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Black Magic Woman # Zero Point Negro
by I Rivers
$18.00    290 pp    ISBN 1-879193-12-4

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Certainly hallucinatory and oft breaking into song, this novel goes in many directions with names of characters from the realm of fantasy, such as "Mother Mary," "Wild Flowers," "Fire Worm," with verbiage of popular music sprinkled in. Word play is rampant, Greek choruses of extravagant supplications, summonings of imagery, evocations, Q & A of acute tension. The reader wanders on a sea of rhetoric, drifting into ever more colorful tempests of verbal fantasy. In this sea of verbiage, the next plot twist is the next verbal conundrum and spasm of preachment, the next dollop of mad invocation. It goes on from page to page, a never-ending kaleidoscope of story in labyrinths of twists and turns of utterance. In the background is the mad laughter of the funhouse; in the foreground, the strange declamations of disembodied voices that take center stage, then rapidly disappear into the variegated swarm of verbal encounter.
--Arnold Skemer, Zyx

A text of amazing energy and strangeness, by an author about whom we ourselves know almost nothing, not even his real name, other than that he considers himself "countryless and raceless" and that he has an original and remarkable talent.

What on earth is this novel? A gigantic homage to euphoria? A narrative, the way Tristram Shandy is sort of a narrative? A poem? A ritual? We can't categorize it. Written in an English that seems to see English from the outside--as a magic lamp, or as a football to kick around the room--the book recounts a myth about two beautiful and powerful women, Cloud Moon and White Phoenix, and their struggles with such godlike characters as Fire Worm, The Mad General, The Supreme Postmaster, and uncountable others. So is this some sort of droopy New Age allegory? Not at all--it's a perfectly mad rush into the arms of euphoric purity, an expression of ecstatic longing for goodness, with all the hilarity that accompanies any truly hopeless quest.

Black Magic Woman # Zero Point Negro is a part of no tradition; for guideposts one would have to imagine some strange combination of The Palm-Wine Drinkard and the novels of Fernando del Paso--but even that doesn't convey the degree of mythic impracticality here. The book is outlandish, off-the-rails, excessively unbridled, and very funny. It is also a serious attempt to remind us of how spiritually mighty we are when we're under the spell of sheer freedom and love of beauty.

An article on I Rivers in The Star (Malaysia):

A Happy Man


WHEN writer I Rivers walked into Skoob Books to talk about his work, he was not expecting the presence of a photographer. Visibly disturbed (a rare moment, the visibility, in a face made for poker), he mumbled something that was neither heard nor understood, disappeared for 10 minutes, and re-appeared with his impassive face shaded by a pair of dark sun-glasses.

I Rivers is practically paranoid about his privacy. Minimal biographical details had to be dragged out from him. You want to know anything about the writer? He is revealed in his writing, I Rivers asserts.

All well and good, that Olympian objective perspective, but what can one know about a writer whose voice sounds like this?:

"Eleven twelve, shooting star, Cloud Moon, Besame Mucho on the radio, it's good, it's good, it's good, all the time, I was thinking of her, it's true, I couldn't help the poor for lords got hungry too, scratching and screaming, in humour, in ritual, in season, no sound coming out, no throat breaking, tambourines and mandarins, tangerine vertical maroon velvet cockroaches crawling across the face of New York April May flying on gas-lit jade broom sticks signaling penis envy and sweeping propaganda toy cows mooing religiously in meadows of milk and honey as promised to Hebrews and Turkish carpets known for powers of flying, no fear, no tear, no bear, no wear, all or nothing at all, it's evaporating, it's falling, God knows where there's some meteor the size of the sun for more or less the time to say excuse me in melodramatic old fashioned Hindi films where men chase women around trees on wheels made to last a hundred years or more so all would get the bread of their labour without prejudice and prime sirloin cuts of baboons throwing snow balls at frail ribbon easy gypsies looking into crystal balls and palms to uncover secret of secrets unknown to all, it's plausible?"

Hints of the Beats on speed, the allegorical pits of a Burroughs, the mythical logorrhoea of a Ginsburg, the verbal and imaginative autonomy of a Finnegans Wake. It does not have the bravura lyricism and metaphorical density of a Nelson Algren -- well, there is metaphorical density in I Rivers's writing, but it is not anchored in the needs of the situation like Algren's, more like a gushing forth, uncensored, automatic semi-conscious writing.

Semi-conscious not just because much of his book, Black Magic Woman # Zero Point Negro (Fugue State Press, US$18 or RM68), was written in the hours of midnight to three, in the aftermath of some determined mind-bludgeoning boozing, but semi-conscious because there is bare governance over the tumultuous spate of images spun giddily across the page.

Images culled from East and West, past and present, mythical and political -- steep yourself in them and you leave I Rivers's stream of consciousness prose, knowing that he is evasive when he suggests he can be found in his writing. There is no sense of the man. I Rivers, a river, can only be experienced in the flow. He cannot be freeze-framed.

Visit the website of his American publisher, Fugue State Press (www.fuguestatepress. com), and you'll read that his publishers are clueless about him, not even knowing his real name, shades of Pynchon. That he professes to be "countryless and raceless".

Again, I Rivers tries to erase himself from the syn-biogen data-hives of Big Brother, evading the scrutiny of the all-seeing Cyber-Fibre Third Eye. He does not want to be captured.

Coincidence that his publisher is Fugue State? Not a musical complexity of statement counter-statement, but a psychotic condition, a convenient amnesia that blots out reality.

I Rivers hasn't blotted out everything from his old life, so I can tell you that he has documents that testify that he is a Malaysian born in Singapore, that he might answer to Joe if you called him that, and that he works in his family's business. And he had a wife and young child hovering in the background the first time I met him.

The details are scanty, but the sense of Joe?s family background is strong. Klang Road. One of the many chock-a-block Tamans named for a Green Paradise but delivering mirror-image terrace-houses. I can imagine the lived-in clutter of the living-room, prayer altar next to pirate DVDs next to plastic lounger for grandma, the din at dinner. The actual details may differ, but the familial net is binding just the same.

From that to the ecstatic polyrhythmic stutter and jabber of Black Magic Woman # Zero Point Negro, prose that wouldn't be out-of-place in a City Lights publication or in an issue of Conjunctions amidst the experimental word-landscapes of Walter Abish or Mei-mei Bersenbrugge. What kicked it off?

Studying economics in the States. Sloped off to the 1994 re-make of Woodstock. Saw Bob Dylan perform and became fixated on his twisted lyrics. "I didn't understand a word he sang." Spent a whole year digging Dylan, getting into him, trying to understand how he arrived at his liberty with words.

Took five years to get his degree because Joe was studying more relevant subjects, but he did finish and came back to find work in a magazine. The grinding dulling drudgery of churning out frilly pieces meant to distract the eye for a few minutes while at the hairdressers' or promoting more consumer products and services you don't really need, Joe started reading Miller's Tropic of Capricorn.

He was jilted. He quit his job, and turned into a recluse. He read Miller and began writing. An illustration of the dangers of literature -- how it can free your mind and subject you to all the tortures that are drawn to a free mind.

Joe eventually surfaced, got married, fathered a child -- and carried on writing. His family wailed and worried. Only a brother, a painter, could understand his compulsion. He didn't think there would be a publisher for his work.

The bulk of the book was picked out on a typewriter in a small village hours away from Bangkok. Drink, stagger back to the hut, peck at the typewriter for three hours -- nine chapters were finished. It took a year of hard living. His wife attempted suicide.

The last bit of information, Joe tells me in his deadpan, dead-stare manner, no emotional embellishment, none needed.

Now he says he is "a happy man." I believed him even though he said it in his unbeaming manner.

Fugue State Press, an American publisher who doesn't know anything about him, has assessed his work worthy of publication.

He is a happy man.

...Do you have any copies for sale here? "I bought 25 copies. I have given them away to family and friends."

Did you give a copy to your mother? "Yes."

What did she say? (A shrug of the shoulders.) "You know. She thinks it's nonsense."

I Rivers is a happy man.

(If you want to make him happier, order his book through Amazon.com.)

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