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  • The Next Fix
  • R. Sebastian Bennett (bio)
OD: docufictions. Harold Jaffee. JEF Books. http://www.experimentalfiction.com. 132 pages; paper, $15.00.

In OD, Harold Jaffe continues his striking, multi-leveled quest to expand sociocultural consciousness and renovate—if not reinvent—the modern prose form. Jaffe, editor of the literary journal Fiction International, has authored eighteen books of fiction and essays that have been translated and published in many languages. Much of his recent work incorporates the literary technique "docufiction," a blend of nonfiction and fiction which "attempts to ape the mainstream culture while deconstructing it," as Jaffe explains on his website, jaffeantijaffe.com.

Docufiction has, as one of its goals, the presentation and investigation of a broad-based composite that addresses widely divergent dynamics operating simultaneously. In many respects, Jaffe's docufiction is a form far less restricted and constricted than traditional fiction, biography, or journalism, and more multi-dimensional than Wolfe's "New Journalism" of the 1960s or Thompson's "Gonzo Journalism" of the 1970s. Jaffe's docufiction, which encompasses manifold prose structures simultaneously, is read and encountered—wherein the encounter might consciously or unconsciously redirect entrenched/hackneyed cognitive paths; or docufiction may be fruitfully dissected to reveal layers upon layers of psycho-social forces active in any given individual or social sphere, at any given time.

OD contains thirteen docufictions. As Jaffe explains in an introductory Author's Note, "Each of the 13 docufictions features a well-known personage who either died of an overdose or was invested in 'drugs' to the extent that they contributed to his/her death." Diane Arbus, Walter Benjamin, Lucian Freud, Sigmund Freud, Jimi Hendrix, Abbie Hoffman, Billie Holiday, Aldous Huxley, Jim Jones, Janis Joplin, Lead Belly, Sonny Liston, Bela Lugosi, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Rothko, and Jean Seberg are included.

While OD features this broad range of personages, the book is much more than a series of character sketches. Using drug overdose as a metaphoric and analytical center, OD's narrative trajectory is omnidirectional; Jaffe's focus involves not merely the immediate circumstances surrounding the overdose, but the psychological attributes and historical events that defined the individual involved and constituted his/her legacy.

Each docufiction starts off with a measured "dose" of a given character—a short, introductory passage. Then, in homeopathic fashion, this dose expands to become a macrocosmic expression of the psycho-social world the character inhabits and the nexus of forces, internal and external, which permeate the character and his/her environs. Clearly, the accomplishment of this is no small matter, and Jaffe employs a variety of prose structures, including fictionally treated historical events, (faux or parodied) interviews and soundbites, media quotes—often repositioned, historical overlays, and stream-of-consciousness commentaries, all woven together in a pastiche fashion which naturalistically reflects the various types of informational stimuli that comprise our media-driven terrain and our individuated responses to it.

In "Freud Freud," OD addresses the nature of "truth" in a quote concerning aesthetic theory ostensibly uttered by Lucian Freud—and the narrative response it elicits: "When I look at a body it gives me the choice of what to put in a painting, what will suit me and what won't. There is a distinction between fact and truth. Truth has an element of revelation about it." Almost immediately, Jaffe's narrative voice intervenes to point out, "Lucian Freud must not have bought into the postmodern paradigm of shifting, socially constructed 'truths.'" This summary of the variegated forms of "truth" is suggestive of the many types and levels of truth inherent in the book OD itself—a range which reflects the information/disinformation dichotomy which we all must address when confronting the media/techno/corporate/political morass that is so much a part of modern culture.

Importantly, while Jaffe's literary expressions are innovative and divergent, much of his writing retains a smooth and beautiful narrative flow—rhythmic, efficient, and nuanced—such as this portrait of Marilyn Monroe in "Norma Jeane":

When a man took her loveliness in his arms, he took his life in his hands!

Her skin-tight red dress above the knees, steep décolletage, no underwear, her deliberate, dreamy, wiggling...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2153-4578
Print ISSN
0149-9408
Pages
pp. 24-25
Launched on MUSE
2012-07-05
Open Access
No
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