Discussion → ars atrocitatis

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    eamon byrne
    Apr 16, 06:15am

    This aint a thread. This definately aint a thread. It's just something I got sucked into after starting to make a brief comment on a very long piece of fiction.

    Here it is. Suffer.

    Ars Atrocitatis excerpt - by Kane

    Mixed feelings about this. It takes a long time to get going. By paragraph 42 we’re still hearing the narrator saying ‘Let me begin …’ It has an antique style to it. Its denseness is sometime more an entanglement (‘Jakob puffs upon a cigarette, letting silence and gloom titrate his thoughts leaving only the blank tablet of unoccupied heavy ponderousness that hangs like a belly over the belt of a wretchedly seasoned and resigned alcoholic.’ – par 20) – an entaglement that’s maybe in want of some light to be let in, though it’s purpose, or at least effect, is that we don’t have any sense of a journey happily embarked on, that’s for sure, if only because our companion seems so dark and pitiless.

    And Gimaldi. We’re already tuned to allusions – Borges’ Library, Ballard’s exhibition – so that must be the bad and the ugly one, the Grimaldi who produced that masterly manifestation of horror, the Salo of Pasolini. It’s a cruel tone, alright. A mad perversion of some abberation of some satire maybe of Nietzsche or de Sade, though the narrator seems to constantly shift, and you can’t be sure if it’s po or mo. He’s at one moment a darker version of Aschenbach with the loony notions of a Brandon gone raving mad in some weird revision of Hitchcock’s Rope, and in the next a twenty year old prick playing the besotted confederate drunken dunce. Jakob is another Mannian type by name, addicted to heavy thinking in tortured vein, ‘delivered with woodenness despite the glittery opulence of his phrasing’, with the conviction of his thinking hindered by ‘his flowery love of making music with his mouth’ — a description which, this reader is left surmising, might be an authorial self-critique. It’s a heavy read, indeed (the first word, ‘tunneling’, made me think immediately of Gass – and the style at times is not unsimilar), with the prose going in and out of beauty and laboriousness (to my poor ear). So this: ‘There was the crisp vegetable decay in the air, a harbinger of the fall as the crests of trees began to golden or redden, yet subdued in the oppression of a night that sank all colour into the terrible patina of street light washout, an unbecoming sodium-yellow.’ (par 61) And lots and lots of stuff of equal niceness (eg pars 47 – 49: ‘She fell into my arms …’) And what follows, the drunken nightscene, which brings in the light, the comedy, the relief, where the piece even has hopes of veering off somewhere away from the lead-in’s ‘tenebrousness’. Until this deux machina in par 61, ‘…we were just outside a psychoanalyst's office, the small brass placard reading, “Dr E Albrecht, Psychoanalyst” …’, where our ‘hero’ happens to meet his devirgining vamp. That strikes as all too contrived. And the story goes 10% Murphy-like for a time, as he helps her ‘back unto her feet’ and looks into her ‘piercing gaze, though somewhat softened and tempered by drink’.

    That last encounter really matters. Seems like no matter how you try, character and plot always intrude. Especially into writing that just wants to roll out in a great wave of explicatory asides. I guess it’s what makes this piece - dense, ambitious, flawed in a way I can’t describe - a real bitch to read.

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    Kane X. Faucher
    Apr 16, 06:41am

    This piece (culled from a sprawling 300 jumbled pages + notes) has been nagging me for 15 years with no resolution. My aim was to explore the ethical limits of art in the way that the ethics of science were tossed aside by the Nazis. I still don't know if it is salvageable, and I think you put it rightly when you say it takes a while to get going. In essence, the uncertainty of my own ability to carry this text forward is evident by how long the preamble runs, these first 20 or so pages having been rewritten and rewritten more times than I can remember.

    What I find keen is just how your close reading picked up on all the references (esp. to Borges and Gass' The Tunnel...the noir yet florid style of the latter). Every time I try to touch the damn thing, I get sucked into its horrifying mood - especially in the crafting of Albrecht who is supposed to be the culmination of Conrad's Kurtz, Goebbels, and Mengele. In his first incarnation, he was a gynecologist dismissed on account of malpractice and turpitude, but that revenge fantasy / hatred of women through vicious augmentation of the vulnerable aspects of sex seemed to me, after a time, a bit too grotesque if not a too vulgar connection. Instead, I opted for the more cerebral vulnerability: that of using psychoanalysis - mixed with art - for "bad".

    Not to draw the wizard's curtain open too far, but where you accurately pinpoint the authorial self=critique is also true, or was, since Jakob (much to my shame in terms of my former youth) is largely an autobiographical portrait of how I must have looked at age 19/20. Some of the original lines he speaks still exist untouched by my revision, and what is sad/funny would be the very fact that I sincerely believed at that time that this persona was somehow noble. In retrospect, it was pretentious, absurd, and juvenile, and that is made perhaps all too clearly by my subsequent revisions where Jakob castigates himself.

    What is rather staid and cliche is the triadic structure placed in the text. We have Jakob the fatherless boy in search of validation and identity, Albrecht the cruel father-mentor type, and Alexa the cold, nordic femme fatale. Despite the cliche apparatus, I may still proceed with it and see how it can be developed. Of course, the book is most likely another 15 years in the works, and would stand in ironic cliche as being the first novel I ever attempted, and the last one I perhaps will ever publish.

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    eamon byrne
    Apr 16, 05:22pm

    A slight problem could be the age differential between narrator and protaganist. The narrative, being from the viewpoint of an older narrator, and with the starting point being this 20 year old younger version of himself, takes on the aridity, the pretentiousness (whatever) of the younger self. So that persona/tone imbues the entire introductory section. So maybe it needs something to distance itself from that. Some lightening, some ironic separation from the heavy core. In essence, you might be too close emotionally to your subject.

    That is just a rough stab at it, though, and could be totally off the money.

    Gass, as Gary Percesepe would tell you, is a prototypical sour pessimist elitist writer, a kind of highbrow Celine if you will, and if he's a style model for you, you might need another as an antidote. If so, may I recommend William Vollmann, some of whose work is very much in the spirit of what you're doing (stylistically). You can read the opening pages of Europe Central (his Nazi/Stalinist book) and You Bright and Risen Angels (the best first novel - that I've read - by any living American writer), on Amazon. That dense, discursive style of yours is very much in evidence in his, but lightened with the kind of irony that perhaps your work might benefit from.

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    Kane X. Faucher
    Apr 17, 07:40am

    This is a mighty task, but necessary - how to reconcile the voices and to install the required wedge. It sounds lazy of me, but I wonder if the narrator could be positioned as having not developed too much in the span of years. He quite evidently feels hollow and an impostor, but perhaps smuggling in some of that ironic aside through the back door is a good idea. How this happens - either by excising or appending - I'm not entirely sure yet.

    I've stumbled across Vollman before, but by name alone. Perhaps to my shame, now to be rectified by a trip to Amazon with credit card clutched in hand, I have not read him. I will draw from him that ironic style of lightening the prose, or functioning as a wry counterpoint to the density since that is something that interests me and that I may attempt to do in other works. Otherwise, I could very well see myself throw in some slapstick to offset the heavy core you mention! I'm not entirely opposed to that, but I should keep the noir tone.

    To Vollman I go! My gratitude for the recommendation which may be the kick I need to stray from my usual reading habits.

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