Xerox Over Manhattan, by Shane Jesse Christmass. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Apocalypse Party, January 2019. 103 pages. $8.99, paper.
Narrative buttons smashed. Glitching the reader through three frames of reality. External/internal/media. Each sentence tersely punctuated. The reader written into demolishing pauses. No paragraphs. Periods acting like doormen, asleep on the job, letting in strangers. A flimsy caesura. Loose nails pierce the page-walls. Purported as breath-hangings. Wrinkled breath bleating on the floor of your chest: “Asthma attacks abbreviated to awful cough.” Condensed syntax fevers the frame-rate. The cadence of Ghostface is played through your eyes: “Tiny bedroom. Black depths. Box cutter.” Collapsed associations. Objects made cities and bodies. War, television and sex. Gertrude Stein and Pierre Guyotat irreverently congressed in language: “Religious fervor and incense smoke. Your body, stiff and drunken. Foam from your mouth.” You get solitary confinement for consecutive life terms: “Cum in your saliva.”
A Shane Jesse Christmass novel is a data-dump of the apocalypse reflected through the impartial lens of a computer. Or rather, the impartial lenses of numerous computers, each constructing narratives from separate Markov Chains which are eventually agglomerated—in a bind between covers. Characters and menace-festered objects supplant each other and supplant each other. “You” appear in Xerox Over Manhattan. There is “blood in your Pepsi-Cola.” But the blood in your Pepsi has no immediate effect as it would in a traditional novel. Instead, this discovery is succeeded by the sentence “[w]ar department sets up at Grand Central Station.” In the structure of tangled Markov Chains effects lose their specificity. They occur, but they are obscured to their first movement, like realizing you’ve just grabbed something while your arm is numb. A sentence is an affect, not an agent for linearity. And each affective sentence, cataracted together in a 100-page haze, contributes to an ambient impression of dread. A feeling of constant de- and re-territorialization: “[A unity so nebulous] … that there is no longer any difference between being outside or inside.”
The above quote is from Deleuze and Guattari’s book Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Its inclusion might seem jury-rigged and gratuitous, but I believe there is a not-insignificant affinity between their explication of Kakfka’s work and Christmass’. Or, at the very least, their analysis provides a borrowable framework for further elucidating the novels of Christmass. They begin Kafka with the announcement that his work is “a rhizome, a burrow,” which they define as capable of being entered “by any point whatsoever; none matters more than another, and no entrance is more privileged even if it seems an impasse, a tight passage, a siphon.” Xerox Over Manhattan functions in a similar way (as well as more literally, in that the novel can be entered through any page and traversed in any order—producing a disorientation that is still holistically compatible with a linear reading—resembling Queneau’s A Hundred Thousand Billion Poems) as does much of Christmass’ corpus. All rhizomes with roots of Markov tangle. A character receives no higher dispensation than an object. Each a product and producer of waste, being dragged down the drain of our Type 0 Civilization. Because characters and objects exist in a pattern of recursive antagonism—each is a problem arranged to compound the problem of the other within an indifferent environment—the book’s novelistic success does not derive from plot or characterization, but from a sustained litany of mood. The dread, above-mentioned, of seeing humans reduced to machine-states: “Your thinning hair caused by valve leaks … You swaddle me within computer systems.”
Deleuze and Guattari conclude that “Each segment is a machine or a piece of a machine, but the machine cannot be dismantled without each of its contiguous pieces forming a machine in turn.” This process is partly enacted by Christmass through a variant of culture jamming—using zero degree writing to freeze and zoom-in on the perversity of our celebrity obsessions. Shia LaBeouf appears in Belfie Hell, Lindsay Lohan appears in Police Force as Corrupt Breeze, and Yeezus appears in Yeezus in Furs, but their names are only rhetorical props. Pre-dismantled machines whose guts can be plugged into bloody channels of consumption. They are selected for the novels because they’re already depersonalized. Their private lives have been abstracted into degrading entertainment. Cathected into grotesque displays: “Holograms of Lindsay Lohan’s autopsy” (Police Force as Corrupt Breeze). Her lifeless, cut up body replicated with lifelike fidelity. Commenting on our indifference to celebrities’ actual, autonomous bodies; we prefer to think of them as gore-machines, drug-machines, fuck-machines—interchangeable and replaceable in accordance with entertainment and scandal. “Holograms of Lindsay Lohan’s autopsy” implicates the hologram’s audience as culpable. In Xerox Over Manhattan, rather than employ a celebrity as a cipher for our culture-rot, Christmass uses the honorific “president,” President Ricky: “He loves the badness.” A paranoid, violent, and shameful psychopath, as manic and hallucinatory as robotic Richard Nixon (Zhlubb) in Gravity’s Rainbow, both of whom terrorize “You.” Unsublimated. President Ricky is an avatar for the novel. He is glitched-out and recursive. And since the novel is not a closed-system, but one that is engaged with the images, ideas, and anxieties proliferating in Western society, President Ricky becomes an avatar for these times.
Xerox Over Manhattan is of a piece with Christmass’ other published novels. A continuation, and refinement of the style that makes him one of the most interesting contemporary authors.
Bryce Jones’ work has appeared in Slant Magazine, 3:AM Magazine, Surfaces, and numerous other publications. He lives in Oregon.