Books and Movies

THE ABSOLUTION OF ROBERTO ACESTES LAING

A haunting debut novel . . . I want to keep thinking about it knowing I’ll never fully understand it, and I consider that the highest praise. Like the best of Borges (Borges, another film scholar and curator of secret histories), this novel has the erudite and exegetic tone that suggests answers and solutions, while understanding that riddles don’t resonate because of their answers, but because of what they ask.” –The Los Angeles Review of Books

“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

“Rombes’s knowledge and caretaking of film history, as well as the strange feeling of imagining lost artworks by some of our greatest directors, makes this debut novel addictive reading.”  –Blake Butler, Vice

“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.

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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The Story of X

I received, in last week’s mail, in trust for delivery to X, this letter from Berfrois.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 7.25.30 PMThe note above refers to this communiquéfrom X to Berfrois.

And the background to all this is an outlandish, “first-frame-of-each-shot-of-Lana De Rey’s video ‘Carmen'”–submitted through a close intermediary of mine on behalf of X to Berfrois.

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Between the Absolution novel and the next, looming letter from X it’s all given rise, as Julia Kristeva once wrote, to a feeling of “perpetual danger.” I’m still feeling around in the dark for the escape hatch.

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Four Number-Title Books

 

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After class the other day, a student told me she had finished reading “twenty-six sixty-six.” It took me a moment to process that she was talking about Roberto Bolaño’s novel. I had mentioned Bolaño in class. It got me thinking: how do you say the title of that book? “Two six six six” or “twenty-six sixty-six,” as she had said? Does anyone pronounce it “two thousand six hundred and sixty-six?” I’ve always thought the 666 offers a natural pathway to pronunciation, but who knows.

Other number-title books: Haruki Murakami’s IQ84. I know the story behind the title, but still pronounce it variously as “one Q eighty-four” or “one Q eight four.”

Ben Lerner’s 10:04 is straightforward: “ten O four.” Or maybe not?

Finally, I love the implied missing word in Laura Mulvey’s book Death 24 x a Second, a play on a line from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 film Le Petit Soldat:

“What is cinema?

“Truth 24 times a second.”

For some reason I think of the phrase as “death at 24 times per second” and so read that into Mulvey’s title when I mentally conjure it.

Although I know it’s completely random and meaningless, in my copy of 2666 page 666 contains references to the sixth dimension: “What would those who had ready access to the sixth dimension think of those who were settled in the fifth or fourth dimension?”

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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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Black Hole / Under the Skin

Black Hole, by Charles Burns (Pantheon, 2005) and the ending of Under the Skin (dir. Jonathan Glazer, 2014). Shedding.

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Phrase-Making

“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.

CDOP

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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.

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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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