The R.E.M. [Random Excess Memory] Trilogy, 3:
EMO. A Novel by Jack Ross. ISBN 978-1-877441-07-3. Auckland: Titus Books, 2008. [vi] + 258 pp.
1. Eva Android
2. Dear E.
3. Family Album
4. February 6, 1935
5. The Cat
6. February 11, 1935
7. Strange Meeting
8. The Contract
9. February 15, 1935
10. First Night
12. February 18, 1935
15. March 11, 1935
16. The Vivisectionist
17. 1001 Nights
18. March 16, 1935
19. Beauty and the Beast
21. Night Visit
22. April 1, 1935
23. Together Forever
24. The Excursion
25. April 29, 1935
27. The Hotel
28. May 10, 1935
30. But his hands were around my throat
31. Ten Days that Shook the World
32. The Trial
33. May 28, 1935
34. Last Day of a Condemned Man
MOONS OF MARS
2. Welcome to my World
3. The Invitation
4. Welcome to my World (2)
5. Hysterical Blindness
6. Welcome to my World (3)
9. Burmese Days
10. The Bargain
14. The Investigation
15. Trois filles de leur mère
16. Club D
17. Glam Metal Detectives
18. Night Journey
21. Rumble Edge Line
22. Trilogies (2)
23. Life on Mars
24. Trilogies (3)
26. King Candaules
27. Free Love
33. The Great Stone Face
36. Iris Recognition
37. Iris Out
OVID IN OTHERWORLD
1. Ovidius Naso
2. Tristia 3.2
4. The Undead
5. Tristia 3.3
7. Exul Ludens
8. Tristia 3.8
11. Tristia 3.10
13. ovid v. divo
14. Tristia 3.12
16. roma amor
17. Tristia 3.13
19. Ovids 3
20. Tristia 5.7
22. Ovid in the Third Reich
23. Tristia 5.10
25. Six Memos for the Next Millennium
26. Tristia 5.12
28. Lost Books of the Fasti
29. Epistulae 1.2
31. Sleep Threshold – Hypnagogia
32. Epistulae 4.7
34. Ovid Misunderstood
35. Epistulae 4.10
37. Suetonius: “Divus Augustus”
38. Epistulae 4.14
39. Fasti V: 421-44
The 1001 Nights and Comparative Literature
Chapter 1 - Malory and Scheherazade: A Study in Narrative Method
Chapter 2 - Europe, Christianity and the Crusades in the 1001 Nights
Chapter 3 - Voyage en Orient: The Victorian Traveller and the Arabian Nights
Chapter 4 - Parodies of the Nights in Nineteenth-century Literature
Chapter 5 - The Poetics of Stasis: Twentieth-century Readings of the Nights
Collage-Poems & Sequences (1997-2007)
Metamorphoses I: Chaos
Metamorphoses II: The Crow
Evenings in the Blackout
Metamorphoses III: Semele
Dieting. I’m Hungry too
Metamorphoses IV: Daughters of Minyas
In the Cave of Henry James
Metamorphoses V: Arethusa
The Britney Suite
Metamorphoses VI: Marsyas
Metamorphoses VII: Theseus
Metamorphoses VIII: Icarus
Love in Wartime
Metamorphoses IX: Iolaus
Metamorphoses X: Pygmalion
Servants of the Wankh
Metamorphoses XI: Midas
Metamorphoses XII: Rumour
Days Under Water
Metamorphoses XIII: Glaucus
Citizens of the People’s Republic of Freaktown
Metamorphoses XIV: Pomona
Metamorphoses XV: Hippolytus
Notes on Sources
Publius Ovidius Naso:
TRISTIA, EPISTULAE EX PONTO & IBIS
Epistulae ex Ponto
In the third volume of his REM trilogy, after the urban inferno of Nights with Giordano Bruno (2000) and the purgatorial stasis of The Imaginary Museum of Atlantis (2006), Jack Ross explores the closest thing to a paradise his cast of crazies can conceive of – let alone aspire to.
E M O
RANDOM EXCESS MEMORY
“ … I had a companion when I first came here, all those years ago. But we spent too long exploring our new world. When he tried to leave he shrivelled into dust. I found his body and buried him. Flint, he was called.”
“But ... why didn’t you shrivel into dust. If you followed him out.”
“He never drank the water or ate the weeds.”
Suddenly something clicked into place. She saw the milky mildness of his deep-set eyes as they actually were: a mask for thick, impenetrable cataracts of scar-tissue.
“Yes, I fed you on them. I’m sorry. I want you to stay with me and be my wife.”
... the book itself exists like a music of the spheres that runs along the tops of the pages, available only to a concentrated sense of hearing, but as real as fuck.
- Will Christie
"There’s an obsession with blindness, certainly – with ageing dictators and visionaries: Hitler, Ovid, Shahryar. What else can we say about the narrator of this book? He (or she) takes refuge in flights of fancy, posting pseudonymous entries on the web.
Later they’re printed out on the backs of any pages, used or scribbled on, that come to hand.
Each of the three stories explores a set of flawed relationship: Hitler and Eva, Marlow and Phil, Ovid and the wise-woman. …
Is it all an attempt to find the perfect partner, whether she be android clone, registered nurse, or girl-next-door? ..."
This book consists of a set of three online narratives: one devoted to Earth (EVA AVE), a futuristic story about a girl convinced that she’s the clone of Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun; one to Mars (Moons of Mars), the story of a violent sex-ring based under the pyramids of Mars; and one set in the Otherworld of a patient under psychoanalysis (Ovid in Otherworld), who believes that he’s the poet Ovid, in exile on the Black Sea. The titles of the stories make an anagram of the word EMO: a neo-gothic youth style, derived (allegedly) from the words “Excessively Emotional”. Before publication, I copied each story onto pages already “contaminated” by other texts: a critical book about the 1001 Nights, a set of poetry pageworks grouped around Ovid’s Metamorphoses, as well as the Latin text of Ovid’s exile letters. These can be seen (but not clearly read) through the print of the “over-story”.
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Reviews & Comments:
- Jen Crawford, "Jack Ross's EMO: Launch speech at Alleluya cafe, Thursday 19th June." blue acres (24/6/08):
... this is a book which isn’t satisfied with being self-contained. It reaches beyond its own covers, beyond its author, inviting you into one of the great endangered pleasures of literature – which is the sense of its endlessness, the way one book can open another book for you, like a friend giving you a private gift; perhaps the key to a room you can now share – a room, of course, which would have many other doors.
- Scott Hamilton, "Independent's Night." Scoop Review of Books (24/6/08):
Like its predecessors, Nights with Giordano Bruno and The Imaginary Museum of Atlantis, Ross’ EMO is a sprawling, delightfully bewildering work. Ross sets several stories in motion, as he moves between Mars, Nazi Germany, and the dream-like version of Auckland’s North Shore that recurs almost obsessively in his writing. At the heart of EMO is the tale of a recently blinded writer and his servant, a very human android named Eva. The embittered writer tries to impose his will upon Eva, but she subtly resists his whims. The story of Eva and her faltering master has the simple power of a fable, and Ross finds parallels for it in the Arabian Nights, as well as in the relationship between Hitler and his secretary-cum-wife, Eva Braun ...
Ross is a lapidarian scholar, fluent in half a dozen languages, but he is also a passionate fan of America’s Next Top Model, and his writing has always refused to distinguish between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. The very look of EMO mocks the conventions of both literature and academic scholarship - texts are artfully layered on its outsize pages, alongside photographs, cartoons, and cryptic diagrams. Ross’ prose is full of dirty jokes, as well as learned asides and sad observations. EMO could keep you busy for years on a desert island, but it can also entertain you during that hour between the end of Shortland St and the beginning of Desperate Housewives.
- Bill Direen, "Review of EMO." Percutio 3 (2009): 82.
My review copy measured in at 17.4 x 24.7 x 2.1 cm which, knowing Jack a little, might represent some mystical dimension of an alchemical age. The first impression is dramatic. Here we have a book uncharacteristically (for both the author and for Titus Books) large and boldly striking (with its blood-red sketch of a weary child's face); it also invites a biplanar approach. It is at once strident and muted. ... The impression is of a private studio, reflection of the writer's mind, scattered with his influences and cuttings which have appealed to him over the years, which have formed him.
- Richard Taylor, "Review of EMO." brief 39 (2010): 116-21.
In terms of pure formal complexity, “visual beauty”, originality of form and intellection connected to a strong underlying ethic, EMO is a unique masterpiece of an innovative and original kind, rarely seen in NZ literature. Jack Ross has long had a very real and intense fascination with stories and tales: in particular science fiction, horror, fantasy, stories of Borges and others, along with other literature; and most prominently in EMO, the stories from 1001 Nights, and those of Ovid’s Metamophoses. Despite an extensive and sometimes disturbing use of sex, violence, Fantasy, Gothic, and of irony, it is an ultimately engrossing and enchanting tale, or a tale about writing or of writing magical tales. And whatever else it is, EMO is homage to Story, and the pure magic of The Tale.
Are we then in some monstrous intellectual monument with no end – can this book not be read and enjoyed? Do we all have to read all works of literature and so on and read modern philosophy to enjoy or deal with this book? Do we have to wade through all these codes and complexities and cryptics? I must confess that this was my own doubt. But the main text’s story, or stories, makes up what is in itself a narrative of extraordinary adventures, and indeed the central section is set on Mars, involves intrigue, seduction, sado-masochism, drugs, murder, as well as codes. We are in a labyrinth, but it is compensated for by the very enchanting language that Ross uses, and the intensity of the many episodes in the book.
- Brett Cross, "Power Relations and Sexual Manipulation: Review of EMO, by Jack Ross (Titus Books, 2008) $44.95." Landfall 219 - On Music (2010): 189-91.
The poetry is one of the highlights of the book, simple and moving, contemporary yet mythical: here is Ross writing at his best. Ovid, too, is the other genuinely sympathetic character in EMO, 'bookending' nicely with Eva in the opening section.
When an author tries to do so much in a book, experimenting radically with layout, story structure, plot, character and setting, there are bound to be certain things that excite and exasperate different readers. Most, though, should be won over by both the cryptic and engaging design, and by the unremitting atmosphere of gothic mystery.
- Scott Hamilton, "Against all 'decent restraint': Jack Ross talks about EMO." Reading the Maps (5/2/11):
I'm certainly pleased to be able to publish an interview with the venerable Jack Ross which has apparently proved too long for any of our local offline literary journals to host. The interview was conducted by Richard Taylor, a man with a longstanding and well-deserved reputation for digression, and moves through subjects as different and differently interesting as life on Mars, the future of the book, the last days of the Roman poet Ovid, the 'socio-sexual extremism' of Kathy Acker, Auckland's 1998 power blackout, and the political consequences of the suppression of emotion.
As they chat, Jack and Richard return again and again to EMO, the large and strange novel Jack published in September 2008. Jack has a vast private library, which he has catalogued in disconcerting detail on a website named A Gentle Madness, and EMO, with its multiple layers of text, multiple plots, and slips between distant times and places, often seems like an attempt to fit a whole library between the covers of one volume. Precisely because of its improvisational, wide-ranging nature, Richard's chat with Jack makes a good introduction to the book. ...
[edited by Bill Direen]:
EMO: A DIALOGUE
between Richard Taylor & Jack Ross
Richard: EMO – what does it mean and why is it the title?
Jack: Well, it’s a musical style – and a kind of lifestyle choice. “Emo” stands for “extremely emotional” (or so I’m told). It’s rather like the Goth style, only Goths tend to see Emos as very suburban and spurious. When I heard about it a few years ago, I thought it perfectly summed up what I was trying to do in this book – both the excessive emotionalism and the faint air of the spurious. After that, though, I started making up a whole series of puns as retrospective justifications: E/ Earth – M/ Mars – O / Otherworld; and E/ Eva – M/ Marlow – O/Ovid. That gave me my core cast. The mood preceded the material in this case.
Richard: Am I right in saying that EMO is quite different from the work of other writers today because you are yourself quite vigorously using the Internet and Blogs to allow the reader to follow the various "strands" of EMO?
Jack: The internet and the idea of hypertext and shifting plains of reference is certainly a gift to the aspiring labyrinth-builder. Joyce and Escher seem to have got along okay without it, but I guess for me the world-wide-web is a kind of democratisation of the impulse: everyone their own Borges, with a tithe of the effort.
As far as the death of the author goes, well, there is another Jack Ross – a hard-bitten desert-loving Reno detective in the works of a guy named Bernard Schopen (and actually, since EMO was published, yet another Jack Ross has surfaced: a Scottish crime-writer who wrote a book called Requiem) – so maybe I am dead after all, and just don’t know it … I deliberately fail to name the protagonist in all three books of the trilogy. Which makes sense to me because they’re all focussed on a central male figure undergoing some kind of extreme turmoil (they might all be versions of the same person, in fact). But actually all three books are by me, and I’m a male, resident in Auckland (where all three books are set), sharing many experiences with these central figures, etc. So of course they are all me. But then they’re not, either, because they’re fictionally-projected personages in mysterious mirror-worlds. These seem to me unavoidable accompaniments to the whole business of writing fiction. You could say that I was deconstructing fiction by undermining certain aspects of the projection – pointing out the paradox of pretending to be someone else when everyone knows it’s just you in a funny wig. But then Cervantes did all that in Don Quixote and it didn’t stop his characters seeming real – or believable, which isn’t quite the same thing.
I guess EMO takes this lack of verisimilitude pretty far. It’s hard for me to believe that many readers will be comfortable with such naked and perfunctory scaffolding I provide in various parts of the story. But then I’m not particularly interested in making people feel comfortable. You’ve got to go pretty far nowadays to wake them up at all – to break up the frozen sea within them, as Kafka said.
Richard: Do you think that there are too many “strands” or “themes” in EMO?
Jack: Well, there’s a lot of stuff in there, certainly. I make no apology about that. Too much is a value judgement every reader will have to make for themselves. I’d say there were too many plots and stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, myself – it’s not a particularly unified work. “Is EMO so overpacked as to be incoherent?” I guess you’re asking. I’m sure some readers will think so. But I suppose the readers I want are the ones who like to read into things – who don’t expect everything to present itself elegantly on the surface so they can move on to the next thing as rapidly as possible. Nobody’s obligated to dive into EMO. I hope, in fact, that only the people who get a kick out of that kind of thing do. It’s hard to see it seriously comparing with the Cantos or Finnegans Wake or Maximus or those other twentieth-century whales when it comes to being packed with material, though. Even Moby Dick or Tristram Shandy, for that matter.
Richard: [comment question] I don't see EMO as only a novel. In fact I don't see it fitting into any particular genre. I would say that EMO is multi-textual and involves (like Nights and The Imaginary Museum) many visual elements. It also connects to popular and high culture and so on.
Jack: I’d certainly concur with that. And again, I don’t claim any great originality there. It’s got a lot of competing generic elements (as do Kathy Acker’s “novels”). I chose the designation “novel” for it for various reasons, I guess:
- because it sounds more approachable (and therefore salable) than calling it an “experimental text” or something like that.
- because I’m in love with the idea of the novel form: a genre so debatable, so potentially all-inclusive that it can straddle bourgeois fiction, magic realism, Apuleius, traditional Chinese & Japanese forms, and virtually anything else you can throw at it. Where are its limits, in fact? We haven’t reached them yet.
Richard: Did you deliberately place the text that is “horizontal”, which I call the “subtext”, and which contains all the stories and other texts on your other Blogs etc, in such a way that it obscures the “main text”? This “slowing the reader” down, making the reader pay attention to the process of your writing?
Jack: Yes, that was one reason. A literal metaphor for the contextualising we all do when we try to make sense of one text in terms of another. Really, though, it was because I saw some letters written in the early nineteenth-century, around the Jane Austen era, where the writer had crossed the text – written first horizontally, then vertically, on the same piece of paper – with every confidence that their correspondent would make sense of it. That was done purely to conserve paper, of course (at a premium during the Napoleonic wars, I understand). But it just looked so fantastic – so impenetrable and mysterious. I immediately started to wonder how one could reproduce that effect in a printed book.
Why should one bother is I guess one valid question, but the answer must be because it enables you to literally incorporate many texts in one. There are, then, three books contained within the one book of EMO. There’s the principal text on top, the three novellas, but underneath that there’s a complete book of critical essays on the Thousand and One Nights (written by me, of course, but attributed in context to the main male character in the Eva Ave story – insofar as that isn’t me. I created him, and he wrote my book, so in a sense he is me, but of course he’s also fictionalised and gifted with a lot of ideas, opinions and character traits which I certainly hope aren’t true of me, since I find them quite abhorrent). As well as that there’s a book of 15 collage-poems (mostly published in brief magazine at various times) called Jack’s Metamorphoses, which includes a set of 15 short essays on the numerous English verse translations of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. So that’s three books in one: fiction, poetry and essays all bound into the one cover. But as well as that I include the Latin text of Ovid’s exile-letters from the Black Sea underneath the third section of the book, Ovid in Otherworld.
All of that is there. But of course there has to be a fictional justification for it in the world of the book itself as well. And that is basically that the (blind) almost-invisible protagonist of the whole narrative, who’s presumably dreaming up all these stories and printing them out, has accidentally started to use a set of pages which already had writing on them. He can’t see the effect, but we do. That’s also why the texts underneath are running backwards, in reverse to the flow of the top, “executive” narratives. That’s what would happened if you picked up a stack of Xeroxed pages and run it through a printer backwards.
Richard: The images, photos, symbols, diagrams and the font changes and alternations; together with trace of the subtext “behind” the main text make this book quiet visually and conceptually exciting for me. Apart from all else the very layout of the book has a kind of beauty.
Jack: I hope so. It took an awful long time to achieve some of those effects, I must say. I was on the edge of my seat till the very last minute to see how the printers would deal with that bleached-out subtext and deliberately boldened top-text. It had to be at least potentially readable to work …
Richard: You are quite interested in codes and symbols?
Jack: Yes, I guess that “being interested” in codes and symbols is putting it mildly. I’m a huge admirer of Poe’s work. The nineteenth-century French (Baudelaire and Mallarmé principal among them) were entirely correct in their assessment of his genius, in my opinion.
Richard: Is “Metamorphoses” the alternative name?
Jack: It can be if you want it to be. Strictly speaking, Jack’s Metamorphoses is the title of one of the underlying texts in the book, the collection of poems. Apuleius’s novel The Golden Ass is also called (in Latin) Metamorphoses, of course – and I guess you can see how much I’ve been influenced by it. It’s certainly in my top ten favourite books, if not my favourite of all. You can see it in this book as much as the more directly invoked Ovidian epic. So, yes, this book is the conclusion to a conversation about the idea of Metamorphosis or change conducted through all three parts of the trilogy, Bruno, Atlantis, and EMO. The titlepage of the first novel in the sequence includes a quote from an Italian book about Giordano Bruno, in fact:
II fine di tutto l’operazione è forse essenzialmente questo, modificarsi.
[The point of the whole operation is perhaps just this, in essence: self-transformation]
[reprinted by permission]
Jen Crawford. "Jack Ross's EMO." blue acres (24/6/08):
Many of you already know Jack Ross as a friend, as a teacher, as a prolific poet and fiction writer, an editor, critic, translator, publisher, blogger, and as a warm advocate for some of the more under-explored reaches of New Zealand literature. (I think the relevant epithet that turns up in EMO is “the Sheriff of Freaktown”). A number of us know that we’ve directly benefited from his work in those roles; I could say we all owe him something, because we’re recipients of the literature to which he so generously contributes his energies and talents – and without his work mapping and making that literature it would be considerably narrower.
Having said that, at first thought it seemed a little bit of a daunting prospect to introduce this book, EMO. There’s a passage in EMO where Jack describes one of his source texts, The Thousand and One Nights, as more of ‘a literature than a unified work’ – and this is also true of EMO itself. It’s more a library than a book. The book is one of a trilogy, the Random Excess Memory trilogy – yet it stands alone. Within EMO is another trilogy – the books of Eva, Mars and Ovid – or Earth, Mars and Otherworld – EMO. Behind this internal trilogy, ghosting through its pages is another set of texts – palimpsest texts – that include translations of Ovid and Sappho and Paul Celan, a comparative reading of the Thousand and One Nights, collections of Jack’s original poetry, and so on. One can also read these texts on a series of linked websites, which (as websites do), lead us on to other websites, just as the books within EMO lead us to other books, both internal and external to its pages.
In other words, this is a book which isn’t satisfied with being self-contained. It reaches beyond its own covers, beyond its author, inviting you into one of the great endangered pleasures of literature – which is the sense of its endlessness, the way one book can open another book for you, like a friend giving you a private gift; perhaps the key to a room you can now share – a room, of course, which would have many other doors.
So EMO, with its layered texts, gives us a visual realisation of the narrative manifold that is, to my knowledge, entirely unique (and I should just offer kudos at this point to both Jack and to Titus Press that this is so well realised: there’s no visual strain in reading this, which is quite a technical feat – there’s a lot of love and care gone into its production). The awareness of historical and characterological tensions that are created by these palimpsests is extraordinary. But I’m wary of making the book sound like something it’s not – it’s not a comfortable intellectual rehearsal of post-structuralist concepts.
What I haven’t mentioned yet is that ‘Eva’, the protagonist of the first book, is an android clone of Eva Braun; that the middle book is a post-Sadean detective story set on Mars, that in the third book Ovid hallucinates his exile in Auckland and his vampiric enslavement at the hands of a succubus nurse.
So it’s a very moving book.
I’m quite serious about that. Jack quotes Borges writing about The Thousand and One Nights – ‘keep reading as the day declines and Scheherazade will tell you your own story’. For all the weird schlock-genre fun that EMO allows us to indulge in, it is very much about our own stories. It’s the most outlandish fiction, and the most unsettling fiction, because it won’t quite sit down and be fiction. Or it might be more accurate to say that it won’t quite sit down and let its readers – or its writer – be real. So however much I appreciate Jack Ross’s contributions to literature, I’m no longer entirely convinced that he’s not actually a three-dimensional simulacrum of a fictional Reno private eye. Having read the fragments of Eva Braun’s diary, which Jack includes here, and having read the heartbreaking letters of Eva Android to her lost sister, Eva Braun, I’m pretty sure I know some other members of the Eva clone-clan – in fact they are disturbingly familiar.
One comes away with a deep consciousness and a deep wariness of the way that people become stories and that stories recur: Beauty and the Beast; Scheherezade and Shahryar, the wives of Bluebeard, Eva and Adolf. But Eva, however quietly, insists: she is a clanswoman, not a clone. This is one of the great beauties of this book and of Jack’s work in general. Among the stories are so many of the generic horrors, generic pleasures, generic loves we live and dream – but the generic is never blindly presented as ‘the way things are’ – nor is it dismissed as meaningless repetition. The power of its unities is openly encountered; the insistent delicate variety of its individual manifestations, and of its metamorphoses, is uncovered.
So this is a serious book. It’s a book that suggests our stories – those we return to over and over, those we read in the dead of night, those we hide under the bed – especially those we hide under the bed – are not incidental. They’re not accidents, they’re not outdated, and they’re certainly not irrelevant to the more ‘serious’ matters of our human condition here and now. I want to read you a short passage from the Mars section, where two clinicians contemplate how to interpret a patient’s story:
“It was useful to get the whole story out of her, but all it can do now is confirm that she’s been living in a fantasy world for quite some time, and that parts of it still seem quite real to her.”
“Observe and treat accordingly then?”
“You’ve got it. I was like you once, you know. Keen to take up the cudgels for each new patient – trusting their stories, hunting down the corrupt officials and cops who’d victimised them. It doesn’t make you any friends, for one thing. Nor does it really help your patients, longterm. The trouble is their stories just aren’t plausible, in the final analysis. Either you believe we live on a knife-edge of sanity in a world of seething bestial indulgence and mass-murder, or else you accept that a few wounded souls have difficulties with the stress of modern life ...”
Eva Braun’s presence in this book doesn’t really allow us to accept the second alternative as all there is to it. How we handle the possibility of the first alternative is, of course, a perennial problem. But EMO reminds us – shocks us – into a new consciousness that we are not without means, not without tools, not without a language for understanding and engaging with the full substance of our world, if we choose to acknowledge it. Because we have our stories, and our stories are talking to us.