Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Blake Butler's "Ever"

Blake Butler is the editor of Lamination Colony and yesterday I got his book. I read it to my daughter last night (the night before I read her a book about "a girl named Dictee" she's very interested in the books on my night table).

Happpily this fine book fits very well into my narrow interests: rooms, buildings, boxes and the gothic imagination. And The Shining of course.

In The Shining, a large part of the pleasure comes from the tension between the very linear narrative of the horror story and the increasing presence of the hotel itself as a kind of alternative structure. The high point is of course when the mother is going kind of crazy running in the stairways and she sees the couple in furry outfits engaging in oral sex (or something similar). This for me is the moment when the story threatens to totally break down (with the mother): if she leaves the narrative and enters the ghosty realm of the hotel, the movie is finished. Of course, this is what happens to Jack Nicholson at the end when he dies.

It is not irrelevant that Jack Nicholson's character when spellbound by the hotel begins to write artsy novels: conceptual detournments of Ben Franklin. This is perhaps most obviously seen as a sign of his madness: when the wife finds his novel - that's when she realizes he's crazy (as if the book could provide evidence stronger than his very strange behavior!).

But today I think of the novel as sign of his desperate attempt to stick to the Ben Franklin scheme: a way to keep from giving into the ghosty imagination of the hotel structure. But the very repetitiveness of the detournment suggests he's already lost and becoming part of the hotel [unless he joins the Conceptual Writing Club and gains great "Fame"]. Something that is affirmed by his increasingly living with the ghosts. In fact killing the family seems a pretty trivial detail by the time he gets around to it. Here the narrative is an emblem of the world where things make sense, where things are done for a reason, the realm of causality. The hotel invites Jack to a world of excess that cannot be reigned in by the narrative.

This is of course also the realm of Poe - Ligeia kills her replacement and is reborn through the strange atmosphere of the castle. When Twin Peaks aired, everybody watched it as long as it was a murder mystery. When we found out who killed Laura Palmer, we stopped watching because it became about the Black Lodge instead of the murder mystery. The show lost its narrative umph. Perhaps that tension is what makes something a gothic text.

Of course, I love the black lodge. The Black Lodge (like its mundane double, the Great Northern Hotel) are of course both involved in the hotel in The Shining (all of them are also built on top of the mass-murder of native americans we should not forget).

"When you see me again / it won't be me" says the little man. In the Shining, the dead girls are twins. The hotel is the realm of cinematic tricks (doubling, "doppelganger!" etc). The body is distorted - becomes a cinematic body, both in terms of stylized/unnatural (Laura Palmer's weird gestures, the little man's weird backwards movements which are actually reversed/backward by movie technology) and "charged"(Breton).

This is my long introduction to Blake's novel because this is the issue at stake in Ever (that is where narrative ceases to function). What makes this novel very interesting in this context is that it seems to be written from the other direction - not a murder mystery that loses its narrative, but a narrative-less cinematic body-fantasia in search of a narrative. The speaker wanders through rooms and room searching for the murder mystery.

Great book. Perhaps the word "book" matters here - as opposed to film.

It also has neat illustrations by Derek White.

Which perhaps brings up another cinematic/poetic room:


Just some early morning thoughts.


Blogger Johannes said...

I was rude not to include a quote from the actual book:

"This room was minute or it was massive, full of sunning like a hive. The walls had many tiny pictures - I will not describe them in words. My arms poured their blood to one another back and forth. My warmth increased at a rate concurrent to the room's needs. My head began to boil. I said goodbye to certain things. I slushed myself into the color." (50)

It is unbelievably cold in Indiana. So cold my fingers can barely type.

7:29 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Also, I realize my comments about Nicholson's novel clearly contradicts my former statements about form. According to these ideas, it should be the form that drives him into ghosty land.

7:31 AM  
Blogger BLAKE BUTLER said...

thank you Johannes: I like the meditation on the Shining in relation to the book. I was listening to Wendy Carlos's moog scores for the film when I edited a bunch of it (one of the tracks is on the soundtrack I sent with the book (I think I sent you one?))

the room Nicholson writes his book in I think is one of the all time great rooms in existence: I think it is important too that that his writing room seems to have no doors to it, it simply opens up into the other rooms of the hotel, whereas almost every other room seems very claustrophobic and bound.

"[unless he joins the Conceptual Writing Club and gains great "Fame"]" I love this. maybe that's what happens. maybe that's where he is when at the end he is cured in ice with his eyes rolled back in his head.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Verse said...

Okay, I need to read that book!

And thanks for the YouTube clip from The Shining--I saw the movie when I was 8 and was most struck by the long corridors, the garden maze, the snow, the kid on the big wheel (as I had a beloved big wheel then). I paid almost no attention to the adults in the film, it seems, and I didn't notice the manuscript--I love how the sentence takes on so many forms on the pages as she flips through them.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Your child-reading was merely a hotel-centric reading! And thus correct!

Of course those hallway-shots are repeated ad infinite in Lynch's ouevre.


9:54 AM  
Blogger Verse said...

That might be partly why I loved Twin Peaks so much, though I caught only occasional episodes when it first aired. I started writing poetry around the same time, and one of my first poems was an ode, of sorts, to Laura Palmer (well, Laura Palmer's corpse, since this was before the film in which she appeared).

1:50 PM  
Blogger Amish Trivedi said...

I shall have to make the University purchase this- and purchase mine own copy, of course!

4:11 PM  
Blogger Laura Carter said...

Thanks for writing about Ever; I went to Blake's reading last night, and was pretty much blown away by the musicality of the book.

10:41 AM  

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