THE COMBINATIONS

!COMBO front cover mediumISBN 978-0-9571213-6-2. Paperback. 888pp + xxxvii. Publication date: May 2016. Equus Press: London. Order direct from Equus Press (paperback only); or via Amazon UK / US; or try the Kindle edition.

In 8 octaves, 64 chapters and 888 pages, Louis Armand’s The Combinations is an unprecedented “work of attempted fiction” that combines the beauty & intellectual exertion that is chess with the panorama of futility & chaos that is Prague (a.k.a. “Golem City”), across the 20th-century and before/after. Golem City, the ship of fools boarded by the famed D’s (e.g. John) and K’s (e.g. Edward) of the 16th/17th centuries (who attempted and failed to turn lead into gold), and the infamous H’s (e.g. Adolf, e.g. Reinhard) of the 20th (who attempted and succeeded in turning flesh into soap). Armand’s prose weaves together the City’s thousand-and-one fascinating tales with a deeply personal account of one lost soul set adrift amid the early-90s’ awakening from the nightmare that was the previous half-century of communist Mitteleuropa. The Combinations is a text whose 1) erudition dazzles, 2) structure humbles, 3) monotony never bores, 4) humour disarms, 5) relentlessness overwhelms, 6) storytelling captivates, 7) poignancy remains poignant, and 8) style simply never exhausts itself. Your move, Reader.

“Kafka’s The Trial meets Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities.”

Read an excerpt from THE COMBINATIONS in Offcourse #60, March 2015, “The Case of Eldrich von N.”

ABACUS

ABACUS front cover smallISBN 978-1-922181-49-7. 220pp. July 2015. Paperback: fiction. Vagabond Press: Sydney. (Order on Amazon) Cover art by Glendyn Ivin

A decade-by-decade portrait of 20th-century Australia through the prism of one family. Abacus is a novel about the end times, of generational violence and the instinct for survival by one of Australia’s leading contemporary poets.

“There is writing here that is twisted towards poetic vibrations of disgust and horror that’s inevitably funny in a wry desolate register, making the reading a degenerate pilgrimage.” Richard Marshall, 3AM Magazine

Abacus weaves an erudite but harsh beauty from the tattered seams of Australian history.” Cameron Woodhead, Sydney Morning Herald

Read excerpts at Litro (“Old School”) & Numéro Cinq (“King Shit”).

INDIRECT OBJECTS

Louis_Armand_-_Indirect_Objects_front_cover_medium

ISBN 978-1922181633. Paperback: poetry. 162pp. Publication date: January 2014. Vagabond Press: Sydney. (Order on Amazon)

Published by Vagabond Press and launched at the Sydney Writers’ Festival by Pam Brown, INDIRECT OBJECTS is an exploration of physical, psychological and linguistic topographies forming a poetic grammar. The indirect objects of the title are emergent states of experience, perception as language, the unarticulated “real” we encounter as strange and remote in even the most familiar forms of saying. The volume is divided into five sections – “Realism,” “Dark Mingus,” “Broadcast Graffiti,” “Zapata Retrospect,” and “Tür zum Nichts” – each concerned with an exploration of landscapes of fact. Armand’s poetry is populated by places, people, things whose existence describes a potential contained in language as singular and vital as they are.

“There’s a fabulous aggregate of extraordinary, iconic Australianisms in this book—a northern river meeting a night sea in a kind of dreamy humid methadone metaphor, the tropical erotic-exotica of Donald Friend’s Balinese pen drawings, Richard Lowenstein’s classic-80s rock film Dogs in Space alongside a junkie Darlinghurst Gauguin selling his drawings to get money to score in a poem for John Kinsella that proceeds by a seedy Sydney-urban philosophising and aspires to a better life, ‘Patrick White as a Headland’,  Charles Blackman, Francis Webb, and in Melbourne—a monologue from an Aboriginal boxer in Fitzroy,  freeze frames at St Kilda Beach, Swanston Street, Brunswick Street and so on.” —Pam Brown

CAIRO, a novel

CAIRO a novel by Louis Armand_front small

ISBN 978-0-9571213-7-9. Paperback. 366pp. Publication date: January 2014. Equus Press: London.

Kindle edition on Amazon UK / US

Paperback on Amazon UK / US

Frightening, hilarious, insane…

Shortlisted for the 2014 Guardian Not-the-Booker Prize

From the author of BREAKFAST AT MIDNIGHT “a perfect modern noir” (Richard Marshall, 3AM)

What do a crashed satellite, a string of bizarre murders and a time-warp conspiracy have in common? Welcome to CAIRO, where the future’s just a game and you’re already dead.

Set between New York, London, Prague, Cairo and the Australian desert, CAIRO has been described as “a vivid, dizzying and ultimately exhilarating exploration of the global nightmare… forceful and convincing and fist-pumpingly hilarious” (Thor Garcia, author of The News Clown).

“A genre defying anti-novel… Like communism it is the movement of vast majorities unfettered by a state!” Stewart Home, author of Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie

“Hard to find this kind of fusion-lit combining highbrow sci-fi with semi-noir mystery; nearly impossible to find it done well. Hell yeah it’s a romp, but it’s a serious, time-shifting, corpse-bumping romp as Joblard the anti-hero lurches through a grungy kaleidoscope of a world.” Vincent Farnsworth, author of Theremin

“The book follows a disparate collection of narrators. Lawson is an Aboriginal geophysicist in central Australia, tracking meteorite debris to sell to collectors. Osborne, a lost soul in New York City, is recovering from a mental breakdown with the help of the mysterious Dr Suliman. Joblard is a former heavyweight boxer turned low-level thug, working for a pornographer with a fascination for the weird. Shinwah is an assassin from the future, tasked with hunting down anachronisms – future technology – in our present. The fifth protagonist begins the novel nameless and confused, waking in a Cairo that doesn’t yet exist, led by instinct through its decaying ruins to an uncertain destination. An apparent accident, the destruction of a previously unknown satellite, brings each of these characters into conflict with shadowy forces.” Sky Kirkham, Australian Book Review

“A timely reminder of what fiction can do when it chases ideas, Cairo will reward those looking for a way to escape the enclosure of realism, cutting a hole in the fence so readers can wriggle out into the more interesting and dangerous terrain of the unknown.”Jennifer Mills, Sydney Review of Books

CAIRO… is a reflection not only of the current independent European publishing scene, but also of literature’s ability to globalize.” Mycah McCrary, Bookslut

“Beware the savage jaw. The future is here now, and it’s gonna eat you up and shit you out like a half-digested Wozzie Burger. Louis Armand as the Swiftian prophet of the Virtual Age? CAIRO is the best psychogeographic sci-fi detective novel I’ve read. An original take on the genetically engineered, pornographic surveillance state that we are living in right now (in case you hadn’t noticed). Dark, frightening, hilarious and utterly gripping.” Phil Shoenfelt, author of Junkie Love

CAIRO is downright playful… filling us in on not only the tangible space, but also its sonic properties, its perfume, truly creating in three dimensions the underbelly of the underbelly.” Benjamin Woodard, Numéro Cinq

“Armand’s prodigious gifts as a storyteller, wordsmith, imagineer and general fiend are copiously and carnivorously on display in this wonderful, horrifying book. CAIRO is a vivid, dizzying and ultimately exhilarating exploration of the global nightmare and our big ideas about mental illness and democracy. Raw and ruthless, yet richly detailed and human, Armand takes a circular saw to the dusty corpse of western narcissism and the dread afflictions that torment and beguile the contemporary psyche. Peopled with a staggering array of the doomed, depraved and flat-out zorched, everybody’s on the last gasp and time’s running short. It’s forceful and convincing – and fist-pumpingly hilarious. Armand is a formidable, first-class writer.” Thor Garcia, author of The News Clown

CAIRO is a dazzling cross-genre novel, blending sci-fi, noir fiction, surrealism and satire all mixed with a smidge of Pynchon.” Ken Nash, author of The Brain Harvest

“Much has been written about Louis Armand’s affinities with noir fiction and cinema. His eloquence dealing with the sordid reminds one of Raymond Chandler, and in CAIRO his cinematic cuts from short chapter to short chapter containing seemingly-unrelated plots remind one of the best of film spy thrillers. But imagine the hallucinatory opening of The Mystery of Edwin Drood punctuating a whole book; imagine the fog and smoke darkening the beginning of Bleak House, the dust penetrating Our Mutual Friend darkening our whole planet. Imagine an author as familiar with the landscapes of New York, Northern Africa, London, Prague, the Australian outback as Dickens was with London, The Thames, and Rochester. Imagine the latter’s 19th-century grime become radioactive, dusting our globe. Then imagine a frustrating and destructive conspiracy like Dickens’ Chancery insinuating itself everywhere, but armed and dangerously aware of all current technologies, and characters’ lives caught up in this conspiracy they understand no better than Chancery’s victims understood their tormentor. All this comes to you, no at you, in a complex style that blends staccato phrases, short sentences, deadpan observation of amazing phenomena with apt quotations from philosophy, and with an instructive but never bothersome range of technical information. A gripping, lively, intelligent novel both rooted in tradition and absolutely current. And hip: why give up style when all the lights might go out?” Lou Rowan, author of Alphabet of Love

“A grim and hilarious reckoning with the future and how we got there. Jonathon Swift on a crack binge channeling James Ellroy on a transnational time-warping blitz through the contemporary hallucination and these strangest of end days. Compulsive reading, relentless, unlike anything you have read but uncomfortably close to the life you’ve been living in some fractured corner of the moment.” Michael Brennan, author of Unanimous Night

“A dark, challenging, dystopian novel that is addictive to read. It warps the boundaries of genre, time, identity and place. It’s like being sucked into a video game where you have to figure out the rules on the go. You hit the ground running and hold on till the end with this novel. I’ve not read anything quite like it before.” Michele Seminara, author of Everything Strange & Sacred

“Cairo is an anachronism waiting to happen, a black hole, a black-market book, a demolition of the corporate oasis, a walk through the city of the dead. Transnational but never global, CAIRO is also what WILL happen if things go on as they are. Shinwah’s gaze meets the picture of a future more artificial and more real than you could ever imagine. A novel of ruins. The name of a place. A return to zero, the apex of all possible futures. Psycho-pharmaceutical biocapitalism is tomorrow’s news; so ours too. Cairo: a perfect encapsulation of what it means also to be living in the end times.” A.J. Carruthers, author of The Tulip Beds

“A terrifying and mad mix of sci-fi and international conspiracy.” Damien Ober, author of Doctor Benjamin Franklin’s Dream America

 

EXCERPT

It was gridlock across the island all points south-east of Port Authority. Osborne’s feet ached with the cold. Blackouts had put the south-bound subway off limits. There were crowds blocking the avenues and cross streets, but the scene below Chambers was like nothing he’d witnessed before. There were people everywhere, spilling out into stalled traffic, moving in a type of zombie automatism. It reminded him of a scene from Dawn of the Dead, except it wasn’t. It’d been different when the Twins burned. There was no panic this time, only the sense of a great spontaneous migration, spiralling towards the Zero.

After Chambers, progress became almost impossible. Osborne tried heading towards Cortlandt, but it was the same story. Then quite suddenly he found himself being swept along by the crowd, trapped by competing cross-currents. For a while the transition left him completely disorientated. Then, as he entered deeper into it, he became aware of the crowd as a complex entity with its own mind, its own stream of consciousness: thought-objects knotted together, eddied, spread out. He searched for the flows, the still points, seeking to make headway towards the impact site.

As he drifted east Osborne gradually sensed a change in the atmosphere. The crowd grew more diffuse, less of a mob and more like a gathering of the tribes, each with its vaguely defined zone. It reminded him of the park enclosures on Tomkins Square. Winos, punks, hustlers, old guys playing chess.

At Sixth Avenue the peddlers, sniffing a buck, had set up along the sidewalk. The first one he saw was a black woman, hunched under a blanket in a wheelchair, selling bits of Martian rock behind a makeshift stand. A tiny bleached-out version of Old Glory fluttered at the end of a car aerial taped to the back of her wheelchair and a black-and-white portrait of Buzz Aldrin. It jived weird. Flashback to the old man’s blizzard balls on 181st street. Flash forward to people standing on the roofs of parked cars. Over the sound of whistles and sirens, a stereo was blasting out a retro Public Enemy track. 911’s a Joke. Some of the people on car roofs were dancing to it.

Osborne persisted southbound. Three blocks down, a UPS van had been rolled and set on fire. A mob of office clones gathered around it stamping patent-leather shoes against the cold, shouting into cell phones. A prophet of UFO doom ran through the crowd screaming religious nut gobbledegook. In the distance a police loudhailer, rippling with feedback, repeated an order to stand clear. It was impossible to tell where it was coming from. Up above, the black wasp-like silhouette of a helicopter moved silently in and out between the tops of buildings.

Osborne veered left and found himself in a narrow cross-street, a backwater the human tide had almost passed by. Abandoned lorries blocked most of it. Under a scaffolded overhang, a dozen or so dead souls were gathered in front of a storefront window, transfixed. Osborne edged by. Behind the window, TV screens flared in unison. Images cascaded. A fireball falling through night sky. Helicopter searchlights above a trademark Manhattan skyline. Aerial views. Smoke rising from the impact site. Crowd shots. Hysterical. Car horns blaring. Someone flipping the camera the bird. Talking heads on fast rotation. Then cut to a patched-in view of what looked like some post-apoc excavation site, flooded up to the knees of emergency workers, circa Ridley Scott’s Alien, only this one was real.

The Zero. A mile-wide hole in the ground. It’d been that way since Al-Q kamikazied a pair of 737s into the Twins a decade-and-a-half previous. It seemed like ancient history already. Archaeology. Across the bank of TV screens, a team of army engineers in radiation suits were sifting through debris above the water-line. The remains of a ruined subway train hung from a wall of exposed girders. Tilting up, the camera revealed the smashed façades of neighbouring monoliths, their windows blown in.

Osborne pushed-on again, circling, cutting back, navigating by indirection, past makeshift barricades, across St Paul’s cemetery and almost getting within sight of the Fulton Street station before being forced back again by a scrum of Krishnas in yellow bedsheets. Half an hour of shouldering through the peaceniks he found himself at Broadway and Liberty, at the lower end of the Zero. A street preacher was standing in the middle of the intersection howling into a megaphone. “And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth. and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake!” The crowd-mind had opened a space around the preacher. On one side of the intersection, the riot squad lined up behind striped blue and white barriers. On the other, a procession of flagellants stalking back and forth like the chorus in a Greek tragedy, weirdly menacing. The crowd dug the scene. Bottles flew. Cops stroked truncheons and tear gas canisters, expectant. The preacher ranted. The chorus threw up their arms and writhed.

The Organ-Grinder’s Monkey

organgrindersmonkeyTheorising the “poetic turn” in cultural discourse from the 1950s to the present, The Organ Grinder’s Monkey meditates on the post-avant-garde condition mapped out in the work of an international roster of artists, writers, philosophers and film-makers, from Abstract Expressionism to the New Media, including Andy Warhol, Jean-Luc Godard, Cy Twombly, Jacques Derrida, Rosalind Krauss, Samuel Beckett, Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg, Alain Badiou, Dusan Makavejev, Marjorie Perloff, Michael Dransfield, Charles Olson, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Veronique Vassiliou, Guy Debord, Joshua Cohen, Pierre Joris, Philippe Sollers, Karen Mac Cormack, Marshall McLuhan, Lukas Tomin, John Kinsella, and Vincent Farnsworth.

“Armand is unafraid to ask the most basic questions, to go beyond the zone in which most cultural discussions operate in order to ask what underlies our capacity for thought, for imaging, for communication. Time and again he takes his reader to the edge of what is thinkable, subjecting familiar concepts to stringent analysis and casting an original light on old debates.”–Derek Attridge

EXCERPT

“All of reality, from immediate perception to the most abstract train of thought, appears to modern man as a vast, complex, organised realm of signs.” Thus wrote, in a statement published in 1935, the founders of Prague Structuralism – Jakobson, Mathesius, Trnka – reprising a theme already set down a decade earlier by Karel Teige in his Poetist Manifesto, linking the world of signs, of inter-implied dynamic structures, to a general poetics – the understanding that all systems, all discourses, “natural,” “cultural,” “technological” are in some generalised sense homologous, or at least fluidly concordant, linked by a common poetic function as “a corollary of these physical and psychotechnical facts” (Teige). If this was the state of the art in 1924, what remains, today, for us, here, now, of a poetics?

The impetus in the thinking of Teige and those who followed in his footsteps – Buckminster Fuller, Vannevar Bush, Charles Olson, Marshall McLuhan, Ted Nelson, et al. – was not so much a modernism, as the self-evident, transverse collocation of all modes of human activity and the poetics defining it. A world view emerged that was tropological. Of course, it had its “antecedent processions,” as Olson wrote, like everything else. But this poetics was bound to a broad conception of possibility, not so much of the “new” per se, whatever that might be, but of emergent relations – paradigm shifts, perturbations and discontinuities within a seeming continuous process: punctual evolution on a magnified scale. A different logic was required, or at least a different set of attitudes, to make sense of it, to maximise the generative potential of ideas in broadest constellation. In other words, of a poetics.

Here an important paradox arises, for this seeming holistic view has always remained a marginal one, even (perhaps especially) in the age of the Digital Revolution, increasingly normalised since the advent of the World Wide Web into a highly stratified commodity system, traded on the antithetical libertarian fantasy of the avant-consumer. Its art, like its myriad sales points, a museum of hyper-obsolescent gadgets.

What Kathleen Fraser called “the tradition of marginality,” like Harold Rosenberg’s “tradition of the new,” might easily be the sentimental advert of a Paradise Lost, like the closing sequence of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Disposed of its revolutionary aspirations, which remain the sole purview of marketing execs, the concept of the marginal belongs elsewhere, to that fringe of anti-concepts at work against the pull of domestication, the suburban guerrilla concept for a new millennium, feeding indeterminacy into a system that riffs for kicks on the aesthetic pleasures of the indeterminate, but assiduously avoids exposure to it: psycho chic.

With the replacement of the Social Contract by the Free Market and his-and-hers matching Fukuyama, the marginal resuscitates as that zone of desperations that need not elect violence to be constituted by it, whose only amelioration in view of the global commodity matrix is the bestowal of things, like trinkets in return for Indian territories. It’s the fate of each avant-garde after waging war in defence of itself and in aggression against stupidity, to succumb to the final argument that, after all, everything they’ve stood for is worthless until a price can be put on it. Sales have never been better.

It’s essential to believe in a contrary condition, unbounded by the rationale of temporal artefacts (What doesn’t change is the will to change), of spectacularism, or of the pluralistic narcissism that merely transforms innovation into the mirror of auto-consumption for the mass mind in all its valences. “There are values,” Rosenberg writes, “by which the new can be appreciated, but they are not, in the first instance, aesthetic values.” The invention of values cognisant of the “new” is the invention of nothing less than a new mode of cognition – transverse, constellational – a “projective” mind-ecology capable of resisting the deathstar tractor beam of its own necro-institutionalisation. A precarious business.

It has never been a question of casting back to “old innovations” for a model of what the “new” could be – the monotonous cadence (Blake) of neo-avant-gardes caught in the spiral of aesthetic entropy, the nostalgia for the “revolutionary moment,” year-zero conspirators of Tabula Rasa Inc. Rather, the refusal of paradigms, the maintained temper of an open investigation, an experiment in de-institutionalising thought across the generalised margin. Or finally, the refusal to join the ranks of laudatory monkeys.

Canicule

caniculefrontcoverJust launched in Paris last month, CANCIULE a savage coming-of-age story through the prism of 1970s terrorism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Israel-Lebanon War… Three friends, each of them orphans, are brought together by fate in a small Baltic seaside town. Bit by bit their friendship turns to betrayal. When one of them commits suicide, the emptiness of their lives is laid bare… In the present, a sudden random act of violence brings two women together in mutual need and self-discovery. As the destinies of its protagonists intertwine, a story unfolds of love and betrayal in a time of failed ideology and moral crisis. By turns cinematic, hard-boiled, sensual, Canicule continues Armand’s exploration of the underside of the human condition.

“Armand’s characters are all caught up in that attempt to retreat from the flow of time. The great histories that are the backdrop to his narrative and the characters’ lives are the looming presences of life that requires we keep track of time, because it is always getting late there, and the urgency of the timetable is felt here as that of a doomsday clock. The tension in the novel is between a kind of vita otiose, understood as an impatient disappearance from life and from history, on the one hand, and epiphanies of death and history and time on the other. It is a tension that for each of the characters in their different ways becomes a process of undoing and dissolution, a threatened negligence from often self-imposed states of suspension.” Richard Marshall, 3:AM Magazine

EXCERPT

The legend of Wolf’s father began during a plane hijacking, in the Autumn of 1977. The botched execution appeared live on network news. Shot in the neck and left on the tarmac to bleed to death, framed in close-up by a cameraman’s telephoto lens. Wolf’s mother, an actress in a TV drama, never recovered from the experience of seeing her husband murdered between commercial breaks. Later she attempted suicide. Wolf was five when it happened, but he still remembered what’d been playing in the background on the imported Vistavision TV set (Hitparade), what his mother had been wearing (a white Yves Saint Laurent pantsuit), and what brand of rat poison (Neudorff).

The three of us – me, Ascher, Wolf – were sitting under the pine trees one May afternoon, watching the tide reddening in the sunset, when a sombre mood crept over us and Wolf, gaze fixed on the horizon, told us about it. His mother had called him into the kitchen. She’d mixed the rat poison into two glasses of milk, drank one herself, then put the other down in front of him and told him to drink it too. He’d tried, but the taste was so bad he couldn’t. His mother became angry. She poured sugar into the glass and ordered him to drink. When he gagged, she got so irritated she snatched the glass from his hand and drank it herself. Then she went to the bathroom, came out a few minutes later with makeup on, started to cry and ran out of the house. The next thing he was at the hospital. Orderlies rushing past. Someone who might’ve been his mother vomiting spasmodically.

Wolf went to live with relatives in Aachen. Later, when his mother returned from the clinic, they sent him back. Somehow she’d botched it too. It didn’t bother the rels that maybe the old girl wasn’t fit for the job. The kid was a burden. Like a pair of fugitives in a 1940s movie, they fled north to an old run-down summer house near the sea.

And that’s how we all came to meet, in the unreality of the long summer of ’83. The year the US embassy in Beirut got bombed. The year of the phoney Strategic Defence Initiative some genius dubbed “Star Wars.” We still made-believe in Superman, kryptonite, fast-breeder nuclear reactors and critical mass. Missile silos and coolingstacks populated the distant exotic landscapes of our imagination. Ronald Reagan and Yuri Andropov danced into the sunset of a world with no future. We cranked up the fat lady’s anthem to the closing credits, till the batteries ran flat. Glasnost was half a lifetime away.

Breakfast at Midnight

Recently published by Equus Press in the UK (and by Argo in Prague), BREAKFAST AT MIDNIGHT

A perfect modern noir, presenting Kafka’s Prague as a bleak, monochrome singularity of darkness, despair and edgy, dry existentialist hardboil.” (Richard Marshall, 3:AM)

Armand has done to Prague what Genet achieves in Our Lady of the Flowers. Breakfast at Midnight is the most savage book I’ve read in years. (Jim Ruland, San Diego City Beat)

A debauched, hallucinogenic noir… If Georges Simenon had smoked angel dust he might have come up with a style like this.” (Prague Post)

Armand has achieved a dazzling level of literary expression.” (Ladislav Nagy, Hospodářské noviny)

Mickey Spillane meets Georges Bataille on speed.” (Goodreads)

The sort of thing Iain Sinclair might write if he’d morphed with Chris Petit…” (Stewart Home, author of Red London)

Pitch-perfect.” (Robert Kiely, London Student)

A strange mixture of realism and almost schizophrenic fantasy, reloaded into a late 20th century context of border town bordellos, dysfunctional families, psychotic reactions and perverse sexuality.” (Phil Shoenfelt, author of Junkie Love)

Kafkaville. Blake is a pornographer who photographs corpses. Ten years ago, a young man becomes a fugitive when a redhead disappears on a bridge in the rain. Now, at the turn of the millennium, another redhead has turned up in the morgue, and the fugitive can’t get the dead girl’s image out of his head. For Blake, it’s all a game – a funhouse where denial is the currency, deceit is the grand prize, and all doors lead to one destination: murder. In the psychological noir-scape of Kafkaville, the rain never stops, and redemption is just another betrayal away… (publisher’s blurb).