Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Bone: Rose [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Jeff Smith, a prequel to the Bone series.

Smith Bone Rose

This “prequel” to the Bone comics series is focused on a particular stratum of the layered story that Jeff Smith had composed in the original comic. It is entirely trained on the intrigue between the royal princesses Rose and Briar. There are no Bones from Boneville in this story, and the closest thing to comic relief is provided by Rose’s two dogs, with whom she has frequent conversations. But, especially at the end, these aren’t comic at all. 

Although far more intricate and poised than Smith’s drawings in the original series, Charles Vess’ art is wonderful and well suited to the subject matter. Smith’s characters are very recognizable, even in their decades-younger forms and in a far different style. The dragons are all appropriately awesome.

The lettering actually put me off a little. It is a sort of unical script with little highlights in each letter, which seemed too busy and distracting for my taste. The word balloons for the dogs (and for Rose addressing them in their ‘speech’) were blue instead of white, which was a very efficient convention for indicating linguistic difference.

On further reflection, it occurs to me that Rose follows a sort of rough Star Wars episode 3 plot trajectory with respect to the Bone series as episodes 4-6: think of Gran’ma Ben as Ben Kenobi and the Hooded One as Darth Vader. (But it’s something of a stretch to think of Fone Bone as Luke Skywalker!) The Lord of the Rings comparisons that seemed so obvious early in the original run of Bone have no place here.

In its simplest form, actions performed for no measurable reason, or contrary to linear logic, might indicate such underlying motives as love or friendship or trust. But great care had to be exercised, because identical actions could derive from hate, insanity, or blackmail. Moreover, in the case of love, the nature of the action seldom helps to identify its motivational impulse. Particularly difficult is separating love from blackmail.

Trevanian, Shibumi: A Novel [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library]

Hermetic quote Trevanian Shibumi action no reason contrary linear logic love friendship trust identical actions hate insanity blackmail

Nietzsche′s Corps/e

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Nietzsche′s Corps/e: Aesthetics, Politics, Prophecy, or, the Spectacular Technoculture of Everyday Life [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Geoff Waite.

Waite Nietzsche's Corps/e

“But think back now over the entire, long, virtually interminable extent of Nietzsche/s corpse, as Nietzsche’s Corps/e begins to conclude….” (385) I had to laugh as I read that, because four hundred pages of body text, plus another 150-odd of smaller-typeface endnotes (the author noted an aspiration to a one-to-one ratio between body text and annotation), had taken me six months of careful, if not quite continual, reading to digest. It seemed as if the book, as much as its object, had invoked the interminability of an ewige Wiederkunft.

Geoff Waite hates Nietzsche with the kind of passion that I must suspect of being founded in a prior love. In Nietzsche’s Corps/e he identifies himself with a Althusserian Marxist position opposed to what he diagnoses as: the deliberate viral influence of Nietzsche’s corpus, acting through a corps of intellectuals, toward the ultimate reduction of the masses into a state perinde ac cadaver. (The Jesuit allusion is far from accidental; see 313-315.) He is professedly paranoid in his treatment of Nietzsche, the “Nietzsche industry,” and “technoculture” on the cusp of the 21st century.

With respect to Nietzsche and his intentions, Waite aptly faults “scholarly” or “philosophical” readers of Nietzsche who confine themselves to the oeuvre written for publication. Nietzsche’s workbooks and private correspondence–all now published in German, Italian, and Japanese, though not in English, Waite notes–are indispensable in light of such declarations of esoteric mode as the conclusion of “On Redemption” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra: “But why does Zarathustra speak otherwise to his pupils — than to himself?” (This passage is surely Nietzsche’s equivalent of the fourth chapter of the gospel of Mark.) In particular, Waite claims a central position for the early unpublished essay “The Greek State,” in which Nietzsche affirmed “the necessary Greek triad: ‘slavery,’ ‘esoteric writing,’ ‘the esoteric doctrine of the relation between the State and genius.'” (300)

Waite enters the argument regarding Nietzsche’s sexual appetites armed with some intriguing evidence. But he did not impress me with his repeated references to homosexuality and sadomasochism as if those were self-evidently “bad things.” 

As far as the “corps” is concerned, Waite does not confine himself to any particular textual lineage of Nietzsche interpretation, since he is out to resist them all. He comprehensively examines both right-wing Nietzscheans and left-wing “Nietzschoids,” usually with penetrating criticisms of the latter. He recommends Leo Strauss’s Thoughts on Machiavelli as a manual for reading Nietzsche, and I plan to take him up on this recommendation. Pierre Klossowski’s readings of Nietzsche also win serious points–with caveats–from Waite.

Waite’s notion of the corpse breaks out of the ivory tower and indicts the emerging cyber-society as being in thrall to Nietzsche’s agenda, with targets in popular culture such as William S. Burroughs, Phillip K. Dick, David Cronenberg, and William Gibson. I can’t help but suppose that the later cinematic VR explosion (for which The Matrix was a flagship) brought him into a righteous near-panic! Nor must today’s smartphone-wielding hordes console him.

The entire enterprise of Nietzsche’s Corps/e is taken up in the wake of the “death of communism” and in the face of Bataille’s declaration that Nietzsche’s is “the only position outside of communism.” Waite allies himself with Gramsci and Althusser, and gives Lenin the final word of his epilogue. (The penultimate one goes to Nietzsche.) And yet for all that he offers a “strong rival conspiratorial hypothesis” to the “conspiracy theory” informing Nietzsche’s writings (67), Waite fails to persuade me of the goodness of Communism or the badness of “Nietzchean/ism.”

Ultimately, I am very glad to have read this book, and I would encourage anyone with a serious interest in Nietzsche to tackle it.

The Third Policeman

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Third Policeman [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Flann O’Brien, introduction by Denis Donoghue.

O'Brien The Third Policeman

I am puzzled by the jacket copy on the John F. Byrne Irish Literature Series edition of The Third Policeman, which calls it a “brilliant comic novel.” Surely, this story is dark as dark can be, and portrays a tragedy with exacting, clinical detail. The tale is in fact profoundly absurd, and checkered with the narrator’s preoccupation with a perverse body of scholarship surrounding a narcoleptic alchemist. But that’s bicycling for you.

To experience the full effect of this novel, I recommend avoiding advance glosses of the plot, although the plot is really only a fraction of the value of reading it, but this plot is reeled out in an unusual and impressive manner. Moreover, such glosses tend to have inaccuracies, like the jacket copy’s misconception that the “narrator … is introduced to … de Selby’s view that the earth is not round but ‘sausage-shaped'” while at the police station, when in fact he has clearly done his exhaustive study of de Selby long before.

The 1999 introduction by Denis Donoghue insists on quoting a piece of a letter from author Flann O’Brien to William Saroyan, in which the ending of the book is perfectly spoiled. This same letter excerpt also appears at the end of the book, having been appended by the editors at the original (posthumous) 1967 publication, apparently in the belief that readers might need this assistance after failing to comprehend what they had read, despite it being as plainly put as possible. Donoghue’s introduction is otherwise worth reading (after the novel), with its brief biography of O’Brien (pseudonym of Brian O’Nolan) and a debatable attempt to classify the book as Menippean satire.

But the real attraction of this book is the wonderful language, which alternates among three modes. There are artful descriptions of imponderables. “The silence in the room was so unusually quiet that the beginning of it seemed rather loud when the utter stillness of the end of it had been encountered” (105). There are careful reviews of academic argumentation. “His conclusion was that ‘hammering is anything but what it appears to be’; such a statement, if not open to explicit refutation, seems unnecessary and unenlightening” (144-5 n). And there are personal encounters featuring ambivalent dialogues in spare and careful language. “And as I went upon my way I was slightly glad that I had met him” (49).

The book is organized into twelve chapters. If these reflect an esoteric infrastructure such as astrological houses, I haven’t persuaded myself so. The pace of the prose is fast, even if the pace of events described is sometimes so slow as to be entirely immobile. The Third Policeman had been on my virtual TBR pile for many years, and my actual one for some months, when I finally read it in a matter of a few days. Alas, I may read it again!