I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A book I recently purchased from Amazon. And it is entitled:-
I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like – by Justin Isis (Chômu Press 2011).
There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.
CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.
All my real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/
I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like / Unauthorized Egg Model Book Cover
“He started changing history.”
A story (?) of three pages. Memory loss through a grandmother’s old age or memory loss leading to onanism with one’s own sister makes this early days for any real-time review of this book of 335 pages. Licked its face, as they say on Bargain Hunt. (25 Jan 11)
The book I finished real-time reviewing yesterday ended with a story of a clown that (by my interpretation) licked faces clean after (or while?) killing their owners, and this new book’s first substantial story below has a Japanese woman’s smile like two clowns kissing:
“…because Nanako had no opinions…”
I am not reading anything about this book (such as its introduction) until I’ve read and reviewed it. The ambiance so far seems Japanese. The style’s exquisite, flowing through my tired and sore early-morning vision like the purest dream-ointment. It seems to convey, inter alios, a Lawrence Durrell laced with some form of minimalist music, even though the syntax has satisfying traction that would belie the second analogy. It also reminds me obliquely of two stories called Violette Doranges and Even The Mirror (by two different authors) that reside side by side elsewhere, only mentioned on be-half of those deliciously lazy enough not to want to know why or wherefore. Nanako, seen by the male protagonist, is a woman who grows in two fields of vision, the apparent real and unreal, but we are not properly told which is the most whimsical and why one field outfaces the other. We just sense that the real woman first met is retrocaused by (and despite) what she later became. A late-night visionary sadness, with even later slicking rather than licking of faces, laced with odd analogous scrotums, semen … and onanism. But do we ever know when we are alone? (26 Jan 11)
“There was a faint pain, and she could feel something cracked and rough like a lizard’s skin.”
[The tooth-brushing type of obsession (within the story’s main character or within the author himself?) reminds me of certain facets of Robbe-Grillet.]
If the previous story was one woman in mis-synergy with herself over time, this story is about two women – sisters – living together within a single point in time, one a drain on the other. The draining one, as opposed to the drained, seems obsessed with TV drama and indeed much of the plot could be part of a ‘Neighbours’ episode, e.g. dates and mis-acting. Star-spaced, if not star-broken, by both enrichening colours and skin-diseasing static, the delight in imagining death to others as a fiction, wanting to write an autobiography although she is only 20, I think, and been housebound through (delicious?) laziness for 6 months…
The story’s ending of faltering steps is another ellipse… or series of ellipses … … … (pores where hairs now grow). (pores or prose?)
[The story-breaks, textually throughout this book, all have a simply-drawn symbol (one that I think I happen to recognise) as a divider between them…. You will possibly recognise it, too, but, so far, I have drawn a meaning-blank.] (26 Jan 11 – five hours later)
The Garden of Sleep
“If you have a garden inside yourself to tend,”
…then you will need to read this story so as to find what comes after the comma.
The discovered lover of this story’s narrator – discovered while ‘I’ am still within the story telling it to ‘you’ – is contrasted by the mis-synergies with various people in the narrator’s family. The lover is a chameleon, an almost genderless, precious waif, called ‘you’. Earlier in this book, two women within one woman through time, then two women together as sisters … and, now, here, an ‘I’ with a ‘you’ both in and out of time. And I see this story, if not the whole book, as a fascination akin to the ‘you’ of the story itself. I, of course, can’t tell yet after only 84 pages what other garments the book shall wear amid an imputed ‘genius loci’ (Japan?) that has not grown as clear as it may do after reaching page 335.
When I read this story tonight, it seemed to take less time than it should. A plain, easily consumed style, but tantalisingly beautiful in its plainness, with moments of a chance section of purple prose here and there that sets off its blushes. I shall keep watch to see who else reads it…
[Meanwhile, a very short extract from elsewhere and elseother seems to comfort me at the thought of any unrequital that may ensue upon leaving this story, and eventually this book: “The paradise garden is a magical place. We can only dream when there, but we cannot dream of it.”] (26 Jan 11 – another 5 hours later)
I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like
“That’s part of my strategy, to force the reader to make connections between things they wouldn’t normally connect.”
A core statement for my own real-time reviews in general – as well as for this book? I feel as if I’ve travelled ‘fictionally-religionally’ for most of my life till I reached this point of possible crystallisation.
This story – let’s be bold – connects with this book’s first ‘story’ of a similar title:
IWWHFTL / UEMBC: “When she smiled he saw the chipped edges of her teeth;”
IWWHFTL: “She smiled but her lips curled strangely and he could see too much of her teeth. They were unevenly placed.”
This eponymous story is about gratuitousness, heterosexual park-cottaging leading to talk of cannibalism, but direct participation in sudden concupiscence and pet-dog toilet-drowning; meticulous cartographic spotting of life’s reality-stains with undercurrents of burning it all up as a first best to the second best of curing these ills. I am aghast, sickened – but conceptually exhilarated. I’m not proud of this exhilaration, though. I’ll flag-mast myself clean, I guess. (27 Jan 11)
The Quest for Chinese People
Pages 103 – 121
“…everyone on Earth is descended from the same woman in Africa millions of years ago and there used to be these other people that weren’t really human but we killed them all,”
Amid the protagonist’s ordinary workaday life, his hidden desires, sleeping, brushing teeth, the people he knows, his wife, his brother – the first half of this story is a revery upon his self-discovered obsessing about the enormous size of the Earth’s Chinese population and his ‘guilt’ at his lack of knowledge of these Chinese people.
I know the feeling – a niggly worry that expands … and expands … in the dark watches of the night particularly. Towards an epiphany, as the story describes it. Maybe this is another example of gratuitousness…coupled with a darkly fine-print ‘pointillism’ of aesthetics concerned with this book’s ‘genius loci’, one which I may still not have grasped other than the name ‘Japan’ and the Japanese sounding names of the characters. Meanwhile this story flows nicely : while also possibly being a “camouflage” like one of the character’s shirts.
“I watched as she cleaned her teeth.”
[I’m beginning to think this book may be the primest example of a literary theory of mine that I’ve explored for many years, i.e. on record as “The Synchronised Shards of Random Truth and Fiction”. I’m now beginning to wonder, too, that the ‘shards’ may here be symbolised by teeth, chipped or unchipped, false or deeply rooted, i.e. those implements that one would need, presumably, to consume human flesh. (Thinking aloud.)] (28 Jan 11)
Pages 121 – 139
“…I had assumed that it would not be possible for me to act without some definite intended aim.”
Now reading on, I sense this story somehow expresses the horror of the syllogism argument as an existential angst. The Intentional Fallacy (another bee in my ancient bonnet) expressed as demographic history’s flabbiness or laziness or inert immanence (expressed in part by culinary un-inquisitiveness), i.e. in contrast to a more focussed aesthetic acting as an assumed (Asian-pointilliste?) backdrop that readers who already know about the Japanese ambiance may take for granted. The story’s protagonist, meanwhile, oblivious of this complex audit trail he treads, fulfils (disintentionally?) what I earlier called his hidden desires – but is foiled by two women who are this time in pure synergy, unlike the mis-synergy of earlier pairs in this book. And a final-catalyst force that possibly is the story’s inner ‘tabula rasa’ disguised as the story’s own protagonist’s brother.
“Her mouth cracked, but she never quite smiled.” (28 Jan 11 – two hours later)
A Design for Life
“His teeth pressed against her lips. / — I love you, I love you, she said in English.”
Another “Neighbours”-type soap-opera plot, yet one subsumed by an ambiance of pretentious art and music, and the artistic and sexual politics of furthering one’s career in that field. I saw myself as the amenable (affable, passive, inert, immanent, flabby?) older man, Takeshi … until, out of character or as spear-carrier, he managed to score!
Indeed, in more ways than one, this is a story of passively inert and flabby immanence – and an existential angst ignored by the story’s characters while sublimating their so-called Artform of becoming Andy Warhol. In tune with the ‘connections’ theme I mentioned earlier with that seminal quote from IWWHFTL – I suddenly discovered here a sensibility that I’ve been trying to identify as permeating this book so far. A sensibility conveyed by, inter alia, the paintings of Magritte.
“…a garbage truck emerging from the back of an enormous human skull,”
belonging no doubt to the out-face in Nanako. [Or a Cronenberg / Carpenter burrowing backward from the jaw as a ratcheting teeth-monster?] (28 Jan 11 – another 4 hours later)
I Wonder What Human Flesh Tastes Like Etc.
Pages 171 – 187
“The feel of the raw meat in her hands was unpleasant; it reminded her of other soft, wet things she hated: slugs, perhaps, or rain-drenched socks.”
Another soap-opera bubble, this one of ‘Home and Away’ schoolgirl crushes and relationships (two sisters again, both vegetarians, one whose teeth have braces), quirks of their thought captured as part of routine reality, particularly one of them who has an unrequited crush on a boy in the class – but threaded through with aberrant (gratuitous) thoughts that she should break her vegetarian fast, with sinews and redolences artfully conveyed to the reader, as part of a matter-of-fact, but haunting description that also dwells on comparing the thought of an actual slaughter of a cow for meat with an imaginary slaughter of a human being for the same purpose. There is something fundamental about the synergy or mis-synergy of these aspects of the story: the meticulous matter-of-fact-in-trivia and the gratuitous motivations incubating within. [Tonight, I shall allow this story similarly to incubate within my body’s sleep and see how things develop when I pick up this book again and finish the story. Good night. [Btw, news just in, Isis = is is]] (28 Jan 11 – another 3 hours later)
Pages 187 – 203
“Lying on her bed at night, before she fell asleep, Ayano had vague dreams of all the different kinds of meat she had yet to try.”
I’ve rejoined the two plain sisters along their continuum of exploratory fiction. It may be because it’s so early in the morning, but I now feel decidedly queasy, if not shocked, having completed this story’s inner journey of self-tasting. We have an astonishing description of the meats, their various timings of cooking (rare or not), speculation as to human meat, bodily oils, face-carving (cf ‘Nanako), &c – leading to quite ground-shaking passages I dare not divulge. Teeth are part of the process. What has gone before makes this story even more powerful. The synergies, the mis-synergies, the eschatology, the scatology, the syllogism of ‘the Chinese and the rest of us’ … the meat that is the all of us…
[Before completing this story, I wrote, this morning, on a discussion forum elsewhere, about this book: “For me, this book is in uncharted waters or waters that the ship ‘nouveau roman’ once explored so as to allow other ships like this one to pass through on the way to an as yet undiscovered el dorado.” Hence, the divider-symbols between story sections? And will we reach that el dorado with this book, or will it feel its job is done by showing us first sight of it on the horizon?] (29 Jan 11)
The Eye of the Living Is No Warmth
Pages 205 – 230
“Instead of analyzing lyrics or predicting future lineups, he recorded his sweat, erections and breathing changes;”
…a far-fetched description of an internet reviewer!
This story is of a pair of two late-twenties men who are fans of music girl groups and are active on internet forums about this world … and one star girl is arrested for smoking at the age of 17. Breaking Japanese Law and her contract or generally contravening this book’s ‘genius loci’. The two men – amid a flabby or Magritte-like detachment I note and feel in myself quite often – pursue the photographer who took the photo of her smoking. They meet the photographer’s mis-synergous girlfriend who has “a redness at the tips of her teeth.” And I await, detachedly, the outcome. Meanwhile, regarding an as yet assumed aside, but one significant for me, the main male protagonist here is known to be writing a pessimistic philosophical tract entitled “The Book Against the Human Race” (Cf: “The Conspiracy Against The Human Race” by Thomas Ligotti). (29 Jan 11 – another 4 hours later)
Pages 230 – 249
A Karaoke session for our two men and the girl, followed by a Ferris Wheel ride, all of which actually starts to fill in for me this book’s Japanese ‘Genius Loci’ more trenchantly than the previous anticipatory imminence (sic) of one. The philosophical tract against the human race (not just against the Chinese one) together with the amorphous ambiance of characterisation make this possibly the first classic work about the Detached and the Internetted creatures that are begininning to populate the world (or my head that is my world). The closing scenes of the transferred ‘handshake’ (cf: My “But do we ever know when we are alone?” question earlier in this review) is a ‘deliciously lazy’ but perfect ending to this story. Bravo!
“He’d eaten a lot at the Chinese restaurant,” (29 Jan 11 – another 90 minutes later)
A Thread From Heaven
Pages 251 – 271
“In that ruined city foxes nested in sunken basements;”
A pair of adolescent males – part of another student soap-bubble scenario – start a friendship on the school train-commute but are immediately bullied by an actorly or inscrutably or detachedly leadered group of cruising men, with our main protagonist Park (whose dreams, we were earlier told, include airships) then giving his stomach up as part of a voluntary punch-bag puppet (that fits so neatly with earlier ‘flabby’ feelings in this book) – and he has his teeth actually or almost cracked.
A reality-stain of rust iconising a simple daily object. A trainload of human meat ready to be fused by a chance crash: Park’s speculations that float here as cousin threads from the rest of the book’s own world of the human race laid-back for us to pick over literarily, if not literally. (29 Jan 11 – another 90 minutes later)
Pages 271 – 290
“Time is the same as language.”
The threads (including the starkest or cruellest from the rest of the book) continue piecemeal to pour through Park’s thought-pores as if this book is a sort of Bible or actually Park’s own Christian Bible, then creating a ‘paradise garden’ of reality (my laid-back expression, not the story’s) that is cultivated not by awareness itself but by the awareness of that awareness by others. All within that soap-bubble. (29 Jan 11 – another hour later)
Pages 290 – 306
“Gradually, the past was slipping into fiction,”
At the end of this section, my premonition of the ‘garden’ comes to stunning, undivulgeable fruition, as Park, having sealed up the surface of Gods, watches dead human meat – what shall we say? – succulate… [At least we have the continuing thread or anchor or fishing-line (or noose?) – of another Karaoke session to give local colour and therapeutic self-miming /mining.] (29 Jan 11 – another hour later)
Pages 306 – 335
“Artists are also wind-up toys that have been set in motion. If they weren’t artists, they’d be politicians or comedians or something else. The shape of the mind determines the role. Everyone is given a role at birth and that role is their mind.”
I dare not impart the powerful climax of this book, the ultimate tracing or karaoke or palimpsest. And I would be here all day imparting Park’s ‘waking dreams’ as a completist task or the way they interweave the threads. This is probably the most positively shocking book I have ever read, and this last section seals that contention beyond ‘probably’… probably. It is extremely well-written …and builds as the reader progresses through the stories. Don’t take any one shock as something that should turn you away from this book. In symphonic music, a sudden atonal blast is no reason to walk out from the rest of it. The rest could be as spiritually beautiful as the Lark Ascending or as spiritually darkening as the Lurk Descending. All done without touching the sides. Laid-back. A new gear in literature now clinching….
But what were those divider-symbols?
If I think of more to say, I shall used the ‘comment’ facility below, as I hope some others will do, too.
(29 Jan 11 – another 90 minutes later)