After a hologram viewing of my fourth grade play I wish you all the best and I’ll see you again at Christmas and they all said no there is another guest here whom we wish you to meet. With whom we wish you to conference. Giggling cousins mothers winking fathers pushed me into a room I didn’t know we had. It was covered from floor to ceiling in bootleg-bottle brown velvet and I was handed a small glass bottle of milk and a cat-sized loaf of banana bread. Inside the air was so thick I might have been underwater and tiny glass bubbles slipped out my nostrils and collected on the velvet ceiling. I saw what at first I thought was an owl in a wine-colored quilted dressing gown but in fact was a man. I thought your head was a barn owl’s I might have said but that isn’t a facial disc. Instead the man had a wide fan of delicate bones poking through and out his cheeks—two ossified flowers. I don’t remember what happened next but I found myself after some period of time breadless milkless skinless sitting cross-legged on the basement floor playing a board game with more relatives than I thought I had.

*

Edward Jesse Capobianco is a poet in the ugliest town in the world. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Rabbit Catastrophe Review, and in paint throughout Chicago.

*

And because you’re going to see me run soon
And because you’re going to know why I’m running then
/~/
Gil Scott-Heron, ‘Running’

 

At the end of June this year, Michael Herr died. Oddly, I had just recommended to a friend that she read Dispatches, his 1977 classic of Vietnam journalism, a collection of accounts as chilling as they are exhilarating. Despite the book gaining notoriety as the basis of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now!, it’s Herr’s prose that sets the work apart. Its style bears the kind of careful tempering that comes from being distilled over time; a decade passed between the author’s stint in country as an Esquire correspondent and the book’s ultimate publication.

Herr’s book sets itself apart not only by the unblinking reportage on the depths of Vietnam’s horrors, but also by its cutting cultural insights on the contemporary. Its revelations arrive obliquely, filtered through the south Asian jungle. I sometimes had the impression while reading Dispatches that the soldiers in Vietnam were occupying a parallel existence somewhere seven to ten years in the future to the rest of the world, as if the Department of Defense had chosen Vietnam as a testing area for the various new modes of American Life. This follows the basic logic of the military-industrial complex: ‘first as tragedy, then as farce’ takes the form here ‘first as military issue, then as wholesale commodity’. This axiom is reflected in more facets of 20th-century American experience than can be counted, from high school marching bands to the very existence of the Internet. Buckminster Fuller called this phenomenon the process of ‘weaponry arts’ becoming ‘livingry arts’, not so much a militarization of everyday life as a ‘quotidian-ing’ of the military. But if cans of Campbell’s soup and the Interstate Highway System reflect rear-guard aftereffects of V-E and V-J Days settling into the mainstream, then Dispatches examined that bizarre production of the American cultural avant-garde that the armed forces perform. The inverse of putting Hummers in driveways is the future shock constantly instantiated by the technology, machinery, and ideology of the combat zone.

I’m not the first to notice the depth of the cultural exposé performed in Herr’s writing. Dispatches serves as one of the paradigms held up by Frederic Jameson in his classic of theory, Postmodernism: or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. For Jameson, Herr captures not only the warfare idiosyncrasies that distinguish Vietnam from the century’s previous conflicts as a ‘post-modern’ war, but also the particularities of spatial and bodily experience witnessed by the soldiers and the cultural fallout this entails. This ‘hyperspace’, as Jameson calls it, engenders a jarring disjunction between the body and the environment, one predicated on the vectors and scales of jet planes and interconnected megacities. Hyperspace is another way to talk about the basic incapacity to grasp (‘map’) global multinationalism’s ubiquity from the isolated point of an individualized subject, just as the isolated individual herself is always already paradoxically complicit in this everywhereness-all-of-the-time.

In Herr’s writing, this conundrum is illustrated most forcefully in the image of soldiers in a helicopter. The whole violent jungle has become a flat surface across which the choppers skim before momentarily penetrating the skin, inserting their combatants, and then returning to the air. Unlike the military imagination of the previous world wars (the first in particular), in which action, advance, and defeat were conceived in terms of linear fronts subject to three-dimensional topography, geographical specificity is here swapped for a total contingency of locality. It is no longer sufficient to think of unidirectional momentum; ‘behind enemy lines’ fails to signify, as all skirmishes are behind (and in front of) the next insertion and extraction. In order to negotiate the war’s hyperspace, the soldier must assume a hyper-mobility.

In the passage cited by Jameson, Herr describes this hyper-mobile combatant with astounding élan:

He was a moving-target-survivor subscriber, a true child of the war, because except for the rare times when you were pinned or stranded the system was geared to keep you mobile, if that was what you thought you wanted. As a technique for staying alive it seemed to make as much sense as anything . . . Some of us moved around the war like crazy people until we couldn’t see which way the run was taking us anymore, only the war all over its surface with occasional, unexpected penetration. As long as we could have choppers like taxis it took real exhaustion or depression near shock or a dozen pipes of opium to keep us even apparently quiet, we’d still be running around inside our skins like something was after us, ha ha. La Vida Loca. In the months after I got back, the hundreds of helicopters I’d flown in began to draw together until they’d formed a collective meta-chopper, and in my mind it was the sexiest thing going: saver-destroyer, provider-waster, right hand-left hand, nimble, fluent, canny and human; hot steel, grease, jungle-saturated canvas webbing, sweat cooling and warming up again, cassette rock and roll in one ear and door-gun fire in the other, fuel, heat, vitality and death, death itself, hardly an intruder.

I was reminded of this image after stepping off a flight from Berlin to Paris, five days after Herr died. I landed in the evening, late. When I woke up, my phone showed notifications from the New York Times and my mother. The Times reported on a terrorist attack at the Istanbul airport that morning. Fifty people were dead. My mother had emailed me to ask where I was, how my summer was going, if I was having a good time. I don’t know if she had seen the news about Istanbul when she wrote me, but it’s not unlikely. She knew I was heading to Paris at some point that week, perhaps she didn’t remember my exact travel plans. The moment caught my attention—besides the obvious horror of the attack and the constant muted guilt a son feels about being anywhere far away from his mother—because it was the second time in three months that I had flown on the same day as an airport attack, the last one in Brussels at the end of March as I was traveling from Germany back to the United States. I saw the news when I landed. My mother worries about me every time I travel, no matter the circumstances, but I know she put the pieces together on both occasions, that attacks were occurring at airports in the same moment her son was headed to one. I know I put these pieces together, as I’m sure did everyone else flying on those days.

That the world of 2016 is a situation of hyper-mobility is an obvious truism, less obvious only than the fact that these states of mobility are deeply fraught and deeply ambivalent: they are as much marks of status and privilege as they are expressions of persecution and indexes of the staggering dimensions of life’s precarity. Attempts to grapple with ‘mobility’ in the current situation shift toward the absurd the moment that one must account for the peril of a makeshift raft floating off the coast of Greece simultaneously with a (moneyed) cultural elite existing somewhere in pressurized steel tubes above New York, London, Berlin, Tokyo, and Los Angeles. (Full disclosure: as a graduate student in the humanities, I am, despite my proclivity for leftist posturings, far more complicit in the ideologies of the latter than of the former.) Yet what appears across these situations as a constant refrain is the clear link between travel and violence, travel as violence, violence forcing travel, travel vulnerable to violence.

It is against this observation that I hold up Herr as so chillingly prescient. Parsing it all in the (camouflaged) avant-garde terms of choppers and grunts, his writing wades into this absurdity and pinpoints the unsettling aesthetic there, as awful as it is seductive, saver-destroyer, provider-waster, the sexiest thing going. In the context of hypermobility, every move occurs in an ethical quicksand, each action immediately met by an equal and equally horrific reaction: ‘Fear and motion, fear and standstill, no preferred cut there. No way to even be clear about which was really worse, the wait or the delivery.’ The perennial question of the soldier in Vietnam has, quite disturbingly, become internalized in our quotidian: is it better to stay, or is it better to move?

Across the globe, mobility manifests itself as this duplicitous golden ticket.  When every threat is mobile, every defense becomes mobility, too. Don’t be caught in the advance of the religious fanatics or the oppressive regime: stay mobile. Don’t become discovered by drones: stay mobile. Don’t linger on the seaside promenade on national holidays: stay mobile. But be careful—don’t travel too often by bus, by train, or by plane: stay mobile, but don’t be too mobile. Don’t be mobile in the wrong way. Speed kills, too. As Brussels and Istanbul demonstrated, the terminal (Flughafen) isn’t a haven (Hafen) anymore. ‘It started out sound and straight,’ writes Herr, ‘but it formed a cone as it progressed, because the more you moved the more you saw, the more you saw the more besides death and mutilation you risked, and the more you risked of that the more you would have to let go of one day as a “survivor.”’ As the instantiations of Herr’s logic increase, it’s now not only just about the military transport, or the flight that might be hijacked, or the plane that might be aimed at a building: simply getting through airport security, in each direction, earns one the status of survivor. The cone grows only ever wider, faster, it, too, exhibiting its own astounding, terrifying mobility.

I think of my mother’s cloaked concern, and I am struck by the pessimism of my banal attempts at reassurance: I’m just as much at risk if I had stayed in New York. Or Munich. Or Aurora. Or Nice. The only safety, the only ‘technique for staying alive’, as Herr put it, is a numbers game, keeping yourself hyper-mobile in order to increase the odds that you will have already left by the time the violence, however it will appear, has reached the particular place you happened to have just been. But in this realization, I hear Gil Scott-Heron, too, and for the first time, (in a context vastly different from the racialized violence he had in mind), I believe that I know something of what he means.

Because I always feel like running
Not away, because there is no such place
Because, if there was I would have found it by now
Because it’s easier to run
Easier than staying and finding out you’re the only one
Who didn’t run
Because running will be the way your life and mine
Will be described
As in “the long run”
Or as in having given someone a “run for his money”
Or as in “running out of time”
Because running makes me look like everyone else
Though I hope there will never be cause for that
Because I will be running in the other direction
Not running for cover
Because if I knew where cover was
I would stay there and never have to run for it
Not running for my life
Because I have to be running for something of more value
To be running and not in fear
Because the thing I fear cannot be escaped
Eluded, avoided, hidden from, protected from, gotten away from
Not without showing the fear as I see it now
Because closer, clearer, no sir, nearer 

Not away, because there is no such place. But running nonetheless. Running as the way our lives will be described. Herr knew it, because the men in Vietnam knew it, too. They were the ones to test out just how sickly sustainable it could be. Now every time I’m notified of a new attack, a new strike, a new bombing, and every time my mother’s notes remind me that I managed, in fact, to miss the sites of that violence, I am revealed in my hypermobility. I see myself, and I see all of us, as we, moving-target-survivor subscribers, sit in the meta-chopper that Herr told us we’d inherit, the one that is fluent, canny, and human, and where death itself is hardly an intruder. Closer, clearer. No sir. Nearer. 

 

*

William Stewart is an editor of Rough Beast and a PhD student in Princeton University’s Department of German.

*

You walk into a library. The smell of wood pulp and the whisper of turning pages greet you. Looking around, you read the subject headings posted on the shelves—World History, Philosophy, Archaeology, Literature, Engineering—and your heart starts to race. What do you want to learn today? Maybe you’ll take a trip to the rice paddies of Myanmar; maybe you’ll relive the Christological controversies of the first centuries A.D.; maybe you’ll contemplate the poetic potential of superstring theory. So much knowledge and experience available, and you want it all. If only you didn’t have to eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom.

Ander Monson’s Letter to a Future Lover is an aphrodisiac for just this kind of “book lust”. The book collects several dozen lyric essays that Monson wrote in response to marginalia, inscriptions, and other ephemera (cut-up catalog cards, human hairs) found in libraries. Monson originally composed the pieces on notecards that he “published” back into the places where he found their inspiration—each is a literal “letter” to an unknown future reader, or “lover”. The essays run no longer than two pages apiece, but each one enfolds a dizzying array of subjects, moving as if by free association from one idea or image to the next. The sheer variety and agility of Monson’s thoughts are astounding; watching his playful intelligence at work is a joy. And while it’s a high-concept book about books, Letter to a Future Lover is also infused with deep pathos, as a love letter to the world and the human lives played out within it.

*

“My project here is iteration,” explains Monson in one of the essays, “to collect—also in my small way—a series of moments, objects, abject items defaced by human hands or processed by unspeakable machines a generation away from ours, and by so interceding in the march of hours, the process by which the world becomes obsolete and begins to fade, to make an echo, record, an impermanent reminder of what is and was and will be still here for another generation, yours perhaps, if we could be so lucky.” On the most literal level, Letter to a Future Lover is a paean to the physical artifacts of the printed word, to books as tangible objects with histories that can be read in their wrinkles and marginalia, idiosyncrasies that given them individual personalities. But by extension, the book is also a celebration of the human traces that books house. Referring to a signed copy of a volume of poetry, Monson writes: “In the age of disassociation and fragmentation, history-free ebooks torrented on the Internet . . . there’s also this: a thing, an artifact, complete with Hancock and finger trace, which makes it more than other books, we’re meant to know.”

Part of Monson’s aim in Letter to a Future Lover is to remind us of those virtues that physical books inculcate and that sometimes seem to be disappearing from the world as quickly as independent bookstores: attentiveness, patience, conscientiousness, craftsmanship. Close reading and substantial mental work are required to follow the involuted, nonlinear threads of Monson’s thoughts; the book asks to be read like poetry, a few pages at a time, allowing space for its meaning to unfold. All works of literary fiction or poetry can be said to demand reader participation (one definition of the “literary” as distinct from mere entertainment might be that it challenges the reader to think), but Letter to a Future Lover takes this demand to the extreme. The essay “How to Read a Book” gives the instructions: “Reading is participation, but I want more of you. So mark it up. Annotate a page. …Here is a blank to fill.” Throughout the book are similar prompts to write, with blank spaces to invite margin-scribbling. The pages literally command the reader to write on them, to engage with the text not just mentally but physically, because, as Monson reminds us, we are not just brains in vats—we have bodies whose temporally and spatially bound properties encounter, engage, compete with, are themselves marked by the temporally and spatially bound books we read.

*

For Monson, printed books are analogous to people—unique, incarnated, mortal, worthy of preservation—so when he writes about books, he’s also writing about people. The sorrow of losing a book stands for the loss of a human relationship or a personal memory. Our physical engagement with books becomes an apt metaphor for love, especially romantic love, from which the haptic aspect cannot be removed without suffering great diminution. Ebooks are like the long-distance relationships of reading—they may serve in a pinch, getting us through in circumstances where we have no other choice, but in the long run they will never be as satisfying and will never replace the original, in-person phenomenon.

A book is a container of ideas, but Monson is more interested in the ways in which books are vehicles for transmission of the human. The last words in the last essay of Letter to a Future Lover are: “Everything we’ve written, what we’ve read, what we’ve collected, what we’ve bookmarked on what pages, what notes we left pressed herein, what we have included, discarded, defaced, lost and then replaced, how it’s filed and organized: it’s all a carrier, a vector, an edifice of us.” Many of the essays are based on books from the collections of friends and poets Monson personally knows, some deceased. In these cases, the books very literally become mementos of the persons who owned them, who read them, who wrote in them. Annotations and marginalia hold such an importance for Monson because they represent moments when people felt particularly compelled about something, when they were struck with enough of a spark to fire a potent thought.

And indeed, like annotated books, people, too, bear lingering traces of affect; each of us is like a book in which others have left their marginalia. “We leave marks all along each other as we pass and pair and disconnect in discotheques. I fear it’s what we’re for.” Just as books enter into us, and back into others through our own writings, so lovers permeate each others’ hearts, mutually informing and influencing each others’ identities. Love is the intertextuality of souls. Monson performs this permeability very literally when he reinserts back into the books his essays on small cards, mementos of himself. Letter to a Future Lover is like a packet of seeds from the seed library that Monson discusses in one essay—it plants ideas in the minds of readers and grows itself back into the world.

Libraries and love are linked in that both must be preserved against the depredations of time. As Monson quotes from Donald Antrim, “books do not in all cases merely convey the content on their pages; in some fundamental respect, books, especially the most beautiful, shelter and accommodate their contents.” So do libraries, one might add. And lovers, too, shelter and accommodate those they love. A lover is like a custodian of the beloved. If what we care about is what we preserve, then a library is a record of human affinity. And the tragedy of the library is of the same type as the tragedy of love: what once was cherished is now forgotten or lost.

*

Given that physical books shelter traces of the humans who write and read them, Letter to a Future Lover asks after a very certain quality of the book that we may be losing as we march into the brave new world of digital media. It would be easy for Monson to simply rehearse the doomsday cries of critics who prophesy the death of the book and of the virtues that printed volumes represent (patience, attention to detail, etc.). He does engage in his fair share of lamentation for beautiful old things that we are losing, like card catalogs or errata sheets, and his elegies are touching. For instance, card catalogs were “products of human experience . . . composed of librarians’ heirloom idiosyncrasies. Now those are gone, cut into quarters to be used for scrap. What remains is digital, which shows no fingerprints. Convenient, certainly, and downloadable as an app, the online index lacks mystique and physicality.” But, Monson is also highly conscious of the tendency to fetishize the past. Far be it from him to settle for an easy good/bad dichotomy. He acknowledges that we should “savor the technologies we have”, recognizing that every time and every tool has its own particular beauties. Likewise, he considers that loss and decay are inevitable, necessary, and even beneficial. The ephemerality of things encourages us to appreciate their value, just as our mortality encourages us to appreciate life.

Throughout the book, Monson displays a laudable commitment to looking at a subject from many angles, not just the most obvious one. Channeling Walt Whitman, he claims, “I write to lament the speed and the availability of things. I write to exclaim and celebrate the speed and availability of things, their expanding muchness and seeming everpresence. We can contain both hearts, I hope.” One of his aims in Letter to a Future Lover is “to include something of everything, or enough so as to suggest the capacity for holding anything”. He frequently uses ambiguous referents and associative links to create multiple valences of meaning in his prose. For example, consider the following sentence: “Ideally you found this AI in a library, its natural habitat, an ideal vehicle for speaking to the future, even if it is under threat.” The ostensible subject is the ai, a sloth-like creature from Brazil that Monson has just been discussing, but “AI” may also stand for artificial intelligence, for a book (Monson has already pointed out that a book is a type of artificial intelligence), for the book in hand, for the reader, for a library, or for any slow-moving thing that is endangered by new technology. Later, Monson writes, “the language splits and we might choose our own adventure, pleasure of the wiki, pleasure of the referent, its many meanings,” evidence that this kind of ambiguity is fully intentional. With sentence after sentence written in this manner, one finds no end to the associative links and layers of meaning the text holds, until it becomes a symbol of infinity itself. Likewise, the many parentheticals that Monson includes seem to represent the infinitely branching paths of thought—reminders that, at any given point, he could have taken the right fork instead of the left, and again, and again, winding up each time in a completely different place.

Part of the purpose of the book is to provoke thought about what libraries really are—collections of objects curated and preserved for some reason. Monson uses the term “library” loosely—essays in the book are based on items found on a friend’s nightstand, or the pouch in the back of an airplane seat. We begin to see that collection and curation are everywhere, and, regarded from a certain angle, virtually any place can be considered a library. A house is a library of family memories and values. A dating website is a library of human romantic endeavors. Extrapolating this principle to its maximum, the universe is a library of everything. As in the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, the library is a symbol for the infinite universe. Monson invokes the image of the labyrinth throughout, which may stand variously for a sentence (one whose ambiguous referents give it many folds), a book, a list, a library, a human brain, or the world.

*

In one essay, Monson quotes a passage from Umberto Eco’s The Infinity of Lists that could easily serve as a description of Letter to a Future Lover: “There is, however, another mode of artistic representation, one where we do not know the boundaries of what we wish to portray, where we do not know how many things we are talking about and presume their number to be, if not infinite, then at least astronomically large.” Monson adds, “Therein we find the sublime.” True, but this artistic mode can also be exasperating. The critic Simon Schama said of Eco’s The Infinity of Lists, “If its pleasures easily overwhelm its irritants, that’s because the book has the charm of extreme greed.” The same judgment applies to Letter to a Future Lover. Monson introduces new ideas and makes associations at a furious pace, but rarely pauses to explore any of these ideas in depth. In this way, the book is just like a library or like the world—too much to take in completely. One gets the sense of walking down a library aisle, skimming all the titles, rather than stopping to take out one book to read for several hours. His lyricism is fantastic—each line reads like poetry—but it seems at times to be covering up for a lack of systematic thought or deeper research.

But “covering up” is not really fair, because the purpose of the book is not to engage in a systematic analysis or deeply-researched explication of a topic, but rather to serve as a seedbed for one’s own musings. As Monson puts it: “[Read] until you’re full or filled with ideas for what to write.”  Moreover, Monson is completely open about these idiosyncrasies of his own writing and thinking style:

How do you read? I am not so orderly as the [reading log of my wife] above; instead, a spaz, a slob, a spiral, I move midway from book to book, stack to stack, thought to thought, labyrinth to labyrinth until I’m headfirst in the thicket. I’m not proud of it, my shallowness, but then a line or reference suggests another, and I ricochet, read, and recollect. Each one illuminates a node and my brain goes aah then more and opens wider. It will never be enough.

This is how one reads Letter to a Future Lover. It forces you to ricochet from one thing to the next until you’re in the thicket of Monson’s ideas. If Monson’s project sometimes seems a little thin, it’s thin in the way an encyclopedia is thin: out of necessity, because it’s spread to cover such a wide terrain. His skimming-the-surface style is the very thing that allows his writing to shade the infinite, reminding us of the sheer number and variety of things in the library of the world. It is this style that sends us back to the shelves to explore.

What comes through in Letter to a Future Lover is how strongly Monson loves the world, how wide his embrace of it is—for a library is nothing less than documentation of the world, and love for libraries is a proxy of love for the world. “An alphabet is an aphrodisiac for a certain sort of reader, isn’t it?” he writes. “To know there is a list like this is to want to penetrate it deeply, to understand its depths and pockmarked passages, to need to see where they lead eventually.” An alphabetic list is an aphrodisiac, a library (which is a giant alphabetic list) is an aphrodisiac, and so is Monson’s book, in which the essays are organized alphabetically. And ultimately, all these aphrodisiacs are rooted in the aphrodisiac nature of the infinite: the knowledge of all that is out there awaiting one’s discovery sparks the desire to penetrate it all, even while one knows that one cannot get to it all—or precisely because one knows that one cannot get to it all. Theologians term this a “positive mystery”—not a mystery in which something is merely hidden or unknown, but a mystery which can’t be fully fathomed, no matter how much you come to know or understand about it. It is a mystery without bottom, in which there is always more meaning to grasp, always space for a desire to penetrate and comprehend more deeply: an inexhaustible fount of pleasure, and an inexhaustible fount of future lovers. As many times as we may forget this, Letter to a Future Lover never tires of reminding us.

*

Josef Kuhn is an MFA candidate in creative writing at George Mason University.

*

Back in 2013, Rough Beast asked Nick Gunty and Carrie Allen to put together some disposable camera photography to accompany our second issue, bullshit. A selection of the photos was ultimately used on the covers of the nine pamphlets that made up that issue, but the original images also changed considerably in printing because they were reduced to two-color riso prints. Because the original submissions from Nick and Carrie were quite different from what ended up appearing in the issue, in addition to the fact that a number of photos weren’t used at all, we decided to revisit the photographers’ work.

After posting Nick’s interview at the end of last year, here’s the second installment, our conversation with Carrie Allen. We’re big fans of her work, which you can check out more of on her website, http://carrie-allen.com/

*

RB: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your art practice.

I’m a 26-y.o. multimedia artist based out of Chicago who works mainly in photo, video, and audio, but I design, illustrate, and fabricate as well. I think it’s worth mentioning my efforts in urban gardening have become one of my bigger endeavors lately, which takes advantage of my design and fabrication experience. I focus more on some mediums depending on the season because of how linked some become as a result of winter forcing me indoors. This winter, I’m focusing on a few illustration commissions and studying theories of urban agriculture.

*

RB: What sorts of questions are you currently exploring in your work?

I’m interested in the breakdown of communication, human traces, and the illusion of control.

I’m critical of the common belief that technology corrupts the human experience because humans impart their personalities on everything they touch. So the change is a two way street. In my 2014 photographic series, Conveyance, I show how people consciously and unconsciously embed their personalities in their office phones. Human usage is not inherently corrupting, but the impressions we leave on our environments seem inevitable. There is solace in this fact since it helps me feel like our identities remain intact in small ways after death. In using technology as a template, I can’t ignore the lovely irony that we may jeopardize our own existence because we love our material world so much. I personify and empathize with objects as a way to relate to others, but I enjoy how humorously absurd it is to do so. Some of the phones were so heavily used it was difficult to not get really dirty hands setting up their “portraits,” but I wanted to give them back that glamorous light they were once shown in—imperfections and all. I always try to find ways to make people laugh even while addressing darker content.

(Off the record?:) It’s worthwhile to note how right now I’m eating a very messy torta, chancing the (messy) destruction of my keyboard.

*

RB: What are the tools you use to do that exploring?

I first use photography to gather evocative details, and then I turn to other disciplines to flesh out my ideas. More often than not my end product is presented in photographs. Even though my portfolio looks mostly like a photographer’s, some of my recent work and collaborations have been exploring my interests through sound design and fabrication.

*

RB: When Rough Beast asked you to shoot some pictures for the new issue (wow! Two years ago now), the prompt had to do with 1. the aesthetic of disposable cameras and 2. the beauty of well-organized things, ‘. . . anytime someone has done an unnecessarily good and satisfying job of putting order into a set of things . . .’ Can you talk about what you made of this association? the prompt had to do with 1. the aesthetic of disposable cameras and 2. the beauty of well-organized things, ‘. . . anytime someone has done an unnecessarily good and satisfying job of putting order into a set of things . . .’ Can you talk about what you made of this association?

I took a disposable camera with me wherever I went in order to capture candid moments, which they excel at. I entered the topic of well-organized things thinking about the level of control we exert over the built and natural world. It’s the moment where the objects and organisms resist order that I find the most exciting.

 

*

RB: In addition, I asked that all pictures be shot with disposable cameras. What sort of effect did this have on the creative planning and the execution?

Things were more exploratory in the beginning but over time certain motifs developed. Once I noticed them, I took the most interesting ones further. So the process was nonlinear, but some of my favorites came from the last roll.

*

RB: Your images had a noticeable number of near-doubles—images that were compositionally very similar, but which upon closer inspection were clearly different scenes. Was there certain intention behind this, or was it more a practicality measure because you were shooting with a disposable camera?

I took many doubles because of the inconsistency of disposable cameras—like when the flash goes off unintentionally. That being said, sometimes the most exciting things are the incidentals. It’s also good practice to get different compositional views because the mood can change so much with a tiny shift of the camera.

*

RB: If you were to break these images down into themes of your own choosing, how would you do it?

Group 1: Broken communication:

Green Garage, Pennant Penance, Urban Driftwood

Group 2:  Nature disrupts human order:

Weeds Crack, Ponds Reflection Big, Pond Reflection Small, Hedges, Garage Weeds

Group 3: General manmade order:

Blow Out, Becks?, Let’s Keep Parking Here, Stairs, Tower House, Tower Lower, Truck Side, Trucks One

Group 4: Human disruption or imitation of nature:

Underwater Arm, Underwater Hands, Hands Field, Field Hands  

*

Rough Beast’s newest publication, Three Pathways to Get Anywhere (Except When There Is a Dead End) is at its core a collaboration between architect Anna Kostreva and RB’s editor, Joey Horan. It is a reflection on cities, on travel, on building, on East Asia, on being a Westerner, on being foreign, on feeling at home, on finding reflections of oneself in surprising and otherwise alien locations. It is simultaneously a work of urbanism, a travel journal, a self-portrait, a piece of post-situationist theory, a collection of poetry, a notebook of a curious architect, and a variety of attempts to capture something immediate.

*

The book reflects six weeks of travel taken by Anna through China, Japan, and Singapore during March and April of this year. It comprises thirty chapters, each of which is composed of some assortment of short essays, narrative, poems, fragments, and observations, organized under topical but associative headings: ‘Movement’, ‘Streets’, ‘The Expats’, ‘The Space Inside the Wall’, ‘The Future’, ‘Understanding the World Through the World’, ‘Art and Building, The Art of Building’. The chapters themselves sort into one of two categories: we might say those from a perspective [observer –> outward] (which are on white pages and are given page numbers) and those from a perspective [observer –> inward] (which are on black pages are not numbered). Snaking through these chapters, often bridging the gap between them, sometimes on the same footing with the text, sometimes spatially elsewhere – beneath the text or above the text or around the text or sliding off the page – is a third narrative category, composed of images taken by Anna during the trip. This graphic element was achieved through close cooperation with the excellent design team at Studio Y-U-K-I-K-O, Michelle Phillips and Johannes Conrad, who helped to make the finished work resonate in ways that we simply couldn’t working only with the words.

*

Together, these channels offer a number of entry points to book, which can be read cover to cover, but which is also open to myriad approaches to the content. In other words: many pathways to get to the book.

The interwoven nature of the book is in large part a result of the insight and editorial direction of editor and collaborator Joey Horan,who writes this about his work with Anna on the book:

Before Anna was one person, she was two. There was the friend of Rough Beast editor William Stewart who practiced architecture. And there was the friend of William’s traveling in Asia, taking journals that could potentially be our first book, or a blog project? Like anything non-immediate, I vaguely took note, shelving it as a potential thing that, well, we’ll see. When these two characters consolidated into one, however – Anna the architect traveling in East Asia maintaining a journal – the project began.

From the beginning, this collaboration required a lot of bravery and trust on Anna’s part. Like ninety percent of Rough Beast’s authors and collaborators, I’ve never met Anna in the flesh, heard her voice, read her body language. We were internet strangers soon to be internet collaborators. After some back and forth on the initial texts that Anna sent me — four urbanist/architectural/historical essays on Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, and Kyoto — I asked her to scratch the idea of writing any sort of coherent summary of these cities and send me her journals in full. Anna was game. I received five word documents of transcribed Iphone notes totaling about fifty pages organized by location: Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo, Kyoto, Singapore. A sixth drop was made later when Anna revealed there was yet another cache, personal and revealing, from her travels. She did not hesitate in passing that along either. Again, I would like to stress how brave this was.

I sat with this mass of material for a couple months, getting to know Anna the architect, Anna the poet, Anna the observer, Anna the consumer, Anna the student. I highlighted what was usable or potentially usable and compiled it into a master document that looked something like Joseph Wegener’s Notes and Corrigenda from Rough Beast’s issue bullshit. I thought I was done there, but William and Anna did something crazy and considered our potential readers. Indeed, there must be some narrative middle ground between overdetermination and incoherence. Thus I began a second curation, identifying central themes and compiling the fragments under these headings. To transition between these themes and breathe some life into the structure, I tagged and held apart those pieces that didn’t fit neatly into a category, but rather were independently illustrative. This is how Three Pathways to Get Anywhere (Except When There Is a Dead End) came to be a text. Y-U-K-I-K-O made it a book. A true collaboration, if you take away any of the parts, the whole does not exist.

*

Joey mentioned the anecdote that he and Anna have never met in person, and that points to one of the idiosyncrasies of Rough Beast’s entire project, which is that it has existed almost entirely by emails, skype calls, and dropboxes. Rough Beast has been a name that Joey and I have used since the end of 2012, and in that entire time, we haven’t once been in the same space. Rough Beast is a project conditioned by the (kind of banal) fact that so many of our friends are spread out around the globe. This is one reason why Anna’s book works so well under the Rough Beast banner, because it, too, is invested in the question of distance, geographical arrangement, and the ways in which we can and cannot be saved from this position of fundamental diffuseness, fundamental fragmentariness.

For me, this is the question of travel, and it is a question that, I think, has become almost a tautology in 2015. Travel is like an ontology: being is synonymous with being a traveler. It’s a realization of something Augustine wrote in the 5th century in City of God and meant metaphorically: so long as we are on this earth, we are travelers in a strange land. Today, I think that’s not at all an exaggeration or figurative statement, for the simple reason that travel very specifically thematizes so much of the topics in today’s news. We imagine the complexities of the West’s relationship to the Islamic State through the lens of crashed Russian jet liner: a collision between global political conflict and luxury travel. And the connections go even further, because the global political conflict that confronts the Russian resort jet liner is the same one contributing to the nearly 60 million people the world over, more than at any point in human history, who claim refugee status. For those people, too, travel, as a manifestation of their nationalities or ethnicities and the (in this case catastrophic) political forces directly impacting their lives, defines their identities. Travel, whether a mode of luxury or an expression of need, seems inherent to existence in the 21st century.

So what is this book about? Well, it’s about a lot of things, but I think the lens that offers the sharpest view on the whole project is that it is an attempt at finding, capturing, and engaging with something immediate, despite all of the superficial reminders that in a fragmentary state, the immediate might be the thing that eludes us most. The fragmentary thoughts and analyses recorded by Anna into her iPhone nearly simultaneously as she experienced them are an analogue to the fragmentary manner in which one can experience the world at all – a few cities scattered about, a few blocks connected by invisible underground train lines, a few continents bridged by consistently maintained cabin pressure. Travel and fragment are in this way linked – fragmentary experience a symptom of us as travel-beings, but the fragments themselves somehow sewn together through the act of travelling, moving from point at A to be B, creating a narrative trajectory. This recalls Rem Koolhaas ironic remark that today ‘each man, woman, and child is individually targeted, tracked, split off from the rest . . . and the fragments come together at airport ‘security’ only.’ The element of travel in Anna’s book is the source of her fragments, but her travels are the agents that begin to push those fragments together.

*

But there is one last, perhaps more positive association between fragments, location, and travel that comes to mind, and that is the one united in the image of the constellation. In his Origin of German Tragic Drama, Walter Benjamin writes that ‘Ideas are to objects as constellations are to stars’. Constellations, with their fragmentary points of luminosity, were long used by sailors and land farers for orientation and navigation. We project onto constellations a significance in the way we arrange and delineate their points. But notably, in creating these constellar shapes, we necessarily flatten stars positioned in 3-dimensional space. The closest points in the constellation may in fact be the most remote apropos their position in space. It is a paradoxical immediacy, a ‘sudden yet enduring connection between extreme phenomena.’ As a mode of thinking, constellations of ideas allow disparate and dislocated elements to form an immediate whole, and it is meaning, Benjamin argues, that arises from the harmonious links between those extreme elements.

*

Copies of  Three Pathways to Get Anywhere (Except When There Is a Dead End) are available through the Rough Beast website by ordering here

*

Back in 2013, Rough Beast asked Nick Gunty and Carrie Allen to put together some disposable camera photography to accompany our second issue, bullshit. A selection of the photos was ultimately used on the covers of the nine pamphlets that made up that issue, but the original images also changed considerably in printing because they were reduced to two-color riso prints. Because the original submissions from Nick and Carrie were quite different from what ended up appearing in the issue, in addition to the fact that a number of photos weren’t used at all, we decided to revisit the photographers’ work.

Here’s Nick Gunty first. We traded emails with him at the start of the month, getting a bit of insight into his thinking on these photos, as well as having a chance to catch up with his impressively broad array of artistic endeavors. In fact, Nick’s band – the Chicago-based Frances Luke Accord – whose other half if Brian Powers will be releasing an album in 2016, which we are pretty excited to hear. Check them out here: franceslukeaccord.com

*

RB: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your art practice.

Mid-twenties, painter, musician, graphic designer, photographer, and producer. I grew up in northern Indiana on colored pencils and Sculpey, spent a great deal of time in high school experimenting in the music studio, studied art predominantly through painting and photography in college, and now oscillate between projects in all these disciplines. My practice is probably more accurately understood as many practices, though I do strongly feel that music and visual art inform one another in a very important way. That has been true for me since I was a young teenager.

RB: What sorts of questions are you currently exploring in your work? 

I am fascinated by patterns and languages, especially when they break down somehow into incoherence, like Chomsky’s “Colorless” sentence. I think this interest in patterns and languages also fuels my interest in genre conventions—again, especially on the fringes, where they break down. There’s something about the experience of seeing a seam that pulls us out from under the spell of bias and helps us see what’s really there more clearly. Some of my favorites artists control their seams expertly, but do not conceal them entirely. I think this applies to life and human relationships as well; seams are part of the language of vulnerability and compassion, and affect who we relate to and how we relate to them.

*

RB: What are the tools you use to do that exploring?

My visual studio is a pair of desks in my living room (both strewn with the clutter of a thousand works in progress), one small digital scanner, Creative Suite, a menagerie of pigments and utensils, a lovely, enormous north-ish-facing window, a record player, and endless podcasts. My music studio is a small room on the opposite corner of the apartment, decked with a Mac Mini running Logic, acoustic treatment I made by hand, nine years of cumulative gear purchases (e.g. an AKG 414 and a UA Solo 610), and the growing collection of instruments that my friends leave behind.

RB: When Rough Beast asked you to shoot some pictures for the new issue (wow! Two years ago now), the prompt had to do with 1. the aesthetic of disposable cameras and 2. the beauty of well-organized things, ‘. . . anytime someone has done an unnecessarily good and satisfying job of putting order into a set of things . . .’

Can you talk about what you made of this association?

When first given this prompt I was a bit stumped. I feel that my life and work are often disorganized, breaking at the seam, falling into disarray, etc. to the extent that I believe I have an easier time relating to chaos than order. In retrospect, I think this brought me to interpret “unnecessarily good” with unsubtle condemnation. The paradox of something that is “too satisfying” is, well, too satisfying. To me it reveals how fraught and combative and human the drive to organize is beneath the artifice of tidiness and simplicity, and says something powerful about the relationship between the natural world and our cognizance of it, especially as it pertains to language and tools. I was delightfully surprised when the edition was titled “Bullshit because the word underpins the way I feel about the drive to compartmentalize vis-a-vis the chaotic world around us. I think the better pieces in this series reflect that tension and/or target that moment of order breaking into chaos or vice-versa, whether loudly or quietly so.

*

RB: I asked that all pictures be shot with disposable cameras. What sort of effect did this have on the creative planning and the execution?

It was highly enabling. Had I kept within the parameters of digital photography, with the capacity to shoot a thousand photos and choose only the best, and then to develop those images with the precision of a thousand knobs and faders, I think it would have disengaged me from the prompt. The images are far less aesthetically tight than I had hoped they’d be when they were shot, and I think that’s what keeps them raw and honest. Full disclosure: I still edited these photos digitally, and in so doing exercised a modicum of aesthetic wrangling, but because the digital editing process began with a scan of a printed photograph, the edits were really just about tuning each of the prints into a consistent series of intelligible images, and not about manipulating what was shot.

RB: Your images had a noticeable number of pretty dark and gritty shots, a lot of things shot at night. Was there certain intention behind this, or was it something more casual – that you just took some night walks and saw what turned up?

The latter. I sat with my cameras for weeks stewing on what to shoot (see question four, then impromptu shot from studio window of backhoe clambering down Lawndale Avenue) until I realized that the better shots would come from being passive in the right place at the right time, rather than an active attempt to conceive of something and then go make it happen. That it was night when I went out to shoot had the unintended, serendipitous effect of further emphasizing only the most proximal elements in frame, with everything else emerging out of darkness (insert biblical metaphor here). They are by no means masterpieces, and some outright suck—I have friends who are far more deft with disposable cameras than I am—but by the same token, the ones that work the best are some of my favorite photos I’ve taken to date. The un-precious medium feels like comic relief against the aggrandizing act of framing and shooting, and keeps the more successful work embedded in the weird tension I feel about order (and by now we could also be talking about hierarchy) and my relationship with it.

*

RB: If you were to break these images down into themes of your own choosing, how would you do it?

How about,

“Countable Units and Repetition Ad Absurdum”

“The Universe vs. The Human Fetish of Straight Lines, Right Angles, and Perfect Circles”

“When Straight Lines Happen Anyway”

and,

“Well Of Course That’s Where That Belongs”

Hopefully there’s some overlap among them.

RB: Also, what’s the deal with that meat aisle picture? I fucking love that one.

Good, because I think that’s the image that really captured what I wanted to do with the project. The fluorescent overheads, the off-level framing, and the faded nature of the Fun Saver print all make that picture especially revolting to me. Nothing tells a fuller story of organizational artifice like hundreds of perfectly arranged, Crayola-colored plastic packages of innumerable varieties of minced, pulverized, flayed, ground, blended, and remolded animal flesh. This image is my own reckoning with the plasticity of life and living matter. It’s hard not to see ourselves in those packages, in more ways that one.

*

Urgent matters are infinitely demanding of our attention. As I write these words, thousands of Syrian asylum-seekers flood the borders of Europe. A long-simmering conflict between the government and Islamist rebels flares up again in Tajikistan. China’s economy falters, sending waves of volatility throughout the global market. American pundits blame the Black Lives Matter movement for the fourth fatal shooting of a police officer in the past two weeks. Where I live, in Washington, D.C., the homicide count surges; nine months into 2015, it has already surpassed last year’s total of 105.

Instead of participating in protests, aiding refugee centers, or crafting concerned editorials, though, I am leafing through a volume of experimental poetry and prose titled Lemonade   everything was so infinite. [sic], published by the London-based independent riso press LemonMelon. The book comprises seven contributions by seven different authors, each responding in some way to the same cryptic line from Kafka’s notebook—Limonade   es war alles so grenzenlos.—and to a novel by Hélène Cixous that takes Kafka’s line as its title. The pieces vary widely in form. Several are free verse or prose poetry; one is ostensibly a dialogue, though it includes the speech of only one interlocutor; one breaks from traditional written formats entirely, employing both text and computer-generated graphics.

*

For a hint of the book’s flavor, consider David Berridge’s ‘Lemonade’, a verse/prose bricolage including non-sequiturs, absurdist imagery (‘lemons orbited the earth / lemon snowballs hurled themselves at him from the heavens as if the gods / were juicing’), personal memoir (‘drinking lemonade listening to the rock n roll / late at night a faint signal of Radio Kent’), lists of lemonade or juice brands, and bits of meta-analysis on the writer’s project (‘LEMONADE = IMAGINATION’; ‘lemonade is lemonade but I’m also going to think of it as writing’). The piece reads as an inventory of all possible associations with lemonade in the author’s mind; forty-six pages long, it demonstrates the extent to which a household commodity can become the launch pad for infinite musings. Similarly, Emma Cocker’s ‘infinite’ attempts its own sort of catalog of everything, a list of every kind of noun at all levels of the abstraction ladder, mimicking the experience of a God’s-eye view of all that exists, while Rachel Lois Clapham’s piece, ‘.’, takes the semantic function of the period as its point of departure, playing with different contextual meanings of the word stop.

The wordplay within these pieces is frequently clever and surprising, and their formal experiments raise intriguing questions about infinity and our relationship to it. But does all this elaborate verbal tinkering serve any purpose besides cerebral, highbrow entertainment? Throughout my engagement with the book, the issue of relevance would not leave me. Discussing a Roberto Bolaño novella in The New York Times Review of Books, Stacey D’Erasmo asks, ‘What can it mean . . . that the intellectual elite can write poetry, paint, and discuss the finer points of avant-garde theater as the junta tortures people in basements?’ Art, especially the more esoteric forms of so-called ‘high’ art, can easily perform an escapist function, allowing its practitioners to engage in abstruse, speculative conversations while remaining aloof from political and social struggles on the ground.

Lemonade   everything was so infinite. partly exonerates itself from this charge through a self-consciousness about its own esotericism. At one point in Cocker’s ‘infinite’, there appears the sequence: ‘Kafka; lemonade; everything; waste; social value; the infinite’. Berridge, especially, pokes fun of the project throughout his piece, with lines like ‘the lemon told me / your absurdism is just a stop gap’. A voice addressed to the speaker of the poem comments, ‘sorry I vanished there for a couple of years / I was rather stymied by your avant-garde oompah’. Cocker and Berridge seem fully conscious of the potential for this kind of writing to be received as useless art-school fodder, eliting itself into obscurity.

But merely ironizing a lack of social value does not create such value. What saves the book from sliding into cultural irrelevance, to my mind, is the critique of abstraction running through it. In a way, the book does battle with the very esotericism it seems to represent, championing instead a fine attention to the sensual, emotional, and intellectual joys in our immediate vicinity.

To see how this works, it’s worth examining the way the individual pieces of the book function together as a whole—or rather, how they don’t. Each of the pieces is titled after one of the seven parts of Kafka’s sentence: ‘Lemonade’, ‘  ’, ‘everything’, ‘was’, ‘so’, ‘infinite’, and ‘.’. Marit Münzberg, the volume’s editor and one of its contributors (as well as head of LemonMelon), initially released the pieces serially and gave each author access to the preceding writer’s works, with the idea that the individual ‘words’ of the book would gradually weave together into a meaningful ‘sentence’.  What results is far from a coherent statement. In subject matter, style, form, and tone, the seven pieces are strikingly distinct from one another. Instead of engaging directly with the other authors’ works, most of the pieces only refer explicitly to Kafka’s sentence or to Cixous’s novel. Lemonade   everything was so infinite. is like an experimental manifestation of the ‘ultimate-book’ that Cixous’s narrator is attempting to write—a ‘book of phrases’ or ‘freed moments’, unlimited by the obligations of consistency or explanation, ‘a book where each phrase is a moment. Each one complete and necessary. Each one self-reliant’. This applies both within the individual pieces, most of which are written in fragmented form, and to the book as a whole, if the seven pieces are taken as its ‘phrases’.

The independent stature of the book’s pieces—their distance from each other formally as well as thematically—resembles the conceptually interrupted sentence on which they were based, ‘Limonade   es war alles so grenzenlos.’. One way to parse Kafka’s words here is to recall the sentiment of William Blake’s line, ‘To see the universe in a grain of sand’: the most discrete elements can themselves offer perspective on the endless. As Berridge’s ‘Lemonade’ reveals, traces of the infinite appear in phenomena as simple as a glass of lemonade. But this reading doesn’t address the idiosyncratic syntax of Kafka’s line. Why the unexplained gap, leaving the relation between ‘Lemonade’ and ‘everything was so infinite’ unresolved?

Maybe this strange, indeterminate conjunction of elements was meant to suggest a different sort of relationship between the granular and the infinite—one in which the whole is both greater than and less than the sum of its parts. This is certainly true for this publication. The pieces contained in Lemonade   everything was so infinite., while they suggest parallels and reveal resonances, cannot be resolved into a single, coherent whole. Or, if they are resolved into a whole, it comes at the cost of meaning.

For instance, my original impulse was to describe Lemonade  everything was so infinite. as an exploration of the artifice in art or literature, one that reminds us of the inherent constructedness of all interpretations of texts and phenomena. I planned to point to the fixation on translation in several of the pieces, and lines like ‘sculpture as structure / writing as structure as sculpture’ that call attention to the text’s contrivance. But this approach would have ignored and excluded the indignant feminist overtones of Julia Calver’s ‘ ’, the delicate evocation of a relationship in Mary Paterson’s ‘so’, and the richly experiential dialogue in Tamarin Norwood’s ‘was’. The more carefully I studied the individual pieces, the more I was forced to broaden my thematic scope.

Lemonade resists easy generalization because it brings together seven distinct pieces written by seven individuals; they all take the same text as a starting point, but fly off at completely different vectors. The infinities presented here are simply too diverse and rich to allow for any one comprehensive interpretation. The individual parts come together in unexpected ways to suggest new meanings, but also contradict and cancel one another out, so that the sum total of meaning ends up being both greater than and less than the meaning of each individual part. Or different than, at any rate. To impose a universal reading upon the pieces is to do violence to the meaning of each one. Even the cover design of the book reinforces this idea: the titles of each piece are printed directly on top of one another, creating a whole out of the pieces, but a whole whose legibility is compromised.

 

*

In short, Lemonade   everything was so infinite. problematizes any attempt to box up the infinities present in a creative work—whether a poem or the world as a whole. Both thematically and as a physical book-object, Lemonade embodies the ‘everything’ that it is preoccupied with—spatially big and stylistically broad, encompassing a wide range of seemingly unrelated parts, (literally) rough around the edges, unwieldy, precariously bound. Its physical features also acknowledge Cixous’s ultimate-book, which ‘would be unadorned, which doesn’t mean ungraceful’. To recall in full the earlier quotation: ‘It is a book where each phrase is a moment. Each one complete and necessary. Each one self-reliant: completes its work without leaving it up to the following phrase. As if nobody knew whether another would follow.’ The book itself is the infinite universe, an impossible cosmic jigsaw puzzle.

Puzzling is an apt description of the work, with its connotations of both playfulness and frustration. Per the latter: the volume’s cover of obnoxious hot pink or green paper gestures to another quality of infinity, that it is conspicuous, ever-present, insurmountable, and for that reason also annoying. How does one even begin to talk about infinity? From what side can one get a good view of it, since it encompasses all sides? We are always in medias infinitas. Our understanding of abstract concepts is based on particulars, and infinity is the ultimate abstraction. We can only form some notion of it through objects, memories, moments—through the glass of lemonade late at night while listening to rock ‘n’ roll. Incomprehensible vastness and obdurate unknowability get tiresome after a while. Maybe we don’t want (in literature, in life) that everything would be so infinite. Maybe we want that it should be smaller, more situated, more present.

The challenge of living in conscious awareness of infinity is made palpable by a couple of clever formal devices in Cocker’s ‘infinite’. Her ostensible catalog of everything is bookended by two short segments of text printed with a nearly invisible yellow ink; the first is headed ‘On Searching,’ and the second, ‘On Losing’. ‘On Searching’ begins:

There are thousands of books in the British Library whose title refers to the act of searching. There are at least as many books about loss. Whilst some searches are conclusive, at other times the relation between searching and losing could be conceived in Sisyphean terms—akin to a rock rolled to the top of the hill, only to roll back down again. An endless cycle of finding something only for it to then become lost: searching and then losing, searching and then losing, searching and losing . . . ad infinitum.

The opening paragraph of ‘On Losing’ inverts this, replacing ‘the act of searching’ with ‘the act of losing’, and conceiving of the relation between losing and searching in ‘Penelopian’ terms: ‘akin to the nightly unraveling of a weave to avoid closure or completion, such that by morning the task can begin afresh’. Additional yellow text placed at the beginning and end of the catalog of everything indicates that the items listed are in fact titles from the British Library that refer to ‘the search for’ or ‘the loss of’. Indeed, this constellation of search, loss, cataloguing, and infinity crystallizes easily; as far as a history of human thinking goes, we are always searching for, and losing, a theory of everything—some idea that is able to contain the infinite.

*

Cocker’s list presents another wrinkle. A row of small yellow arrows running along the top of the first half of the list and along the bottom of the second half of the list suggests that the first half contains the ‘searching for’ books and the second half the ‘loss of’ books. But there is no clear break in the stream of words; without the arrows, the reader would think it one big list, not two. And there is no obvious difference in the type of things that appear in the first half versus the second. For instance, ‘selfhood’ or ‘a sense of self’ appears in both halves. That which we search for and that which we constantly lose are one and the same, two sides of the same coin (presented rather elegantly by Cocker as a spatial metaphor). The list is an inventory of human desire—the only things we would search for (or lament the loss of) are those that we want. But for us to want something requires that it be constantly slipping away, eluding our grasp.

In her aforementioned novel, Hélène Cixous presents life as a moment-to-moment battle to want what is already within grasp. The challenge of living the ‘truly essential life’ is to pay attention to the fine sensory-emotional realities of the present moment, rather than losing ourselves in abstractions and desires for the future. Her narrator reflects (as Cocker quotes at the beginning of ‘infinite’): ‘With what tenderness, with what fierceness we have to work every day in order to attach living importance to the very delicate things which we are constantly torn away from by the forces of war.’ Julia Calver, too, appears to have had Cixous very much on the mind when composing ‘ ’. In it, there is a section titled ‘First recorded use of ear plugs’ in which a highly lyrical, feminine prose voice is interrupted repeatedly by the word ‘AHOY!’ in large, bold-faced print. Other lines—‘To those powers / that command / of me my / literal / obedience!’ and ‘To the / immutable / forces of / oppression!’—reinforce a feminist theme. Compare this to Cixous’s narrator, who characterizes as masculine the forces of ‘war’ that constantly interrupt and degrade the feminine sensitivity inherent to the joy of being alive:

For the state of being-in-paradise . . . requires the first, the prime intelligence, the universal, the very-fragile kind, with its very broad, feathery antennae covered with sensory cells which enable it to detect the sources of the very great joys that are quivering in the immediate invisibility. But war stuns it, deafens it, war makes its stupidity reign over the world.

 

*

Besides the literal meaning, Cixous’s ‘war’ refers to an insidious, creeping effort towards ‘the nullification of women and similar beings’; its weapons are ‘boorish sounds’ that ‘rob them of the rich hours of silence and immobility’. This is a poetic war, a war against poetry. For Cixous, the forces of war are synonymous with all that deadens the meanings of words and causes us to forget what it is to be alive. And while Cixous’s writings might not attest to this overtly, I would argue that the temptation to abstraction should rightly be considered one of these forces. At the risk of trivializing the complexity of national conflict, I venture that most wars would not be possible if people saw nation-states and ideologies for what they are—abstractions—and put the abstract in its proper relation to the real. (In an essay titled ‘A Survey of the Literature,’ the writer George Saunders imagines a fictional academic discipline, ‘Patriotic Studies,’ devoted to rooting out and monitoring members of a ‘fluid-nation’ called ‘People Reluctant To Kill For An Abstraction’.) War is rooted in wanting things we don’t have—security, a better economy, ideological conformity. To follow Cixous’s logic, though, striving after these things requires an ignorance and even denial of the ‘very great joys that are quivering in the immediate invisibility’. How someone who is fully devoted to her momentary ‘being-in-paradise’ could, at the same moment, also desire war (or anything else, for that matter), is difficult to conceive.

Perhaps this explains why such a strong vein of this-ness runs throughout Lemonade, coexisting alongside the abstruse formal experimentations. If any one piece could be said to be the keystone of the book, it’s Mary Paterson’s piece ‘so’. Frequently alluding to the pieces that come before it, as well as to Cixous’s text, ‘so’ draws Lemonade’s other works into itself, internalizes, and connects them, the metaphorical binding of the book. ‘so’ is constructed like an Cixousian ultimate-book (surprise!), a series of independent phrases and moments. Most of these phrases or moments depict highly concrete imagery, as if the author were tired of all this infinite abstraction (‘So worn out, even more so,’ she writes). Here’s an example:

And so we wait for something to begin. We sit cross-legged, side by side, so one of us balances a remote control on our knee. The other holds a pencil in a steady hand. We are waiting for sight, sound and sense. All or nothing, so you understand. If it is not all, so it is nothing. One of us is distracted by the memory of an old flame. It flickers behind the eyelids. It is neither here nor there, but it is to do with the colour yellow. We prefer pencils, so lead is waterproof and one of us is clumsy.

This is a literature of fine feeling, of attention to subtle emotional and physical detail both present and past; it is evidence of what Cixous calls ‘the prime intelligence’. But in fact, the pieces evince a similar concern with concrete particulars and ‘the very great joys that are quivering in the immediate invisibility’: Berridge’s memories of lemonade, Norwood’s dialogue in a flower shop, Cocker’s list of ‘things’. The deeper value of Lemonade  everything is so infinite., in all its abstract formalism and evocations of infinity, lies in its reaffirmation of the world of particulars. Because the infinite is so vexingly indeterminate, it (paradoxically) directs our attention and desire toward determinate things, the small things we can grasp and appreciate. We come full circle: from seeing the infinite in lemonade, to seeing the lemonade in the infinite.

If Cixous is right, then literature should be seen not as a diversion of the elites, but rather as a tool for living the truly essential life—even (or especially) if that literature is apolitical. The attentiveness that art and literature cultivate becomes even more important in wartime, or when a junta is torturing people in basements, as a kind of resistance against the stultifying forces of abstraction. Of course, there is still tension here. Used improperly, art can still become an exclusive activity used to shut out others’ cries for help (as the intellectuals skewered in Bolaño’s novella seem to be using it). The kind of art Cixous is talking about is intended to be inclusive, opening one up to the experiences of others, helping one to take joy in others, teaching empathy. But can any art ever be fully inclusive? Readers likely won’t get much out of Lemonade  everything was so infinite. without at least a superficial familiarity with Cixous’ writing, post-structuralist theory, and avant-garde poetics. Even Cixous’ work, with its deeply allusory language and difficult, involuted syntax, is exclusive and elite to some extent.

At times, works like these might actually be no more than elaborate wordplay. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, unless it’s a crime to experience enjoyment while a war is going on (enjoyment independent of that war, that it). But Lemonade rises above wordplay in the moments when it prompts us to abandon wearying abstractions and pay closer attention to the world around us. And remarkably, it does so using the very tools of abstraction (poetic devices, formal experiments, gestures toward theory). This might at first seem self-defeating—what’s the point of reading a book full of abstractions just to lead one away from abstractions? But perhaps there is a certain type of person who requires a struggle through the muck of abstraction in order to gain a heightened appreciation of particulars. As Cixous’ narrator writes: ‘Getting to the essential, there are times when can’t get there without going through the non-essential which hides it.’

Thus Lemonade, in hiding the essential within the non-essential, serves as a kind of medicine for esoterics. Perhaps the real test of a book like this is the extent to which it is able to reenter the world through its reader, both of them having gained through the reading a newfound awareness of and hunger for situated reality—or as Cixous imagines, ‘unbound and free. Even from being a book’.

*

Lemonade  Everything Was So Infinite. was published in 2015 by LemonMelon press. It includes text contributions by David Berridge, Julia Calver, Emma Cocker, Marit Münzberg, Tamarin Norwood, Mary Paterson, and Rachel Lois Clapham. More information and details on ordering a copy can be found  here, at the LemonMelon website.


Joey Kuhn lives in Washington, DC, where he is completing an MFA in creative writing.

*

a bee flew into my room this morning, buzzed twice around my head and left.

in são luís, there’s rainy summer, windy summer, and burnt meat summer. it’s windy summer now. the wind blows napkins into the avocado pudding.
It was fast! It was strong!
What was?
The wind!
Says Mayla’s Grandma with dementia stealing sips of wine from her husband’s cup.
I’ve never been drunk in my life!
A cat brushes by her leg. For the rest of the afternoon she giggles when the tablecloth blows at her calves.

son-in-law accuses mother-in-law of buying ray beeahns.
Cue frantic defense of class via one’s brand and smart phone pixels.
The son of two cousins, incest in his smushed face, strong brow, fat hands, interjects.
Look into the sun if you wanna know how good your sunglasses are.

The sun burns more in the windy summer, the sun burns the same but the people burn more. the wind, like the ocean or clouds, alleviates heat but does not protect against sunburn.

I go up to my room, lay on my bed and listen to a melancholic song from Ethiopia.
If this text had a way to be read in real time, six minutes would have passed.
I come back to my brain refreshed. I put sunscreen on and leave the father’s day barbecue to buy a pineapple for the meditation (it’s called deeksha. It’s a process of observing yourself and resolving internal questions. Feel free to come. It will be at 16:00, here, in house. We ask whoever comes to bring something for us to take during coffee of the afternoon, like cake, bread, juice, fruit, or what you feel at will to do/make).
I hug the shade on the side of street 2. My body breeze rattles a sheet metal door. The sea breeze, or the echo of a person rising, rocks a rocking chair on a second floor patio.
A motorcycle of two men stops next to a couple. In real time, the action is over by the middle of next sentence. The man on the back jumps off, yanks a pink backpack from the girl, and is back back black on the bike off toward the intersection where there’s the fast and dramatic sound of vehicles trying not to collide. Back man falls off the blike (stays on his feet, balance don’t fall!) and hops back on to continue the getaway. The couple does not turn to watch what happened or almost happened, almost being that confused karmic, poetically just, vindicating space, where the idea of fairness matches no reality, the deck is stacked, everyone’s suffering, some in this life in this body, some in the soul for eternity. The couple walks toward me at a leisurely pace, the girl squeezed tighter under her boyfriend’s arm.
A man yells from a higher story.
Was it an assault?
It was.
I offer my condolences in a mix of words and hand signals that don’t make sense and aren’t received. I move to the arterial street where there are witnesses but no shade. My whiteness loses when the bright light is on. I shift back to street 1. I greet every person I pass. I am non-threatening and friendly, trying to connect for my own ego. Reciprocal boa tardes vary in enthusiasm. A woman cleaning her tiled garage locks the gate.

At the fruit stand I ask for a pineapple that’s ready to eat.
They’re all ready to eat.
Okay, give me this one.
How much is it?
5 reais.
Do you accept four?
I accept.
Cool.
Here’s a tiny bag that’s huge.
I return via street 3, a different world from street 2 in that I am not known there so everyone else is out of place or in that dream space where I’m in my house with my family but the house isn’t my house and my family isn’t my family. Men sit in plastic chairs outside of convenience stores. Women, perched elbows on barred windows or shoulders against the doorframe, watch the street, the nothings of a quasi holiday on a sunday in north/northeast brazil. Hammocks hang in front of televisions, butts stretching fabric wanting the ground. A young man on a couch shovels a late lunch into his face. A young girl takes sun on the patio for aesthetic purposes; her dad fiddles in the garage below.

At the intersection plus one, a white car pulls in front of me and turns left. The rear right passenger rolls his window down and handwaves gunshots at a group of men sitting in the shade, or at the two boys just behind them, one leaning against a car, the other balanced on a bicycle. The street is quiet except for the buzz of electronically protected middle class homes. Plastic Walmart tumbleweeds blow across the street, one swirls up in the wind getting caught on a wall fortified by scrap metal.

*
Well-deserved congratulations to Rough Beast contributor Yiliu Shen-Burke and his entire team of fellow students at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design! The team’s proposal for the entry pavilion at Design Miami – ‘a kind of fragmented canopy made with 200 unique, pink-foam architectural models’ – was awarded the commission by the fair’s organizers and will be presented this December.

Yiliu and his teammates were spotlighted in a nice write-up by the New York Times.

You can read Yiliu’s essay, ‘On the Competitive Advantages of Faking It’, from Rough Beast: bullshit here.

 

*

‘My life has been a long process of awakening to the reality, the changing reality, of the contemporary book world, which is a million miles from the naïve vision I had when I started writing books at twenty-two. Since it is in the publishers’ interests, and indeed the University’s, to sustain a false picture of what the book world is like and what the contemporary experience of books amounts to, my articles were a response to this, and an attempt to get my own head straight about what I’m really doing and the environment I move in. One is seeking at last to be unblinkered about it all.’ -Tim Parks

 

Very excited about Parks’s new book, Where I’m Reading From. 

Read a good interview at Bomb Magazine.

*

Our friends in the band Frances Luke Accord – one half of which consists of Nick Gunty, whose work features in both issues of Rough Beast – are pushing hard to fund their third studio release.

They’ve set up a Kickstarter campaign here and will be gathering financial support through the rest of the month. For an idea of the type of music they’re working on, listen to this.

*

Both Nick and Brian (the other half of Frances Luke Accord) take their work incredibly seriously and have produced some really excellent music over the past five+ years they’ve been playing together. Give them some of the support they deserve!

And while we’re all here, a link again to Nick’s essay on art and middle-brow from Rough Beast 1!

*

From The Disunited States by Vladimir Pozner

Notebook, February 1936

Mr. Eaton, Methodist and Conservative, is filing for divorce and custody of his two children, whose mother has committed the reckless act of thinking. The trial has just taken place in Newark, New Jersey Judge Grosman. Here are some excerpts from the interrogation of Mrs. Eaton by the judge and the husband’s counsel, Mr. Tiffany.

[…]

Mr. Tiffany: Are you interested in the maintenance of religion in this country

Mrs. Eaton: Yes, but not the maintenance of the Church.

[…]

Judge: Do you believe in the afterlife, be it Heaven or Hell?

Mrs. Eaton: Oh! No.

Mr. Tiffany: So  you do not believe in an afterlife?

Mrs. Eaton: Yes I do.

Mr. Tiffany: What?

Mrs. Eaton: I believe in eternal life.

[…]

Judge: Madam, if you cannot answer these questions, say so.

Mrs. Eaton: I do not think anyone can answer them.

[…]

And here are Judge Grosman’s conlusions: ‘[…] The petitioner, of course, is the “mistress of her soul”, but she has no right to instill in the minds of her young children, against the will of the father, these doctrines which she has embraced and which are looked upon with abhorrence by the vast majority of people living under the protection of our laws…’ Therefore, the divorce is granted in favor of Mr. Eaton, to whom the children’s care is entrusted. Their mother cannot see them unless she renounces ‘all attempts to instill her atheistic and communistic beliefs in their minds.’

<>

International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2015

São Luís, Maranhão, Brasil

Sometimes the men grill. Nonato, decent, shy from a stutter, cleans dishes, too. The seven brothers slouch around a table passing liters of Skol, chewing on salted meat, asserting opinions. Three sisters periodically bring platters of flesh to the table, sometimes they cut it into child-size bites. It is the fourth sister’s birthday, meaning the gathering is for her and she comes and goes when she pleases. It’s casual, amicable. The women tend to converse with the women, the men with the men.

Repeat. Sons and daughters, sons-in-law, daughters-in-law.

Sometimes, the younger generation moves toward integrated conversation.

But then, cars:

‘There, where you live, what’s more popular for a woman: Camaro or Mustang?’

But then, futebol:

‘Upon marriage, it is law that a woman convert to the husband’s soccer team.

Your team always loses.’

‘You’ve never watched a game in your life!’

‘Your team always loses!’

‘This is the easiest way for a man to lose his wife.’

But then, basquete:

‘She doesn’t like it when I play basketball. Think twice before you marry, she’ll try to control you.’

Finally, a cell phone gets passed around the table. The meme reads:

‘An entire day to remember who’s boss the remaining 364 days.’

<>

From The Disunited States by Vladimir Pozner

Notebook, April 1936

And, speaking out against the ban on photographing executions, the paper concludes:

‘The most popular image ever obtained was that of Ruth Snyder in the electric chair. It is the image that most visitors of our building want to see first. We’ve got two on display, one on the first floor and one on the seventh.’

+

 

*

Joey Horan is a Fulbright Scholar living in Saõ Luís, Brazil.

*

Between the rain and the snow falls a far less romantic form of precipitation, the hail, which as I write, pelts my bedroom window like milk-teeth. This type of metaphor, the chronic similes of a cheap literature, would normally seem gratuitous even to me. After all, it is only the weather. Even to me it seems excessive, this fiction of children’s teeth falling biblically from the sky, even to me, who persists in attaching to every source of light the image of a knife, to the six sides of a book, the anatomy of a frightened animal. There are all sorts of names in all sorts of tongues for this type of writing. In Austria, for example, they call a thick section of this cheap literature Schinken – a slab of pig meat. As though the codex itself – victim of its own internal logic, the logic of signs, symbols, and fictions it enfolds – were quite literarily turned inside out, its matter becoming metaphor. Pig meat, the unclean, a violation of sacred dietary laws, a kind of Haram, or contravention of Kashrut, something thick and dark and hidden in the fibers of its flesh. A prohibition. The sacred sanitary line between fiction and the real, between a simile of children’s teeth and the reality of weather, between the pulp and dull stuff of the book’s reality, the one I hold between the ten digits of my hands, and the fictions this dull stuff is meant to bind and isolate from the rest of the real, from the world of flesh and five-digit hands. This metaphor, this excess of language, the sort of pathos you get on the news, the nightmare of children’s teeth showering a pain of glass, seems irresistible to me now, because the line has been crossed, and is crossed daily, crossed to the point of its erasure, to the point where I wonder if this line isn’t itself a fiction.

When I sent you my first article, you expressed doubts about the introductory paragraph where I related fragments of French current affairs, this in light, you said, of its apparent incoherence with the rest of my narrative. But also, you said, and more importantly perhaps, because of more recent events in Paris, occurring some weeks after I had written this piece, after I had taken myself and my passport back to Berlin. Believing the two crazed motorists to be of my own invention, and perhaps seeing some prophetic coincidence in what you believed was a fiction, you warned me. Tread lightly, you said, by which, I suppose, you meant the sacred fiction, the line not to be crossed. But it is not I who crosses it, they were not an invention, and if they foretold anything, they did it of themselves. This schizophrenia of narrative, this indiscernible limit between cinema and the world, fiction and the news, a metaphor and its victim, is rich in its own sinuous logic, and I could swear to its coherence on a stack of bibles. There is a government of mimesis that rules over this domain of the schizoid, where not only is the news taken as a fabrication of language, but where ostensibly fictional characters become forces of real-world intervention, where men with wet tongues in their mouths, in the name of one image or its taboo, will die to assassinate a page, leaving a cartoon to bleed real blood on the streets of the city. The book in the beginning as though open on a page of horrors. This is the kingdom I see when I open an episode of T.O.T.T. Here, the page has become as dense and opaque as a man. Alice’s rabbit-hole ends with a psychiatric ward, her blue dress is exchanged for a straitjacket, and her wonderland, for a padded cell. Here, the question as to who framed Roger Rabbit is taken with all the seriousness of a post-mortem examination. It will fill the bookshelves of jurists. It will lead the private detective down murderous alleys, and in their dark chambers occupy the philosopher and the mystic. A schizophrenia of the world where the line between fiction and the real is crossed with as much ease as the eye moves from verso across to recto. 

(Berlin, January 9th, 2015)

***

Consider the one to whom it is addressed. For the one to whom it is addressed the nature of any postal delivery narrative is to abbreviate the arch of its intrigue. A blank script, the mystery begins and ends with a package lying on his kitchen table, a short note that simply says ‘this arrived for you from France today’. And yet, as he sits by his window, as he tears the seal and relieves the merchandise of its cardboard womb, a vague anxiety, the suspicion and tense precaution of a child after his first paper cut, moves through him like sap up the fibers of a tree. He postpones breaking the caul of cellophane and instead begins to measure the volume against the edge of a ruler. 23.5cm x 16.5cm x 2.5cm. In hand it weighs enough, that if he could catch the victim off guard . . . Though the above measurements would put the volume in the octavo range, more typical of a magazine, the cover design – its pale red and stale blue type emphasizing a space otherwise dominated by the darkness of a black-and-white photograph or movie still – nostalgically reconstructs a classic hardboiled paperback, thus deliberately placing the object in the figments of a dead and imagined world. His fingers exchange one side of the blunt object for another, from red back to red spine and back again to the book’s three edges, phonebook-yellow, surreal, recalling, in bright yellow light, the golden-edges of an illuminated bible, the slant of an unclosed door. A book of fiction and fiction of the book, a cartoon drawn into the world, as though you yourself were a fiction, as though it could only be opened by a pair of four-fingered hands.

His ears start ringing.

A yellow afterimage flashes and lingers on his retina, a gash of light staining everything with its slant. But past it, there in the cover’s background, emerging from the darkened corner of a room, the S of a woman’s hips, mimicking the smoke of a cigarette, leans on the side of a darkened door, her eyes like a loaded gun. His thoughts, the reader’s, are snagged on the slant of yellow light, but prompted by her eyes, he continues downwards, past the meeting of the her breasts, gestured on by the motions of an invisible knife. Foregrounded between two thumbs, the whole lower half of the cellophane screen is taken up by a man’s mute expression, a white open collar, eyes jerked back, a necktie roughly noosed around his neck, the entire scene cut meticulously from the dark. The man looks ambushed, a frightened deer caught in a set of headlights. In a fit, the man has covered something up, hidden something, closed the lid on something – a corpse, a gun, a stack of bills . . . – something has vanished in the empty space below the book. But in this empty space below book there is only the reader’s lap, his desk, a wall, and now the wooden floor of the reader’s room. Where the world begins and the codex disappears, there is only the bright yellow aperture of the volume’s pages, the 2.5cm crack of an unclosed door, the diameter of the human eyeball – opening for a third line of sight, his own wet eye.

His ears are ringing.

His ears are ringing. As he picks at the plastic seam, slides his index beneath the cellophane and along the paper’s edge, he slides inwards, into the dark sulcuses of his brain. Held out in its limitless black-open palm, night offers up a single white pill, and with the city’s curtains shut, the street-signs blank, he finds himself walking the empty avenues of obscure hypotheses and dimly lit theories, called somewhere by the insistent ringing of a remote public telephone. Ring-Ring. At the dead end of one of these streets, a pillar of yellow light glows against the darkness of the night, and like a bush burning in the wilderness, it rings and rings waiting to be answered. But as he stands before the phone booth’s glowing accordion door, ready to take the step, ready to push his weight out of the dark and into the glowing yellow light, suddenly the ringing stops.

He opens his eyes. But still seized by the outer appearance of the book, and the thick darkness it enfolds, he postpones the parting of its leaves. Ambushed between two lines of sight, the cover’s main character – a traveling sales rep, insurance man, accountant, or paper merchant – is keeping something – a name, a number – something hidden beneath his tongue. An unknown x is flashing yellow at the peripheries of the reader’s vision, gluing him to something both inside and outside the book, something that implicates him with the other two sets of eyes. For them too it is flashing, a sinuous something that slides between intervals of the real and the imagined, the thing and its fiction, the closed book and an unclosed world. Its secret hinging on an agent of metaphor that hides itself somewhere, in there, between tightly packed intervals of yellow.

So he arranges the three sets of vision – including his own – into an order of lies and complicities.
A: He and the woman against the man.
B: He and the man against the woman.
C: Complicity of the man and the woman against him.
D: . . .
The woman’s eyes were the first to address him. They welcomed him into the curves of her hips, the gentle slopes of her breasts. But that dress, that lipstick, a title conspiring against her . . . a hell of a woman. He discards A in exchange for B, the man is turned to him; it is he who is, or was, ready to open, ready to uncover. And yet it may be that the man’s tongue is suspended between one lie and another. The lie of relation B and the lie of relation C. Impossible to tell. Deflated, he sighs and rubs his knuckles white into the canthuses of his eyes.

Under a heavily lidded sky, the phone booth stands in darkness like the first illuminated character of an absent text, encasing him with the telephone’s immaculate receiver. Cold and black, it lies silently on its hook. Beneath it, a fleshy volume of the Yellow Pages is spread out for him like a bit of old testament on the names of sun gods, Surya, Ra, and Helios, selling goods of wrath and joy. Below, an ad for ‘yellow movies’, Chinatown skin flicks, the number of a Russian insane asylum, ‘the yellow house’. ‘Do you suffer from Pestilence, Malaria, or Jaundice?’ and further down ‘Sick of those yellow teeth?’ The nail of his index continues to scroll the page – a Mrs. Foxglove, a Dr. Gelbfrosch . . . – but something snags his eye, something buried deep between the first leaf and the next. The jagged remnant of another page torn out. A missing number.

Opening his eyes, he sees the man – the paper merchant . . . – speechless, as when he left him. The mute surprise of the man’s mouth is not an accident of narrative picked out at random. The cover bears the paradigm for a work that has chosen not to illustrate words but the silence that precedes them, the profounder silence of the book’s spine, where, open as the mouths of stunned witnesses, words are lost. Ott’s relationship to language has always taken place as though looking in on a phone conversation cut off from the viewer by a door of glass. Nothing was ever known of the voice on the other end. There was intimacy of white teeth and a black receiver, but lips moved without sound, words gave way to the meat of a tongue.

But now there’s a worm. If, as he believed, or wanted to believe, Ott’s images were flashes of an illiterate book, visions of the deaf, and thus indifferent to linguistic boarders, why was this object being detained within the limits of a Francophone market? Why this need for postmen? Had his images learned to read, to speak? Were they now writing letters, now trafficking foreign tongues? D: Complicity of the image against the reader. Possible addition of a further E and F.
On the other side of the torn page, below surgical supplies – ‘prices slashed on Betadine and Iodine’ – the phonebook reads ‘Inks for sale’, ‘Poisons for sale’, advertised by one and the same company. A little cramped, dreaming of an absent phone number, the city still as a world of salt, he wonders how much cadmium or lead it would take to poison a man. How many copies of Hell of a Woman to poison even the smallest dwarf or child? Rotating awkwardly towards the door, he exits the pillar of warm yellow light, and as he is greeted into a cold depression of air, again, suddenly, the ringing starts. Glancing back at the receiver, he slides into a murder fantasy where the book, and with it the poisonous yellow pigment of its pages – phylobates terrabilis flashes in his brain – was dipped in the victim’s tea – ‘Death by recent publication’. No, ‘Dead due to recent publication’. No, ‘Mysterious heart attack after . . .’ a series of headlines flashing in his brain. Leave it, he mutters, whoever it is is laughing at you.

Exchanging one armrest for another, he opens his eyes, his wicker chair squeaking nervously beneath his weight. He had desired a book where the smell of glue might itself feature in the narrative of its pages. He had looked forward to a volume unmediated by sound, to a grave illustration of the tome, to holding the minute’s silence of a black page between his thumbs . . . Silence was the condition of this perfect, illiterate book. But now, at last resolved, he discards its transparent film, splits the volume in two, and opens the yellow wound, the paper whispering beneath his thumb, sighing into a cinematic blur of black and white. As he pauses it at a page, suddenly it opens like a pair of seagulls wings, crying out with letters, a patient suddenly rising on the surgeon’s table, a world of sound waking from its anesthetic. From under a silent cover, two distinct casts of characters, text and image, sound and silence, lie next to each other in photographic negative, black on white and white on black, their lack of color emphasized by the yellow of an insistent metaphor, which flashes and then vanishes into the blur as pages play beneath his thumb. Staring back at the closed cover, he thinks he has solved the man’s expression of mute surprise. It seemed to disclose a lie, but who was the man cheating? He wasn’t withholding from the woman’s eyes – no, in a conspiracy of editors, shop assistants and postmen, the reader had been lied to by a book, a broken spine marking a broken vow. There, spread out in front of him was the transcript of a telephone conversation that seemed to despoil T.O.T.T’s images of their silence.

There, as though torturing a false statement of phonetic values, was Thompson’s text. A French translation, a double betrayal.

His ears are ringing.

With the phone ringing in his back, a cold breeze caresses the inside of his leg, and with lips moving up his neck, combs a vision through his hair. On the opposite pavement he observes a figment of current affairs, a nocturnal caricature silhouetted at intervals of night and lamplight. The shadow of Snoopy in scarf and fedora hat sliding into darkness, then appearing and disappearing, at intervals of a beating heart, beneath the willows of yellow light . . .

Once again in desk-light, deflated, he opens at the brouhaha of the book’s first words – Thompson’s, with Ott’s illustrations inserted here and there like postage stamps or the historiated characters of an illuminated book. But his eyes try to flee from sound, drift into a bored dyslexia where instead of progressing from left to right, characters organize themselves across both axes of the paper. For a moment, the vague fantasy that this scattering of the alphabet might itself encrypt a silent image floats above the page, only to dissipate again into clouds of patterns without shape, vacuumed into the space where verso and recto meet to vanish at the spine. Is it that a form of substance abuse, metaphors of glue and ink, have turned the book inside out and drawn the pulp and dull stuff of reality by which the book is, is hard and real, and is and is really there, there on his desk – he could swear to it on a stack of bibles – into a schizoid realm? There, closed on his desk, it seems to snicker at him like a simile of yellow teeth.

His ears are ringing.

The night continues to offer up its pill, and beneath it, contemplating the pavement, as though writing an obituary in his brain, Snoopy is arched under the gravity of goodbyes. He walks, disappearing and reappearing, before vanishing from La Rue Nicolas-Appert into the darkness of l’Allée Verte. Behind him, further up the street, the humans have gathered on the pavement under another pool of light. Held in a circle by a strip of yellow and black police tape, they stand with flowers and votive candles around the contours of a little white character of chalk. It outlines the blank silhouette of a little boy, whose body now rests in a Paris morgue. The remains: a single coil of hair, the once anxious eyes of a nervous disposition now drawn shut, a yellow-and-black-zigzagged shirt now stained with blood, and around his little toe, a postmortem tag that reads: A Boy Named Charlie Brown. The ringing in his back grows weaker. A train is approaching overhead.

These could have been visions of T.O.T.T. He remembers Bugs Bunny’s anatomy laid out on the psychopath’s floor, the dry eyes of Alice in the padded cell of her yellow house, buckled in her straightjacket (see R.I.P: Best of 1985-2004), the meticulously embodied freaks of a world in which mad men draw cartoons into the realms of the living, where the humans are and live, are real and have there being, and could swear to it on a stack of bibles.

His ears are ringing.

Loose fallen leaves move about his feet, and as he stares back over his shoulder, back at the yellow pillar and the telephone ringing on its hook, suddenly a train roars above his head. Witnesses who saw say the two men who murdered the little boy cried, ‘Charlie’s dead! God is great!’ A train is roaring above his head as though trying to overtake his thoughts, shuffling for a moment the rows of unbound leaves that line the street. News updates say Charlie’s assassins have fled in a Peugeot 206, their goal a small town on the outskirts of Paris named Dammartin. How like a movie the city must appear from a moving train. At a printing press on the outskirts of Paris, Charlie’s assassins take a hostage and await their appointment with the forces of heavily armed French police. Aboard a roaring train, as though in a déjà vu, an expat is being handed back his one-way ticket and his identity – inspectors found nothing in his suitcase or on his person. Outside the printing press in Dammartin, black boots are squeaking, bullets are being clicked into their magazines, guns are being cocked. In the train, under the night’s white pill, the little expat slouches back into his window seat, breathes in a moment, breathes out. Beside him a little fedora hat. Two men assassinate a page and now wait for death at a printing press in Dammartin, and it is doubtful, say the newsprints, whether they will live long enough to explain the choice of venue, halls and corridors stacked with the mute white pillars of unnumbered sheets, patiently awaiting the silent presses. Turning away from the melancholy film passing before his window, the expat shuts his eyes, but instead of darkness, in a mystical contraction of the iris beneath his lids, sees in pages, mute and white, stacked up in a monumental ring of columns, the blank-bright image of an absentee, withdrawing, unbound, into the endless silence of unbroken vows. The inspectors’ search was thorough, but came up with nothing. Nothing suspicious, they said. Except maybe for the three unopened copies of a strange-looking book buried among the expat’s clothes. A fact they would report only much later, after it was too late.

+

*
*

Leopold O’Shea lives in Berlin.

*

As we skid into another year, the newsprints and digital opinion merchants are solemnizing the event under an identical headline.

This is not where I began.

What originally was meant only as a short literary review now turns with a strange sinuous logic whose tail I have yet to grasp. Unbeknownst to them, two men are about to commemorate the inaugural moment of a literary genre. Three days before Christmas, a Renault Clio is mounting the pavement of a busy Dijon high-street, named in honor of your country’s 28th president. Christmas shoppers are still haloed about the various stations of light that punctuate the darkness of La Rue Wilson – improvised nativity scenes where tinseled merchandise has replaced the original cast of characters. Witnesses say the motorist cried ‘God is great’ before steering his headlights into thirteen shoppers, two of which remain in critical condition. A day later, around the same ill-lit hour, the second man in the series drives a white van into the stalls of mulled wines and souvenir-bibelots at a Christmas market in Nantes, apparently in homage to the first, leaving one dead and ten injured. ‘La série noire continue.’ (Le Figaro, December 22nd, 2014.)

In anticipation of a third installment, as though written on the registration plates, authorities tighten security around what they consider high-risk areas: at the end of every pedestrian thoroughfare, commercial street, and square – the dark avenues of our communion with the mystic economy of total retail – are the yellow, frowning headlights of a serial killer.

The headlines read: SERIE NOIRE.

(Paris, December 24, 2014)

***

My first encounter with the work of Swiss illustrator Thomas Ott, or T.O.T.T – a sort of syncope of the artist’s name that recalls the German word for death – consisted of a small, passport-sized object entitled La Douane, or ‘Customs’. This was seven years ago, a different country, a copy now lost or unreturned, but as I walk, in search of another, more recent book, through the dark avenues of Berlin’s exiguous light, my memory of La Douane, at a rate somehow analogous to my toes, slowly begins to thaw:

The whisper of a page. Slouching under the weight of imminent departure is a short man wrapped in a trench coat and fedora hat. Verso. He enters an empty train compartment. With him, a large leather suitcase – a traveling sales rep, insurance man, accountant or paper merchant – which he deposits in the overhead luggage rail. Recto. Alone, he turns his face like an anxious page to the melancholy film passing before his window . . .

A first impression of these leaves might have recalled the meticulously etched darkness of a late Rembrandt, Saint Jerome Reading In A Dark Chamber, or light squinting through the doors and window frames of the city’s apartment blocks, the sclera beneath a half-closed eye, or distant headlights in the dark. Ott’s latest book, which I have yet to find, entitled Hell of a Woman, and based on Jim Thompson’s 1954 pulp-fiction novel of the same name, seemed prescribed to me by the city in which I hoped to find it: horizon defied by the giant rotating crucifixes of endless construction cranes; street names, which in parsimonious light, progress like an index of dead and forgotten men; its penchant for the dark – by 5 o’clock the hour is not unlike the material support of Ott’s images, the silence and smooth black surface of scratchboard.

. . . Verso. Cut from the dark, their eyes like distant moons, two great sheets of darkness stare from behind the compartment door. They are as recto and verso of the same leaf. Dressed as customs officers, they advance on the passenger with the uniform and authority of night.—Tickets!—Identity!—What’s This!—A Suitcase! . . .

But they wouldn’t have spoken like that. Turn street. No, they wouldn’t have spoken at all. They never speak. What struck me about these pages was the absence of any pretense of sound, of a single word, no comic-book screams, no creeeek or craaashhh, as though everything were behind a thick block of glass, or six feet of earth. Though ‘scratchboard’ might evoke something faintly audible like the scratching of fingernails beneath a coffin lid, Ott’s images offer no escape for sound. As though they had been stunned by the surface of the paper, as though condemned to the black, echoless material through which they emerge, and silenced by the instrument and origin of their inscription. Razorblade, Stanley knife or scalpel, on scratchboard, each object, each action and character comes to light by incision. The darkness, opened by snips of light.

. . . Turn page. —What’s he got beneath his tongue?—Nothing! reports the other—Well, he’s trafficking something! Verso. Speechless, the little man is ordered to unbutton his shirt, revealing to his eyes, as though turned to salt, that where once was his navel now is the zipper of a long stitched-up wound, a sign and vision of the Maker. Recto. Administering their eyes—Scissors!—Open Him Up! . . .

Ott’s pages have swallowed up the alphabet like a white pill. The letters have all gone to bed. Though no one I’ve spoken to today has seen or even heard of Hell of a Woman, the nerds and sales assistants of the last three bookshops agree: whatever I find will be devoid of words. Ott’s style is so typified by the meticulous record of a knife that every ray of light, threatening the eye through phone booth and venetian blind, appears as though accompanied by this nightmare of the blade, and every source of sound – an open mouth, a telephone – seems to have been silenced by its edge, a speech bubble severed from its vocal cord.

. . . Verso. The inspectors, headlights accelerating on a frightened deer, move their hands through the traveler’s internal baggage, past the large and the small intestine, the liver and around the heart—Nothing Here! Recto. Quick as a judge’s gavel, a passport stamp, the mute pillars of night exit the carriage, leaving the little man with his intimate effects scattered about himself and the compartment floor . . .

Thus Ott’s characters are the page. When they scream their voices are no more that the dry psithurisms of paper. Caught by the darkness on one side and the light on the other, everything appears as though petrified by a medium in which all days are numbered – anechoic, immobile. Entomed. This nightmare of paper is the opposite of a movie. And yet, scratchboard and the storyboard narratives it has prescribed to T.O.T.T. also recall the celluloid of black-and-white film, where thumb and index and the twitching of an eye have supplanted the editing suite. A train is roaring over my head like a heart attack. In particular it recalls the long grey trench coats and fedora hats of American Film Noire. A term of Franco-American parentage, it was probably derived from the earlier expression coined by Jacques Prévert in 1945. SERIE NOIRE in phonebook-yellow letters, vaulting the black covers of Marcel Duhamel’s serial pulp publication SERIE NOIRE. Flashes from the end of a tunnel.

. . . Verso. Life, an illiterate book, has flashed before his eyes. The movie is about to end. The train has stopped. Recto. He pulls himself together and prepares to step onto the platform . . .

Because I’m tired of being evaded by what is essentially a stack of paper, but also because not unlike the others of my species who on exiting a cinema drive home still in the head of the character on screen, I take the train, and mimicking my own protagonist, slouch into a window seat, thinking just how like a film the world appears from a moving train. On the seat opposite mine lies a book without an owner. The Germans have a name for this sort of book. They call them Groschenroman, a genre whose name and literary value is derived from the back cover. There, above the code of black bars, after the currency symbol. Turning back to the window, I think about Jim Thompson. I think, if the American pulp-fiction format in which Hell of a Woman was first published names the sort of paper that prescribes not only its content but its probable end – attic, charity shop, or black plastic bin-bag – then this book, as it was first received in its country of birth, surely is the reject of rejects, about as valued as an outdated telephone book. SERIE NOIRE in France is thus where Thompson’s schizoid killers had to find their home, orphans of an indifferent American readership. Something about their fiber must have sated a post-war European appetite for the dark. The standing they gave Thompson in France and in the genre meant that when Georges Perec adapted Hell of Woman for screen in 1979, it was as a kind of parent or symbol of the genre itself. He called this film SERIE NOIRE. As I drift from the station, I wonder if he, Perec, whose mother died in Auschwitz, saw as I do, beneath this yellow arch of letters, a front gate silhouetted against the dark.

. . . Recto, the final image. Verified and stamped, the little man, fedora hat, trench coat, and case stands in front of a series of black iron bars. Behind them, the light and the open page of heaven.

The cul-de-sac in which my narrative ends leaves me to fantasize the object of its intrigue. As I write, I am waiting for a postman, waiting for my copy of Hell of a Woman. An intrigue written not by the author but by the dead time intervening between one episode of a TV series or serialized crime story and the next, the anxious boredom that distends the hours from one update of the news to another, a thriller written not by an author but by the logic of editors, TV producers, postal services or film distributors, the psychology of its characters material rather than fictional, and its arch prescribed by interruptions of the weather, the mysterious temper of NASDAQ, and the horrors of current affairs. I wait for my copy of Hell of a Woman. If it indeed exists, I want to know this object in all its narratives, from all its sides, in all its length, width and depth.

From my dead end, I imagine a character whose moral fiber and the fiber of city lights through which he moves are not unlike the paper on which they’re printed. I imagine an object whose weight becomes its metaphor, the meta-narratives of its material, where pulp becomes fiction, where darkness and the scalpel, the silence of a book and the psychopath, meet. In my fantasy there is a sort of Groschenroman logic at work. I imagine a murder wherein the victim would carry in his back pocket the price printed on the book’s back cover. I imagine a book heavy enough that it itself, object of fiction, could figure in a police report, beside fragments of the victim’s skull. Like the term Groschenroman, there is a beautiful circularity in the name SERIE NOIRE. There is an irresistible logic, which, like Ott’s images, dramatizes the very material conditions in which its fictions are inscribed. A sinuous logic, which, it seems, even the world, and the copyists that claim to report its facts, cannot resist.

+

 

*
*

Leopold O’Shea lives in Berlin.

*

Architect, artist, and writer (and our friend) Anna Kostreva has written a lovely review of our latest issue for Berlin Art Link, which you can find here, at www.berlinartlink.com/2015/02/05/publication-rough-beasts-collection-of-essays-and-prose-bullshit.

What appears on Art Link is an abridged version of the full review, which appears on Anna’s blog.

+

Anna is an American living in Berlin. In addition to architectural work, her practice spans dance, performance, and publications. We think she’s great! Visit her website: www.annakostreva.org

*

When I read the latest issue of Rough Beast, titled ‘bullshit’, my mind turned to the most recent and blatant form of bullshit I had experienced: a few Saturdays prior, I had gone to see Cy Twombly’s Fifty Days at Iliam, a reflection on Alexander Pope’s translation of the Iliad, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But it wasn’t Twombly’s ten canvases, ‘full of scrawling marks, seemingly random brushstrokes, and legible numbers and letters’ that struck me as egregious bullshit.* Rather, it was an interaction with a tall, fifty-something museum worker who offered to give some information on the piece.

I had already spent a good half an hour searching for any sort of recognizable patterns in this chaotic work. Questions I didn’t think he would be able to answer: why was Paris the only mortal associated with a triangle? Were deliberately erased marks in the work meant to evoke a lack of importance, background resonance, or something else? Did erased scribbles have the same significance as erased names or words? Was Twombly only interested in Pope’s translation of the Iliad, or do some of the chaotic scribbles refer to the later reception of the Iliadic cycle? Twombly deliberately uses triangles for A’s throughout the work – could this suggest the Greek letter delta, which is also a symbol of change in science? Is it a phallic symbol? All of the above?

As these questions may make obvious, after three years of graduate work in the humanities, my tolerance for (certain types of) bullshit is higher than most people’s. I don’t love Twombly, but he had an interesting contribution to certain conversations in 20th-century art history. I can ignore the ‘my child could have scribbled this’ skepticism and look for layers of meaning among the chaos, fully aware that this exercise might be bullshit in and of itself. I’ve spent less productive Saturday afternoons, though. So why, then, did my conversation with this gentleman strike me as such an offensive punctuation to these musings?

The tall man told me that Twombly had helped set up and install the piece. That it was produced in the wake of the Vietnam War. That the triangles referred to tiny nuclear warheads. That the piece was nominally about the Trojan War, but that, really, it was about Vietnam and the Cold War. That it was a meditation on the nature of man. (‘the nature of man’) (!!!) People say ‘my child can do that’ (referring to the art) and ‘of course your child can, that’s the point, children are violent.’ That war is inevitable. After several minutes of his monologue on the actual meaning (!!!) of the piece, I mentioned that I was there in conjunction with an assignment for a class where we had read the Iliad in Greek. Turning back – apparently we were not participating in an actual conversation, and when his monologue ended, so did his presence – he informed me that ‘If you know anything about Twombly, you’d know he’s not a literal guy.’

If a mustachioed twenty-five-year-old in a bar had pronounced such a statement – really, that anything is about ‘the nature of man’ – I would have laughed in his face. Faced with an older, white, tall, suit-and-badge-wearing man, I felt just the smallest bit of frustration. Had he never heard of the death of the author? Did he really think there was a singular meaning to this piece of art? Did he think that anything he could articulate about this piece would somehow be more valid than what I could come up with – that I just needed someone to ‘uncover’ the meaning, which was waiting for a proper interpreter with contextual knowledge and a museum ID to reveal? Why did this episode resonate so strongly?

As a young woman in academia, I’m sensitive to men talking down to me, but it was more than that. After studying some canvases that could very well be total bullshit, giving it all the benefit of the doubt and generosity I can muster, I stood listening to some man who suggested that my reading the artist’s source material (laboriously, slowly, in the original language as well as translation) was essentially irrelevant to the artwork. He articulated his special brand of ‘let insider-me tell outsider-you’ bullshit as singularly valid, making no effort to engage in a dialogue, wanting only to impart answers before floating off like some sort of modern art fairy godmother.

So what is it about bullshit that is so offensive, so obnoxious, so provocative, some kind of a matador’s red flag for not only the argument-inclined, but for people of all stripes? It may imply that something is not not-bullshit, but is not-bullshit the truth? William notes in his ‘dont bullshit ME’ that bullshit is often associated with ‘truth and justice,’ heavy words in a postmodern world, and he cites Harry Frankfurt’s definition of bullshit as ‘claims and opinions on topics that exceed our capacity for knowledge.’ But he concludes that bullshit is not only not opposed to truth, but not even concerned with truth at all. Does an examination of bullshit, then, have nothing to do with truth? If so, where could justice enter into this equation, or, for that matter, the ‘real’ that is opposed to bullshit? William ends the essay with a nod to Andy Warhol, fitting neatly with the thoughts his writing engendered in me: most importantly, bullshit is not opposed to aesthetic beauty.

I would push the thesis even further and argue that bullshit-calling itself requires some aesthetic judgment. Cy Twombly’s bullshit is acceptable, even interesting, because of its place in 20th-century art history as well as his deliberate juxtaposition of legitimacy (an installation in the PMA, an entire room devoted to one series) against visual and symbolic nonsense (abstract scrawls, deliberate ugliness). In a similar way, some strange white dude also juxtaposed legitimacy (a suit, a badge) with markers of bullshit (the phrase ‘the nature of man’), but my emotional response was to reject it out of hand. His bullshit was both boring and wrong.

The Will Ferrell line from Blades of Glory, famously sampled in the middle of Kanye West’s ‘N****s in Paris’, goes: ‘Nobody knows what it means, but it’s provocative.’ Twombly’s bullshit is provocative precisely because nobody (not even an older white male museum worker) knows what it means. This causes some people to dismiss it entirely, and others like myself to spend (perhaps too much) time ruminating on the chaos Twombly created. Key here is that both of these responses are aesthetic judgments on bullshit. It’s a kind of judgment we make all the time – about the art we enjoy, the social media we use, and the conversations we engage in. Bullshit may reside in too much of the world for us to escape it entirely, but we can nevertheless still choose which bullshit will define our own reality.

*This is from the PMA website’s description of the piece. It is not a criticism, as far as I can tell.

*

Jill Stinchcomb is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

*

From January 8 until February 27, Rough Beast: bullshit will be featured as part of #TABS – Temporary Artist’s Book Shop, curated in and by LAGE EGAL Raum für aktuelle Kunst at Danziger Str. 145, Berlin.

The shop is open Wednesdays to Fridays, from 3 to 7 pm, and by appointment.

*

From the LAGE EGAL website:

LAGE EGAL, an artist-run-space in Berlin called for artist’s books, zines, small presses, and other non-traditional publications. For the duration of the exhibition, LAGE EGAL will become a bookstore/reading library named #TABS – TEMPORARY ARTIST’S BOOK SHOP where the public will be able to look through, peruse, and purchase books and editions.

It will be a big celebration of the object book, ideated and made by artists. The book, as a specific artwork, will be displayed in its transgenic form and use, which includes word and image, sight and touch. LAGE EGAL would like to offer a platform where to show artist’s books and other publications in all their forms.

The aim of this exhibition is also to present a collector’s edition. The idea is to show a book and a work connected to it by the same artist, at the same time.

*

For those of you in Berlin, you can find a copy of the print issue this weekend at the Friends With Books Art Book Fair, held at Café Moskau on Karl-Marx-Allee. Our zines will be at the Gloria Glitzer table, which is the art book print operation run by Franziska Brandt and Moritz Grünke of we make it, the risograph studio that printed Rough Beast. Stop by their table and have a look – as well as at all of the other nice things Franziska and Moritz will have to show.

Friends with Books: Art Book Fair Berlin

13–14 December 2014
Café Moskau
Karl-Marx-Allee 34 10178 Berlin
Saturday, 13 December, 11:00 h–19:00 h
Sunday, 14 December, 11:00 h–19:00 h
Admission free

*

Hello hello.

Welcome to the Rough Beast web page and blog. It’s a special time for us. William’s virtual and physical hands have been squirreling away since August to bring us online and in print. For many months prior, we worked with eight contributors spread across four continents getting all of the Bullshit together. Their generosity and creativity made the project possible and the process fun.

Through this blogspace we hope to keep the transmissions coming. Please stay tuned.

-Joey Horan

*

Dear Everybody,

On this site you’ll find both our newest issue of the Rough Beast zine, which we have just released under the title bullshit, and our first issue from 2013, on non-existence. You can also find background on the whole project, our adventures printing the second issue, and information on getting a copy. On the blog page, look for new pieces and contributions in between issues and general updates on the magazine. We’re glad that you are here!

Have a look around, read a bit, and drop us a line letting us know what you think.

-William Stewart

*

Rough Beast’s second issue has been a long time in the making. We practically started the moment that issue 1 was finished, way back at the beginning of 2013. It includes contributions from writers on four different continents, representing a variety of ages, professions, and stations in life. Everyone involved is dealing, in some way, with bullshit, which serves as the issue’s theme: i.e. nonsense, deception, stupidity, waste, trash, fraud, annoyances, lies, and the ever-yawning vacuum of meaninglessness and purposelessness that threatens everybody.

The way that the individual contributors each investigated bullshit – which is sort of like saying the way they investigated their normal surroundings, given how much of the stuff bombards us day to day and how defining bullshit is for life at the beginning of the 21st century – all differ greatly. Some approach it head on, while others take it a bit more obliquely. It’s probably fair to say that some even adopted bullshit as their genre, though not unknowingly. Editing these pieces was a challenging as it was fun, not only on account of the wide diversity of styles represented and the often lengthy pieces the writers submitted, but also because of just how tricky it can be to say something meaningful about the broad category of meaninglessness we feed every time someone calls bullshit.

We think you’ll find the work meaningful just the same. There’s fiction – including Andy Roche’s sci-fi parody that pulls equally from John Carpenter’s Dark Star as it does Michael Moorcock’s ‘druggy glam-rock fantasy novel’ (Andy’s description) The Final Programme – and non-fiction alike – like Tom Martenstein’s accounts of digestive travails in his first months as a Peace Corps volunteer. Joseph Rosenberg gave us an excellent interview on his upcoming book, Wastepaper Modernism: Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Ruins of Print, and there is a fair amount of work – Joey Kuhn’s reflection on corporate jargon comes to mind – that offers no clear line between researched reporting and flagrant fabrication.

After almost a year and a half of work, we’re very excited to share all of this with you. In addition to this website, there is a print edition of issue 2, although in very limited quantities. This zine collects all of the contributions – printed on a risograph and presented as individual, hand-stitched pamphlets – in a screen-printed sleeve. The cover of each pamphlet is printed with a selection of photos provided by Carrie Allen and Nick Gunty, which appear in part on the scrolling header of the online edition. The written contributions all stand alone, but they all belong together, which is precisely what the printed form gestures to. You can find images of the finished product and the summer- and autumn-long process of putting everything together in the post below and on the about page.

So that’s it. Go ahead and have fun. And check back on the blog for regular updates. We’ll be working on issue 3 in the meantime. If you think you might want to work with us, shoot us an email. We’d be happy to hear from you.

Long live the Beast.

*
*

Here we are – with issue bullshit, we’re releasing both a printed zine and a new website. It’s been a long twenty-two months of emails and word documents and revised plans and scrapped ideas, of setting the project on hold, of starting it back up again, of jumping head-first into printing a zine, of building a website, and finally, of putting some of this chaos on show here.

Big thanks to everyone involved from start to finish. This includes first of all the contributors to issue 2: Carrie Allen, Nick Gunty, Josef Kuhn, Tom Martenstein, Andy Roche, Joseph Rosenberg, Yiliu Shen-Burke, and Joseph Wegener. Thanks to Anna Kostreva, Natalia Sookias, Lynn Suemitsu, and Natalie Koerner, without whom the print zines would never have come into existence. Thanks to Rob Gordon for building our site. Thanks to Moritz Grünke for all of his help with the logistics of printing and to Vina Rostomyan for giving input on the zine design. Thanks also to all of the contributors to the first issue from 2013: Leah Coming, Nick Gunty (again!), Reggie Henke, Hilary Rasch, Thomas Rowell, Jane Wageman, and Joseph Wegener (again!). And thanks most of all to Joey Horan, my co-editor, who has stayed patient and always encouraging throughout the hail of emails and skype calls and no ends in sight.

-William

*