by Rick Harsch et al. (15€ per volume…348 pages…holmen paper…cover by Jason Snyder, the best in the business; vol. 2 356 pages, cover by same, holmen paper)
THE ASSASSINATION OF OLOF PALME, an anthological novel
Despite clear evidence that humans have been a rather grand evolutionary mistake, an oblivial force dwells within that reminds us daily that this could have been a finer existence, if still dreadfully short. Like the rare daguan that survives only around one or two small islands near New Guinea that’s ultimate demise was the concoct of desperate botch that led to its summit as a creature (100s of thousands of years ago) coinciding with the development of something very much like a rudimentary lung that weakens imperceptibly with time such that its doom is built in, and yet its tail fin and webbed hinders are of daily benefit, I am sure that whatever moves us to write is connected to some similarly accidental evolutionary neither here nor there, call it that oblivial force, which hasn’t the slightest capacity to thwart that within us that has—inevitably—led to our negation of ourselves, that which has created the mitigated yet triumphant dystopia, the ugliness that saturates the world of the gasping human, now a bottom feeder and a fluke, big oddfish in a small pinguid puddle in a sink slunked in a lavaic asphalt parking lot where the two survive in a biological buddy system genius desperado artifice akin to the retreat of the species to a single cell. Sooner or later the last pair will be blown from one of these unparked lot seagull deadzones by an executive, a subman, wearing a suit no different from what hangs like reality in closets throughout the monied kingdom. He will use a sawed off shotgun. If I can believe this without contortions of my being, it is quite likely that I am not alone, and if I am not alone, that howling noise is neither wind nor wolf but the cry of the artist for sane company. Thus I account for my optimism despite the quotidian wallops and insults suffered from the acts of my fellow gregarians.
This book, like many others I have written, began as a certainty without precise contours. Sometimes the books I write begin as certainties without need for contours, the words pushing like manic sperm to explode toward a fracas of infinite eggs. Not this time. In fact, this time my conception was a new species, and as I wrote early on I experienced the strange paradox of knowing less about the creature the more I explored its scales and depth. Never mind why just now that in a book that was certainly going to be called The Assassination of Olof Palme, I was going to write the character Moe Berg, lousy hitter, great linguist, OSS spy in Yugoslavia, follow him to Zurich, where he was in shared history sent to assassinate Werner Heisenberg if during a talk there Heisenberg gave the slightest indication that the Germans were nearing completion of an atomic bomb. Berg was met, provided a pistol and cyanide pill. Nothing came of it. This was the turn in the tunnel system. I could find nothing on the actual speech that Heisenberg gave, but I felt it was more important than any other part of this story, and not only that, I soon knew that Heisenberg’s speech was not about physics or atomic matters of any kind, that in fact he had given a speech about the Zoot Suit Riots in LA the summer previous. No one knows how writers know these things. But that is hardly a breakthrough. The actual path toward fresh air and light was my immediate understanding that Sesshu Foster, a writer from Los Angeles, was the perfect person to write Heisenberg’s speech. That was the birth of this anthological novel.
Had the world I have been writing in been micro-managed by the very same forces that have made of writing a commodified, grotesque, self-distortional nightmare, the project that is the inevitable result of an honest response to a welcome intrusion would have been immediately aborted. But such are the wilds in which we ramble that many of us writers have found comfort in incorruptibility, the infinitude of paths available away from the nightmare pyramid endlessly fascinating, our own recurrent nightmares of screaming figures falling against the legal statutes of physics out from the lower levels of the pyramid to their relatively rapid deaths mere bloodbursts of what must be back there, and found the womb of obscurity as fructiferous as the Amazon used to be. Dreaming of burst capillaries and skullpops we awaken sustained.
Indeed, why in the millennia of human endeavor, on an earth entuned by such anthropics as south Indian gopurams, did the act of creating art through the act of writing communally never become even a fragment of an assertion of human oblivial force? In deadly tubelight poisons flourish, yet alchemy has ever been the individual’s dungeoned failure. The human being has never lacked for imagination: ipso facto, we have no answer but the accumulate allergy that spread violence into the fear of inspiration. Writing communally became as welcome as bare balls and labia at the altar. Woe betide that species that first silenced a fart. The fatal contradiction: the panicked need to improve that which is not first understood.
I did not mention that this novel is autobiographical, lest you suffer that uniquely human discomfort that precedes suicide of the other. The human species is yet again distinct in that it prefers murder to suicide. To any other animal, suicide is but attempted murder. So steady now. Step back from my ledge. The narrator is already an imposter. Woe to the reader who believes in the writer, particularly the marriage of narrator and writer. This narrator, to refrain from combobulatorian assertion, not to say rampant egomania, has no idea who is narrating his novels. Trapped in the tripe of a trilogy, lest I trip in the third headlong into a fourth, I once killed Rick Harsch to ensure the end of the sequence. How important it is to despise sequentials! Little did I know how badly I would need that same Rick Harsch for my autobiographical novel. This opens with his revival. Or would have, had it not been condemned by that relentless circle surrounding the autobiographer, his family, before I could get one eye out of the womb. So, then, early on, he is revived. He was a good sport—which is perhaps to be the expected outcome, we agree on so many things. Most important, I suppose, is that we agree that autobiographical is a complex field of fiction, involving far more of what we did not directly experience than that which we did. The most pregnant example is the effect on my life of the Frail Nancy, wife of Ronald Reagan, whose existence did as much as any to affect this life I am about to recount. For without Reagan, not at all to underscore the great man theory of history if that isn’t obvious, my life would have not Oliver North, Al Secord, artificial daisies, gutters running along cities under hills, daily weather reports of plumes of gaseous disgust when no sane feller would venture out of doors. Yet Reagan was very much a product of what was diagnosed by C. Wright Mills, what was generated by the victorious oligarchs after World War II, and so not only did my life have to endure victory laps following on amorals in defeat, I had to suffer the knowledge of secret anti-communist cells that committed such atrocities as providing fascists in Italy with C-4 explosives and sheltering Klaus Barbie before ushering him by ratline out of Europe that he might live free another 37 years after his butcheries in Lyon.
That’s to provide some notion of what kind of autobiography is in store for the readers, bringing us to the question of method. If I am right, fiction is no longer welcome in Tuscaloosa elite reading clubs if it is not of Menippean satirical nature. Yet, when history delivers Klaus Barbie, renegade, to the very heart of US reconstruction headquarters in Germany, a mere few hundred kilometers from Lyon (Augsburg), and he is discovered by a naif US linguist, and the linguist’s boss tells him to shut the fuck up and get out of his office, and to Barbie himself falls the task of bucking the youngster up, what is documentary if not menippery? At the same time, madness unloosed is uncontainable—which is why the rush to get this first volume out, before the authorities realize novelists will have to be institutionalized to contain said madness—and the frankly nonsensical notion of standard menippean becomes like a brainy goiter that guides the novel grotesquely neckfirst about the globe.
Does one capitalize menippean? I don’t know. Nor does it matter, for early on in this novel, the narrator, or one of him, announces that he is fucking sick of such nonsense that has been weighing down fiction for his entire lifetime as proofreading, that there will be none of that shit in this book. Students of narrative voice, this is where you pull out your monocles, for the lack of proofreading gives rise to stretches of havoc from either the same unknown as the rest, or…well, or not. Nor will this book use blurbery. Nor will authors be identified. What would be the point? If I can’t be sure of myself, how can I be sure of Jomme Keller, the most identifiable of all the communal authors? As for me, Rick Harsch…I’m sitting right here.
Induplicatable, uncategorizable, The Assassination of Olof Palme, is a two volume anthological novel, mostly written by Rick Harsch, who orchestrated the contributions of between 40 and 70 writers, all seamlessly absorbed by the novel, the skeleton of which is the autobiographical narration of Rick Harsch, the novelist, and Rick Harsch the character and sometime novelist, who is revived to be enlisted as comrade and investigative novelist, as the concept of autobiographical, at the behest of a Rick Harsch is expanded to include whatever irks or has irked him that relates mostly to three main topics: the post WWII pampering of Nazis by the allies (which means the inclusion of what is known as the Gladio affair and particularly as that relates to Italy’s years of lead and more particularly the anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli’s death in 1969, which is known most as the titular accident of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist; second, the degradation of the United States upon the assumption to power of Ron and/or Nancy Reagan, particularly as it relates to the Iran/Contra affair, particularly as that relates to the problem of pampered Nazis; and finally the assassination of Olof Palme in 1986, particularly as the first two topics relate to that murder.
The book makes use of too many tricks of the writing trade to list here, including Tamil Sangam poetry a form from about 2 millenia ago, sonnetry, the government memo, the menippean satirical (doubly so), stage whispers (Nancy Reagan is a star), phone tapping, Dada-guided cabaret thrusts, mimicry, and many more.
Though the book begins to a degree fragmentally it rapidly coheres into a promise no sane reader would expect to be fulfilled that is yet fulfilled in a gutwrenching ending of inordinate pathos.
(Originally intended to be four volumes, Harsch decided the expense would be too great for the reader and limited the number of contributors, compressed a screed, clipped a wing or two, and thus the novel ends with this second volume.)