FakeReview: Bedouin Some by Georgia Atlanta
The first thing you see when you walk into a bookstore these days, for the coming few weeks at least, is the garish cover of Georgia Atlanta’s first and last book, its title chosen by some arcane process by controversial Penguin editor and publisher Mars Gauchèlle. Bedouin Some is a perfect example of outsider art becoming mainstream while still keeping the outsider on the outside. I won’t go into details about the publishing history – you can find those accounts everywhere on the Internet yourself – but suffice to say it is one thing when a real person writes under a pseudonym and another thing entirely when a pseudonym starts writing under a real person. That is all I will say about that.
I bought a used copy of the book, since I do not want to support the industry that exploits authors so, but I do want to support Bethy, the woman who owns my local used bookstore “The Man Cave.” She is a lovely lady. She is also crepuscular and coiled with age, which means she cannot reach up to change the sign from what the store was called before it was a bookstore. Therefore I might have a slightly different first impression of the book than those who buy it crispy clean and bright yellow from Waterstones, not to mention those who get it streamed into their brain through the nostrils or whatever it is the hyperkindles do. This discrepancy between editions of such a recently published book only serves to underline for me the very ununiversal nature of reading a book: you can never read the same book as your friends. You can never even read the same book twice.
Bethy also sold me the book on the cheap, saying it would soon be “unprinted.” I asked her if books that go out of print aren’t worth more, eventually, and whether or not she should be hoarding these, but she did not think so. This is all to say, my copy of this book looks like a train ran over it, which is fitting.
Georgia Atlanta introduces us to a Ginko-like protagonist, Fievrish Qualm, who partakes in what the narrator – understood to be him at an advanced age – charmingly calls “adventures.” His task, which is either the task given to him by the penumbral figure called the Unauthor or the exact opposite of that task, is to collect literature that belongs to a nebulous but flourishing genre, a movement of literature, that he calls hole fiction, HoleFi for short. Most of them exist only as original manuscripts, things publishers wouldn’t touch, although Mr. Qualm can sense them, somehow.
You are sensing a pattern here, I hope. This outsider art comments on the outside nature of outsider art, but in the world above the adventures of Mr. Qualm, publishing houses have grown legs and opened their maws to throw themselves over the identity of Mrs. Atlanta. Something obscure in a world below becomes hallowed in the world above. The unbearable jerk that is Holden Cauliflower is revered as an American hero in the world that read his book. Hole fiction, stories set in worlds of legends and heroes, is buried in plain dirt in the world inhabited by Mr. Qualm, but dug up like treasure in the world inhabited by Mars Gauchèlle, if that is his real name.
It’s all rather perverse, really. Mr. Qualm purports to start a doomed publishing venture and bankrupt himself, or maybe the bankrupcy orchestrated is that of the Unauthor. A few throwaway lines (like the Unauthor’s vague rant about “the reproducibility of glitches,” and Mr. Qualm’s own living cancer) suggest that they plan on breaking out of their little world and joining the “beings akin to them,” as Nabokov would have called them. All to make money from this literary sensation. As if to add to the perversity, most of the time the literature he tries to find has been destroyed by well-meaning relatives who think that Max Brod is a villain. Here the pattern is again: the literature that does no longer exist in Qualm’s world is something of a sensation in the world above, where it does not exist yet, but rest assured there will be fanfiction.
Which brings me to my last realization upon reading this frivolously titled Arabian noctography, something you’ve perhaps already pieced together: this book does not actually exist. I have been treating it as a book that is real, but it will soon be unprinted. When I am not actively reading it, I do not really see that collection of paper as a book. It is rather something concrete and thus somehow less real than a story. When I quote it, I am making things up. When Fievrish Qualm reads his forgotten manuscripts, they exist and I’m right there with him, but when he stops they fade out of existence. He never quotes a whole fiction, only bits and pieces. You’re not even getting that, are you? To put it another way: HoleFi is a genre. Meanwhile, in the world above, outsider art is no genre, it is a medium. In this world, the world above, stories written by loners all might share some common characteristics in themes of pariahdom and the longing for legendary status. In the world below, there are well-developed tropes, stock characters, common plot twists, and intertextual references, all developed by authors who never spoke to one another or even knew that they were not alone. If you read those scenes closely, you will see the implied author is saying that they did communicate even though they did not know it, while the implied implied author is adamant that they are all referencing events which the implied author is purposefully keeping from us in order to tell her story. What I am telling you is that there are worlds between the worlds here, and the book has folded in on itself in a way that will soon make it stop existing. As soon as you stop reading this,
Last week, my review The Cult of Numbers was published by Pamphlets for the Apocalypse! It is a review of a book that doesn’t exist, just like this one, and tells the tale of what happens when a cult forms around a one-of-a-kind textbook on economy. Please buy it, and tell your easily influenced friends to buy it, too. They rely on you for guidance. Don’t let them down: