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.
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