Autobiography of a long walk enjoyer

After a health setback and adjusting to new medication, I effectively stopped reading or writing for nearly seven weeks.

Unable to think clearly or concentrate on work, I needed a way to fill the time. So I looked at pictures of crime scenes and accident victims: the aftermath of a killer who chopped a young person’s head off, a man who’d been run over by a truck so that his innards had burst through the apertures of his face. I couldn’t digest or even comprehend narrative in any form, so instead of movies I watched YouTube and videos: a satanic ritual to reanimate a corpse; a shirtless man seated at a table with a bowl of soggy ramen, holding oversized chopsticks, held in captivity by two life-sized and malicious Funko Pop figures, taunting their victim as he sobs between slurps; endless footage of ‘Karens’ disturbing the peace; a couple of good police car chases.

After a great deal of sleeping, my capacity for fiction gradually came back, first with mysteries and whodunnits, then Kobo Abe’s WOMAN IN THE DUNES and Kafka’s AMERIKA: THE MISSING PERSON. It was also an occasion to get reacquainted with graphic novels and manga, which I used to read voraciously, much more than Literature. I finally read MAUS, which was absolutely stupendous—such a bold choice to have animals represent European nationalities, with the mouse as unassimilable(?) Jews, which is absolutely courting controversy, as the epigraph by Hitler confirms, but I love what Spiegelman does with it when, halfway through the story, we go to the world of the making of the comic, where people wear animal masks.

Also the first three volumes of the MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM ORIGIN manga, drawn by the animation director of the original show. The mechs and ships look more imposing and less like toys in monochrome panels, and in general the artwork is a very crisp update of the 70s style. I read a manga adaptation of Lovecraft’s MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS as well, and while it was what you want from a visual adaptation, the drawings were a bit lacking.

I took numerous long walks, up to five miles sometimes, till the weather got too cold. These walks confirmed that my feet were indeed on the ground. I learned that I don’t really care for any of the holidays except new year’s. I don’t even wanna guess how many times I listened to “Cotton Eye Joe.” For a little while I drove a Jeep.

I seem to have bounced back to a more or less stable state, and my activities and aspirations once again involve more than sleeping for 13 hours, so to make up for my posting drought, here are selections from the last three months of my longhand journal:

October 3. WAVES. The first one came from the west. It crashed on those islands initially. But it was a big wave and it sloshed right across to the mainland. It landed on the basin with a big Crash! Water sprayed in innumerable beautiful droplets and the wind carried them further east, but not south. Then it looked like the business was done. However, from the east this time, another huge wave! SMASH! Onto the driest parts of the land, that had never gotten a fleck of the last one. These waves took two and a half centuries to do their thing. No sign of rushing water in many years. You think another rip tide is coming? If it happened before it can happen again, no?

October 9. EVENING, after a day out in Manhattan.

A comet hangs in the sky above me like my weekly assignments. The dirt path ranged over obsidian fields like a ribbon of caramel. Praise the lips of NANDINI, glossy as the Milky Way and pink as bubblegum, and of KUNDAVAI the proud feline of the river. Please allow me to remove the clinking bangles from your wrists, the rain of jewels from your olive-skinned necks. Yellow medicine rims the labial fleshwounds of the heroes. Mary Reufle and Kalki tried to explain stochastic processes to me over philly cheesesteaks and sweet potato fries.

October 13. Jack and some other friends and I arrived on a campus of old red brick buildings one afternoon, the sunlight bathing the grass lawns for now but with some rain clouds approaching in the distance. There were folks in our group I didn’t care to see and I sprinted across the quad to the next building as the drizzle began to fall and darken the paving. I went through an old fireproof door. I texted Jack to tell him where I was hiding and looked around. The floorboards creaked beneath my tread. The halls went on forever. I flipped through deckled pages as the rain pattered on the winter windows. This was my idea of a place!

October 14. [After a viewing of TAR] How do we know we are in the world of high art? Because a hazy strip of Klein International Blue hangs over Berlin, over New York City, over any place where the children enjoy Monster Hunter.

November 22. Fourth day on Z[oloft]. Saturday I took to mustering the strength to read. Read nothing. Sunday morning I managed to read some poems by Marguerite Young. Then some Marx in the evening. Brain fog. Lethargy. I slept for hours on Monday. Food makes me drowsy (but tastes GREAT).

December 24. One foggy Xmas Eve! 

The dialectical operation at work in literary history. Sterne is the greatest ‘experimental’ novelist, everyone agrees. But he laid down the blueprints for 19th c. realism, see BALZAC and TOLSTOY. Then at the end of the century the Russian masters summated realism and in many senses cleared the ground for modernism and surrealism in the next century. Kafka loved Dickens and many of his scenarios originate as pastiches of the English writer. Tendencies toward opposing states.

Systemic eczema rashes on arms, torso, groin. Feels itchy!

December 26. Boxing Day. In addition to CATS, we put on another cursed “film”: 1973’s HANZO THE RAZOR.

When corruption threatens Edo Japan, only one samurai is horny enough to answer the call. He bellows his catchphrase: “Time to destroy my shit!” Hanzo is a mountain of integrity. Incorruptible, he doesn’t even take his officer’s oath, for then he would stoop to the level of his dissipated peers. A sado-masochistic freak, he uses his implements of torture on his own flesh before inflicting them on his criminal prey, to test their efficacy. His blood runs thick as cranberry jam off the thigh-crushing machine. He rises. The impression of blood remains on the spiked seat—but it seems there is a sizeable area of dryness where his genital region had once been. Yes, Hanzo the Razor gets sexually aroused by his own degradation. Don’t worry about it! He takes a wooden mallet spiked with nails and brings it down repeatedly on his titanically turgid member. He pours a kettle of boiling water over his immense penis, laid out on a wooden pedestal like a meatloaf dinner. A cloud of steam and the water cascades to each side like a parted sea. His dick now thoroughly worked upon, he makes a little hole in a sack of rice and proceeds to pump into it, plowing the rice, turning the grains over like white virgin soil. Now that’s what I call compression!

So much for the duty-conscious Hanzo the Razor.

December 28. But the worst part of this “film” I haven’t talked about. This scene is the chestburster of the movie, the true shocker set piece. So HANZO THE RAZOR is a most effective interrogator. When he needs information he simply rapes it out of women. During one such procedure, we see a shot presenting three overlapping images, one, Hanzo’s sweaty grunting mug, two, the woman screaming first in pain then in pleasure—everyone enjoys being SA’d by Hanzo the Razor in the end—and three, what seems to be the camera positioned in a moist tunnel and pushing its way back and forth like a piston. The image says, “POV: you are HTR’s dick!!!” Horrendous movie.

From Jack K to James T // September summation

Even though it’s mid-October. September’s reading contained both the pulpiest of pulp and an important encounter in big L Literature. First, I ran through a few Jack Ketchum titles. I haven’t gotten to his masterpiece GIRL NEXT DOOR yet, but tore through and reasonably enjoyed RED and OFF SEASON and OFFSPRING, the first two entries in the Dead River sequence. This is no-frills formulaic writing with extreme grisly violence, and I must say I prefer this kind of lean storytelling over Stephen King doorstops, if we had to choose between horror writers steeped in the Northeast. Ketchum just has a clean, hard, clause-by-clause style that I never tire of. But a peculiar technique in each book is the reference to a story in the news.

Early in OFF SEASON, for example, Marjorie reads the New York Post in her Manhattan apartment. “There were two stories in particular that she read, so odd that in spite of herself they commanded her attention. In one a 45-year-old laborer in Paramus had tried to set his wife afire, having gone out to the garage after a drunken squabble to fill his glass with his glass with gasoline. He’d doused her with the gas but then, police said, was too drunk to light a match properly. In the other story a man in Virginia had hanged his beagle puppy from a tree in the backyard because it wouldn’t obey him.” Sure these vignettes lend the impression of a mad and violent world just like the real life news. But what’s interesting is how precisely off-set these stories are: the first one acts as a foil for the novel’s plot about straight couples under external threat, and the second is like a reflection of the horrendous act that kicks off RED. Speaking of which, the protagonist in that book (which otherwise doesn’t trade on sexual violence) also remembers “reading in the paper not so long ago about a woman in Florida who had orchestrated a strip-show in her home for some of the local teenage boys, with her fourteen-year-old daughter as the star attraction. She’d turn down the lights and turn on some music and her daughter would take off her clothes and then the woman would leave the room and her daughter would have sex with the boys on a first-come, first-served basis. There didn’t even appear to be money involved.

Why anyone would want to do that he didn’t know. But then he didn’t necessarily believe that age brought wisdom. He didn’t understand a lot of things. Figured he never would.

And Ketchum wasn’t the only splatterpunk read last month. I dabbled in the stories of BONDING, Maggie Seibert’s collection with Expat Press, which are wonderful and punchy. And even Jo Nesbo’s THE SNOWMAN might qualify, given how the titular Norwegian serial killer chops up and poses the corpses of his victims in theatrical ways, making him a Nordic Jack the Ripper meets Michael Meyers–though this fellow has plenty of psychological motivation, explained after the fact a la PSYCHO. Formulaic once again, but this sadistic noir is addictive reading. I consider it the segue into my sudden interest in Norwegian literature, ignited by Jon Fosse.


Feeling the fatigue of reading only novels the last few months, I restarted my poetry reading with some later Tate. What a tricky poet. His absurd anecdotes are delightful, though people are wrong to call it prose poetry or flash fiction. The are still definitely lineated. The photograph of the last poem in his typewriter included in GOVERNMENT LAKE shows how he set up his margins in such a way that they almost run flush to the right edge. But his actual prose is recognizably that. His situations undermine themselves often at the last second. They incorporate mundanity and genre tropes. They’re deadpan lyrical poems, usually just a page long, that can get a laugh a minute sometimes, like stand-up. Tate is so appealing on the surface but it’s hard to “get into” the enjoyment of the work in a practical-critical way; the meaning gets lost in the ironic absurdities, and the closer you look at the text the more weird things you notice, like sudden changes in tense or a possible missing sentence. The ending of “The Photograph of Lincoln” from DOME OF THE HIDDEN PAVILION, is a perfect example of his bathos and laugh-out-loud humor.

I headed
back the way I had come. On the mountain a man with a rifle
in his hand standing in the middle of the road stopped me. He
came over to my door and said, “My five-year-old son has been
captured by bears, or at least I think he has. I was up on
the mountain hunting with him by my side. The next thing

I know he’s gone. You’ve got to help me. When you get down
the mountain go directly to the police and tell them. They’re
the only chance I’ve got.” I looked behind him. The boy was
running down the mountain yelling, “Daddy, Daddy, why did you

leave me?”

People online are so quick to miscategorize Tate’s poetry since his use of storytelling seems to run counter to the rest of American poetry, even if he uses the same kind of diction and starkness. The lyric is the hegemonic form, similar to how stand-up comics don’t really tell jokes anymore, since it’s all observational humor. The focus on everydayness is as big a part of modern American poetry as the “visionary” aspect to it, which comes through in these lines by Stevens from “Of Modern Poetry” in PARTS OF A WORLD

It must
Be the finding of a satisfaction, and may
Be of a man skating, a woman dancing, a woman
Combing. The poem of the act of the mind.

In Ashbery’s “Dangerous Moonlight” from CAN YOU HEAR, BIRD we get these lines from a professor speaking that are even more specific, and suggests an idea of the poet who can concentrate something out of common human experiences (sees and breeds) in a precise way (unlike enharmonics in music where you can call a C-sharp a D-flat if you want) 

There is a poetry in mere existence,
the kind that shopkeepers and people walking along the street lead,
you know, and evenness, that fills them up to whatever brim
is there, and stays, transient, all the days of their lives.
Such enharmonics are not for your poet-person. He sees, and breeds:
Otherwise the game isn’t worth the candle to him. He’d as soon rhyme breeze
with breathes, as walk over to that fire hydrant in the grass
to examine it, see what it’s made of, make sure it’s not an idea in some
philosopher’s mind, that will bruise and cloud over once the mind’s
removed, leaving but a dubious trace of itself, like a ring of puffball dust…”

It’s not all spontaneous creation, since the poet should still avoid clumsy language and trite expression. Lastly it seems the poet is searching for that which hasn’t been fully rationalized by society yet, and make sure their content is not already the speculative product of a philosopher, something which the imaginative space of poetry may refuse to sustain.

But the fact that these difficult and canonical modernists have suddenly lit up for me may prove that Tate is the accessible poet (or anti-poet) who makes the other great poets a little more accessible. 


Hard hitters in September

ALONE: A NOVEL by Thomas Moore, Amphetamine Sulphate 2020

I feel like I was hardwired for abandonment. It’s not as tragic as it might sound. If a person understands things about themselves and can be honest with themselves about it, then a lot of life’s pain is much more easily dealt with–pain, no matter how people try to fool themselves, or no matter how other people try and fool them–is never going to leave. The idea of happiness as a goal rather than a transitional state is a dangerous and much more damaging notion for a person to carry around than just knowing that each and everyone is fucked in some way or other. If you can admit that, then at least you’re able to recognise when you’re outside of the worst of it, those moments when you’re able to dance amidst the ashes.

What hit me repeatedly with this breathtaking short book by Thomas Moore is its agonizing clarity. These thoughts are so raw, so painful, and perfectly formulated.

The type is set so that there are hardly more than ten syllables per line of text–like a poem, practically. The rhythm is pounding in a fantastic way. I read this in one day.

There is no belief in love or lasting happiness; this is beyond cynicism about love (“I’ve never seen a relationship that I have envied”), but pessimism (Schopenhauer, also Nietzsche and Bataille) that is so present in this trend of gay literature:

I sometimes feel like I really hate language. As in I detest it. Language is a lie that we are all guilty of and have told so many times that most of the time we either believe it or are too tired to be able to fight off–I think it’s the latter.

As the narrator points out, “It’s drilled into people’s beliefs that they need to be with someone It’s the goal in children’s fairy tales, it’s encouraged by the state, it’s portrayed as the norm in the arts in the majority of places that you look.” So here is one place to talk about being alone, powerless, and suicidal, without fear. Loved it.

EEG by Daša Drndić, tr. Celia Hawkensworth, New Directions 2019

Ok, the comparisons between Drndić and Bolaño made regarding this novel are apt, I must say. In fact, EEG read to me as a conscious fusion of Bolaño and Sebald–a sure winner for international publishing. While I wasn’t blown away enough to want to check out the prequel to this work or the rest of the late Drndić’s corpus right away, this is definitely a vibe: B’s political nihilism, dread and despair; plus S’s generous inclusion of multiple individual narratives (though here coming through a prickly first person narrator).

It begins with a failed suicide on the surface, and it also launches this recurring image of congealing and concentration, of the horrific history of 20th century central Europe (one of its many long-standing conflicts suddenly and violently erupting at the end of September) into something formless.

I moved away to study small dead things, to observe close-up dead things that refuse to die. Arranged in impenetrable cages of milky glass, seen from outside, those dead things appear like quivering figures, opaque and inaudible. So, on my short journeys, I observed those huge cages, approached them, tapped on them, placed my hand on them to summon those imprisoned within, in case they came close to me, so I could speak to them through that thick milky-white glass, tell them I knew them, those imprisoned people, that I remembered their stories, that I was guarding their lives, but they just danced blissfully, disembodied in the silent vacuum. I remained invisible to them, external.

The book is a loosely structured album of these “short journeys” through Europe, documenting historical crimes at the ground level. It’s a grim diary of classical fascism. Genocide, racism, anti-Semitism, small national chauvinisms, as well as an angst over globalization. It is a petty-bourgeois intellectual’s cry against authority as such, against the philistinism of the middle classes.

Like Sebald, there is a ton of historical reporting that reads as non-fiction, as well as some photographs and a huge spreadsheet. The major highlight for me is the long passage on chess grandmasters who had all gone mad, which had a wonderful Lovecraftian feel.

What strikes me about this novel now is that the narrator, by piecing the story together this way for us, is committed, perhaps in a cynical or resigned way, to the Hegelian and even Marxist-Leninist idea of the absolute truth as a compound of many relative truths (the many stories of victims of multiple Nazi holocausts and national wars). The anti-fascist left in academia here in West, seems to me, would be more eager to reject Hegel and the dialectic out of hand as totalitarian or, more fashionable these days, a will to transparency.  Not that EEG is a totality, even in the conscious design of its form, but it reads like an articulated attempt, out of a generosity to the victims of fascims and imperialism. The contemporary middle European writers, like Dubravka Ugrešić and Gaspodinov, just have a refreshing and infinitely nuanced view of this subject matter. These kinds of experiences, the collectively endured trauma, makes history seem to hang over everything, and it weighs heavy. 

…the previous century and this one had coalesced, adhered in a squashy mass, which, like a half-dead, distended wild beast, at times powerful, at times in a state of decay, wafts around itself the stench of death and madness.

THE MAGICIAN by Christopher Zeischegg, Amphetamine Sulphate 2020

The best American novel of 2020 may be this beautiful and thrilling piece of transgressive literature from Zeischegg. I want to order everything else he’s written. THE MAGICIAN is a multimedia project with an awesome crescent-based logo (kind of like the one for DUNE), including a film—and to think that some of the events in this story will be staged is mind-shattering. The first 100 pages are raw and brutal, like 21st century Marquis de Sade. There’s a sequence that I can’t think of anything to compare with other than A SERBIAN FILM, except of course this is a prose novel so it goes directly into the mind. Then the supernatural elements and surrealism build up, layer by layer. There’s quietude and dread, adn a rhythmic prose that just rips you through the narrative. “I’d run out of small distractions. There was only the sound of crickets and whatever my body conjured up.” I’m going to be vague here. But the slogan I gave my IG post was that this experience is like an LA noir on benzos, unsparing yet deeply sensitive. The ending is devastating, and not in the way I was expecting.