On Truth, Amongst Other Things

It occurred to me this morning, sitting at my breakfast table, chipped mug in hand, that people only write me letters to inform me that I am in some way mistaken. I should dearly love, one fair day, to receive the following correspondence:

Mr. Riecke,

I have just finished reading one of your excellent articles, and am compelled (nay, driven) to tell you that every fact you present therein is coated in a healthy layer of correctness. How very wonderful of you to embrace truth in such a masterful manner! If only more critics were quite so genrous when it came to exactitude. Bravo!

One day, maybe…

[speaking of mean-spirited letters, allow me to remind my gentle readers that all mail received by Underneath the Bunker between 2004-2008 was recently collected here. Read on, read on, in majesty!]

He Relents, He Retreats, He Retraces

Sir, – I am amazed and amused. Your precious general editor Georgy Riecke is well known for taking pains to present a skewed double-image of himself – the brave cultural adventurer on the one hand, the craven ditherer on the other – but I simply cannot accept this latest admission of his. One has to begin to question his motives in this direction. What is he trying to achieve? I suppose he fears the ‘broad outlines’ of a popular personality. He cares not for cartoons. He pants for a ‘well-rounded’ character; a complex, multi-faceted persona. He craves to be considered ‘human’ above all; to show off all his frailties like military medals: ‘Look at me!’ the poor wretch cries: ‘I say one thing and do another! How wonderfully and simply intricate I am!’ Every now and again he relents, he retreats, he retraces his steps and wonders whether he isn’t superhuman after all; whether he isn’t the editor par excellence, who reads every book eighty five times upside-down. But then he stops. Convinced of his greatness, he can’t help throwing his weaknesses in our face…

Yes, Underneath the Bunker has finally decided to publish all the angry, friendly and (for the large part) strange correspondence we received between the years 2004-2008. You can read it here.

Memoir (2)

The response to my announcement that I will releasing my memoirs of Johannes Speyer this year has been nothing if not lively. From the high hills of Scotland to the deep caves of Cornwall, people have been talking of little else. And their comments, so far as I can tell, fall into several distinct camps.

To start with, there are those who are over-excited – and who can blame them? It’s not every day that someone writes a memoir of Johannes Speyer and releases it, free of charge, on the internet. Some have even suggested that a day be put aside for a national celebration, though I confess that this is, I think, more than the occasion merits. A half-day of celebration will be quite enough, thank you.

Other people thirst for further details. When will the first instalment be released? (this weekend, I fancy). Will there be illustrations? (despite the interest of several high-profile artists, no). Will it be available in other languages? (not unless you care to translate it yourself). How long is it? (I haven’t counted). Is it worth reading? (clearly, yes).

Lastly, I have to note the presence of a handful – just a handful – of naysayers. These human worms are putting forward all kinds of curious claims, none of which have any basis in reality. They argue, for instance, that the memoir is being released online because it isn’t ‘good enoug’h to ‘deserve’ a physical copy. This is, I think, a tired old argument, borrowed from the early days of the internet, if not the hey-days of ignorance. In these troubled times of ours, it is no longer fair to presume that decent writing can only be found in a book shop. In fact, the world is crawling with decent writing, and very little of it can be found in book shops. You only have to enter a book shop to appreciate this.

The naysayers are also putting forward the rumour that this project consists of ‘a hundred percent hype and zero percent content’. One man has even gone so far as to claim that I haven’t even written the memoir; that I am, in effect, publicising a non-existent product. This, I can assure you, is the purest baloney one can hope to find outside of a baloney factory. The thing is written, and once it is read you will be able to see for yourself, I trust, that the ‘hype’ (such as it is) is more than justified.

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…)

On Wassinger

Earlier today I received angry correspondence from someone-who-shall-remain-nameless, taking issue with the following line of a previous post: ‘one which readers of all nationalities can enjoy, as Wassinger personally oversees each and every foreign language edition of his work‘.

Georgy,’ read the letter, ‘you are, as ever, misleading‘. Why so? My irritated missive-scribbler charges me on two accounts. First: the small matter of enjoyment. ‘Wassinger’s project,’ claims my disgruntled denigrater, ‘is not something to be praised, even lightly. Interesting as it was in conception, it was roundly considered to be a failure when delivered. There was, in short, nothing to be enjoyed at all, save the sad spectre of an artist falling flat on his face (or should I say nose?)’

They go on to admit, however, that ‘this remains a tricky score to settle, being a question of personal preferences. No doubt you, Georgy, revelled in Wassinger’s wasteful wreckage of a work‘. This is not entirely true: I too had my reservations about the book, though I admired the audacity of the author’s intentions. I am willing, nonetheless, to concede aspects of the complainer’s closing point, as noted below.

You are at your bravest, but by no means your best, when you go on to discuss foreign language editions of Wassinger’s work,’ continues the disconcerted correspondent: ‘After all, as I’m sure you know full well, there were no foreign language editions of Wassinger’s work at all, just as there were no second editions either. The book was published once – and once only.’

Criticism taken. Allow me to defend myself, however, by reminding my readers that my words were (and are) much less misleading than they seem. In fact, I never claimed that were any (or is that were any?) foreign language editions: I merely wrote that ‘Wassinger personally oversees each and every foreign language edition of his work‘. As there were no foreign editions, it follows Wassinger had nothing to oversee. However, this is not to say that he wouldn’t have done this if given the opportunity – which, for all the talk of failure, may yet come.

I trust this makes some semblance of what we used to call sense.

Waiting for Posterity

I’ve said a lot of things about Jean-Paul Xengho’s Yellow, Red. Here, for your convenience, is a short collection of them:

The busy dragonfly of gossip has been bringing news of Xengho’s genius ever since the publication of ‘Yellow, Red’ in 1997, but I’ve been struggling for some time to discover who let the insect out. You speak to someone, who heard from someone else that the book is brilliant. You track down that someone else, who turns out never to have read it, but takes someone else’s word that it is the best thing they’ve ever set eyes on….

….A lot of ‘clever’ people are holding onto Jean-Paul Xengho, just in case he comes up trumps. They can’t pinpoint the genius in ‘Yellow, Red’, but they’re convinced it’s in there somewhere. There’s far too much risk in pushing it aside, let alone drawing people’s attention to the possibility that the book is, ultimately, an incomprehensible tract, jam-packed with meandering, fundamentally hollow judgments, and wrapped with as much finesse as a fish and chip dinner around a plot that could well crumble when poked with a moderately sturdy fork…

….I’m not saying that Jean-Paul Xengho is not a clever man, rather that ‘Yellow, Red’ is not half the book we think it is – and serves best, I think, as an illustration of how far an author can travel on a mysterious reputation alone, whilst his words subsist in a state of almost complete perplexity, understood by no one that I know – and quite possibly no one at all….

…it’s a masterpiece in so far as it gives the appearance of being one…

…Never has a book stood so forcefully on such soft ground….

The bell rings loud, the bell rings clear. The image is received by the eye in its totality. The message is transmitted, the message is understood. The fact stands tall, and the fact is this: I don’t rate the book. In fact, I suspect a con. Since I wrote this review, you won’t be surprised to hear that I have received violent messages of dissent – all from anonymous sources – which only confirms my point. My judgement is used to being doubted, and the chances of a u-turn are smaller than a dwarf wren. Yellow, Red is over-rated. There is nothing more to be said.

Callous Correspondence

Over at Underneath the Bunker I have just re-published my famous ‘riposte’ to accusations made regarding my relationship with the late Russian writer Yevgeny Nonik. In an attempt to give a fair hearing to all concerned, I here reproduce the original incriminating letters. The first came from Howard St.John, and went like so:

Sir, – Not for the first time in connection with this literary journal, I fear I have caught the scent of a pestilent rodent. There is something distinctly piscine going on here – and the seeds of doubt are sprouting upon my troubled brow. Excuse me for being so distrustful, but following Georgy Riecke’s appraisal of the Russian (but British-based) ‘writer’ Yevgeny Nonik, I am compelled to speak my mind.

Is Yevgeny Nonik for real? Riecke sprays so many ‘assurances’ in his reader’s direction that one suspects him to be very aware of the unsteady ground on which he stands. He has published his work, and yet claims never to have seen Nonik; doing business only with an anonymous ‘young nurse’. This in itself is cause for concern: the last time I heard of a married literary editor making transactions with a young nurse we had a messy divorce suit on our hands. But there is reason to suppose that Riecke’s nurse is – like Nonik himself – either no nurse at all (i.e. this is the writer of ‘molasses pry with wantonness’) or is entirely fictional (i.e. the writer is Riecke himself). Either of these possibilities seems to me to be far more likely than that of a mentally insane man – about which we know practically nothing – producing all of this work as an ‘asylum assignment’.

All in all, I struggle to find any reasons why I should believe in Nonik’s existence; my doubts only amplified by a curious detail at the end of Riecke’s article in which he mention the ‘writer’s family’. Up to this point, all the talk has been of the patient and the nurse; yet here we suddenly have the appearance of a family, none of whom are named, nor their part in their controversial circumstances of Nonik’s publication explained. Needless to say, clarification is required on this point. Before this arrives, perhaps we ought to reflect on an interesting detail regarding the titles of Nonik’s first book: i.e. its use of the word ‘molasses’.

Highly favoured by Nonik, this is also a word much used by Riecke (within his website the latter insists that the ‘molasses of contemporary culture’ drip upon people’s faces). It turns out that this is but one of many similarities between Riecke and Nonik’s prose style and choice of vocabulary – which also includes frequent references to squirrels, as well as a plethora of ambiguous metaphors. While the evidence is not yet concrete, it is beginning to bare the mark of authenticity: much unlike the work of Yevgeny Nonik, for whom Riecke makes so many claims of sincerity that one wonders whether he can only be insincere.

Yours in anticipation of a swindle,


The second letter came soon afterwards, from Mrs (or should that be ‘Miss’?) Glenda Harstein:

Sir, – May I be the first to heartily embrace the well-constructed bile of Mr St.John (below) whose dedication to the cause of truth undoubtedly brings out the best in him. He wonders: is Yevgeny Nonik a cardboard cutout behind which the sturdy frame of Georgy Riecke cowers like a fattened farm animal on a Sunday morning? This same question has been tossed hither and thither around our own drawing room, with few voices falling in favour of the ‘esteemed editor’. As he notes, the parallels between Nonik and Riecke’s prose are more than frequent, especially in the line of metaphors and similes. One may be excused, for instance, in thinking that the lines ‘clouds gathering like pensioners at the post-office’ were taken from one of Riecke’s stodgy-pudding-like reviews. On the contrary, they appear in the opening line of Yevgeny Nonik’s ‘subtle carnivores’. I ask: is there space in this world for two abusers of the oblique metaphor? There need not be – Nonik and Riecke are one and the same: ‘subtle carnivores’ being nothing more in the end than a repository of all those quaint metaphors and clumsy theories that Riecke has failed to slip into his other articles. Experimental literature? Excremental more like. The attempt to hide the work’s faults behind the claim that the writer is ‘insane’ strikes me as vulgar if anything. One is tempted to wonder what the hell Riecke is up to, until one remembers that Nonik is being published by Riecke’s own publishing house, Upside-Down-Then-Backwards, which by my estimation currently publishes at the rate of two books every year. Either it has high standards, or zero submissions. I don’t need to tell you where I stand on this. The guillotine is being wiped clean as we speak…

Yours sincerely,

GLENDA HARSTEIN, Professor of Postmodernism, Hampstead University

There were, I seem to recall, no letters of support.