A review of Mark Z. Danielewski’s THE FIFTY-YEAR SWORD by Dr. Joseph Suglia

 

A review of Mark Z. Danielewski’s THE FIFTY-YEAR SWORD

by Dr. Joseph Suglia

 

You can accuse an idiot of being an idiot, but this accusation will only dimly register in his primitive consciousness.  He will shrug his shoulders and continue being an idiot.

This raises the question, “Why criticize idiotic books at all?”  It is unlikely that a sharp-minded critic will improve a dimwitted writer.  And who will do the criticizing?  There are very few intelligent people left in the world, and in the country in which I reside, the United States of America, intelligence is condemned as a vice.  Nevertheless, we the intelligent must band together and identify idiocy whenever we come across it, especially when idiotic books such as Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Fifty-Year Sword (2012) are praised by The Washington Post as works of literature, if for no other reason than to secure the concept of “literature” and to protect it from abuse.

The Fifty-Year Sword is undistilled swill, and it is impossible to understand how any serious person could defend such a book.  I am using the word “book” somewhat glibly, since what Danielewski and Co. have given us is a collection of blank pages, drawings (stitchings, really), and limp doggerel, all stitched together.

It might be useful to taxonomize the text into four categories.

Pages 2, 11, 13, 15, 17, 21, 23, 25, 27, 29, 31, 33, 39, 41, 43, 45, 47, 49, 51, 53, 55, 57, 59, 65, 69, 71, 73, 75, 77, 79, 81, 83, 85, 87, 99, 107, 117, 119, 121, 125, 127, 139, 143, 147, 149, 151,  155, 159, 169, 171, 175, 177, 181, 183, 185, 189, 193, 195, 199, 201, 205, 207, 209, 211, 233, 234, 235, 237, 243, 245, 247, 249, 255, 257, 259, 261, 263, 265, 269, 273, 281, 283, and 285 are entirely blank.

On pages 7, 8, 9, 19, 35, 37, 61, 63, 67, 89, 91, 93, 95, 97, 101, 103, 104, 105, 106, 109, 111, 112, 113, 115, 123, 129, 131, 133, 135, 137, 141, 144, 145, 153, 157, 160, 161, 163, 165, 167, 173, 179, 187, 191, 197, 203, 213, 215, 217, 219, 221, 223, 225, 227, 229, 231, 238, 239, 241, 251, 253, 267, 271, 275, 277, 278, and 279 are unaesthetic stitchings that look like food stains.  No words to speak of.

Pages 18, 66, 88, 92, 94, 96, 98, 100, 108, 114, 116, 122, 124, 126, 128, 130, 132, 134, 136, 138, 140, 142, 152, 154, 158, 162, 164, 166, 168, 172, 174, 176, 178, 184, 186, 188, 190, 192, 196, 212, 214, 216, 218, 220, 222, 224, 226, 228, 230, 232, 242, 244, 246, 254, 266, 270, 274, 276, and 284: Printed on each one of these pages is a single ill-formed sentence or phrase and nothing else besides.  On some of the more generous pages, there are two ill-formed sentences.  On some of the more meager pages, there is a single word or two words.

Pages 12, 14, 16, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40, 42, 44, 46, 54, 56, 58, 60, 62, 64, 68, 70, 72, 74, 76, 78, 80, 82, 84, 86, 90, 102, 110, 118, 120, 146, 148, 150, 156, 170, 180, 182, 194, 198, 200, 202, 204, 206, 208, 210, 236, 240, 248, 250, 252, 256, 258, 260, 262, 264, 268, 272, 280, and 282: Erratically indented, badly written verse, approximately fifty-sixty words per page.  Multicolored quotation marks, single and double.  The orange quotation marks seem to refer to the character Tarff.  The mauve (?) quotation marks seem to refer to the character Ezade.  The red quotation marks to Inieda, the brown to Sithis, and the yellow (?) to something called “ittle Micit.”  Often, it is difficult to distinguish one color from the other, one character from the other.

Let’s tally up the numbers.

83 out of the book’s 285 pages are entirely blank.

67 of these pages are polluted with “illustrations” (for lack of a worse word).

This means that approximately 52% of the “book” is wordless: There are more blank pages and pages of imagery than pages with words on them.

And what of the words that Brother Poe stitches together?  What is it like to actually read this book (such as it is)?

Reading this “book” is as pleasant as eating sand.  The lines are atrociously stupid, abnormally boring, and excruciatingly illiterate.  Let me pause over some of the language, since it is the most offensive thing about this intolerably mushy mishmash of bad verse, blank pages, and ugly pictures.  Here are three examples:

1.)  “A few times a year Mose would generously serve up booze / and sweet / to fortipify the many strangers against the expected strangeness of her minglings…” [24].

A “sentence” that was clearly “inspired” by Joyce without any of Joyce’s elegance or genius.  When Joyce invented neologisms, he did so with a purpose.  The awful coinage “fortipify” neither enhances nor enlivens the text.

2.) “It was even in the falling apart of the breeze (though is there a breeze / if I can still feel it on my face?)…” [110].

Here, we have a non sequitur that does not even rise to the level of a simple paradox.

3.) “Where / upon / he began to swing the handle in a wide but deliberately / slow / arc as if to pass a long blade through the wicks of those five / candles nearly six / feet away where indeed a yellow panic there, / perhaps by extraordidinary coincidence, momentarily cowered / into small rounds of blue and drowning smoke” [240].

This is the sort of verse that only a bananahead would like and respect.

And if I were a bananahead, I would find The Fifty-Year Sword impressive.  In truth, Mark Z. Danielewski is not a careful writer, and he does not have a feeling for words.  Blame should be also given to the seamstresses at the Atelier Z, who did a terrible job of stitching the stupid thing together.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

 

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EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE by Jonathan Safran Foer

A Review of EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE (Jonathan Safran Foer)

The literature of September 11, 2001 is never attacked.  When a book speaks of September 11, 2001 (or of terrorism in general), it is more or less guaranteed immunity from criticism; it will, almost inescapably, be greeted with sympathy.

Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close banks on such sympathy, on such reverence.  The narrative, which concerns a nine-year-old boy named Oskar Schell in search of a key that would unshell the enigma of his dead father (a narrative stolen, in its basic outline, from Guenther Grass’s Die Blechtrommel), could have been written entirely without its scattered references to the terrorist interventions.  Nor is this trauma the only one presented in the novel: the others include Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Staten Island Ferry crash, and the Dresden bombings.  Each disaster is generalized to the point at which what is addressed is not a traumatizing event in its specificity, but historical “trauma” itself and the overcoming of trauma through bereavement-inspired creation.

Oskar, the insufferable brat, attempts to complete the work of mourning for his father, Thomas Schell, Jr., a victim of September 11, by compiling an almanac of self-inflicted wounds, the collage of images and letters which is the book we are “reading”–an almanac which, most likely, is assembled sometime in the indefinite future.  (Thomas Shell, Sr.’s manuscript of 4/12/78 is heavily edited (208-216). Who has done the editing? Almost certainly an older version of his grandson Oskar.)  If the term “reading” even applies.  Whenever a “pregnant” image is described, Foer literally re-presents it in the form of a pictorial image.  When a flock of birds rises into the sky, it is not enough that we read of these birds — we must SEE them as well.  Words may not be left in their invisibility; we are presented with supplementary photographs, illustrations, since mere verbality is not enough.  Indeed, the entire novel oozes with misologos — the mistrust or hatred of language / reason — in relation to both its content and its form.  Photographs, yes, and also a superabundance of blank pages and nearly-blank pages.  Space is not used in the manner it is in the works of Edmond Jabes, for instance.

Typography does not substitute for a well-wrought sentence.  Foer abrogates himself of all responsibilities–most specifically, the responsibility to write well.  Why bother when the pyrotechnics of typography is at his disposal?

As far as the writing is concerned, it is composed of nothing other than mind-numbingly, soul-deadeningly repetitive phrases (“heavy boots,” “raison d’etre,” etc.) and Sunday school platitudes: “Sometimes one simply wants to disappear” (184); “There’s nothing wrong with not understanding yourself” (184); “Everything that’s born has to die, which means our lives are like skyscrapers” (245); “How can you say I love you to someone you love? … It’s always necessary” (314).  Whenever the author writes something that he finds “beautiful” and “true” (165), he congratulates himself on his beauty and truth and tells us that that thing is “beautiful” and “true.”  The entire book reeks of such unearned profundity.  We also learn that most dust is made up of human detritus–a very deep truth indeed, one that Foer also communicates in his essay “Emptiness” (originally published in Playboy) with all of the sanctimoniousness and self-righteousness of the faux naif who serves as the center of the novel, a Sunday-School lecture in which we learn that famous musicians (Ringo Star) and scientists (Stephen Hawking) are unthreateningly approachable: Everything is familiarized.

Perhaps it is wrong to criticize Foer for including so many blank pages in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, since the entire book is a vacuum: null space into which readers may project their own meanings.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

 

EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES by Tom Robbins

A review of EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES (Tom Robbins) by Joseph Suglia

Literature has always had a hard time justifying itself.  And how could it justify itself?  Literature does no work.  Nor does it ground itself in any socially productive activity or engagement.  Not only does literature not serve the interests of society, often, in fact, it seems to playfully subvert these interests, though only in a powerless and purely “theatrical” way.  Departments of Literary Studies seem to have been designed to disguise the “fact” of literature’s essential frivolity.

Literary artists often have bad consciences.  Consider the fact that Don Quixote seems to be a novel that is directed against novels–against the chimeras of literature and of literary language.

No novel seems more flamboyantly frivolous than Tom Robbins’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976).  The work is often breathtakingly, magically, and intoxicatingly eloquent–and also, at times, bombastically written, ostentatious, empty, and light as air.  It is easy to be seduced and enchanted by the playful language of this work.  But one must nonetheless ask oneself: “What is the point of it all? Where is this book going? Why was it written?”  Perhaps these are questions that go against literature’s essence.  Perhaps the purpose of this book–and the purpose of literature–is purposelessness.

Sissy Hankshaw is all thumbs.  In Richmond, Virginia, where she was born and raised, the gigantic-thumbed girl is ostracized because of her so-called “deformity.”  When she reads in a dictionary that the thumb affords the hand a greater “freedom of movement,” she decides to use her strangeness to her advantage by becoming the very “spirit and heart of hitchhiking” [47].  As she traverses the United States and beyond, she meets and marries a Native American and asthmatic watercolorist from Manhattan named Julian who, unlike Sissy, has renounced his difference from the dominant collective.  Since she is perpetually in a state of motion, Sissy departs from her husband and takes up a modeling assignment given to her by “the Countess,” the misogynistic magnate of a feminine deodorant firm, on the Rubber Rose Ranch, an exclusively female-staffed, Western-themed beauty salon for older women who want to juvenilize their appearances.  Under the leadership of neo-cowgirl revivalist Bonanza Jellybean, the cowgirls take possession of the ranch and claim ownership of the whooping cranes that populate it–a species that is imperiled by a technologized, male-dominated society that offsets the balance of nature.

If this narrative sounds silly, that is because it is.  This is not to suggest that the work is meaningless or without “theme” (to mention a meaningless word).  Of course, it is possible to “thematize” any work.  One can always pretend to have “excavated” its “themes” (whatever this word is supposed to mean), to enumerate them, and to present them to the reader.  There is in the book an unapologetic environmentalism, the “allegory” of burgeoning feminism, and the championing of social misfits, freaks, deviants, lunatics, outcasts, and other “endangered species”–in particular, the novel celebrates hitchhikeresses and cowgirls, both of whom represent women who affirm their differences from male-defined normality.  According to the logic of Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, the sick are normal, and those who attempt to normalize themselves are the sick; by denying their singularity, the latter mutilate themselves.  And yet all of these “themes,” as serious as they might seem, are tossed off with such gleefulness that their seriousness as “themes” is eroded.

The book’s frivolous style of writing casts light on what one might call its “politics of playfulness.”  Even Cowgirls Get the Blues joyfully affirms the irruption of the frivolous and the extraordinary in everyday life and the rupturing of our sedimented responses “in a rational world where even disasters are familiar and damn near routine” [49].  An earthquake, to use one of the book’s many of metaphors for strangeness, interrupts the rhythms of ordinary life and thereby opens up new spheres of possibilities, breaking open the fabric of the normal and powering a more vital experience of the world–this is a “concept” that is clearly inspired by the philosophy of surrealism.  Sissy Hankshaw, with her massive thumbs, has a destabilizing effect on one’s rigidified perceptions.  Through her difference from others, she reminds the more “normal” characters in the book that the world is multiple, that stability is not rigidity, that the most “authentic” experience of life is one that is afforded by ceaseless movement.  As she explains to Julian, “I’ve proven that people aren’t trees, so it is false when they speak of roots” [80].  Hitchhiking is here a figure of endless motility–perpetual movement without origin or goal, motion for motion’s sake.  Systems, the book suggests, that do not incorporate the instability of motion–that is to say, that do not include chaos–are doomed to destruction.  Systems that are air-tight and shatterproof not fortuitously resemble fascist dictatorships; they attempt to impose order on disorder, they prefer homogeneity to heterogeneity.  As a result, they unravel, for the extraordinary can never be contained or managed.  Every system has “chinks” and leaks.  In order for systems to endure, they must bear disorder within themselves.  Stability and instability are–paradoxically–conjoined.  As Sissy remarks to her psychiatrist, Dr. Robbins, “Disorder is inherent in stability” [208].

And yet, even beyond this cluster of meanings, the work’s most essential “theme” (to mention this empty word one last time) is simply the joyous dance of language; its eloquence is absolutely overpowering.  When confronting the eloquence of someone like Tom Robbins, the literary critic should step aside, bow out, walk off the stage, and let the author take the floor.  Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is replete with surrealist disanalogies more striking than the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.  So exuberant is his writing that the author throws a party for the hundredth chapter of his book.  What Friedrich Schlegel once said of Diderot could also be said of Tom Robbins: Whenever he does something truly brilliant, he congratulates himself on his brilliance.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

V. by Thomas Pynchon

 

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE FACTS ON FILE COMPANION TO THE AMERICAN NOVEL

An Analysis of V. (Thomas Pynchon) by Joseph Suglia

“Suppose truth were a woman…”
–Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

All readers undergo a voyage to discover hidden meanings–a voyage which is also a passage of self-discovery.  Like most meta-fictional narratives, Thomas Pynchon’s first novel, V. (1963) is about the act of reading itself and the possibility or impossibility of self-reading.

Never has reading seemed so lugubrious.  The plot concerns Stencil, the son of a now-deceased British foreign officer, who, accompanied by eponymous “schlemihl” Benny Profane, half-heartedly searches for the elusive “V.”–who might be a woman, a thing, a concept, a sewer rat, or nothing at all.  Stencil is a reader, broadly understood: He attempts to interpret the meaning of an initial.  Reading is here a process without progress and without terminus: Stencil never succeeds in identifying the initial’s referent.  As his name implies, Stencil can only trace the outlines of that which he seeks; his search is, to a certain extent, a fruitless yearning for truth.

To put an end to the process of reading would be to lose one’s human spontaneity.  For this reason, “V.” must never be found.  If “V.” were found, Stencil would become indistinguishable from an inanimate object.  The search for “V.” is the only thing that distinguishes him from a thing: “His random movements before the war had given way to a great single movement from inertness to–if not vitality, then at least activity” [55].  Both Profane and Stencil are terrified of the world of objects.  They fear their stasis, their contagious inanimateness.  The inanimate objects that populate Pynchon’s narrative often resemble human beings, such as the beer tap that is shaped in the form of a “foam rubber breast” [16].  Human beings, conversely, are themselves often functional and machinelike: e.g., Benny Profane’s jaunts resemble the idiotic up-and-down movements of a yo-yo; Rachel’s words are described as “inanimate-words [Profane] couldn’t really talk back at” [27], etc.  All of the “characters” in the novel are threatened by the lifeless world of things.  Stencil needs to search for the inaccessible in order to separate himself from the inanimateness of objecthood, in order to avoid freezing into a thingly state: “He tried not to think, therefore, about any end to the search. Approach and avoid” [55].  If “V” were found, it would be necessary to lose it again and to reinitiate the search.

Readers are implicated in this impossible quest, involuntarily placed in the position of code-breakers.  Like Stencil, they obsessively ask themselves, “Who, then, is V.?”  Because the identity of “V.” is never completely given, the solution to the code seems to withdraw abyssally into darkness.  Without an answerable meaning, the “alien hieroglyphic[-]” [17] seems to exist on its own terms.  The book’s center, it would seem, is not some intentional content that would lie behind or beyond the code, but, rather, the code itself.  The cipher itself is illuminated, not its meaning.  The point of interpretation is no longer to identify a transcendental meaning or theme, but rather to sift through the fragments and details of the narrative, the ill-fitting pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  The unanswerable question “Who, then, is V.?” incites us to return to the forgotten or neglected world of appearances.  Bluntly stated, the disconnected pieces of Pynchon’s narrative are what is essential, not the “whole” to which they would belong.

Pynchon’s novel is an anti-adventure story about the plight of reading.  It challenges us to interpret something–the initial “V.”–without thinking in the categories of totality or universality.  The particular clues in the story do not relate to the universal.  Any interpretation that thinks in the language of totality or universality, in this context, is doomed to failure.

V. concerns the failure of reading and self-reading.  Stencil’s obsessive yet ultimately grim and joyless quest is to discover his own provenance (the search for “V.” is, to a certain extent, the search for his own father, der Vater in German) and therefore to discover his own identity.  And yet there is no definitive conclusion to the process of self-reading; therefore, there is no definite self-understanding.  Stencil’s identity is determined by the impossible which he seeks: “[H]e was quite purely He Who Looks for V.” [225].  If this process had any finality, he would be nothing at all–that is to say, nothing more than a thing, one thing among others.

The task of reading, then, must remain an infinitely provisional task.  Brenda remarks to Profane in Malta: “‘You’ve had all these fabulous experiences. I wish mine would show me something.’ /’Why.’/ ‘The experience, the experience. Haven’t you learned?’ / Profane didn’t have to think long. ‘No,’ he said, ‘offhand I’d say I haven’t learned a goddamn thing'” [454].  Stencil and Profane are led on an issueless quest–as are those of us who follow them.  The absence of anything like a decipherable meaning forces us to think about why we read: The book reveals our desire to discover order in chaos, to impose structure and coherence on entropy (disorder and stasis), to implement systems where there is none.

According to the metaphorics of V., the search for meaning is more imperative than the meaning that is sought.  Such is the significance of the non-questions that populate the book–questions that are unshelled of the interrogative form: “What are you afraid of” [36]; “Do you like it here” [40], etc.  These questions without questions remind us that, when approaching this book, we must pose questions without hankering after results.  The question is its own answer.  The answer is the question’s misfortune.

P.S. The novel has a sterile, lifeless prose style.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

 

IRREVERSIBLE by Gaspar Noe

A review of Irreversible (2003) by Joseph Suglia

Irreversible (2003): The traces of other films are indeed perceptible on its canvas.  And yet it is absolutely singular, absolutely unlike anything else in the history of cinema.

People go on and on about how “disturbing” this film is.  On a surficial level, the film is “disturbing,” of course.  But I personally found the film just, morally unambiguous, and even beautiful.

It is simultaneously the ugliest and most beautiful of all films.

The film’s message is not, as most people claim, that “time destroys all things.”  This is a painfully banal cliche, and, yes, it is plastered onto the surface of the film as if it were a wheatpaste poster.  The film’s reverse order gives the lie to this stupid cliche.  We are discussing a film that contradicts its own title: Irreversible reverses everything.  The film says: Yes, time destroys all things, but time itself can be destroyed.

Because the camera swirls around in a disorienting way at the beginning of the film (and at other points, as well, suggesting the reversibility of time), the spectator is initially unaware that the film starts with a scene of brutal vengeance.  Nor does one understand, at this point, why this vengeance takes place.  This effect of disorientation prevents the spectator from forming a moral judgment and either condemning or endorsing the bloody act of revenge.

The final scene of bliss (the “end” of the film is its chronological beginning) contains such pathos that it is absolutely overpowering: Now the spectator finally recognizes (a recognition that comes by way of a feeling) that rape destroys human life.  The woman who is raped, Alex (Monica Bellucci) is mourned at the close of the film (against Beethoven’s seventh symphony); her assailant, whose violation mirrors her violation, is not.

Marcus is Alex’s current lover.  Pierre is Alex’s former lover, an older man.  Pierre shows infinitely more devotion toward Alex than her boyfriend: He is the true spirit of revenge in the film.  Marcus, by contrast, is self-absorbed, stupid, and morally weak: Out of fear, he is reluctant to avenge the crime committed against his girlfriend.

Does Pierre resent Alex for having chosen another man over him?  There is evidence of this in the film.

If you are a man, this film will make you feel ashamed that you are.

In the bedroom scene, Marcus reveals that he is the rapist’s double.  Watch this scene carefully, and you will see what I mean.

Likewise, Marcus is quite similar to the anonymous passer-by who witnesses the rape in the tunnel (the tunnel is a figure that is used throughout the film and is evocative of the rectum) and yet does nothing to prevent it.

Those who run from the theater in horror are just as cowardly as that passer-by.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

Why I can’t stand Georges Bataille / THE BLUE OF NOON / Le Bleu du Ciel

WHY I CAN’T STAND GEORGES BATAILLE
by Dr. Joseph Suglia

I first discovered Bataille at the age of eighteen.  Here was a French Nietzschean who wrote strident essays and excessively explicit novels.  What was there not to like?  Throughout my eighteenth and nineteenth years, I read the oeuvres of Bataille, alongside the works of Heidegger, Derrida, and many others.

Around the age of twenty, my relationship with Bataille underwent a change.  I could no longer stand to read his writings.

La Littérature et le Mal (1957) destroyed my love for Bataille.  The book is almost unreadably silly.  Bataille argues, with the most incredible casuistry, that literature and evil are the same.  Literature evades collective necessity.  Evil evades collective necessity.  Both literature and evil evade collective necessity.  Therefore, literature IS evil.  However, this does not seem to imply, according to Bataille, that evil is literature.

This is a bit like saying: A duck is not a zebra.  A chicken is not a zebra.  Therefore, a duck is a chicken.  However, a chicken is not a duck.  This is the logical fallacy known as affirmative conclusion from a negative premise or illicit negative.

“Hegel, la Mort et le Sacrifice” (1955) troubled me, as well.  I had read enough of Hegel to know that Bataille was making intellectual errors, was misinterpreting Hegel.

Bataille’s misinterpretation of Hegel may be summarized thus: Human beings sacrifice the animal parts of themselves in order to become fully human.  Nowhere does this statement appear in the Gesammelte Werke of Hegel. Hegel writes instead: “[Der Geist] gewinnt seine Wahrheit nur, indem er in der absoluten Zerrissenheit sich selbst findet.”  When he writes that the Spirit finds itself in a state of absolute shreddedness, Hegel means that the human mind exteriorizes itself as an object and restores itself from its self-exteriorization.  The human mind is both itself and outside-of-itself at the same time.  There is no sacrifice of the animal for the sake of the human.

In L’Érotisme (1957), Bataille’s thesis is that death and eroticism issue from the same source, and many of his arguments are unforgettably convincing.  But his opening argument is both banal and irrelevant: Bataille contends that the relation between sex and death is apprehensible at the microbiological level: When the ovum is fertilized, it is demolished.  The ovum “dies” in order to form the zygote.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the phenomenology of eroticism, nor does it have anything to do with the phenomenology of mortality.

Last month, I read as much as I could endure of the fragments collected in The Unfinished System of Non-Knowledge.  These are the incoherent screechings of a lunatic.

* * * * *

THE BLUE OF NOON: A review by Dr. Joseph Suglia

According to Georges Bataille’s autobiographical note, Le Bleu du ciel (“The Blue of the Sky”) was composed in the twilight before the occupation of Vichy France.

The descending night darkens these pages.

Dissolute journalist Henri Troppmann (“Too-Much-Man”) and his lover, Dirty give way to every impulse, to every surfacing urge, no matter how vulgar.  Careening from one sex-and-death spasm to the next, they deliver themselves over to infinite possibilities of debauchery.  A fly drowning in a puddle of whitish fluid (or is it the thought of his mother, a woman he must not desire?) prompts Troppmann to plunge a fork into a woman’s supple white thigh.  The threat of Nazi terror incites a coupling in a boneyard.

Their only desire is to begrime whatever is elevated, to vulgarize the holy, to pollute it, to corrupt it, to bring it down into the mud.

By muddying whatever is “sacred,” they maintain the force of “the sacred.”

As a historical document, Le Bleu du ciel is eminently interesting.  It offers unforgettably vivid portraits of Colette Peignot (as Dirty) and the “red nun” Simone Weil (as Lazare).

It is also the story of a man who is fascinated with fascism and the phallus, of someone who loves war, though not for teleological reasons.  It is the story of a man who celebrates war on its own terms, who nihilistically affirms its limitless power of destruction.

As the night spreads, the blue of the sky disappears.

Dr. Joseph Suglia

A review of DERMAPHORIA (Craig Clevenger) by Dr. Joseph Suglia

 

 

A review of DERMAPHORIA (Craig Clevenger)

by Dr. Joseph Suglia

Did you know that most “Alpha Males” are, in fact, Beta Males?  And that most “Beta Males” are, in fact, Omega Males?  Craig Clevenger is an Omega Male who thinks that he is a Beta Male.  Chuck Palahniuk is a Beta Male who thinks that he is an Alpha Male.  As all Omega Males do, Craig Clevenger slavishly imitates the Beta Male.  Craig Clevenger apes Chuck Palahniuk’s this-is-how-pre-teens-talk writing “style,” which is no style at all.

Clevenger’s Dermaphoria (2005) will excruciate you with its illiteracy.  Consider the following sentences:

1.)    “Clumps of hair had melted together around one of his ears, which had swollen into a knot of blistered cartilage” [91].

How could clumps of hair melt together?

2.)    “He was sobbing as he spoke, trying to snow me with some cheap excuse like some eight-year-old while spitting out a stream of expletives with ‘hospital’ thrown in every three or four words” [Ibid.].

What?  This sentence is scarcely intelligible.  How could someone “snow” someone else with a single “excuse”?  “Eight year old” does not require hyphenation.  “Like” should never be used conjunctionally.  Taken literally, the phrase “some cheap excuse like some eight-year-old” means that the “cheap excuse” is like an eight year old.  Will MacAdam/Cage publish anything that comes over the transom, and did they copy-edit this book, or was the effort too herculean for them?

3.)    “I slip my fingers beneath your shirt to the slice of flesh above your hips that feels so good in the dark but you hate so much” [109].

Read literally, the final clause means that “you” “hate so much” in general, that “you” hate everyone and everything.  The context suggests, however, that “you” hate “the slice of flesh above your hips.”  A slightly less illiterate, slightly less irritating way of writing the sentence would be: “I slip my fingers beneath your shirt to the slice of flesh above your hips that you hate so much but that feels so good in the dark.”

4.)    “Some kid approached me with no finesse whatsoever, and asked me for ecstacy [sic]” [137].

Now, this is a sentence that only a beefhead would write.  Could Clevenger have come up with a more exciting verb than “to approach”?  Evidently not.  The comma is superfluous, and do I really need to point out that “ecstacy” should be spelled “ecstasy”?

5.)    “He was wearing tan work pants and dark brown work boots, and with the combination of colors, dark grey and tan, sitting in the sharp daytime shadows of the dilapidated desert house, he’s invisible” [97].

“He’s” is not the contraction of “he was.”  There is no contraction for “he was.”  When Clevenger writes, “dark grey,” doesn’t he mean “dark brown”?  The chuckies don’t care about such errors; after all, they aren’t very detail-oriented, are they?  Page after page, Clevenger is foundering and floundering, flailing and failing.  He cannot write.

Mencken once pointed out that most bad writers have congenital deficiencies–to write clearly, after all, one must think clearly.  But I would say that the converse holds, as well: To think clearly, one must write clearly.  Clevenger does not know how to write because he does not know how to think, and he does not know how to think because he does not know how to write.  He is inarticulate and slow-witted.

Clevenger is an experienced writer of literature in the same way and to the same degree that a eunuch is an experienced lover.  He has no relationship to literature other than a negative relationship or the relation of a non-relation.  His sentences sound like Metallica lyrics.  It is not fortuitous that Clevenger’s Work in Progress is called Saint Heretic: One can hear in the title resonances of Saint Anger, an album by Metallica.  As most chuckies have done, Clevenger has spent more time listening to heavy metal than he has reading books.

Craig Clevenger is a chuckling chucklehead.  He is nothing more than a soldier in Chuck Palahniuk’s army of mentally disenfranchised Everymen.

Dr. Joseph Suglia