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Friday, February 18, 2011

BURN YOUR BELONGINGS (Jaded Ibis Press) by David Hoenigman

First, a word about the publisher. Debra Di Blasi's new publishing adventure, Jaded Ibis Press, combines visual, textual, and musical art in each of its books. In addition, the press makes four different versions of each of its books: an ebook form, a black and white form, a colored form, and a fine-art form. The colored and fine art go for $49 and $8500 respectively. For this review, I read an ebook copy. The song that accompanies the book can be found on the press's web page. The art work appears in a column on the far right or far left of each page. They are by Yosutoshi Yoshida. First, I will discuss the writing, then go into the ways the artwork and sound contribute to it.

Hoenigman's book is obsessive on a number of levels: The concerns of the characters are obsessive. They are part of a highly dramatic and anxiety ridden love triangle. On another level obsessive groups of images return again and again: trains, umbrellas, rain, insomnia. On a third level is Hoenigman's determination to work this love triangle through about 200 single page, dramatic monologue variations.

And these variations are singular. I've never read anything like them. Their attention to bare concrete emotion and imagery, together with the use of pronouns with no clear antecedents, creates, paradoxically, a rather abstract reading experience. For me, I couldn't tell who was speaking in a given monologue, other than that it was one of the two men in the triangle. A close read is repaid by an experience of the intensity and destructiveness of romantic love at a fever pitch, not by a clear sense of what is "going on" between the characters in any conventional way.:

"I barely know her, someone left her on my doorstep. she appears out of thin air if I say her name. I introduce them. she only speaks when spoken to. always some distraction grabs him by the wrist. leads him to futility. grayness. wedges itself between us. I've never seen her here before. has yet to develop the grace of the others. or is she trying to deceive me. I kissed her bare shoulder. considered returning again alone. he's grown smaller and smaller. it's been months since that morning. the threatening little tremors. soon it''ll be over. a perfect opportunity for her to showcase her newly found distrust. for him to take offense. bite his tongue and await the unavoidable. downward so sharply that his ears pop. it must be warm and cozy there. I alone notice how it changes night to night ..." (101)

In this quotation we begin with the metaphor about being left on the doorway. While tired, it nonetheless works for me. The momentum created by this book allows for such tired constructions. It points to the arbitrariness of their love and, in this instance, "his" patronizing feeling toward her. But this will change. All feelings in this book are subject to radical and instantaneous change. The suggestions that she is a child continue: she only speaks when spoken to. Suddenly, we switch to the other "him" in the love triangle. What we don't get here is what we don't get throughout the book: explanations at the first or second level of abstraction which indicate how the characters are specifically related. Instead, we get these truncated, popping sentences that follow the contours of thought and feeling so closely we never come up for air. It is an extreme approach.

On my ebook, the accompanying pictures are brightly colored and usually depict cityscapes or landscapes out in the country. In addition, many depict what I can only call surrealist scenes. Disparate items are placed side by side. Collages or collage-like works contain objects in two different dimensions, such as a head too small for the body. In general, the art by Yasutoshi Yoshida seems to reflect and refract the way the text draws little distinction between "reality" and "fantasy." In this book, a fantasy has as much power, if not more, in shaping perception as simple facts do.

Finally, the song on the website, also by Yoshida, begins with an acoustic piano and a recitation of a part of the book. Then there is crashing noise. I won't spoil the end for you.

This book presents a field of perception defined by fantasy, obsessiveness, and, because of the pronouns without antecedents, a lack of clarity when it comes to fact. The music, text, and pictures combine to form an unsettling, relentless investigation into some of the least explored and most feared aspects of the perceptual and emotive world. It is a courageous book.

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