“Logan Berry and the Negative Beyond”: A Review of RUN-OFF SUGAR CRYSTAL LAKE by Charlene Elsby

If we’re going to talk about Logan Berry, the question we first need to answer is, how is Cioran’s fall out of time conceived of as a negative eternity? The key concept is to differentiate the fall out of time from a positive eternity. The fall out of time is not a happy return to a pre-birth eternality, like Plato described the realm of the forms. It’s a timelessness of another sort—a notable, tangible, negative timelessness, not a continuous existence but a ceasing of all that is.

There’s a parallel between that negative eternity and the disembodied/disemboweled consciousness that I would identify as the dominant perspective of Logan Berry’s Run-Off Sugar Crystal Lake. The book doesn’t so much describe, as it does manifest something. And the thing that it manifests is something definite, something that exists, which looks upon our material realm with envy and is, quite possibly, an indication of the positive existence of evil.

It’s the feeling you get watching a really well-done ritual scene in horror movies; like there’s something being conjured that has a name, some definite characteristics, and also an intent. Berry’s text is obscure and sometimes impossible to decipher. It functions as a summoner for something that arrives atmospherically over the course of a reading—something dark that perceives and conceives of this world as a respite from itself.

(I’d like to stress at this point that, while my reading is certainly speculative, it isn’t ungrounded. I’ve talked to Berry at some point about the apparent conflicts between Deleuzian and phenomenological metaphysics, and I think his book is a fine exemplar of how the phenomenological metaphysics ultimately wins out.)

Deleuze scholars are known for denigrating phenomenology but, when you press them, they ultimately admit that the only thing Deleuze has against phenomenology is how Edmund Husserl (the father of phenomenology, called “the master” by his students, much like Aristotle is referred to as “the philosopher” throughout medieval texts) assumes the existence of the subject. And while that interpretation of Husserl is a bit reductive (Husserl assumes some bare form of subjectivity, a zero-point of orientation from which things come to be cognized), there is a metaphysically creepier form of subjectivity that comes about in his later texts, a transcendental intersubjectivity that undergirds any individual subjectivity. Maurice Merleau-Ponty (of whom Deleuze speaks of favourably) picks up on that bit of Husserl and conceives, in later phenomenology, of “the flesh”; the integration of materiality and consciousness, conceived not as two things but one formed thing out of which all entities we know are abstracted. Deleuzians, on the other hand, conceive of the metaphysics undergirding reality as something more chaotic—a maelstrom of sorts. The Deleuzian beyond lacks intentionality prior to individuation. It’s an unrestrained cogito.  

The point here is that the actual conflict between phenomenologists and Deleuze is metaphysical. The question is to do with from where things manifest. Where one conceives of a flesh from which actuality arises, the other conceives of that metaphysical base as formless.

The thing that Berry’s text evokes is that place from where things manifest. The text doesn’t express a clear plot, characters, or linear temporality, but there is a setting, there are characters, and there is something beyond them—a fundamental intentionality (a directionality or a telos) of which you get a sense through reading. It functions to bring about something, something definite, and something accessible through our reality but not really in amongst it. The narrative viewpoint of Run-Off Sugar Crystal Lake isn’t one amongst many possible viewpoints but something else, something a little separate, something disembodied. And it wasn’t a peaceful disembodiment, like the soul’s separation at death to return to the forms. You get a sense that this disembodiment was more violent than that—a negative separation of perspective from materiality.

Now this something, I might argue, requires this particular materiality (a pretty paper book) in which to manifest. Run-Off Sugar Crystal Lake is a lovely piece of art, formatted in landscape, images with text, in colour or with a notable lack of it. The book itself is a first stage in the manifestation of the dark thing Berry calls into being, and the reception by a human consciousness (our reading of the text) is the second stage in that manifestation. (The phenomenologists who study the materiality of the literary work of art refer to the former as a “realization” and the latter as a “concretization”.) The material thing provides the potentiality for our cognition (as readers) to access a formal reality beyond that to which we have become accustomed.

And I don’t think I’m being too obscure with these speculations; the thing that Berry manifests is something with which we are all, at some level, already familiar. It’s the other side, the upside down, the thing which possesses, the whatever that is below or reflects reality, always attempting to claw its way up to the surface. That’s what I take from Berry’s statement near the end of the book, “I’m already inside you.” Like how Plato’s philosophy suggests that we recall the forms we used to know before birth, these negative forms also exist in some latent form within human consciousness—except they are not from any heavenly realm and in fact quite the opposite.

I recommend this reading experience to all those interested in the negative beyond.

Run-Off Sugar Crystal Lake, by Logan Berry. Minneapolis, Minnesota: 11:11 Press, October 2021. 156 pages. $19.99, paper.

Charlene Elsby received her Ph.D. from McMaster University working on Aristotle’s concepts of truth and non-being. She is the Vice President of the North American Society for Early Phenomenology and General Editor of Phenomenological Investigations. Her fictional works include Hexis, Affect, and Psychros.

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