Glenn Branca and the Lost History of Cyberpunk
James Reich, Published by Fiction Advocate, May 29, 2014
I first connected to the Internet in 1998. There was nothing hip about it, no mirrorshades, no chilled Kirin, no hacker’s cant, no rude-boy antagonism against the frozen walls of malefic corporations, but merely weeks of frustration waiting for a freelance Dell engineer wearing greasy blue overalls to inform me that my machine had been shipped from the factory with its modem already burnt out. In my apartment, the engineer held the device up to the light, a cloudy patina of carbon wrapped around it, as suspect as O.J. Simpson’s black glove; planned obsolescence making its end run. He unwrapped a new modem from a foil packet, checking it for scorch marks. With this hardware replaced, I returned to the inexorable negotiations of early dial-up and an uncomprehending telephone operator at British Telecom. My admittance to cyberspace required a dozen hours of listening to Vangelis loops as hold music, “Chung Kuo” with its anticipation of Blade Runner.
But, this was not the Tokyo-ized, Hammett-hacked sprawl of transnational prosthetics, nor the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll of William Gibson’s “consensual hallucination”. Of course it wasn’t. Gibson’s fiction of the early eighties, published in Omni, was the map that preceded the territory. Even in the 1930s, before his pulpy serial The World of Null-A, had made the transition fromAstounding Stories magazine to hardcover, A. E. Van Vogt (quasi-Scientologist, and Alfred Korzybski acolyte) had declared “the map is not the territory.” In turn, postmodern theorist Jean Baudrillard hacked that notion. In 1998, the actual aridity of the virtual territory was still remote from the glamor of the map drawn by science fiction writers. Yet, my early explorations of the Internet connected some things that continue to fascinate me. At the time, I was working as a bookseller and those wages and a new credit card purchased both the computer and an important visit to London twelve months earlier. What did the Internet have to say about music?
Read article in full at Fiction Advocate.
ON THE BEACH – Dali, Ballard, Neil Young and Cadillac Ranch
James Reich, First Published by The End Of Being, August 21, 2011.
(Extract) Pelham’s images for the Penguin reprints present arguably the most authentic and sympathetic realizations of Ballard’s fiction in book jacket design, and his beautiful image for The Drought of the tail end of a yellow Cadillac part-submerged (submersion is Pelham’s motif for the series as it is for Ballard in general) into the desert of the real is, in my view, the finest of the series. Ballard’s relationship to surrealism, and to Dali’s Persistence of Memory is well-documented: it appears, for example, in The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), and is frequently referenced during Ballard’s interviews and non-fiction directly and indirectly. Speaking of the European scene in an interview with V. Vale and Andrea Juno for Re/Search in October 1982, Ballard said: “Here, surrealist painters have an enormous influence on, say, record sleeves, paperback jackets – you get pseudo-Dali landscapes, Yves Tanguy semi-marine drained beaches, Magritte-ish displacements of things. Here the impact is colossal on advertising.” Pelham’s submerged yellow Cadillac, its futurist/nostalgic tail fins and sunlit chrome appeared in April of 1974. The greatness of Pelham’s image lies precisely in its post-surrealist grasp of ‘the end of chronology’ as a trope in Ballard’s catastrophe fiction. It is a pop art Disintegration … Uncannily, Pelham’s yellow Cadillac in the sand resurfaces in July 1974 in psychedelic poster artist Rick Griffin’s cover art for Neil Young’s album On The Beach. Psychedelic art, even in a generalized sense, is indebted to surrealism, and this image makes specific use of its currency. The image and angle of the Cadillac tail in Griffin’s surreal photograph are strikingly close to Pelham’s illustration, and this is also the work that further binds Pelham’s work to Ballard’s fascination with The Persistence of Memory.
Read the full article in The Archive.
H.P. Lovecraft, Herbert West: Reanimator, and Boxing
April 25th, 2014
Of the grotesqueries depicted in Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s Herbert West: Reanimator, beyond the ambivalent reclamation by the Anglo-Saxon war dead of Herbert West the Aryan “scientific automaton”, the “ice-cold intellectual machine”, the most appalling is the appearance of the boxer Buck Robinson, “The Harlem Smoke.” Lovecraft shuffles through his routine racist clichés: “He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon.” Robinson, who is the most chthonic of the reanimated, is also a cannibal, and a child-killer: “Looming hideously against the spectral moon was a gigantic misshapen thing not to be imagined save in nightmares – a glassy-eyed, ink-black apparition, nearly on all fours, covered with bits of mould, leaves, and vines, foul with caked blood, and having between its glistening teeth a snow-white, terrible, cylindrical object terminating in a tiny hand.”
Buck Robinson’s white opponent is Kid O’Brien. O’Brien kills Robinson in the match. Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi makes the point that O’Brien has a “most un-Hibernian hooked nose” suggesting that the Kid is a Jewish fighter posing as Irish, as Joshi puts it: “to capitalize on the fame of the great Irish-American boxer of the 1880s, John L. Sullivan.” Joshi is missing a trick here. Lovecraft’s serial was published in the early 1920s, the boxing match is set in 1910, and by footnoting the speculative identity of O’Brien and ignoring the historical reference in the opposite corner, Joshi covers up Lovecraft’s more virulent racism. Into the corpse of Buck Robinson, Lovecraft injected a more contemporary and resonant reference: Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion. Johnson, the Galveston Giant, held the title from 1908 – 1915. The white opponent, Kid O’Brien, is not a remote reference to John Sullivan, who effectively retired in 1892, but to one of Johnson’s rivals: Philadelphia Jack O’Brien. Johnson and O’Brien fought in May 1909; Johnson retained the title after a 6-round draw. The episode in the serial of Herbert West: Reanimator where the death and reanimation of Robinson/Johnson occurs is titled Six Shots By Midnight.
Lovecraft, spiteful bastard that he was, vengefully recast Johnson as a titanic child-eating Saturn, after Goya. It has become customary to excuse Lovecraft’s pernicious racism as a symptom of his era, as if he lacked agency in that regard. To let Lovecraft off the hook so easily is to suggest that he had no opportunity to be influenced by the abolitionist movement, by the arguments of the Civil War, or even of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. No, Lovecraft was a post-bellum northerner who aligned himself with the gentleman fascists of ante-bellum romance. Through Herbert West, the Great White Hope, Lovecraft expresses the very contemporary racism of Jack Johnson’s detractors.
Ceci n’est pas une livre… This is not a book. It is an algorithm. D. Harlan Wilson’s trilogy of Hitler: The Terminal Biography; Freud: The Penultimate Biography; and Douglass: The Lost Autobiography are Magrittesque artifacts. Certainly not biographies in the conventional sense of the genre, these titles may not be, strictly, books, whatever those are these days. They are experiments in deconstructing the supposedly cynical matrices of literature in the Internet age, where units are defined and shifted algorithmically, by guilty—sometimes arbitrary—associations with other books, and what Wilson calls Superior Authors. This last part, Wilson admits, is flawed: “Blurbs don’t sell books.” What does sell books is metadata. To wit: falsified metadata.
Read the complete review at The Rumpus.
JAMES REICH: BOMB-BLASTING THROUGH THE AGE OF NUCLEAR FOLLY: Interview by Frank Browning
February 5th, 2014
Valerie Solanas plainly made a deep impact on the English novelist as he was constructing his blindingly brilliant and horrifyingly comic novel, Bombshell, a road story framed around a fictive lover and devotee of Solanas who has committed herself to cutting up and destroying America’s nuclear power industry. Not everyone of course may find it comic. Its comedy rests in the bloody details of the duel between men’s greed and the Gods’ folly as his self-trained anti-nuke feminist terrorist Cash, born in Chernobyl during the 1986 meltdown, hops in one stolen car or another from New Mexico through Texas, the Deep South, Washington and finally Manhattan in pursuit of the nation’s most powerful nuclear oligarch. Along the way Reich’s Faulknerian prose rides us through an encyclopedic history of nuclear testing folly from Los Alamos where the story starts through the unguarded French blasts in the Sahara to Cash’s own ghastly birth town.
Read the complete interview in The Huffington Post.
February 1st, 1014
Two hundred years ago, in the spring of 1814, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin began her romance with Percy Bysshe Shelley—a romance shadowed by dreadful mortality, but which birthed Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus in 1818. February 1st is the anniversary of her death in 1851. The name Frankenstein as a unit of exchange has become synonymous with forms of bastard science, Promethean or Faustian transgressions and their mutant consequences. So profound is this shorthand metaphor, so great has been its escape, that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s teenage wit in producing the name Victor Frankenstein has been obscured. But it is there, buried in the lurid séance of the narrative. Mary Shelley’s tale is a sustained act of extraordinary ventriloquism in which the reader does well to remember that none of its creatures actually ‘speaks’ except for the mariner Robert Walton, who transcribes the entire catastrophe of Frankenstein and his creature in a manuscript intended for his sister Margaret.
Read the complete essay at Fiction Advocate.
INTERNATIONAL TIMES: Malcolm Mc Neill interviewed by James Reich
January 23rd, 2014
In February 2014, William S. Burroughs will not be 100 years old; like Ronald Reagan before him, he will be dead. The fingernails will have trailed out a little further and the hair may test subtly at the limits of the casket. There will be great lamentation for this postmodern Nebuchadnezzar, his hanging gardens, his luminous talent, his moments of possessed unreason, and his legendary humbling. It is one of the marks of our culture that the living dead are now seen ‘at 100’… February 2014 will also mark one year since I began corresponding with Malcolm Mc Neill, the graphic artist who made the most significant visual contribution to the Burroughs oeuvre, in a collaboration of intimately woven image and text. Their direct working relationship lasted seven years, from 1970 until the culmination of the project Ah Pook Is Here, when Mc Neill found himself “occluded from space-time like an eel’s ass occludes when he stops eating on the way to Sargasso…Locked out…” These spectacular panoramas and graphic novel abstractions went largely unseen until the publication of his exceptional memoir Observed While Falling: Bill Burroughs, Ah Pook and Me; and The Lost Art of Ah Pook: Images From The Graphic Novel (Fantagraphics). Until 2012, few were aware of Mc Neill’s role in defining elements of Burroughs’ work, even if they knew the largely pointless vanity projects like Burroughs’ famous junkies ‘collaboration’ with Kurt Cobain. Over the weekend commemorating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the great bull’s eye for publishers, historians and revisionists, Mc Neill and I spoke by telephone about anniversaries, the ethics of posthumously altering the work of a dead artist, and some of the unanswered questions surrounding the publication of Ah Pook Is Here.
Read the complete interview in International Times.
THE NERVOUS BREAKDOWN – Frank Browning interviewed by James Reich
January 22nd, 2014
To read Frank Browning’s latest book The Monk and the Skeptic: Dialogues on Sex, Faith, and Religion is to eavesdrop on series of confessionals, and to be party to the converse positions and erotic agreements of Browning and Brother Peter, a homosexual Dominican monk, a relationship that begins in kitsch surroundings that Jean Paul Gaultier might want to rip off. It is to enter a rich demimonde frocked in drag and incense, at times sensuous and melancholy, at others cavalier and threaded with paradox. The confessions leak from the ecclesiastical to the secular world, revealing the sexual wounds of the Catholic church, the often painful duality required of gay men within the institution. The relationship between Browning and Brother Peter is—in all senses—touching. The Monk and the Skeptic is a remarkable book, full of yearning and transcendence. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to correspond with Frank about his book and to have him elaborate further on some of the questions arising from it. Since then, Timemagazine has named Pope Francis ‘Person of the Year,’ an accolade about which I suspect we would both remain skeptical.
Read the complete interview at The Nervous Breakdown.
Laurence A. Rickels, The Man With The Golden Pun, has turned his cryptic genius on the James Bond novels of Ian Fleming, specifically the occult, neurotic currents flowing beneath those works where 007 battles SPECTRE, headed—baldly—by Ernst Stavro Blofeld. By interrogating Fleming/Bond, pursuing them through anxiety, sexuality, suicides, girlfriends, Tyrolean kitsch, and lycanthropy, Rickels exhumes (to quote Vincent Price at his least funky) “the evil of the thriller.”
Read the full review at The Rumpus.
50 REASONS WE’RE THANKFUL WE’RE GAY LADIES 2013 (#6)
November 26th, 2013
Bombshell: A Novel is included with Bodies of Water by T. Greenwood, and We Are Water by Wally Lamb in After Ellen‘s 2013 list of “50 Reasons We’re Thankful We’re Gay Ladies” at number 6. What a fantastic pleasure to be included in such an illustrious list and in such fine company. Thank you After Ellen.com
See the 50 Reasons at After Ellen, right HERE!