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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“If someone should happen to find my book and quote from it, making the mistake that ‘essay’ means nonfiction, so much the better,” writes Weinstein in his “Afterward and Thanks,” discussing an influence on these pages, Borges, who gives us, like Weinstein, wonder, as both a revitalization of sense and a renewal of that experience.
This book details untrue and in some cases impossible things, with citations. Faux scholarship imparts a sense of limitless erudition. We learn of mechanized pigeons and of an alcohol made of graveyard shoes, of scented Braille, of collars that attach to bone. These pieces are encyclopedic in tone, miniature histories of fantastic things.
Consider, for instance, the translation, into scented Braille, of Baudelaire’s “L’Ame Du Vin.” The translators, we are told, “sought, on a single leaf of parchment, the moment when the seal on the bottle of wine is broken, but just before the bottle is uncorked and the wine begins to speak...” searching for a scent that “should have the distinct odor not only of wine, but of something metallic too: coppery, sanguine. There should be a lingering note of dust.”
This last line aptly describes the strategy Weinstein employs, as if imagining a museum (and, in one bit on dioramas, he does). Dust motes in the filtered light, wall labels rich in meandering facts, references to literature and legendary anecdotes. Emerson’s eyeball on a drunken jag, clutching the classics for credentials and holding forth on those things wonderful and/or sublime: teeth as reflections of status, social and psychological, from the “pure id” of Mr. Hyde’s yellow grin to the liberation of pink, “perfect, unerupted gums” or Captain Cook’s observations on ice filtered through kabbalistic readings of God’s declaration to Moses of His own eternal and self-initiating Being.
It is an exciting book, in the way old encyclopedias are exciting, not just for their juxtaposition of facts but for the way they allow the reader the feeling of exploration, of lighting off into unknown corners of the world.
Official Les Figues Press Web Site