Chandler Brossard, one of the most interesting writers of the 20th century in the United States by any measure, and to some, notably Steven Moore, who considered his Wake Up. We’re Almost There the most significant novel of the 1960s (published in 1971), one of the greatest writers of the latter half of the century, has long been out of print. Two early novels, Who Walk in Darkness and The Bold Sabateurs, may have never gone out of print, but neither have they been generally understood, as at the time among Brossard’s literary friends were many of the Beats, and that association lent these novels a misleading reputation. Still, they have generally been considered Brossards two main accomplishments. That is unfortunate, for they actually proved to be springboards for the lengthy migrations of Brossard’s aesthetic wanderings and developments that not only led to his two major works, Wake Up and As the Wolf Howls at My Door, but also a fascinating ouevre between these latter books and the first two that included plays, pseudonymous novels, and various other interesting experiments, including a series of fairy tales for adults. The press corona\samizdat has brought out three of Brossard’s novels, pictured here, including the surreal, playful, and deeply penetrating Raging Joys, Sublime Violations, a deceptively masterful novel that expresses the horror and surreality of the US’s war in Vietnam, suggests a great deal about the psychology of masculine warmongers while at the same time with devastating accuracy bringing about a dozen of the well known figures in the administrations overseeing the war to account. As should be, it appears none are let off the hook, from such more or less forgotten figures as Henry Cabot Lodge to such iconic figures as John F. Kennedy and Henry Kissinger, both of whose roles in the war are without debate outside US borders were those of war criminals.
Readers across the globe have found the press and these books, the most well-known being the most recently published (by Dalkey Archive in 1992) As the Wolf Howls at My Door, many expressing gratitude to find these books back in print at conventional paperback prices. Wake Up. We’re Almost There, a title that makes a great deal more sense when one has read this late Brossard who found that freedom from all literary constraints allowed him to range freely thematically and to use satire and pastiche together to at times with great hilarity expose and mock myths of the US and sneak essays of great intellectual depth and even prophecy into his acrobatic storylines.
More from corona\samizdat is forthcoming, perhaps including the one novel of Brossard’s that was never published. For the sake of the mind’s need to catalogue, what follows are the introductions from corona\samizdats’s three resurrected Brossard novels in order of publication.
How to Read Raging Joys, Sublime Violations
With your eyes, you fucking moron. But that’s not Chandler Brossard’s type of humor. Let’s try this: with J. Edgar’s nipple in your mouth and your hand on your crotch. That’s more like it. As Steven Moore in his introduction to the collection of short seizures this novel was removed from via heat-sought precision strike would have us believe, Brossard’s mind was at work like a GI parachute worn by an ape descending on Lafayette Park over this whole work that comes across as an off-the-cuff series of juvenile jismics written by a pissed-off boot camp failure who didn’t get to kill any gooks.
Where is the art in that?
To which is answered Fuck you by Brossard, from Nicaragua six or seven years before the Sandinistas did have Uncle Sam removed, after first inserting in his narrative what he calls “a conventional realistic description of the scene in the jungle.” Then the fuck you:
Va bene. Traditional literary demands have been met. The illusion of physical reality has been created. Atmosphere and all that. Sociopolitical implications and details have been cannily supplied. The age-old bourgeois writer-reader arrangement has been carried out. And to what end? Smugness and self-deception, aesthetic and political status-quoism, cultural and humanistic fraud, and endless spectatorship empathy—these are the ends of such trickery and brown-nosing . . . [and he returns to his absurdist montagery, from which emerges a contemporary Tom Paine:] we shall enthusiastically swim swollen torrents of blood, even if the blood happens to be our own, to destroy the black-hearted aggressor, however clothed he may be, in sheep’s wool or Brooks Brothers suits.
But does that not date the novel, cast Brossard back to . . . to . . . well, wherever they’re keeping Petronius? Yes, it certainly does, which is all the more reason to get our heads out of our asses and try our best to recall the circumstances of that self-insertion, for if you know your history of the wars in Vietnam, and you’ve been alive long enough to have heard of the Reagan regime, you might want to check in with Brossard for help deciphering that riddle.
Let me take a step toward the grandiose: reading Raging Joys, Sublime Violations and emerging from the artfully pleasant romp strangely yet enraged and seeking more Brossard, failing to sleep that very night as the collocation cluster bomb colloquializes your brain to the point you find the threat is real, then you are on the path toward understanding how devastating an act it was for a nation to put its collective head up its ass, and to take a further step, reading Brossard’s two big novels, Wake Up. We’re Almost There, and As the Wolf Howls at the Door. (Here I literally break off to smoke a cigarette on the balcony until Dylan quits mocking me with his Do you, Mr. Jones?)
Once the US was crawling with humans. Empathy and disillusionment were wide awake and collaborating. The bombing of Asians, which, oddly, just a decade earlier was a vestige of World War II and sure the US had changed sides and was propping the Jap sympathizers in Korea—but what with all the new maps and formulae for Greek fire (so effectively used on commies in Greece) who could be expected to nip-pick?—the bombing of Asians was no longer a natural reflex of US history and what with all the nuke talk and Berlin tirades it surely seemed strange to be chasing peasants in collectible hats with helicopters, gunning them down in rice paddies, setting jungles on fire. What had they done that Castro had not? And for that matter, what had Castro done? (And might it be a good idea.)
Yet the task here is not to dig so deep as to find reason for a surge of humanity among a sector of the US citizenry, but to figure out where it has gone. Reading Raging Joys, one suspects Brossard was early to cast a deeply suspicious eye on his government and very early to realize his fellow citizens would adapt rather than persist in attempting to draw attention to their outrage.
I wonder if he is answering me in this paragraph: “A fat green lizard slowly crawled up the wall. In no way was our knee-to-knee dialogue altered by this. He was there and we were here. Only a misguided hegemonist would have attempted to exploit these discrete phenomena. Symbolism gone berserk is a malady of our times. Phenomenological chastity is the only known cure. That or inkless pens.” Or if it is as simple as Richard Nixon’s response to the announced national essay contest on “How Napalm Has Helped Me Love God,” upon hearing which, Nixon “whipped out his cock, grinning wildly, and started fucking a big bowl of mashed potatoes.”
More or less, this novel follows a social scientist around the world, from northwestern Europe to Nicaragua, Washington DC, and, most oddly, Minorca, where the book ends (one of mantras that was delivered up by the war was “bomb them back to the stone age,” and in that there may be a clue to Brossard’s mad methods). Actually, more oddly is probably Mont Blanc, where he must deal with the “overdue crisis . . . the sexual needs of mountain climbers,” which establishes the mix of absurd research, text-haunting warriors of repute such as Maxwell Taylor and McGeorge Bundy, US pop culture with its characteristic white phosphorous economics, and straight out of the mouth comments on the progress and tactics of the Vietnam War.
The question as to how to read the book has something to do with the familiarity readers born during the Reagan years and onwards may lack with the full football squad of names that are each resonant in their own particular ways to those who lived through those years and/or studied the war in Vietnam. Remember the war began in 1953, when Ed Lansdale, The Quiet American, arrived in anticipation of French defeat, which occurred in 1954. He was sent by the Dulles brothers, and the names flow on through the Kennedy and Johnson years—Rusk, McNamara, Rostow—each of whom is as memorable in one way or another as Dick Cheney is now. (To have lived through all that and witnessed Negroponte rising from the grave under Baby Bush is a horror difficult to get across.) Then, of course the folie à deux of all follies: Nixon and Kissinger. My own hatred of Kissinger runs so deep that if there is no hell one will have to be created with room enough for his corpse and my soul. This guy is so odious and so beloved by evil forces he has survived full-length books by both Seymour Hersh and Christopher Hitchens. Brossard, limited by the sheer number of fascists on the team, hasn’t much time to mock Henry, but establishes his credentials and, as we certainly suspected, reveals that Kissinger’s great disappointment was that a Nobel Prize is by no means an Oscar.
Less ironically than I would like, it is to film I must turn to begin to guess what contemporary readers bring to a book like Brossard’s. I can think of two pop culture films that have established bland, saccharine lies that Brossard would not tolerate, yet would welcome into his satirical, absurd take on the world of US empire. First, the Ken Burns 10-part documentary on Vietnam, which I turned off as soon as I heard the narrator’s second sentence: “It was begun in good faith, by decent people, out of fateful misunderstandings, American overconfidence and Cold War miscalculation.” I could read that in Brossard’s book, if spoken from a vagina that sends radio program speeches from politicos, but I can’t hear that presented as history. The war was begun by people who maintained faith in colonialism throughout and despite the humiliations of the Second World War, meaning the French, who refused to give up their Indochinese colonies, despite the peaceful entreaties of Ho Chi Minh, and the fact that they could not afford a war if that’s what it came down to, as it did because of their imperial intransigence and the very accurate Cold War calculation by the United States that money in Europe was well spent by the emergent imperial power. The war picked up significantly in 1946; by 1950, the US was paying for at least 80 percent of the cost of the war to the French. Good people with good intentions? In 1954, when the French set up their defeat in the mountains at Dien Bien Phu, the US struggled with the decision whether or not to use nuclear weapons to alleviate the pressure on the French. If they did not, it was because they had the CIA at work in the south and plans of their own that excluded the rest of the world. Following the defeat, a conference in Geneva established a plan for a peaceful transition to a democratic Vietnam that would be inaugurated by the national election of 1956. Knowing that in that election Ho Chi Minh would win fairly and by a landslide (hard not to type Lansdale there) the US frantically sought to establish a regime that they could prop in the South, that they could establish as an anti-communist country (that slicing had appeared to have worked in Korea). They found Ngo Dinh Diem, who, through manipulative effort unmatched in the conflict, they kept in power until 1963, which brings us to the second popular film, Oliver Stone’s JFK, which forcefully makes an argument that Kennedy was killed by plotters in his own government, for which, of course, there need be motive, and which Stone finds in a single tepid memo from an ambiguous context of ambiguous content that runs contrary to all of Kennedy’s own behavior. The memo suggested to Stone what is as such accepted as fact by far too many people, that Kennedy was killed because he intended to begin withdrawing from Vietnam. This despite something our man Brossard brings up twice in his novel, that a month before he was assassinated, Kennedy gave the order to have Diem and his brother brought down by coup and subsequently assassinated.
Burns and Stone are not right-wing propagandists, yet what they and a series of inevitable failures of thought or victories of oligarchic scheming have brought about is an hallucination that passes for reality. Though Brossard does take a couple swipes at the press, this Vietnam War was their heyday—and if they only uncovered one My Lai when we now know they were quotidian affairs, they did report atrocities. Leap ahead in time to Baby Bush and his push for the Iraq war, which every journalist knew was bogus, though none dared speak up.
What happened? Did the weight of horrific subversion of thought break the capacity for thinking? Steven Moore credits Brossard with foresight for his scene in Nicaragua: I wonder if Moore noticed that Brossard made reference twice to jelly beans, Reagan’s favorite fruit, which one who suffered grievously under Reagan could not fail to see as visionary.
Yes, the lasting disease of the Vietnam War is its droning presence, its fine-tuning into the elevator music score to our history, which miracle was effected by the fairy dust brought to the overtaxed teary eyes of the guilty. Only by fated accident of time and place did Reagan not put Hitler’s death factories back together again.
And so we have Chandler Brossard unloosed, National Purpose Panties, “Columbia, Gem of the Ocean” played by two monkeys on a machine gun, Kissinger wiping his “steaming brow with a piece of an old nonaggressive pact,” flicking a dirty scruple off his sleeve, undeniable truths such as that the entire nation of Laos “is not worth the cock of one Kansas farm boy!” (hard to argue with that), new things to scream upon orgasm like my new one, “Furiakisaki wants some seafood, mamma!”, Jackie Kennedy getting doggie-fucked in her first porno film while Jack arm-wrestles Ari Onassis while getting a lengthy blow job from a redhead continuing even as he gets the damning report on Diem that leads to the death order, all of which we certainly had coming as, please admit it, we “paid for more rounds of drink than Wellington fired at Waterloo.”
Happily, some collateral damage occurs. J. Edgar Hoover swishes by in drag, this written long before Hoover’s homosexuality was public knowledge, but only about seven years before it was known in academic circles, for, coincidentally, I was told at a sociology conference in Boston of a sociologist who had been jailed by the FBI on the black until he agreed to remove the chapter in his book that revealed not only that Hoover was gay, but how he operated at work (he sucked but wouldn’t be sucked) (executive toilets).
Zen and the Art of Buggery
by Zachary Tanner
“I’m not sure that it’s even fair to ask you to write a foreward, introduction, or whatever, because I would not want to put what I experience with Brossard into words, you know, uh (long drag of a cigarette), be like (sip of coffee), like fucking someone who’s telling you as you’re going along what you’re feeling and why.”
It is no coincidence that I share a first name with the bearded Zen master of Wake Up. We’re Almost There, as you are he, as you are me, and we are Chandler all together, constantly falling into and out of the abyss of one another’s “eternal and fathomless” human consciousness. Zachary (I, you, he, she, we, they) reminds his pupils “the mind flows out as it naturally enters into contact with any environment” and we’ve all been ruined by “Aristotelian logic…Everybody except April.” Who’s April? The most notorious vixen since Juliette for one, but, more pertinently, a single player in a bizarre troupe of Everymen conspiring over 500-some-odd pages in the grand delusion of staging reality by the magic of sensual clairvoyance and osmotic kinesics. As the novelist-within-the-novel George says “I am someone else, or several people as we go on, and boy do we go on.”
Next year will mark 50 years since the first hardcover edition of Wake Up (Richard W. Baron, 1971) and 49 years since the last paperback edition (Harrow, 1972). You may wonder: why have I never read this book? Why did it take the Great Anti-American Novel a half-century to be repatriated by an infinitesimal nonprofit press in Slovenia?
Part of it is retaliatory suppression by a gatekeeper from the New School.1 In April, 1971, Anatole Broyard, Brossard’s former friend and lifelong literary nemesis, published an obscene review of Wake Up in The New York Times titled “A truly bad book just doesn’t happen.”2 The review opens “Here’s a book so transcendently bad it makes us fear not only for the condition of the novel in this country, but for the country itself.” What a preposterous sentiment! Surely by 1971 any decent American citizen was beyond zeitgeist crisis and had personalized the horror, wondering: how-the-fuck-do-I-get-out-of-this-filthy-wasteland? The prudish review complains of the novel as “sexual circus,” of its “revolutionary rhetoric,” and “well over 500 pages of copulation, cunnilingus, and fellatio.” Call me pervy, but I’ve never read a negative review that buttered me up quite like this one. Have I been desensitized by too many dirty French books with talking cunts and naughty frontispieces? Perhaps. Later, Broyard is also quite humorously baffled by the “indiscriminate couplings” of Brossard’s prosody and gives four examples of befuddling language some of us would call poetry, the set of which Steven Moore later reclaimed as synesthetic Zen koans.3 The coup de grâce is in the penultimate paragraph when Broyard invalidates not only himself but the entire ass-wipe publication in dismissively lumping Wake Up together with Joyce, Céline, Genet, Henry Miller, Günter Grass, Thomas Pynchon, and John Barth. A stacked roster, to be sure. Surely anybody whose home library contained even worn paperbacks of these works would be a fast friend of mine, but more likely a reader who has heard of any of these authors has a few HCDJs from each. How unfortunate that even in 2020 such dreamboat intellectuals are less common than flat-earthers. What is more, Broyard fails to note the Marquis de Sade (who is mentioned more than once in the text) or Marguerite Young, their Greenwich Village contemporary whose landmark Miss MacIntosh, My Darling (Scribner’s, 1965) is equally dense, phantasmagoric, and forgotten. Two years after Wake Up, when Brossard published his manifesto distinguishing “literature” from “fabulous fiction,” a public indictment against the rampant fraudulence of the mod-lit scene, he aligns himself no less with Homer, Hugo, Melville, Proust, Queneau, Jünger, Kafka, and Musil, among others.4 It also calls to my mind Nabokov’s transgressive masterpiece Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle (McGraw Hill, 1969), or the 8mm mud shark pornos and monster dicks of The Mothers’ Fillmore East – June 1971, though it seems unlikely Broyard would have been loose enough to enjoy either of those. Nor could he have known that the Nazi orgies in this transcendent doorstopper predate those in the National Book Award-winning Gravity’s Rainbow (Viking, 1973) by two years and the complex sociological motion of McElroy’s Women and Men (Knopf, 1987) by sixteen. Sadly, not everyone shares Brossard’s (and my) contempt for conventionality, and the review virtually banished the dear author to the Borgesian labyrinth of little presses.
Finally, itis coming back across the Atlantic in photocopy paperback of the first edition in all its sic glory, as if via wormhole from an alternate, utopian reality without copy editors or record company tycoons in which the Grateful Dead were actually able to title their second live double album Skull-fuck.5
But Wake Up is more than the masterpiece that the counterculture forgot. What better time than now to bathe in its “indifference to difference.” Here’s a book for anyone with a respectable amount of self-contempt. It is a tool, like the I Ching or a tarot deck, to free your mind from “the shit of the bourgeois world.” It is an escape from the cultural diarrhea of the “Zonk box” in which the reader-participant is welcomed on equal footing as an intellectual and a compassionate human being. Dream with me, Brossard screams through his characters, and together we can subvert society for its lack of love. Rim jobs can save the western world! Leave behind this “Cannibalistic inhuman culture where the kids are brought up to hustle each other and real human emotion and contact are regarded as some awful disease that must be stamped out by crash programs to develop a vaccine against it if life is to be lived to a ripe age. Even sex, that ultimate diamond, is tarnished into human commercialism and thus is turned into a crummy zircon to be worn around the ankle.” Remember the “first law of humankind…We are all each other, floating in and out of each other’s dreams and fantasies and everyday acts even the most intimate moments being crowded with dozens of others. No man is alone. If that cat only knew the half of it! I have been Hector on the Trojan barricades and will be the first woman on the moon, four months gone with a homosexual night club singer. Moonblood, moonooze. Not an artichoke here that doesn’t call me by my first name!”
Sheer need drives multiple claims of an affinity for Bosch, but here we have a book that is actually worthy of its several allusions to the infernal visionary. They may “want to obliterate your infinity,” but don’t fret, for you are “as free as your own imagination and circumstances allow you.” Refuse to be a victim “of other people’s hallucinations!” If you have sought and failed to find satori in meditation, yoga, or the controlled use of psychedelics drugs, return to this sublime penny arcade of the psychoses of western civilization, and the next time you feel inclined to fold in on yourself and spew hatred, pick up Brossard instead and learn to laugh, as Shakespeare taught you to quip, Burton to ruminate, and Proust to remember.
- To read the story as told by Brossard, see his essay “Tentative Visits to the Cemetery: Reflections on My Beat Generation” in The Review of Contemporary Fiction; Volume 7, Number 1; Spring 1987: Chandler Brossard Number. This issue also features a number of illuminating essays on the early, steal-the-bread-from-your-dinner-table Village Brossard, an interview with the author conducted by Steven Moore in the summer of 1985, and Moore’s indispensable “Chandler Brossard: An Introduction and Checklist,” required reading for future Chandler groupies that features quite possibly the only fair criticism of Wake Up ever written. For those without a university library, the essay was reprinted in My Back Pages: Reviews and Essays (Zerogram Press, 2017) and the interview is available at https://www.dalkeyarchive.com/a-conversation-with-chandler-brossard-by-steven-moore/.
- Anatole Broyard, “A truly bad book just doesn’t happen,” Review of Wake Up. We’re Almost There, by Chandler Brossard, The New York Times Print Edition (April 4, 1971): Section BR, Page 51. https://www.nytimes.com/1971/04/04/archives/wake-up-were-almost-there-by-chandler-brossard-540-pp-new-york.html
- See “Chandler Brossard: An Introduction and Checklist.”
- “Commentary (Vituperative): The Fiction Scene” Harper’s 244 (June 1972): 106-110.
- Phil Lesh, Searching for the Sound (Little Brown, 2007): 196.
This Book Kills Fascists!
“‘I’ll tell you the fundamental difference between me and most people. While everybody else is striving to give their existence purpose, I, on the contrary,’ and he rose up in his chair, ‘am striving to give purpose existence.’”
Harry in The Double View
Ah, the tube-zonked ‘90s, localized infinity that spawned me. Has it really been twenty years? What a decade for heavy American novels! The whole schmear delights me. In no particular order: Vineland, Mason & Dixon, Underworld, The Tunnel, three of Vollmann’s Seven Dreams, Infinite Jest, Harp Song for a Radical: The Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, A Frolic of His Own, and, not to use a superlative lightly like a pinch of cream of tartar, but as the very roux with which to caramelize our now-synaptically-linked grey matter, now that we are one and the same brain, perhaps the most forgotten of its kind, As the Wolf Howls at My Door (aka Somebody’s Been Sleeping in My Bed; Somebody’s Been Eating My Porridge; Thin Air; Come Out with Your Hands Up!), the last book from the first hipster, the novel as Jungian echo chamber, as lewd bulletin board of the collective unconscious.
It has been said for seventy years and will continue to be said (unless his two forgotten, mammoth fictions happen to be read by more than the few hundred people who will somehow come across these paperback reprints) that Chandler Brossard (1922-1993) is best known today for his protobeatnik, hipster novels Who Walk in Darkness (1952) and The Bold Saboteurs (1953), which might be shelved quite nicely abreast such contemporary cult treasures as Junkie, On the Road, and Giovanni’s Room.Brossard’s career changed radically after these first two novels when the necessity of making a living required that he stoop to writing “threepenny dreadfuls,” or what are listed in his editor’s bibliography in The Scene Before You (1955) as Entertainments. After acting thusly, that is selling out, pimping the Muse, it is no surprise that his later works were pawned off as crackpot curiosities, not to mention the radicalities of style and realpolitik that will deter more than a few readers. Indeed, what little scholarship on Brossard exists has primarily concerned itself with the pre-potboiler phase. Authors don’t die; they become cultural artifacts. In 1987, several essays were collected in a slim, 196-page issue of Review of Contemporary Fiction, which is primarily a dossier on the first two novels, but also contains an unparalleled trinity of Brossard content by guest editor of the “Chandler Brossard Number,” Steven Moore: a primer on Brossard’s career from the early-50s to the late-80s, a bibliographical checklist, and an outstanding 1985 interview. One looks back at this interview, at early Brossard, at the Brossard number, at early-middle Brossard, late-middle Brossard, at mammoth Brossard, does some thinking, and finally returns to the interview:
SM: You’ve probably received less critical attention than any other significant writer of our time—
CB: Damned right.
After the “Entertainments,” Brossard spent the early 1960s writing plays and returned to serious fiction with The Double View (1960), The Wolf Leaps (written around the same time, but not published until ten years later as Did Christ Make Love? (1972)), and She Cried Out to Me (unpublished), the former two ornately-plotted tragicomedies in the spirit of the Bard with all the freedom of the French new novel, the latter yet unknown to me, the lot undoubtedly the awakening of the author’s mature use of free indirect style, often to comic, slapstick effect. Next were we treated with Chandler’s protogonzo journalism of Franco’s Spain in The Spanish Scene (1968). A few years later, Wake Up. We’re Almost There (1971), a grand Bacchanalian phantasmagoria, a wonderful book that gets at the collective experience of simultaneous sense processing (i.e. human connection) unlike any other I have ever read, appeared to virtually no recognition, and Did Christ Make Love? followed suit the next year. So began Brossard’s final twenty years of creative work, which would produce six more fictions: Dirty Books for Little Folks (1978), Raging Joys, Sublime Violations (1981), A Chimney Sweep Comes Clean (1985), Closing the Gap (1986), Postcards: Don’t You Just Wish You Were Here (1987), and finally As the Wolf Howls at My Door (1993), first published in a thick hardcover by Dalkey Archive Press the year before Brossard passed away from cancer, that edition reproduced here in facsimile, in paperback for the first time ever.
Such as when we study Henry James or William H. Gass, we have the luxury of clarifying the demarcation between the Major and Minor Psychedelicarcana of Brossard studies with the novelist’s own criticism. In his furious vituperative published in Harper’s in June 1972, we can find an artist’s statement:
True and original fiction, on the other hand, is vision, and fiction writers are visionaries. It is myth and magic, and the writers of it are magicians and shamans, mythmakers and mythologists. Their creations do not tell you what you already know. Their creations, like those of the seer or the primitive shaman, are mythical structures, including totemic systems, that integrate within one shared experience the reader and himself and the myth—in other words Man, Man with himself, his conscious and unconscious, and the world around him and the life within that world. These creative structures permit man to transcend his seeming mortal, physical limitations and soar, in and out, and yet at the same time make it unnecessary to set foot outside his room. They permit him to make those interior voyages that we have all been warned result in insanity and nonbeing and terrible punishment, without going crazy or disappearing. In fact, by taking these voyages he is sustaining and increasing his complex humanness, not diminishing it.
And as early as 1951, in response to an American literary scene plagued by campus novels, he wrote in New American Mercury:
Another thing, in those days there seemed to be a fear of sounding like another writer, of losing your individualism. This produced a diversity of styles and visions the like of which has never before been seen in our culture. Today, however, this fear seems to have been reversed; you get the impression that one mind with a thousand pencils is doing all the writing.
Maybe this is because there are simply more writers and it is harder to sound different among so many. I don’t really think this is so. I think this is simply a period of dullness, of ultra-respectability and imitation. One explanation, I venture, is that all over the country, in every college, young men and women, God help them, are being “taught” how to write the “correct” way. And a great many of the people doing this “teaching”—as if you could “teach” somebody how to be a writer—are writers who have a humdrum, unexciting technique themselves, and who can’t help teaching their students to write the way they do, whether or not the student’s own talent and material happen to gibe with this technique.
An awful lot of writing reads as though it were turned out, willy-nilly, in some “workshop” or other. (Every time I see the words “writer’s workshop,” I can’t help thinking of grammar school art class, when forty of us brats, seated at a workbench, were all trying to build the same bird house.)…The mass of today’s prose, as typified by the book under discussion (for our purposes nameless), is some strange, colorless tasteless substance, something you might call “perma-prose,” made of plastic, turned out by the roll, and quite easily converted into suspenders or belts, or used to wrap bundles with.
What does Brossard offer where most novels offer only perma-prose? What adhesive was used to bind this big black book but “the irresistible, fecund, antediluvial ooze, where tadpoles and lizards and fish were changing into birds and baboons and men, was coming into me, swallowing and reclaiming me, making me a liquescent part of the tidal wave of mankind. Other beings and their voices oozed through me: I was that transforming, ineluctable ooze of human essence.”
In “About Wake Up,” a valuable unpublished essay, Brossard describes: “I discovered my own vision, is what I am trying to say. And that my vision had its own needs, its own language and image system, which had nothing at all to do with the abstracting expertise I had picked up while snuffling under the influence of those in power.” This remained the author’s aesthetic mode for the rest of his working life, culminating in the text at hand. As in Wake Up, there are several things here which have previously been printed elsewhere. Several of the short stories, rants, and naughty fables here first appeared in readily-available literary journals or in limited runs such as Dirty Books and Postcards, though these books are still worth individual pursuit for such absent treasures as “Jack and the Beanstalk: A Hustler’s Progress,” “Hansel and Gretel: Why Should Sleeping Dogs Be Permitted to Go On Lying,” “Rumplestiltskin: Don’t Fuck Around with Dwarfs,” and a third Little Red Riding Hood tale subtitled “A Novice Policeman’s Original Oral Report to the Chief of Security and the Director of Special Medical Inquiries.” The only Postcard reproduced in its entirety is Letting Bygones Be Bygones, Oregon, but the postcard vignette structure is adapted freely and enigmatically. The pragmatic collector can find both of these and more in the posthumous edition, Over the Rainbow? Hardly: Collected Short Seizures (2005).
What the totality amounts to is an “autarkic” classic of vernacular lyricism like Omensetter’s Luck or The Dick Gibson Show, an insane labyrinth of metafictional asides used as an enjambment method in a vast circus of erotic tales reminiscent of Wally Wood’s Malice in Wonderland and Far Out Fables, peppered with disembodied voices, obscene intrusions, word salad, exorcised consciousness, the author’s former work, rabid lunges at the puppet-masters of American foreign policy, and, most spectacularly, several double-identity soliloquies à la The Double View, all of it together staging the documentary depravity of Malaparte through a Playboy lens, the entire production directed by a madcap obsessed with such oblique fictions as Hind’s Kidnap and V., and finally screened by a projectionist who has “gone bananas.” In his essay, “The Abuses of Enchantment,” William Levy pegs Dirty Books with an onion roll from forty yards as a Menippean satire, which, in relation to the eventual work within which Smut for Small Fry was subsumed, is not only fair but worth careful consideration. Certain modern readers will be made uncomfortable by the slurs and hate-speech thrown about so carelessly in this book by such characters as Truman, Nixon, and Ishmael, but we must remember that these are not the symbols of the author, but of the Empire. As a queer, I am not so offended by the use of “faggot” and “cocksucker” in a book where I am also gifted a veritably European amount of full-frontal male nudity and “a dialectical analysis of the perpetuation by the mass media of the mythology of black cock.” If one can look past the scatological humor commonly endemic to great English novels such as Gravity’s Rainbow, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, and JR, perhaps, like me, you’ll find evocations of Chaucer, Varro, and Petronius in this authentic hunk of homegrown, cornfed anti-Americanism, a sprawling work of the magnitude of Flaubert’s Bouvard et Pécuchet or Sergei Eisenstein’s ¡Que viva México!
Ultimately, As the Wolf Howls at My Door asks the sort of big questions only fiction can ask, such as: “What was Julius Caesar supposed to do or say when he woke up that particular morning, turned his wife Calpurnia over for a better shot of her ass, then looked up and saw all those fucking elephants pouring out of the Alps with Hannibal in the lead? What was Big C. supposed to do? Call up the director of the Zurich Zoo and say, Kurt, I think there’s been a bad breakout, fella? Grab his autographed copy of The Decline of the Roman Empire to see if the whole thing wasn’t some kind of typo? Goddamn drunken printers. Or simply go right on fucking his wife up her ass? Try putting yourself in his toga and see how smart you feel. It’s about time you Monday-morning quarterbacks got straightened out and called onto the mattress.”
Here is a book for readers kindred with our buxom Little Red: “She could have taken the shortcut, a well-ordered path cut by the village council and used by the utilitarian villagers who had no inclination to mess around, but she preferred the longer, more arduous way that took her through the unkempt, raunchy parts of the forest where one’s imagination could get a little nourishment. Odd and slinky animals abounded there, as did trolls, centaurs, gremlins, thieves, gypsies, mushrooms, marijuana, and brazen birds with long wings and big mouths.”
Behold the last great work of the patron saint of autodidacts, anathema to North American anti-intellectualism, Chandler Brossard’s As the Wolf Howls at My Door.
corona\samizdat is found at coronasamizdat.com