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T.Hibbard reviews

Avenue Noir
by Vernon Frazer

Published by xPress(ed), Espoo Finland. 44 pp. Cover art by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen.

This review is 980 words
or about 3 printed pages long

The scene of writing:
Vernon frazer’s avenue noir

Madness is the absence of a work.

— Foucault

For some writing the ‘scene of writing’ is more relevant than others. Ezra Pound introduces a non-literary soft-shoe into the words, symbols and paragraphs that twirl on the vellum New Directions dance floor like sloppy action paintings. Sovereign authors dress themselves as servants. Visual writing can be said to be strictly the scene of writing because its vantage is historical, a ‘collage of sensibilities’. It represents the finished dialectic itself, which textual writing can never be.

For Vernon Frazer the scene of writing is the Green Zone, Iraq, lunch counter of extensive killing and suicide, or a Palestinian refugee camp, with body parts lying around and blood trickling in the street, the noise of impossibility babbling miraculously. More precisely, it is pages haunted by these places. The scene of writing is a potential country-at-war, physically contested, overcompetitive, infected, an inescapable grid of emptiness and valuelessness. Words are not permitted to say anything, except perhaps something like, ‘act 1, scene 1, take 1’. For Frazer, the scene of writing is a dead zone, a crystallized imitation, a nagging mercenary reality.

In the pages of Frazer’s newest work, Avenue Noir, the scene of writing is the presentation of non-meaning. Like Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, a recitation of words to a dressed-up corpse, an absence-of-novel, Avenue Noir is a book that on its primary level is not intended to be read. Finnegans Wake is unreadable (incomprehensible) on every level. On a secondary level, the language images in Avenue Noir are intended to be ‘read’ as in front of the writing. Acceptably bound, with glossy cover showing cracked but still unplaceable pavement, like a nightmare of a room in Abu Ghraib prison, it is a book the contents of which are under ultimate lock and key. (‘I thought I told you never to play that’.) Its pages are pictorial, with arrangements and boxes of type, varieties of typefaces. It is THE book, the number one best-seller of all time, penned by chance, an annihilation of writers and books, a hole-in-one, a winning lottery ticket, with pages, title, print, ‘author’, a picturesque graphic of misused, annoying, variegated black-and-white worthlessness. It is the pathological ideal of book-ness. It is a book that, by processes that verify the truth of Surrealist scene of writing, is easier to understand by reading other writers and other books. It is a book from whose pages is excluded true literary work.

I say this in a sardonic way. To provide such a book or ‘book’ is an achievement for which Frazer its intrepid assembler/ author deserves praise. Like film noir, Avenue Noir is ambiguous, a book inside a book, with twists and turns, an anti-artwork with a not-entirely-virtuous somewhat unshaven dethroned anti-symmetry as ‘star’. I always sensed a movie like Casablanca was philosophical. Like the dark cigarette-butt corners and life-filled characters of film noir, enduring stolen worlds, carrying fragments of emotion and noble purpose beneath hopelessly soaked raincoats and felt hats of secluded consciousness, some of the words and writing in Avenue Noir still evokes a fugitive tradition, a pimp Naked Lunch con-job ‘with the heart of gold’, several scrupulously cared-for and concealed objects of extreme value, a deftly-timed moment or two of love reappearing from ages past.

to oblong ostinato
wounded night breeds
hover attics garret vespers

Following a faint watermark-like impression of the word ‘NEON’, the longpoem/ collage begins

breaks the twilight’s grey
turning blue, blips & flickers
past the sun’s burning early set,
neon amber night fluorescent
lights inside the window’s pain.
On tabloid integer’s renown
one sound: the verbtide hipsters
leather clicking urban heat

But also on page one and again on the last page of the book is


Another Ur, the root
ecstatic pulsing under the main,
rooted as text Ur

Frazer isn’t rejecting ‘visual writing’, the search for artistic expression in the historical records of civilization, though ghost-supermarkets can be diverting. He is using in this book textual representation, vispo, as a dominating image, the usual-questions-and-answers from the cops, a sleazy money-grubber playing a sucker’s game, a bag of worms named Mutt Pomeroy, a logos phony as a showgirl’s eyelash. How does the recurring phrase in large bold letters ‘glossolalia after dark’ strike you? ‘Glossolalia’ meaning, ‘Fabricated and nonmeaningful speech, especially such speech associated with a trance state or certain schizophrenic syndromes’.

Perhaps it seems too hard-boiled to describe Avenue Noir as a non-book. Is there nothing here that can be taken at face value? Perhaps it seems cruel to turn your girlfriend over to the cops for murder. Let’s have the pistol baby. If you’re guilty you won’t get very far. In noir, life is a mystery and meaning is elsewhere (or looking for a ticket to elsewhere), just as it is in writing. The character of noir is subtly uncompromising, at the right time mortally confronting not the two-bit gunsel but Mr. Big, the respectable-appearing ring leader behind it all. The scene of noir is a stormy, reckless, trigger-happy interrogation of past behavior, identity (wrong person), motive (alibi) where bad is picked by fate to turn into good. As those improbable tough-guys Derrida and Bataille would say,

Gaiety is not the convulsion that follows anguish, the minor laugh which melts away at the moment when one has had “a close call,” and which is in relation to anguish along the lines of relationship of positive to negative....[it is] a negative that “can no longer permit itself to be converted into positivity because it can no longer collaborate with the continuous linking up of meaning....”

Nice, clean, accurate and exactly dead center. Outside the night was cold and clear. A gratitude for fellowship beyond naming.

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