Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review: Mad by Jonathan Bowden

We are all failures because we all die.
About a year ago, Jonathan Bowden died of a heart attack. He was 49, just a few weeks shy of turning 50.
Politics is a matter of life and death.
Bowden is probably best known for his involvement in various British right-wing movements. At one point, he was the Cultural Officer for the British National Party. He gave several speeches over his political career and was regarded as a master orator by his peers.
Art hates ideologies because it is the one that encompasses all the others.
Bowden's other great passion was in the arts. Many of the speeches he delivered were in regards to the relation of art to right-wing politics. He was also an artist, a writer, and an actor. He acted in two films (which he also wrote), produced several drawings and paintings, and wrote several books. His first book was Mad. Apparently written when he was 18, and originally released in 1989, it was re-released in 2009 by Nine Banded Books.

In spite of his conservative political beliefs, Bowden's artworks have a very modernist sensibility to them. This is very apparent in Mad.

It's difficult to say exactly what Mad is. It's too scattershot to call it a proper essay, and it's too experimental in form to call a polemic. As vague the description is, it would probably make the most sense to call it a prose poem. Though even that may not be accurate.
In short, this is an attempt to understand the Marquis de Sade. A man who was destroyed by the revolution he created. There was something bad in him. Baudelaire was right: when you want to discuss cruelty we must always go back to de Sade.
Mad has three major themes running through it. The first is the inherent cruelty of humanity that civilization is based on. The second is the fact of human mortality. The third is human sexuality.

The first theme is best summed up by the first two sentences in the book.
Terror is the chief motivation of civil behavior. No other explanation does as well.
He bangs on this particular drum very often in this book. However, it's never boring. The phrases and associations he draws from this are amazing. A particular favorite of mine is near the end when Bowden discusses fascism. The part is too long to quote here, but it's essentially about how Peter Brueghel's The Triumph of Death foreshadowed the fascism of the mid-20th century.

The final part of the book is especially fascinating in general, given Bowden's later activities. He engages in a dismissal of almost every major political doctrine. Fascism is "the moral equivalent of venereal disease in the politicals of the body", liberalism is "bourgeois guilt", conservatism "has no ideology except self-preservation" and communism "commits plastic surgery on a face which had not been damaged". His critical view of the state itself even seems to indicate anarchist sympathies.
States are built on mountains of skulls. A state is a revolution against nature; enacted in alliance with nature. States represent nature in so far as no-one rebels against their moral squalor.
It would be interesting to hear how Bowden went from this view to being involved with right-wing party politics.

The third theme was, for me, the most difficult to get a handle on. On the one hand, I admire that the views on gender and sexuality presented would piss off traditionalists and feminist/queer activists at the same time. On the other, this is where Bowden makes the most ludicrous statements in the book. The worst of this is where he characterizes masturbation as a "homosexual act". Yeah, okay.

Something that may be a sticking point for others is the use of punctuation in this book. It's used in obviously "wrong" ways several times. This is coming from a guy who constantly needs to look up rules regarding commas. Yet I don't think they were mistakes. I get the impression he was attempting to create a unique cadence with the way he abuses commas, semi-colons, dashes, and colons.

Even if they are actual mistakes, they don't detract from the book for me. That is the key attraction of this book for me. The complete fury I sense coming from the work. Reading this, it seems like something Bowden wrote in a complete fugue. I can picture him sitting at a typewriter. Eyes wide, teeth clenched, and breathing heavily. Pounding furiously at the keys. Tearing away the filled up paper and slamming it on the table next to the typewriter. Annoyed by the time it takes to load a new page to abuse.

The result is completely enthralling and often very thought-provoking. Because of that, I highly recommend Mad.

Oh and that second theme? I think Bowden is all too familiar with that now.
Sadly, though, moments of ecstasy are rare. Most human-beings are on a treadmill of sorrow. They know they’re going to die, and they have repressed it. They have not taken responsibility for it. They have not realized the truth. They have not understood that men are born screaming; and when they stop; they die.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Book Review: Janitor of Planet Anilingus by Andrew Wayne Adams

Don't let the title fool you, this isn't science fiction porn. Technically. I think.

Andrew Wayne Adams' debut novella is about a janitor named Jack who lives on the planet Anilingus. With me so far?

Anilingus is a sort of resort planet run by the Catholic Church where people come year round to engage in non-stop ass-licking. Except during Lent. Lent is Jack's favorite time of the year, because he has the entire planet all to himself, and he can clean the place without being surrounded by butt-lickers. However, he's not alone this year. While out cleaning, he meets a woman named Nimue who has been stuck on the planet because someone is trying to kill her.

Jack and Nimue soon run into the man after her. After narrowly escaping, Jack goes back to work the next day to find he's been fired and is going to be replaced by a man-child who is one of the boss's relatives. Then things start to get weird.
Do I have Satan in my rectum?
The story in Janitor of Planet Anilingus is absurd and hilarious.The ridiculous world Adams creates is fascinating and fun to inhabit for the duration of the book. The way Adams twists science fiction tropes kept me enthralled through the whole thing. It even manages to make some commentary on religion and belief without sounding pompous or pretentious.

The cast of characters is limited but well developed. None of them went in the direction that I expected them to.

It isn't perfect. There are times where the prose felt a little clunky. There are also some attempts to explain the metaphysics of the world that just made me kind of space out. Uninteresting technobabble.

That said, if you want a completely insane science fiction adventure story, pick this is up. It's a short but highly enjoyable read. I see a lot of potential in Adams as a writer. He sent this to me for a review, and I plan to check out his future work.

As for you, pull your tongue out of that ass, and buy this to support a new writer.

Buy Janitor of Planet Anilingus by Andrew Wayne Adams here.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Book Review: The Talkative Corpse by Ann Sterzinger

The protagonist of Ann Sterzinger's The Talkative Corpse calls himself Johnny Jaggo. That's not his real name. Whatever his real name was is lost, because he's dead. Long dead. Everyone he knew is dead. He lived in Chicago, but whatever is left of that is buried under rubble. Jaggo had enough foresight to know that would probably happen and took it into consideration while he wrote his message for the future.
I will print it all out on the highest-quality paper I can find, and then cover it with plastic laminate. I got a great deal on the laminating machine. And plastic? Plastic might even outlive nuclear waste. So what if none of the current weasels pay me no nevermind, not even enough to give me a job at a decent wage; in this gob of hopefully unmelted plastic I hope that part of me will outlive them all. From here on in I’m all about you, anthropologists of the new dawn!
Jaggo decided to document his present time to preserve information about it for future generations. Specifically a few months from 2011 to 2012. He's more interested in venting his spleen than doing any documenting though. One could argue that's a far better way to capture the basic essence of American life in the 2010s. I'd be inclined to agree.

Jaggo attacks everyone in his diary/time-capsule. His asshole bosses, his asshole neighbors, the privileged, the poor, and his ex-girlfriend. Eventually his rage builds to the point he accidentally summons a demon during a drunken blackout. Don't you hate when that happens? Worse, the demon Bertram will only leave after he's killed one person Jaggo hates and one he loves. Fortunately for him, he doesn't love anyone. Yet.

Anyone who's had the displeasure of looking for a fucking job within the last few years will probably know where Jaggo is coming from in his rants against the people who do the hiring.
Who’s working in HR these days? Burned-out kindergarten teachers?  Planet of the assholes… at least I can enjoy thinking about the wonderful relationships they’re setting themselves up for, with ruddy financiers who love only whiskey and employees who lie on their resumes and everywhere else…
Of course, anyone who's ever had a job at all won't have trouble seeing where so much of Jaggo's bile comes from.
And the way things are going, I might as well have stayed a medieval serf. I’m writing for you, Future, because you’re the only people I can talk toward, but really, I want to go back in time, way back in time, to back when people didn’t fucking hallucinate that oi polloi could somehow be “free.” We’ve always been serfs for life, but we used to call a spade a spade. So I hate you, America. You sneeringly frozen plutocracy, with your false promises of a fair shot for the best of the lackeys. You’ve convinced the morons that you’re a democracy when you’ve got too many citizens to even make a decent empire.  
The blurb on Sterzinger's previous novel NVSQVAM (nowhere) compares her to Knut Hamsun. That's appropriate, because I was reminded a lot of Hunger while I read The Talkative Corpse. Especially in how hope and some relief from his suffering will constantly be provided to the protagonist, only to have it immediately yanked away so that life can shit down his throat some more.

Jaggo is full of hatred and anger, and all of it feels completely justified. Well, his fantasies of murdering his ex-girlfriend are a little excessive. But hey, he quotes Magnetic Fields lyrics while he imagines beating the shit out her, so that's got to count in his favor. Right?

Once things take a magic realist turn and the demon Bertram shows up, it becomes pretty clear there's absolutely no way this will end without blood spilling. I won't spoil it, but the ending delivered while still being somewhat surprising.

Occasionally, Jaggo's rants begin to feel a little repetitive, but Sterzinger's violent and funny prose keeps things interesting enough that they were never boring.

In The Talkative Corpse, Ann Sterzinger tears into the bullshit of contemporary American life with a mixture of venom, humor, and even a little empathy. Sterzinger was kind enough to send me the text in advance for a review and I'm glad she did. I recommend you pick this one up once it's released. I have Sterzinger's NVSQVAM (nowhere) on my shelf and I'm looking forward to reading that as well. Unfortunately for assholes like me who fetishize physical books, The Talkative Corpse is only going to be released as an e-book as of this writing.

For those who still need some convincing, you can read the first three chapters at Fine, I'll start a goddamn blog.

Buy The Talktative Corpse by Ann Sterzinger here.