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Category: Reading

On the Music of Language and All That: review of Le Ton Beau de Marot, by Douglas R. Hofstadter

I’m trying to write this review to sort out my thoughts on the leviathan and a half of a book that is Douglas Hofstadter’s Le Ton Beau de Marot: In Praise of the Music of Language. Here is one of my thoughts. Observe a new symbol make its way into language: it squiggles and squirms and then suddenly it’s everywhere, diluted, like you just stepped on a worm on the pavement. This is not a bad thing nor a good thing, except maybe for the integrity of the worm. It’s just how we process language, you know. A useful image comes into our possession and we paint it everywhere until it only means itself. Hofstadter would like it if I provided an example or two with my generalisation here, because that is the best way he knows to get information across. Very well.

Take sexting, that utterly ridiculous word. Sometime a few years ago some American news channels got their collective breaths caught in their throats by another in their ritualistic series of tantrums about teenagers having sex lives, or preambles thereto. Apparently, teenagers were sending each other erotic messages via cell-phones. Possibly even, and look away now for a while, nude pictures, colloquially known as “nudes.” Texts about sex. Sexts. This word took the US by storm, and when something takes the US by storm, the US takes to the Internet. Especially Twitter. It became a thing to preface your tweets with “sext:” and then say something longing, something horny, or something plain weird (the humour mostly coming from trying to imagine things like “sext: I stuffed your refrigerator with crystals” as a serious mating call). Patricia Lockwood deserves a mention here because her sext poems are amazing, though we have come to expect sexts from her now, so we don’t get them anymore. Her other poetry is equally amazing.

Anyway, likely, people have not actually changed their erotic messaging habits because of this word, but the word has become a thing. What you are referring to now when you preface a statement with “sext:” is this weird tradition, not any actual attempt at passing your statement off as a human version of that bellowing sounds that moose make when they’re in heat. Or, should I say, that’s what I do. Sometimes I pass through the tradition and come out on the moose-noise side too, though.

Hofstadter’s book is full of translations of one particular French poem. Some of them are pretty good and get the message across very smoothly. But somewhere along the line, he just looses it. The translations start to be based on new challenges on top of the translation challenge, because the translators (most of them being Hofstadter himself) feel like they have mastered the art of translating this one particular poem from French into English. How many enjambments can we stuff into the poem? Can we change the genders expressed? Can we change the rhythm? Hofstadter has very rigid ideas but demonstrates and admits that he doesn’t know quite where his stiffness comes from. I could see where it was going, though, when a translation that reads “… Has some bug / Laid you up? / Made you up- / chuck a lot? / Knuckle not / Under, but …” shows up somewhere in the middle of the tome. (That is also the sequence of lines quoted in the only other review of this book I’ve read, and I feel bad about that, but oh well. Take it as a sign that this particular line was particularly egregious.) That is not a good translation of the Marot poem, but he is very proud of it. I will get back to that. Essentially, there comes a point in the book where the only way to appreciate the poems he shows us is by having read all the other poems, and had the French original explained to us in painfully clear language. At the end of this particular trainwreck of thought is a lipogrammatic explanation of John Searle’s Chinese Room Experiment written in the format of the original Marot poem, and Hofstadter has the audacity to call it a translation. Gasp.

A Cubical Kubrickal Rubrical

The structure of the book is this: I’m at this family gathering. I am fourteen years old, I would perhaps rather be out talking to my older, cooler cousins, but I’m listening to my uncle talk and he never shuts up. I don’t know which side of the family he’s from. Maybe he just barged in here. He talks about anything, everything, occasionally says incredibly racist things without realizing it. (At one point, he compares the Israeli government to the Nazi regime, not based on things they do that are actually genocidal but based on their fucking attitude to language, which is shared by the Academie Française and countless other institutions, but he doesn’t find the symmetry of comparing the French or the Icelandic to Nazis funny so he doesn’t mention those. At another point, he recounts an anecdote about a tribesman asking questions of an anthropologist, and because he’s a tribesman, Hofstadter calls him naïve and laughs at him, even though what he did in the unsourced anecdote sounds more like sarcasm (to me). But I digress. Hofstadter deplores racism where he can see it.) Mostly he comes back to two topics: his dead wife and the translation of poetry. And he gets drunker and drunker, avuncularer and avuncularer. The bits about his wife are very touching, and she sounds like she was a wonderful person, and I am sorry for his loss. I wish he would shut up about the translation of poetry, though. I’ve structured this review like it’s a bit of his book, because, well, why not. Nothing has meaning, it just repeats until it can reference itself. And then it does that until there are two factions: those who are smug about it, and those who are smug about having fun. No-one has fun.

Tous grêlent le nuage incandescent

One of Hofstadter’s main rigidities is that he doesn’t think poetry is poetry unless it’s the very metrical and rhyming things that you can imagine wouldn’t trouble a troubadour. He respects form very much. He doesn’t understand that with the millions of young men who marched right into death in the First World War, the authority of the old form completely disappeared. He doesn’t realize that the war poets faltered the more they were shot at, lost the grip on rhyme schemes the more they died. Near the end of his life – he could not know but he suspected his luck was running out – Wilfred Owen wrote a poem rhyming with consonant clusters more than the fullness preferred by, say, Alfred Lord Tennyson. Here’s the first stanza:

Let the boy try along this bayonet-blade
How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood;
Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash;
And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh.

– Wilfred Owen, from “Arms and the Boy” (1918)

I mean, that’s just one poem. He kept trying to rhyme until the end, for certain. His sonnets were breaking down. He kept being ordered to shoot. Hofstadter doesn’t know this. Hofstadter thinks poetry should be beautiful, should concern only love or grief or scenery, more or less. To him it shouldn’t be about cruelty, shouldn’t be rooted in its time but rather you should easily be able to shovel it up and move it elsewhere, like a factory of bonsai gardens.

Another rigidity of Hofstadter’s is that only native speakers can translate poetry. As evidence for this, he at one point offers up his graceless “Knuckle not / under but”let in the middle of one translation, saying he has a hard time imagining a non-native speaker wielding language so skillfully as he has done right there. Take it in. Don’t take too much of it in, though, for your own good. That’s graceless gunk right there, honestly. Hofstadter also translates a poem into French at one point, probably because he contains multitudes or some shit.

私はGoogle翻訳に「Googleの翻訳」と「日本の「ヒット型付け

Another thing Hofstadter talks a lot about is artificial intelligence, especially the machines’ use of language. This book has taught me why the Chinese Room Experiment is silly. For which, thanks, I guess. I already knew it was silly, but now I can dismiss it with reason. The thing about machine translation that Hofstadter brings up but doesn’t really explore is that it all rests on the immense weight carried by the human translators that came before. That metaphor was inconsistent on purpose. I see no way that machine translation as it exists today or in the next hundred years can learn to do more than repeat things that old translators have said before. Perhaps this is a failure of imagination on my part, similar to the failure which Hofstadter accuses John Searle of imagining, but still.

As a tangent, Google Translate – what seems to be the best thing out there – still uses English as an intermediary language between other languages, almost as if they are deliberately making machine translation seem unappealing. I think you have to teach machines to think before you can teach them to speak, and teach them to speak before you can teach them to write, and then to translate. I don’t think anyone is really trying to teach machines to think. I doubt you can teach the bloody things to dream before you can teach them to sleep.

En underrubrik på svenska. De betyder ingenting ändå

What also becomes clear from reading the book is that Hofstadter considers translation to be an equally creative endeavour as is writing at all. Sometimes translation requires even more ingenuity, he almost says.

The combination of the last of his rigidities up there, that you can only translate into your native language, and the thing he traipses around but wants to say here, that translation is extremely creative, is this: Hofstadter thinks that you can’t write poetry in a language you did not grow up speaking. This is not a bad book, but don’t take it as an authority on anything except maybe artificial intelligence, the things that Hofstadter has actually worked on.

I like form. I write rhyming poetry when the mood strikes me. I attempt grace. Hofstadter makes me want to write ugly poetry.

   Writing shit about new snow
for the rich
   is not art.

– Issa (trans. Robert Hass)

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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,

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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:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/237006205/the-cult-of-numbers-johannes-punkt-with

THE CULT OF NUMBERS

KVLT2

Faithful readers, you remember the fake book reviews (unfaithful readers, see: /fake-review). You have been missing these, but worry no longer. Pamphlets for the Apocalypse is publishing my review of Salandra Duchov’s Numberology, and you can pick it up at the Etsy link below:

etsy.com/shop/4THEAPOCALYPSE

Like the image has already told you, the zine contains words by me and illustrations by Ethan Fowler (see ethancf.tumblr.com/). Ultimately, this is the zine to buy for those of you who want to read a very flawed critical examination of one of the most potent economy textbooks never published, and that’s all of you. Trust me.

KVLT

Chiasmic Apposition

by your secret accomplice, Johannes Punkt

You too can have a tweet analyzed for five bucks, just contact me. It’s like I’m your therapist, but cheap.

This is a tweet that we read, which traps us in a room. The first thing that strikes us upon reading it is that it starts out full of hope, which soon diminishes until nothing is left but despair. The appositives, a certain grammatical stucture, are stretched almost to the limit. We read the tweet again, for we are trapped in this room and the key is elsewhere, if existent at all.

The second reading lets us understand that the things which at first sound hopeful aren’t intrinsically imbued with hope, but the memory of the first reading overwrites their naïveté. This underlying shadow-meaning is even more clearly pronounced upon reading the Lockean “blank slate” again – we know that the tabula rasa is a palimpsest. This idea, traced out by the palimpsest, of retaining dead patterns from old lives, in turn brings us to the Groundhog Day nature in which we read the tweet:

We read the tweet again, the third time. In the movie Groundhog Day, as you know, Bill Murray can’t escape a time loop until he does it all just right (after a long hard look at his life). So too it is for us as we read Amos’ tweet again & again, or when we just live in general. To our great frustration, every day we live our life the “tomorrow” moves apace with us and displaces itself when we arduously climb the midnight threshold. Reincarnation, of course, is the same thing but on a grander scale. At the same time, we know that all life ends –

When upon another reading and another reading and another reading the meaning dies down to a dull hum, the shrill sound of form is heard. We can now see that the appositives from earlier are not the only form in need of analysis. The strucutre of Amos’ appositions is, chiasmic. Chiasmatic. Some such thing. (A chiasmus is, essentially, an X structure, that goes AB then BA, or ABC then CBA, &c.) The first 4 elements of the sentence are hopeful, the latter 4 are hopeless. Observe: [A|Tomorrow] is [B|another day], [C|full of possibilities], [D|a blank slate], [D|completely empty], [C|a void], [B|a deep abyss], [A|a cold and unforgiving waste]. (With four on each side, if you draw lines between the same letters, you will see the multiple X-shape.)

The “blank slate” and “completely empty” are two ways of saying the same thing, though their connotations are the opposite. (A “blank slate” has to be hopeful, for it is contrasted with original sin.) The same is true for the next, a void full of possibilities. Trickier to figure out are the next 2: how is “another day” opposite “a deep abyss”? The answer, as with many things, lies in Shakespeare. In The Tempest, one can hear Prospero ask: “What seest thou else / In the dark backward and abysm of time?” The abysm of time is present. I’ve explained why “tomorrow” represents the lies of time – a cold and unforgiving waste, by contrast, is the only thing time can promise:

When we read the tweet one last time we realize how we can make everything right again and stop reading the tweet: we step out of the microcosmos built up by his tweet, walk away from the internet into the larger chiasmos surrounding it, trusting that when our semantic structures are gravestones in the universe’s zero-k night we can step out of even this reality.

FakeReview: Zero Dark Ennui by Gaston Glencastle

There’s something mythic and fragmentary about the ouevre of Gaston Glencastle, and I am not just referring to how his they found most of it, damp and nigh-unreadable in unorganized piles in the bottom of a disused well. Though that, too, deserves mention and is quite mythic and fragmentary on its own. No, I am referring to the conceits, the symbolism and the imagery that run through his stories like the artifical clouds that criss-cross the sky in his Liaison of Leaves and Lives. Glencastle’s stories are told in ways that suggest that the narrator is telling you something you already know. Like the texts are something we’ve already read before, like they’re a grandfather stuttering on his last reel of tape. The aggressively anti-Jungian and almost Markovian links of reasoning suggest to the open-minded a vast machine of logic half-buried in the desert.

Take the main character of Liaison, for instance, whose history shifts with her memory and the perceptions of others. Recall the famous scene where Antoniev asks if she were a dancer in a previous life and she becomes a dancer in a previous life. She becomes someone who has once been, long-before. Think of the worlds where the future is set in stone and the past is mutable as putty. I am saying this because I have been very impressed with the excavated works of outsider art that this well-dwelling man produced. In the latest work that Glencastle’s brother has been able to piece together, Zero Dark Ennui (and given how a chronology of his work would be an impossible task for anybody, as Émil points out, this work is composed of things that make sense together and where the handwriting suggests they were written around the same time, we can simply consider this a loose sequel to Liaison or Dusk in New Orleans) we are once again asked to accept an entirely new series of unarchetypes, a new tome of creation myths, and a new well of desires and human instincts.

Some people accuse Philip K. Dick of writing all his myths from the same trauma, that of his twin sister dying in the womb. With this, the third book of the Glencastle mythiad, I am beginning to see what I once thought was separate scars connect. It is all adding up to one disjointed picture, and the effect is somewhat ruined. In essence, my complaint is this: It is hard to believe, as Glencastle seems to write from beyond the grave, through his brothers ghostly and descolatory fingers, that all human longing and loneliness stems from that one time that Gaston Glencastle got separated from his favourite cuddly toy in a supermarket. It was still there when he got back. You should really be over this by the time you are old enough to write such stunning descriptions of deep forests and suppressions of empathy as can be found in Zero Dark Ennui.

Take the operation scene in the moon colony where we are treated to the glorious image of a person entirely disembodied, almost abatomed. Why does he feel the need to spend two paragraphs on the similarity between a spleen and a well-loved toy rabbit. This is the spleen that Raschcha loses in the beginning of the book, mind. The monoliths of capitalism stand tall around her until the moon colony scene, where she is reunited, though by this point the spleen has been in no less than three bodies, that just keep dying. Are we really supposed to believe that the spleen engineers its reuiniting with its real owner? Why are we supposed to believe this? I am disillusioned.

It turns out that what I mistook for the shadows that great thoughts cast in words was just dark crayons on pavement.

FakeReview: Sexual Future – A Memoir by Florinn Danderhall

Normally here at Johannes Punkt’s Flaskpost Book Circle we don’t review more “racy,” “sexually explicit,” “orgiastic,” “Dionysian,” “explicitly mentioning vagina-feelings” books, but I had to make an exception for Florinn Danderhall’s latest memoir (2014). Yes, we agree, it is strange for one person to have written seven memoirs all purportedly of her own life in as many years. But there is something to it – this literary suicide and rebirth that mirrors not a phoenix, nor the turning of the seasons, but the way communist leaders continually edit their own reputation – that we simply must, if not record accurately then observe. Observe with all our lusting eyeballs’ might. This time, as in her third memoir “The Land of Broken Toys,” she tells us the tale of a sex life in turmoil. This time she tells us the future.

Using the rather crude devise of a “crystal ball” (her late husband’s “right family jewel, if memory serves”) Danderhall names her next seven lovers and then her own shuffling off this mortal coil. This is, she stresses, only one version of the future and the layman understanding of time travel suggests that telling the future changes it, but Danderhall sees in herself a Cassandra. As evidence, she names a few sex moves that will be heavy in use by 2018. They all have too ridiculous names to even contemplate or investigate: “the door-to-door salesman,” “the lecture on biochemistry,” “the rumption gumption”. This is ludicrous and not sexy, in this reviewer’s opinion.

There is dispute among scholars over exactly how many times a person dies. Jean Rhys wrote that there are two deaths, the real one and then the one everyone knows about, but that’s a conservative amount. Popular wisdom suggests three (when your heart stops, when they put your body in the ground, and the last time someone says your name). Other mysticalists say seven, or seventeen, or another large prime number, but according to our preliminary research no-one has stated it so boldly and largely as Danderhall before:

“I have one hundred and twenty one deaths left and I intend to make them count.”

The obvious interpretation of this statement, which opens the book, is that it’s a periphatic way of mentioning her orgasms, and indeed if you count them in the book they add up to 120. However, 120 orgasms is a very sad amount of orgasms to have left in you. The other way of reading it, which truly opens the book, is as a continuation of what I mentioned above: the way her books keep rewriting her history. Is Danderhall planning an oeuvre that spans over a hundred books? It’s not unbelievable. Sure, this eccentric author tries to distract us with “delicious sexuffration” and “dead leaves and the wet slippery unbearableness of an autumn storm all over Sylvia Plath’s face,” there is a cry for help in these pages. And I am not referring to the literal cry for help on page 152.

But like that cry, it’s easy to miss among all the sex. I strongly believe that there is a kernel of truth inside even the most beat-up and weird and mendacious autobiography. I believe a pattern is emerging, and I cannot see all the implications of it yet. But if you read this book, don’t just take the load at face value, so to speak. Swallow it, ruminate. There is a person in pain behind these words.

To end with something positive, this reviewer thought it rather lovely how the book was dedicated to Sanel Seton, the inventor of sextropy, sexual entropy.

FakeReview: Ever’s More by Germaine Ellson

So, over the last month I have read Germaine Ellson’s by all accounts completely alright book, Ever’s More, and I confess it made me feel a little uncomfortable. The book starts mildly with a famous quote by Robert Graves: “It is slightly inconvenient to: mock a poet, love a poet, be a poet.” And it only gets okayer from there.

We meet the main character, a decent man with no name who can’t help but point out to the reader that our emotional responses somehow seem stunted. He mentions, in direct communication with you the reader, that watching a dog react to its owner coming home in a wholly okay way almost suggests that there should be a word beyond okay. “What if,” he says as if inviting us to contemplate with him, “the human emotional range went beyond mildly uncomfortable and mildly comfortable.” He does not quite have it in him to make it into a question.

Other characters in the book quickly bring him down to earth by pointing out that the adverbs mildly or almost or moderately or blandly or not exactly are a necessary component of the adjective phrase, just like how you can underwhelm but you cannot whelm. You can be all right but not all wrong. The limitations of our language, the place where the borders go, literally define us and to venture beyond those dells into uncharted semantic territory is akin to go sea-diving and touch the bottom of the sea and to dig and to expect water. It is just sand. And you are running out of air, and it is starting to feel like something might happen that could threaten the amounts of okay you feel in the future.

“It is just sand,” is a line repeated many times throughout the novel, often when the main character accidentally comes up with a neologism that seemingly challenges the status quo of our limitations. “What if there is more?” he asks, rudely and provocatively leaving out any kind of noun after the “more”. This is just poor editing in my opinion; the scene where this happens has the main character observing the ball of fusion that brings light to our planet become increasingly obscured by an ocean. It is a kind of attractive sight, we are informed. He picks up a rock and places it on the ocean by waving his hand in an okay arc and letting go at the right moment, causing the rock to fall upwards a little bit. I asked myself, “more what? More rocks? More light? More water?” but it is clear that Germaine Ellson does not care about that. It is just more sand.

The hill-crest of this sort of bumpy ride of a book comes when one character, who is the sister of the main character, ceases to exist and starts to produce a lot of blood instead. This is inconvenient for the main character in many ways, especially how it gets the front of his shirt sticky with blood. As he feels a little sad and starts to need glasses he turns to the reader again, and says a lot of things I did not understand.

This book made me a trifle uncomfortable. I do not think you should read it. Three stars out of five.

FakeReview: Instruction Manual for Murdering the Nobel Committee for Literature, by Ursula Perquith

Taking a page out of M. John. Harrison’s book, er, blog, here: ambientehotel.wordpress.com/imaginary-reviews/

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First of all, I should like to say that if you are not familiar with the terrific work of Ursula Perquith you are sorely missing out. Her third book well lives up to the expectations. It was slightly delayed due to a fight with her publisher, but she has since changed publisher to someone who dares publish the daring work that she is writing. Her first book, for those unaware, was called World Awareness Day, and it cannot be summed up. The main conceit is about a sudden wave of awareness spreading through humans like viruses, and, well, just read it. You will understand. Her second book – more controversial than the first – was called Ursula Perquith. It details her life but it is not an autobiography, as she makes clear in the text, and she will actually stab you with a pen if you try to call it that. Now, her third book is a masterpiece and even harder to summarise than her two other books.

The book starts off innocently with a woman stepping out of a train as it halts at a station, and she then goes on to kill a person, using scissors and piano wire. Onlookers look on, but no-one does anything. She then goes on to book a hotel room, and we find out that it is the great Nordic capital of Stockholm that she is murdering in, and what’s more – we find out that this is actually a sequel to her second book, starring the same main character.

Throughout the book, she commits more and more murders. They are all very thought out and performable, except for the first one which is almost ritualistic in how willing the victim is. At the third murder, the reader – if they have not looked at the list of names and addresses in the back of the book – finds out the names of those who have been killed so far. Curiously, they all share names, addresses, and appearances with people on the Nobel Committee for Literature. As she kills them, she explains that this is fiction, and that we are sympathising with her, and that it is okay. This word “okay” repeats itself through the book like a corruption of data; at one point a whole page is just the word “okay” again and again and again until the plot resumes as if we hadn’t missed what was behind that wall of “okay”s.

One element that tantalises about this book especially is how the police handle the murders. They do not have an investigation running, but once they stop the main character when she was speeding. She explains that she thought she was on the Autobahn, and the police officer kindly explains that she is in Sweden where there are no Autobahnen. She is fined heavily. The police officer does not remark on the bloodstained dress or the almost-corpse in the back-seat, and we the reader feel this absence like a loss.

The fight that Ms. Perquith had with her publisher, as you might have guessed, was about that list of names and addresses at the back of the book. And the maps. And, I presume, though I was not privy to the conversations, the many smiley-faces after this list. And the coupons for knives that are included in the back, too.

This absolutely riveting book is of course not an “instruction manual for murdering the Nobel Committee for Literature” because they have not yet given Ursula Perquith the prize she so richly deserves. That would be ludicrous. Rather, it is an instruction manual for thinking more deeply about things, and taking action, and feeling alive. I have never felt more alive than I did when I was engrossed in this book. I did not mention her many published short stories before, but I will mention them now. She has a book coming out next year which is a collection of her best short work, entitled “Night Shits Beauty”.

Review of The Republic of Thieves

[Spoiler Warning]

Some jumbled thoughts about this here book.

The first time I heard of The Lies of Locke Lamora it was through that one solitary negative review that popped up when the book was published, so I did not purchase the book. When Red Seas under Red Skies came out, I thought it looked damn interesting and I had forgotten the first review, so I purchased the first book and devoured it and loved it. I read the second book shortly afterwards and I was pretty disappointed. It felt like a far cry from the brilliance of the first book. I am not sure why, as it was several years ago. Nonetheless, I knew the first book was good enough to get me to read the remaining six books in the series, and to always recommend the series to friends, so I eagerly awaited this third book.

The Republic of Thieves is amazing.

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Announcement and Advisories

Short version: daily flash fiction! Trigger Policy updated! Read things what aren’t my writings also!

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Hello! I’m Johannes Punkt and you may know me from such PR stunts as travelling into your dreams and releasing spiders all over the place! Haha, who am I kidding, that’s a thing that starts tonight. Starting today, I will resume a thing I hiatused almost a year ago with the Day of a Whole Lot of Drabbles (2012/06/28/the-day-of-a-whole-lot-of-drabbles/). That is right, I will post drabbles (self-contained 100-word flash stories), once a day, for at least a few months. The first of these will go up in about six hours if my calculations are correct.

I have updated the Trigger Policy page. It is now different from before, in light of the change of pace and content of this blog. You can read the whole thing at /triggers/

I have made the decision to not put any warnings, trigger or otherwise, to the daily drabbles that appear on this blog. Please be aware that anything that shows up might be upsetting and proceed with caution. It is impossible for me to warn adequately as triggers are often too specific for a generalized warning to be useful.

The bigger posts like the conlanging and technobabbling will be less common now, perhaps one every three or four weeks, or when inspiration strikes. I will try to review a book again and maybe make that a thing; that was fun.

Lastly, I will mention some serials I am enjoying at the moment. In order of the installations’ length.

The Ritual is like a treasure hunt that is currently most likely to turn you into a dead wooden statue that always stares and never blinks. mercerbox.wordpress.com/tag/the-ritual/

The First 500 is like a few details of a huge painting being filled in slot by slot like a meandering snake, and the brushstrokes are wide and the details are fine. alastairjrball.blogspot.co.uk/p/the-first-500.html

Berlin Confidential is always on my list of recommended reading because damn why is this not a big thing yet? It has mysterious murders, tension, myriad and well-defined characters, angst, gay sex, and Weimar Berlin. AND MORE. I can never sum it up. Just go read it. berlinconfidential.tumblr.com/story