Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Thoughts on The Squirrel Machine
Don't call it a review. My experience with Hans the person and his work goes back a ways. I don't trust myself as a critic, but there have been thoughts I have always wanted to share. If you don't know Hans or his book, find out more here.
It's been a year since Han's first full length work published by another company was released. I am still pondering the lessons it never promises but seems to teach anyway. It was almost a natural procession to have read this after I digested a biograpy of Andy Kauffman (Lost In the Funhouse) where I found out about the commedian's beat poet days and his dramatic reading of his novel God with one chapter having the word "Shit" said hundreds of times. I read that as a way to understand the fringe elements that come to my Stone Soup venue often enough that an attempt to understand is a neccessity.
Hans was a volunteer/resident at Cambridge's late and lamented Zeitgeist Gallery when Stone Soup was reading there in what I believe was the late nineties. This was before I took the venue over, so of course when I saw him in April 2009, I aksed him for stories. Except for one story involving one of our more eccentric performers and an alleged cup of urine, they were what I expected. The fringe being fringe for no other benefit but their own, often to their own detriment as well.
I bring up my local scene too much, perhaps, but I feel that it has fed Hans' work before and certainly The Squirrel Machine now. The proud/oblivious outcasts have always encompassed all aspect of the arts. What separates the fame/notoriety achievers like Kauffman to the proudly obscure like Stone Soup's Lee Litif? How paper thin is the difference? Is there any difference at all aside from luck and the fickleness of public perception? Do they all have the same type of creative drive? Are the more outcast and outsider artists a more pure breed? Do they serve a higher purpose? Or is the purpose tainted due to lack of understanding?
Can being immersed in such pursuits? Can it even create a separate language for you to follow, similar to the language adopted by The Pig Lady and later by the brothers? I believe it. I've seen poets so enconched in their work, to write a simple biographic sentence about themselves outside the realm of stanzas is equivalent to torture. In one poetry workshop I take almost weekly, I have adopted a writing style of the workshop's de facto head (a retired teacher in his 70's who has had decades of comfortable retirement to hone his craft). It has gotten to the point that when I try to go back to "my" voice, it is a strain after working with understanding his work and drawing from his own language to feed my own poems. Hans knows what he is talking about when he devises this language (and assures me he knows what the words mean).
In following main characters Edmund and William Torpor and the brothers' creative pursuits, it seems they as little idea to their purpose as the readers do. What do they serve? What is the end goal? The Squirrel Machine seems as good a name for it as any. In Chloe, Hans' first book , it was The Underbrain (which has some mention here, at least in the introduction). I am simplifying everything, but the point is in achieving a creative nadir, it is not to the Torpor brothers' benefit or to anyone else's.
There's a quote that says if two businessmen are talking together, they are conspiring against the public. I joke sometimes and say (if only to myself) that if two artists talk together, they are conspiring against each other. In an world that oversimplifies, it is common to portray the arts as a noble if not lucrative pursuit and the industrial world as full of corruption. In Hans' world, they are almost one and the same, and as a practioner of the arts, this feels uncomfortably accurate. In fact, anyone who knows the arts knows that there's as much danger as there is in the business world for a young up-and-coming exec. For the Topor brothers, the dangers that consume themselves and everyone around them is as real as it is surreal. It touches on uncomfortable truths as the price of pursuing visions (at least when corrupted by the hostile outside world), but it also gives them a power. The Squirrel Machine should be given to anyone who's interested in pursuing the arts. It's almost a primer proclaiming to be nothing of value but a all-too-personal vision but at the same time conveys certain truths that often go unspoken. Hans is brave to do this and deserves thanks for revealing the hidden power and dangers of the creative world that often go unnoticed in the modern world.
The Squirrel Machine is availble for a much cheaper price than I paid for (no signature though) at Amazon. Get it.