Although difficult, annoying, absurd, and irrevocably tragic for many, 2022 has been a busy and productive year for Equus, with no fewer than 5 new titles seeing the light of the printed page. On New Year’s Eve, Equus Managing Editor David Vichnar takes a quick look at each in its turn.
Ansgar Allen’s Plague Theatre from February 2022 is inspired by a lecture given by Antonin Artaud in 1933 called ‘Theatre and the Plague’. It makes the extraordinary argument that the great plagues of the past were “a kind of psychic entity, not carried by a virus” (11). Artaud claims that a plague event “takes dormant images, latent disorder and suddenly carries them to the point of the most extreme gestures” (18). And he argues that, as such, great plague resembles great theatre. These are some of the ideas which lie behind the writing of the novel, in which something happens in Scarborough in or around the year 1720. This event brings a derangement and a destruction of the town, the causes of which are never determined. The reader, who is also the narrator, wonders if this was a plague event, or some form of psychic disturbance, a kind of absolute theatre. The book is composed of fragments which often begin and end mid-sentence, for reasons which are explained within it.
“A Gesamtkunstwerk of fragments [in which] there is so much to explore […]. Its importance for our present moment is that it makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar, in order to show us where we live, in a time of very rapid transition.”—Steve Hanson, Manchester Review of Books
Ryan Madej’s Assassin (March 2022) is an experimental novella with a deep esoteric background. In a dead city, a woman with a weapon that can erase its victims from time searches for prey. Lifetimes away, a man searches for a lost manuscript that will give him power over her. In an untouched paradise, an acolyte must choose to walk the path of enlightenment or destruction. Outside the linearity of time, their paths converge and threaten to destroy each other. The text is a textually genetic and metatextual mystery, a bricolage of various forms of mysticism: John Dee, Manly P. Hall, sacred geometry, numerology, Aghori mysticism, and Buddhism. In Assassin, text functions both as an abstract concept (the association of writing/reading with time and culture) and as a material – even physical one (placing books and scrolls side by side with deadly weapons, tying together the acts of reading and murder). The text hints at destruction brought on by excessive technology and its blending with mysticism. Says Madej in an Equus interview, “Our dependence on these new technologies is taking us away from what has sustained life on this planet for millions of years. The arrogance of the human race lies in the fact that through science we think we can do better than nature. What I find interesting is that many of the arcane/esoteric traditions talk about high technology that seemed to incorporate a holistic approach to energy etc.”
“The literary love-child of Aleister Crowley and William Gibson, Ryan Madej’s Assassin is an occult thriller. Visits to Budapest, Chicago, and Prague reveal a heroine’s quest filled with alchemical lore, blood-caked lust, and secret archives. In a world where social, cultural, and political barriers have collapsed, a journal is found and a past life is reconstructed.”—Karl Wolff, Driftless Area Review
As Iain Sinclair has observed regarding his prose, “the writing is that it is. This is prose you must learn to experience before you begin to interpret […] the pages in their delirious abstraction are ordered poetry.” Richard Makin’s Work, published in June 2022, unfolds in a labyrinthine series of textual ‘artefacts’ that are allusive, solipsistic, & playful. Its reams of prose offer no anchor to the reader – such as a linear story, identifiable characters – instead, we are set adrift on a sea of words. Images and passages fade in and out, possible genres (science-fiction, detective noir, autobiographical confession) cling to the mind and then disappear just as easily. Philip Terry has characterised Work as “an unclassifiable encyclopedic novel whose leaves form part of a vast corpus” and Brian Marley marvelled at the fact “it manages to fashion a narrative from a thousand disparate fragments.” Finally, Ken Edwards found himself characterising Work as a multi-modal and multi-dimensional Proustian writing that “goes on, beautifully modulated, often amusing; it’s all that there is […] as if there was the prospect of closure, […] as if there was continuity.”
“There isn’t a single, over-arching narrative – at least one that’s easy to spot – that carries you along in its current, but multiple narratives constellated in segments that are often highly accelerated by quick paratactic turns of phrase that relate obliquely to the subject while evoking alternate realities and rocking the mind back and forth. In brief, it functions more like a paste-up, a nomadic collage of neural science, entomology, ontology, paleontology, gobs of crazy surrealist twists, and an encyclopedic take on pretty much everything.”—John Olson, “The Prismatic Mechanics Of Makin’s Making”
Published in October 2022, A series of dirges for the living-yet-already-departed, Harold Jaffe’s Performances for the End of Time “perform” not a foreboding of what may be, but a scathing indictment of what now already is. This collection is not meant as an alarm, but as a meditation, less Cassandra warning of certain doom and more Tiresias musing on the immutability of a doomed fate. It is a last will and testament to be read as a final condemnation of its recipients. The work concludes with a darkly funny denouement to the climactic tragedy of the performance pieces that echoes Sartre’s sentiment that hell is other people. The play, “Faust & Mephisto”, is a metatextual reimagining of The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, in which said history has not only been recorded by Christopher Marlowe but is a very real thing that occurred. The play’s “message”, if it can be extracted at all, is this: It doesn’t matter if we humans have facts, cunning, resources, and precedent on our side, the state of the world is a problem we cannot think our way out of because we humans are ourselves the problem. Says Jaffe in an Equus interview, “above all, there is greed. Will humans open their eyes? No, greed has become inextricable. In Buddha’s 4 Noble Truths, the World is filled with suffering, and the suffering is caused by covetousness. Only when the earth implodes utterly will everything else become immaterial and humans will be compelled to witness their own destruction.”
“Harold Jaffe’s Performances for the End of Time is a blues sympathy. And a jazz suite. With a hip hop rhythm. Indeed, Thelonious Monk makes an appearance. By turns elegiac and empathetic, bracingly critical, and sharply satirical, biting and mournful, Jaffe’s pieces sing and hum. They are short, tight, and powerful with the percussive effect of a Muhammad Ali jab. There is a potent mix of anger and compassion here. In fewer than 200 pages, Jaffe has written a timeless collection for the end of time.”—Larry Fondation
Published on Christmas Eve 2022, 404 Error is a collaboration between RG Vasicek and Zak Ferguson, though as for the writers, who are they, are they real, who cares? This book is machine-made. A pocket machine that requires no batteries. In 404 Error, Internet has overtaken the physical world, so hackers and users high on celestial squid ink navigate a cyberscape more real to them than the tactile world, a space where every thought, dream, and desire is made manifest and the only thing you risk losing is your mind. Join Darius[z] as he struggles to maintain his hold on his self while his connection to the virtual world malfunctions and his two concurrent realities overlap, blur, and distort. It’s just simple IT maintenance, or it would be if Darius[z] knew where he began and the digital world ended. 404 error. As the system unspools it threatens to pull loose the tenuous threads of Darius[z] himself.
“A collaboration, between two undergrounders on an undergrounder press: Capitalism-&-schizophrenia reigns in 404 like Noise: the genre characterised by the expressive use of copy-&-paste, a kind of overabundant madness within a musical text: and 404 Error is akin to this: to watching dead empires in decay, to the screams of zooNOsISE part 1: a highstress horrorshow: of two men making a Frankenstein, on the 88th floor of a concrete block tower.”—Peppy Ooze
“The hero of 404 Error by RG Vasicek & Zak Ferguson is error itself. You can catch a glimpse of the collapsing world by presenting the perspective seen from the error. This is a prescient work, and 404 give a signal of awakening to those who wander the hollow surface of social media. It seems to be the best literary work for hardweb building. Let’s hurry to the pharmacy to find hardweb!”—Kenji Siratori