The Pleasure of the Text

One of the nicest side effects of the publication of The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing has been the response to the “Read Your Way to Adventure” form at the back of the book, which invites readers to cut out and snail mail me requesting some ephemera from Laing’s archive. I didn’t know what to expect, and I’ve been happily surprised, with mail coming in not only from the U.S. but from the U.K., Spain, Canada, Peru, The Netherlands, and Japan. These provide a real connection to real readers. The Laing archive is far from exhausted, so keep them coming.

“The text is a fetish object, and this fetish desires me. The text chooses me, by a whole disposition of invisible screens, selective baffles.” –Roland Barthes, from The Pleasure of the Text

The form from the back of the novel.

The form from the back of the novel.

A sampling of some of the letterhead on which I type responses to readers.

A sampling of some of the letterhead on which I type responses to readers.

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Books and Movies


“Excellent and nightmarish . . . Rombes’s novel is a love letter to this art of misremembering': these destroyed films become as real as any film playing at a theater near you.”  –The Paris Review.

“A strong contender for novel of the year.”3:AM Magazine

“I very much enjoyed this weird, disturbing, sometimes effe-ed up novel about strange films, lost films, and the fragile faith in the difference between our fictions and our realities.” –Jeff VanderMeer, author of The Southern Reach Trilogy

Interview (including the part about the knife fight . . .) at Weird Fiction Review.

Profile over at The Irish Times.

Thank you to Flavorwire for including Laing as one of the best indie books of 2014.

The second trailer for the Laing novel is up over at Vimeo.

The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing, trailer #2 from Nicholas Rombes on Vimeo.

The novel will include a “cut-out form” to snail-mail to me, if the reader wishes, that requests a strip of 16 mm film from the archive of Laing. The film strip will be included with a personally typed (typed, on a 1983 Sears typewriter: “The Scholar–with Correction”) letter on letterhead from one of several obscure, and weirdly powerful, conglomerate companies/agencies from the past.

Thank you to Glenn Kenny for his kind write-up about the novel, over here.  In part: “[a]n uncanny pleasure, a secret history in a series of alchemical celluloid prose poems. I enjoyed the hell out of it even as it began to conspire with my dreams.”

I’m in conversation at Electric Literature with Colin Winnette about Joan Didion’s novel Play It As It Lays (from which I nicked the name “Lang / Laing).

I’ve annotated a section of the novel at LitGenius.

At Necessary Fiction Steve Himmer kindly invited me to contribute to “Research Notes” for the novel, I write about two filmic influences: Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

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“You might also be stopped in your tracks by phrase-making I doubt could have been produced by anyone else on earth.” A belated thank you to Greil Marcus for this, about A Cultural Dictionary of Punk, which originally appeared (the Marcus thing, that is) in the October 2009 issue of The Believer.


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All Roads Lead to the Present

A few years ago I wrote a doomed but sort of fun column over at The Oxford American called “Panel Busting.” One installment looked at a few nineteenth-century cartoons and their relationship to the development of early cinema and since then I’ve been picking up copies when I come across them of such illustrations/cartoons/comics. The one below is from a July 1870 copy Every Saturday, a short-lived periodical. I’ve scanned the full page (14” x 10.5″) as well as higher-resolution segment.



Depicting the time leading up to and the time immediately after Fourth of July antics what’s interesting is the non-linear portrayal of these frozen moments.  The highlight of the evening is centered on the page, surrounded by moments from the day beginning with “The Day Begins” (upper left panel) and ending with “Played Out” (lower center panel). But the moments in between seem undirected–the reader doesn’t seem to be visually directed to look at/read the panels in any particular order. Reading from clockwise from upper left doesn’t make any sense, and neither does reading (as we would today in “comic strips”) sequentially from left to right starting at the top left panel and ending at the bottom right panel, as if reading prose.

What is the relationship between cartoons and early cinema during this era? In what ways did cartoons become increasingly sequential as a result of the inescapable linearity of cinema? For no matter how “out of sequence” a film’s depiction of narrative is–whether through flashbacks or parallel editing or dream sequences–it still unfolds on the screen and is perceived by the viewer as a sequence. Until the advent of home viewing technologies it really wasn’t possible for an audience to experience a film except as a sequence of images whose duration was the length of the film. This is radically different, say, than experience the Fourth of July illustration, which a viewer could choose to read in any sequence she wanted, and which could last for seconds, minutes, or hours, or as long as wanted it to last.

Will Eisner touches on this a little bit in his great book Comics and Sequential Art, and there’s a good discussion of the relationship between simultaneity and early film editing, such as parallel editing or cross-cutting, in Stephen Kern’s book The Culture of Time and Space: 1880-1918, as well as in Charles Musser’s The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907, where he writes about those years before the emergence of parallel editing: “One of pre-1907 cinema’s most distinctive features was its nonlinear temporality in the arrangement of scenes.” (And behind all this lies Deleuze, laughing.) I don’t think there’s a grand unifying theory here, but rather a vast and untapped collection of moments in time, lost illustrations/cartoons/comics that speak in cryptic ways about our efforts to forget, as Chris Ware says, that “all roads lead to the present.”

ware1Above, from Chris Ware, The ACME Novelty Library, Number 20. Drawn & Quarterly Publications, 2010


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BOMB Magazine interview

Interview at BOMB (cf. knife fight) over here.


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2666 Revisited

Reading Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 again (and yet again, eternally it seems, which is a sort of beautiful curse, or a curse that has no end) and there is a terror, a real terror, to certain lines, and not because of any pyrotechnic language but rather because of the direct plainness of it, as in the very early section where Morini (wheelchair-bound Morini, or perhaps faking to be wheelchair-bound, a heretical reading of the text, I know) has a nightmare about Liz Norton (“when she suffered, her pain was clearly visible”) which makes her a person to fall in love with, a person to love without honor or at least without the codes that govern love without honor, a nightmare that involves a pool (a pool governed by shadows) and Liz and Morini searching for Liz in the fog and afraid that he may topple into the pool and the line “Morini was about to shout again and wave when he sensed someone at his back. Two things were instantly certain: the thing was evil and it wanted Morini to turn around and see its face” (47). These lines, somehow, correct the world, or a perception of the world, which is to say that the evil here is not of psychology (True Detective recently pushed against this model, until its final episodes, but so much of our narrative today resolves itself around the psychology of the protagonists, as if neuro-science has become the new meta-narrative, or as if psychology were not really the individual expression of a sickness, an aberration, a cosmic aberration that includes [a thought only thought in the darkest of night: humanity itself]) but rather of something at once more cosmic and more banal, as if time itself had leaked back into the world, and in leaking brought with it the rust of pipes.) Of all the recent books (Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror and Mezzo and Pirus’s King of the Flies being the exceptions) 2666 comes closest glimpsing evil in both its capital E and lowercase e versions.





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Revisiting the Requiem Project

Back in 2010 I launched the Requiem 102 project, inviting theorists, writers, and artists in an exploration of Darren Aronofsky’s film Requiem for a Dream (2000). Here it is, and here is the introduction to the project. Each of the contributors’ posts was compelling in its own way, but one of my favorites remains Catherine Grant’s short video theorizing the film’s famous split screens. Grant’s work is powerful and creative, challenging us to use the tools of cinema itself in our study of cinema.

Establishing Split: On REQUIEM FOR A DREAM from Catherine Grant on Vimeo.

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