by Harold Jaffe
ISBN 978-1-9996964-8-1. Paperback, 176 pp. Publication date: October 2022. Equus Press: London & Prague. Price: € 12.00 (not including postage).
Watch a PERFORMANCES YouTube clip here.
The title, Performances for the End of Time, was borrowed from French composer Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, which he composed in 1940 while a prisoner in a Nazi labor camp. Harold Jaffe’s volume is comprised of brief performative texts and concludes with a short play called Faust & Mephisto. The brief texts are caustic, eerie, and ironically comical. Each text is usually repeated once or more with the same title but different content, yet each text is ultimately about endings—small, large, and colossal.
A series of dirges for the living-yet-already-departed, 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.
“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
“From the beginning, Harold Jaffe has interrogated culture and our place as its victim. Now, in this brilliant volume, it’s the contagion brought upon us in smart phones, on-line shopping, the disease in conglomerates, and all other contemporary controls, even those we are unaware of. This volume haunts as it opens the curtain, revealing the end of time.”—Toby Olson
“Performances for the End of Time is a luminous, ambitious, and disturbing experiment of global vision wherein Jaffe’s unflinching voice calls to mind the powers of Allen Ginsberg, Jim Morrison, and Charles Bukowski by weaving eloquent vulgarity into wisdom through a raw linguistic tapestry eclipsing despair.”—Aimee Parkison
“Harold Jaffe’s Performances for the End of Time is the damnedest, clearest-headed, most caring take on the world today there is. In 122 precise imperative-centric prose pieces he tells us not how to survive — we can forget that — but how to live. This book isn’t prophecy, it’s description stripped bare of the lies we’re dying from, and Jaffe is our necessary angel.”—Tom Whalen
“Jaffe’s convincing portraits of the dispossessed are moving, insightful glimpses of the human spirit under stress.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Jaffe’s fictions are a wonder of deadpan hour, biting wit, and visual beauty. No recent fiction has gripped me with such force and immediacy.”—Marianne Hauser
Harold Jaffe is the author of 30-plus novels, fiction collections, essays, and drama. His books have been translated into multiple languages, including Japanese, French, German, Italian, and Turkish. Jaffe is editor-in-chief of Fiction International.