Brian Evenson: Song for the Unraveling of the World

If reason is not a chimera, then it must resolve this problem: how to disengage, amid the factual beings given in experience, that which, adequate to beings as such, is not itself contingent?

—Quentin Meillassoux

CaptureWhat if our life was a mere shadow of a Greater Nightmare, and we but the enactment of its dark intentions? That we are a contradiction, a veritable alien thing amid the sleep walkers of this planetary realm of organic madness is apparent to almost anyone with a inkling of intelligence. Yet, there are those who wander through life as if it were perfectly normal, that it was all planned out ahead of time, each of us a mere particle or semblance of some indefinable blueprint long ago bargained for in the distant reaches of the pre-cosmic abyss. Others seeking only the safety net of security and certitude have fallen into cages of religion or philosophy that offer certain consolations and deliverances from the absolute contingency of the world, believing they can master and control their destinies with Reason and Knowledge. Like shadows in a timeless void we pretend we are real when in truth we are not even unreal, but mere allusions and echoes of some former realm that has all but been shattered by the cosmic catastrophe within which we find ourselves. A speculative thinker of our era, Quentin Meillassoux terms this absolute contingency – within which we move and have our being, a hyper-chaos; or, as he puts it “absolute time” itself. As he states it:

What do I mean by this term? To say that the absolute is time, or chaos, seems very trite, very banal. But the time we discover here is, as I said, a very special time: not a physical time, not an ordinary chaos. Hyper-chaos is very different from what we call usually “chaos”. By chaos we usually mean disorder, randomness, the eternal becoming of everything. But these properties are not properties of Hyper-Chaos: its contingency is so radical that even becoming, disorder, or randomness can be destroyed by it, and replaced by order, determinism, and fixity. Things are so contingent in Hyper-chaos, that time is able to destroy even the becoming of things. (Time Without Becoming 25)

This notion of time being able to destroy the becoming of things reflects the strangeness I find in a series of tales in Brian Evenson’s new collection Song for the Unraveling of the World. 

In the title tale of the Evenson’s collection we discover a Father whose five year old daughter has gone missing. The details of the story are simple and bare: the father has kidnapped his own daughter from his (ex?) wife, brought her to a safety-house (or, so he thinks!), provided her with toys, dolls, and all the possible comforts he could. He falls asleep listening to a song he assumes she is singing herself to sleep by through the thin wall between their rooms. He awakens to find her gone, her room secured from the outside; her bed and room strangely unused and a circle of her new things distributed around the bed like some unusual ritual had been performed with her as the star attraction. He searches the home, then the neighborhood, bars, the town… he finds nothing, nothing at all. He calls his ex-wife and discovers she does not have the daughter. He sits down again in his home and stares at a tv broadcasting only pure static as if from some alternate reality. As he thinks to himself:

It had not been his fault, he told himself. Sometimes things just happen and you can’t do anything about them. Just as with the scar on Dani’s temple—that had not been, when you considered it logically, his fault. It had simply been bad luck. (SUW 32-33)

We discover that he’d taken the daughter without thought, it had been a mistake, but that now that he had he’d built a safe haven against the very real world of Law and Society, against the powers of reality. He’d lived in his home with his daughter as if in a pure zone of freedom. He’d bolted the doors, boarded up the windows, isolated himself and his daughter from the world. For a year he lived this way as if that might just be enough time to escape the real burden of his choices. But that was all over now, his hopes of return, of redemption, of his wife’s forgiveness, of living ever happily after with his daughter. All gone.

And then the song started up again, the song from his daughter’s room, a strange and disquieting song in a language not quite of this world. He carefully pries open the door hoping to find here there, but finds nothing, nothing at all. He asks himself the question: “What does it mean to me?” He’s broken the ritual circle, laid down on his daughter’s bed, listening, thinking, hoping against hope that she will return: “He lay there, trying to feel some sign of his daughter’s presence. All he could feel was his own ungainly self.” (SUW 35)

As he is laying there contemplating the past, present, and possibilities of a future he will again as: “What does it mean to me?” This repetition without an answer of a question of meaning in a meaningless universe brings us back to that notion of absolute contingency. As Drago thinks to himself:

What does it mean to be me? He had lived, it seemed to him, several lives, and when he strung them together they didn’t seem to make any kind of chain. Whatever continuity was supposed to be there seemed to have dissolved and he didn’t know how to get it back. Even in just the last two years, there had been a life where he and his wife had been together and had been happy, followed by a life where he had been alone and miserable, followed by a life with just him and his daughter, followed by this life now, the one that was now beginning. What did it all add up to? Nothing. Merely four separate existences. He wasn’t the same person in any of them. Or rather, in the first three he was three different people. For this life, the newest one, it was still too early to say what, if anything, he was. (SUW 35-36)

As if his life were itself a series of disjunctive episodes that did not connect or touch each other, as if each time-frame were part of some strange world of pure contingency without rhyme or reason; a world where time had suddenly become destructive, a power of ruin and erosion, entropy and decay, as if time were unraveling all around him. As if whatever we are as persons were not what we thought we were, but something else; and that nothing we’d been told about the continuity of self and world were true at all, as if the facticity of the world had suddenly vanished into thin air and been replaced by some strange form of hyper-chaos.

Late that night he awakens and sees his daughter just beyond the ritual circle, groggily he rises up and tries to reach her but is bound to the inside of the circle like a demon:

When he got out of bed and moved toward her, he found he could not cross the border of the circle. As if I’m a demon, he thought. He prowled along inside the circle, edging around the bed, looking for a way out. But there was no way out. (SUW 36)

In ritual magic such a space is a circle (or sphere, field) of space marked out by practitioners to contain energy and form a sacred space, or provide them a form of magical protection from demons or other alien entities.

Drago watches his daughter from within the circle, and she watches him in silence for a long while. Then she rises up and leaves him there without a word being exchanged. After she leaves the spell that kept him bound to the inside of the circle is broken, and he follows her down the stair. Suddenly everything changes, the front door shatters, two detectives and his wife enter and accuse him of atrocities unimaginable. His wife crying, clawing at him through the window, begging him to tell her what he’s done to their daughter. And just as he’s about to understand just what he doesn’t know and will never know…  he wakes up.

Most of us think the world is a safe place, a haven against the cosmic night of horror lurking just outside our green, green earth. We think we can master and control the forces of horror arrayed against us, dispel the darkness of the unknown with the wand of reason and science. Then something happens to disturb this illusion, something inexplicable happens to us or a loved one, something that we cannot explain with either rational thought or those so carefully tended notions of common sense and the pragmatic truth of what we’ve known as reality. We begin to question ourselves and the world, suspecting either something has gone wrong with our minds or that the world has shifted into a darker and more mysterious zone. We begin to look around us and question the very nature of our lives and of those we took to be our friends. Paranoia sets in and we begin to fear that something is wrong with the world in ways it never was before. It’s this sense of things being a little off that these tales of Brian reveal with such simple prose. A prosaic world that moves along as if everything is normal then suddenly veers off into strange zones of being we never knew existed before.

Brian’s tales lead us into those alcoves of nightmare that we’ve hidden from ourselves all these years. Dark recesses of being that open out onto that Greater Nightmare where anything is possible, and will at one time or another probably happen. It’s a realm where the very nature of our self-identity begins to unravel, a realm in which the world you’ve known suddenly dissolves and another more sinister one is revealed. For far too long we’ve allowed ourselves to live comfortable lives in our illusory realms of as if, telling ourselves that our shared world of work and play is the only world. It is not. There is another realm waiting in the wings, between the cracks and seams, just outside our normal awareness that at any moment may just pull the blinkers off your eyes and reveal itself for what it is. You cannot hide from it, you cannot run from it, it is this world we all share seen with other eyes than the one’s you’ve allowed to be shaped by normalcy. It is the real world, a world of horror and ecstasy situated no where more central than in your own sleeping mind. It is the nightmare land where your real life begins, a monstrous life that only now you begin to understand and realize is the only ever life you ever had and will be without end.

Brian’s tales open portals into and out of that nightmare land. Each tale giving a glimpse of its strange manifestations, hinting at more than revealing. Tales that shift from time-present to time-past, else into sidereal zones of being that seem to exist in some parallel time world just this side of hell. Vampyres in the western lands; skin-changers in some New York boutique; aliens from inter-dimensional chaos whose only telling mark is to leave us faceless; murderous psychopaths; secret sharers of darkness and change; the friendly next-door cannibal family;  paranoid filmmaker’s who discover unbidden truths; holes in deep space that harbor inhuman mysteries… the litany of horrors like a kaleidoscope revolve round and round in this collection leading the wary reader into realms where the mind begins to literally unravel and begin to dissolve in the darkness of inescapable abysses. This is Brian Evenson’s world of terror and beauty where anything can happen and most likely will…

There is more to tale I related, but I’m not going to reveal that to you just now. Not now, not ever; for that you must read it yourself. But I can assure you this that each of the tales in this collection is like a song in that unraveling world of time that is hyper-chaos, a realm in which all continuity is gone, a realm in which every facet of existence is unraveling in a song of horror and delight. These are tales of that Greater Nightmare that surrounds us on all sides, a realm that we block out through our security blankets of culture and civilization. We believe ourselves immune to it through the perfect illusions we’ve created for ourselves, our normal dreamtime of comforting day worlds of work and play. But it is not true, just the other side our normal lives is an infernal region of absolute contingency that sooner or later will begin playing its song for you, too. And when it does your world will begin unraveling in into that Greater Nightmare carnival of existence… a realm of absolute contingency in which anything can happen and most assuredly will happen to you.

Enjoy the ride!


You can find Brian Evenson on his blog: https://brianevenson.com/

And his new collection on Amazon: Song for the Unraveling of the World