Necrology, by Gary J. Shipley and Kenji Siratori. Gobbet Press. 246 pages. $14.00, paper.
The easiest way I found to approach Gary J. Shipley and Kenji Siratori’s collaborative text, Necrology, was by beginning at the end, or, more specifically, by beginning with the appendix (written by Iranian philosopher and writer Reza Negarestani). I use the word “easiest” here carefully, because I don’t want to convey the idea that there’s some particular way this book is meant to be read. There clearly isn’t—and that’s largely what makes Necrology such a success.
Just to get it out of the way, in order to talk about this book we have to first talk about the book’s form. The main body of Necrology is split into two columns of text. The left-hand column is written by Siratori, the right-hand column by Shipley. At no point in the book’s 200-something pages do these two columns of text overlap. In fact, upon an initial read, they seemingly have little to do with one another. The aforementioned appendix is Negarestani’s essay “The Corpse Bride: Thinking with Nigredo,” which is reprinted here from Robin Mackay’s much-admired Collapse journal. Still keeping only form in mind, I’ll share the epigraph which opens Negarestani’s essay, a quote from Virgil’s The Aeneid:
The living and the dead at his command,
Were coupled, face to face, and hand to hand,
Till, chok’d with stench, in loath’d embraces tied,
The ling’ring wretches pin’d away and died.
The punishment imposed by Mezentius on the soldiers of
Aneas should be inflicted, by coupling him to one of his own
corpses and parading him through the streets until his
carcass and its companion were amalgamated by
Yep, you read that right. This process of being bound (or “coupled”) to a corpse is explored with greater detail in Negarestani’s essay, in which a wide-range of the idea’s implications are compellingly explored and related to the Nigredo, or as its understood in terms of alchemy, the process of putrefaction or decomposition. But in terms of reading and comprehending Necrology, this quote from the beginning of Negarestani’s essay is particularly useful: “A living man or woman was tied to a rotting corpse, face to face, mouth to mouth, limb to limb, with an obsessive exactitude in which each part of the body corresponded with its matching putrefying counterpart. Shackled to their rotting double, the man or woman was left to decay.”
I reached out to Shipley via email to ask him about the dual-columned text of Necrology and how this relates to the idea of the punishment described by Negarestani in his essay. Shipley responded: “The challenge, as I saw it, was to write something that could sit alongside Kenji’s ‘closed system’ (as he calls it), for as Reza has pointed out, Kenji’s ‘textual maelstrom supports nothing external to itself.’ The idea I came up with, and what I eventually realized to be the only honest response, was to approach Kenji’s text as a dead object, a textual corpse, something that has some degree of internal life—as a corpse does with its parasitic invaders—but no external or readily translatable life.”
In that sense, Necrology is a literal experiment in text, a book whose form is shaped by an idea, an idea whose content is then explored—texturally—in the text itself. It’s self-contained, its various constructs bound to one another in parasitic symbiosis.
In my first reading, I stuck primarily to Shipley’s column of text, reading through the entire book in a few sittings, allowing my eye to snag on Siratori’s column whenever it felt right. Again, I did this mainly because it felt “easier;” Shipley’s text seemed somehow more accessible (and I don’t mean that in any sort of condescending way). I treated Siratori’s text as white noise. And for a while, this seemed to work out quite well. Although Shipley and Siratori’s styles are quite different, both are tonally similar, extraordinarily dark and often abrasive. Both seemed written with a purposefully limited vocabulary, or, as Shipley wrote to me via email: “…I stopped feeding my text after a certain point, starving it of any further words, limiting its sustenance to the merest tidbit.” I’m certainly not going to fall into the trap of attempting to describe either style—it would be pointless. This is visceral writing. And so, in an effort to better understand what Shipley meant by Siratori’s “closed system” writing, a quick Google search brought me to an archived Negarestani essay over at 3am titled “Technodrome,” which admirably attempts to explain Siratori’s 2002 novel Blood Electric.
Negarestani: “Despite the nonstop, unremitting prose style which relentlessly regenerates itself machanically, the text is constituted of a compositional structure which can be restlessly reinforced by new compositions, new text-pieces, data-flows and textual fibers. Siratori’s texts are compositional anomalies (every composition is a pestilential anomaly) marked by terminal multiplications, structural proliferations, self-scarring processes and reinforcements of new textual compositions.”
And a bit from Siratori’s text in Necrology: “rings together stiffened, iron mud coating my eyes and decomposing limbs held in script of eristic nightmare—the spidered sky encasing her like a lonely glass-covered mechanism of a dog…:the eye, masses of flesh of which were restrained it was forgotten_latent alone! Road of our drug-eye…noise…angel-mechanism is communicated…”
With all of this in mind, I began re-reading Necrology, this time focusing entirely on how Shipley’s text seemed to work in conjunction with Siratori’s—as opposed to working against it or in response to. It was difficult, at first, to find a method of reading conducive to constructive analysis. At first I would read Siratori’s column until I hit a page break, then I’d switch over to Shipley’s—sometimes flipping back a few pages—and worm my way forward again, repeating the process. It wasn’t long before I abandoned this method and began to approach each page as if it contained one body of text, “fusing” the two columns in my mind as my eyes worked from the left to the right, left to the right.
Again, I’m not sure that this is how Necrology is “meant” to be read. I don’t know why this idea of finding the right way to read a challenging text seems so important. In the beginning of this review, I wrote that Necrology is a “success,” and I stand by that—simply for that the fact that it triggered my skepticism of a singular approach to text. That’s a valuable realization, one that feels freeing, one for which I’m most grateful.
Necrology’s troublesomeness is just that, troublesomeness. And it’s most welcome.
David Peak’s most recent book, Glowing in the Dark, was released by Aqueous Books in October, 2012. He is co-founder of Blue Square Press, and lives in New York City.