Ken Baumann, Solip, Tyrant Books, 2013.
But the lack of everything, is forming quite a blank. And the testament I give can't hold such a rupture: The unholy blank, a middle, around it another pillow blank. These things, in accordance, are not conducive to electrical strain (ME to YOU), So let's play:
Confession time: Ken Baumann's debut Solip isn't a novel. Think of how it feels to watch an engrossing film; now imagine becoming that film, your vision little more than a flickering image, your body just a burst of white vinyl. Baumann's non-novel, a vast detonation of language, not only captures that feeling, but also challenges you not to be held in its thrall. Indebted to Samuel Beckett and Gaspar Noé, Solip asks the reader to give up all human prejudice and surrender to life's new texture, the flesh become word: a code all Baumann's own, which bludgeons language as much as it opens prose fiction up to the highest horizon. Solip is a world for those who already dwell in the sentence, an anarchic hell that sounds something like heaven, by one of America's most promising young writers.
In Baumann’s otherworldly textual performance/debut novel, the curtain and spotlight of the stage are traded in for the paper and glue of the perfect-bound book. So too is a standard narrative tossed aside, presenting the reader with what can best be described as an exploratory dreamscape—sometimes lucid and sometimes convoluted—spotted with questions (“Can we ever?”), commands (“Hymn for me.”), and declarations (“Eternity is the combustion engine.”) which feel as permanent as they are transient, a tattoo on boiling water. Baumann sews together disparate fabrics of stage direction, monologue, and guided meditation/nightmare to create less a book and more a quilt depicting textual evolution. But with pages teeming with assonance, wordplay, and lines that often set the reader’s eyes to prancing (“Mourning in days in which in ways in which I would not mourn, should not, as I could not mourn to full.”), one soon begins to wonder whether this work, despite its wraithlike narrative form, has any kind of emotional claim. A further divorce from the physical body is suggested in the work’s subtle thematic through-line in which the “difficulties” of human senses like “smell” and “hearing” are treated as obstacles that must be overcome. So instead, what’s learned is that it’s the reader who must play the role of passenger at the center of this dream-flight, with Baumann acting as pilot executing an infinite series of touch-and-go landings. Whether readers will want to assume this role of emotional core is the question, though it’s not a question this book is meant to answer. The material here is excessively ethereal, which is exactly its point and overriding success: it never breaks character, and in the end it’s about our unlimited potential in how we express ourselves. Readers who enjoy letting go, and who can resist their natural urge to assign meaning to foreign shapes and shadows, will be easily lured in by this book’s music. - Mel Bosworth
3. This might be the single most difficult book to write jacket copy for.
4. This isn’t experimental literature for the sake of experimenting.
5. The book is physically tiny and the front cover is minimalist.
6. There is nothing on the back cover. A wall of black staring at you. No pull quotes or blurbs, and by the second page you realize why: because the book speaks for itself.
7. I read this tiny book in one sitting in a coffee shop amazed by its power and had to go indoors to drown out the outside world to reread it and devour it properly.
8. Baumann’s writing demands your attention. It’s as if he’s bottled up the intensity present in much of online fiction and spread it out over a longer narrative, not losing a beat in the process.
9. The sentences are divine. The language will cast shadows. They will hum to you. Listen closely.
10. The book has a pulse to it, a pulse that beats louder and more pervasively as the text unfolds.
11. This isn’t beach reading but getting a glimpse inside Baumann’s mind is much like watching an intricate sand castle being built.
12. Trying to quote from Solip is like trying to bottle up the air.
13. There is a dream like quality to Solip. It will lull you to sleep then shake you awake, leaving you confused and intrigued.
14. Baumann has exhibited equal parts visionary explorer and poetic tongue with this text.
15. This book may compel you to try and emulate the writing style. Seems simple enough, right? You’ll find it’s much, much harder than you thought.
16. Solip isn’t for everyone (is any book, or piece of art for that matter, really for everyone?) In fact, it’s probably not for a lot of people but regardless of affect, it will produce a strong effect.
17. Early frontrunner for best book I’ve read this year, certainly the most memorable. I can’t remember reading anything quite like Solip.
18. I’d be very scared to have this narrator in my life but secretly I feel as though everyone knows someone like this. They just aren’t given a voice like Baumann has done.
19. I felt, and still do, genuinely excited about the future of literature (why so serious?) or just people’s general ability to string words together and to expand other’s horizons with a fresh perspective after reading Solip.
20. This is Lynch and Beckett put together in a blender and shredded until wholly original and uniquely weird.
21. Solip is a twitter account from hell, a deranged patient babbling on a shrink’s couch.
22. As maddening as the text is at times, and it does get weird, you never feel as though you’re being guided somewhere outside of Baumann’s zone. You’re on auto-pilot without a gps or a seatbelt but the view is so captivating, so foreign that your initial urge to close your eyes, to look away, will be trumped by your need to finish the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next page to see where it’s all going to end up.
23. What you get out of this book will depend greatly on the mindset upon which you begin. Much more so, I suppose, than with other books.
24. Concise yet brimming with ideas and thoughts and lists and fragments and run-ons and then it’s over and you’re left wondering what the fuck happened.
25. Trying to produce 25 points for a book this length is harder than I first imagined. I feel like forcing responses in response to this text is an exercise in futility. - Patrick Trotti
excerpt from Solip:
Children's Hour. I feel I should fill in some philosophy, or a more formal advice; channels can be changed. Here to. Let it be known that a man in a box is yet a man. A man buried is as lonely as he'll ever be, and ever was. Walls move if you do not watch them. Never take the pill. Highly regimented diets of air will sustain us all. Troughs are to be watered and pigged upon. Mountains climbed are no less immortal. The back of the hand is a ravine that should not be crossed. Never touch. The unremarkable sound that faints in your bedroom at night is glass shattering, distant. Swallow when spoken to. Spit when exhumed. A tar-stained rope will never do. A year's worth of salt will build upon dank newspapers left quiet, then ignore the patterns in the smeared print, as they will only forebode. Askewed and stern, default. Let the noises crowd each other; it'll be like tea leaves. Turn to the stars. Diviners are to be held in faith. The most graceful motion is a slice. The most noble motion is a feint.
REVIEW//INTERVIEW: Ken Baumann’s Solip
52 Weeks / 52 Interviews: Week 13: Ken Baumann
Suck on the Monolith By Blake Butler
Because I finished the first draft of A TASK—and saved myself from financial blackmail—I tried to take today off. A few days back, I decided to start drawing again. I stopped when I was about 14, and I regret it a lot. My recent swirl of fascination probably rose out of two things: 1. I’m reading comics again, and 2. I’m interested in writers-that-draw/artists-that-write, e.g. Zak Smith and Austin Kleon.
Above is the result of a couple of hours of fucking off with a big notebook and a Lamy fountain pen. It was interesting to draw again, and to have to shed the skin that screams YOU’RE NOT GREAT & YOU’LL NEVER BE GREAT while just attempting something dumb and casual. That skin has lost most of its bully power with me while I’m writing, but it grew back—with scales—while I had the pen in my hand today. I don’t think I want to put in the work to claw back my childhood competence, but I enjoyed spending a few hours zoning out into tiny details and converting my unease into a sore wrist and neck.
Used a bunch of snake and monster metaphors in that last paragraph. Blame 12 year old me.