“No Dimensions”: Matthew Kinlin on Evan Isoline’s PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY

In For a New Novel, Alain Robbe-Grillet argues, “Each novel must invent its own form.” In PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY, Evan Isoline constructs nine distinct zones, or what he calls emotional geometries, for a nameless narrator to drift through like a shadow beneath an endless sky. The sense of space in PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY is tremendous. We follow his narrator through vast deserts like figures in a Giorgio de Chirico painting, under columned alcoves and faceless statues of alabaster gods. We look up and a new vector ignites. Charlene Elsby recently included PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY alongside B.R. Yeager’s Pearl Death and Lindsay Lerman’s What Are You in what she refers to as horizonal literature. Elsby describes Isoline’s book as demonstrating “consciousness as a potentially infinite activity.” The human head spews clouds like a machine, a colossal Rene Magritte factory. Isoline’s narrator is obsessed with the sky and the color blue. Yves Klein writes, “Blue has no dimensions, it is beyond dimensions, whereas the other colours are not.” Blue as infinity. A beautiful boy dusted in violet chalk and delphinium petals, reads from a Derek Jarman script, “In the pandemonium of image, I present you with the universal blue. Blue, an open door to soul, an infinite possibility becoming tangible.”

The narrator stands on the horizon of their own disappearance. We witness them pass into what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari call “non-human landscapes of nature.” In Isoline’s first room, the narrator tells us, “On the walls I project videos of shark attacks.” An atrocity exhibition of seawater rushed with Francis Bacon reds and pinks. Steven Spielberg has spoken about the influence of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick on his 1975 film Jaws. Isoline’s narrator, like Captain Ahab, is an obsessive staring into the blue. Deleuze and Guattari write, “Ahab really does have perceptions of the sea, but only because he has entered into a relationship with Moby Dick that makes him a becoming-whale and forms a compound of sensations that no longer need anyone: ocean.” The narrator plunges into a relationship with Arthur Rimbaud’s drunken ocean like a “blue onyx of baptism” and emerges as a masturbating butterfly-ghost from “violet-stains at the upper boundary of the cocoon.” He scribbles graffiti upon waves turned vampire-pink and fucks an iron-red “hologram of Mars,” engulfed beneath the blood of sharks. The book is filled with moments of cubist shattering. As Paul Cezanne describes, “Man absent but entirely within the landscape.” During Pablo Picasso’s blue period, he painted outsiders, prisoners, exiled beggars wandering a cobalt realm. Here in the wilderness, we witness a narrator erased in the blue beyond.

Deleuze and Guattari continue, “We are not in the world, we become with the world; we become by contemplating it. Everything is vision, becoming. Becoming animal, plant, molecular, becoming zero.” The narrator is always jacking off, becoming “the limb of cactus that explodes into dead pink cubes.” Like an insatiable Georges Bataille character, he can’t keep his fingers out of his mouth. He wants everything inside, stating, “I could feel the texture and taste of the begotten ceiling tiles in my mouth just by looking at them.” He describes his own mouth as “a 0 with teeth. A single hole-in-the-eye, a single zero.” He links it with the ouroboros snake, forever eating itself like a source of radiant nothingness. Nick Land argues, “Nature, far from being logical, is perhaps entirely the excess of itself, smeared ash and flame upon zero, and zero is immense.” His mouth, anus, and soon he locates “a hole in my room and all the images come flooding in.” The circle becomes a portal. When Antonin Artaud travelled to Mexico in 1936, he witnessed peyote sorcerers draw a circle on the ground that no living being could enter, where “it is told that birds who stray into this circle fall.” This is the realm of the non-human, an entrance into psychotropic death, the gateway into what Maurice Blanchot termed orphic space, “which is nothing but outerness and which is nothing but intimacy.” Here, “The poem—and in the poet—is this intimacy opened to the world … where endlessly everything starts over and where dying itself is a task without end.”

The narrator feels, “I can’t get to the outside until I go through the inside.” Like Franz Kafka’s mole-creature from “The Burrow,” we crawl through nine subterranean chambers, hearing the footsteps of others in the richest of castles above, aware the sky could fall at any moment. We listen at each and every wall. Blanchot writes, “There is always a moment when, in the night, the beast hears the other beast.” In Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy, we witness the shadow of a balcony post move through the afternoon, a centipede stain on the kitchen wall like a map into endlessness. The nameless narrator, A and Franck, all sat on the veranda of the banana plantation, face a midnight chorus of crickets and glimpse what Blanchot calls the second night. Isoline’s narrator sees in “[e]very monstered object, every object monstered.” He divides like “a cell stuck in telophase having licked the candle of death.” In John Trefry’s daylit Plats, we move through an amber sheet of cloth held up to a windowpane, golden hour floated across a kitchen surface. Every object like a lilac beehive in the pointillistic house remains very still. Every shadow becomes what Artaud calls, “a descent in order to RE-EMERGE INTO THE DAYLIGHT.”

Blue is an invocation. Jarman pleads, “O blue come forth, O blue arise, O blue ascend, O blue come in.” Rimbaud paired the vowel O with the colour blue, like an open mouth. PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY is a book that thinks it’s a film that often resembles a painting. Isoline has spoken with Jake Reber about the influence of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Mystery of Picasso, in which Clouzot asks Picasso to paint upon a number of canvases and films ink bleeding through the back. The audience watches a bouquet of flowers transform into a chicken, into an enormous carnivalesque head. The narrator feels they are living inside a film. He finds a blue box like the doubles of Mulholland Drive, and a section at a strange motel feels reminiscent of Psycho. As daydreaming Fernando Pessoa describes, “What I’m attending here is a show with another set. And the show I’m attending is myself.” Scenes are sliced and edited. William Burroughs asks, following the vector of Rimbaud’s sensory derangement further, “HOW MANY DISCOVERIES SOUND TO KINESTHETIC? WE CAN NOW PRODUCE ACCIDENT TO HIS COLOR OF VOWELS. AND NEW DIMENSION TO FILMS CUT THE SENSES.”

The narrator wants to dream because, “DURING SLEEP MY MOUTH IS FULL OF CYAN GEOMETRY.” He wants to eat the blue sun. Isoline writes poems like cannibalistic diagrams that resemble a Francis Picabia cookbook. A human body moving through the mouth of a shark into what Cezanne called “the perpetuity of blood.” The sky continues outside. Land asks, “Space echoes like an immense tomb, yet the stars still burn. Why does the sun take so long to die?” The narrator closes his eyes at midday. Blanchot writes, “Midnight never falls at midnight.” Delphine Seyrig looking across the Ganges in Marguerite Duras’s India Song, whispering about the scent of lotus flowers, crocodiles, leprosy spreading through her clean body. Friedrich Nietzsche turning to face the Turin sky, the orange Mediterranean sun. Through Isoline’s endless rooms, one meets a shadow “raised in the rotten sweetness of violets.” The room is empty apart from a vase resting upon a table, light pouring through an open window. You move through an exquisite hallway. The fading hand of the shadow points at the far wall before dissolving. A blue perfume continues. You see a pale door.

PHILOSOPHY OF THE SKY, by Evan Isoline. Minneapolis, Minnesota: 11:11 Press, May 2021. 240 pages. $19.95, paper.

Matthew Kinlin lives and writes in Glasgow. His novels Teenage Hallucination (Orbis Tertius Press) and Curse Red, Curse Blue, Curse Green (Sweat Drenched Press) were released in 2021. He tweets @garbagemagician.

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