Jonathan Aprea speaks with author Alex Shakar about science, spirituality, and virtual reality in his forthcoming novel Luminarium.
Reading Alex Shakar’s new novel Luminarium is like running a marathon in a thunderstorm. It reads and flows with a certain exigency that won’t make you want to leave it for too long on your coffee table or on the floor space next to your bed. The novel follows Fred Brounian through various life troubles, girl troubles, technologically mind-blowing neuropsychological studies, and a personal quest to discover nothingness as a sort of self-actualization, all while struggling to keep alive the corporately-taken-over software company founded by he and his now-comatose twin brother. Luminarium is a crashing and rainy light-show that makes us vulnerable and scared, but also invigorated and, dare I say, hopeful.
Alex Shakar was gracious enough to field a few questions I had concerning his new novel.
Jonathan Aprea Technology in Luminarium seems to have two edges. While Sam’s computer program simulation of an attack on the Empire State Building is meant to train security personnel and save lives, at the same time it seems so eerie and invasive and kind of wrong. How do you feel about technology? Do you embrace it or are you more skeptical?
Alex Shakar Well, personally, both. As a storyteller, I find technology is a powerful lens for looking at our strengths and flaws. It amplifies our power, for good and ill alike, makes our decisions that much more consequential. You could say it’s our karma on steroids. With technology in general, and virtual reality in particular, we’re in a sense inhabiting our dreams. As for whether technology will be our heaven or our hell, I know where my money is. But we’re looking at a photo finish for sure.
BOMB staff and interns take a field trip to Brazenhead Books for a private evening of drinks, conversation, and a whole lot of book browsing.
This past Monday evening, BOMB interns and staff packed up their various shoulder bags and backpacks and left the office bound for the Upper East Side. Not a short trip train-wise from the BOMB office, but well worth it. Being buzzed in to the building that houses Michael Seidenberg’s Brazenhead Books is a lot like being buzzed into any of your friends’ apartment buildings. Climbing the staircase isn’t a lot different either. But pass through the doorway, and you’re wrist-rocketed into what might arguably be one of the warmest, quaintest, most handsome secondhand bookstores at least in the tri-state area, perhaps farther.
BOMB is proud to be the official media sponsor for the 4th Annual Lit Crawl NYC, which is set to take place September 10, from 6–9pm in three installments across the Lower East Side (plus an afterparty!).
With so many literary-based pub-crawls taking place annually across the US and Europe (a big one takes place in Dublin and has something to do with James Joyce…), you might be wondering what sets the Lit Crawl NYC apart from all the rest? Let these numbers do the talking:
Start planning your schedules now.
From the Lit Crawl NYC website: “The Lit Crawl is a madcap concept created by San Francisco’s literary festival, Litquake, back in 2006. It’s a bar crawl, with literature! The inaugural Lit Crawl NYC took place in September 2008 and was wildly popular, spurring its lit-loving, NY-loving crawlers to make it an annual event, growing, in true Lit Crawl tradition, with every year.”
Lit Crawl is divided into three phases and will have you scurrying around the East Village and Lower East side to such venues as Bar 82 for a reading by Alexander Maksik and some existential trivia (we’re curious too); Fontana’s, where you’ll find the editors of The Paris Review accompanied by the Dog House Band; the White Slab Palace for a 6-Word Memoire Slam brought to you by Smith Magazine, and the Bowery Electric where you’ll find BOMB and some BOMB-aoke. But it’s no exaggeration to say that there’s much, much more. Over a baker’s dozen of literary organizations, magazines, and groups will be making their presence known at the Lit Crawl this year. Check out a schedule and map here. And don’t forget the afterparty! All events are free!
More info from the Lit Crawl website here.
Donald Dunbar on the power of language, circumventing systems, and his new book Eyelid Lick.
I don’t know a lot about Donald Dunbar. He doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet. His bio can only be found in a few places online, including at Fence, who released his first full collection, Eyelid Lick, as the 2012 Fence Modern Poets Prize winner. I do know a lot about Eyelid Lick. I’ve been reading and thinking about it for over a month.
Stylistically, Eyelid Lick is a surreal text whose poetry is anchored by its syntactical coherence. This allows it to be able to diverge and digress, confusing and swapping nouns and pronouns, describing abnormal situations, all while never seeming to really lose the reader.
This is to say that the collection is fun, and that it feels good. It feels like being given a driving tour through someone’s dream, and the dream is continually re-centering and referring back to itself. And the car you’re sitting in is very fast and swervy. And the driver is both dementedly funny and insightfully sincere, and the way he talks to you is refreshing and colloquial and personal and a little bit sensual.
While doing all of this, Eyelid Lick also confronts some rather serious cultural, political, and philosophical predicaments. Through an email exchange, Donald and I were able to discuss some of these issues.
Jonathan Aprea It’s common in your poems for names to change and for one character to be swapped out for another. In “The Exact Same Line,” two characters, “Alicia” and “Dreamer # 3” can sometimes be read as the same person. And in the author’s note, one name beginning with a “C” changes over and over again, and “Fe Hu Chan” is replaced by “you” (the reader). I felt a slight sense of abduction or manipulation, especially when you involve “you,” and this was both exciting and attractive to experience in a poem. Can you talk a little bit about these choices, especially your direct inclusion of the reader?
Donald Dunbar Language is mind control. We don’t get the choice to hear what we want to—if someone’s talking, our brain is processing it—and by reading a thing we’re surrendering our mind to the system of meaning the author has arranged. This doesn’t mean that we’re not able to later make decisions about what’s being said, but that analysis happens at a much higher level than the initial processing of things. We naturally feel everything we hear or read. Using the second person just makes this more explicit.
“He takes pleasure in torturing puppies,” is easier on the reader than, “I take pleasure in torturing puppies,” is easier than, “You take pleasure in torturing puppies.” In each of these we’re still processing the same information—puppies are still being tortured—and we understand the torture is fictional, but when we’re signaled to process information in relation to ourselves, our tendency is to do it.
Dorothea Lasky on her new book, Thunderbird, transformation, color, and the demons that haunt her poetry.
What would it be like to not be alive anymore? To leave this world of colors and tactile sensations and friends and strangers and grass and insects and smoke and oceans and wild dreams? It is a question that you’ll inevitably confront when you pick up Dorothea Lasky’s new collection, Thunderbird. The flavor of sensate mortality is thick on these pages—flip through them and read windswept sadness and world-hurt. Read good and evil, confusion and acuity. Read also a howling authority, a life grabbed by its gnarled horns and shown itself in the bathroom mirror. Fan the pages with your thumb and hear a thunderbird as it roars.
Jonathan Aprea One thing that’s very evident in Thunderbird is the quantity of plane crashes. There are plane crashes in “Misunderstood,” “Plane Crash of the Thunderbird,” and “Death of the Polish Empire,” and I was wondering about that recurrence in this book. It’s evident that the idea of the thunderbird ties into planes in some way.
Dorothea Lasky I guess that the thunderbird, aside from a lot of American cultural references—I’m thinking of the Native American references, and you know, there’s a lot—is basically a Zeus-like figure that controls lightning and weather and the skies. It’s a figure who is in charge. It’s like a universal spirit sort of deity thing. I guess that I was trying to find a similar image in our culture that really is like a thunderbird, and that to me is a plane. Especially because planes transport you through time and space. I mean they’re changing time, they’re changing space, and when you’re in them you’re sort of contained in some way within this world. That kind of idea is what’s really important to the book. Because if the book is about spiritual transformation or the I going through different states of being, then that’s what’s possible in a plane. And you know, so if there’s a plane crash, what does that mean for what’s happening to the I?
The I is going through a transformation in this book. I really see the three books as a trilogy. The I has gone through a whole process. And after Thunderbird the I is going to be—you know I don’t exactly know what the I is going to be—but it’ll be something else that couldn’t have happened if it hadn’t gone through these three books.