rationale to the dynamic between fact and fiction in Běta’s worldview. She quotes theories of space and time, makes reference to tunnels within tunnels, and the speed of neutrino particles. Some sections act as sidebars to the plot, little groups of war headlines, vacation ads, strange-but-true facts that show how widely her eye on the world ranges. She craves a full view of reality, all the violence, fascism, rifts and nonsense of capitalism, seeing them as equal forces weighing on her personal myths, be it her mother’s habit of marking an X beside the dead in the dictionary, or perceived dangers about the particle accelerator at CERN.

Her mother’s influence is ever-present. During a visit, her mother, who’s in her late eighties, quotes Jiří Wolker, her favorite Czech poet, who wrote, “Death is a mere hard part of life.” A dark joke, it seems, from a gloomy parent; yet later Běta mentions the family lost a young son and brother, Igor, to suicide. Wolker’s line has become a touchstone and despite its grim overtone, the critic saw how in Novická’s translation, “mere” was paired with “hard,” and the line ended with “life,” as if Wolker’s goal, perhaps, was actually to put death in its rightful place, among the hard parts, but not necessarily among the most important.

Běta’s daughter, Alice, who’s twenty-three, visits and calls rarely. Běta imagines conversations with her; in one Alice recalls a dream in which Běta is a tree that needs to be chopped free — something Alice helps her achieve by leaving Prague. The episode reads like inventive self-defense on Běta’s part for some unsaid failure. She shows her true level of anxiety at times, saying directly that she feels “as if nothing were genuine anymore, as if every second extended hundreds of possibilities, countless parallel options, but none that held true.” She imagines that to survive, some people must stay connected to a purity that doesn’t exist on earth by way of an enormous snorkel; she imagines they walk the city streets with “an endless hollow tube penetrating into the cosmos and curving alongside it, only from there inhaling that which makes life imaginable, indeed even possible.”

The way the past and present exist in Beta’s mind, her pain and connection to others, the life of Prague around her, whether described in affecting simple detail or fantastic metaphor, is all delivered without unnecessary heat or flourish, in steadied diction and word choice—all the product of Novická’s expertly capable translation. The critic had read it worrying the tightrope act would fail, that the intricately woven minor mysteries of each moment would raise too many questions of sincerity and believability. But the translation held together brilliantly. In part because Brabcová wasn’t playing at surrealism for effect, or to correct or pander to any readers’ possible preconceived notions about her mental condition. Normal life is astounding, and the astounding aspects of life are normal. Běta is mentally ill and poor, no fool, wary of any kind of pity in any form, never connecting the way she sees the world with her illness.

Eventually, she gets full disability from the government due to the severity of it. Her mother has a heart attack and ends up in the hospital with the family praying around her bed.

The critic could see Běta’s desire to be alone to face the meaning of life, death, and suffering, as a mother while watching her own mother die, had come at a great cost in terms of optimism. “Awareness, and yet a remarkable emptiness,” Běta thinks, “for all these props — and even my speech is a prop — are just an accretion of completely empty squares.” She yearns to be closer to Alice, and feels it’s out of reach: “(If) only you knew how much I miss you. I wish I could be the cove you submerge into…or that I could manage, at least for a short while, to bear the mire of life like a rose.” And when she dwells on the hardest moments of her life when she had raised Alice alone, she can still feel the fear as it “wraps and tightens around my neck like a bathrobe belt.”

If the critic looked as directly at her life as this, would she find more joy or despair? Had grief over her father’s death blurred her vision of herself over the past few years, or sharpened her view of a life’s trajectory? Marriage and children still didn’t interest her. Her writing career was fine; she was still freelancing, earning plenty for herself at her marketing day job. No other fantasy career lay ahead at a magazine or cultural foundation. Where were her mother and sister headed? What was going to happen to her niece? Exploring the mysteries of life as quotidian puzzles, Brabcová’s novel insisted that how we apprehend these things does still matter.

When the critic finally stood and walked over to her niece, the girl wouldn’t stop hitting the tree, not even for some juice. The critic had to wrench the stick away.

“You’re not my Mom, stupid!” the girl shouted.

“I know,” the critic said, stepping backwards. “I’m your aunt.”

“No, you’re not!” the girl said. “You’re nothing.”

Ten minutes later, the girl was humming to herself in the car seat. The critic looked back at her from time to time in the rear-view mirror. The girl sang and clapped. The world went flashing by. - Matthew Jakubowski


Composed like a twenty-first century flashback to Nikolai Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman,” Zuzana Brabcová’s excellent, final novel Aviaries is a surrealist collage of memories, anxieties, and fantasies. Loosely episodic, Aviaries follows the daily journals of a mother fading into obscurity: although full of unconditional love for both her daughter and aged mother, she feels too far removed from both generational poles to be an effective feminine force. She drifts through her past and through cut-up histories (both contemporary and long forgotten) in search of some kind of resonance amidst all the meaninglessness around her.

Brabcová’s prose rests comfortably, strangely, in between, caught somewhere in the middle of past and present, fantasy and reality, literature and poetry. Lines from psalms by Czech poet Ivan Diviš are scattered throughout the book, seamlessly integrated between blurry dream sequences. Aviaries repeatedly spirals out in madcap surreality, all while humming with a real-life relatable humility. In one scene, the narrator visits her psychiatrist, Dr. Gnuj (“Jung” in reverse), and while it’s easy to get unglued amidst the novel’s trippy waiting-room antics featuring talking masks and a lounge piano, the fantasies melt away as the narrator learns she could collect disability benefits on account of her being unfit to work.

Seemingly non-sequitur vignettes are riddled throughout Aviaries; as jarring as they are memorable, they expand the book’s themes of interstitiality. In one, Brabcová recounts a “fatal printing error” in which “Gennady Musatov’s illustrations to Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov went astray and ended up in the Czech edition of In Search of Lost Time.” In a later diary entry, the narrator explains “while the contours of some memories were preserved and stayed intact, others collapsed and blended together.” In a digression about Rorschach tests, “even memory is just a play of colors and shapes behind eyelids shut in a desire for non-existence.” These moments transform the novel into something larger than simply an experimental work about memory and surrealism; Brabcová circles around a metaphysical, inescapable transition, when a person’s presence and influence dissipates into another’s remembrance.

The relationship between the narrator and her daughter, a dumpster-diving punk named Alice, provides some clues. In another drifting memory, “this was an image of you, Alice,” she recalls. “You’re already dissolving, receding, changing, thinning, waning into the distance, and yet it’s as if someone has burned the image into the back of my brain.” By the end of the novel, she finds a way to untangle Jung: Brabcová includes a passage directly from the psychoanalyst, which details his understanding of the female archetype and her spirit (which he calls the “Kore”):

The psyche pre-existent to consciousness (e.g., in a child) participates in the maternal pysche on the one hand, while on the other it reaches across to the daughter psyche. We could therefore say that every mother contains her daughter in herself and every daughter her mother, and that every woman extends backwards into her mother and forwards into her daughter.

The fractured, psychologically prismatic Aviaries could be considered a diagram of a mother’s brain. Despite its nightmarish hallucinations, talking animals, hidden traumas, and journal entries with dates like “the Fifty-first of Marchember, 2851,” Aviaries, above all, is about motherhood in flux. Brabcová hides a devastating layer at the novel’s core about mothers continuing to live through the lives of their daughters, and shows the struggle of one mother coming to realize the increasing importance of her memories and the woman she was, and how these past moments may overshadow any further potential left in her life. - Jeff Alford


Aviaries begins in the days after the death in 2011 of the political dissident, playwright, and first post-communist Czech President Václav Havel. Soon after Havel’s passing, the novel’s narrator Běta, opens up a comments stream under an online article about him and finds the post, “Hope he’s rotting in hell.” She reflects, “In the murk of scum, in the silent and holy night, revulsion stirred.”

Havel’s loss sets the stage for this bewildering book. If Havel represents the triumph of good over evil, hope for a better future, and humanism winning out against totalitarianism, his death symbolizes the vanishing belief in the promise of a euphoric post-totalitarian era. More than that, Havel’s death seems to have awoken powerful social forces made up of people who never believed in the causes he represented. In Aviaries, the crashing down of this grandest of national myths splinters into a fragmentary narrative amid a surreal and bleak urban landscape—one that feels horrifying true. Post-Havel Prague, in Brabcová’s vivid imagination, is a world of fetishistic materialism, neoliberal social disaster, sickness, and death. An uneasy refrain echoes through the book’s pages, setting the novel’s mood: “Something is happening. Something’s in the air. Something isn’t right.”

Aviaries is structured as a collection of textual fragments written or curated by Běta, a woman in her mid-fifties. Běta has been out of work for over a year when the novel opens. Her daughter Alice has left Prague for the south of Spain, where she has embraced an anti-materialist lifestyle and the practice of dumpster diving. In addition to being poor, Běta also suffers from mental illness, and parts of the narrative flow through her visits to the psychiatrist Doctor Gnuj. Together, the breakdowns of her family structure and health push Běta to the social margins, isolating her socially and economically. This alienation sharpens her ability to observe the details of everyday life among other specters of the metropolitan periphery—the poor, the homeless, the addicts, the chronically insane. The process of untethering from the “normal” opens up Běta to a kind of truer vision of the world, despite the vision’s temporally chaotic, fantastical quality. This irony—the imaginative and surreal as truer than the real—is reflected in an interaction between Běta and Doctor Gnuj, when the psychiatrist tells her: “Your inner world is like that basement lair of yours. Kick down the doors, file through the bars! Do you even notice the world around you?” Běta responds, “I do. Don’t you worry. I know well enough what the world around me lives for: the season of wine tastings and exhibitions of corpses.”

Two relationship triads provide a modicum of structure to the book. The first and most significant triad is that between Běta, her aged mother, and her errant daughter Alice. More than any other element, this generational dynamic creates a temporal rhythm in Aviaries, blending past and present, gesturing toward the future: “One minute Alice is bouncing around in the blueberries, she’s two years old, the next she’s barely hobbling along, an old woman she is yet to become.” Or this startling line, after Běta witnesses a girl wearing a Microsoft T-shirt, a junkie, “writhing and undulating” against the “piss-soaked wall” of a bus stop, “long past due for the morgue.” Běta tells her daughter, “In another time and place this was an image of you, Alice. You’re already dissolving, receding, changing, thinning, waning into the distance.” Brabcová deploys the figure of the snake, with its Jungian overtones of both creativity/fertility and destruction/death/danger, to hold this triad in a quivering relational field:

I’m coming back home, down the hallway by the basement stalls. . . . Above my head, the lights turn on automatically, one by one. I suddenly spot a snake edging toward me across the concrete floor. It goes still. I go still. It raises its head, flat and speckled. We watch each other warily, a barely audible hiss from the light bulbs.

The second relational triad connects Běta with the homeless lunatic Melda and to the girl in the Microsoft T-shirt, who eventually comes to squat in the “ruin” across the street from her apartment. Melda seems to be Běta’s playful double. With Melda, Běta slips into a parallel mode of existence in which mundane scenes of poverty and degradation transform into a realm unbound by the straightjacket of realism. A trip to the supermarket, for example, ends with the following: “But the Harpies at the checkout counters, half-women and half-bird, those goddesses of storm winds, let us pass through without a fuss, as though we were two transparent fly wings passing them, the crackling wing-cases of nothingness.” If the symbol of the generational triad is the snake, that of the lunatic triad is the caged bird; after Melda’s disappearance from the basement, Běta runs into him while in IKEA with her sister, and finds him “completely plastered with black feathers like a raven puppet.” She asks where he lives now:

He stayed silent for an unusually long time. . . .

“It’s a secret, but I’ll tell you . . . Every day I wait here till nine when IKEA closes. Then I hide in one of the storage spaces in the bedroom department, and I come out when the coast is clear and it’s all empty and quiet. At night I wander around a quiet IKEA that belongs to me alone.”

The bleaker version of Melda’s absurd capitalistic aviary is the cage of the girl with the Microsoft T-shirt. She has come to occupy the dilapidated building across the street, and appears in the space just as Melda vanishes—Melda’s creative lunacy morphing into a dismal, hopeless, self-destructive madness. Běta describes the scene when she offers the girl a bread roll: “She snatched it out of my hand and bit into it greedily. I looked around: no guts, no lungs, no liver—just a layer of plaster on a cement floor, just boarded-up windows, just a layer of plaster on the girl’s sores, just her eyes boarded up.”

Aviaries is an unsettling, provocative novel that gets richer with each successive reading—and it demands and inspires multiple readings. Tereza Novická’s translation sparkles, moving fluidly across Brabcová’s intricate assemblage, and the novel’s haunting refrain seems perfect, a mantra for our age: “Something is happening. Something’s in the air. Something isn’t right.” - Seth Rogoff


Zuzana Brabcová’s Aviaries, translated from the Czech by Tereza Novická, is a lesson in literary phantasmagoria—not for the faint of heart. Composed of oscillating diary entries, vignettes, dreams, observations, interior monologue, meditations, short anecdotes, newspaper headlines, and anecdotes from both poetry and prose, it presents a kaleidoscopic picture of present-day Prague, a world reeling with political strife that treats disadvantaged people badly and seldom makes sense.

The novella opens in 2011 with the death of Václav Havel, the last president of Czechoslovakia. Contemporary news reports and headlines provide a bleak background to this snapshot of the life of the protagonist, Alžběta, a woman living on the fringes of a relentlessly unforgiving Prague. She navigates a world of confusing characters that exist in and outside her imagination in Prague’s Smíchov district. She is unemployed and struggling with mental illness. Her troubled thoughts contribute to the fragmentary nature of the text, told in both third person and, what can only be described as, a distant first person. The result is profoundly confusing, yes, but also strangely satisfying, particularly as it contributes to Alžběta’s interactions with the women in her life, including her mother, her sister, and her dumpster-diving, Bob Dylan-dating daughter, Alice.

Completed just before Brabcová’s untimely death, Aviaries received the Josef Škvorecky, a Czech language award, in 2016 for best prose of the year and, in 2017, was shortlisted for the Magnesia Litera Book of the Year Award. Czech cultural-political monthly journal Literární nonviny called it, “A sophisticated testimony about social exclusion.” And now, Twisted Spoon Press and translator Tereza Novická have brought it to you. — Hiba Tahir


“what is most important about this, the last of Brabcová’s gifts, what makes it deserving of a place in the most minimalist of bookshelves, is its honest, overwhelming beauty, its celebration of language, imagery, and humanity, and its tribute to all of life, observed.”

What does it look like inside a mind ravaged by depression and loneliness? Is there transcendent beauty to be had from the harvesting of such a mind, from the culling of its experience of the most abject poverty and loss of self? In Aviaries, Zuzana Brabcova’s last work before her death in 2016, the Czech writer uses intricate storytelling patterns to credibly recreate her protagonist’s advanced lunacy, her hallucinations, and even her occasional life-saving awareness, while very clearly answering both questions, the latter with a resounding yes.

The novel is composed of the entries in Beta’s diary, begun on December 20, 2011, two days after the death of Václav Havel. The uncertain political scenario lends the tone of improbable hope amidst the dread of reality that matches Beta’s financial, physical, and mental situation, and that is at the center of the story.

“And when I do have to go out, there’s a bloom coating the people I pass, a frost blurring their features. I can imagine they don’t exist, and in this way love them. All that exists just disrupts and mars, as if somebody had graffiti-tagged The Night Watch. Václav Havel died the day before yesterday. In his sleep, in the morning. So its reign extends beyond night.”

Bêta is trying to come to terms with all she has lost. She is basically homeless, a squatter of sorts in heatless rooms in which her ghosts, loved ones past and present, visit her in dreams that read like a succession of beautiful, surrealist short films.

“His buddies started to roar with laughter and scattered across the expanse of the Sacré-Coeur, not caring about the marvelous, unusual view it offered of Prague, a city full of injustice that nobody ever got used to, not the nation, not the private individual. In short, they’d become sour and plunged their arms elbow-deep into garbage cans, and when they pulled them out again, they were the color of melted chocolate.”

Her mind assaulted by regret and loneliness, she’s unable to find her way without the identity she is losing to hunger, age, and illness. And yet she cannot help but love. She cannot help but give of what little she has.

Her story moves forward with glimpses of daughter Alice, who comes to her mother in dreams while dumpster-diving for basic necessities with beau Bob Dylan (“only his parents are to blame for his name”), a lit headlamp her only hat.

“You’re three months old, sleeping in your crib, clutching a rattle in your tiny fist. Andrei is just leaving for his night shift in a boiler room . . . My God, I pray over you, I feel nothing at all. Who are you, you unfathomable creature? Where did you come from? You are a guest. I have given birth to a guest.”

Later, when she dreams Alice needs her and wants to come home, love brings lucidity and the truths of the heart: “‘Return to my belly,’ I requested, ‘I’ve already got Grandma’s grave in my chest.’”

We see Bêta’s selfless love for Melda, a stuttering homeless man she picks up. He builds her a “cardboard palace” that is really a room of cardboard inside the outer cardboard of thinner walls, before leaving her in darkness, colder than before: “This rude stranger for whom I’d bought whatever he pointed to at Tesco just a few days before was now parading around in his grandiose cardboard box butt naked, and the scars that furrowed his body looked like riverbeds through which time streamed instead of water.”

It would be easy to confuse Brabcová’s work with loosely linked ramblings, but that would be a mistake. If we pay attention, readers will discover every clue she deliberately sets up for the finding, the rounding of each story to completion, just not the one we expected.

Aviaries is anchored in history, politics, satire, and humor. Stalin, Mozart, and even Proust lend height and sound to its metaphors. In turn, the news of the day, of every day in every place, lend the dose of reality against which all minds must end their race to feel. But what is most important about this, the last of Brabcová’s gifts, what makes it deserving of a place in the most minimalist of bookshelves, is its honest, overwhelming beauty, its celebration of language, imagery, and humanity, and its tribute to all of life, observed. - Anjanette Delgado


The central figure in Aviaries is Alžběta (Běta), presented here both in the first and sometimes third person. The work is presented in short pieces -- dated diary entries as well as others that instead have descriptive headings. There is a basic chronology here, the opening section dated 20 December 2011 and proceeding (though only occasionally, nowhere near daily) through March of 2012, then with a gap around mid-way through, the dating picking up again in January, 2015 and proceeding not quite sequentially in the few remaining dated entries after (including a giant leap into the past, to: 'On the 23rd of March, 1966'). The novel offers scenes from a life over this period -- Běta's, in its current, depressed state: "I have no money, no job, no family".

In fact, Běta does have some family: flighty daughter Alice, specializing in dumpster-diving for now; sister Nadia; their octo- and then nonagenarian mother. Laid off in 2010, she can count the days she's been out of work (428 when she first mentions it), and she lives in a basement flat; she's clinically depressed and repeatedly seeks medical attention, her psychiatrist suggesting:

"How about we try Mirtazapine ? Or Valdoxan ? Or even ... trazodone ?"

He closed his eyes at the last word, overcome with delight.

Of course, I couldn't let that go: "Or meth ? Or maybe fudge or sludge or heroin ?"

He also diagnoses:

Your inner world is like that basement lair of yours. Kick down the doors, file through the bars ! Do you even notice the world around you ?

In fact she does; at times, she can even seem hyper-aware -- but she despairs of this world around her, beginning with the politics: the novel opens right after the death of Václav Havel. The lost idealism of the post-Communist Czech Republic is a constant in the background, not least in the reactions to Havel's death -- notably also in the form of Alice's first-grade teacher, Marta Semelová, now leader of the Prague Communists, who: "congratulated the nation on ridding itself of a pest". (Semelová is a real-life figure, and she was indeed a teacher before becoming a politician; she crops up repeatedly in the novel, someone whose baneful influence on her daughter Běta had to nip in the bud.)

Entries include scenes of interaction with family and others -- both realistic and tending to the absurd, such when she encounters her hockey-obsessed former boss, fully decked out in all his gear, including skates, in front of the Academy of Sciences while The Rite of Spring is being performed at the National Theater (and Alice explores a dumpster). Other entries offer titbits of news and information, not entirely random but connecting to her story and life often only in the broadest sense:

More than half the Russian population has a favorable opinion of Joseph Stalin's role in Russian history.

Thirteen boys shot dead by ISIS extremists in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul for violating the ban on watching soccer.

The plastic bag ripped.

The needle disappeared in the fabric.

Near and far, the last leaf in Prague fell to the ground.

Thoughts of mortality figure prominently, and a nostalgic sense bubbles to the surface at times too:

I lift the pot lid and stare at the bottom of those days. Where have they gone, where are they now, at this moment, those angels of ours ? The spring sun bears down on the freshly painted iron bars of my window, as if it -- a country-fair strongman -- wants to bend them into a horseshoe.

With its sharp sense of the absurd but also grounded in the all too-real contemporary world, Brabcová effectively presents a dark-hued picture of the present. Obviously also a very personal take, Brabcová doesn't wallow too deeply in self-pity -- often twisting what might lead to such feeling sorry for herself into the absurd. Beyond that, it's her eloquent expression that makes her tale particularly effective: it reads well throughout, in its expression through Běta and her various struggles (including with expression ...):

I replied to another twenty-five job offers today, and as I was about to answer the twenty-sixth the screen went dark and I spotted the reflection of my face, which was, just like Melda's creation, thoroughly drained, baffling, angular, and utterly unemployable. In this dark battle of blots, in this deathly boring ten-card game, all I can do is describe it with words quite different to those inside me, words that are delicate, breezy, and translucent, just like the unknown voice requested.

Shifting between the surreal and the real, Aviaries is a poetic summa, sometimes tighly narrow in its focus, sometimes reaching out broadly, of what life's come to for Brabcová's aging protagonist, and what hold she has left on a world that disappoints -- no doubt reflecting Brabcová's own feeling and experiences. The literary is one small hold -- a nice touch in the final scenes has books flying out of flames into Běta's father's arms, a hopeful scene and sense of the literary as withstanding, impossible to keep down -- and if not entirely sufficient for the character so at least, for its duration, a comfort to the reader in the form of this eloquent little testament. - M.A.Orthofer


I have long been a fan of the books that Twisted spoon press bring out not only as works of literature charting the world of Czech lit but also they have always made their books eye-catching and desirable to own. So this their last is no different it is the last novel by the Czech writer Zuzana Brabcova a writer who had worked as a cleaner, librarian and hospital attendant before the regime fell in 1989 she worked briefly in the government set up b Vaclav Havel who death is actually a starting point in this book. She also worked as an editor she publishes five novels this was her last novel and the book won the Skvorceky prize for it.

The hairs of the moment bristled

and it crouched and barked. In the chambers of Deputies, four communist MPS refused to honor the memory of the first Czech president, spearhheaded by the leader of the Prague communists, Marta Semelova, who instead congratulated tje nationon ridding itself of a pest

Marta Semelova used to be Alice’s first grade teacher.”Your daughter is extremely gifted, she’ll make something of herself one day”she said and covered Alice’s head with her palm like a fortune-teller.

Can the prophetic gesture of a communist even mean anything ? A bark, bristled hair , a pointed sneer ? no it meant absolutely nothing

What might have been for Alice when her teacher was Marta ?

The book is one of those which I love as it has a real fragment nature to it we follow a female Beta as she wanders around the modern and different Prague it opens with a diary entry that states that Havel has died the day before as the fragment build we see a woman on the edge of this city in so many ways as she has no life and is one of those trying to find work and kill time and this is what is her world the vision of the city her life but also the life of her other female relations are touched on her daughter a dreamlike a child that may be in a way is her hope at times and despair at others a sister also on the edge reduce to scavenging to get by and a mother that has maybe gone the way her two daughters will eventually to the pits of despair in depression and trying to find a way out her life. Another female that recurs is Semelova she was Alice teacher and now a politician to me this is a clever mirroring of the two people Beta and Marta Semelova lives in this post-communist Prague one has risen the other has fallen but also we see the darker side of the city the outskirts the tourist never see she captures in the bums homeless and chav like kids of the city.

January 27, 2015

Seventy years ago, the red army liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp where Nazis had murdered over one million people : 960,000 Jews, 75,00 Poles, 21,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviets pows, 15,000 Czechs, Slovaks, Germans, Austrians,Ukrainians,French,Yugoslavians.In April 1947, Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of the liberated camp, was sentenced to death amd hanged symbolically in front of the crematorium of Auschwitz 1.

Don’t miss out! A tour of Auschwitz, a two day trip for two, 46% off

The book has facts like these scattered through this one got me with the last line so apt for the modern world !!

This is one of those books that is like a jigsaw we need to be patient as the piece are all mixed up but as you get into the work it starts to build up and the picture is built that of a city where dreams have been broken and made were the communist ideals have been replaced even Havel dream of post-communist Czech has fallen apart. The brilliance is in the prose that captures both the everyday working of Beta life but also the dream or nightmare way she envisions the world around her as surreal and hyper-real at over time maybe even both at the same time. I was reminded of the grotesque films of Jiri Barta his strange stop motion films like the club of the laid off although set much earlier has the same impending doom as this book has. A fitting tribute a book that deals with both the plight of females and the mental health issues that can cause in modern Czech society from a writer that always addressed feminist issues in her works. - https://winstonsdad.wordpress.com/2019/03/05/aviaries-by-zuzana-brabcova/

In his “Preface” to ‘L’Assommoir’ Émile Zola claimed the novel “is a work of truth, the first novel about the common people that does not lie and that smells of the common people. And readers should not conclude that the common people as a whole are bad, for my characters are not bad, they are only ignorant and ruined by the conditions of sweated toil and poverty in which they live.”

The protagonist narrator of Zuzana Brabcová’s last novel, ‘Aviaries’, Alžběta is a common person, and is linked inextricably to Émile Zola’s ‘L’Assommoir’;

Underneath the mattress

The trap snapped shut and firmly clamped around my memory. On February 18,1961, my mom had wedged a book underneath my mattress to make sure I’d be sleeping on a flat surface. She forgot about it. Hanging from a long string, a monkey-shaped rattle quivered above me, and I didn’t take my eyes off it for a single moment. They say the blind live in time, not space. If that’s true, I was a blind person back then. All of Grandpa’s clocks ticked away within my veins, and in my left hemisphere, my grandma diced apples from the garden for strudel.

Mom’s friend later took the crib for her own child. She discovered the forgotten book underneath the mattress. It was Zola’s L’Assommoir. (p69)

Whilst Zola’s “project is indebted to the Positivist philosopher’s isolation of three principal determinants on human behavior: heredity, environment, and the historical moment”, Zuzana Brabcová’s novel adds in the influence of literature, literally sleeping on a book, which can determine behavior and in this case fate.

‘Aviaries’ is a collection of fragments, labelled from December 20, 2011 to February 19, 2015, however they are not simply diary entries, there are recollections, newspaper headlines, interior monologues, dreams, excerpts from prose, poetry and psalms (including a passage from C.G. Jung’s essay on the “The Psychological Aspects of the Kore” from 1951 and Oliver Sack’s “An Anthropologist on Mars, 1995). This is a work full of contradictions, that move the reader in contradictory directions, from anger to empathy within a paragraph. It is not unusual for a sentence to spin off in a tangent. All adding to the fragmentary nature of the book;

This frightens me: what if disintegration into prime elements, the fragmentation into particulars, is also true for other phenomena, and reality will churn before my eyes in an incomprehensible muddle? (p78)

Our narrator is from the fringes, being treated for mental illness, recently made redundant with no prospect of reemployment – although she tries – she spends her days emailing her dumpster diving daughter – who is going out with Bob Dylan – and sharing her time and space with a homeless alcoholic who has had “a tumor the size if a lemon removed from his brain”, a soul mate, Melda, who she met in the neurological ward of the local hospital.

“I have no money,” I said to keep the conversation going. “I have no money, no job, no family. Apart from Alice, that is, who’s found lifelong lover in the flap of a discarded wallet in a dumpster, and my sister, Nadia, whose sets all burned down.”

And suddenly, with no warning, Doctor Gnuj quite unexpectedly fixed on me his brown-pink gaze, matching the waiting room, the gaze of a polyp: “Your inner world is like that basement lair of yours. Kick down the doors, file through the bars! Do you even notice the world around you?”

I do. Don’t you worry. I know well enough what the world around me lives for: the season of wine tastings and exhibitions of corpses. (pgs 31-32)

A deeply moving work of social exclusion, it is akin to William Kennedy’s ‘Ironweed’ on magic mushrooms, a melancholic work where we wonder if there is to be any redemption for the narrator as she slips further and further into decline.

Most of the fragments are at the most two pages long and this broken collection of seemingly disparate parts is well suited to exploring a life on the edges, where the kaleidoscopic motes blur the lines between fantasy and reality. As the publisher’s notes say “to testify to what it is like to be alone and lost and indignant in a world that has stopped making sense.”

And suddenly I recall how my mom took me to see a psychologist once, I was twelve or thirteen and maybe ever weirder back then than I am now, I don’t really remember, even memory is just a play of colors and shapes behind eyelids shut in a desire for non-existence. He showed me some pictures, ink blots symmetrical along a vertical axis running through the center of the card. Did it remind me of anything? Was I supposed to let my imagination run wild? What swaddled dimensions, what unknowable universes existed back then, just like today, between my mental images and the words I was forced to use to express them?

Indeed: the infamous Rorschach test.

“A blot,” I told the psychologist when he showed me the first card, but I imagined horse shit on a forest path, which was very strange, given the path was so narrow, no horse could possibly squeeze its way down it.

“Okay, but what does the blot remind you of?”

“A blot.”

“And this picture?”

“A blot. A blot. A blot.”

It reminded me of the noble profile of Old Shatterhand’s face, it reminded me of a human brain and a singed map of Prague, it reminded me of…But why in the world should I tell him that? Just like today, I stubbornly insisted on words quite different to those bursting inside me like bubbles on the water’s surface.

Melda’s lying on a foam mattress and drinking no euro-rotgut but the good Chilean wine he’d given me for my birthday. He drinks it all in one go, being an alcoholic. And me? A blot. Behind the closed eyelids of God knows who. Blots. (p52)

Zuzana Brabcová has taken the three principal determinants on human behavior: heredity, environment, and the historical moment, from Zola’s ‘L’Assommoir’, set the tale in modern day Prague and blended these into an experimental “morass of the bizarre and the grotesque”. At times the protagonist Alžběta is referred to in the third person, others the first, omniscient overlaid with monologue, this approach forcing to reader to recoil, but then to embrace.

‘Aviaries’ was the winner of the Josef Škvorecký Award, a Czech language award in 2016 for the best prose of the year, unfortunately Zuzana Brabcová had died soon after completing this work. A social commentary on the political state in Prague and the ill treatment of socially disadvantaged people, this is a powerful and lingering book.

As Émile Zola says (again) in his Preface to ‘L’Assommoir’; “ I wanted to depict the inexorable downfall of a working-class family in the poisonous atmosphere of our industrial suburbs. Intoxication and idleness lead to a weakening of family ties, to the filth of promiscuity, to the progressive neglect of decent feeling and ultimately to degradation and death. It is simply morality in action.”

Whist Zola has a simple linear narrative arc, a moral story of decline into squalor, Zuzana Brabcová starts us deeply immersed in the mire, the opening fragment at sunset;

December 20, 2011

It arrives around four, five o’clock in the afternoon, hangs around until about seven, and then at night it reigns. It’s been that way for years, I don’t recall it ever having been any different. A day devoted to staying in is the music of a melody nobody has ever played. And when I do have to go out, there’s a bloom coating the people I pass, a frost blurring their features. I can imagine they don’t exist, and in this way I love them. All that exists: just disrupts and mars, as if somebody had graffiti-tagged The Night Watch.

Václav Havel died the day before yesterday. In his sleep, in the morning. So its reign extends beyond the night.

The book starting the in the days after the first President of the Czech Republic’s death. Even the reference to Rembrandt’s ‘The Night Watch’ pervades the opening with darkness, will there be an escape from the gloom?

Brabcová draws on a number of Zola references;

and she looked along the outer boulevards, to the left and to the right, her eyes pausing at either end, filled with a nameless dread, as if, from now on, her life would be lived out within this space, bounded by a slaughterhouse and a hospital. (‘L’Assommoir’ p33)

No, I really can’t complain about where I live. I have a complete range of public facilities nearby: two hospitals, numerous pharmacies, a cemetery, even a crematorium. (‘Aviaries’)

A highlight of my recent reading journey and yet again a great publication from Twisted Spoon Press in Prague. Now I have read Zuzana Brabcová’s final novel I am eagerly awaiting more of her work to appear in English, ‘Rok Perel’ apparently the first Czech novel to deal with lesbian love, set in a psychiatric hospital it deals with an adult woman’s love for a young girl. Her first novel ‘Daleko od stromu’ was published in 1984 in Cologne and Zuzana Brabcová was the first recipient of the Jiří Orten Award in 1987, a prize established to raise the profile of authors whose works had been rejected by the regime. Her work ‘Stropy’ (‘Ceilings’) won the Magnesia Litera in 2013, the title referring to the thing which people hospitalised in psychiatric clinics see most often – a ceiling. All of these blurbs (taken from the Czech Lit website), look most appealing indeed, let’s hope some translators are on the case.

I think it is going to take something special for this book not to remain at the top of my highlights for 2019 and if you enjoy works that push the boundaries, books that examine the fringes, mysterious, grotesque and hallucinatory works then I suggest you order a copy of this post haste. - Tony Messanger


A sophisticated testimony about social exclusion that oscillates between diary, dream entries, and phantasmagorical prose.— Literární noviny

Aviaries has a multifarious form, with the author alternating between short accounts of real events and imaginative stories. There is here a precision of expression pregnant with meaning, in which the core of matters emerge: subtlety and sensibility. Exactly the type of quality virtually taboo today. — MF Dnes

[Aviaries] puts us in a public sphere that has no use for those who are incompatible with the exigencies of the day, with the culture of youth, success, physical prowess. Brabcová is a superb stylist, and with this short book she has stepped beyond the wall of literary art that seldom allows for this type of social commentary and analysis. — Respekt


Benjamín Labatut - Using extraordinary, epoch-defining moments from the history of science, Labatut plunges us into exhilarating territory between fact and fiction, progress and destruction, genius and madness

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut

Benjamin Labatut, When We Cease to 

Understand the World, Press, Trans. by Adrian 

Nathan, Pushkin Press, 2020.

Albert Einstein opens a letter sent to him from the Eastern Front of World War I. Inside, he finds the first exact solution to the equations of general relativity, unaware that it contains a monster that could destroy his life`s work.

The great mathematician Alexander Grothendieck tunnels so deeply into abstraction that he tries to cut all ties with the world, terrified of the horror his discoveries might cause.

Erwin Schroedinger and Werner Heisenberg battle over the soul of physics after creating two equivalent yet opposed versions of quantum mechanics. Their fight will tear the very fabric of reality, revealing a world stranger than they could have ever imagined.

Using extraordinary, epoch-defining moments from the history of science, Benjamin Labatut plunges us into exhilarating territory between fact and fiction, progress and destruction, genius and madness.

God does not play dice with the world, Albert Einstein famously declared, to which Benjamín Labatut would surely retort: perhaps not – but the devil does. In fact, Einstein himself had a lifelong niggle of doubt about mathematics, the discipline that we suppose keeps the Lord away from the gaming tables. How is it, he wondered, that an intellectual tool invented by humans can comprehend, account for and even manipulate so much of objective reality? That the physical world should be amenable to something we made up seemed to him suspect.

Is it perhaps that we register only as much of the world as our figurings can encompass? Wittgenstein had already conjectured that the limits of our language are the limits of our knowledge; could this be the case also, but more radically, with mathematics and the branches of science on which it is based? We see only that which we are capable of seeing: how much is beyond us?

About quantum mechanics, the development of which was as bold and momentous a feat as the formulation of the theory of general relativity, Einstein had more than a doubt – he loathed it, refusing to accept a version of physics that replaced Newtonian certitude with a haze of probabilities. He spent the last 30 years of his life attempting to bring about a synthesis that would transcend quantum theory, and failed. Outlandish hypotheses put forward in the late 1920s by Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, the originators of the Copenhagen Interpretation of how atoms work, today underpin the science that guides the exploration of the farthest reaches of space and the workings of the mobile phone in your pocket. - John Banville

read more here


La Ville Morte by Benjamín Labatut   https://granta.com/la-ville-morte/

Benjamín Labatut is a Chilean author born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in 1980. He spent his childhood in The Hague, Buenos Aires and Lima, before settling in Chile, where he currently lives and works. His first book of short stories, Antarctica starts here, won the 2009 Caza de Letras Prize in Mexico, and the Santiago Municipal Prize, in Chile. His second book, After the Light, consists of a series of scientific, philosophical and historical notes on the void, written after a deep personal crisis. His third book When We Cease to Understand the World, will be published this September in the UK, by Pushkin Press, translated by Adrian Nathan West.


S.M.H - A thousand worlds have died to build the one we live in now. Thousands of species, cultures, gods. They are the compost of the horror we live in today. All time is the end times

S.M.H, Cicatrization, Infinity Land Press, 2020.


I want to mark the text / to make the murder real / in the space of the unconscious / I want to mark text / with the blood of the spirit / that churns fantasies of pain / onto the pulp of dead trees / I want to mark the seizure / of the exorcised spirit / onto the pulp of its recording / I want to mark the text / like a date on a calendar / marking the turning of the unconscious / in the season of its pain / what dark sin snakes its way in the labyrinth of hallucination? / what is dying in the realm beyond flesh? / Bodies stacking in the darkness of the cosmic mind / a thousand bodies mutilated / by my hand / in the realm of the spirit / atrocities we commit in fiction / are real / bodies stacking ten feet high / the Word of atrocity / vibrating with psychic wounds / The world is fiction / the plague that binds us to this dream / mutilated in blooded heat / a dream / a void / rage vibrating / the apocalypse of Being / scalding the unconscious / brutal dream / that winds through the desert of sight / words like fire / forest of the unconscious / raped by burns / knitted like a needle / into the roots / of the blistering mind / This is real death

- S. M. H opening statement of Cicatrization

Congratulations on the recent release of your book CICATRIZATION out of London’s Infinity Land Press. Before continuing with questions regarding the book, I’d like to say that I sincerely hope this email finds you and your loved ones well. This year has been turbulent and transformational politically, economically, environmentally and otherwise. How does it feel having your book released into this social climate, and has it affected your current writing or process?

Thanks for the kind words, and I hope you are doing well.

Recently I was walking on a beach at night, with the moon breaking the water to glass and the black surf beating the beach like a drum, and it seemed to me it was pounding out the sound of each mounting catastrophe. The present moment is so full of wreckage, one catastrophe exacerbating the other. The plague, the wildfires, the crumbling of order. And yet I know this is my human ear and my human brain that registers this. The surf beats the shore for no human mind. Stone will be ground to dust by water a thousand years after the death of Men. Eternity is longer than stone but stone is its testament. Solid and cold and indifferent to the collective nervous system of humanity. The present moment is an awesome thing to behold and to shake through, but ultimately my place is on the margins, as a witness. It has not affected my writing practice much, although it has given me a lot to chew on intellectually and emotionally. My hope is that this is the beginning of civilization’s end, although I am not that optimistic.

In your published work preceding CICATRIZATION (e.g. The Extinction Cycle, The Agony of the Sun, Rituals, and On Appeasing Angry Gods [Void Front Press], Psalms [SELFFUCK], as well as writing published online) there is an overarching sense of transformation: the reader follows in a trance-like progression through layers of decay, hallucination, terror, and bodily violence towards a void-like horizon. In your opening statement to CICATRIZATION you introduce a thematic contrast between fantasized death and “real death”. Are these themes obsessions? If so, why is obsession necessary for writing?

Yes, transformation and death and the blistering heat of hallucination are all obsessions of mine. These are born partly from experiences drawn from the death of my father. The golden light that filled the room at the time of his passing. The energy crackling as his bones shivered in their death rattle, his lips cracking against their chapped hide, to smile out of this world and into the next. I did not know until then that death was like this. Hot and bright and full of fear, a dream berserk. It has marked me and so I return again and again to these moments. What world did he see into at that moment? The brain boils in mystery at our passing and the bacteria lie silent in the gut waiting to chew through us. The dead roll in their silent tombs, or sweat in the heat of decay, and dream the world we live inside of.

Again, a story. I was reading by porchlight, and in the dulled glow a cicada came screaming into the door frame I was sitting next to. It ticked and buzzed and screamed and then fell silent. The night was eerie, and I sweat in fear and in humidity and I watched this thing die. It went slowly, screaming at the night intermittently. This is the nature of the world, to molt screaming into the alien reaches of death and dream through the painful decay of transformation. There is a tendon that connects each living thing and it vibrates in acoustical pain. The wheel of samsara turns and each soul molts into every other in agony. Everything dies and yet nothing leaves. That scream vibrates in eternity.

I think obsession is necessary for my writing. My brain is brutal and repetitious, and obsessions control me. Whatever dwells in my unconscious, dwells there permanently.

There is a tangible ambiguity in your work, rising primarily from your choice to remain anonymous, as well as the lack of specificity surrounding persons and places. In my opinion, this lack of “naming” or “facing” lends characteristics of mystery and universality to your work, as well as a black and opaque feeling. Like night. Like horror. Like ink. I know that you revere the writing of Cormac McCarthy and personally consider him the “greatest novelist of all time.” Because of this influence I think your landscapes can feel aesthetically American. Do you consider your writing “American”?

First, to address anonymity. In dream all are faceless, and all names are false names. A child killed is every child, either in this dream or the next. Writing is a way to move through the world that lives beneath the surface of this one. The waking day is buoyed by the darker waters of the night.

I do not really consider my writing American, because I do not really understand America. What is America? Is it the landscape or is it the mall or is it the commercials for new cars? I feel at a remove from both the fires of my peers and that of my enemies. I am influenced mostly by the landscape of the eastern woodlands and the death and life inherent there. A rotting deer will stick in my mind much longer than any conversation and I am generally isolated from any kind of “community”.

I am heavily influenced by American writers and their attachment to the land. Jim Harrison, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Annie Proulx and William Gay are all huge influences. The poetry of Robinson Jeffers has recently been pounding through my brain regularly. But again, I do not know if my writing is distinctly “American.” I have crisscrossed the country 5-6 times by car, and the landscape has certainly made an impression. Beyond that, I do not know.

The first definition that comes up when you google the noun Cicatrix is “the scar of a healed wound.” The second definition is “a scar on the bark of a tree.” A definition that comes up for Cicatrization is “The process of a wound healing to produce scar tissue”, or “wound healing”. Nature, the environment and the animal kingdom play a large role in your writing. In many cases the earth and its animals are suffering along with the human subjects. In the descriptions of this agony there seems to be a heightened sensitivity and reverence paid to the non-human beings, organisms and the land itself. Is this a response to the historic treatment of the environment, animals and indigenous peoples after industrialization and colonialism?

I would say that rage is the motor behind my writing, and that rage is stoked by the history of ecocide and genocide that is civilization.

The world we live in is a world denuded of spirit. The spirits of the land have been buried, and a thousand worlds ground under to create a giant shopping mall. We live in a world debased and emptied, and so our psyches and our souls.

The desert within mirrors the desert without. It is larger and more unforgiving. The world we have is a dismembered relic of the one we had, like the severed arm of a saint. I feel deep pain for the species that are lost, the ecosystems that have been destroyed and the lifeways that have been destroyed that once inhabited this land.

So yes, in a sense you could say this the background of my creation.

In many places you have mentioned faith, the sacred, and sacrifice as thematic interests. Are you religious or do you have a past in religion? Does ritual play a role in your writing process?

I grew up catholic and the imagery and emphasis on suffering certainly made an impression on me. If I have a religion, my religion is Wildfires. Whatever humbles Man is divine, whatever exalts him is evil. The angry gods have not been appeased and now they are wreaking their vengeance. I suffer when anything suffers, including human beings. Yet I know that the world is large, and dark, and human beings walk in ultimate blindness. The desire to control the wild will eventually fail, because all things die. To paraphrase Jeffers, “even cultures have their end”.

CICATRIZATION was released Saturday, 8/29/20, by Infinity Land Press out of London. On ILP’s website, co-founders and multi-media artists Martin Bladh and Karolina Urbaniak describe Infinity Land as “a realm deeply steeped in pathological obsessions, extreme desires, and private aesthetic visions. Having disappeared over the horizon from the nurseries stocked with frivolous babblings of apologetic pleasures, Infinity Land is foundationally a geography configured by the compulsive, annihilating search for impossible beauty. In the words of Yukio Mishima, ‘True beauty is something that attacks, overpowers, robs, and finally destroys.'”

Your work seems like a natural fit given the aesthetic interests of ILP, who have published writers such as Antonin Artaud, Dennis Cooper, Stephen Barber, Steve Finbow, Philip Best, Michael Salerno, Audrey Szasz and many others. What was it like working with Martin and Karolina, who are putting out books of such high artistry, content and design?

Working with Martin and Karolina was excellent throughout the whole process. They were extremely gracious with their time, and their attention to detail was awesome. I am so happy to be published by such an amazing press that works with so many great writers as well as makes beautiful books. The final product looks amazing and I don’t believe another press could create the books Infinity Land is creating. Martin and Karolina are doing such great work and I look forward to all of their releases.

In your interview with Infinity Land you mention a personal history of performing in a punk band and an interest in anarchist literature; the latter influencing your choice of the S.M.H. pen name. I can feel the vibration of heavy music and sound through all of your writing as well as in your book covers and designs. Echoes of Guyotat, Bataille and Artaud are evident in your work, although your words do not feel self-consciously academic in regard to literature. Far from wanton displays of sex, violence, and degeneration, your writing seems to share a political ethos of revolt with these subcultural movements in music, philosophy, art and activism. Do you consider your writing a political tool? An act? A weapon?

No, that is too grandiose. I think my writing is a personal exorcism, no more and no less.

Does an interest in film play a role in the visual nature of your work? Regardless, what is your favorite movie?

The work of Lars von Trier and his imagery has made an impression, but I wouldn’t say it was transformative. Antichrist certainly has some beautiful imagery and paints a picture of demonic nature which I find appealing. But for my favorite movie I must return to McCarthy and No Country For Old Men. I have watched that movie a million times and will watch it a million more.

How important is regular solitude to you as a writer? Spending time in Nature?

Spending time in Nature and solitude are both extremely important. Everything I write comes from my walks in the woods. It is the lifeblood of my imaginary. I am fairly anti-social and so being alone has been a constant in my life. I need that time to read, think and contemplate. The two poles of solitude and nature have been necessary for me to create.

What does the word “apocalypse” mean to you?

Apocalypse is seen as the end but the truth I think, is that there is no end. A thousand worlds have died to build the one we live in now. Thousands of species, cultures, gods. They are the compost of the horror we live in today. All time is the end times. All energy molts painfully into something else, and in the paroxysms of History we see this more plainly. - Evan Isoline


S.M.H is a writer working in the interstitial spaces of fear, death and faith. S.M.H’s work is an attempt to grapple with the terror inherent in sacred experience, the dark cosmos rattling in the grave of the human body. S.M.H has several chapbooks out through various small presses including The Extinction Cycle, The Agony of the Sun, Rituals and On Appeasing Angry Gods on Void Front Press, and Psalms on Selffuck.

Allegorithms - Oscillating between the algorithmic & the representational, the human agent navigates its environmental niche in a way which is conducive to its further psychological, social, & biological existence

Allegorithms , ed. by Vít Bohal & Dustin  Breitling, Litteraria Pragensia, 2017. Contributors: Alexander R. Galloway, Marco Donnarumma...