Strong as the base of a mountain | There’s no countin’ | How many MCs have sprung from my fountain
– Rza, from Biochemical Equation
Looking back at the date and time when Steve Cannon died, I was reading a hefty tome titled A Poet’s Glossary, a section with entries for Elegy, Encomium, Endecha, Epicedium, Epitaph, and Epode. Steve telling me through cosmic avenues that he was dying or had died? Maybe.
Josh Malerman’s novel Inspection works on two levels. On the surface, it tells the story of two groups: one made up of boys and one made up of girls, who are both part of an experiment. With elements of science fiction, a subtext of mental games, and heavy doses of tension, the narrative partly behaves like a psychological thriller. However, there is much more at work under the surface. Inspection engages with complex themes: characters’ struggles to deny their instincts, the possibility of altering life’s regular progression in order to maximize intellectual development, and the effect of storytelling on human thoughts. When those elements take over, the novel fluctuates between a creepy science fiction adventure, a bloody coming-of-age story, and a horror novel. Malerman, a literary chameleon whose previous novels include the post-apocalyptic-novel-turned-cultural-phenomenon Birdbox, the bizarre and dreamlike Western Unbury Carol, and the strange and haunting Black Mad Wheel, offers here his best effort yet and cements himself as one of the most versatile voices in contemporary dark literature.
Cadwell Turnbull’s novel The Lesson is a solid entry in the reliable genre of novels telling the story of humanity’s first contact with extraterrestrials. What helps to make it stand out even more is its intense humanism: Turnbull’s characters fervently debate religion and philosophy even before the aliens show up, and there’s a generosity that he extends to nearly all of his characters that help accentuate his themes of community. Turnbull also benefits from the specificity of this narrative: there aren’t a whole lot of science fiction novels set in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but Turnbull uses the setting to his advantage, furthering his chosen themes as this novel’s plot deepens.
The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etter is a new book by Columbus-based independent press, Two Dollar Radio. If you are actively reading literature online these days, you should be aware of both Etter’s work and the press, and are probably already be excited for this book.
The novel is about Cassie, who grows up with her mother, father, and brother. Her father and brother make their living by harvesting meat in the meat quarry that exists behind their family homestead. Though her father and brother work in the quarry, Cassie has an interest in it, bordering on obsession. But this buries the lede of the novel, or rather it’s central conceit, which is that Cassie, like her mother, and her mother’s mother before her, was born with her stomach twisted into a knot.
Everything is about sex, except sex, which is about power.
In February of this year, when I first read The Trouble with Men by David Shields and Getting Off by Erica Garza, this sentence kept running through my mind. I felt sure it was Foucault. Part of my grad school experience, maybe, or an epigraph from somewhere or other, but definitely Foucault. It’s such a Foucault thing to say, right? Did he ever write a single sentence that wasn’t tangled somehow with sex or power or both?
The guiding principle of Six Ridiculous Questions is that life is filled with ridiculousness. And questions. That only by giving in to these truths may we hope to slip the surly bonds of reality and attain the higher consciousness we all crave. (Eh, not really, but it sounded good there for a minute.) It’s just. Who knows? The ridiculousness and question bits, I guess. Why six? Assonance, baby, assonance.
Given the current state of the world, it comes as little surprise that 2019 has brought with it an abundance of great music that could be described as “politically charged.” Perhaps a bit more surprising? That so much of this music that wrestles with politics and the condition of modern society blends heady concepts with music that neatly soundtracks frenetic dance moves. Such is the case with Washington, DC’s Gauche, whose long-awaited debut album was released this month on Merge Records. I talked with Gauche’s Daniele Yandel about the band’s new album, A People’s History of Gauche, science fiction, and songs about conspiracy theories.
Sara Ahmed argues that fear behaves like a metonymy. It is a sticky, parasitic attachment to objects that slides easily from sign to sign and, in the process, remakes how matter are named, and hence how they exist in the world. This is how “terrorist” sticks to “Islam, Arab,” or “criminal” to “Mexican,” even in the face of arguments (with facts!) that should otherwise unmake them. Whereas anxiety is static, it becomes fear when the object recognizes the fearful (or the other way round), and approaches. Ahmed, citing Freud, explains that these affects are responses to a love that can disappear, that connection which “secures the subject’s relation to the world.” Because fear expects pain, the fearing subject is split psychically between a present and a future, and is felt intensely in the former at the same time they are dissociated from it. Fear may unveil how absent we are in the present. In the moment of fear, the body wants to flee in the face of the feared object. To whom does it turn? Ahmed writes that fear also turns us towards love, towards protection and care for an other. “In this way,” Ahmed argues, “fear is that which keeps alive the fantasy of love as the preservation of life, but paradoxically only by announcing the possibility of death.” At the instance when the body erects a wall between it and the threat, fear also intimates the possibility of a love as intense as fear.