David Vardeman Reviews Skulls of Istria

Skulls cover shot


Skulls of Istria, review by David Vardeman


“Skulls of Istria” is the spoken account of a disgraced historian in search of redemption, which comes to mean, in any sense that matters to him, an appropriate subject.  He tells an uncomprehending drinking companion (the companion doesn’t speak the language, but drinks are free) how he stole his deceased mentor’s work, improved it, and passed it off as his own, to his financial gain but ultimate humiliation when the plagiarism is detected.  A fugitive from the law and the bloodhounds of academic and publishing standards, the narrator escapes with his lover Rosa to Venice, a city that he loathes for its opportunistic role in history, and from there to the Istrian peninsula where he stumbles upon his subject:  one Giordano Viezzoli from Piran.  Viezzoli fought with the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.  “So this man, this 26 year old man, had left his home, gone directly to Spain and almost immediately been killed.”  He would use the meaninglessness of this young man’s sacrifice on principle to an anti-fascist cause, his freedom to choose, as an arrow “aimed straight into the skull of the Fascists.”  He sees Viezzoli’s “commitment against powerful forces” as “enough to bring down the moral scaffolding upholding Western Civilization” depriving “Western empires of their right to govern.”  In the course of doing footwork research, the narrator literally falls into the underworld.  He meets the dead, skeletal remains in a mass burial site, presumed by him to be Uskok victims of Venetian reprisals in the 17th century.  Despite a strong identification with death, world- and history-weary, hunger drives him back to the world of the living where he learns that an act of charity on behalf of a new lover’s “brother” has allowed this man, whose real identity he subsequently learns is that of a war criminal hunted by Interpol, to elude capture.  His principles betrayed, having ignorantly aided The Enemy, his rage turns back on himself.

For someone whose passion is for the truth, or for a fidelity to truth, which might not be the same thing, the narrator has a checkered past, given his propensity for the theft of intellectual property.  But now he is nothing if not unsparing in his judgment of himself, his fellow students and historians, the empires that have laid waste their conquered provinces, preyed on, betrayed decency, fair and honest interchanges since the historians first sang their accounts of what they’d witnessed or heard.  He has always been not merely suspicious of romantic love but actually contemptuous of it while enjoying the benefits that accrue to him from indulgent Rosa who supports him through the lean years that run into decades and then flees the country with him in his disgrace.

Stripped of nearly all illusions by his close reading of history and observation of his fellows, the narrator spares no one his clear-eyed assessment.  Clear-eyed, yes, except that he allows his passion for “gypsy” lover Maja finally, fatally to cloud his vision.  He doesn’t see what’s coming.  What’s that about knowing history so that you won’t repeat it?  He is being used and betrayed for his resources as surely as any of the empires he loathes betray and steal from whom they will.  Though he has “witnessed” indecency (mild term) countless times in reading history, in reading newspapers, none of that prepares him to encounter something similar on a personal level.  He is a man of thought, not action, as he admits, and when given the opportunity to act, he makes all the wrong choices.  He does not know with whom or what he is dealing.

“Skulls of Istria” is a tour de force of compact rage that is brilliant in every sentence, in every description and nuance of character and movement.  Everything is noticed, and everything means something beyond what it appears to mean.  Whom can he trust in this volatile region of the world?  Everyone plays his or her cards close to the chest.  This novel contains some of the wittiest and most incisive observations of human behavior and human foibles one is likely to find between the covers of a book.  The author is a playful linguist but rarely allows his playfulness to become an end in itself.  Harsch masterfully describes thought life as beautifully and clearly as he does lived life, to the extent that I found myself reading slower and slower and marking sentence after sentence that leapt out at me for sheer rightness and poetry.  No one describes a landscape, topography and the difficulty of traversing it better than Harsch.  No one can write a funnier sex scene than Harsch.  It should give one pause to be able to say, these days, that he or she has run across an original sex scene, given the overabundance of the same in daily life.  But search these pages for just that.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.  It is short but profound, angry but funny, truthful as only the fallen one can speak the truth.


This Review Is Not For Amazon: Dan Hoyt’s This Book is Not For You


This Review Is Not For Amazon

Dan Hoyt’s This Book Is Not For You

It’s time to stop talking about fiction categorically, time to shut the fuck up about metafiction, postmodernism, experimentalism. It’s time to remember Rabelais and Petronius, Burton, Arlt and that other guy (women? I suspect they are in the vanguard—I wish I could experience the genderrific thrill of having a lady named George enter the man’s world just to show them how easy it can be if you take your genitalia just a little less seriously). The history of fiction is a very long one, a history of free prose winnowed suddenly into a conformism commodified into an embarrassing self-regard—mirrors previously used to perform tricks became instruments of judgment. How it happened is not my concern, other than to say it took a great deal of cowardice, collaboration—in the shave their heads sort of way—and competition. Okay, yes, I AM disgruntled, but as things stand I am far happier that I am me and not Dan Brown, not Frank Conroy. I’m glad I’m not Dan Hoyt, too, but that’s because we never enjoy our own books the way we delight in the inspired works of others. And Hoyt is inspired, red hot, boiling—he’s a mad phalanx of lobsters with felt-once tip claws; and I’m going to let other reviews discuss his innovative moves—I’m going to tell you that I can’t remember the last time I came across so many memorable lines with such frequency, especially from a young first person narrator. It’s not only the descriptions, but the wisecracks, the attitude, the violently ambivalent truths of a man in the contracting idiocy of his time. Hoyt’s Neptune is an amazing literary creature, a narrative drive unto himself. And this is where I recall an obscure writer like Desani and his mad Hatterr and slide him into the review like an asshole, but I wouldn’t do that to Hoyt. I would do it to you, but not Dan Hoyt. The very notion is absurd—we need to shut the fuck up about other writers when we’re reviewing the current victim (every review is a violence done to the work of the author, every review). This may seem odd, but it is even about time we review the photos authors let their puppeteers attach to their books: and I’m damn glad a bald Hoyt with sleeves rolled up is looking at me, telling me he absolutely does not care what I think of his book. No sweater. No dog. No living room floor. Back to the book, the word choice is unparalleled, deft, but that goes without saying—if it wasn’t deft I wouldn’t be reviewing because I leave the reviewing of shitty books to others; no the word choice is consistently inspired: ‘burlap crackers’! See if you can top that. See if Joyce Carol Franzen can top that. It’s a work of literature and it has a plot, too, and you actually read it as fast as the narrator tells you to, tells you are, and unless you’re an asshole you will take your first origami lesson. As for the content of the book, I mean otherwise—the cover is great but for the five blurbs, all of which are right in praising the book, all of which fall short of sufficient praise, and each of which has at least one remarkable idiotic aspect (Listen to this shit: ‘A page-turner experimental novel.’ I would rip the head off anyone I caught putting that on my novel.)—the content of the book doesn’t matter in the least because the narrator is the book and it wouldn’t matter what he was going on about in his way. I probably should tip one of my Midwestern hats to Dan Hoyt, a lesser Pacino, phelt you can afford: the environment of his novel is up to date and survives, the characters what has been done to them, wires and everything…
Maybe one reason I like this book so much is that the narrator directly tells the reader a lot of what I think, but that passes because I have to get on with what I am writing—I like directly telling readers uncomfortable things and I don’t get to do it often enough. This book revels in it. I have spent far too much time writing for the one or two or three people who pop into mind as I write—P will like this, B will laugh at this, T will get this. The fact is, however, that we could not possibly have the detrital bloat of commodified cornholery that passes for literature without a plethora of morons not getting our books, not caring to get books, not advancing their selves through art, surrendering their selves lest art, merely paying lip service to art without even swallowing. Which brings me to my only problem with the book, not an uncomfortable one for me. I love great literature, and I read a lot of it, and I’m damn grateful for the current writers of it…But this is the first time I’ve ever read a book and felt that it might change my writing in some way in the future. It has an urgency that may finally lead to a necessary coherence in literature given the world that Arlt described is in its late menopausal stage. I might have to learn from Hoyt to maintain my relevance to myself. I might have to speed up to keep the urgency in sight.

Intro to the Long Awaited Translation of Roberto Arlt’s The Flamethrowers


[The translation, by Larry Riley, has just been finished, and the search for a publisher will begin this Spring.]


  1. The Flamethrowers, by Roberto Art, originally published in Buenos Aires in 1931, is without question the most important Spanish language novel unavailable in English translation.
  2. The Seven Madmen, considered by English language literary critics the most important novel written by Roberto Arlt (published originally in 1929 in Buenos Aires), has been translated twice.
  3. Neither book is a novel.
  4. The Seven Madmen is the first half of a novel and The Flamethrowers is its second half.
  5. Roberto Arlt knew this. And I have no doubt that Julio Cortazar and every other Spanish language reader inspired by Arlt knew this as well. And since Arlt is considered a precursor to the ‘Magic Realist’ boom in Latin American literature, some would say its godfather, this strange fact of its botched delivery into English is an obscenity not without charm.
  6. In fact, Arlt likely published the book in two acts as he did for financial reasons. And of course it is for financial reasons that no one has bothered to publish The Flamethrowers. (Our translator, Larry Riley, knows more about this, for in addition to the difficulty of selling obscure translations, it seems there was a difficult heir in the Arlt family.)
  7. Certainly the two translators of The Seven Madmen—Naomi Lindstrom and Nick Caistor—knew that they were not really translating a whole novel. Arlt said so at the end of The Seven Madmen. Lindstrom and Caistor had to translate this: ‘*Commentator’s note: The story of the characters in this novel will continue in a second volume, The Flamethrowers.’ If that seems ambiguous it is because the commentator is unfamiliar to you as a voice who is telling this singular and, if multi-splenetic, single novel. And then there is that most benignly adamantine voice among Arlt’s nephews, Cortazar’s, in his introduction to the latest publication of The Seven Madmen (in English), referring with casual authority to ‘…what is in truth one novel with two titles.’
  8. Arlt’s novel is unusual in that it is imbedded in time from which he deracinates his characters.
  9. The Great War provided urgent impetus to Arlt’s characters; they viewed the horrific episodes of World War Two with wry, sating curiosity despite Arlt’s grave.
  10. Born in 1900, Arlt died in 1942.
  11. The Enigmatic Visitor of The Flamethrowers was not surprised that atomic bombs did the work that a few dedicated madmen with phosgene could easily have accomplished.
  12. Early in The Mad Toy, Arlt’s first novel, a group of visionary urchins forms a club, at which the following, among other, proposals is made: “The club should have a library of scientific works in order for its associates to be certain that they are robbing and killing according to the most modern industrial procedures.” This proposal is made directly after a discussion regarding replacing a chicken egg’s natural contents with nitroglycerin.
  13. Circuitous routes are pioneered by admirers of Arlt to reach the point where they feel it is safe, finally, to say that his writing was, after all, human. Yet what separates Arlt from all writers of his time is his anguish that the human is finished, finishing, knocked off, an anguish that is expressed like no other anguish has ever been expressed in literature, in the character of Remo Erdosain, whose essential phenomenological disturbance is an obsessive leitmotif of The Seven Madmen, quicksand for the tender readers like myself who recognize the tin skies, cubical rooms, geometric incursions of light and thought, and, anguished, Arlt compelled again and again to describe Erdosain’s anguish, perhaps already knowing that one impending horror was the inevitable scrutiny of the actions of Erdosain by Giacommetti figures picking Beckettian through ruined literary landscapes.
  14. It is difficult to argue seminality, particularly in fiction, which lacks the immediacy of painting, and more—it assumes a lack of transfer between the arts. So when Roberto Arlt is credited with being the originator of magical realism, not only is the issue absurd, it serves to deflect the meaning of Arlt’s great work, The Seven Madmen and The Flamethowers. He may have preceded Guernica, but not Tzara, and not the city scapes and madmonsters of Grosz. What makes Arlt’s work great is to some degree indeed its originality, his private cubysmal canvass that combined the abysmal industrial architecture and working conditions of the most modern of human creatures with the existential madness this engendered, and awareness of historical defeat, and the other side of that, what lurked temporally beyond, the advanced cannibalism of technological weaponry and worse, the acceptance of it. The chapter The Enigmatic Visitor in The Flamethrowers in which a jaundiced, fully uniformed (gasmasked!) soldier appears to Erdosain at night, their subsequent, almost blase conversation about gasses, including the support for Erdosain’s belief in the efficacy of phosgene as a mass murdering agent, and worse, the final declaration of the visitor, places Arlt beyond the future in which he is accursed with being labeled progenitor. For Arlt, civilization is over. As he writes, it is dying a slow death, and still is. Witness the writer who perhaps best reflects the influence of Arlt, intentionally or not, Rodolfo Walsh, who in his astonishing work of investigative writing, Operation Massacre, refers to ‘…this cannibalistic time that we are living in…’, in a book that in retrospect seems to have ushered in a regime much like that of the United States, in which the faces change, but the cannibalism gathers strength, so much so for Argentina that some 20 years after the publication of that book Walsh published an open letter to the regime and left his home with a pistol knowing he was going to need it that very day—and indeed was murdered at five in the afternoon. This is Arlt’s greatness, a diagnosis not a prophecy, and an accurate diagnosis at that. In Arlt there is absurdity, surreality, some Kafka, some Beckett, some Joyce, but mostly there is what may be called hyper-reality, an umbrella term, which to Arlt was merely the horror of reality.


  1. In his own introduction to The Seven Madmen, Julio Cortazar, not a man to be trifled with, refers as if to a historical fact, to ‘The lack of a sense of humor in Arlt’s work’, attributing this to resentment regarding his circumstances in life (too much work to write freely, one gathers). Perhaps—I have no wish to quarrel with the master, Cortazar—it is something to do with the glimpses of optimism afforded Cortazar in the early 1980s when he wrote the introduction, but he is utterly mistaken. Arlt is extremely funny, even as he delivers the worst of all messages. Again Beckett comes up, and Kafka, both very funny men with very dark visions.
  2. Earlier in that same introduction, Cortazar referred to Arlt’s resentment—and again he got it wrong. Arlt was said to be a part of a cirlce, the more proletarian Boedos as opposed to Borges’ Floridans, each representing a part of town. To know Arlt, to know Erdosain, is to know that neither would have sought comfort in Florida (a neighborhood in Buenos Aires). And, further, to know Arlt is to know the themes that ran like wires through his life and work, his inventions, his very proletarian nature, his resentment, yes, but resentment at the state of the city, the state of the US, the condition of doomed humanity. Sure this is related to his working life—in such a condemned state, the wise man wishes to frolic.
  3. Cortazar’s errors are Argentine. He was born in Belgium, raised mostly in Buenos Aires in rather privileged settings. He is speculating. Besides, he shares a correspondence with Arlt that rises to rarefied spaces of affinity, that perhaps all readers find in a few authors, and he shares that affinity with me. I almost claim such affinity with Cortazar. I began his Hopscotch in 1984, read 70 some pages, leaving the bookmark in, returned to the same page ten years later and found myself immediately back in Paris with his lovers and their game of serendipity deferred. What is this affinity? Difficult to define, it is best rendered by example. I recently met a cultural and film critic living in Moscow by the name of Giuliano Vivaldi who read Arlt about the same time I first did, in the early 1990s. He was so taken with Arlt that he decided to try to translate him from the Italian, but needed to procure a copy of the rare book, so took the train from Trieste to Rome and photocopied it at the national library. Such fidelity and ambition has only been exceeded to my knowledge by Larry Riley, the translator of this copy of The Flamethrowers. Both Arlt and Cortazar would appreciate the story of Mr. Riley’s work. Not content to stop with reading The Seven Madmen, this veteran of the coast guard, at the time a postal worker, determined to translate this book from a language he did not know at all into English. He was advised by close literary friends that it was hopeless, that it would only lead to disappointment. Arlt could have told them otherwise. For such passion succeeds. And this translation is indeed a success. Mr. Riley finished the translation about 13 years ago, was told by a kind and indulgent Naomi Lindstrom, that it was good but ‘not quite there.’ Mr. Riley sat on it, put it away, one hopes with a feeling of great satisfaction, until recently I learned of his old project and asked to see his work. It arrived typed out with many errors, but was miraculously, unmistakably Arlt: I could feel that in the first two pages. I would finally be able to read The Flamethrowers. Subsequently, Mr. Riley and I decided to get the book typed on computer, which was not the first idea—wouldn’t Arlt have loved the story had we published the copy that was not quite there, that was riddled with typos…Yes, but as it turns out, the process of putting the book on computer revivified Mr. Riley, who dove back into the book and what was not quite there reached what is here, a fine translation of Roberto Arlt’s Flamethrowers.
  1. So who am I to write about Roberto Arlt? I plead that surfeitous affinity, combined with my own literary connection with Arlt. In my first three published novels I paid homage to Arlt by naming my characters as he so often did, by their descriptions. He had his Lame Whore, I had my Sneering Brunette; he had his Melancholy Ruffian, I had my Spleen (both I and II). Of course, Arlt is unreasonably obscure in the English speaking world and though my books received a number of perceptive reviews, none noticed the homage to Arlt. So who am I to write about Arlt? Someone with a second chance to pay him homage, someone with spleen.

Notes on the Misuse of the Word ‘Obscure’

Notes on the Misuse of the Word ‘Obscure’


Last night Operation Palm was an unmitigated success. On the public islands of greenery between sidewalk and street in front of my apartment there are tall fan palms that drop seeds to the ground and several hardy specimens shoot up a leaf or two before the communal trimmers come and stomp them in service of rose plants and lavender scrub. Occasionally one is positioned to survives longer, long enough to grow a tiny trunk and shoot out a trifecta leaf or two, fans like in the name. It was one of those we were after. We: I cajoled my son into taking part. It was a two man job. Two men and two dogs. I needed to look as if I had stepped into the green space with purpose, as if following my dog to clean up his dreck. My son hanging back with the other dog would also distract attention. I found the palm and with a small spade successfully extracted it from the earth, bulb and most roots intact. Back inside I planted it. The palm is stout, tall as a midget’s knee, with five shoots, two trifectas.

This morning I noticed that it seemed to have rotated in the night—I had planted a stick near it to mark its growth, but I didn’t count on it rotating. Naturally I felt that it was mocking me in some obscure way. It is mocking me in some obscure way, I thought to myself several times before an upwelling of a profound need for clarity urged me to think the matter through. Yes, I still felt it was mocking me, but why do I need to call it’s manner obscure. Sure, it is obscure to me. But that in no way describes the intentions of the plant, or the fact of it having rotated. There is another plant in the same pot: I assured myself that that plant had not rotated. But what did that tell me? Only that I was using the word obscure as a defensive measure, so that I could lay the entire incident aside with minimal discomfiture.

Riding, wobbly, yet in full confidence of ultimate balance, this cresting wave of intellectual honesty, I sought a metaphor. I once engaged in fencing, I can say immodestly that I was no slouch, losing only to Viking marauders with no technique. Obscure…it is like a fencer building a brick wall between him and his opponent as a defense and calling the unseen feints and lunges obscure. Naturally I have no means of communicating with the plant world—perhaps some day—but that hardly makes the behavior, the feelings, the betrayals of its creatures obscure.

These notes taken I returned to the plant and sat beside it, remaining still, observing. The session did not last long. The plant had rotated sometime overnight; so far today, it has remained still, but for that oft undetectable trembling that I detected, that accounts for my obscure discomfort, which sent me scurtling back here where I feel if not safe, perhaps it is best said ‘safe for now,’ surrounded by my knowns.

THE RAT OF THE NAM YUNG, a tale of Dien Bien Phu

6965411368_00fdfbeff3From Chapter 31 of The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas, the tale of one who was there at Dien Bien Phu, which should have marked the end of the war in Vietnam in 1954, and precluded scores of US atrocities like the recent bombing of an MSF hospital in Kunduz:

The sunset into the Pacific must have been spectacular on this cloudlessmost of crepuscules, the crowd on the balcony, three making them that, all watching its progress as conversation formulated subintestinal; all watched the sun with glancing flickers at the waves in their insistent irregularity, their magic trick of sound grown trite yet not irritating—but neither soothing—not much different, Drake reflected as the sun continued its reflection, as cars passing on a busy street down below an apartment in a city on the east coast. A mood was formulating like the gathering of storm clouds they were lacking, a mood that shrank from light, that would remain on a wood floor as dawn forced the doors, would shrink in the light like a planked cephalopod, perceptibly but not enough to deny its nocturnal shenanigans. Before long dark would be replete with a midst-wave silence that would be broken by the cetaceatic sonors of giant ships, pushing their heavy opacities north towards frigider waters. Then a voice would find itself besieged by night-triggers, brought on by whisky and a whiff of misanthropy if it not be homophobia in its original skirts, and the words would begin slowly to find unseen currents, like pipesmoke, that could not escape the ears of the two listeners, whose need for these words would come as a surprise similar to that of sudden slumber, and a sort of slumbering it would be, a monoformission defiant of will.

‘I love watching the sunset into the Pacific, lo,’ Nordgaard remarked. ‘The worst days of my life were spent watching the sun set over jungle mountains.’

‘In Vietnam?’


A rogue wave brought water up the sand to where it fringed into the light.

‘The worst was in 54.’

‘You were there in 54?’

‘Of course.’

‘No at…’

‘Yes, Dien Bien Phu.’

‘You were at Dien Bien Phu?’

‘Of course—I led a unit of Montagnards…they were my size…more or less, mostly more, but not so much so.’

‘You fought for the French?’

‘Yes, though I hated the fucking French. They were the worst bastards I ever came across. But, yes, lo, I wound up on their side.’

Several waves met the sand without interdicting the silence formed by the last words.

‘Bastards, I tell you. During the worst of it, not that every day wasn’t the worst of it, they decided to charge an Algerian unit with cowardice. Well, I’ll tell you, those ‘cowards’ stood up to the French. Their platoon leader said, “Then you’ll have to shoot every one of us, because each man is as brave as the rest.” The French backed straight down. Worse yet, if you read about the battle—‘

‘I have.’

‘–it’s the Algerians who get the worst of it time after time.

‘Fucking Maggots!

‘Maggots…there’s your story of Dien Bien Phu—maggots. There were maggots everywhere. Maggots are worse than lice, for they are bred on death—even if you could for a moment forget that you were absurdly trapped in a valley of death you would see a maggot waving up from some unexpected spot, directly out of the Nam Yum even, breaking the surface next to your foot, to be sure, to insist, lo, that you know where you are, that you are living utterly without reason and solely of maggoty providence, that before long you, too, would be sprouting maggots. Every trench was filled with body parts, I don’t care what you read about the crowded, unsanitary hospital—there was no way to collect all the corpses, all the pieces of corpses, all the enemy corpses, all the pieces of enemy corpses. A hand to hand fight, and there were dozens of them, corpses everywhere, you think the French cleared the hills of every corpse? Soon as they beat off an attack they were under artillery fire again, or white phosphorous and artillery, recoilless rifle fire…human flesh and organs rotted everywhere, and the maggots multiplied in biblical proportions. And the maggots were on the side of the locals. They never went crawling up the hills after the Viet Minh, they went after us. You could clear an area five feet in diameter before you slept, when you could sleep, and you’d wake up crawling with maggots who couldn’t wait til you were dead. There were in your ears, you mouth, your nostrils, your asshole, trying to burrow into your cockhole, lo. Day after fucking day, night after fucking night. Every other trench war, and this was trench warfare—the French had no fortress, lo, they conducted the battle underground and on the bare hills—you read about rats and lice. In this case it was maggots. Maggots running the battle, and maggots thriving on the dead and stupidity of the French. As for rats, I became one of them: that’s what they called us—the rats of the Nam Yum.

‘You have to understand. We knew war, jungle war. And we began to know modern war, disproportionate war, in which one side, in this case our side, had all the technological advantages, the airplanes, the splinter bombs, the napalm, the white phosphorous—we, or they, the French, used it first. They terrorized the enemy at every turn. And we mopped up. Or we marched into deadly jungle battles. But we risked our lives in ways we understood. We knew the jungle, the Viet Minh knew the jungle. It was a fair fight. An honest fight. Dien Bien Phu was a colossal idiocy that made of us a mockery. A mockery of maggots for the maggots to send to their deaths. I was a sniper. And my side in the battle of Dien Bien Phu was no side for a sniper. The enemy was in the jungle and we were on the open ground. Our landing field was in range of their artillery. It was like a game for them, blowing up our planes. And they had artillery they weren’t supposed to have—that’s what everybody knows about the battle—but, lo, what they also had was excellent air defense, flak and whatnot. The French could do nothing with their planes but drop supplies, and they had to drop a lot of supplies, too, because half of what they dropped went to the Viet Minh. The dropped men, too, and I watched some of the paratrooper drops: man after man floating like a clown, a target for gunners of every kind, riddled with bullets on the way down, landing dead in the branches of trees that had yet to be chopped down and used for firewood. The Viet Minh were invisible; their artillery was invisible. What use, lo, was I in such a case. I had virtually nowhere to hide and was supposed to shoot at an enemy that was perfectly camouflaged. On occasion I could shoot at flashes. But flashes are flashes and by definition they are extinguished before you can shoot them. I got a few. And that was always a pleasure. Picking out a spot a mile away, a hint of unnatural movement of foliage, sometimes hours of stillness, watching, and then the unmistakable appearance of skin, facial skin, between two leaves, skin that has no idea it has suddenly become exposed. And wasting no time I squeeze off a shot and I have another silent personal victory. No one on my side knows, and no noise carries the distance even should the enemy cry out—which would be rare, for near every shot meant instant death.

‘Instant death…but no maggots. They had the high ground. They had the jungle for hundreds of miles all around. Maybe they had a leach problem. We had those too. Especially when we became the rats. But leeches were a pleasure in comparison to the maggots; in fact, for me leeches were a pleasure of their own accord. I enjoyed pealing them off my body. I liked them, lo, for what they were trying to do to survive. They were honest bloodsuckers. Compare them to the French, notorious wasters of blood. Flinging man after man into pointless, hopeless battle, blood wasted. Blood and body for maggots, not leeches.

‘Of course “flinging man after man” was a tactic of the Viet Minh, the “human wave” assaults, which failed again and again by body count, yet succeeded again and again to terrify the French and if more Viet Minh were killed, a greater percentage, lo, of the French whole were killed, and the Viet dead did not take their maggots with them. The war of the maggots was a slaughter, a complete victory, lo. The French were brave, and so they sent their men to the hills for slaughter again and again, and every time the maggots were victorious.

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‘It was perhaps a month before the final Viet Minh victory that I became a traitor. My men, the Montagnards, the Tai people of nearby mountains, they could have been on either side for all it mattered to them, they understood little of what was happening and they turned to me for explanation. Rational explanation was called for, lo. And what rational explanation was available to me. Who were the French? Why were they here? Begin there, lo, and see how far you get with mountain tribals. Airplanes were astonishing enough, veritable miracles. Why then did they drop hideous death bombs? Why did they, if they were French, drop so much materiel to the Viet Minh? Why were they left on the airstrip in plain sight so the Viet Minh could destroy them. Did they come all the way from France? They came from near Hanoi. We have heard of Hanoi, what are the French doing there? What is this white air? From where these bombs? These bullets? You want us to do what? That hill, and what is her name? We cannot even pronounce that name. A woman’s name? Huguette? That is not the name of that hill? When men go to that hill, the Viet Minh attack them in droves—leaving maggots ten-thousand fold for each body, lo. When they go to that hill they are hit by bombs that blow them apart, spreading the maggots far and wide, lo. Why would we go to that hill. We will not go to that hill. How was I to explain that they must go to that hill? By that time I was not inclined to. I was inclined to admit: we are stuck here, lads. What are we to do? We will not go to that hill. My boss became impatient with us and I slit his neck as he slept, careful to leave the maggots a wet, dank, inviting environment, lest we be followed. I slit his throat in his sleep and I led my men to join the rest of what are called interior deserters—and what the French were calling the rats of the Nam Yum. Most of us were on the banks of the Nam Yum as far north and very near to the air field, which initially provided us protection from the west because useless as the airfield was it was at least an open space and all eyes were on it. Up the hill on the other side were the Viet Minh, but they soon learned we were no longer meaningful targets, we were noncombatants, and in addition they could use us, for we were expert at obtaining supplies. With great courage, the disgusted French thought, we who had not the courage to draw maggots had the courage to venture into dangerous areas where supplies were dropped. But of course there was no danger, for the Viet Minh knew of every move we made. And we bartered materiel for food, by their mercy, or if it were food we ate it. We had everything a human sacrifice could want—food, relative safety from maggots—oh the maggots did come, lo, but found little on which to feast and few reproductive zones, no mountains of flesh for their orgies. They appeared, as I said, anywhere and everywhere, but only to remind us of what the humans were up to and how these follies made for them a paradise. And the rats—lo, those we ate. We were the rats of the Nam Yum! We had everything, yes, but of course, little shelter from the constant damp, the rain, but little, balled up in holes in the banks, heat—for it is cold, lo, in the high jungle when there is much rain, when the mud never dries. We even had fish. Why the fish had not high-finned it out of there I will never know. Perhaps they were victims of over-crowding, but it is a wonder, lo, to see what a handgrenade in a river pool will bring to the surface, and the taste of a giant catfish grilled in a carefully sheltered fire, perhaps the whiff of grilled delicacy advancing in drifts and coils like white phosphorous towards the nostrils of the starving besieged…And they were starving, towards the end they had nothing left, little ammunition, nothing but French courage, which I would define as akin to an automaton walking off a cliff. While all the time, we ate, well enough, slept…slept in discomfort, in fits, some in lunatic spasms, some to wake up dead—it was after all only a relative holiday…You are wondering if they were mountain people why did they not escape through enemy lines. Many did, many did. But to uncertainty. Our Viet Minh friends nearest may happily allow us to pass, but from there through dense hilly jungle and cordon after cordon of Viet Minh, what were the chances of gaining freedom? What were the chances of capture, torture, death? Better to wait to the end—it could not be far off and it was not far off. Though neither was death. I was burrowed in with a Moroccan one night, we had eaten, we were happy—considering, considering. We went to bed huddled together for warmth and I awoke in the morning to find him dead. Seemingly healthy the night before, he was now a corpse. A corpse will not keep a man warm for long. I took him across the Nam Yum and carried him up the bank and left him in the ditch that ran along the airfield. The day after, a rare sunny day, I sat on the bank, contemplating…what? Did I philosophize on the condition of man vis a vis hierarchy, animosity, murderous nature, the weak, the strong, the stupid? Perhaps, for long, lo, were the hours and many a time long were the days, the Viet Minh entrenching a strangulating circle about the French positions—if you could call them that. The French on the radios all day pleading, planning, for salvation from the air. More troops! More supplies! Such faith in technology that surely to the very end they believed their technology would save them. And as we now know, and believe me I suspected it then, the salvation was to take the form, some hoped, of nuclear weapons supplied by the Americans. This I feared and so put out of my mind. Already it was absurd. Not only Korea, but also the Second World War had demonstrated the futility of air power against masses on the ground, yet for the French that was the key: air power versus masses on the ground. How could they lose? The same way the Americans had in Korea. By not winning, first, and at Dien Bien Phu, by humiliation they would lose, by elimination they would lose, by the triumph of maggots they would lose! What innumerable thoughts were available to me as I sat on the bank that sunny day, gazing at the paradox of the ever flowing river, which the Greek said could not be stepped into to twice and be the same. Go tell that Spartan that if it is not the same, it is not much different. I sat on the bank and the sun glinting on the river and I looked just upstream and a glint caught something, a white patch far off, heading downriver, and I was lost in thought, and, lo, after some time I chanced to glance again, and what, lo, did I see, but a great white mass closer, approaching me, as I felt it then so that I now grew apprehensive. Understand, lo, that we were all insane in our own ways to our own degrees, or equally so, with but different means of persevering as if not completely out of our minds, perhaps because the environment itself was commensurately insane–and so the mass was come for me! Now when I looked away it was a deliberate act and I was immediately drawn back to the white mass, closer now, close enough I could see now that it was a thing alive, that it was writhing, and as I could see it writhing it had drawn much nearer and I could soon see it was writhing as a population of maggots writhe, and indeed it was a mass of swimming maggots, as I calculated come from the direction of that very, and very, dead Moroccan who had found his death in my proximity, and now was coming to take me back to his maggoty ditch, had sent his army of maggots for me! A hand grenade, lo! I scrambled up the bank in panic and snatched a grenade from an Algerian gangster, ran to the bank and tossed into the middle of the mass while it was yet fifteen meters off, and blew them apart, into the sky, which therefore became our nightmare, a rain of maggots, at the fringe of which was the fire where sat the Algerian gangster and within which was I, I with maggoty guts, and maggots enduring on my helmet on my clothes. I ran mad into the river, up river of the rain, and I stripped and clawed and scrubbed and wiped, and awoke some day or days later, that same Algerian gangster mopping my head in the rain.

‘”It’s over,” he said, “let’s head for the hills.”’

The waves had risen and by now all three were underwater, contemplating the vast distances and close proximity of event attenuate and immediate that sank neath these same waters.



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Mechanization and displacement, dehumanization and defacement, the scattering of diseases of the mind throughout the planet,  the powers to bring people together to work for or be thrust toward a common humiliation has resulted in unprecedented, often cute, expressions of cruelty, novelties of mania, the species become as one giant infant with an array of exotic toys, a boomeranging of knowledge, the study of physics leading to, the study of chemistry leading to, the study of philosophy leading to, all studies leading to infiniform degradation, and the predictable revolt of the survivors, who have formed an apocalyticon of antecedents for those who today revolt in their various ways, like their predecessors ultimately mysteriously, without coherence, without allegiance, without hope.

Apocalypticon 1  Vitomil Zupan

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Apocalypticon 2  Jaroslav Hašek


Apocalypticon 3  Woody Guthrie


Apocalypticon 4  Antonio Lobo Antunes


Apocalypticon 5  Franz Kafka, begging the question: Is there an order to these semblances? Yes, numerical. Is there meaning to the order? Of course not.

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Apocalypticon 6  Francois Rabelais

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7 Julio Coratazar

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8  Tristan Tzara

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9  Lisa Chen

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10  Blaise Cendrars

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11  Frida Kahlo

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12  Obeyd e Zakani


13  Dmitri Shostakovich

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14  Alfre Schnittke

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15   Uncle Ho

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16  James Joyce

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17  Samuel Beckett

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18   Flann O’Brien

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19  Emma Goldman

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20  Can Themba

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21  Brendan Behan

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22  Hunter Thompson

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23  Mohammed Ali


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24  Sofia Gubaidulina

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25  Groucho

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26  Daša Drndić



Milorad Pavić

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28  Fernand Braudel

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29  Picasso

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30 Henry Miller


31 For Conversation in the Cathedral, Mario Vargas Llosa…but I could not bear to post his face, so Gabriel Garcia Marquez
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32 Miguel Angel Asturias
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33 Juan Rulfo
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34 Robert Walser
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35  Max Frisch
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36 Remy de Gourmont
37 Brecht
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38 Alfred Doblin
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39  Onetti
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40 Zora Neale Hurston
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41 Scott Coffel
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42 Remedios Varo
Ishmael Reed
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William Gaddis
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Alvaro Mutis
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46 Roberto Arlt
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47 Miguel Marmol
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4 Dead in Ohio! 1932: 30,000 dead in El Salvadaor, Marmol survived…