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Best Dangerous Books

2013 was a year for the books—literally

January 1, 2014, 6:00 am

I nearly had an aneurism when I saw what was in store for dangerous writing in 2014—namely the Semotext(e) series of pamphlets to premiere at the Whitney Biennial. 

Curated by Hedi El Kholti, the list of writers functions as a primer on how to stay intellectually and emotionally alive in an era where the most essential writing is corralled into the margins. This particular corral is occupied by the likes of the Eileen Myles, Jackie Wang, Ariana Reines, Pierre Guyotat, Bruce Benderson, Chris Kraus and so many more. Such an epic gathering makes me think of New Narrative, a movement greatly influenced by the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s, that pushed writers like Dennis Cooper and Dodie Bellamy into an arena where even I, at the time a barely literate desert dweller, could find them. 

Most everything in the mainstream felt so boring after that. It’s fitting that these writers are being presented in pamphlet form, the chosen medium of those trying to spark a revolution.

Here are some of the books that delivered danger in just the right doses last year:


Cunt Norton
by Dodie Bellamy

“I think this could be the most joyful book on Earth,” Ariana Reines says in the introduction to Cunt Norton, Dodie Bellamy’s “cut-up (a la William Burroughs)” of the Norton Anthology. What is it cut-up with? Her porn writing. Cunt Norton is a brainy feminist incantation at the intersection of high and low culture that I find nearly impossible to read without needing to recite passages out loud to anyone nearby.

“Play that sad ragged tune, cook my head like a goat’s until it turns black.” -Cunt Hughes. 

“Impediments to love are not love. I have put thy underwear up to thy remover to remove: oh, no! It is thy tits swaying in rhythm, shaken to the stars.” -Cunt Shakespeare.

All of Dodie’s writing concerns itself with the undoing of a hijacking, whether it be of body, mind, or spirit. Here, the porn unleashes all the fluids, the shits, the fleshy dirts and flowers necessary for poetry’s strongest medicine to take hold. A thousand years ago in the Mongolian outback a shaman wearing skins rests after a village is healed from some mysterious sickness—a relative of Dodie Bellamy no doubt. 


Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era by Beatriz Preciado
Preciado is a genderqueer Michael Pollan—if he was a drugged-out French intellectual with a convincing theory on the symbiotic relationship between gender, commerce and “the state.” Our bodies are not our own is a gross understatement that emerges as s/he chronicles the self administration of black market testosterone while in the midst of a love affair/sex fest with VD (Virginie Despentes, author of Baise-moi.) Like one of those careening road movies that can only end in disaster, Preciado seeks an outlaw’s power and agency in a world where hetero-normative procreation is no longer the primary source of capital, but has instead given way to gender and sex itself. Yes, “the man” makes money off our bodies through our collective sexualization of all things, leading us to an ever greater dependency on the pharmaceutical industry—everything from birth control, gender re-assignment drugs, menopause, erectile dysfunction, anti-depressants and more. Preciado’s chapter on the history of birth control is chilling in its reminder of the genocidal impulse beneath common eugenics in practice. How do we escape collusion in these forces of evil? We don’t really. That s/he doesn’t offer a hygienic and neat solution is precisely what makes this book very French, and also, a total transgressive thrill ride. 

Martyrs and Holymen by Larry Fondation
Larry Fondation was a union organizer before his books of fiction were published to critical acclaim both in the United States and in France. Fondation’s weapon is extreme short form fiction. Sex and violence comprise much of the action, but rather than being a means to an end, each story feels like the culmination of an ancient parade of sins held up in a stark light. What are in the shadows are forces that have led to a reckoning—this tragic poetry of consequence. Poverty, race, and war are the forces in play whether they take the form of a drunken pregnant woman getting picked up in a bar or a Native American man throwing a pistol in a dumpster that he used to kill a cop. Like the late Wanda Coleman, Fondation strips his characters of an interiority meant to make them more universally familiar, engaging the reader with the dispossessed on their own impossible terms. 


The Flamethrowers: A Novel by Rachel Kushner
This book is  included on the list not because it is dangerous in any formal or political way, but because of the literal danger that begins the book. It’s the 1970’s. Reno races her motorcycle on the Bonneville salt-flats and royally, gorgeously, bites it. 

“All I knew was my hand on the throttle grip, its tingling vibration in my gloved fingers: 130, 138. Floating mountain hovered in the distance, a mirage at its skirt. Hazy and massive. Whatever happened, it would watch but not help. Pay attention, it said. You could
die.” 

 

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