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.

To send your new book to decomP for possible review, see our guidelines. To find out what’s currently under consideration, visit our review queue.

Bookmark and Share


font size

A Review of ‘SSES” ‘SSES” “SSEY’: Volumes 0 + 1
(en-Telemachy [in absence] and
In Pursuit of Higher Art In)
by Chaulky White

Spencer Dew

Scribbled at a sharp angle in the corner of one page here—a page otherwise filled with photos, handprints, an ex-libris stamp, one bold caption and a clipping from a high school newspaper—are the words “Pursuit as Re-Capitulation. We turn our attn: to the Source...” Who wrote this line? The “author” here is one of two “½’s” Derek White, compiler and redactor and arranger, bricoleur, designer, and his brother Kevin White, writer and artist, both contributing letters and elements of memoir and travelogue. The project is this, roughly: Kevin White wrote an MFA thesis (‘SSES” ‘SSES”) where his journey across Asia following the path of his father, who had committed suicide, was overlaid against James Joyce’s recapitulation of the Odyssey in Ulysses. Along with selections from his artistic oeuvre, stories and fragments left behind on his computer, journals, assorted letters, and miscellany, this text serves as the basis for Derek White’s own overlay of his journey along the path his brother took, his brother’s journey ending in death (“Verdict: overdose. Death by misadventure,” as Joyce writes here). The book/object before us (two volumes, with a third forthcoming) is thus a collaboration, “Chaulky” as shibboleth rather than pseudonym. It is written: “we need to re-inhabit our brother’s body, together becoming <<Chaulky>>.”

Less archive than arsenal, or an archive in the sense that what Pandora opened was an archive, or that horse-shaped thing wheeled into Troy, archive not as resting place but as potential energy, a hundred sharp-sword soldiers crouching inside each box:1 “THESE ARE LIVING DOCUMENTS THAT CONTINE TO WRITE & UNWRITE EACH OTHER 24 YEARS AFTER THE ORIGINATING EVENT . . . CAPABLE OF INTERACTING W/ NEW BODIES & TEXTS.”2

Here we have a map by Nabokov, a Mallarmé quote about language, a burnt painting and a half-ruined letter, diagrams charting the mitosis of cells, passages from scholarly literature on puppetry, reflections on the plot of Pinnochio (son questing after father),3 thoughts on the work of the Brothers Quay, and, of course, images of Kevin’s own experiments in and references to puppetry:4 dog chew bones hanging from medical models of bodies opened to innards.5 Text opens into text and image, each opening into more, a kind of wild mitosis, feverish, at points a palimpsest, at other a cat’s cradle.6 We are told “in the process of writediting.... It’s tempting to change details to make it more interesting to a literary reader . . . as a sort uv <<human interest>> story . . . but at the same time it’s fascinating to us as an arkhival document, to pre-serve it xactly as it was (tho this might be less intresting to the casual reader that didn’t know our brother.”7

But did we know Bloom before that day?8 Here, sorting through the primary sources, the documents as they are delivered to us, we encounter both brothers intimately.9 A transcription (typed alongside a photographic reproduction of the handwritten original) states: “as the story progresses, the segments[,] current descriptions (?) of my life [become] juxtaposed with transcripts of the journals,” which describes something like the experience of entering this archive.10 “Reading” the text is a kind of performance, a practice, predicating on the acquisition and honing of tactics. The book/object mimics a journey, is a journey: we sail into new, fantastic and uncharted realms.11 In short, there can be no casual readers here, only collaborators. To open this book is to follow along on a pursuit, to participate in the artistic process, and to be thus called toward—another level yet—some further recapitulation.12

1. “Cousin [Ray] was shooting hoops outside with [the neighbors]. His voice echoed off the houses across the street . . . ‘H, h, O, o, R, r, S, s,...’” runs one retelling of the scene wherein the news of the father’s death is revealing. Kevin later died of heroin overdose.

2. Reading this book, I had to stop, fingers wedged in the pages, to text friends, to say, get your hands on this. The book, as idea, as project, as pattern: reading it is learning a new skill—ambidexterity, for instance, or enlightenment.

3. “We know James Joyce purchased Collodi’s Pinocchio from FH Schimpff bookseller in Trieste,” reads one passage here indicative of the multiple layers of pursuit at play. Elements of mystery novel, elements of magic: “Each book contains encoded instruction that, upon reading, create a world anew.”

4. “Kevin’s puppet fetish perhaps led to his ELEMENTS series (see episode 13± the preseeding xhibit 31) the headless + limbless torsos essentially inverted puppets . . . + he also had a general preoccupation w/ the human body (the 3-part Zone series on Fragments for a History of the Human Body was always front + center on his shelf).”

5. Recently, over a plate of thymus gland, fried pancreas, liver, tongue, and a little noodle-like section of small intestine dusted in parmesan, I discussed, with a colleague, Bloomsday, the idea of it:
     What is commemoration, anyway, at least in the ritual sense, but a reliving, even if you weren’t quite literally there the first time?
     A reliving of a fiction? Only not a reliving at all
, my colleague said. Because you’re not publicly masturbating. People don’t publicly masturbate on Bloomsday, do they?
     She had no use for her liver, my colleague.
     They eat cheese sandwiches, I said. There are readings. Like any holiday, it’s an excuse to get drunk or spend an afternoon with people with whom you share something. Values, a sense of identity or meaning or whatever.
     And their wives, the wives of celebrants, they aren’t shagged while the reading is going on or anything like that? The reenactment is selective.

6. A tapestry, like that being woven and unwoven back in Ithaca, a thousand strands, a labyrinth of action and narrative.

7. “We write these notes to self thinking they are line items we can use or inkorporate later but when we re-read we don’t member what we initially meant + feel more inklined to omit or erase. Maybe we should just trust our instincks + inklude the original marginalia as it is, w/the disclaimer that the entire book is within quotes,” reads one column of text under an image of eye-patched Joyce juxtaposed with a page reproducing a childhood letter from Kevin to “Grandpa Cal and GrannyNanny.” On the same page as Joyce we get a stamp saying “[THIS SPACE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK]” coupled with a footnote exploring the editor’s “overzealous compulsion to fill all white space,” a pun on inheritance and identity, the absence which prompts the journey, as “Ulysses’s absence is what sets the gears in motion for Telemachus.”

8. Doomsday. We also hear this about conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader, “whose grand finale was to sail solo across the Atlantic ocean in a 13 ft boat (which was found 10 months after off the coast of Ireland, but his body never was).”

9. A Thanksgiving note: “I am in the 5 grade And eleven years Old I am painting (Acrilac).”

10. The assemblage as siren song.

11. “...not that i totally know where i’m going yet here on this odyssey. Personally, i find up-front tables of contents patronizingly suspect . . . as if the author(s) know xactly where they are taking us. I’ll be the 1st to admit i don’t have a clue—i’m in the same boat as u (or U . . . as in Ulysses)—xcept i have my brother-1/2’s ‘SSES” ‘SSES” thesis + pre-xisting writings/art . . . + the road-maps of The Odyssey + Ulysses to guide the way.”


Official Calamari Archive, Ink Web Site

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...