Recently I re-read Crime and Punishment for the umpteenth time. I was struck by how fresh it seemed and how many things about it felt new and surprising. Not least was the nightmare Raskolnikov has after his imprisonment, as recounted in the last few pages of the novel:
He dreamt that the whole world was ravaged by an unknown and terrible plague that had spread across Europe from the depths of Asia. All except a few chosen ones were doomed to perish. Some sort of new microbe was attacking people’s bodies, but these microbes were endowed with intelligence and will. Men attacked by them became instantly furious and mad. But never had men considered themselves so intellectual and so completely in possession of the truth as these sufferers, never had they considered their decisions, their scientific conclusions, their moral convictions so infallible.
Whole villages, whole towns and peoples were driven mad by the infection. Everyone was excited and did not understand one another. Each thought that he alone had the truth and was wretched looking at the others, beat himself on the breast, wept, and wrung his hands. They did not know how to judge and could not agree what to consider evil and what good; they did not know who to blame, who to justify.
Men killed each other in a sort of senseless spite. They gathered together in armies against one another, but even on the march the armies would begin attacking each other, the ranks would be broken and the soldiers would fall on each other, stabbing and cutting, biting and devouring each other. The alarm bells kept ringing all day long in the towns; men rushed together, but why they were summoned and who was summoning them no-one knew. The most ordinary trades were abandoned, because everyone proposed their own ideas and their own improvements, and they could not agree. The land too was abandoned. Men met in groups, agreed on something, swore to keep together, but at once began on something quite different from what they had proposed. They accused one another, fought and killed each other. There were conflagrations and famine. All men and all things were involved in destruction.
The plague spread and moved further and further. Only a few men could be saved in the whole world. They were a pure chosen people, destined to found a new race and a new life, to renew and purify the earth, but no-one had seen these men, no-one had heard their words and voices.
There are currently just over three days to go before the end of the 16 Maps of Hell campaign. The amount raised so far is £9717.62, thanks to 201 contributors. I said that only the first 200 contributors would be listed in the book, but since that number so closely ties with the end of the campaign, I am extending the opportunity for these final 3 days. After that, pre-orders/pledges will still go towards funding the book’s publication, but no more names will be listed in the book. If all goes well, I will be submitting the MS to the printers sometime in early to mid-September.
In the weeks leading up to its publication, I will be posting some (though not all) of the segments that didn’t make the final cut of the book. Here is one:
I wondered if perhaps the problem was that, at the end of this book’s attempt to reproduce, and thereby expose, the fatal allure of Hollywood (the world), after all the titillation, the tease, the build-up of tension, whatever it might offer in its place would appear, from a culturally-entrained perspective inside Hell, little more than a barren wasteland? Maybe we don’t leave Hell on a trail of glory, but like a thief in the night—by shifting our perspective just enough to see that it’s our own internal make-up, our affinity and complicity, that keeps us stuck here. Perhaps leaving Hell isn’t about going anywhere different, but about becoming rooted where one is? Maybe it’s not up and out, like Superman, but down, in, and through.
Probably the only real rough draft of an exit I can offer, at this stage of the journey, beyond what I already have, is to be found in the circumstances of my life and the ways they have changed, to whatever degree, via the writing and now publication of this present work. Of this, fortunately, there is some evidence, now rushed in at the last moment, like a good courtroom drama. Some of it’s very small, perhaps vanishingly so; some of it’s quite striking, not least because it directly involves you the reader, potentially at least.
To start with the small and possibly trivial: during the period in which the 16 Maps of Hell fundraiser achieved its primary goals and made it possible for me to publish this book, I quite unexpectedly changed my nightly viewing habits. Currently, and for the past several weeks, my wife and I only watch period dramas set (generally) in England during the mid- to late 19th century. Is this a nod towards my ancestry, or is it an instinctive movement away from overtly toxic modern Hollywood propaganda, most of which centers around drugs and guns? I don’t know, but it began with the BBC version of Howard’s End, which I chose because of the actor Matthew MacFadyen, who stars (in my current favorite TV show) the very-modern Succession. Howard’s End led me to an as-yet unexhausted list of British movies and TV shows based on classics: The Way We Live Now, North and South, Our Mutual Friend, Pride and Prejudice , Little Dorritt, Parade’s End, and so on.
The author of The Blood Poets believed that all art pretty much had to be violent, and so I had mostly avoided this sort of product until now. My wife, a self-described Anglophile, had watched this stuff for years without me, and it would be hard to say what sparked this unexpected new interest in me. It’s also hard to see it as entirely unrelated to my attempt, with this present work, to take steps away from Hollywood violence in its many forms, and give my poor, beleaguered nervous system a break. Whatever the case, we are now spending most of our leisure time watching “chick flicks” like Pride and Prejudice, and BBC masterpiece series about impossibly fraught love affairs within the British class system.
The other, more striking development is the one that concerns you, the reader: the fundraiser that midwifed this book into existence. As many who will read this already know, this project came about by apparent chance. I had completed the book early in 2020, and submitted a proposal to a longish list of publishers, hoping to get a response. I sent (what I thought was) the completed MS to a handful of interested parties, including the agent who gave the surprising response which I ended up reproducing in the fundraiser.
As the agent predicted (and helped ensure), the book got no takers at all, and finally I gave up seeking a mainstream publisher, or even a marginal one, and submitted it to Aeon, who had published Prisoner of Infinity and Vice of Kings. After they rejected it too, I shelved the project until further notice. Then, on March 20, 2020, I received an email from a reader. He had passed through my hometown of Hope, BC, a few months earlier, and wandered into our little thrift store to kill some time. He’d seen my books behind the counter and apparently interacted with me, without connecting the two. Curious about the books, he had done an online search and found out that I was also Aeolus Kephas, the author of a book he had read some years before, The Lucid View. He had read my last three books since then, and in the email he mentioned he would be coming through Hope in early April, in case I wanted to meet. “Please, please,” he wrote, “make efforts to ensure that should you get sick [a reference presumably to the corona virus], that Maps of Hell will nevertheless come out.”
Long story short, we met up and he volunteered to build an index for the book and suggested a fundraiser to publish it. The fundraiser was launched on May 1st and fully completed by May 23 (live, via a YouTube event). The second goal (for the audio book) was achieved a couple of days later; at the time of writing I am almost £1000 over the final goal, to cover the costs of small (50) hardback run.
Last up, kind of related to my attempt to forge a rough draft of an exit in 16 Maps by pointing out how the soul’s transmission can be carried through cultural products (using Talking Heads as example): my wife recently binged on “reaction videos” to a song that has always had a special place in my own heart (due to the Elvis version on Moody Blue), “Unchained Melody.” Specifically, as evidence of a form of empathetic magic occurring between black younger generations and old white folk, with an artifact of soul-imbued culture acting as a kind of crystal matrix that sparks those mirror neurons into a shared sense of soul-longing that potentially transcends race and all other barriers.
The medium is (in) the massage? Watch and see if you see what I see: