A couple of years ago someone highly recommended that I read Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler. Since I was a big fan of transgressive fiction I got a copy of the book which was printed in a design and format suggesting it had just been saved from the flames of an erupting volcano. I read it carefully and enjoyed the author’s experimental nature but could never be sure I was fully understanding the import of the novel.
Now I have struggled through Blake Butler’s Sky Saw and I seem to have detected a few flaws in Butler’s text. Specifically, what the fuck is he talking about?
I am reminded of a coworker in the vivarium where I was trying to earned enough money for ramen and burritos in between my classes at the university. My coworker was a self-proclaimed master story-teller who graced me with being the first person to read his highly acclaimed narratives which generally involved Bug-Eyed Monsters or things that crawled out of the swamp. They were terrible but clearly demonstrated the author’s overblown opinion of his conquest of the literary world. They did, however, show me how structure was involved in the narrative and how a jumble of shocking words and phrases turned the fiction into a repetitious series of punch-lines which rapidly became boring (not to mention, Stupid).
But what does this say about Blake Butler? Here is a fairly representative passage from Sky Saw taken from the last part where the author apparently is attempting to sum up the hot mess that went before (warning: I cut the passage short for want of space):
What hold had come for us again, what years of frying nothing in clasp of corridors encombed, the blue long buildings in a prism captured and ingested and choked upon and bent and shat into the light to writhe again among the manner of a person, a brimming body with out lungs and load of veins milked without waking, it would not bend, it would not cease, inside the mounds I walked for hours even unnamed and was still right there with all the towers underground in tones all ending and beginning in such succession I could no longer recall having heard any single one of them alone at all and had always been only on in endless drift of furor, there had never been a wall, no edge of leg of lymph between me and my mind or child or range of age, the Cone had pulled us all apart again only for pleasure, a ream of bees flexed from our squat, the machines we had imagined in depression to have beings to have bodies to have glow, a tired light that filled the houses while all through all air the words went on and books turned open and emphatic spraying ink into the ink, any word forever having changed unnumbered times up till the instant of our seeing and looking down and framing in, syllables in their eternal damage milked and quilted through what linings any hour could contain while through the halls our skins changed textures and changed tone and did not move and the digits flashed all through our eyes where we were hungry or were horny or were blown, the child inside the child again all screaming disease eating money humping torrents watching serpents controlling nothing in the tone’s light in the Cone’s name come down again to clasp against the blank we’d always aimed and build edges and build rooms there and resound while for each inch there were a thousand faces and for each face a thousand eyes and in each eye a thousand colors and in each color every sound and in each sound all of the words already named and unremembered where in each memory a lock, locks laid in doors and doors unending through the milk there into corridors we called our flesh of lard so large we could not shave it in the hour of the sun and so again must split again and live it and begin it and need more and never have enough in any instance to be silent and eat the magnet and live where we had already been before
I knew my child needed to need me, I knew I needed it to need and to know I knew that it had though would not always, this was the vast unending thread, this was the cord that killed my lungs each hour pressed against the houses that I knew and walked me through the beaches and the armies as I had lived them in my mind for what I’d been, there was no color I could not look in and see me stammered in there ripped apart beaten already by the machines where before I rose an arm or eye inside this light, I knew and knew and yet at no point could I be stopped, not at any aim of waver in the going I would go through would I be ended till I did, this was the vast condition of my organism, beyond the dreamspeech and the pill, beyond the black collaboration forced upon me until I was stopped I could not be stopped, I would go forward in the meld and make of this beyond all surface before the surface tore me up, each hour held me in it and was the hour and was passed, come what way would kill in any coming minute there had already been such prior light, the cities could be crushed by any of us every of us every way again began and yet in the seam the singe was written all requiring no words, no book that could be erased or cold or fonted, no gold script on sanded leaf, black castles in a flat mirror, purple fortunes, and so must be for any rind, any eye stitched in the smallest lungs from the beginning, beyond the verb, and so among the prisms there was no fortress and nothing clawing beyond length and no moon above laughed for whoever to come reigning night in us again, say what you will but I was opened, had been conditioned, knew the stone, could kiss the stone inside my mind without permission and what beyond it I could turn to anything again my own, stuffed beyond however many of me held and wondered, every private inch to have again, to rub again and not remember if I did not wish
And so where the Cone had owned me I was ancient and I was anybody’s guess, what colors crashed could crash forever and both begin and end my face, though on beyond the face there was the field there and the field was spinning and the water shook inside my lungs and sound adhered to nothing and did not speak and all directions were the same and all names laughed thick hard ceilings bent beneath us and the fire and the mass, we burned through film and gear and mechanism, though idea and charm and make, the buttons pressed themselves and cursed themselves where they were wanted and the ash rained from the night and the dark turned over and showed where forever it’d been rubbed, bright knives of catalogs and barking pillared in silence spent for something old to do, walls erected and dismantled and erected and dismantled and erected along the lines barfed in the seas the hour flung against the walls inside the Cone to petrify us, and so it did, and in our linings even unlined the colors burnt themselves and rose again, caulking in each bright uprising brutal prisms where the colors in their hue had always hid, beaten dark upon the day now where no day was to skull along the edges of what anyone had been, the pixels rising, the seas inside them punctured, rolled raw like axes in a snarl, the older sound of someone waking up beside you in the darkness gifted again where no light had ever been to call the urge, crashed where crashing could not happen, grown new cold ovens in a rip where for every instant the day was rising and now could open up its sizeless mouth and breathe us in, another throat inside the skin there, light vibrating, chords hammered under chords, an egg for every apple, a summer sprawling in a domed hole, where by this now we could climb
The ice of higher folds was brighter and held us closer and chewed our shapes, it bent around us and began us and ripped through the seam of any page and any inch of what a house was or how many and the linings of the word crapped and tottered in our centers already growing, it licked the bubbles from the ash, it turned the keyboard over and typed the flat side until the frame broke and in the center there was flesh, it kissed the flesh and all its wires in splitting systems while we held inside it still and watched, each old letter lapped into us as centuries of rain and rolling planets, we closed what eyes we had remaining, we closed behind those eyes and eyes behind those until there was no visible retort and at last the field now could be centered and in the colors we could see no phrase of blinking or bright desire beyond the instant of us would now begin, no menu in the choir, no shrieking digit, where in the frame each inch of film had prior passed the wanting left to lay and lurk over one another in blessed dementia so that all the black was all the way, there knew no gesture to the definition now required, there were no hallways and no floors, no box to open or cells to splinter in our body to persist, we did not have to wait to be restarted, we did not have to wonder to be washed, who and who the who was held no question and the ice of all our ice was not in pain
No layer here was destined nor not destined, no layer here had not been lost, the cold worked inside the cold and flayed it outwards though not extending as there was no space beyond the way, no phrase beyond the softing though in the water of it we could walk and could go on in any way we wanted and have been so, any day could seem the next, I might look down and find my arms there typing language and believe the language and know it was or I would look down and find the words there in my body written always, I could hold my body as a book, I could put the book down and walk into the next room and see the walls there and touch the walls and hold their sound, the sun above the fields would rise and fall like any way of us had ever, I could touch and be touched, hold and be held, could speak and be spoke into, could spread the word all through my blood, where any shape here appeared it always listened and when I turned it turned around, each line inside the field forever shifting in my vision as I needed without knowing that I did, each old color in the presence of its colors, waking, slaying, being, in the warm name of any coming memory of skin …
And on and on. I ask you: Am I just too dense to see the pattern to this prose as being anything more than apparently random (albeit sufficiently transgressive) blobs of seemingly intense but ultimately silly utterences only a step or two removed from Mad Libs, Mad Libs of a demented sort? Have I failed to understand and now must turn in my Experimental Fiction credentials and travel to South America and read Dickens to the old man in the jungle?
Should I reread Sky Saw and hope for an epiphany or should I drop back on more comfortable literature and read a few pleasantly gory porno-bizarro stories by Carlton Mellick III?