Tales of Turds

The title of Pyetr Turgidovsky’s new collection of short stories, This World of Shit, is sadly suggestive of the cheaply made Christmas compendiums that we are all well used to seeing at this time of year: those endless gaudy baubles of charmless prose meanly tossed onto the lifeless tree of cynical consumerism (to put it as gently as I can). We could blame this on the translator, were it not for the fact that Turgidovsky was probably aiming for just such a connection. He has such confidence in his particular brand of high-minded literary nihilism that echoes of low art (and one cannot get much lower than Christmas cash-ins) are merely a source of amusement. To commit a crime against good taste has become, for him, something of a daily necessity.

Needless to say, the new stories are typical in this regard. Composed with stunning care, they are yet crammed with crudity of the very highest order. He claims in his introduction that he wants to create the literary equivalent of a blocked toilet. This, I think, he has achieved. Too many of his sentences refuse, after several days, to flush themselves from my mind. There they remain, ever-festering; emitting a ever-changing, but never-improving odour.

As it is, the title is apt. This World of Shit delivers exactly what it promises: a multiplicity of bowel movements. In one story, a peverse gargoyle sitting on the corner of a building in an Italian piazza spends his lazy days pondering over the toiletry habits of the humans below. He takes particular interest in a group of people who appear to frequent the lavatorial facilities of a small art gallery opposite, leading to an array of philosophical meditations on the relationship between art and shit.

In another story a frustrated husband secretly eats his own shit, keeping a detailed diary of his adventures. One does not even want to consider whether or not Turgidovsky’s recreations of this diary gain their success from personal experiences.

There is more. A lot more. Too much more, perhaps. But then this is Turgidovsky, a writer who does not do things in halves. Poo is his subject, and he is determined to make the most of it. Which is not to say that he isn’t inventive with excrement. There are foul things aplenty in this collection, but few of them are repeated unnecessarily. Turgidovsky’s approach, as ever, is both wide-ranging and unexpected. All the old avenues are explored, but new channels are also opened up. Shit there is, in all shapes and sizes, in all situations and circumstances, in all symbolic and sensual guises. Tales of turds come easily to Turgidovsky, that much was obvious even before the publication of his collection; but it is nonetheless satisfying to see him covering  typical territory with such terrific poise and precision. It may be hard to stomach at times, but one cannot fault the writer – nor, when all is said and done, the title. Taken together, these stories really do examine a world of shit. What’s more, they argue that this world is worth thinking about it, and writing about, at some length.


Having said I would explain the absence of a review for Henri Ossan-Ossaf’s In Case amongst my Greatest European Novels List, I’m not sure I can. I started commissioning reviews for this list almost six years ago, asking no more than a few thousand words for each novel. You’d have thought someone could have come up with something by now, wouldn’t you?

Ah, but you underestimate the peculiar humour of this world of ours. Strange forces, fuelled by hidden realities, with the close support of metaphysical powers lying behind the mysterious veil of the unknown, have clearly decided that no one should write a review of Ossan-Ossaf’s book. Why I do not know. Suffice it to say that they have made their point clear on more than one occasion.

One could get too hysterical about this whole matter. One could even write a novel about the attempt to write a review of this novel; a novel that would quite possibly be better than the original novel. Yes: one could definitely make more of this if one wanted to.

As editors go, however, I seek an element of reserve. Where others go over the top, I merely peek my head above the parapet for a moment or so. Ultimately, I have better things to do than submit to hysteria.

On which basis, let me keep this explanation brief. The facts are as follows: several writers have agreed to write this review over the last six years. All of them have failed to finish. At first these failures felt like a spooky coincedence. They have since begun to seem like something rather more frightening. I exaggerate, perhaps, but the death of so many critics working on the same project in such a short space of time does strike me as just a little odd. Some of them were quite old, admittedly, but the demise of the others certainly came as something of a shock. Nobody, not even his anxious mother, expected Per Hansen to choke on that satsuma.

The greatest sadness of all, of course, lies in the fact that, amidst all this chaos, the review remains unwritten. God knows that we’ve tried to remedy this, but God clearly has other ideas. What they are exactly is beyond even my critical powers. I guess we’ll have to wait for him/her to write a novel.

Tickle the time-worn soles…

Here endeth the bulk of my reservations. Any conclusions? Why yes. From this I conclude that the brightest interruption is no more than a cunningly structured exploration of the well-established link between melody and memory, taking as its subject a character whose memories are barely worth accessing in this fashion, offering little in the way of great human insight and/or drama. Luca Maria-Mosa is the kind of writer who lives, I suspect, in a self-constructed haze of nostalgia. Why? Because nostalgia is comfy. It feels good to crouch in the warm sands of the past and feel the tides of reminiscence tickle the time-worn soles of your feet. What matter if some of the memories are sour? Memory does its best to touch things up. A lick of paint, a layer of varnish. And a little can go a long long way. Just lie back and let yourself fade away.

(Heidi Kohlenberg, review of Luca Maria-Mosa’s the brightest interruption)

With Kohlenberg’s review, all but one of the original fifty-two reviews of the Greatest European Novels by Contemporary Novelists have been re-published. The absence of the last review is a complicated matter, which I will explain in due course.

Washing Masymphony

Thornton Farland has been collecting washing machines for some years now, much to his partner’s chagrin. Last year he built a large barn at the bottom of his garden to accomodate all the machines. He also took out a large loan to deal with the spiralling electricity costs. Running forty washing machines at once, apparently, isn’t the cheapest way of working. But what does Thornton Farland care? In the search for new musical forms, a hefty energy bill is of little importance.

The sounds made by a washing machine have always fascinated Farland, and have already led to some pioneering musical works, including the 2005 piano sonata, Short Cycle, 30 degrees and the 2007 violin concerto, Wool Wash. These were, however, relatively short pieces, based on single washing cycles, or the behaviour of one particular machine. So far as he is concerned, there is much more to be done. ‘A washing machine has no less than symphonic potential’, he argued in a recent interview. Potential, that is, for not just one, but ten, symphonies.

Progress is, however, slow. According to one source, Farland is half-way through his series of Washing Masymphonies, due to premiere at the annual music festival in Irkutsk in early 2014. This leaves him a good three years to write five symphonies. In those three years, he expects to have listened to at least twelve washing cycles a day. That’s about 13, 000 cycles altogether.

See here for more on Thornton Farland.

Not All Idiot

How many times has Heidi Kohlenberg stabbed me in the back? How many atoms can you fit inside a jar? Few friends of mine have quite such a propensity for criticising me and my work. This is not to say that I am regretful: one needs to be reminded of one’s weaknesses, after all. But I wonder nevertheless why it is that Kohlenberg has taken it upon herself to lead the charge. Is it professional jealousy? Is it repressed sexual desire? It is mere fun?

Whichever it is, the evidence is not hard to find. Consider the following, from her review of Koira Jupczek’s Death Charts:

The real truth here is that Riecke, like so many male critics, compensates for the lack of drama in his life by supporting writers compensating for the lack of their drama in their lives by inventing it, in fantastical form, there upon the page…

And again, from the same review:

Which brings me to the question – is Georgy Riecke aware that Koira Jupczek is having a giggle or two at his expense? Is he brave enough to realise that his voracious appetite for death-inspired fiction is ultimately an act of cowardice; a hop, skip and a jump away from the harsh realities of, well, reality? Much as I would like to pull even more straw from the stomach of this rag-doll editor of mine, I must admit that he probably is well aware of Jupczek’s otherwise hidden intentions. He isn’t all idiot…

Aha! So a bead of affectionate sap seeps at last from the great oak of malice. I’m not ‘all idiot’, it transpires – which probably explains why Kohlenberg has been happy to work under my editorship for several years (what this suggests regarding the mental capacities of other editors is more than I dare to ask…)

The Visual Essay (2)

Further, scattered, thoughts on the subject of the visual essay.

An exhibition is the ideal visual essay – or should be, at any rate. This is where the form breathes. An exhibition really needs no words of explanation, but gets them all the same, hovering around the pictures like high summer flies. It is bad enough that pictures should be surrounded by propostero shoddy frames, but all these words too? Why must we be directed so? Let the images play with the images. Leave the words outside.

Words that try to describe images is one thing, but what about images that try to describe words? This was the crime committed by Thomas Stippel in his review of Donna Devoni’s Hotwiring Honolulu. To explore a novel through a succession of images? I wonder if it can be done.