A Review of Jordan Rothacker’s And Wind Will Wash Away

awwwa

A Review of Jordan Rothacker’s And Wind Will Wash Away

By Nate Ragolia

Like James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon before him, Jordan A. Rothacker takes on the epic novel in his masterful debut, And Wind Will Wash Away (hereafter referred to as AWWWA). AWWWA tells the story of Atlanta Police Detective Jonathan Wind, an observant, intellectual, no-nonsense sleuth cut from the same cloth as Sherlock Holmes and Joe Friday.

In Rothacker’s own words, Jonathan Wind is “A dash of one friend, a dollop of another, fold in some traits from Philip Marlowe, a little zest of Agent Dale Cooper, a pinch of K. from Kafka’s The Castle, two cups of Faust, and then stir and forget all of that as I start to see the new creation congealing out of the mess.” And Wind is all of these ingredients and more, fully-realized and alive.

Set in 2003, we follow Wind after a fight with his girlfriend Monica that leaves him frustrated and seeking the affection of his mistress, Flora. Typical of the noir genre, Wind’s future hinges on the power of the phone call. Two calls set up his coming journey: the first, to his mistress, that ends when another man answers the phone; the second, from his partner, calling him to the scene of a murder where the victim just happens to be that same mistress.

Rothacker ups the ante and the energy, revealing that Flora died mysteriously in a hyper-localized fire. While his partner and the police force disagree, Jonathan Wind suspects foul play. At this point, AWWWA makes a powerful leap from crime noir to postmodern exploration. Rothacker’s adeptness at this switch is impressive. He carefully blends philosophy, myth, and religion into his protagonist’s forward-charging pursuit of the truth behind his lover’s death. What results is a mystery on par with Twin Peaks that embraces spiritualism and madness, blurring the lines between superficial realities and those beneath that we’ve trampled through cycles of colonialism, war, law, and order.

Truly, AWWWA is a unique reading experience. Rothacker imbues his book with Tarantino-like dialogue spoken by deep, lively characters. The setting, Atlanta, Georgia, is  a surging, breathing entity, with its twisting spaghetti of roadways tangled up in its own complicated history that is as much Detective Wind’s partner as his home. History, philosophy, and religion are their own characters in AWWWA. Rothacker–who prefaces the novel with his background in Religious Studies–infuses Wind’s twisting mystery with figures from Aztec, Mayan, Catholic, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and other backgrounds. Case interviews result in deep, revelatory conversations that are as instructional as they are entertaining. In short, this novel is deep and rewarding, influenced by the great works that preceded it.

“[Joyce] was my first really profound literary love,” Rothacker said in an interview. “At 17 I was a member of the International James Joyce Foundation. Other than lots of linguistic puns and ‘larding’ the text for my own amusement, what I used from Joyce is that device in Ulysses where every chapter has it’s own theme and governing principle.” Rothacker paces the entire book so one never feels as though they’re waiting in the back row of a comparative religion classroom, watching the clock. Instead, each page commands to be turned, captivating you–and Detective Wind–with Flora’s mysterious death. The result is an engaging story that blends the ordered cleverness of Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe with the worldly, thoughtful interactions of My Dinner With Andre. Readers will pursue Jonathan Wind on his search for real answers amid the degrees of unknowable throughout Atlanta and beyond.

This is a story as much about the case of a dead lover as of secret lives, of dark magic or strange rituals. And Wind Will Wash Away is a story about the self and the shrouded mysteries within. Jordan Rothacker is one of the most masterful writers I have ever read, and this novel is an opportunity to enter into a conversation with him that will surely be longer, grow more personal and complex. Treat yourself by reading And Wind Will Wash Away immediately, and take your own journey toward truth.

Jordan A. Rothacker, And Wind Will Wash Away, Deeds Publishing, 2016: $24.95

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Nate Ragolia is the author of the novella, There You Feel Free; creator of the Illiterate Badger and Lark & Robin webcomics; and occasional chatterer on music, film, &c on Medium. He is also editor-in-chief of Boned: a collection of skeletal fiction, poetry, essays, and more.

SENTIENCE MATTERS: ANIMAL RIGHTS & LITERATURE

 

 

Writing Literature to Benefit Nonhumans

by

Gabriel Gudding

 

This is the first post in a monthly column about animal rights and critical animal studies.

Because I’m a poet and essayist some of my posts will move beyond the strict scope of animal rights philosophy and will concern literature specifically as it relates to nonhumans, veganism, and zoopoetics.

Zoopoetics is a new movement in literary theory and practice that treats nonhumans as individuals with agency, as conscious world-having individuals worthy of moral consideration.[1] Think Kafka, Coetzee, D. H. Lawrence. Think Oni Buchanan and Aracelis Girmay, Les Murray and John Kinsella, Gretchen Primack and Ashley Capps, among countless other innovative writers and editors actively helping to reconceive our relationships with nonhumans.

Zoopoetics is markedly different from ecocriticism, ecopoetics, ecopoetry, and ecological literature in general. Such movements are not concerned with nonhumans as individuals; rather, they are concerned with animals as populations. When they do concern themselves with nonhumans, the essays and anthologies in these genres typically express disquiet about threatened favored populations of animals in the wild — wolves, eagles, bison, monarch butterflies — and rarely if ever mention the plight of farmed animals or question the practice of enslaving, killing and eating the bodies and secretions of nonhumans. The animal in these works is aestheticized and collective. Terry Tempest Williams, for instance, might protest the killing of prairie dogs and owls in the Utah desert, as a part of the general “subjugation of women and nature” in her book Refuge, but think nothing of lauding the hunting of rabbits by her family only a few pages later as a practice integral to her family’s sacred (her word) relationship with nature. Dozens of poets in a collection of essays on ecopoetics will rail against damage to the environment and the loss of connection to the animal world and nature caused by human hubris but never once mention a slaughterhouse, the practice of meat eating, or the fact that animal farming is not only predicated on human supremacism but is also the single greatest driver of climate change and the chief ecological threat to rivers and aquifers worldwide. Forewords, prefaces, and introductions to recent anthologies of ecopoetry and the postmodern pastoral won’t mention the slaughterhouse at all, though the bodies of dead nonhumans are universally eaten and worn, and CAFOs are scattered across countrysides everywhere.[2]

The idea that literature should be written to benefit nonhumans is new. We see no hint of this in western letters prior to now. Book X of The Republic maintains that the only permissible literature is that which praises gods and famous men. Aristotle remarks in Book IV of The Poetics that literature’s purview is the imitation of the actions of men and gods. Sidney’s Defence holds that literature’s purpose is to improve the character of a gentleman. Shelley, Lessing, Schiller all declared that the intent of literature should be to improve humanity. In fact it’s been a broadscale and sustained note since the advent of humanism: the project of literature is humanity’s improvement. Full stop.

Writing literature for the improvement and benefit of nonhumans isn’t some boutique issue, especially when we consider how animal farming is altering our climate and damaging our health and environment. Even for those who cannot intrinsically value nonhumans as ends in themselves, they should recognize that our fate is bound up firmly with their well-being.

A human future that does not acknowledge the injustices done to nonhumans cannot be rosy. Thankfully, a growing body of thinkers, literary and non-literary alike, is increasingly in agreement with political theorist John Sanbonmatsu who writes,

“A Left or socialist politics which does not place our enslavement of other beings at its center, conceptually and politically, cannot possibly succeed: ‘speciesism’ is not merely one more ‘ism,’ but in fact lies at the root of every form of social domination.”

Indeed, Giorgio Agamben goes so far as to insist that the ways we conceive of nonhumans has for centuries been at the heart of all political oppression.

As with the rest of mainstream culture, there is in this eco-centric literature a general disavowal of the suffering of nonhumans despite the seventy billion who are killed each year (trillions if we consider the annual slaughter of sea creatures) for meat, jackets, fur collars, handbags, watchbands, hats, shoes – all commodities unnecessary for, and in fact detrimental to, our health and mental well-being. The rare animal who rises to the status of an individual by such authors is generally a domestic pet or a rescued farm animal.

Rather than coldly expressing concern over animals as populations, we should, in the words of philosopher David Sztybel be “’hot’ for the individual animal.”[3] This new literature does this. And none too soon. Now that we are living through the sixth mass extinction since multicellular life rose on the earth a billion years ago, an extinction caused in great part by animal farming, an extinction, what’s more, that is nearly invisible to us, it’s time we begin to think of literature as a force that can benefit nonhumans too. A zoopoetic literature, which is sometimes straightforwardly veganic, is being written for the benefit of all sentient beings, not just as populations but as individuals, as individuals with bodily and mental sovereignty.

Such a literature will correct our received notions about what it means to share a lived sense of mutual vulnerability with nonhumans, to be one among many, not first among a few, of sovereign and suffering beings, each of whom, like us, is surrounded by the causes of death. Such a literature will also help us understand that humans need no longer be one of those causes.

(photo by Elige Veganismo of cow in restraining device for slaughter)


[1] The term zoopoetics was introduced by Jacques Derrida in his 1997 The Animal that Therefore I Am, but it has recently been more carefully inflected by Aaron Moe in his book Zoopoetics: Animals and the Making of Poetry (Lexington 2013) as a counter to, and a clarification of, ecocriticism and ecopoetics.

[2] This broadscale disavowal of animal farming and slaughter by a discipline that one would think would try to look this issue squarely in the face isn’t a problem intrinsic only to ecology-centric literature; it can also be seen even in the field of new materialist thought about biopower. See my essay, “Ecopoetry, Speculative Ontology, and the Disavowal of the Slaughterhouse: Some Notes on Ethics and Biopower” in Matter.

[3] Personal correspondence.

Slavoj Žižek

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From the European Graduate School faculty page:

Slavoj Zizek is a senior researcher, Institute of Sociology, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and visiting professor at American universities (Columbia, Princeton, New School for Social Research, New York, University of Michigan). Ph.D. (Philosophy, Ljubljana; Psychoanalysis, University of Paris). A cultural critic and philosopher who is internationally known for his use of Jacques Lacan in a new reading of popular culture and is admired as a true ‘manic excessive’. Author of The Invisible Reminder; The Sublime Object of Ideology; The Metastases of Enjoyment; Looking Awry: Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture; The Plague of Fantasies; The Ticklish Subject.

Slavoj Zizek has cast a very long shadow in what can only be termed ‘cultural studies’ (though he would despise the characterization). He is an effective purveyor of Lacanian mischief, and, as a follower of the French ‘liberator’ of Sigmund Freud, Slavoj Zizek’s Lacan is almost exclusively transcribed in mesmerizing language games or intellectual parables. That he has an encyclopedic grasp of political, philosophical, literary, artistic, cinematic, and pop cultural currents – and that he has no qualms about throwing all of them into the stockpot of his imagination – is the prime reason he has dazzled his peers and confounded his critics for over ten years.

Primarily the goal appears to be to demolish the coordinates of the liberal hegemony that permit excess and aberration insofar as it does not threaten the true coordinates. He suggests as well that the true coordinates are much better hidden than we realize. The production of cultural difference is to Slavoj Zizek the production of the inoperative dream – a dream that recalls perhaps George Orwell’s 1984 or even Terry Gilliam’s Brazil where a kind of generic pastoralism or a sexualized nature substitutes for authentic freedom – the flip side of this is film noir. Slavoj Zizek has determined that late-modern capitalism has engendered a whole range of alternative seductions to keep the eye and brain off of the Real. The Real only exists as a fragment, fast receding on the horizon as fantasy and often phantasm intercede. These dreams and nightmares are systemic, structural neuroses, and they are part of the coordinates of the hegemonic. The hegemony – the prevailing set of coordinates – always seeks to ‘take over’ the Real, and, therefore, this contaminated Real must be periodically purged.

In his essay ‘Repeating Lenin’ (1997) – ever the trickster, he convened a symposium on Lenin in Germany in part to see what the reaction would be – Slavoj Zizek sets up a deconstruction of the idea of form to effectively liberate the idea of radical form:

‘One should not confuse this properly dialectical notion of Form with the liberal-multiculturalist notion of Form as the neutral framework of the multitude of “narratives” –not only literature, but also politics, religion, science, they are all different narratives, stories we are telling ourselves about ourselves, and the ultimate goal of ethics is to guarantee the neutral space in which this multitude of narratives can peacefully coexist, in which everyone, from ethnic to sexual minorities, will have the right and possibility to tell his story. The properly dialectical notion of Form signals precisely the impossibilty of this liberal notion of Form: Form has nothing to do with “formalism,” with the idea of a neutral Form. Independent of its contingent particular content; it rather stands for the traumatic kernel of the Real, for the antagonism, which “colors” the entire field in question.’

He is interested in discerning the Lacanian Real amid the propaganda of systems. In appropriating ‘Lenin’ he is also looking for the moment when Lenin realized that politics could one day be dissolved for a technocratic and agronomic utopia, ‘the [pure] management of things’. That Lenin failed is immaterial, since Slavoj Zizek is extracting the signifier ‘Lenin’ from the historical continuum, which includes that failure – or the onslaught of Stalinism. The version of Lenin that Slavoj Zizek often chooses to re-enscribe into radical political discourse is ostensibly (by his own admission) the Lenin of the October Revolution, or the Lenin that had the epiphany that in order to have a revolution ‘you have to have a revolution’.

In his critique of contemporary capitalism Slavoj Zizek finds not simply the conditions that Karl Marx anathematized but those same conditions reified and made nearly intangible:

‘A certain excess which was as it were kept under check in previous history, perceived as a localizable perversion, as an excess, a deviation, is in capitalism elevated into the very principle of social life, in the speculative movement of money begetting more money, of a system which can survive only by constantly revolutionizing its own conditions, that is to say, in which the thing can only survive as its own excess, constantly exceeding its own “normal” constraints […] Marx located the elementary capitalist antagonism in the opposition between use- and exchange-value: in capitalism, the potentials of this opposition are fully realized, the domain of exchange-values acquires autonomy, is transformed into the specter of self-propelling speculative capital which needs the productive capacities and needs of actual people only as its dispensable temporal embodiment.’

In the era of globalization, then, the main question is: ‘Does today’s virtual capitalist not function in a homologous way – his “net value” is zero, he directly operates just with the surplus, borrowing from the future?’

‘In a proper revolutionary breakthrough, the utopian future is neither simply fully realized, present, nor simply evoked as a distant promise which justified present violence –it is rather as if, in a unique suspension of temporality, in the short-circuit between the present and the future, we are – as if by Grace – for a brief time allowed to act AS IF the utopian future is (not yet fully here, but) already at hand, just there to be grabbed. Revolution is not experienced as a present hardship we have to endure for the happiness and freedom of the future generations, but as the present hardship over which this future happiness and freedom already cast their shadow – in it, we already are free while fighting for freedom, we already are happy while fighting for happiness, no matter how difficult the circumstances. Revolution is not a Merleau-Pontian wager, an act suspended in the futur anterieur, to be legitimized or delegitimized by the long term outcome of the present acts; it is as it were its own ontological proof, an immediate index of its own truth.’

Slavoj Zizek’s agenda is to foster and engender a withering critique of the structural chains that enslave late-modern man. His nostalgia is for very large gestures: the meta-Real, the Universal, and the Formal. ‘This resistance is the answer to the question “Why Lenin?”: it is the signifier “Lenin” which formalizes this content found elsewhere, transforming a series of common notions into a truly subversive theoretical formation.’

Slavoj Zizek was a visiting professor at the Department of Psychoanalysis, Universite Paris-VIII in 1982–83 and 1985–86, at the Centre for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Art, SUNY Buffalo, 1991–92, at the Department of Comparative Literature, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, 1992, at the Tulane University, New Orleans, 1993, at the Cardozo Law School, New York, 1994, at the Columbia University, New York, 1995, at the Princeton University (1996), at the New School for Social Research, New York, 1997, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1998, and at the Georgetown University, Washington, 1999. He is a returning faculty member of the European Graduate School. In the last 20 years Slavoj Zizek has participated in over 350 international philosophical, psychoanalytical and cultural-criticism symposiums in USA, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Netherland, Island, Austria, Australia, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Brasil, Mexico, Israel, Romania, Hungary and Japan. He is the founder and president of the Society for Theoretical Psychoanalysis, Ljubljana.