about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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A Raft Manifest
A Review of A Raft Manifest
by Rem+Rom

Spencer Dew

The promotional material for this book, along with a “primer 4 th perplex’d” available online gives ample plot for navigating its rapids. Two brothers (in the deep tradition of the Americas, of hero twins, gone questing) “fathered by a rogue member of the ‘Clueless + Lark’ expedition and reared by a she-wolf” now construct a log raft (which is also a text, an art object, a kind of de/coding device, both language and experiment in and toward the “threshold” of language—like how rafts in cartoons, where there’s a waterfall close, manage to maintain a tenuous spin there at the very edge, right before the fall) to “riverse ingenear” their father’s journey. So here’s a “Huck Finnegans Wake,” a book that does things and that is itself a trip in a variety of fingering vernacular and literal meanings of that term. The compiler here, capacious to the point of a neurotic in the over-stuffing of this notebook (full of margin scrawl and found image, diagrams, maps, and various typographies ranging from ancient pictographs to musical notation to layouts of chess games and domino matches, whorls of finger- and toe-prints, topographical maps and typewriters, dried corn and bingo cards) is more interested in journey than anything like end-point. It’s an expedition, even flipping through this remarkably rich, sometimes terrifyingly pidgin-strange and at other points gut-strung funny, alternating between the knotted ropes of indigenous systems of record-keeping and the jizz froth and blood of what we might even call a universal experience of our fleshy selves, especially on a boat out under the open stars, themselves a map and a set of stories and a mode of math and whatever else. The excess of knowledge, the hyper-signification and effervescent pluralism of systems for thinking, charting, categorizing: isn’t this the real story of the Doctrine of Discovery and the push out into some “unknown” (which means already known by lots of folks who appear more or less alien depending on your mood) West? Even running backwards down the river that, at times, bisects these pages (which, themselves, spin in currents from landscape view to vertical descent), the trajectory here is still into myth, a myth represented in artifacts included like rubbings from monuments encountered along the way: a caricature Indian head, a buffalo nickel, a Joseph Campbell’s tin can of soup. The backwards journey of our narrators/protagonists/ciphers, Rem and Rom (one more “prone 2 eggzagerate”) than his brother is a species of deconstruction or an unburying of a bone, in the parlance of our hero twins’ “bitch genome.” Rafting back, they read the myths of destiny manifest and imperial expansion through “Chinook jargon we pickt up” and in contemplation of the dual inheritance of natural and invasive, native and colonized. The text itself, dense to the point of impenetrable at times (but that is only allure for the true explorer, who reads with machete in hand and with knot-soled moccasins, like these brothers, for sure grip) can go “in ether direxion butt the end loops back to th beginning,” a “closed circuit” (for diagramming narrative or text layout, here, often becomes a kind of electrical system, or a botanical form, form being form, from “flywheel cranks” to finger bones, architectural blueprints to media mastheads. The book, itself a graphic thing in the world, reflects seriously—while also playfully—on such thingness, worldness, and the nature of graphics, from the cock on the cereal box to the Pa that, by not being here, is nonetheless always (maybe even all the more?) present. A celebration of signs simultaneous with story, reading the face of a compass or a combination lock alongside those verbal warnings affixed to the ceiling of travelers’ rented bedrooms warning of the flood to come if you hang your coat from the protruding fire extinguisher head, itself a little asterixis, though wade deep enough into A Raft Manifest and everything you see will signal some citation or explanatory note, an excursus or tangent fact, a linking back, closing the loop and the circuit for a non-verbal but molar-rattling shock. “Retreat to water fall den overwhelm’d by white noise,” which is at once the flood and the screen on which “Image freezes up” and we, as readers/navigators/travelers throw our own half-known ghostly “Projections onto” like a “curtain power trip,” which is another way of describing precisely the kind of trip this swirling wildness of a book is.

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