The Unreprinted: Almost Transparent Blue by Ryu Murakami

by Ben Arzate

Before there was Tao Lin’s Taipei, before there was Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, before there was Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero, there was Ryu Murakami’s Almost Transparent Blue.

“’A lot of things happened awhile back, right, but now I’m empty, can’t do anything, you know? And because I’m empty I want to look around some more, I want to see a lot of things.’”

Ryu Murakami, best known to Western audiences as the author of Audition, had his first novel published in 1976. It was a semi-autobiographical novel about a group of young Japanese friends living near a US Air Force base. The book is a haze of sex, violence, drug abuse, and rock music as their lives spiral out of control and all of them are left empty and unsatisfied.

The book is narrated by Ryu, a disaffected university student and aspiring musician. Although his aspirations aren’t very well pursued. At a couple points, his friends encourage him to play the flute for them, but he brushes them off.

He seems to have few interests beyond sex and drugs, despite coming off as incredibly bored by them, especially towards the end. He is, however, very observant of his surroundings and describes them in often very poetic ways.

The rain made a variety of sounds in different places. As it was sucked down into the grass and pebbles and earth, it sounded like tiny musical instruments. The tinkle of a toy piano, small enough to hold in palm of the hand, blended with the ringing in my ears, the aftermath of heroin.”

One of the early scenes in the book is an orgy between Ryu, his friends, and several black soldiers at the American air base. The way the orgy is described is far away from erotic; it is both disturbing and hilarious.

Despite their claims of enjoying the orgies, many of Ryu’s friends spout racial epithets in reference to the men at the air base when not there. There is also obvious jealousy among the men for their girlfriends having sex with the American airmen.

Ryu is surprised when one female friend, a heroin addict, states she wants to get married someday. A conflict between the traditions of pre-war Japan and the new zeitgeist of international post-war Japan is a subtle theme here.

Ryu’s best friend and sort-of girlfriend is named Lilly, an American girl living in Japan and making money as a prostitute. She seems to be the only person that Ryu actually cares about.

His relationship with her, however, is strained by his inability to communicate his feelings to her until it’s too late. The “epilogue” of the book is a letter to Lilly where he expresses his desire to see her again four years later.

It’s clear that Ryu and his friends’ lifestyles are tearing them apart. Much of the friction between Lilly and Ryu begins when they get in their car on mescaline and drive without a purpose. This takes them to the runway at an airport where their drug-induced hallucinations nearly get them both killed. This results in the police showing up at Ryu’s home and dragging him and his friends to the station, though they’re let off without charges because the police can’t find their drugs.

The two end up departing for good when, later, Ryu has a psychotic breakdown, hallucinating a giant bird looming over him and preparing to crush him. Lilly runs away in fear and Ryu stabs himself with glass and has to go to the hospital.

It’s easy to see why this is regarded as a classic in its home country of Japan. It made a huge splash when it was released and it’s still in print there and, as far as I know, has never gone out of print. In the United States, the English translation only recently went out of print and there’s a good chance it will come back into print soon.

I can only hope it does. It’s a short book at only around 130 pages, but it fits a lot into those pages. It’s an intense, beautifully written (even in translation), and engaging coming of age book.

Almost Transparent Blue transcends cultural boundaries in its existential themes while also retaining uniquely Japanese ones. I believe this is a much better book than Audition (the only other Ryu Murakami book I’ve read so far) and I look forward to reading his other ones.

The Unreprinted: The Consumer by M. Gira

by Ben Arzate

Welcome back to The Unreprinted wherein out-of-print books of every genre are spotlighted, dissected and, in some rare cases, eviscerated. Previously, we found ourselves in the fetishistic fray with Tim Lucas’s sublime novel Throat Sockets. Today’s installment finds Ben Arzate delving into the weird and exotic short stories of artist/musician Michael Gira.

Michael Gira is best known as the front man for the confrontational experimental rock band Swans. I personally became familiar with him through the band he formed when Swans broke up around the turn of the century, Angels of Light.

In addition to songs, Gira has also dabbled in writing short stories. His first collection of short stories, The Consumer, was published in 1995 through Henry Rollins’s 2.13.16 press. Now out of print, used copies go for some very hefty prices online.

The Consumer is divided into two parts. The first part, called “The Consumer,” consists of short stories written between 1993 and 1994. The second part, called “Various Traps, Some Weaknesses, Etc.” consists of pieces written between 1983 and 1986 and is mostly prose poems, flash fiction, and vignettes.

The sound of the Swans music is dark, brooding, and, especially in the earlier releases, harsh, abrasive, and violent. Gira’s fiction is no different. The reader is immediately hit with this in the very first story, “Empathy.”

A man living in a dilapidated house welcomes his sister into his home after she returns from an asylum. We learn that she’d been incarcerated for murdering their parents and she seems no better after her stay. He suspects that she simply wandered out. Despite that, he’s happy to see her and begins an incestuous relationship her, nailing his doors shut to keep the outside world out.

A number of the themes throughout the book are established here. Abjection as a means of escape, sexual deviancy, loss of identity, and the urban decay of Los Angeles. Almost all the stories either explicitly or are implied to take place in L.A. and Gira’s L.A. is like a post-apocalyptic hellscape. It’s full of horrible, broken people, everything about the city has decayed away, and there seems to be little hope for any sort of recovery.

This is especially present in the story “The Young Man Who Hid His Body Inside A Horse, or, My Vulvic Los Angeles.” A young speed freak murders his drug dealer and steals his money and speed. He takes the cash and drugs and rents a squalid room where he hides away and sniffs the speed endlessly. Soon, a massive riot breaks out which results in horses from a nearby farm rushing into the city. In his tweaked state, he kills one of the horses and hides in its guts for protection.

This story reads to me like a mix of Hubert Selby Jr. and Samuel Beckett. The former for its portrayal of the people on the lowest rung of society and the latter for its absurd and intentionally “pointless” narrative. The speed freak draws into himself more and more to deal with his surroundings and addiction. Eventually, he returns to the closet thing to a womb he can find.

The semi-titular story, “The Consumer, Rotting Pig,” is told from the perspective of an incredibly obese man obsessed with the degeneration of his own body, with growing fatter, and with the media. There is some pitch black humor here as he goes into detail about his sexual fantasies, which involves things like cutting out a rock star’s heart and using it as an “Acujack” (a masturbation toy).

The story is divided into five parts. The first part introduces Rotting Pig and his obsessions. The other four parts are notes written by him and go into what would be his ideal life, how he learned to speak, his sexual desires, and who he believes himself to have once been.

“My Prescription for Happiness” is the most fascinating part to me. Here, Rotting Pig expounds on what his ideal life would be. He imagines himself suspended in a vat of warm human blood, breathing and eating through tubes, and his eyelids replaced by small screens that transmit images directly into his eyes. His feces and urine would be allowed to fill the tank until he floated to the top and died.

Rotting Pig wants nothing but to consume, being nothing but a lifeless consumer until he rots away for good. This parallels a number of the lyrics themes on the debut Swans album, Filth. Consuming and satisfying base desires until it results in self-destruction.

The story I found most disturbing is “The Coward (II).” A drunk lives with his brother, sister-in-law, and their daughter with no direction in life. He believes his niece may actually be his daughter as he had slept with his sister-in-law around the time she would have been conceived. Despite this, he still neglects taking care of her, resulting in the young girl being raped in her own home.

This story shows a deep disgust both with the people who actively cause harm and those who stand by and allow it to happen, but it doesn’t feel preachy or moralizing. It’s simply an observation, and an extremely disquieting one at that.

“The Ideal Worker,” a prose poem, satirizes the Protestant work ethic by portraying a husk of a man who wants to be nothing but a pliable puppet at work because of his self-hatred. I can only imagine how shitty Gira’s job was when he wrote this.

“A Trap” is a flash fiction piece in a similar vein about a person seeking personal obliteration. A woman calls random men asking them to come over and have sex with her. When one agrees, she resists hoping to make him get violent with her. Instead, he loses his erection and leaves, leaving her frustrated and still wishing for obliteration through violent sex.

The Consumer is a dark and disturbing read, but an incredibly poetic and amazingly crafted one. The book is incredibly rare, but worth tracking down. People who are already fans of Swans should certainly read this, but I also highly recommend this to anyone seeking well-written transgressive literature.

Twitchy Kids & Dungeon Synth: An Interview with Justin A. Mank

Austin James: So word on the street is that you write books?
Justin A. Mank: Yeah man, guilty as charged. Done more poetry than prose up to this point, but I just had a novella come out so I’m taking the full stab at prose.
Oh yeah? When did you start writing poetry?
I started out like a lot of people writing embarrassing poetry when I was 15. I’m pretty sure all of that stuff has been destroyed. But I occasionally still messed with it in my early twenties and decided to put the work in and give it a real try.
Did you start reading other poets in your early twenties as you continued to play around with it?
Yeah, when I was real young I hadn’t really read much poetry—I only really knew lyricists. So I didn’t really know my shit. Later I started reading some of the classics. Samuel Beckett’s poetry had a big effect on me. His poetry is really underrated.
I’ll have to check him out. We actually have similar backgrounds in this sense. Who are some of your favorite lyricists?
Leonard Cohen, GG Allin, David Tibet, Ronnie James Dio, Nick Cave, Lydia Lunch. When I was younger, I was especially into the lyrics from metal bands like Evoken, Emperor, My Dying Bride, things of that nature.
Very cool. Have you ever had any of your poetry published?
Yeah, I’ve had three collections published. The last one The Outhouse is my City of God was self-published. The first two, Sigmoid Colon and The Hammerheaded Shark, were published by the Dynatox imprint Black Dharma Press.
Oh shit, so you’ve got a good chunk of poetry out there. What made you decide to publish Innermind Musclebound, which is fiction/prose?
Well I have a couple short stories out there, plus a novelette, but this one was a little more involved. I really wanted to do a disturbing book with a social commentary element, so I felt like a character study type book would be the way to go.
Wanna give it a plug?
It’s written sort of as the memoir of a scumbag who cares about one thing in life and that’s beating people up. He ends up developing this sort of code of conduct about it and has to figure out what to do after he gets injured. Gets weird at the end, but at its heart it’s an exploration of the mind of a terrible person or maybe a non-murderous sociopath.

Sounds great, and it’s a beautiful book…can’t wait to dig into it! What inspired you to write it?
I think just the fact that I read a bunch of messed up books in the last few years had me thinking of trying that out. Once I got going with it, other stuff started falling into place and I got really into the idea of doing a book that would make a mockery out of violent douche bags. But then, of course, I wanted to add some weirdness, so there’s some mystical shit in it, and then just the fact that there’s no dialogue in the book.
You mentioned a novelette earlier?
Yeah man, I did this weird fantasy story for Sleazy Viking Press called The Trickster and the Goblin King. Kind of a sexually explicit fantasy comedy with some dada influences.
How did your fans receive that, being that you were mostly a poet up until then?
I think pretty good, the dada thing might have freaked people out, but I like throwing people for a loop. But that was still the thing I did that was the closest to bizarro.
Sounds like you’re a fan of weird fiction?
You mean like Lovecraft or weird in general?
I dunno, Mank, where do you wanna take this?
Well you know, I like all manner of screwed up. From the literary stuff that’s fucked to the pulp stuff that’s pretty out there; funny shit, disturbing shit. I don’t like to put my eggs in one basket.
You brought up Lovecraft…is he one of your big influences?
I probably wouldn’t say he’s one of my biggest direct influences, but he’s still one of the writers who got me interested in digging around for unusual stuff in writing. You know because I read him when I was sixteen or whatever. But also his idiosyncrasies with the world building and all that. But I also like fucking with voice and writing style a lot which he was kind of against.
Good point. So who would you cite as direct influences?
I think probably Samuel Beckett and Antonin Artaud. Just the way they were striving for some seriously deep shit, practically destroying the language to do it, but there’s still a poignancy and humor. But definitely some contemporary writers who I’m friends with have had a big impact, especially Justin Grimbol, Philip LoPresti and Jordan Krall. There’s no denying that those guys’s books kind of reeled me in a different direction than where I was at before.
Now that you’ve put out some fiction, are you still writing poetry or have you basically changed over?
Hard to say really. I definitely don’t think I’ll decide to switch totally over to more traditional narratives. But I’m also working on some stuff that’s not quite traditional poetry either, trying to go weirder in the future.
What about “the weird” draws you when you create your art?
I was a twitchy weird kid and I guess that laid the foundation for me to naturally drift towards these things. During my angsty phase I was more interested in things that were disturbing, but as I lightened up, I moved more towards just unusual stuff. In terms of weird writing, I feel like a good and crazy book has the potential to warp the internal monologue, and that’s just damn cool.
Ha! Ha! True. So basically, twitchy weird kids = disturbed teens = adult miscreants…
You could say that. At least in terms of an interest in off the wall films and books and stuff. I’m probably not too unique in that sense if you look at our colleagues. Just guessing.
My kid is weird. And twitchy. I’m just hoping he avoids rehab and/or incarceration.
Oh man, well I don’t know if I’d worry that much. It was tough being the weirdest kid when I was younger but now I’m glad about it. Learned to put it in a different perspective.
I was an outcast as well, for the most part. And my kid’s probably not any twitchier than other weird kids. Anyway, tell me about your other passion: music…
Been doing music a little longer than writing. I’m still kind of the new guy in the writing world. But my main project lately has been Ranseur which is a harsh noise-influenced dungeon synth project. So like metal oriented fantasy synthesizer stuff.
Yeah? Forgive my musical ignorance, but care to dumb that down a bit for me?
It’s a style of synth playing that came out of black metal. If you take metal with keys and take out the metal that’s pretty much dungeon synth.
Alright, so what instruments does it take to create this specific art form?
Just keys essentially. You can add a little dash of other instruments or vocals but a lot of it is straight up just keys.
One man band style?
Yeah for the most part, there’s exceptions though. But I was doing a one-man black metal band before this so it goes with the territory.
Oh, cool. Again, forgive the naivety, but does that make you a DJ?
No, I only play instruments, never used that sort of gear or tried that approach. I pretty much sit down at the keys and let the weirdness flow. But this is totally from a high fantasy kind of perspective, in terms of what the songs are about.
Vocals as well?
Yeah I sing a little, not in that particular project. Have sang in a few noise rock bands, used to do a little folk.
You get many gigs?
I used to do more solo gigs, did a couple lately but not so regularly. But I gig a fair amount with a noise rock group Human Adult Band. Might as well mention that we just had an LP come out called Sonic Enlightenment on Third Uncle Records.
Hell yeah man! That’s exciting news—plug away! Being that you have a bit of “performer” in your blood, do you also get out and do a lot of poetry readings or anything?
Not too much. I have done a couple readings and I do try to sell books at gigs for music. But I’ve been kind of nervous to even try to show up to a more literary poetry thing or whatever. I feel like I’d get thrown out the door. Maybe stand up people would like it better, who knows?
If I were to try to live readings of my poetry, I’d need to book it at a comedy club. Ha. So you’ve sold books at gigs? That’s badass!
Yeah I have a little. I don’t do too much of the con thing, so it’s another to try to get the stuff out there.
It’s brilliant, if you ask me.
Just something I randomly tried while selling albums. People like to leaf through stuff. You see some funny reactions just because of the content, but I’ve had a few people get excited about it. Some musicians I didn’t even know were also writers have checked it out, so that got the conversation going in the direction of writing which is cool.
Next thing you know, you’ll be slinging albums at book readings
I have.
Yeah? So you’re just out there making music and printing words and getting that shit out in the street…what’s next?
I have no clue really. Tried comics but I kind of gave up, the formatting stuff is hard and I got lazy. I’m working on a really strange fantasy book, if all goes well it should be a bigger project. But I’m leaning heavy on some experimental techniques for that one so we’ll see what happens. Not much nonlinear fantasy out there, but this is kind of more prose poetry anyway.
Sounds cool, to be honest. What kind of “fantasy” are you talking about?
Some kind of high fantasy, and I might cut the transgressive thing for this. But I’m still not sure how traditional it’ll be. Trying to fuck with some world building here and not just rest on the pure Tolkien thing.
Are there vorpal swords?
Nah I kind of want to make up my own weird swords and stuff. But there’s gonna be like gnomes and elves in it.

How far are you into this project?
It’s been a long work in progress for a while. Main idea is using hypnotic repetition in writing. But it more recently occurred to me that it needs a more serious world building element to really work. It’s about figuring out how to use these techniques for results that really matters.
One thing I like about poets who start dabbling in prose is how they look at word play as something to challenge and run with. I really dig the idea of “hypnotic repetition in writing”.
I probably shouldn’t say too much about this, because there’s always a chance it won’t work. But I’ve been working on this on the side for five or six years. Trying to do these kind of mantras but instead of being religious they’re related to fictional things. But I really want to bring that kind of Avant Garde thing into speculative fiction territory.
Can you share an example?
I’d rather keep it mysterious for now. It’s the kind of thing that seems really easy to do, but I’ve found it hard to do in a way that makes me feel like it’s ready to be out there publicly. I guess I feel that way about all minimalist writing. But reading Alfred Starr Hamilton has helped a lot. Way out there poet who used some really odd repetition.
I completely understand, bro! Can’t blame me for trying though—I like to pretend I’m a cutting edge journalist. I’ll have to check Alfred Star Hamilton…any suggestions on where to start?
A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind is pretty much his only book. He was a mentally ill poet from New Jersey who haphazardly sent poetry around and a lot of times he never made a copy. So most of his stuff is lost. One of those poets who might be famous in two hundred years but not so much now. But there’s a short book of letters that’s unbelievable.
I certainly dig that your constantly pushing the boundaries of how/what you create. But let’s get down to brass tacks…with a name like Mank, you should be a short, bull-doggy kind of guy. Yet a meager amount of social media stalking reveals that you’re a tall and skinny stoner looking dude. Explain yourself!
Yeah I’m skinny as hell, fast metabolism kind of shit. But stoner no, I’m more of a magick kind of guy. Mank is a strange German name, comes from my dad’s side. Old puritan kind of lineage from Maine. But I identify more as Irish in the American sense anyway. There is, in fact, another Justin Mank who is an artist which is why I started using the middle initial.
Well, that and Samuel L Jackson. I always thought it was cool how he writes his name out formally but he’s like this really badass guy.
Haha, fair enough. Alright bro, anything else you’d like to bring up or plug before we wrap this thing up?
I guess I might plug one more thing, this tape that’s about to come out on the Brave Mysteries label, Boggart’s Field – Sidhe Folk. Kind of a fantasy / occult synthesizer album. Real weird side music project, might be a good primer for possible fantasy books in the future.
Right on man, it’s been fun chatting with you a bit. Thanks for your time!
Thanks for having me man, appreciate you taking the time.