Rooted in Izola, Slovenia, corona\samizdat is a non-profit literary press that began on April 24, 2020, and has already managed to publish 30 high quality books. C\S combines a receptive attitude to new and/or little known writers with a knack for finding lost classics, and persists with the philosophy that each book must be as well-made as possible…in case it’s the last. We’ve also brought back–if it was actually gone–the pocket book, in the truly small size of 148 centimetres tall (about 2.5 tooth picks):
The pocket books are all 10 euros, the large paperbacks are 20€.
These two large paperbacks, Cactus Boots and Arlt’s Flamethrowers are representative of the range of corona\samizdat books published over the last 19 months or so. Freedenberg’s (and Walton’s) Cactus Boots has been praised by virtually every reader we have heard from, including notable current youtube critic Chris Via of Leaf by Leaf, and Steven Moore, who may be retired but has not let that change his reading habits. Arlt’s mysterious book is still missing for all practical purposes; that is, from the English literary public. After Godine made the disastrous decision to print just the first half of his novel, The Seven Madmen (the full book is stuck with the awkward title The Seven Madmen and The Flamethrowers), written by 1929, finally translated into by 1978. A second translation of The Seven Madmen was published by Serpent Tail in 1998 and later again by NYRB classics. This translation was an Arltonian oddity, a mad autodidact did it, beginning around the turn of the century. After a few years he was convinced his efforts fell short, but once people familiar with Arlt read it–eagerly, as we all had wanted to read the book since finishing The Seven Madmen–it was clear that Larry Riley’s translation captured the essence of Arlt, and needed little more than something like the scissorcutting many Spanish language readers have always felt his works need. Regardless, this is the only translation, published here for two reasons: to ensure that Larry Riley’s work will survive, and in case River Boat Books, which offers separate copies of this and the legendary original translation of The Seven Madmen, happens to run out or otherwise lose the ability to keep The Flamethrowers in print.
Fortuitously, as I have trouble working my way around this website, combining photos and print, just below me right now is the novel by Joao Reis, Bedraggling Grandma with Russian Snow.
This is award calibre fiction by a novelist becoming known throughout the world, literally, as though he makes his living primarily as a translator of Scandinavian languages, and Finnish, into Portuguese, his own first novel has been translated into several languages besideds English, including Serbian and Azerbaijani. This, his second translated novel, is one of five waiting to be revealed, and reviews indicate that this is of the highest quality of modern fiction, blending philosophy, absurdist mentalite, and invention with gripping humour.
These are out of order, in fact backwards. We published Raging Joys, Sublime Violations first. A short novel, Raging Joys combines a daffiness with as sharp a critique of US war criminal behavior in Vietnam as you’ll find in any fiction. Yes, JFK was a priapic coupmonger responsible for two assassinations just about a month before his own. The other two pictured here are what these days are called maximalist novels, just as wild as Raging Joys, and with that daffy surface it appears many critics missed the diamond sharp and hard intelligence of Brossard’s critique of the US empire. As free a writer as I have ever read, Brossard, as close to a combination of Henry Miller and Hunter Thompson as anything else I can think of, was one of the great US writers of his century.
Backing up to try to find out when Chandler Brossard became a wild man, we found Did Christ Make Love, published, believe it or not, by Bobbs Merrill. New York was unkind to Mr. Brossard. Our Brossard expert, Zachary Tanner, wrote his third consecutive Brossard introduction, this one as electric as his first two. He also found out from Steven Moore that the title Brossard intended was The Wolf Leaps. So it’s The Wolf Leaps. This is a short, ecclesiastical, interracial noir, in which Brossard begins to express his refusal to conform to publisher expectations. His next from c/s was also titled against his wishes: He wanted it to be called The Double Dealers, and so it shall be.
When I use the word whining to describe protests of writers who face a cruel publishing world, I mean to emphasize that not only do they live in the most comfortable country in history in terms of wealth, they also have it a lot better than the Canadians.
Both Jeff Bursey and W.D. Clarke are talented, virtually unknown writers whose talents are on a par with, say, Patrick White, Nadine Gordimer, and exceed that of John Updike.
I don’t like to say that corona\samizdat is lucky to have such writers, for they should be household names in the English language literary world. In fact, when Jeff Bursey told me that he would publish his third novel, unidentified man at left of photo, a classic satire of writing told in some vein of modernist tacticals, I was near shock, and frankly appalled. I had read his amazing skintight satire Verbatim, and his extremely fine, Mirrors on which Dust has Fallen, a book of strange allure and hidden meanings.
As important as anything, corona\samizdat has had the pleasure to freely publish according to the dictates of literary quality. We don’t have to, in fact refuse to, consider money as part of the equation. So a writer such as David Vardeman, who was over 60 when we began our endeavors, a writer who had never been deemed worth the money to publish, has now been introduced to a small but significant readership, and the comparisons keep pouring in–Kafka? Beckett?…well, Vardeman. Each story is unique, each novel is unique. Often hilarious, Vardeman, who cannot seem to write long about ordinary US American folk without making you laugh, has just as much trouble restraining his empathy, and the emotions roil as you read. The short novel An Angel of Sodom (it’s followed by 13 short stories) was one of the funniest I had ever read, I thought, til I read it again, when it literally had me in tears. Maybe he won’t produce enough to win a Nobel Prize, but then again, with free ranging support beginning 30 years ago, maybe he would have.
One by the Chief Editor, and others
I began the press to rescue The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas from a flailing press. Often forgotten, even by me, it was being published alongside my Walk Like a Duck, a Season of Little League Baseball in Italy. The responses to Eddie Vegas have been numerous and extremely positive, and so after selling it in the US and 30 some other countries for over a year, it came as no surprise that it was finally picked up by a prestigious US press, Zerogram. But it is difficult to talk in such a venue about one’s own books, for the most part. There was no difficulty deciding to rescue books that had been published by other presses, like The Driftless Trilogy and Skulls of Istria. And Walk Like a Duck was going to be published elsewhere. As time passed, I published most of what I’ve written and finished, deciding against my first two novels, both of which have remained in the typewritten stage. Reviews have been pleasing, especially for Walk Like a Duck, though they have been few, as expected, but it’s a 648 page book on baseball, and all the anecdotes in Fascist Italy won’t make it a bestseller.
Unfortunately, Fascist Italy anecdotes are legion, and most unknown to most in the US, despite the intense involvement of the US government on the post WWII fascist side. In fact, the US involvement on the fascist side began before the end of the war. The Assassination of Olof Palme book was written for Italian victims of fascism after the war, particularly Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist arrested for a fascist bombing in 1969 who was shoved to his death by cops in Milano. That was the event darkly mocked by Dario Fo in his play The Accidental Death of an Anarchist. What is little known is that the US military stationed in Italy supplied the C4 explosive that killed 17 people before the cops killed Pinelli. None of this seems terribly funny, but the book is a satire (I can’t restrain myself from calling it a Menippean satire) nonetheless. To illustrate the satirical quandary, we have the circumstances such as the US working with Klaus Barbie while the French were trying to get their hands on this ‘Butcher of Lyon’. The US had higher purposes. He was unveiled by a linguistic talent lending his talents to the US military in Augsburg in late 1945 or early 1946, who went to his boss to tell him the exciting news. The boss told him to shut the fuck up and get out of his office. What kind of satire then is it when back in his office Barbie comes in to tell him to buck up, that such is the way of things, nice try and all that? Barbie remained protected by the US in Germany until 1951 when they sent him by ratline to South America, where he lived luxuriously until 1982 (or was it 83?). A lot of secret and utterly insane shit went on under the auspices of US ‘spies’ after the war, including an attack on a munitions dump in Belgium, a US ally. Of course nothing can match the self-satire of the Reagan bungling drug and gunrunners, except perhaps for the steady straight stream of Nancy Reagan’s consciousness.
Writers are quite often said to be looking for new ways to tell stories, and this one, The Assassination of Olof Palme, an Anthological Novel, shoved me to a cliff and kept shoving: luckily it was a low cliff, and I came out of it all right, but the book didn’t survive intact. Certain passages required certain writers, some of whom were not me. And half of what was me may as well not have been. That’s a question that the book might answer. I wrote about 85% of the book, and a couple dozen or more wrote the rest, from a line to several chapters. I don’t know of anything like this having been done before, and that’s why this is the one book I don’t mind drawing attention to here.
The press has published 30 volumes in 19 months, and the list for coming year is already 16 volumes long. We’ll see how it goes. You’ll find a catalogue at http://www.coronasamizdat.com
During an interview, author Rick Harsch (The Driftless Trilogy, Skulls of Istria, The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas), once expressed his disgust with great US writers’ fascination with the assassination of JFK: »In Portugal you have Antonio Lobo Antunes putting out one masterpiece after another about fascism and colonialism, matters of global historical import, while there they write trifles about an assassination that changed nothing. I threw DeLillo’s Libra into a ravine when I finished it, and along with my colleague, friend and fellow anti-fascist author Sesshu Foster pelted Mailer’s nonsense with a potato gun.«
As of a moment ago, having finished America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: a Diagnostic by Phillip Freedenberg, I am pleased to announce that fiction in the United States appears to be catching up with that of the rest of the globe. Published by Harsch’s fledgling press corona\samizdat (begun in April of 2020), Freedenberg’s book comes on the heels of Sesshu Foster’s History of the East Los Angeles Dirigle Air Transport lines, from City Lights, as well as two monsters of anti-fascism by the late Chandler Brossard published by corona\samizdat, Wake Up. We’re Almost There and As the Wolf Howls at My Door, as well as Harsch’s own unique The Assassination of Olof Palme, an anthological novel, volumes 1 & 2, and The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas by Harsch himself, and, while I am at it, Harsch’s baseball diary Walk Like a Duck, a season of little league baseball in Italy, perhaps the only anti-fascist baseball book ever written, and definitely the only baseball book I have ever read—most engaging in its fasci loci elements. What all these books have in common is a thematic concentration on the disastrous political climate of the United States today and a strong anti-fascist thrust.
Cactus Boots seems to me destined to become the most famous of all these books, and while there is no sense in ranking them (if that were my task I would include Harsch’s Skulls of Istria in the above paragraph), the excitement of receiving a great fat novel ahead of US readers (I got mine straight from Slovenia on Friday and read it intensively until a short while ago, not resting to absorb the pure experiences of the book as the notion of this essay about a much needed convergence began coursing through my mind as I read) perhaps part of that notion, but also judging from the extraordinary inclusiveness of Freedenberg’s novel and its pointed focus on perhaps the most metaphorically frightening organs of the fascist mentality—destruction of the word. In the baseball book, Harsch’s son is playing baseball in the near environs of Trieste and Monfalcone, the very region the fueled the Italain fascist—and colonial—irredentist movement, and where up to this very second Italians of modest and well-behaved aspect unquestionably live amongst a terrain of lies marked by monuments to a valor that never amounted to anything but horrific death to Italians and a victorious Italy that glorified military involvement on the terrain they could not hold but were granted by their allies despite their military failures, always at the expense of indigenous peoples, mostly Slovenes and Croats. The immediate result of post war mania was D’Anunzio’s bizarre assault on Rijeka, staging near Monfalcone (where three little league teams play, one of them, in Redipuglia, in plain sight of one of the grotesque fascist monuments ever built), marching to Trieste and beyond. The extension of D’Annunzio’s mania was the realpolitik of Mussolini’s fascism, which attacked the Slovene word, the Slovene language being outlawed for virtually the entire span between the world wars in all territories in which Italians ruled Slovenes. It’s no news that fascists (let us not require this puny author to list what are essentially synonyms, like dictatorship) require censorship, and it is right that they do so if Phillip Freedenberg is onto something, for the ultimate triumph in his novel is saving the word, both within his book, and if I am onto something, in the reading world of an increasingly fascist United States.
In the United States, readers now more than ever celebrate a period of literary blossoming that occurred from, say, the mid-1950s when Gaddis’ The Recognitions was published, through the emergence of writers such as Barth, Hawkes, Gass, Pynchon, Wallace, and Vollmann, that they speak of in the past tense even though many, even Alexander Theroux, are still alive. Recently, more than once, I have read critics who were discussing excitedly the state of the US novel in paradoxically pessimistic terms as one question persists: who is next? Anyone? Rikki Ducornet? Too old. Vollmann? If he mitotes. Pynchon? Even he will die one day. Through excess of love of a generation off writers, it seems to me, the US literary community, already a survivalist phenomenon in and of itself, is humming along to a long dirge, expecting nothing. And they are right that Murakami Haruki will save no one.
But the question occurs to me: who did Pynchon save after Gravity’s Rainbow? Who did Gaddis save in his Recognitions? Granting that novels that are written to recurrently delve into the mystery of the ‘human condition’ will not always have an historical or political sheen, and that Gaddis’ JR is insuperable political satire, the general thrust of the books of this period, or, at the very least, the critics who rightly laud them, is stylistic mastery. Thus do these books cohere and rise above others and meet the books of previous literary movements. Yet, to my mind, a movement is only as good as its autonomous desire to persevere. The greatest failure of the English literary conglomerate of the 20th century has been the persistent refusal to bring James Joyce’s Finnnegans Wake into the practical canon, or, say, the toolbox of the workshop.
Luckily, Finnegans Wake still exists, as do Dadaists, Surrealists, Symbolists, and masters of all eras, epochs, movements, all of which, it seems, are instinctively, as is only perhaps obvious, anti-fascist—Rabelais more than any in my estimate. But the engaged world literature of recent years has been far from an exalted US literary feature. Sebald and the too little known Daša Drndić are perhaps the most well-known in Europe, but the Gaddis-Vollmann continuum features only Vollman as a dedicated engaged writer. Yet as a novelist, he lacks the esprit of most of his compeers. What America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: a Diagnostic, particularly as it is published by the press that Harsch has used to bring out his own Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas, reprint Skulls of Istria—as pointed a work of anti-fascism as any I have read by a US writer (if I may still call him that)—and the utterly original Assassination of Olof Palme, which Harsch told me was in large part his apology at not going far enough into and at the derangement of the United States in Eddie Vegas, what Freedenberg’s opus represents to me is the moment when great US modern fiction becomes definitively engaged. This is where the apology fits in, where I pat some oblivious genius on the back and say it’s okay to write brilliantly about grandma and your traumas overcome, yet there is an urgency that this time seems to be screaming, an urgency to Phillip Freedenberg’s refrain: ‘This is a possible world.’ And this is where Sesshu Foster comes most brilliantly alive as little known as he is, for each of his utterances in one way or another is rage enwrapped and alive for the sake of his own children and all the other children to come or not to come. Foster writes informed by all those who informed the Gaddis-Vollmann continuance, and remembering all of their predecessors, and he writes every word for the sake of real, living children throughout the world, and if he does write funny books, he is not laughing deep inside, and he is not reading Gaddis through Vollman—he’s reading history and its vomitus lived in today. His books are, combined with the others of the post critically lauded authors mentioned herein compelled by the need for the children of his species to survive; while Freedenberg’s is written in the faint hope that they will thrive. Harsch’s books are meant to ensure that readers remain on their toes, that they not backslide, that they learn what crimes are sludging their minds and remain stuck under their fingernails.
Perhaps this is the mere raving a man excited upon finishing a book. If that’s true, let me say this: I feel something akin to this quite rarely, and even if I was thrilled similarly when I read Harsch’s novels, I was not optimistic. Far from it. Right now I am extremely optimistic, and ‘This is a possible world,’ and there, right there! Is page two of America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: a Diagnostic.
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 clusterbomb 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/.
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 Bouvardet 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.
The Assassination of Olof Palme, an anthological novel, vol. 2 (the end)
356 pages, 15€
Induplicatable, uncategorizable, The Assassination of Olof Palme, is a two volume anthological novel, mostly written by Rick Harsch, who orchestrated the contributions of between 40 and 70 writers, all seamlessly absorbed by the novel, the skeleton of which is the autobiographical narration of Rick Harsch, the novelist, and Rick Harsch the character and sometime novelist, who is revived to be enlisted as comrade and investigative novelist, as the concept of autobiographical, at the behest of a Rick Harsch is expanded to include whatever irks or has irked him that relates mostly to three main topics: the post WWII pampering of Nazis by the allies (which means the inclusion of what is known as the Gladio affair and particularly as that relates to Italy’s years of lead and more particularly the anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli’s death in 1969, which is known most as the titular accident of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist; second, the degradation of the United States upon the assumption to power of Ron and/or Nancy Reagan, particularly as it relates to the Iran/Contra affair, particularly as that relates to the problem of pampered Nazis; and finally the assassination of Olof Palme in 1986, particularly as the first two topics relate to that murder. The book makes use of too many tricks of the writing trade to list here, including Tamil Sangam poetry a form from about 2 millenia ago, sonnetry, the government memo, the menippean satirical (doubly so), stage whispers (Nancy Reagan is a star), phone tapping, Dada-guided cabaret thrusts, mimicry, and many more. Though the book begins to a degree fragmentally it rapidly coheres into a promise no sane reader would expect to be fulfilled that is yet fulfilled in a gutwrenching ending of inordinate pathos. (Originally intended to be four volumes, Harsch decided the expense would be too great for the reader and limited the number of contributors, compressed a screed, clipped a wing or two, and thus the novel ends with this second volume.)
A Circumnaviagion through Maritime History, by Rick Harsch
390 pages, illustrated, 10€
In A Circumnavigation through Maritime History, novelist Rick Harsch makes use of his knowledge of history, maritime and otherwise, along with his storytelling abilities and novelist’s eye for oddities and new angles to create a rambling, at times subversive, history of seafaring. He begins the history in India, which is already a break from convention, as most maritime histories begin in the Mediterranean. A great deal of ground is covered in his second chapter, ‘Encounters’, which reminds the reader that Magellan didn’t come close to circumnavigating the globe, and that many encounters between Europeans and indigenous peoples were fraught with difficulties. ‘Naval Battles’ and ‘Piracy’ follow, providing many wild stories and interesting details, such as the weight of the armor of the Knights of Malta. ‘Accidents at Sea’ is funnier than it should be, includes song lyrics and bad ideas, while the them best summarized as ‘the folly of man’ emerges in full stride. The next chapters, ‘Are the Phoenicians Worth a Chapter’, ‘Kazamata: Etymology, Terminology, and Relatively,’ ‘Navigation’, and ‘The Business of Maritime Trade’, allow the free range of Harsch’s humor and eclectic interests, and include a lengthy evaluation of Captain Bligh’s journey post-mutiny to Timor. ‘San Giovanni e Paolo Piazza: Dead Doges and a Horseman’ is a tour de force of history writing, using one square in today’s Venice to encapsulate their history. Finally, ‘Teredo Navalis’ presents the flotsam left for a fuller history, including a story from the Arabian Nights, the story of the biggest vessel ever built, the quality of food at sea, and various further minutiae, ending with a long list of pretty much every type of boat or ship that was ever given a name, along with a generous supply of illustration (the book provides plenty of maps, photos, and drawings). Luckily, the bibliography is annotated, if loosely organized, for it allows the author to continue to write freely and provides further entertainment.
corona\samizdat took off into an abnormal orbit beginning in the fall, as we sold more books than expected, obtained the rights to bring back Chandler Brossad, one of the great unheralded writers of the latter half of the last century, surprised ourselves by bringing out the first volume of The anthological novel The Assassination of Olof Palme, and made the Buffalo connection, which is advertised by the photo above: myself center, Phillip Freedenberg left, and Jeff Walton right.
Here we are again:
This descriptive drawning by Jeff Walton provides some explanation of what this is all about. That is indeed the title, thought I have no idea if it is the cover or not, for the novel is by Dr. Freedenberg, which is about a feller waiting for The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas arriving in the mail. The book is projected to come in at about 600 pages, and each of the dozen or so brief excerpts I have read have been brilliant. Professor Walton is immersed in the project as well, and as I understand the process, he and Dr. Freedenberg are intertwined, even if one their basic tasks appear separate. The transmissions have already been sent by Eddie Vegas, as far as I know.
The last publication of the year was Brossard’s Wake up. We’re Almost There, which was introduced brilliantly by Zachary Tanner, the main cover man of c\s, thus the man who came up with this brilliant collage:
The book is probably the most exciting novel written by a US American I’ve read in 40 years or so, harking back to Henry Miller. They differ a great deal yet have three things in common: both understood the roots of the rot of the US culture and rebelled wholly against it, used surrealism in their writings in varying degrees, and subsumed far more than their allotments of freedom, enough so that all readers have in their hands as much as they dare to absorb. Brossard, on top of all that, is extremely funny, one of the funniest I’ve ever read.
So in the new year, we will be publishing America and the Cult of the Cactus Boots: a Diagnostic; Brossards other vast classic, As the Wolf Howls at My Door; and much or the rest of The Assassination of Olof Palme. Several pocket books will be published as well, one by a Canadian, one by Portuguese, and one by a Serbian.
Here is a review of the 13 books published this year in chronologcal order:
The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas (20€)
Walk Like a Duck, a Season of Little League Baseball in Italy (20)
An Angel of Sodom (the first pocket book), by David Vardeman (10€)
Skulls of Istria, by Harsch (10)
The Driftless Trilogy (Harsch, 16.50€)
Sea Above Sun Below, by George Salis (10€)
Arjun and the Good Snake, being an ophidiological account of six weeks in India without alchohol (Harsch, 10€)
Unidentified man at left of photo, by Jeff Bursey (10 or 11€)
11. The Vardeman Flip Book, two novels, Suddenly This Summer/April is the Cruelest Month (10€)
12. The Assassination of Olof Palme, an anthological novel, by Rick Harsch et al. [70+] (17€)
13. Wake Up. We’re Almost There, Chandler Brossad (23€)
The year exceeded all expections in literary terms. corona\samizdat, an degenerate ephemerae, a subversive press that brought back the pocket book, born to live the life of a mayfly is going to live the absence of a locust. For more on the press we have a website at coronasamizdat.com. The prices here are the listed prices, most of the books have been sold at a discount, given the coronal circumstances, and the general instincts of the tribe.
That’s that for now, we’ll have Zach Tanner and Chander Brossard walk you to the door
Summary: “A man sits at a bar in Piran on the Adriatic coast in former Yugoslavia and tells his story to a large man who speaks no English, yet plied by free liquor remains, at times in a drunken sleep, head on the table as the words drift over his skull. This tavern confession is told by a defrocked historian from the United States, who unwittingly, perhaps naively, brought his talents to the turmoil of the Balkans. His tales in the first chapter take us to Capodistria, Ancona, Venice, and back to the bar where we began, linked by the physical presence of a wind known as the Burja (the Italian bora), a great wind capable of lifting cars into the air. But the unnamed narrator is not simply telling random stories. As we move through the next four chapters, we realize that this book is indeed confessional, an apology of sorts, yet with a broken man’s defiance; it is a meditation not only about hats and a historian’s attempt at written redemption, but about love and politics, history and warriors who drink blood, the isolation of a stranger in a strange land and the choices that lead us to death and our inability to use language to transcend ourselves – a paradox, as the language does indeed transcend, not as poetry transcends, but as exceptionally precise prose armed with irony, with philosophical insight, transcends. But I must do better than that when trying to describe the impact of the prose! There are passages throughout that possess a Joycean verbal inventiveness, emotionally charged language and unsettling images that force the reader to capitulate to a vision of reality that resonates with a beauty we rarely glimpse, and a truth that of necessity must expand our notion of whatever reality we think we inhabit. As example: “You look at me in that aggressive quid pro Balkan way, sizing me up by what you take to be elemental mammalian factors — how much can he drink, how long can he hold a live and kicking sheep over his head, how many Turkish boys will he rape, how long can he stare into the squidless Adriatic ink with his miner’s helmet and not see himself, what fair widow could make tender his heart—but you don’t see all the dimensions available to you, you don’t see a past. An admirable blindness, I grant you, to be envied. Whereas a trained historian such as myself sits next to you and I can smell your past like the placenta from a birth of pigs rotting in the sun. I can’t look at you and avoid your past.” In short, the tales in the first chapter and those that follow, in particular an eponymous episode that captures the horror of the Balkan war through historic mayhem, with an echo of both Hamlet and Breughel, are all lost in the trail of a Burja, that great wind which is like a cleansing of the soul. And that is in the end what Skulls of Istria is – a cleansing of the soul, comparable to similar novels such as Camus’ The Fall, which it exceeds in artistry, and Antonio Lobo Antunes’ South of Nowhere, perhaps the only comparable book of its kind.”
What begins as a confessional novel with the casual beckoning of William F. Aicher’s A Confession, Albert Camus’s The Fall, and László Krasznahorkai’s “The Last Wolf” transitions into a frenetic descent into the bitter truculence of William Gaddis’s Agapē Agapeand finally into the intense crescendo of historio-geographic onslaught found in Henry Miller’s Black Springand Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night. Yet Rick Harsch, an American expatriate living in Slovenia, stands out from the pack with an utterly original voice, a craftsman under the spell of Joyce, in command of every element of the prose. Not an ellipsis is out of place.
The rambling narrator, who cares not whether his subservient audience of one is coherent or not, sweeps the reader away like the famed burja, a powerful wind that blows from the Hungarian basin to the Adriatic. From the first page we know that our narrator will be digressive, forceful, and sardonic. Who better to give us a diatribe of eastern Europeans and Slavic history? Matching the ever-rushing pace of his confession is the glut of word play, effortlessly compounding English and Slavic languages to achieve neologisms as poignant as they are inventive. A small example would be “squidnuncs,” which, in the context of fishermen, is a maritime play on the word quidnunc (an inquisitive, gosspiy person).
Effortlessly peppering the lingual rampage are an abundance of aphoristic quips and deft locutions: “Hyperborean philosophers bleating Wagnerian from the peaks”; “Never mistake religious or linguistic fidelity for the abominable integrity of blood”; “…that’s the best thing about being in a foreign land, the language barrier, it takes a great deal longer to despise the people you meet…”; “…what are academicians if not gangsters of the mind?”; “…American tourists always think that to step out of western Europe is to step into a war”; “…fascism is not possible without nationalism”; and “You don’t acquire virtue by the evil of your adversary”.
The narrator is a defrocked historian, whose credentials are stricken on the discovery of plagiarism. Nonetheless, his mind is brimming with historical knowledge, especially of the eastern European and Slavic territories. Istria is an interesting locale shared as it is between the three countries of Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia. From this store of knowledge, I was forced to dig into the stories of Josip Broz Tito and Gabriele D’Annunzio, among others. You get the sense that this narrator (and his creator) absorbs every book and every conversation on these matters. He mixes facts with the jousts of many presumably late-night conversations over maybe a little too much viljamovka. But the resulting synthesis, for us, is a veritable feast of signposts for further study, further broadening of mind.
With skull imagery always comes the enigmatic scene of Hamlet with Yorick’s skull held aloft. Earlier in Hamlet, the titular Dane refers to the encasement of his mind as a globe (no doubt a play on the venue in which the play was performed). The mind, then, is a symbol of confinement–Hamlet’s nutshell. In Harsch’s book, the image of the skull is conflated with that of a prison. “Islands are perfect prisons, for the mind so readily adapts itself to the idea of isolation…”. The mind, here, is “happily trapped in his skull,” and can be counted as king of infinite space. The paradox of slave and free man.
Recent Instagram post about Skulls of Istria
Rick Harsch’s tavern confessional is a brilliant look at the bloody history of the Balkans. It reminds me of a bit of Mathias Enard’s Zone as remimagined by a drunken Joycean master storyteller. Such an excellent thing of wonder it is! Get in touch with @rick.harsch for your copy. Do it now!
matthew.s.brown: “At least one great truth is revealed looking down from the sky: you don’t see people. What did our agents see from the moon? The Rift Valley, where humans came from, and the Great Wall of China, the emblematic human structure. Even from a few hundred feet you don’t see people, just their toys.”
‘about halfway through, so much to unpack and love on every page. hit mr. harsch up and order some books from his corona/samizdat publishing house.’
Arjun and the Good Snake, being an ophidiological account of six weeks in India without Alcohol, by Rick Harsch…10€/9€ in the stricken hemisphere where the Americas remain hydraviral
The latest version of Arjun and the Good Snake arriving to the coast
here is the summary of the book on the site goodreads:
This is a memoir about alcoholism and venom, all things Indian and some things half, for instance the author’s son. Rick Harsch is a writer living on the coast of Izola where great wine is cheap and suicide is on his brain. He determines on a trip visit his Indian wife’s family in Chennai, India, that he will stay dry, spend his six weeks writing, searching for snakes, carving coconut masks with his son, and rambling about Chennai. The book refuses to spare the author as he takes his dull machete through the gruesome jungles of the unforgiving terrainof his confessions, striving to reach the placid stasis of architectural analysis, the humor of his relatioinship with his son, even the salubrious emetic of rage against forces arrayed against him, real and apparent and maybe, often illuminatingly historical–you will never want to visit Vasco da Gama’s statue again–and, finally, above all exoterica, the snakes of India.
The author would add that or largely this is a philosophical book, potently soteriological, though perhaps, like a sanatorium, not for everyone.
I don’t recall how many of the books were originally printed, but my friend Ivo, who lives in Maribor, found these copies of the originals–two in their printshop wraps still (pristine!)–at his family home in Voličina, which I have taken a pleasing photo of that may morph into the logo for corona/samizdat. Here are the books and the protologo: