Neither Write Novels:
On Reading Stephen King And Louis Armand Concurrently
Louis Armand was a total stranger to me when I started reading The Garden Director’s Cut (11:11 Press, 2020), but he quickly felt familiar. The Garden Director’s Cut is a formally peculiar book, not because it is written in one unpunctuated sentence (it is written in one unpunctuated sentence) but because it consistently decentres the idea of ‘one voice’ as an organising logic for a book. I am in agreement with my past self in stating that prose is dead, everything is poetry now; Armand’s book executes this in practice.
‘Prose’ does not have to take the form of a ‘novel,’ but typically a ‘novel’ takes the form of ‘prose.’ At least in academic terms, the word ‘novel’ refers to a mimetic, metonymic or representative depiction of an individual, that is, either a ‘self’ or a ‘subjectivity’ or a ‘character.’ As readers, it is important to remember that selves/subjectivities/characters are very much the same thing, often at the same time, though at times there is a temporal disjuncture between these things. The Garden Director’s Cut is difficult to read in these terms. There are individuals at the centre of this book, but they’re difficult to place, mere “impressions this body this bed this room” without any other indicators as to what this is referring to. We read The Garden Director’s Cut through the fact that it provides very little other than “tabula rasa” and therefore the process of reading the book is also the process of making interpretive decisions about the unknown, the blank, and the space between punctuation.
This is an unusual interpretive process for readers. Even in experimental literature, we are often given the tools to do the deciphering; in Louis Armand’s case the reader is the tool for the deciphering and an impediment to the deciphering. I should know that this book feels different. I have always been a reader.
When I was eight years old, there was nothing I hadn’t read in the sections for young folks at the local library, so my father gave me his worn out, wrinkled copy of Stephen King’s The Stand. I knew almost instantly that King’s work had something else to it, some kind of curious edge – his work has always felt haunted to me, not by anything traditionally horrific, but haunted by some spectre of the future. King’s novels are obsessed with death and pain; his work frequently puts forward the idea that trauma creates a kind of Magick in the world as we experience and move through it. Sometimes this Magick manifests as depression or insanity, but more often it manifests as violence through zombies or ghosts or inextricable demonic possessions. In King’s latest work, this trauma-Magick is expressed in simplistic language. Stephen King’s latest work, Later, much like Armand’s The Garden Director’s Cut, cannot be called ‘novelistic.’ His books are no longer interested in selves, subjectivities, or characters; his books are now interested in morals. The man who used to be a true novelist has transformed into a chronicler of new-age fairy tales and grafts these onto a medium used for the recollection of Magick.
The best moment of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow is “MB DROP HIRO,” best discovered and extrapolated from when reading the book itself. In Stephen King’s Later, similar linguistic confusions are commonly deployed as a six-year-old struggles to interpret and respond to the world around him. The words “had a stroke” are heard by the book’s ostensible subject-self-character as “had a soak.”
Jamie Conklin’s centrality to the book is curious. In a traditional novel, Conklin’s youth would operate as a confounding mechanism in the interpretation of reality (King himself has frequently deployed youth in this way, in his great novella Apt Pupil and the ever-famous novel It). In Later, with fairy tale mechanics in tow, Jamie Conklin is a medium between the tangible experiential world and the intangible world of ghosts, language, and truth. Jamie’s liminal status is continually emphasized through basic formalised narrative tropes, too, such as when his mother describes him as “fey,” but Jamie hears it as “Fay,” fearing his mother is relabelling him as a girl. All of which is to say that Jamie occupies a space between reality and unreality, is not configured in the novel as a coherent whole (that is to say, a self, a subjectivity, or a character), and is instead configured as an engine for a series of moral fables and reflections on the devices (linguistic and spiritual) that form and malform reality. “The Post’s understanding of the apostrophe was a nice parallel for their grasp of American politics,” writes King; the apostrophe as narrative device is in itself reflective of liminality.
This is an interesting world for Stephen King’s novel to live in and offers us a curious jumping-off point to return to Louis Armand. Louis Armand’s apostrophes are almost always entirely concrete. When “under the hypnotist’s needle a hologram” emerges, the hypnotist’s needle itself is the only stable component of the text, certainly more so than a hologram which is in itself an unstable object by definition, but is also “a hologram with a mind-ray glitch in the Garden of Unearthly Delights miscreant among miscreated abjects,” all of which re-emphasizes and reframes the instability and confusion of everything around the hypnotist’s needle. This is just one example, but there are numerous others throughout the text, moments in which objects coalesce in stability for a moment around the grammatical/syntactical device of an apostrophe, that same machine that is demonstrably unstable in King’s text. The apostrophe is demonstrably unstable in King’s text at least in part because the apostrophe is most commonly seen in conjunction with the word “I,” emphasizing subjectivity and multivariate epistemological forms. Stephen King’s central ‘self’ tells us “yeah, I see dead people,” instability harnessed around the central ‘I,’ whilst Louis Armand’s decentred voice asks us “when I’m dead & turned to bugshit who’ll play the scapegoat,” instability harnessed around the idea of a replicated selfhood.
The ultimate point is this: neither Louis Armand nor Stephen King write ‘novels’ the way we would traditionally expect, and both books – one a work of independent ‘experimental’ literature and the other a hardboiled airport paperback – upend everyday assumptions of stability.
Kendall Reviews was fortunate to host an interview between Mike Thorn and Josiah which you can read HERE
Josiah Morgan is a multimedia artist and poet from Christchurch, New Zealand. His world gets bigger every day.
You can buy Josiah’s debut ‘Inside The Castle’ HERE