15 July 14 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Now that the World Cup of Literature is officially over, with Roberto Bolaño’s By Night in Chile taking home the prize, it’s time to get back to writing normal blog posts, starting with this much overdue “preview” of forthcoming July translations.

My initial plan with this post was to write it “live blog” style from Las Vegas where I was last month for the American Library Association conference. Unfortunately, many things got in the way of that, starting with the $14.95/day wifi costs in my hotel (Open Letter saves its money to spend on translators, not to allow me to make dumb jokes!), not to mention the 9am kickoff for the World Cup games, and the alcohol that I drank (see insane Eiffel Tower drink below).

So, instead, I’m going to try and work some of my observations into the write-ups below. But, unlike the music industry, which hasn’t brought out much of anything good this month, publishers are dropping some awesome stuff this summer. Bitov, Robbe-Grillet, Volodine, Haas, Can Xue . . . There are some legit overviews below to go with the usual assortment of random crap.

But to set the scene a bit: Way back when, before BEA locked itself into being in Jacob Javits’s glass house for a decade (or whatever), the show was supposed to take place in Las Vegas. Given the nonsensical nature of BEA and its parties, I couldn’t wait for this show. Booksellers AND strippers??! Lowly publicity assistants blowing their per diem at the craps table?? More drunken beardos than the streets of Brooklyn after a Pavement concert! SIGN ME UP.

Unfortunately, that BEA got moved to the Western West Side and was like every other BEA: A bit unfocused, a bit depressing, and a bit self-congratulatory.

Fast-forward a bunch of years, and now, when I’m too old to fully rock out anymore of course, I finally get to attend a convention in Vegas. One with fellow nerdy book people! Heading into it, I figured this was going to be great, and that I was going to lead at least a dozen librarians into nights of bad decision making.

Just to pause for a moment though, these are the people who attend ALA:

And those are the librarians from Austin. So, yeah. Vegas. Librarians. Books, booze, and gambling. Free flowing liquor. Temps above 110. My never-ending depression. What could possibly go wrong?

The Last Lover by Can Xue, translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen (Yale University Press)

Can Xue has to be the female Chinese author with the most books translated into English. She’s been published by Henry Holt, Northwestern, Open Letter, Yale, and has appeared in a number of issues of Conjunctions. Part of this is because she’s a fucking brilliant and strange writer, part of this is due to her natural charm. I finally had a chance to meet her in person last fall at the Reykjavik International Literary Festival (see our interview) and immediately signed on another of her novels, Frontier. This isn’t much of a secret, really, but publishers like to work with people they like. I’ll happily sign on a book that’s an 8 out of 10 instead of a book that’s a 10 out of 10 if the author/translator is someone that I really respect and like working with.

Which is why certain people won’t ever translate anything for Open Letter. Ever.

And I’ll bet you were expecting the “last lover” to lead to some sort of joke about escorts and Vegas and librarians . . .

Rachel by Andrei Gelasimov, translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz (Amazon Crossing)

This is the fourth of Gelasimov’s books that Amazon Crossing has published, three of which (including this one) are on sale for $1.99 right now. Say what you will about pricing, Hachette, and the decline of modern civilization, this is worth taking advantage of if for no other reason than the fact that Marian translated the books. She’s one of the most amazing translators we’ve got, and if she loves an author—like she does with Gelasimov—everyone should pay attention.

A Sentimental Novel by Alain Robbe-Grillet, translated from the French by D.E. Brooke (Dalkey Archive Press)

In Vegas, I stayed in Bally’s hotel, which is attached to the Paris hotel. Or rather, Le Paris hotel. For those of you who haven’t been to Vegas, consider yourselves lucky. The Paris hotel includes a huge replica of the Eiffel Tower, which you can go up in on the “Le Eiffel Tower Adventure,” the tickets for which can be purchased next to “Le Bar,” which is across the way from “Le Toilettes” by “Le Sports Book.” I’m not even fucking with you—all the signs in this hotel have “Le” appended to them. Ninety percent of the time, these make no sense—shouldn’t it be “Les Toilettes”?—and the other one-hundred and ten percent of the time this is stupid as shit. It’s like the worst simulacrum ever.

On the upside, they do sell the “Le Eiffel Daiquiri,” a two-foot tall Eiffel Tower “glass” filled with 10-12 shots of rum. All for $16.95! Well, $16.95 and most of your better judgement.

Come, Sweet Death! by Wolf Haas, translated from the German by Annie Janusch (Melville House)

The U.S. vs. Germany World Cup match took place the first morning that I was in Vegas. I had talked a lot of shit to Nick from NYRB about getting up super early, finding a crazy bar to watch it in, etc., etc., but at 8am when my alarm went off, I thought I’d rather just stay in bed and avoid all the American Outlaws. One problem: no matter where I looked, I couldn’t find the remote for my TV. Not on the TV stand, not in any of the drawers, not on top of the armoire, not under the bed, nowhere. So I rushed out, basically ran across to the one sports bar I already had scoped out, and ordered a coffee. Surprisingly, they did have coffee, but no coffee mugs . . . Instead, they served me a pint of coffee with a little sleeve so that I wouldn’t burn the shit out of my hand. A pint of coffee.

This was one of my favorite Vegas experiences though, since I was seated between two dudes who chain smoked the entire game while playing video poker and downing screwdrivers. They had clearly been there all night, and were holding on to shreds of dignity and hope. Neither of them won jack, and one guy’s friends never came to collect him from wherever they had been partying all night.

I did end up partaking in the $2 beer specials, which was probably the reason I fell asleep at the hotel pool a few hours later and woke up as red as I’ve ever been in my life . . . I’m still peeling . . . Once you turn 40, a 9am beer is the equivalent of twelve evening drinks. This is a life lesson for all you youngsters: Enjoy your wake’n‘drink days before your body starts to hate you.

Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov, translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon (FSG)

Of all the books on this list, this is the one that I’m most excited to read. I loved Bitov’s Pushkin House (which Dalkey reissued a number of years back), and Michael Orthofer gave this one an A-. Based on the description—that this is an “echo book” of a book that Bitov once read and foggily remembers, but that leads him to create a series of self-reflexive, nested stories—it sounds like a fun, complicated game of a novel. And Orthofer really sells it with this:

The different stories that make up the novel are not so much unfinished or incomplete, but rather part of an overlapping continuity that probably can best be compared to an Escher loop (or loops of Escher loops . . .): not neatly nested, à la Calvino, or adhering to some similar determined Oulipian schemes, but rather capriciously folding back on themselves across time and space, the author’s guiding hand in the frame but handing off responsibility in his layers of authorial invention, attributing a great deal to A. Tired-Boffin, who in turn credits Urbino Vanoski. etc. [. . .]

The Symmetry Teacher is about books and reading and writing that transcend the actual set text — literary echoes that arise and exist separately from what is in a fixed, written state. This is a novel where, typically, a character enthuses about his vivid memory of a particular scene — but admits he no longer can find it.

Poetics of Wonder: Passage to Mogador by Alberto Ruy Sanchez, translated from the Spanish by Rhonda Buchanan (White Pine)

Alberto Ruy Sanchez is included in our new anthology, A Thousand Forests in One Acorn, which may well be the most beautiful book we’ve ever published. Edelweiss does the design no favors, but you should click that link to see how amazing this is, and to request a digital reading copy. (Although you really should just buy the real thing.)

I’m sure most people already knew this, but Vegas has a monorail, which, every single time I saw it referenced, reminded me of this Simpson’s epidode:

Why this song isn’t playing continuously on every monorail platform is a failure on Vegas’s part.

Writers by Antoine Volodine, translated from the French by Katina Rogers (Dalkey Archive)

To prepare for our upcoming pre-sales call, I just started reading all the Open Letter titles scheduled to come out in 2015 between April-August. Antoine Volodine’s Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven (which, according to at least a few reviewers, is far superior to Writers), Georgi Gospodinov’s The Physics of Sorrow, Naja Marie Aidt’s Rock, Paper, Scissors, Juan José Saer’s The One Before . . . Obviously, I love the books we publish, but this is that period of time when the dyssynchrony of being in the book world are the most apparent. We got the rights to Physics of Sorrow back in September of 2012, and no one else will be able to read this before the end of the year. But I read (or rather, reread) the first 50 pages last night, and I want everyone I know to have access to this right fricking now. It’s one of the best things I’ve read all year. But by the time I can mail it out to people, I’ll be reading the book coming out in January 2016 and my desire to talk Physics with other book people will be somewhat dulled. And by the time ordinary readers (compared to booksellers and reviewers who will receive advanced reading copies) get their hands on this, we’ll be reading excerpts and signing on books for 2017.

I’m not sure I have a real point here, just that books and music are most of my life, and it’s a weird experience when you remember that huge portions of your “life” are spent reading in a social void of sorts. That and: you all must read Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven and The Physics of Sorrow. As soon as they come out. And then email/tweet/text me.

Crow Blue by Adriana Lisboa, translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin (Bloomsbury)

I just want to point out that this book is listed on the Bloomsbury website as part of Bloomsbury Circus. What the fuck is that, you ask?

Bloomsbury Circus is a place of fine writing from all over the world. There are exciting debuts and brilliant new work from such established writers as Patrick McGrath, Lucy Ellmann, Alice McDermott and Tobias Hill. Like any good circus, it is a list that is not frightened to take risks, while always being entertaining.

So, by “all over the world,” they mean Britain, Scotland, and America? Maybe those are the “three rings” of this “circus”? Bloomsbury, your metaphor sucks. “Bloomsbury Circus” sounds like the publisher of kids books about acrobats and fucking clowns.

Matiushin Case by Oleg Pavlov, translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield (And Other Stories)

I think it’s pretty ironic that & Other Stories which has the URL “stories.com” is a bag/accessories/shoes/lingerie shop. Why “stories”?

Speaking of random shops though, there’s a Britney Spears Boutique in Vegas. I assume that it’s wall-to-wall signed copies of Crossroads.

Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (McSweeney’s Books)

I haven’t made fun of Flavorwire’s list in a while, but this one on the 35 Writers Who Run the Literary Internet deserves to be laughed at. When I clicked on this, I was hoping for some conspiracy theory shit linking an unknown writer to media leaks about how Amazon burns 13 Hachette books a day as part of some corporate ritual, or something interesting like that. Instead, it’s a list of writers with the most Twitter followers. Because Twitter equals the Internet and having the most followers is equivalent to “running it.”

(Except for Zadie Smith! “She’s one of the few big-name writers who has managed to develop a huge Internet presence without even seeming to spend much time online.” In other words, she’s a writer that people really like. How does she even fit in under the “Runs the Literary Internet” rubric? According to the description, what she “runs” is her own writing. Whatever.)

I know—and respect—some of the people on this list, others make me want to scratch my eyes out when I hear them speak on panels, most I don’t “follow” and, to be honest, don’t feel like I’m missing anything . . . Also, I know Flavorwire exists to create log-rolling lists as clickbait and to get the “listed” people to retweet the lists, generating more clicks and ensuring that these people (the listed) can end up on be on more lists and everyone can all end up at the same over-priced Brooklyn speakeasy drinking PBRs and old fashioneds. So this isn’t anything personal against anyone involved—everyone is awesome.

That said, I love this comment: “Dear Flavorwire, America is not the world, for Chrissakes.” Having fallen for way too many Flavorwire headline teases, I can assure you that, in the eyes of Flavorwire, America and Karl Ove Knausgaard ARE the world.

Secondly, the pictures of the women screaming with their mouths open? Is this a new meme? It’s very unsettling.

Also, the only good thing about the World Cup being over is that Teju Cole will no longer be tweeting about it. I know he’s got a million and one fans who will “rise as one” to annihilate me, but to be honest, I think his World Cup tweets were the worst. So self-absorbed and pedantic and boring. Kaija’s #WorldCupTaunting bits were edgier, funnier, and much more entertaining than things like “Guillermo ‘CTRL S’ Ochoa.”

Nothing was as bad as the #thetimeofthegame “idea.” Just check this out:

What’s funniest to me is that he took a screen cap of his own Twitter feed as his #thetimeofthegame entry. Twitter is like a Bloomsbury Circus of crap.

(Also, I know that these rants are why Open Letter books never make Flavorwire’s lists, for which I apologize to all our authors and translators. My jokes about things that suck shouldn’t represent Open Letter, but I’m afraid that some people take it that way.)

Guantanamo by Frank Smith, translated from the French by Vanessa Place (Les Figues)

I feel like explaining what I specifically didn’t like about Las Vegas will come off as a string of clichés . . . but that might be due to the fact that there’s no real separation from the depiction of Vegas in movies and TV shows—its excesses and bright lights and frenetic nature—and what it’s really like. The whole strip area is set up as one huge experiment in behavioral economics designed to get people to spend too much money and make terrible decisions. Every hotel is connected to every other hotel by way of thirteen areas stuffed with gamble machines. It’s all flashing and no straight path is actually straight. In between, the Paris and Bally hotels, you walk down a “hallway” that veers this way and that, coming out into a room of slots and tables and no idea which way to turn. This disorientation—a key behind shopping malls—facilitates the spending of money. The fact that there is no sense of time—it could be noon or five am—adds to this, and quickly turns a few drinks into an all-night bender involving $17 drinks with 12 shots of rum. That’s why hotel staff keeps asking “are you OK?” in that tone that implies that you might well need medical attention but just don’t realize it yet.

Vegas wants you to walk that fine line between “drunk enough to spend ten times what I was planning on” and “alcohol poisoning.” We were in a bar where you could order a kilo of cavier for $7,200. A kilo. Who the fuck says, “could I get a kilo of cavier please?” Someone who just won big at the blackjack table. Who believes this is “free money” and that the best way to get value out of this free money is to blow it in one big huge, story-creating sort of way: “Dude, I won ten grand at a poker tournament and bought Cristal and a kilo of cavier and hit up the strip joint and puked in the Bellagio fountain. It was fucking epic!”

Thing is, maybe Vegas is right. Maybe a life of books and music is totally overrated. (And that’s one more thing: culture really doesn’t seem to exist in Vegas. I’m sure it does, out in the city, in pockets, outside of the Stratosphere and the High Roller and everything else that sucks, but when you think Vegas, you think Celine and Britney and Carrot Top — Carrot Top! — none of which are interesting or novel or worth dropping $100 to see.) Vegas represents a cultural black hole where anything goes, where you can escape your normal shitty life and believe for a time that you’re a VIP, that you could win millions by betting on black, that the next drink will make you attractive. It’s supposed to be a place of ultimate freedom, but those freedoms seem, to me, as a cynical depressed bastard, to only involve cheap sex, all the drinking, and the highly unlikely dream of easy money.

Invisible Love by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt, translated from the French by Howard Curtis (Europa Editions)

I went to two “parties” during ALA: one about “gaming and cosplay,” the other sponsored by Central Recovery Press.

No one was cosplayed up for the gaming one, and apparently, in the library world, “gaming” means “board games.” As in, twenty librarians were sitting around a well-lit room playing board games. And no, there were no drinks. I lasted less than 30 seconds. Even BEA does better than that.

Central Recovery is a very admirable press dedicated to helping people overcome their addictions. Their party was out at Vegas City Hall, which is so much more interesting than the strip. It also seems like it’s in the middle of nowhere, past the “Gambling Supplies Warehouse” and just out of sight from Circus, Circus. A special shuttle bus had to bring us there, since walking that far—even from the last monorail stop—would basically leave you dehydrated and dead. Good thing the Central Recovery party had all the Coke you could desire! (I was expecting coffee and donuts, but alas.) Anyway, aside from the fact that I’m not in AA and prefer parties with beers, this set up would’ve been totally fine if I hadn’t have overheard someone say “the speeches will start in about 15 minutes” just as the bus, the only link to civilization, pulled away. I can live without wine, but living through multiple speeches—or a poetry reading lasting more than 10 minutes—is tough . . .

Nevertheless I survived, regained my non-sobriety at the Peppermill, and made it back from Vegas with my mind only slightly broken . . .

11 June 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

As promised, here’s an excerpt from Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven which we’ll be bringing out next year. It’s a pretty amazing text, which, as you’ll see, is filled with intertextuality, literary games, and horrible smells. Enjoy!

Lutz Bassmann passed his final days as we all did, between life and death. A rotten odor stagnated in the cell, which did not come from its occupant but from outside. The sewers in the city were fermenting, the docks in the harbor were emitting a rancid signal, the covered markets were stinking terribly, as they often did in the springtime when both the waters and the temperature began to rise. The mercury in the thermometers was never below 34 or 35° Celsius before sunrise, and it always rose back up from its nightly drop to give way to oppressive grayness. Puddles of moisture had reformed their apparitions on every wall. In the hours preceding dawn, darkness grew in power in the depths of lungs, under the bed, under the nails. Clouds burst into cataracts under the slightest pretext. The noise of the storm haunted everyone. Ever since Bassmann began to feel unwell, the rain had not ceased its patter against the prison’s façade, furnishing the silence with the sound of lead. It streamed over the exterior, crossed over the edge of the window, and gloomily drew lines of rust beneath the bars, onto the bulletin board that certain guards had baptized as the “union board” and which resembled a very old cubist or futurist collage, very dense, very faded. The water zig-zagged between the photographs and the newspaper clippings that Bassmann had pinned there, and which helped support him in his stay in the high-security sector, among us: this immobile voyage had already lasted for twenty-seven
years, twenty-seven long, long, longer-than-long years. Then, the already-dirty liquid met up with a thin blackish ribbon wending its way to the bottom of the wall, thus mixing with the infiltrations from a leak in the plumbing, perhaps in the toilet’s evacuation pipe. No doubt there, yes, in this pipe, or in a pipe of the same kind. Over several months the humidity had pierced the cement and gradually expanded. Hence, when atmospheric pressure dropped, the stench rose. Hence these waves that heavily velveted the surroundings, similar to the vapors of a cadaver on the march toward the nothing. The administration was waiting for Bassmann’s death before undertaking any renovations. With their obtuse frankness common to horrible bipeds, and without snickering, for in their impatience to see the end of history they did not even snicker anymore in front of him when they spoke of his end; the guards had made this known to the prisoner. Bassmann himself was not waiting for anything. He was sitting facing our damaged portraits and looking at them. He contemplated the spongy, almost-illegible photographs, the obsolete portraits of his friends, men and women, all dead, and he looked back on who knows what trouble and, at the same time, glimmering marvelously, that he had lived in their company, at the time when they were all free and shining, the time when all of us, from the first to the last, were something other than. But that’s not important. I have said “our” faces, among “us,” all of “us.” This is a process of the literary lie, but one which, here, plays with a truth hidden upstream of the text, with a not-lie inserted into the real reality, elsewhere rather than in fiction. Let us say, in order to simplify, that Lutz Bassmann was our spokesperson until the end, both his and that of everyone and everything. There have been several spokespeople: Lutz Bassmann, Maria Schrag, Julio Sternhagen, Anita Negrini, Irina Kobayashi, Rita Hoo, Iakoub Khadjbakiro, Antoine Volodine, Lilith Schwak, Ingrid Vogel. This list that I give contains deliberate errors and is incomplete. It follows the post-exoticist principle according to which a portion of shadow always subsists in the moment of explanation or confession, modifying the confession to the point of rendering it unusable to the enemy. To objective appearances, the list is only a sarcastic way of telling the enemy one more time that they will learn nothing. For the enemy is always part stalker, disguised and vigilant among readers. We must continue to speak in a way that denies the enemy any profit. We must do this even as we testify before a tribunal whose competence we do not recognize. We devise a solemn proclamation, in a language that appears to be the same as that of the judges, but it is one that the judges listen to with dismay or boredom, as they are incapable of making sense of it . . . We recite it for ourselves and for men and women not present . . . In no circumvention of phrase our remarks coordinating with the magistrates’ understanding . . . There was nothing extraordinary about the rain that sounded and rang out in Bassmann’s agony in this period; it was completely expected in the month of April. In this region that is touched by the tail-end of the monsoons, we were in the habit of associating springtime not with green rebirth as is the tradition in occidental literature, but with the slow and loud din of the deluge, mugginess, and mephitic atmospheres. Inside of the prison, pestilences alter in intensity by the second as they circulate in an unpredictable manner that prevents any immunization. A feeling of suffocation tormented us from dawn-to-dawn. It is not surprising to discover that psychosomatic illnesses spring up during this phase of the prison calendar. Added to the respiratory troubles are the troubles of solitude. It was extremely difficult for us to converse between cells, on account of all the background noise, from the monotonous sweeping and the trickling that kept on at every hour, muddying the content of our messages. That year, the “we” was even more than normal a literary lie, as much a convention of fiction as Lutz Bassmann was alone. Now he was alone. He had reached the moment of our common adventure that several of us had described, in books completed or otherwise, as that of ultimate defeat. While the last surviving member on the list of the dead—and, this time, it was Bassmann—stammered his final syllable, then, on this side of the story as well as beyond it, only the enemy would keep strutting straight ahead, undefeated, invincible, and, among the victims of the enemy, no spokesperson would now dare come to interpret or reinterpret any of our voices, or to love us. Lucid in spite of the split personalities corrupting his agony, Bassmann sought only to communicate with the deceased.1 He no longer tapped on the washbasin pipes or on the door, saying, for example, “Calling cell 546,” or on the ealed siphon behind the toilet bowl, asking for cell 1157, or on the bars of the window, saying “Bassmann here . . . please respond . . . Bassmann is listening . . . please respond . . .” Now he knocked nowhere. He concentrated his regard on us, the photographs of those who had preceded him in disappearance, and he made the smallest of murmurs pass through his lips, pretending not to be dead and reproducing a whispering technique that the most tantric among us had many a time used in their romånces: with an audible exhalation, the narrator prolongs, not his or her own existence, but the existence of those who are going to dwindle into nothing, because the narrator is the only one who can preserve their memory. Word by word, moan after moan, Lutz Bassmann struggled to make last the mental edifice which would eventually become once again dust. His breath merged with the putrid sewers that wandered through the prison. He still tenuously held on to reality and he managed to keep together fragments. He managed to keep his voice from giving out again. So that for one hour more, two and a half hours, one more night, the worlds that we had built with swift carpentry and defended would persist. Mental edifice . . . Worlds . . . Swift carpentry . . . What is . . . Huh? I will respond. We had called that post-exoticism. It was a construction that was connected to revolutionary shamanism and literature, literature that was either written by hand or learned by heart and recited, as the administration through the years would sometimes forbid us any paper material; it was an interior construction, a basis of withdrawal, a secret welcoming land, but also something offensive that participated in the plot in the naked hands of certain individuals against the capitalist world and its countless ignominies. This fight was now confined solely to Bassmann’s lips. It was suspended in a breath. As thirty years of incarceration had left his mind feeble, and reduced his creative spirit to scraps, his final murmurs no longer obeyed the logics of pioneers, combatants, oneiric footprints, or enthusiasm, without which the post-exoticist project had produced no more than two or three works. During his agony, Lutz Bassmann uniquely wished to move the embers that he had guarded, and not to be absorbed too quickly along with them by the nothingness. But even before, from the beginning of the ten years, maybe because he estimated that the confidants were already unattainable or no longer existed, it seemed that he had lost his creative spark. His latest works, his final romanesque jolts, took shelter under rather unattractive and uninspired titles, such as To Know How to Rot, to Know How Not to Rot, or Structure of Deconstructed Obscurity, or Walk Through Childhood. These are narrative poems and Shaggås, supposedly-compact pieces diluted into vast arrièregarde logorrheas that one can take no pleasure in reading. There are also romånces, such as About-Face Vandals, One-Thousand Nine-Hundred Seventy-Seven Years Before the World Revolution, and even The Mantis, but the brooding that inspired them has devolved into nothing communicable. Their encryption is vain, their undeniable beauty is vain, maybe simply because no one—No one listens. No living being other than Lutz Bassmann is paying attention. In such works, the idea of connivance with the reader, so oily and so generously spread onto the clockwork of official literature, has been disregarded to even the smallest detail. Here we have the terminal rumblings, the ultimate punctuated throaty rasps of post-exoticism . . . POST-EXOTICISM. That word again. Here again this heavy term. Around it we have circled, from the beginning, like vultures around a carcass. WHAT IS POST-EXOTICISM? An insolent question, very unwelcome on the day of Bassmann’s death, but its appearance here demonstrates that a half-century after
Minor Angels, by Maria Clementi, sympathizers, on the outside, have not . . . Demonstrates that the incarcerated have been left alone. A symposium on post-exoticism was organized with Lutz Bassmann’s involvement before the 00’s of the 21st century, eighteen or nineteen years ago. It lived more or less in 1997. Beyond the walls of the prison, this must have been an age of hollow editorials, or of reflux toward what official literature itself considered as the worst. Two popular chroniclers had been sent to us by a cultural magazine in general circulation, subsidized I believe by mafia industrialists in meat and construction. I say “I,” and “I believe” but this is again just a matter of pure convention. The first-person singular serves to accompany the voice of others, it signifies nothing more. Without damage to the understanding of this poem, one can consider that I have been dead for ages, and not take the “I” into account . . . For a post-exoticist narrator, anyway, there is not the thickness of a piece of cigarette paper between the first-person and others, and hardly any difference between life and death. But let us classify the problems. I spoke of two salaried employees of the dominant ideology, two virtuosos of journalism, of stardom and writing, a man and a woman who, for the occasion, had muted their mercantile convictions and come before us wearing the faded finery of intellectuals neither spineless, nor completely orthodox. They wanted, they announced, to inquire about prison literature, and shine a new and favorable light on romånces, several volumes of which had appeared outside of the prison, under the signature of one of our figureheads. I also think that General Intelligence desired to evaluate the state of our forces and to form an opinion on the persistence or extinction of our capacities to harm, on the chances of the survival of egalitarian propaganda in the new millenium. The journalists presented themselves by insisting on their capacity as novelists sometimes at odds with the authorities, as, like in all totalitarian societies, those who are approved by the censor are also those who have the right to express themselves officially against the censor, and they articulated their author names with a casual humility, hoping maybe to impress us with their notoriety, with the value that credit agencies and the public recognize, but, as we were indifferent to this kind of authority, and as their magazine had never inspired anything in us but contempt, they became again before us what they were in both reality and in the world of media: two mercenaries of speech, Niouki and Blotno, Niouki the woman, Blotno the man, capable of theorizing on art and philosophizing on the fate of the people, capable over several hours of adapting themselves to our vision of the world, of entering into a dialog with us, and even of getting friendly with us, capable of everything. They had five or six afternoons; they worked with us in turns, according to a program that we thwarted as quickly as possible. Anonymous, imperturbable, silent, a police officer attended the sessions and recorded us on a tape recorder. We were summoned to the interview room one after the other. The Blotno faced us with a notebook and pen, no doubt because he had been informed that only the police would be allowed to listen to the taped recording. As he was constantly scribbling, he hardly ever lifted his eyes in our direction, eyes that shone with a relative absence of insincerity, very blue, a myopic, almost Prussian blue. If I stray from the striking color of his irises, I now feel powerless to describe his physical attributes, the particularities of his head. In a pinch, I believe I could remember his corpulence. He was about medium-sized. The Niouki is less nonexistent in my memory. Her chest seemed to me like that of a cow or a cowgirl. Her breasts had made an impression on me, but I don’t remember exactly what that impression was. For that matter, they weren’t of any interest to. Lutz Bassmann went first and kept his mouth shut the whole time. In
order to break the drawn-out silence, the Niouki summarized the stages that, according to her, post-exoticism had passed through since Minor Angels, Maria Clementi’s first romånce, written in 1977.

1 [1. FRAGMENTARY INVENTORY OF DECEASED DISSIDENTS
Arostegui, Maria (1975)2
Bach, Mathias (1991)
Bartok, Giovan (1991)
Bassmann, Lutz (1990)
Bedobul, Kynthia (1988)
Breughel, Anton (1975)
Breughel, Istvan (1985)
Campanini, Giuseppe (1988)
Clementi, Maria (1975)
Damtew, Oleg (1998)
Dawkes, Ellen (1990)
Domrowski, Monika (1998)
Draeger, Manuela (2001)
Echenguyen, Irena (1981)
Echenguyen, Maria (1976)
Fincke, Elia (1998)
Garcia Muñoz, Maria (1985)
Gardel, Wolfgang (1975)
Gompo, Khrili (1980)
Heier, Barbara (1991)
Henkel, Maria (1980)
Hinz, Mario (1998)
Hoo, Rita (1992)
Iguacel, Maria (1975)
Khadjbakiro, Iakoub (1977)
Khorassan, Jean (1996)
Kim, Petra (1992)
Kobayashi, Irina (1991)
Koenig, Astrid (1990)
Kronauer, Elli (1999)
Kwoll, Maria (1975)
Lethbridge, William (1992)
Lukaszczyk, Vassilissa (1987)
Malaysi, Jean (1979)
Malter, Hugo (1990)
Marachvili, Türkan (1992)
Marconi, Ivo (1992)
Mayayo, Erdogan (1998)
Nachtigall, Roman (2000)
Negrini, Anita (1977)
Nordstrand, Verena (1986)
Ossorguina, Raïa (1986)
Ostiategui, Leonor (1996)
Ostiategui, Pablo (1996)
Peek, Marina (1998)
Petrokian, Aram (1992)
Pizarro, HansJürgen (1998)
Reddecliff, Dimitri (1990)
Retsch, Dorothea (1975)
Retzmayer, Rita (1979)
Retzmayer, Zeev (1976)
Samarkande, Maria (1978)
Santander, Monika (1982)
Sauerbaum, Maria (1996)
Schnittke, Maria (1980)
Schrag, Maria (1975)
Schwack, Lilith (1979)
Sherrad, Aidan (1990)
Soledad, Irena (1977)
Soudaïeva, Maria (1975)
Sternhagen, Julio (1975)
Tarchalski, Yasar (1990)
Thielmann, Maria Gabriella (1992)
Thielmann, Ralf (1982)
Velazquez, Sonia (2000)
Vlassenko, Jean (1987)
Wallinger, John (1991)
Weingand, Anita (1986)
Wernieri (1975)
Wolff, Rebecca (2001)
Wolguelam, Jean (1975)
Zhang, Yann (1977) ]

2 Year in parentheses indicates date of incarceration at highsecurity
sector.

11 June 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Next year we’re going to be publishing Antoine Volodine’s Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven, a book that I’m super excited about, and which help explain (somewhat) Volodine’s crazy-awesome project. If you’re a regular listener to the “Three Percent Podcast”: you’ve probably heard me go on and on and on about how interesting Volodine’s work is—in particular, Minor Angels and We Monks & Soldiers, both of which are masterfully translated into English by Jordan Stump. (Also worth noting is Naming the Jungle, which New Press published way back, but which I have yet to read.)

As with everything Volodine does, that last statement needs to be unpacked. See, We Monks & Soldiers is written by Lutz Bassmann, one of Volodine’s heteronyms.

Actually, that’s not entirely true either. See, Volodine is a heteronym as well for a French schoolteacher who writes this truly weird, incredibly knotty, endlessly fascinating books under a host of heteronyms. He’s like the French Fernando Pessoa, but more obsessed with the apocalypse.

So, over the past twenty-some-odd years, Volodine, along with counterparts Lutz Bassmann, Elli Kronauer and Manuela Draeger, has written some 40 books (mostly novels, but also some young adult novels, and poetry, such as Bassmann’s Prison Haikus, which will make more sense in a second), many of which inhabit one shared universe. Of sorts.

I can’t claim to know nearly as much about Volodine’s wildly imaginative—and revolutionary—project as J.T. Mahany (author of this review of Bassman’s Les aigles puent and this one of We Monk & Soldiers, and is the translator of Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven), but basically, in Volodine’s collective world, shit has gone wrong, or is just about to go horribly wrong. Humanity is on the decline, the spiders are taking over the interior, and capitalism—that dirty bitch—is still unstoppable and fucking is all up.

And all the post-exoticist writers are in jail. Dying.

What is post-exoticism exactly? Well, you can read our forthcoming book (of which I’ll post a sample in just a minute), but in short, it’s a literary movement that employs certain techniques to evade censorship, convey secret messages and ideas of thought, and change the world. In other words, it’s dangerous shit. Hence, the jailing.

To tie together a few of these threads: Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven is written by Volodine about Bassmann’s last days in prison. It explains a lot of the tenets and techniques of the post-exoticist movement (so far as they can be explained . . . for example, Lesson Five, “Let’s Talk about Something Else,” is a list of things the post-exoticists have and haven’t done. They make these long lists to deter the enemy . . .) and is a great starting point—or continuing one—for anyone entering Volodine’s world.

One interesting post-exoticist story: On the jacket copy of Minor Angels, it references the fact that Volodine doesn’t believe the meaning of the book can be found in the text itself, but rather in the dreams that the reader has while reading it. I’m prone to really strange shit entering my dreamstate, so this book was like LSD for my unconscious. But better yet: While J.T. was reading this book he woke up one winter night outside in his pyjamas having sleepwalked himself right out of his apartment. Unfortunate for him, this was a bittercold night and he had locked himself out. See! Dangerous shit.

Anyway, the main point of this post—aside from delaying the bookkeeping and database work that I should be doing right now, and giving me a chance to wax enthusiastic about one of my favorite forthcoming books—is that J.T. found the interview below with the three main Volodine heteronyms and I really wanted to share it.

Also worth noting: We’re planning on following up our Volodine book with a Bassmann one and Draeger one. Bassmann’s been published by the University of Nebraska, but Draeger has yet to be published by a nationally distributed press. Hopefully we’ll be able to do all three books within a 12-14 month window so that there’s not too much of a delay—once you get sucked into Volodine’s world, you’re going to want more . . .

Here’s the “interview,” which, to be honest, will make more sense if you’ve read Minor Angels, We Monks & Soldiers, and Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven:

Your main character trait

Antoine Volodine: Stubbornness.

Lutz Bassmann: Rigidity.

Manuela Draeger: Passion. More exactly, the lucidity at the heart of passion.

Your favorite animal

Antoine Volodine: Tigers. But not paper ones. And also Iponiama Oshawnee, who lives at 17 rue des Soeurs-Tchouvanes, in Valkoumeï.

Lutz Bassmann: Robins. And also cats when they’re not eating robins.

Manuela Draeger: Elephants. No, actually, wooly crabs, trying to float as high as the moon. Or no, rather, eggs. Eggs in general. They’re the promise of an animal. Last but not least, Lili Niagara, the batte, with whom I used to be madly in love.

The defeat, historical or otherwise, you consider the worst

Antoine Volodine: The collapse of the Soviet Union.

Lutz Bassmann: The New Economic Policy instantiated by Lenin in 1921.

Manuela Draeger: The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Your favorite slogan

Antoine Volodine: Two or three: DON’T DREAM UNSTRAGE DREAMS! IF MISFORTUNE ARISES, YOU MUST DIE APPROPRIATELY! YOU ARE A WINDOW PANE, NO FLY CAN IMAGINE YOU!

Lutz Bassmann: I will give several: GOLDEN DRUMS, THEN SILENCE! IF YOUR FACE IS CLEAR, CUT OFF YOUR MASK! IF THERE ARE STILL RUINS, DEMOLISH THEM! IF THERE ARE STILL CRUMBS, BURN THEM!

Manuela Draeger: I think I might give a few: BLACK WAVES, SCREAM, BREAK! CHANANES’S DAUGHTERS, SING, REGROUP, ATTACK! A THOUSAND SECRET MASTIFFS IN EACH ONE OF US!

Your most oft-recurring dream

Antoine Volodine: Flying while sitting like a fakir, but without a flying carpet, about fifty centimeters off the ground, at a hopelessly slow speed.

Lutz Bassmann: I am walking around a house on a deserted coast. It’s raining, I’m taking shelter under a giant umbrella. I make a complete turn around the house. I am silently exorcising it. From time to time, people that I know try to leave, through the windows, through the doors, but they collapse before they can get outside. I know the house is going to burn. No words are spoken. Everyone is terrorized, and I continue tracing circles as I walk in the damp grass.

Manuela Draeger: I am speaking with other prisoners, with dead friends. We are on the shore of a lake at daybreak. The vegetation is luxurious. The landscape is extremely beautiful. Instead of contemplating in silence, we talk. From time to time, one of us leaves our group and approaches some wavelets. She stays unmoving, petrified, then she returns and reintroduces herself into the conversation. We talk feverishly about a clinic where you can get memory transplats. The deabte is on the sorrow provoking the transplants. I don’t know why, we know we should stop and admire the water, the light, the trees, but we keep reluctantly chatting on subjects that don’t interest us.

Your favorite landscape

Antoine Volodine: The Hoggar Tassili.

Lutz Bassmann: An urban scene. For example Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong.

Manuela Draeger: The ice field when bears walk across it.

The ritual you would like to perform

Antoine Volodine: Knocking three times before opening the shutters.

Lutz Bassmann: The last cigarette.

Manuela Draeger: Does Bolcho Pride from Eleven Dreams of Soot count as a ritual? If so, I’d like to participate in it.

The quality you appreciate most in a combattant

Antoine Volodine: In a female soldier: her coming back alive. In a male soldier: his knowing to run when all is lost.

Lutz Bassmann: Silence after the battle.

Manuela Draeger: Knowing how to walk with eyes closed until the end. Knowing how to die, knowing how not to die. Knowing how to walk with eyes open until the end.

Your favorite hero or heroine in the real, historical, or fantastical world

Antoine Volodine: The stalker in Stalker.

Lutz Bassmann: Chow Yun Fat in The Killer.

Manuela Draeger: Louise in Thelma and Louise.

What you hate the most

Antoine Volodine: Hypocritical reformism, friendly nationalism, warrior nationalism, a speaker’s bad faith, bony fish, the Russian mafia, spiders.

Lutz Bassmann: The self-satisfaction of social democrats, capitalism in all its forms, the obscene insolence of traitors. Swallowing oysters. Hearing the prison guards’ antisemitic jokes.

Manuela Draeger: Barbarism. The imbecility of barbarians, their humanistic and democratic proclamations. And also dishes with chicken gizzards. And in literature when I’m thought of as a clone of Antoine Volodine.

The fault you indulge in the most

Antoine Volodine: Sympathy for sympathizers of the ninth stinking category (intellectuals).

Lutz Bassmann: Excessive severity towards enemies of the people.

Manuela Draeger: Assassinating assassins.

What keeps you from going mad

Antoine Volodine: Having seen madness up close. The pills they give me. I don’t know what they’re called.

Lutz Bassmann: [no response]

Manuela Draeger: The fear of going mad.

The music you would like to hear when you slide into the Bardo

Antoine Volodine: Naïsso Baldakchan’s Third Golden Song.

Lutz Bassmann: If there are musicians, I would like them to try to play a quartet by Brahms or Kaanto Djylas. If there is no one, I would like to hear Grodzo tapping on the pipes and grills.

Manuela Draeger: Like in Eleven Dreams of Soot, I would like to hear at the last minute the voice of the Soviet songstress Liudmilla Zykina. The song doesn’t matter, but one like the girls were listening to in the fire: a very melancholic, very simple song, of unspeakable beauty. The first two words in Russian are “Sronila kolietchko.”

The present state of your mind

Antoine Volodine: After having the idea to listen one last time to Naïsso Baldakchan’s Third Golden Song, I’m a little worried.

Lutz Bassmann: I’m waiting.

Manuela Draeger: I’m looking at the barred window, the sky darkened by twilight, and I’m thinking that I will never see the Aurora Borealis again.

7 June 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by John Thomas Mahany on Les aigles puent by Lutz Bassman, from Éditions Verdier.

JT—as we know him—is an MA in Literary Translation Studies student at the University of Rochester, and a recent addition to the superfandom of Volodine’s work. He’s also working on a translation of Volodine’s Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons: Lesson Eleven (Le Post-exotisme en dix leçons, leçon onze, Gallimard 1998), forthcoming from Open Letter Books in Fall 2015.

Here’s a bit of his review (which is followed by a little excerptfrom Les aigles puent):

If you’ve been following any of the recent Antoine Volodine talk going around Three Percent—both on the blog or on the podcasts—and have heard his fans wax obsessive over all his alter author-egos, you’re probably starting to feel some Volodine fatigue setting in. One more mention of what his books do to your dreams, of postexoticism, prison literature, Untermenschen, or people with blends of Eastern European, Mongolian, and Middle Asian names, and you’ll start bleeding from your ears, right?

Sorry, but we’re not done yet.

Yet unpublished in English, Les aigles puent, a novel by Lutz Bassmann (one of Volodine’s many reoccurring faces/names/characters), is the tale of a man named Gordon Koum who has just returned from an assassination mission for the Party, only to discover that his home city has been devastated by a (possibly nuclear) bomb. Everything is completely and irreversibly demolished, turned to black ash and soot. Everyone whom Gordon Koum loved—his wife, his children, his comrades—is dead at the hands of these “witch bombs.” As he picks through the rubble, Gordon quickly realizes that everything is hopeless, that all is lost. Maddened, irradiated, and wracked with sorrow, our protagonist sits on a bit of rock and waits for death, his only companions a dead bird stuck in the tar, and a golliwog that had miraculously survived the blast. He uses his gift for ventriloquism to converse with them, and tells them stories of his lost friends: Benny Magadane, Antar Gudarbak, his wife Maryama Koum, and many others.

7 June 13 | Kaija Straumanis | Comments

If you’ve been following any of the recent Antoine Volodine talk going around Three Percent—both on the blog or on the podcasts—and have heard his fans wax obsessive over all his alter author-egos, you’re probably starting to feel some Volodine fatigue setting in. One more mention of what his books do to your dreams, of postexoticism, prison literature, Untermenschen, or people with blends of Eastern European, Mongolian, and Middle Asian names, and you’ll start bleeding from your ears, right?

Sorry, but we’re not done yet.

Yet unpublished in English, Les aigles puent, a novel by Lutz Bassmann (one of Volodine’s many reoccurring faces/names/characters), is the tale of a man named Gordon Koum who has just returned from an assassination mission for the Party, only to discover that his home city has been devastated by a (possibly nuclear) bomb. Everything is completely and irreversibly demolished, turned to black ash and soot. Everyone whom Gordon Koum loved—his wife, his children, his comrades—is dead at the hands of these “witch bombs.” As he picks through the rubble, Gordon quickly realizes that everything is hopeless, that all is lost. Maddened, irradiated, and wracked with sorrow, our protagonist sits on a bit of rock and waits for death, his only companions a dead bird stuck in the tar, and a golliwog that had miraculously survived the blast. He uses his gift for ventriloquism to converse with them, and tells them stories of his lost friends: Benny Magadane, Antar Gudarbak, his wife Maryama Koum, and many others.

The book is in some ways very similar to Volodine’s Minor Angels: a man in pain is reciting strange short stories about others (I would consider the “In Memory of X” and “To Make X Laugh” chapters to be narracts), including stories about himself. In the case of Les aigles puent, however, the main character is not being punished for some crime, and in fact Gordon Koum could be said to be the antithesis to Will Scheidmann—as a Party member he is working against the dominant forces of (presumably) capitalism, whereas Scheidmann ended up restoring capitalism to its former state in his world.

Another interesting thing about the novel is the mention of a man named Müller, whom
Gordon Koum has killed. In Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, Müller is the name of a brutal prison guard who threatens to have the character Tarchalski beaten if he doesn’t return to his seat during his interview with another character, Blotno. Could this be a possible revenge fantasy of Bassmann’s? Post-Exoticism mentions that yet another character, Elia Fincke, has compiled a list of all the prison guards who had committed violence against the post-exotic authors between 1975 and 1999, so one might begin to wonder if all the villainous characters in these works get their names from this list.

Bassmann’s writing here is quite compelling, and the book provides a counterweight for both Minor Angels(in Gordon Koum’s similarities and differences to Will Scheidmann) and Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven (as we get to see now the effects of Bassmann’s imprisonment and madness on his writing).

Here’s an excerpt1 from chapter eight of Les aigles puent, “To Make Ayïsch Omonenko Laugh”, in which the narrator prepares to come face-to-face with Noë Balgagul, a ruthless ferry captain who forces his passengers into a humiliating game of charades to ensure their safe travel . . .

Noë Balgagul was the patron of a ferry that he called his ark. He was an old mercenary who pretended to have given up crimes against humanity to commit to the purifying path of spirituality. In reality, the atrocities he knew or committed had forever scrambled his senses. His vision of the world had blackened, it was inhabited by monsters and phantoms. Noë Balgagul’s religion extolled nothing, advocated no morality, and gave no explanation for the omnipresence of suffering in the fates of living creatures. It brought neither relief nor hope. It was an obscure construction, devoid of divinities and even mystic principles. It came to him while he was kneading maniacally his own private bitumen of cruelty and insanity, and no reassuring flame ever came to this tar. The spiritual principles of Noë Balgagul were reduced to a lugubrious practice, whose teachings he did not try to disseminate, except for in his immediate entourage, a band of deserters and brigands who had pledged allegiance to him.

I had been warned that Noë Balgagul performed a species of baptism as soon as crossing candidates boarded his craft. First he took their dollar, then he divided the unfortunates into several categories whose criteria were known to him alone. To these categories, all of them degrading, he attributed arbitrary names, names of animals that provoked his crew’s contempt, but which provided the foundation for a wretched role-playing game. This game lasted the entire slow crossing. A few regular clients sometimes escaped this obligation, but no one else. One by one, the passengers stepped foot onto his enormous punt. Noë Balgagul took the coin they paid him all the while examining them from feet to head. He appointed them a seat and, immediately, classified and baptized them. This selection conformed to illegible religious principles and, ultimately, its only point of origin was in Noë Balgagul’s caprices and petty irascibility. According to the title he had received, the traveler had to adopt the behaviors of a pig, a parrot, or a male or female human. He had to act them out with determination and even fervor. His fate depended on it, and in that one could find a religious relation between the totem he had been saddled with and the consequences that poor observation of the ritual could provoke. Those who were too half-hearted in miming their animal were thrown into the water by Noë Balgagul’s assistant, a specialist in fencing who delighted in the idea of then jabbing them with the gaff hook and who never objected to carrying out his employer’s murderous orders. The river was nasty, opaque, punctuated by eddies and treacherous churnings. It was several hundred meters wide and Noë Balgagul never threw out anyone before reaching the halfway point. In numerous places, algae countered the swimmers’ movements. Those from the city, who had left the hell of war to fall into the hell of peace, were powerless. Very few managed to get back to the shore.

That is what I had been told about Noë Balgagul, biological products, and the river.

1 Trans. by John Thomas Mahany

11 January 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by J.T. Mahany—a grad student here in the University of Rochester literary translation program—on Lutz Bassmann’s, or rather, “Lutz Bassmann’s” We Monks & Soldiers, which is translated from the French by Jordan Stump, and available from the University of Nebraska Press.

If you haven’t heard of Antoine Volodine or Lutz Bassmann, just listen to pretty much any Three Percent podcast from the past six months—I’ve been geeking out about Volodine ever since I read Minor Angels. He’s a fascinating, unique writer whose project—the production of an invented literary movement that’s something like sci-fi surrealist postmodern game-playing experimentalism expounded upon by a series of Volodine heteronyms—is one of the most exciting and ambitious things going on in contemporary world literature.

Here’s the opening of J.T.‘s review:

Lutz Bassman’s We Monks & Soldiers is a post-exoticist collection of several interrelated stories set during the final shallow breaths of humanity. An exorcism is performed that may or may not have resulted in the slaughter of an innocent family. An agent carries out a strange mission with varying levels of success. A vast prison is detailed. Two monks make their way into a new proletarian universe and are killed almost instantly by an oppressive military institution. A race of bird-people are cruelly tended to in their dying days inside a compound in the woods.


The point of all of these vignettes is to show a world of apocalypse―the end has come and it is time to make way for the spiders. Perhaps more importantly than future spider-people and dream quests is the critique of modern neo-liberal capitalism, and the dangers of any group, be it governments or corporations, owning our souls. In fits and starts, a picture is painted for us: the Communist Global Revolution foretold since Marx has finally come about, but it was quickly co-opted and compromised by businesses, and the people were left off worse than before. There is one very important, easy to miss line of description in the section “Crisis at the Tong Fong Hotel” that provides ample implied evidence for the history of this damaged world:

“[The man] was endowed with an enormous chignon. Atop it he wore a black cap with a drooping, damaged visor and, on one side, an embroidered reproduction of a Coca-Cola calligraph in Chinese.”

Other parts of the book mention that some sort of absolutely devastating war happened, most likely with the use of nuclear weapons, involving America, and now the only safe spots left to live are on the coast as the last generation of humanity waits to die.
Something important to mention is that Lutz Bassmann is not a real person; the actual author is Antoine Volodine. Bassmann is merely one of his merely synonyms. It is also important to note that according to another text of Volodine’s, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, Lutz Bassmann is incarcerated in a high-security prison for his literary crimes, along with every other author involved in the post-exoticist movement. Considering the chapter in We Monks & Soldiers entitled “The Dive,” it would seem that Bassmann penned this novel while behind bars, awaiting his dismal end.


To read the full review, just click here.

11 January 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Lutz Bassman’s We Monks & Soldiers is a post-exoticist collection of several interrelated stories set during the final shallow breaths of humanity. An exorcism is performed that may or may not have resulted in the slaughter of an innocent family. An agent carries out a strange mission with varying levels of success. A vast prison is detailed. Two monks make their way into a new proletarian universe and are killed almost instantly by an oppressive military institution. A race of bird-people are cruelly tended to in their dying days inside a compound in the woods.


The point of all of these vignettes is to show a world of apocalypse―the end has come and it is time to make way for the spiders. Perhaps more importantly than future spider-people and dream quests is the critique of modern neo-liberal capitalism, and the dangers of any group, be it governments or corporations, owning our souls. In fits and starts, a picture is painted for us: the Communist Global Revolution foretold since Marx has finally come about, but it was quickly co-opted and compromised by businesses, and the people were left off worse than before. There is one very important, easy to miss line of description in the section “Crisis at the Tong Fong Hotel” that provides ample implied evidence for the history of this damaged world:

[The man] was endowed with an enormous chignon. Atop it he wore a black cap with a drooping, damaged visor and, on one side, an embroidered reproduction of a Coca-Cola calligraph in Chinese.

Other parts of the book mention that some sort of absolutely devastating war happened, most likely with the use of nuclear weapons, involving America, and now the only safe spots left to live are on the coast as the last generation of humanity waits to die.
Something important to mention is that Lutz Bassmann is not a real person; the actual author is Antoine Volodine. Bassmann is merely one of his merely synonyms. It is also important to note that according to another text of Volodine’s, Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, Lutz Bassmann is incarcerated in a high-security prison for his literary crimes, along with every other author involved in the post-exoticist movement. Considering the chapter in We Monks & Soldiers entitled “The Dive,” it would seem that Bassmann penned this novel while behind bars, awaiting his dismal end.


Bassmann (Volodine) has a bit of an obsession with odors, especially unpleasant ones. The adjective ‘urinous’ is used multiple times, and bad smells are always wafting up from somewhere, from street vendors frying dough, from people packed together on a long train ride, from dead birds. My best guess is that the focus is twofold: the first is that smell possesses a powerful link to memory, but it is often our most-forgotten sense. Secondly, Volodine illustrates a cornucopia of bad smells as a way of showing what humanity really is, beyond the glossy portrayal of irreality bestowed upon the populace by corporate advertising (one might recall Nietzsche’s constant allusions to “bad air” in Beyond Good & Evil).


Volodine certainly puts forth post-exoticist theory in We Monks & Soldiers. One such concept explored (although not explicitly stated) is that of the shaggå. In Post-Exoticism in Ten Lessons, Lesson Eleven, Volodine describes the shaggå as a short story told seven times, each one somewhat modified, with no clear indication of what the truth of the matter actually is. This undertaking can be seen in the repetition (although, thankfully, only twice instead of sevenfold) of “Crisis at the Tong Fong Hotel,” wherein events unfold differently in both iterations of the story. It is definitely an intriguing concept, and casts doubt on what is real and what is fiction (as all good post-exoticist literature does), and the reader must decide for him- or herself what to take away from the text.


All in all, We Monks & Soldiers is not a book for everyone. There is no happy ending, and the writing becomes a Gordian knot in some places. It is a mystery without an easy solution (if one ever existed in the first place). I am sure that there will be plenty who will complain of the book being too dense, too pretentious, too mired in overt communist propaganda (though that last charge can easily be dismissed by the text’s overall pervasive political nihilism). However, it is continuously entertaining despite its gloomy atmosphere, and is an excellent read for the cheerfully suicidal. One final note to add is that Jordan Stump’s English translation is markedly brilliant. One can really feel his channeling of Volodine here, like some wild oneiric shaman by the sea. Overall I found this book to be thoroughly enjoyable, from the gray pastiche of New Yagayane to the live immolation of two teenage girls on a train platform.



{Silence after the review.}

....
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