The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Spotlight on … William T. Vollmann The Rainbow Stories (1989)


‘When William T. Vollmann was 22 years old, he decided that he would write a book about the plight of the Afghan people, who were then engaged in battle against the Soviets. He planned to travel to Pakistan and document the misery of Afghan refugees, then sneak across the border and photograph the courageous deeds of the mujahideen struggling to repel the invaders. In addition to the written account of his journey, he would produce a slide show and present it at fundraising events back home in California: Vollmann’s neighbors would be so affected by the wretchedness of his subjects and the righteousness of their cause that they would open up their check books right then and there (and later place calls to their local representatives). Before leaving, Vollmann wrote former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, who had been one of the primary architects of the Vietnam War, for advice.

‘“How might I best, in your opinion, increase our understanding and sympathy for people of Asia and the Third World in general?” he asked. “What things will I see in Pakistan (and along the Afghanistan border), the significance of which I as an American might miss?” less than a week later, McNamara wrote a terse response on the same page Vollmann had sent him, and mailed it back to the would-be author. “Show how much the peoples of Asia are doing to help themselves,” McNamara said, and therefore “how much they deserve and will benefit from the small amounts of assistance we send to them.”

‘And so Vollmann set out for Peshawar, where he took photographs and conducted interviews, seeking information that could determine the most deserving candidates for American aid. After much wrangling, he foisted himself upon a group of mujahideen heading for the front lines, and though he came down with dysentery and had to be dragged and carried through the Hindu Kush mountains, he eventually tasted battle. In that virginal experience of combat – the commencement of a decades-long obsession with the ways in which we kill each other – Vollmann finally recognized the yawning, insuperable gap between these Muslim soldiers and himself. “They were fighting and I was not,” he writes in An Afghanistan Picture Show: Or, How I Saved the World, which was published ten years after his journey. “They were accomplishing the purpose of their lives in those endless night moments of happiness near death.”

‘What did Vollmann accomplish in Afghanistan? And in the years since – during which he has written nine novels, three short-story collections, and five works of nonfiction (including Rising Up and Rising Down, a 3,500-page treatise on violence published in 2003) – what has Vollmann seen that the less intrepid, less reckless, and less painstakingly observant among us might have otherwise missed? Rather than returning home with a slide show for muhajideen sympathizers, Vollmann brought with him a clear sense of his own ignorance. The presumption that he could go to a place, gain some understanding of the people there, and represent them in such a way as to provoke sympathy for them among perfect strangers, had proved ridiculous. In An Afghanistan Picture Show, he writes of beholding a photograph he took of a woman he interviewed in an Afghan refugee camp, and remarks on his failure: “I can’t forget her, but she isn’t alive.”

‘The mark of that experience has animated Vollmann’s writing ever since, whether in his sprawling novels, epic works of nonfiction, or relatively reined-in articles for magazines like Harper’s, The New Yorker, Spin, Playboy, and Esquire. He has chased the shadow of his failure across thousands of pages and scores of countries, from San Francisco whorehouses (his haunt of choice) to Arctic Inuk villages to Calexico drug dens to Kazakh oil towns to Yemeni fishing villages. He has become renowned for doing what writers tend not, or ought not, to do: communing with the wretched of the earth, plying them with questions, riding the rails with them, getting drunk with them, shooting guns with them, smoking crack with them, having sex with them, and oftentimes paying them for their time. Vollmann lurks insistently, whether asking alcoholic mothers in the shantytowns of Bangkok why they are poor, as he does in Poor People (2007), or nearly freezing to death in order to replicate the experience of doomed Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, as he does in his novel The Rifles (1994). Through all this, Vollmann has not just laid bare the relationship between a writer and his subjects, but also made an art of unsettling, perverting – and occasionally perfecting – that bond.

‘The risks Vollmann has taken – both in life and literature – in order to do so have been duly rewarded: he received a national Book Award in 2005 for his novel Europe Central, and was named a finalist for the national Book Critics Circle Award, among other accolades; and before he had entered middle age (he’s now 50), he was often hailed as the most “promising” young writer in the U.S. But these risks are at times maddening, their logic elusive, their contribution to the story at hand unclear. There are baroque bursts of prose that go on for pages, great accumulations of data, narratives that meander to the point of dissolution. There are the gut- wrenching, cringe-inducing scenes of Vollmann – who, despite his affinity for handguns, battlefields, and the Arctic wilderness, maintains the persona of an overly eager, sometimes heedless, man-child – abducting a juvenile sex-slave from her Thai pimps, or taking fire in the streets of Mogadishu. The characters in his novels are almost always fashioned from historical personages or people he has met in his travels, and he approaches them with the same weird combination of attention and abandon. While writing The Rifles, one of three completed volumes in his “Seven Dreams” septet – a rewriting of the history of north American colonial encounters and their legacy – Vollmann frequented an Inuk village where he befriended a destitute alcoholic girl named Reepah, who appears as one of the story’s main characters (and is reconfigured as an Inuk goddess over the course of the novel). In the book, Vollmann himself takes on the moniker William the Blind, whose travels among the Inuit mirror those of Franklin and his party. In order to better understand Franklin’s misguided 1845 effort to find the Northwest Passage, Vollmann moved to the magnetic North Pole for two weeks. There he inhabited a forsaken weather station, hoping to “learn something about loneliness and fear.” He succeeded: The cold turned the fur fringe of his hood into Brillo, splintered the plastic of his face mask, rendered his sleeping bag useless. He began to hallucinate from lack of sleep, and eventually incinerated his sleeping bag while trying to dry it. Unlike Franklin, Vollmann was saved by a rescue plane before he died. Similarly perilous episodes populate Rising Up and Rising Down, including an incident in Bosnia when a land mine exploded under his car, killing his two companions. “I’m … trying to come up with some sort of moral calculus for [violence],” he explained pithily when the book – the culmination of 20 years of heavy reading and personal endangerment – was in its infancy. “The best way to do that is to have some case studies of wars. So I want to keep seeing them.” — Alexander Provan



The Vollmann Club
William T. Vollmann, The Art of Fiction No. 163
William Vollmann @ goodreads
William T. Vollmann: The Self Images of a Cross-Dresser
William Vollman interviewed @ Bookslut
The Sympathetic Guide to William T. Vollmann
[Report] | Life as a Terrorist, by William T. Vollmann
20 years after Unabomber’s arrest, William Vollmann case reminds us how mystified FBI was
William T. Vollmann: The dispassionate chronicler
Podcast: The Adventurous Life of William T. Vollmann, Writer
William T. Vollmann on Writing Poverty
Writer Without Borders (Extended)
Why You Should Know Who William T. Vollmann Is, and Go Out and Read Him Immediately
William T. Vollmann is a man of many words
Paul Slovak on the Paradoxical Task of Editing William T. Vollmann
Buy ‘The Rainbow Stories’



William Vollmann Reads From His Work in 2005

The Best Way to Smoke Crack, Artist Book by William T. Vollmann

William T. Vollmann on Bookworm [2001]

Susan Meiselas & William T. Vollmann


from The Review of Contemporary Fiction


Larry McCaffrey: You Bright and Risen Angels is a long, difficult, obsessive work. Were you aware when you were writing it that it was going to be difficult for this book to attract a large audience? In other words, is audience much of a consideration for you when you’re starting out with something, or do you just write the book you feel compelled to write?

William Vollmann: I just make the best book that I can and try to not worry about audience or if it will sell. The odds are against you, so why abuse your talent for the sake of a chimera? The only real pleasure for me in writing comes from pleasing myself. What readers think is interesting and illuminating (and it may even be correct), but that is nothing compared to the excitement of seeing a world develop. Besides, even though I like most individuals I meet, I have a pretty low opinion of people in general. So if I were to write for people in general, I would have to drastically lower my estimation of the intelligence of my reader. Rather than doing that, I write the way it seems the book has to appear. I don’t think that’s egotistic. There are often things I would like to include in my books—things about me personally and other materials—that I feel I have to leave out because they aren’t relevant to the book. I’m fairly ruthless along those lines, because I try to let nothing come in the way of what’s best for the book. If that means that the book won’t sell or that a publisher won’t buy it, then that’s my problem. I’ll suffer for that, but I won’t let the book suffer for it.

LM: Obviously there are a lot of differences between The Rainbow Stories and You Bright and Risen Angels, not so much thematically but in the more straightforward manner of exposition you use in The Rainbow Stories. Was that a conscious shift?

WV: Somewhat so. In The Rainbow Stories I was aware of not wanting to use pyrotechnics when they weren’t appropriate, whereas in Angels, particularly in the first half, pyrotechnics was the whole purpose of the book. I wrote Angels to enjoy myself by letting myself go to invent whatever I could come up with. That pyrotechnic or improvisational approach created the book’s own structure, in effect—although, of course, once I let things loose, I would then go back and try and impose some kind of a story structure on it. But with Rainbow most of the time I was working at something which had a predefined structure, not just something that was creating its own form. For instance, since I was working from a structure of fact with the documentary pieces (which for some reason the reviews have generally focused on) then I wanted to present the fact in a certain way; and I couldn’t take such liberties as to obscure the fact. Even the non documentary stories were also more focused and limited simply because they were stories. The reason I wanted to write The Rainbow Stories after Angels was partly a matter of my wanting to create these discrete artifacts as opposed to something like Angels, which used a sort of “writing by-the-yard” approach and could easily have been ten thousand pages longer.

LM: In all of your books so far you transport readers fluidly from different worlds, times, and reality zones. It’s almost as if you want readers to recognize that their own worlds are more open-ended and more fluid, temporally and spatially, than they realize—that they’re not just sealed off.

WV: People would be better off if they realized that their own particular world is not privileged. Everyone’s world is no more and no less important than everyone else’s. To have as many worlds as possible that are invested with interest or meaning is a way of making that point. I’ve gradually begun to see that I can use even my footnotes and glossaries and other sorts of materials to create some of this sense.

LM: This idea of forcing people to recognize that their worlds aren’t the only ones—and of creating contexts that bring together different perspectives and world views—seems like one of the underlying impulses behind The Rainbow Stories. That is, nearly all the stories deal with people who have been radically marginalized in one way or another (prostitutes, homeless alcoholics, murderers, underground guerilla artists like Mark Pauline and the Survival Research Lab, and so on).

WV: In The Rainbow Stories I wanted to create a context so that people in these different worlds could see each other. I originally had more hope about that than I do today. Now the most I would hope is that people reading the stories would have a moment of thinking, “Oh, they’re people too, and this is kind of nice.” I’d hoped originally that somehow maybe if I described them well enough, then a few people would say, “Oh, they’re people and maybe I should even talk to them.” But I don’t really have that belief or hope anymore that any work of literature can do that.

LM: No matter how well it was written?

WV: No.

LM: What changed your mind?

WV: Getting a bit more experienced. Seeing the way people treat each other. Younger people like to hope that maybe somehow they can change the world—and not just change it in the sense of moving it from one random state to another (which is what is always going to happen), but somehow to make the world better. But at a certain point you see more clearly that the world is obviously no better now than it ever was. My current thinking is that literature isn’t enough to bring people together to produce real understanding. Some sort of action is required, but right now I don’t know what that action might be or how it would work. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it’ll never be any better than it is now. Given that, all anyone can ever hope to do is either change a few specific things in a few specific ways (which will probably change again after you finish tinkering with them), or else help yourself and other people accept the fundamental viciousness and inertia of things. Religion does that, for example. Literature can too.

LM: It’s a little like psychotherapy—sometimes it isn’t able to help you change the way you are, but it helps you accept the way you are or at least know yourself, so you don’t feel so bad about it.

WV: And that’s all you can ask really. Being able to change yourself isn’t necessarily going to make you happy. You might be less happy if you could change, who knows? The people in The Ice-Shirt aren’t necessarily happier when they have the power to change from human to animal. King Ingjald wants to be manly so they give him the wolf’s heart to eat; even though that experience changes him, he ends up being this terrible, horrible person. He probably would have been better off if he’d just said, “Well, nothing I can do will ever make me be manly—but that’s all right.”

LM: Even if literature can’t really change the situations you’re describing, or even produce a deep understanding between people, isn’t there some real value in simply opening a window on these other worlds?

WV: If literature is valuable in and of itself (which is something I’m not sure of) then opening windows is one of the most valuable things that it can do.

LM: But of course, these aren’t just any worlds you’ve chosen to open windows onto—most of these realms are going to strike your readers as being particularly grotesque, violent, disturbing. Do you think there’s something particularly useful about confronting readers with things that aren’t just unfamiliar to them but which will likely seem ugly or repellant?

WV: Absolutely. Because in doing that, you’re raising the stakes. Just getting people to accept anything that’s different without being disturbed is a step forward. But it’s a far braver step to accept the presence of dignity and beauty and most of all likeness or kinship in something that is ugly. If more people could do that the world would be a better place.



William T. Vollmann The Rainbow Stories
Penguin Books

‘From a writer who has won comparison with Thomas Pynchon and William S. Burroughs comes thirteen unnerving and often breathtaking stories populated by punks and angels, skinheads and religious assassins, streetwalkers and fetishists–people who live outside the law and and the clear light of the every day. Set in landscapes as diverse as ancient Babylon, India, and the seamy underbelly of San Francisco, these daring and innovative tales are laced with Vollman’s fertile imagination. The Rainbow Stories ushers us into a world that bears an awful yet hypnotic resemblance to that of our deepest nightmares, confirming Vollman’s reputation as a dark visionary of contemporary fiction.’ — Penguin Books



Saint Catherine of Siena

They say she was broken on spiked wheels, and then, since she remained miraculously alive, they decapitated her with an axe. When I see her in the paintings, studying at her Book of Devotions with such sweet concentration, it is hard for me to understand why anybody would have wanted to interrupt her. Of course I cannot ask her; nor can I ask her persecutors, since they died in the desert long ago and thorns have grown up on their graves. Therefore I have chosen to record the tale of Catherine O’Day, who is also a martyr; and if I fail to achieve my purpose may God have mercy upon my soul.


Saint Catherine of San Diego

Catherine had violet hair. The sun wanted to tell Catherine something golden, but since she had such violet hair she could not hear any other color even in the might of summer when dark green tree-shadows cooled the emerald grass, and other women wore white summer dresses because they knew the meaning of summer which even the dogs knew in their tongue-lolling ambles and waggy-tailed sprints which made music with the clinking of their identification tags like ice in cocktail glasses, and everyone else under the sun was caught in summer immensities which made their morning shadows strong and faithful as the shadows ran at their heels and swerved through enormous angles unimpeded by houses or walls or the scorching gleam of silver mica stars in the sidewalks, because summertime is above all immunity from pain. Summer was in the Berkeley T-shirts with clouds and colored music-notes on them, and it was in the tanned milky-smooth faces of the lovers skipping down the sidewalk hand in hand, and summer could be perceived (in its deficient mode of Being)2 in the prances of the gawky freckled girls who wore shorts and had big round glasses that made them resemble summer owls trying to be happy and forgetting the cruel needs of moonlit nights when they had to swoop down onto desperate mice and bear them high and devour them in their horrible beaks while watching them with their big expressionless eyes, which were painted on their feather-masked faces out of the same evil trickery that makes cosmic rays shoot across the sun’s face like the bars of a visor so that summer is dimmed and confused by entities which want to keep the sun’s true nature hidden—except to the Elect, which included Catherine, and that was why the sun was trying to reach out to her, but Catherine would have none of it because she was not a summer person. Summer people did not know that pretty soon they would turn their backs on everything that they now thought was so important. It was not that they were hypocritical; it was simply that someday summer would be over. Meanwhile the new Berkeley students streamed across the concrete, offering each other string cheese, turning their class schedules round and round in their hands, saying “Okay okay okay,” and the freshman boys told the freshman girls how primordially they needed them at their parties, and the freshmen girls said they would see what they could do, and Asian girls sat cliquishly on the steps, tapping the toes of their silver shoes, and Catherine in San Diego lay on the bed reading Heidegger as she had been doing for almost seven years.


Her Earthly Unearthliness

Much of her life, Catherine had been reading, sometimes taking her book to visit me in Heaven where it is cold and foggy and she must lie on the couch wrapped in a thick Canadian-Indian sweater and a reindeer skin. Sometimes she rested her temple against two fingers and stared straight ahead at her book or manuscript with the same strenuous fixation of gaze as a competition shooter; in truth her thought traveled like bullets along the violet beams of her gaze, exploding every concept she met into a plasma of minute distinctions, and her silky hair seemed to be three different colors of violet. The strands of Catherine’s violet hair lived together in beautiful braids or beautiful tangles, as Catherine dictated, and they visited each other when the wind blew; and although her lips were pinkly lovely, like the customary pink-streaked rose-petals to which so many other describers of lips have rightly resorted, her hair was even holier than her lips, being violet, since violet light will cause potassium metal to fling its electrons out in worshipful offerings, which no amount of red light can ever do. (Violet has the highest frequency in the visible spectrum.) Catherine’s hair was a violet meadow that laughed at the rigid violet bars of mercury’s and cadmium’s emission spectra; in this violet place Catherine’s spirit waved like a searing wind which made hearts ache. Her hair was almost translucent in the sunlight. It was persistent and inescapable.


The Boundaries of the Catherine-Horizon

It is known that holiness is localized. Thus, a weaker ectoplasmic field is reported to exist on automated ranches, whose green alfalfa-beds are enlightened only by the random rainbow dews of sprinklers, than in desert ghost towns where tall thin phantoms hoot in chimneys like apes of justice, laboriously attempting to imitate their mentors and masters, the summer owls of whom I have already spoken, and although they scarcely possess the resonance of flesh, which would be of value to them in achieving their dark-livered endeavors (actually they do not have livers either), their reedy efforts are indulgently applauded by the owls in feathery wing-beats; thus encouraged, fat ghosts now roll tumbleweeds back and forth on Main Street with translucent smiles of vacuous delight; if the owls are amused then they will clap their claws together in mid-air with the savage elegance of clashing antlers, in the process, perhaps, letting slip some squeaking dying rodent-ball whose bloody dews the ghosts can inhale, but since this happens no more than every hundred years, if at all, it is fortunate for these freeze-dried souls that they have no tibial collateral ligaments to shrink or spasm, and can therefore flex their shimmering knees all night in the pursuit of their summer sport, vainly hoping to incite the owls’ beaked praise. The truth is that they cannot propel a real thing a single inch, nor could ten thousand ghosts united (be happy that you are not yet a ghost!); it is only wind that blows the tumbleweeds about, whistling through their weed-bones while the stagnant ghosts swirl in the night-dust behind, indefatigably pretending to push them, not only to propitiate the owls, but also to keep from considering themselves even more superannuated than they already do when, knowing the outcome and hence snarling in such despair that they expose their clacking teeth, which resemble those icicle-like fangs of the deep sea-fishes, these revenants lay their heads upon each other’s breasts and listen for a heartbeat, as is customary at the termination of a deathbed scene; if even one soul were to have within his chest the pulpy mechanism which emits those dull and bloody thuds, they would be soothed, just as a puppy taken from his mother will stop whimpering when a loudly ticking clock is placed against his belly; but of course the ghosts hear nothing and furiously rake each other’s non-existent chests with their non-existent fingernails, and then, afraid of the owls, return with increased anxiety to their delusional project of the tumbleweeds; meanwhile, more mathematically-minded sprites play “Musical Chairs” between the tombstones, trying once and for all to solve the problem which eluded Leibniz: how do you put ten bodies in nine graves while adhering to that monodist doctrine of one body, one grave?—for they want privacy when they rest their cool cheeks against the cool cheek of the earth; and meanwhile young ghosts creak doors beautifully, ingeniously, as they are expected to do. Thus every spirit does its part—But turn your back and walk over the dunes for two dozen steps, and the night is depopulated.

So the holy presence of Catherine could be felt only from Tijuana, half an hour south of her, to Mount Shasta, 13 hours north of her. This point having been clarified like ectoplasmic butter, we will now enter the Catherine-horizon and begin the story.


A State of Grace

I am the Holy Ghost. As I descended from Heaven, I presently reached that violet-black sea of storm-tossed mortality, and at the bottom of the ocean was a little blue bubble, and I shrank my form into a discrete particularity in order to make myself available to the people there on a one-to-one basis, believing as I did in the religion of good manners, the trajectories of which are usually as carelessly plotted as those of champagne corks. As I continued to fall, the ontic world loomed bigger and bigger. It sparkled with cities and airplanes and fireflies. Presently it took up my entire field of view, and continued to enlarge, the horizon becoming less and less curved until at last it was the standard Being-horizon in its average every-nightness that we experience in our freeway relatedness, speeding southward toward Catherine in San Diego (or rather, to be more concrete, Solana Beach); and the smoggy moon got bigger and bigger every hour until it was like a beautiful yellow ball of super-processed glow-in-the-dark cheese. The air pollution smelled like coconut macaroons. The following morning, continuing south through Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seal Beach, Leisure World and other points upon this continuum, I found that the smell was like smoke, rusty metal, asphalt, and rotten eggs, in that order. This part of southern California was defined by its four-lane gas stations, its speeding blondes, and above all by its grey-white sky through which the desert mountains were hardly visible. Once I completed my journey through those low sea-passes, Catherine was attained.



Half an hour south of Catherine, in Tijuana, Beelzebub (whom we will see again) was buying a stiletto.—“How much?” he said.—“Twelve dollars.” said the man gently.—“How about ten?” said Beelzebub.—The man spread his hands sadly. “Okay,” he said. “I wrap it up for you.”


My Materialization

“I actually have this peculiar feeling that something in the air is trying to talk to me,” Catherine said.

“I’ve never been afraid of spirits, but I know that potentially you can be,” said her sister Stephanie. “For American Indians, fear’s a big thing. But one finds that the spirits are usually very strong and guiding.”

“Well, let me see,” Catherine said, hiding her mouth behind her hair.

“What comes to mind is that I’m very skittish about spirits. Extremely.”

“In the Ghost Dance religion it’s almost universal that people resist,” explained Stephanie. “They don’t want to go in to where the spirit takes them. It’s often the Elders that convince them to open themselves. The skepticism and resistance are really a part of the process.”

Catherine didn’t say anything.

“When you close your eyes, what does it look like?” asked Stephanie.

“I immediately got an image,” Catherine retorted, “but I don’t know if it’s a good one. It could be improved. Well, for some reason I just see a face—well, let me try to get a second one and then I’ll describe them both.”—She was still for a time.—“Well, okay,” she said finally. “I have two images now, and they’re very different. The first one . . . I was hesitant because I had a feeling that it’s from some memory of some painting that I’ve seen, so it’s a little suspect . . . I just see a face, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this face somewhere. It’s yellowish. No, the hair is yellowish. Pale yellow. Long face, long hair, sort of high cheekbones with . . .” She paused to think again. “Large features. Let’s see. I wouldn’t say . . . Sort of sad and somber. Okay, that was the first image. But again, I think that came from a painting I saw once.—The second one was very different, and . . . young, handsome, smiling.” She laughed a little embarrassedly. “Sort of sensual, and colorfully dressed, very colorfully dressed.—But it’s difficult to concentrate.”

“Do you think they’re two approximations of the same thing?” said Stephanie interestedly.

“Of the same thing?” said Catherine. “I think one’s the true one, and one’s the false one. I think the true one is the second one.”

“Just because it came later, or because it’s happier?” Stephanie said.

“Because it’s happier.”

“My first image of myself,” I announced, “was this sort of green clammy thing, a bunch of vapors with these two black eye-holes full of greyish fog. I’m the Holy Ghost, you see. I’m kind of a sad thing, but I’m not an evil thing.”

“Mmm hmm,” said Catherine cautiously. She had already begun to withdraw from the conversation. There were days when she was very very tense.

“How about you, Stephanie?” I said. “How do you see me?”

“Well, you know,” she said, “from the first time I became aware of you, I always got a visual image, and it was the same one. It’s grey smoke, in a sort of thick column that ripples the way water ripples if you toss a pebble in a lake. So you’re this sort of ripply column of grey vapor that I can’t quite see through. In my peripheral vision I can see what’s behind you, but if I look at any one spot I just see opaque smoke. But it’s funny; sometimes your image fades out, and there’s just this black shreddy raggedy tophat and a black cane appears below and beside it, and it doesn’t occur to me why that happens.”

“Do you want to talk to me, or are you afraid of me?” I said.

“As I said, I’ve never been afraid of spirits,” said Stephanie. “I personally have never experienced that. You spirits have always been a lot more powerful than I am, but you’re stronger and guiding, and it’s always very light and uplifting.”

“How about you, Cathy?”

“Am I afraid of you? Well, let me see. What comes to mind is no, I’m not afraid. However, I know I’m still a bit skittish. But if you want to stay over for a few days and it’s all right with Stephanie, I would certainly love to have you.”




p.s. Hey. ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Well, the reason I’m especially interested in Home Haunts as opposed to the professional ones is because they don’t necessarily rely on the standard haunted house tropes like ‘the startling sudden appearance’ thing. They’re made by individuals and often families, usually in their own homes, yards, garages, basements, and they tend to love the concept of the haunted house and can be very inventive, using the architecture of their homes, and the fact that the locations are real homes, and the fact that they’re families, in their haunts. They’re kind of the equivalent of very low-budget and/or experimental films versus Hollywood product. So there are all kinds of manifestations, and the kind of haunted house you’re generally talking about is one of them. Unfortunately, NYC and environs is not a big haunted house ‘market’, but I’ll see if I can something interesting in that area for the National version of that post in case you’re interested. That VR thing does sound unusually interesting. The script you have a vague idea about sounds quite ambitious, cool. I would guess that for a film like that you would likely need to interest a producer who would then organize the raising of funds via their connections, experience, etc.? Thanks for the Kuchar article. Everyone, Steve E. passes along a link to a no-doubt excellent article on the art of Mike Kuchar by the critic/film programmer Ed Halter. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Well, like I said, I don’t see haunted houses as scary, I see them as works made by people who are interested in representing ‘the scary’ in an architectural context. Or that’s my interest. ** Bill, We are, for better or worse. Yeah, I too was surprised that it took me so long to do a Maddin Day. Strange how obvious things can just slip your mind. I only observe Nicholas Cook via Facebook, but I haven’t interacted with him in ages. Yes, things seem to be going very well with his writing nowadays, which is very happy making. I will investigate Ehnahre for sure. I don’t know them at all. Some pretty interesting past members/collaborators. Thanks, Bill! ** Sypha, Hi. Like I think Steve said, I don’t see Siouxie, for instance, as Goth, although I know Goths dig them. Or Joy Division at all. They were more proto-goth or whatever. I was referring to the bands that deliberately work Goth and the Gothic like Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy, Xymox, Southern Death Cult, Christian Death, and that whole lot. Just not my thing. ** Jamie, Hi, J-J! Arm and shoulder are taking their motherfucking sweet time to slightly improve if they are. Yes, I’m one of those who avoid doctor visits like the plague. I’m really glad you loved the Home Haunts. That warms the cockles of my heart. And of my brain. Hm, well, blog ticks-wise, I tried something yesterday that my host said could help, so let me know if anything has improved. I don’t know why that’s happening and, so far, my host isn’t sure either. Very annoying. Oh, man, do try to enter the novella in that Scottish Book Trust Award thing, if you at all can. Use me as your imaginary hectoring cheerleader, if it helps. Rausch, rausch! Milo appears about half-way through PGL, and then he’s a main character from then on. That boy is going to be big star, I think. Yeah, I’m being very careful with my rickety laptop, not asking it to do anything special. I’m tiptoe typing. I don’t know Nikki Sudden’s version, no, but I’ll seek it. Yesterday? Mm, oh, we had submitted an unfinished version of PGL to the Sundance Film Festival, but yesterday we found out the curators will be in Paris next week and will get to watch the finished film here in a theater, so we’re very happy about that. It’s a long shot, but at least they’ll be considering the film as we intend it. Otherwise, not much, hung with Zac, and saw a wonderful Chantal Akerman show at a gallery. It was all good. My thought is that your Wednesday will be this magnificent, ineffable sky-sized entity hellbent on bestowing you with rewards to the max. Ha ha, that is some kind of love you just sent me, thank you. Long lost, previously unknown Vermeer painting discovered in your attic love, Dennis. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Yay, mine too! Well, if I can get to LA as hoped around Halloween, I intend to go to every single one of those. The one I’ve been to before is Backwoods Maze, which is super incredible. My new laptop arrives on October 2nd, Apple tells me. Fantastic about the great SCAB submissions! The next issue is sure to be a total blowout. I only saw one art show yesterday (Chantal Akerman, great!) but I’m going to see more today, and maybe the movie, I’m not sure. Tomorrow we start working on the, ugh, short version of PGL, so today is my last free one for a while. And your Wednesday? Pray tell. ** _Black_Acrylic, I know, and it’s unfortunate. I would imagine home haunts in the UK could pretty sweet. I’ll check just in case one or two have spring up and let you know if there’s a nearby one if so. ** Ferdinand, Hi. Very cool poem, man. Yeah, I don’t know what to do about the blog bugs. I tried something last night, maybe it’ll help. I liked CG’s album ‘5:55’ too. ** Misanthrope, I think you’d like California. It’s awfully beautiful in large swaths. I thought crabs too. Crabs in the salad bar, yuck. ** Grant Maierhofer, Hi, Grant! Sweet news about ‘Clog’. And obviously very cool that the supreme Sean Kilpatrick will have his fingers on it. I hope Peter gets back to you. There is definitely massive, massive room out there for great writing about his work. Take care. ** Right. I decided to devote the blog to my favorite book by William Vollmann today, and there you go. See you tomorrow.


  1. David Ehrenstein

    Vollman is impressive.

  2. Steve Erickson

    This is my favorite Vollmann book too

    I woke up feeling really tired today, so much that I after I turned on my computer and called my mom, I decided to go to bed and slept for another hour. I think I need to skip New York Film Festival press screenings (the new Claire Denis film, but it has a US distributor) and stay home and watch a documentary about Laibach’s North Korean tour whose director I’m interviewing next week so I can go see Mdou Moctar play live tomorrow.

    Are you familiar with the avant-garde LA haunt ALONE? When I started googling more adventurous haunted houses, that was the big one that came up, and I found many descriptions of what their experiences is like. There are also “extreme haunted houses,” which sound more like exercises in BDSM via agreeing to participate in some live version of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE than tamer haunted houses. I found an outraged editorial in Time magazine about how they signify the decline of our culture.

    I downloaded Big Country’s THE CROSSING yesterday. I think this is a really excellent album, continuing singer/guitarist Stuart Adamson’s work with the post-punk band the Skids on a larger and more mainstream canvas – what Simon Reynolds has called “big music” – that beats early U2 at their own game. The use of influence from Scottish folk music and effects pedals – which goes way beyond making their guitars sound like bagpipes – is really creative, and while a lot of mainstream ’80s rock suffers from really dated production and an overload of synthesizers and clumsy attempts at dance beats, there’s nothing like that here. I never would’ve taken them seriously if I hadn’t chanced upon their Peel session.

  3. _Black_Acrylic

    I was unaware of Vollman until today and have now added the Rainbow Stories to my wishlist. Wow, he really seems one of a kind.

    I met Alex today at the DCA and we saw their new show by Kelly Richardson – The Weather Makers. The galleries were all darkened and there were projections of outer spacey landscapes on the walls. I liked it, kind of a sci fi affair to be in that environment and the images were moving in subtle ways, like breezes blowing across the horizons of these alien worlds. One of the projections was called Leviathan and I took this photo on my phone.

  4. Ferdinand

    Im glad you liked it Dennis. Zero problem loading your site today. South African internet service is pretty horrid so I usually assume its from my side.

  5. Steve Erickson

    Researching “extreme haunted houses,” “immersive theater” and “escape rooms” is really fascinating. This sounds like more my cup of tea – living as a character in THE GAME or MR. ROBOT sounds way more interesting than living as one in HOSTEL, as at one of the “extreme haunted houses” – but I sure can’t afford $300 to play it:

  6. Dóra Grőber


    Wow, thank you for this post, it was fascinating! I loved the whole thing but the excerpt made me decide to buy ‘The Rainbow Stories’ as soon as possible!

    Yaay! This sounds awesome; I do hope you get to visit all of them! If so, please share your experiences afterwards!
    Less than a week, then, ’til your laptop arrives! Let’s stay positive, right…?
    Thank you; I really think so! I’m still so thrilled it was born!
    Ah, the Chantal Akerman art show must’ve really been great!! What did you see today?
    I had a good day. Nothing too special happened, I just saw a dear friend of mine and we had a good time and… I don’t know. These last couple of days I’ve been kind of moody and this cloud seemed to lift from my mind this afternoon. And now, I’m just about to watch the new episode of ‘American Horror Story’.
    How was your day? The day before the “short nightmare work” starts. I hope it was all kinds of lovely!!

  7. Steve Erickson

    I got cruised by a guy at a cafe where I was having lunch, which led to a 90-minute conversation revealing that he’s a gay cinephile too. This would be very promising if he were a New Yorker, but he’s Israeli and he has to return to Tel Aviv on Oct. 5th. He gave me his E-mail address, and I plan to E-mail him a link to my blog and the YouTube link to my short SQUAWK tonight. From the amount he stared at me, it’s pretty clear he’s attracted to me (unless I’m completely misreading things), and friends have suggested I try Skyping, but long-distance relationships are very hard and I don’t exactly have the money to fly to Tel Aviv every few months. Anyway, I definitely plan to stay in touch via E-mail and see what develops.

    I watched the documentary on Laibach’s tour of North Korea today. I thought this was such a weird concept that I agreed to interview the director sight unseen two months ago and will probably be doing so next week. I should probably not say anything negative that the publicist might read, so I’ll just say there’s a lot of squandered potential here. Do you like Laibach? There’s a very pretty cover of the Beatles’ “Across the Universe” sung by their female vocalist in the film and I like their quasi-fascist Front 242/Nitzer Ebb-esque “Tanz Wit Laibach,” but their gimmick of covering American and British rock songs and making them sound like Nazi marching songs may be a subversive political statement but at least to me, does not exactly make for listenable music (although Wikipedia says “Life Is Life,” the first Laibach song I ever heard when it was a college radio hit in the late ’80s, got some MTV play.)

    • _Black_Acrylic

      I only just saw that Life Is Life promo video a couple of years ago and was majorly impressed. I’m still unfamiliar with most of their work and look forward to your article.

      • Steve Erickson

        They have a new video for a semi-classical song from their new album, THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA. The song itself is very pretty, but the video has a heavy Leni Riefenstahl vibe. The director of this film also directed their 2014 video “The Whisteblowers,” which is supposed to be a tribute to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. It also sort of sounds like a military marching song, but it’s much catchier than their earlier rock covers.

  8. chris dankland

    i love Vollmann so much, he’s one of my favorite contemporary writers

    thanks for this day — u linked to some Vollmann things that i hadn’t seen yet

    my favorite Vollmann is definitely The Royal Family, about the Tenderloin prostitutes, but Rainbow Stories wouldn’t be far behind. the way people (deservedly) idolize Infinite Jest as the great fat book is the way i idolize The Royal Family. I thought his latest The Dying Grass was also one of his best.

    Also I’m going to brag that I read most of Rising Up and Rising Down — the 7 or 8 volume book about violence that McSweeney’s put out, which pretty much immediately went out of print. i had a Rice University library card and I spent the better part of year slowly making my way through it. i think Vollmann’s books stick with me so much because I learn so much from them, always.

    anyway thanks for the post today !! i liked the haunted houses too

    take care

  9. chris dankland

    i especially love the parts in Rainbow Stories that are set in ancient locales. i’m just thinking about that right now. i was introduced to a huge amount of ancient literature through Vollmann.

    i love his reading lists — this is a new york times one from a few years ago:

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