- A Socio-Spiritual Experience
Raw Dog Screaming Press
228 Pages; Print, $15.95
Subversive fiction teaches us new ways of reading, and the most sublime examples of these works teach readers new ways to experience, to unread, and to embody the unspoken and forbidden discourses that can transform an otherwise tightly bridled culture. Larry Fondation's newest release, Time is the Longest Distance, subverts its deceptive "novel" self-branding through radically non-linear, amalgamative storytelling. A significant stylistic departure from his 2013 collection Martyrs and Holymen, Time is the Longest Distance employs a bevy of poetic devices to help construct a textual photograph of a four-hundred-year-epoch of puritanical violence. Fraught with religious and literary allegory, Time uses formally subversive prose/poetry to manifest a text of socio-spiritual experience.
Divided into the five elements of the Eucharistic celebration, or Roman Rite Catholic Mass, Fondation's book includes more than one hundred dispatches portraying itinerant Ph.D. dropout Lawrence's journey through a modern-day purgatory—"City of Angels," Los Angeles. A fallen "angel" himself, Lawrence's daily quest is to fulfill his basic human needs—safety, shelter, food, physical love, and a sustainable will to live— and he does this under the spell of a temporal and spiritual free radicalism that continually force him to the social and political periphery, where his only material possessions, a piece of blue thread and a lucky quarter, are sometimes lost or at risk of being confiscated by the police. Also at risk of confiscation is his lover, Bekah, whose empathy and accessibility resurrect in Lawrence winsome and religious memories of his mother. Loss and threat of loss are the most prominent conflicts in the book and are framed by larger themes of materialism, waste, morality, oppression, and perversion.
The driving force behind the threats is Operation Clean Sweep, a bourgeois campaign to purify the city by driving out the homeless. During the campaign, Lawrence grapples with losing Bekah and other acquaintances, but Lawrence is incapable of truly experiencing loss because he cannot delineate beginnings and endings. Lawrence does not perceive time—"[t]he essential quality / Of the universe / Has no geometry," and thus he does not [End Page 24] perceive himself in any rational linearity, which is at odds with official culture's regimen of narrative and its perception of people like him, who exist without narrativity. Unlike a diachronic, or someone who perceives himself in terms of a narrative and linear progression of the same self over time, Lawrence appears to embody qualities of the episodic, what British philosopher Galen Strawson describes in his essay "Against Narrativity" as a person who does not perceive or have interest in a past or future self but feels the amalgamative experience of life in the present. Perhaps, this helps illuminate what might come off as haphazard prolixity on Fondation's part—the incessant repetition of what time is an isn't—but what is the embodiment of a variety of episodic being that we rarely have privilege to in literature.
Extended descriptions of Los Angeles' "detritus" are similarly intentional in that they emphasize the irony of Lawrence being destitute in a landscape teeming with material excess. In spite of these descriptions and their similarity to Nathaneal West's projections of Los Angeles in The Day of the Locust (1939)—explored in more detail later—the book does not seem post-apocalyptic, historically dystopian, or religiously premonitory. These indicate time prophecies, and Lawrence exists in the liminal now, or that limbo that T. S. Eliot so hauntingly depicts in the fifth movement of his poem "The Hollow Men":
Between the conceptionAnd the creationBetween the emotionAnd the responseFalls the Shadow
Fondation quotes Eliot's "Burnt Norton" in the epigraph as well, but this is to the effect of establishing the ever devolving and discursive anti-definition of time, whereas the allusion to Lawrence as one doomed to a "wasteland" purgatory defined by his oppressors creates an undeniable link between Fondation and Eliot's whole body of work. The real and constant threat of...