One hasn’t found the singular until s/he’s discovered its in-forming complex system. That’s something I knew but found out all over again recently when trying to write a review of Joshua Cohen’s A Heaven of Others, which, if accepted, might appear in the next issue of Mayday Magazine.
How to boil the novel down not just in words but to the very essence of “my” reading of it proved, as it always does with writing I love, an obsession. My late Aunt Cookie used to collect art she called “conversation pieces.” They made people discuss them, and by discussing them begin discussing themselves. When I read a really good book, the same thing begins happening inside my head, and more often than not I end up in a different mental place than I was before.
Examples that come to mind: reading Slaughterhouse Five in 1983 on patrol aboard a nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine; reading On The Road on acid in community college in 1985 while taking a basic composition class so I’d have a chance at succeeding at that academic level; reading Naked Lunch poolside while broke and unemployed in Van Nuys; reading the rest of Kerouac and Joseph Campbell while living in Hollywood, Ca., living on Greenpeace income; reading Samuel Beckett and Robbe-Grillet and John Hawkes while studying under Federman at UB; reading Walden while working a temp job in customer service at Cell One; reading Underworld while driving a taxi on winter nights in a small, depressed town; reading Gravity’s Rainbow and 100 Years of Solitude in the throes of creative dyspepsia, working overnights in a group home.
Reading Cohen’s novel hasn’t precipitated or coincided with a particularly dramatic period in my life, or changed my way of thinking—nor has it left it unchanged [nor is this a particularly un-dramatic time in my life]. Yet it’s a deep novel with complex mythological twists that took me nearly two weeks of writing to have something readable with quite a few footnotes [as a means of suggesting the internal conversation and struggle A Heaven of Others inspired]. I went to the trouble not only because the novel merits the effort and a friend asked me for something, but because it seems to fall in with a few other novels either published or about to be published with a similar flavor, one I find as having great appeal for imaginative writers of a, perhaps, delightfully morbid ilk: the afterlife or something like it. These novels seem to be emerging from the idea that something is dead or dying, yet life will continue. The sense seems to be that things are changing in ways that we can only begin imagining. These novels all seem to focus on what the perceiver of this situation might do or think…how they might come to terms with their own death, and by extension, perhaps, the dying of their species. They seam philological searches for what to do, what not to do, of how to be properly concerned for one’s self at a time of peak everything…if one’s self actually exists as a singular, which leads back to the first sentence: One hasn’t found the singular until s/he’s discovered its in-forming complex system. It’s not what we say or write; it’s “how” we say or write. These are novels examining the seaming dynamic at the root of speaking, a self-aware speaking in the face of death. All the works I’m talking about seek themselves out amidst complex conversations, discovering in the process not only how they are voices but voicing us, humankind, and how we’re all facing…
In the months ahead I plan to write and publish, and if not publish, post here, reviews of Goro Takano’s soon-to-be-released With One More Step Ahead, Raymond Federman’s The Carcasses, Lance Olsen’s Nietzsche’s Kisses and Donald Breckenridge’s You Are Here [not necessarily in that order]. Then I’ll have an essay about them if I can sort things out well enough.
Stay tuned [if you’re interested]…and may the conversation begin :))) [I'm double-chinned].