- Counter Narratives
Dirt Heart Pharmacy Press
336 Pages; Print, $17.98
Transgressive, disorienting, and complex, reading Eckhard Gerdes’s eleventh novel, White Bungalows, dares readers to invent different modes of perception. That’s why reading it makes you feel ten feet tall. That said, it would be an understatement to say that I came away pent with disturbing questions. In fact, during much of the reading, I felt at once perplexed and exhilarated, though at times a little uneasy, excluded, and interrogated. For instance, entering into White Bungalows’s aleatorium, or, within parameters outlined by what Gerdes dubs “the secret part of the book,” reveals more and more about less and less. Notably, this has less to do with the disconcerting term, experimental, than the way Gerdes’s text adeptly reflects tenderness for the perplexity of humanity’s overdetermined condition.
Here, too, while his maddeningly astute presentation draws upon a multiple array of influences (Swift, Chaucer, Whitman, Joyce, Patchen, Barth, the Bible, as well as Musicology from Lord Buckey to River, Sun Ra to Eric Dolphy, Lester Young to Monk, and Fred Frithers to Charlie Parker, to cite only a few obvious examples), in the spirit of the Frankfurt School it also unfolds as a deliberately disruptive blend of genres that cuts across the territories of philosophy, social sciences, and the arts (literature, theater, music, painting, film, architecture, etc.) through varying narrative forms (including satire, first, second, and third person reportage, drawings, journal, epistolary, linguistic diagram, poetry, manifesto, and historiographic metafiction). In terms of varieties of stylistic innovation, range of erudition, and literary allusion, White Bungalows is unrivaled. Yet, Gerdes does not recapitulate. Dramatic turns of fortune and hairbreadth escapes within well-crafted plot lines—epiphany following adversity—from Aristotle to Horace to contemporary headlines one could go through successive examples illustrating this classic topos, purportedly an aid for readers to easily gain hold of some “original” insight or idea, a so-called heaven for narrative form. But, rather than simply recall some presumably golden idiomatic formula, or, allude to lack of verisimilitude, Gerdes provides a parallel willed deviation. His prose abandons the desperate urgency for those seemingly self-contained, internally consistent taxonomies privileging the “real” presence of Hegelian forms by side-stepping the sort of quantification-hangover leftover from the philosophical hauntings of Plato to Husserl, as well as from rehashed scientific paradigms related with Newtonian linearity, Cartesian dualism, and the masculine rebirthing of self, etc.). As an aide memoire, one character points out that “Evans, Defoe, Sterne, and Swift were able to write without reproach from Aristotelians,” who “came in and superimposed their dramatic tragedy template on top of the novel.” Later in the novel, another character wades through shallows to shore and exclaims, “Away, Nineteenth Century Fiction writers!” He “steps clear of Aristotle’s bloodsucking sycophants onto the sublime shore of original thought,” takes his “first tentative steps,” loses function of his “gills,” and “his flippers become feet.” In other words, the wound often associated with fully adopting the now firmly entrenched cultural tenets tending to over-privilege the rational imperative of waking consciousness against dream fades away to make space for a multitude of intersecting narratives in White Bungalows that, like dream, continually propel the figure of speech on inexplicable journeys swathed in radiant shadows.
For instance, following the notion that knowledge is not made for understanding, but for cutting, identity shifts in White Bungalows are reflected through a broad range of registers and topics. One character named Arno Stockhausen figures as a German stuntman who does not use personal pronouns or believe in personal identity. Later, he puts on a cape and mask and becomes “the Ox.” Numerous similar examples abound. Capo himself, a character who likewise proclaims, “pronouns are ambiguous,” gets shot, arrested, and winds up “so fucked he can’t even be the main character of this book anymore.” Indeed, although he does not propose protracted queries over precise localities of articulated totalities, Gerdes plays with an expansive array of idiomatic registers, but in ways critically decentering linguistic hegemonies. That is, through cross fertilization of imaginative challenging content and visionary...