Reviewed by Jared Baxter
It begins with a question posed by the French poet Bernard Noël: “What sort of question would involve no reply?” The answer, the quotation continues, has to do with something like intersectionality. It would exist between the two categories of question and reply, and this existence would be the contradictory one of something that comes into being through self-negation.
This, more or less, is also the structure of Kitchell’s book, which defies further classification in its use of elements of narrative, theory, poetry, photography, and symbolism. At its heart is an encounter between two gay men. The first section, “The Introduction of Myth,” takes the form of a ritualistic wounding. One gashes the other with a knife; foreign bodies are introduced, first fingers, then a snake. A “new substance” is produced. This myth reemerges, echoed through more than one voice, in response to a chance meeting at a bar in the second section, “Corps/Text.” In the final section, “Voice (Mute Appearance),” the encounter unfolds as a lyric poem.
Yet the text is only one part of this book, which is driven by a concern with written language as a visual medium that echoes the poetics of Stephane Mallarmé. According to the author, Apart From is a queering of the French symbolist’s unfinished Igitur. A broad comparison can also be made to the landmark 1897 poem, A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance, wherein an enigmatic and shipwrecked Master drowns in a whirlpool, which comes to figure and be figured by the fold that both unites and divides any two pages of a book. Caught in this fray, the text careens violently across the page, increasing and decreasing in size, according to precise instructions left by Mallarmé before his death. For the first time, it’s said, layout and formatting were elevated from an afterthought to an essential component of a poetic work.
In a similar way, Apart From’s second and longest section can’t be discussed without reference to the thin squares that frame every page of text. There are fifty of these, cast sometimes as windows, sometimes as mirrors, and in the precise middle of the sequence, one encounters an image that is perhaps the greatest moment in the book. It’s something like foam, superimposed on an image of a body, emerging from darkness, itself echoing another image from before.
Much remains to be said about the book’s investigation of desire, knowledge, language, and excess, but the beauty of this visual, figurative representation, suggesting the suppurating wound that forms the site of a genuine encounter with the outside, indicates Kitchell’s main strength as an author. That is, the individual components of his works are less significant than the heterogeneity by which disparate modes are played against each other within a tightly controlled structure, paradoxically becoming integrated into the book through the ways they resist subsumption or even hierarchical categorization.
Here is a rare artist who combines a meticulous and historically-grounded engagement with literary language and form with the visual inventiveness, obsessiveness, and insouciance of a genre horror filmmaker. The interest and importance of this work comes not from a smooth resolution of these tendencies, but rather the way in which Kitchell creates precarious, protean, intermediary spaces in which the full contradictions of these impulses are affirmed. An exemplary book in this light, Apart From has much to contribute to the ongoing contemporary consideration of the book as object and the possibilities of literature as a visual medium.
M Kitchell, Apart From. Solar Luxuriance, 2014.
Reviewed by Jared Baxter