Almost Zero, translated by Nino Goji and Nastya Valentine, will be released in November 2017.
UPDATE: The book is available for purchase here.
The place might have been a storage vault, or an office, or a hotel room. From some angles it looked like a showroom or a disused design pavilion. Everything that could fulfill the desires of a well-read, semi-cultured, five-time lottery-winning assistant engineer of a mid-sized factory was stuffed into this area, its tackiness an assaulting to the eyes. Here were: European furnishings of Turkish-Hungarian quality, five or so Mitsubishis and Akais, Italian furniture imported from Armenia, canned beers, Amaretto liqueur, Rothmans cigarettes, brightly packaged pistachios, and boxes inscribed with Xeroxed foreign writing and packed with money.
Fedor Ivanovich silently poured liqueur into shotglasses, emptied an ashtray of its ash, and poured some pistachios into it before delicately leaving the room. and Yegor plopped down into chairs. For about twenty minutes the two of them furiously ate the salty pistachios and swigged the sugary liqueur.
“What do you think, why did they let us go?” asked Chernenko Igor Fedorovich, the Chief, drunk.
“I guess they figured me for someone who knew something or mistook me for one of their own, and got scared,” replied Yegor.
“Almost. But not quite. At first they got scared. But then, to justify their fright, to analyze it logically, they decided that you were the right hand man of Mr. Akhmet, the chief criminal of Balashikha.”
“What do you think they were afraid of, what make them think this?”
“There’s something in your eyes, in your expression, that’s just so . . .” After a long pause, Chief slowly said, “Quiet, within you, always quiet, even when you’re frightened or happy. With that kind of quiet you could rescue stupid children and helpless old people from fires, or you could be a guard at a concentration camp. That kind of fearless internal quiet could be considered detached, apathetic, indifferent. Anthon Palich always said to fear apathy. He fears those qualities in you. I’ve always noticed this in you, but today, I see it. Now it’s not just a feeling I had about you. It’s been confirmed by life. Your apathy isn’t a product of weakness or stupidity, quite the opposite. It’s the strength of your will. Your mind. You are indifferent and undaunted by everything, because everything around you is insignificant and meaningless. Only something truly grandiose can enchant you. Something so huge that perhaps the entire world will seem tiny. That’s what these men saw, how tiny they were through the curtains of your eyes, and that frightened them.”
“I was scared, myself,” admitted Yegor.
“No, no, that’s your facade, but that’s not you. Because of that I’d like to offer you an opportunity to collaborate on something.”
“On very significant matters. Will you hear me out?”
“I don’t know if this good news or bad—but communism will fall. For almost forty years, people doubted that Stalin was dead. They didn’t believe it. They thought he faked his death, hid in a cabinet, and spied on us from a distance, gauging our fear of him. He giggled, he sharpened his Georgian knives. But then his body was found under a ladder, in a pool of piss. And spat on. And suddenly there was no more fear. The master dies, the lackey laughs. The problem is that, aside from the lackeys, no one’s home. Thirty million lackeys are now on the loose. The guys at the top, with their self-important airs, sit in palatial czar-like chambers, they know—they have no authority. Only they haven’t broken the news to everybody yet. They’re ashamed. But they’ll break soon. And then it will begin.
“In a normal country there would be a civil war, but we have no civilians; it will be a war of the lackeys. Which isn’t to say it would be worse than a civil war, but it will come to some very low points. The lackeys will begin to divide their old masters’ trash, some waging war on Islam, others on the media, others on the financiers. The lackeys will be feral and bloodthirsty. They will live wretchedly, kill cruelly and die cruelly, they will share, and they will divide.
“I am gearing up to participate in this unpleasant event. It’s important to collect as much money as possible, and, even more importantly, things that can make and keep making money. Well, it would be a stretch to go for oil or vodka, we don’t know nearly enough about the product, although those are the strongest points of our economy. So we have to make do with less lucrative, more familiar things. Books, books, Yegor—that’s our share, the share of the angels of high-end literature. Vodka, oil, that’s the economy; we can own the culture . . .”
“Let’s drink, Igor Fedorovich, let’s drink,” interrupted Yegor with a sticky glass in hand.
“For your information,” announced the Chief, sipping and staring somewhere beyond the floor and beyond tomorrow, “for the longest time in our swamped little staff, something has been rotten. Left-wing circulation, deficit compositions, manipulation of pamphlets, trash dissertations, transcriptions of illicit video . . . The management knows but turns a blind eye. They don’t touch it, they’ve left the intelligentsia alone for some time. So the intelligentsia steals, and they steal very methodically, with tact and independence and grace. Which is exactly how the intelligentsia should be, independent and humble. They steal as a symbol of protest, to dig up and shake up and siphon from the foundations. Bandits and komsomols will devour the basic structure, but the foundations, of course, will be devoured by proletariats of the intellectual class.
“Of all these publishers circulating underground papers beneath the government, and the pamphlet bootleggers, book counterfeiters, and street peddlers, I am gathering an organization, which the mainstream would call the mafia, but our stream will call . . . I don’t know what.
“Our mission: to bring all the illegal business in our publishers—intelligentsia and these friends of mine—together under our control, and then all the publishers conducting illegal business across the country, and then all the legal business, too.”
“Well, in all of them . . .”
“Okay, most of them. We’ll make enough money, ideally hard cash, to buy them all within a few years when privatization begins, and it will definitely begin. We will create a gigantic publishing conglomerate—legally, and we will have so much influence on politics, and so much authority and power . . .”
“We’ll be magnates. We’ll be like the sun,” mused Yegor, feeling the liquor glow.
“Right now we have three streams of income. The first—almost legal. To move all equipment and staff to cooperatives, to initially and privately make books, and sell them. Right now, this literate country will go for it. They’ll go for Nietzsche, Platonov, Nabokov, Hemingway, Chase, King. Our native bestsellers will emerge, too. Business will boom.
“The second stream—completely illegal, a black market of literature. Left-wing circulation, unlicensed texts, publications without authorization or rights. Basically, intellectual piracy. And just like that, a monopoly, a stronghold on typography, special interest stores, et cetera.”
“This is so amazing, Igor, I could just kiss you!” cried Yegor, but he didn’t know how to kiss another man, so he didn’t.
“The third stream is . . . neither here nor there. It’s legal, but frowned upon. Not sure that it will work, but it’s worth a shot. Literary counterfeits and pranks. The ‘lost appendices of King Lear’ that were ‘found.’ Sensationalism. We just need someone to compose them in Old English and Old Rusian. Like a made-up Nostradamus. Rediscovered journals of Hesse. Intellectual provocations aimed at pretentious idiots. Pseudoscientific theories. Friedrich Engels—a woman, the lover of Marx’s wife. Shit like that. Premium pricing, in small circulation. All in all, a boutique of falsified gems.
“And I think a lot of rich and political guys will show up. Some of them might want to sponsor intellectual and creative people of raw talent—who isn’t a failed writer? They’ll have a bunch of young girls with them, starlets who want to sing and act. And we’ll be there with movie scripts and songbooks. And then the boss, who will want to go down in history as a great poet. A dramaturge. A new-wave Griboyedov. We’ll have a whole crew of talented but awfully impoverished and alcoholically weak-willed poets. We’ll buy whatever they have that’s been lying around, whatever poems and plays they don’t need. We’ll buy them for cheap. But we’ll sell them to the big bosses and executives for price tags that Tolstoy wouldn’t even have dreamed of. Two hundred dollars an hour to bang on a typewriter at corporate parties. And we’ll produce them under the executive name for the executive budget. They’ll be expensive productions. And the poet—that’s for life. Then we’ll always have to pretend to be poets for these bankers and execs and pass other people’s poetry off as our own. We’ll have constant clients. It will be like a drug for them. So, Yegor, a collaboration in this third stream of organized income is what I wanted to—”
“—offer you. If you’re in, then, firstly—”
“What, what do I have to do?”
“—you must kill Fedor Ivanovich.”
“Right now. For bonding, I’d say, and dedication . . .”
“No matter. Just . . . with a firearm. I couldn’t stab or strangle him.”
“Here is a gun. Fedor Ivanovich, Fedor Ivanovich, could you come here for a minute . . .”
The old man entered with a tray. First his tea set exploded, then his heart. One cup remained intact and into it poured the wounded Fedor Ivanovich’s multicolored blood as though from a samovar. Strangely, the old fart didn’t fall right away, but stood and stood for a long, long, long time. And that whole time, the shot sonorously echoed as if in slow motion throughout the room. Then he fell, unconscious, transforming into some kind of rag doll, and lay there, not splattered all across the parquets but modestly folded up.
Yegor pulled the trigger of his killing machine until there was nothing left to fire. Its remaining bullets shot out all around the room, Yegor shooting not at Fedor Ivanovich but into some dark abyss projected from his own loneliness.
A floor above, in apartment #50, a shitty apartment from which the police escorted a family of criminals about every six months only to see a new family of criminals move in a week later, a group sat around a table chugging wine. One of them wiggled his ears and inquired, “Huh, they’re shooting again? Killing again? Downstairs?” “Let them kill, probably deserved it,” another one retorted. “Who, man?” “All of them, now refill my glass.”
“Congratulations, brother,” said Chief. He walked up to Yegor, took out a pair of scissors from his pocket, and artfully snipped Yegor’s hair. “You now have a haircut that is ready for a new duty, withdrawn from a perishable world into an eternal war. Consider yourself accepted into the organization. And you can know its name—the Brotherhood of Black Books. You are now a Blackbooker. Keep the gun for yourself. You can take some cartridges from the kitchen cabinet. All right, now, pour some more liqueur.”
Natan Dubovitsky is the pseudonym of Vladislav Surkov, senior advisor to Vladimir Putin and considered the architect of Russia's "managed democracy"
Hera Coke Syn
~Sry Wang Van
I don't ride wa
Ves I maki wavs
Nicht ride daemos
Gogs gags cops putas
Plato nix Sí no Morse
Kop Kapa Kopayy
Wtf ist das?
Bak 2 werk
Keys to Havana
Ist not cute
Add a fact:
Run out of
All you wen\
Nah do is av
Def com syv
Action out on
Your wet veins
Holla bak 2 PKK
Of da wrista Brits 2
Slaps bloods to bursts
Krypts 2 frozen frightags
Kant can't save
I admit saviors
Are boring but
Men Enlighten me
But neither kan
Barbados or Ken
What is it to be
Salve or is con
Testament to worlds
Which love to be burnt
Content ad infinitum
Like all relationslips
Splurges of words
Warped into merc
On capitalism is
Added on out
If you don't under
Stan this Id would
Probably be worried
I only spout this trite
Baruch If I die tonight
You might also spin/
Tink see you
Later or on
Lines in & out
Thou salam ally
Sion ATSifa Re Vol U
Paro Dies bist far
Too much Ov Ten
Tel Parables wit out
Prax Xistantial pre
Lawyers Av Nt U Hr
Doxa mining docks
Kunt Kon Kuhnst
Parabelles bitch doxa
You know Dada drill
Or du u Proproietras?
Neo NLogos Bannon
SEO Lame Mao
Lmao you know
Fashion & music
Out of ideas once
They have to
content farm &
So as not to
Where the 1%
Blow their loads
Rose Knapp is a poet, producer, and multimedia artist. She has publications in *Lotus-Eater, Bombay Gin, BlazeVOX, Hotel Amerika, **Gargoyle*, and others. She has a chapbook forthcoming with Hesterglock Press. She currently lives and works in Manhattan. roseknapp.net
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I lay in bed awake from the weight of something
firmly pressing into my shoulders. Startled, I tried
to get up but couldn't. I nervously rubbed my hand
along the object of my oppression and felt what
could not be denied. Was this death? Even at my
arm's full length, I could tell there was more to this
dubious beast. Immediately, I dropped my hand
back to my chest. It felt like the pressure grew firmer.
At that point, I thought I must be dreaming. Why was
death so quiet? What did it want? Terror welled up
inside of me, the depths of which I never felt before,
warm and dewy like her skin after making love. I knew
at once this is what the angel came for. And to this
wretch, I gave her every ounce of fear from my black
body, and all the black bodies of my forbearers, with
the grace of a newborn fawn taking its first steps. I
made this offering for my dead. The dead intermingled,
tangled in the fear. The fear tangled, intermingled with
the dead. All of this had the same malignancy but
each carried with it a spiritual weight that even a
religious relic could not contain. As I exhumed this
something vague and immense, this ancestral grief,
the fear became one. Sealed together, but weathered
alone, each piece in various states of degraded beauty
but all one in perfection. I am still pursued by those
miserable shapes but the veil has lifted and I am sober
to its projections.
Why must I cast out the curse on this house? Let me
pour out the love that no one has wanted from you.
Silent as a grave. I make this offering to the dead. My
dead. Fuck your white horse and carriage. You can not
grow trees fast enough to murder your sins. What You
want, You can't buy now.
Yes, this shit goes way back, but I have learned that
the pain doesn't kill you. Remember when all you ever
wanted was a 100 million dollars and a bad bitch?
The Gucci? The Louie? The Fendi? The Prada?
I was dark, wasteful, and wild. Now the preacher is
growling, save us, lord.
We are all America's most wanted, hunted by the same
children that chased down my ancestors. I make this
offering to my dead. I am grieving, but this is not an
eulogy. I have stopped trying to understand why this
happened or how this happened. It's here. It's happening.
But I am a survivor. I survived child abuse. I survived
being whipped. I survived molestation. I survived being
bullied. I survived slavery. I survived Trayvon's murder.
I survived Rodney King's beating. I survived AIDS. I
survived being called a nigger. I survived being called
a bitch. I survived the Freedom rides. I survived the
Civil War. I survived the Nazis. I survived the Great
Depression. But I am not brave. Nor am I special
because I survived. You just do it. You just keep moving
forward. It's not a choice. There is no trick to surviving.
Some of us leave traces of our soul behind in the places
where our innocence was lost. Too exhausted to fill the
holes left behind, one begins to realize that these
violations don't just take something away but they
start to push you forward.
Yes, I had to remove any essence of my humanity so
that the parts beaten into perfection would not leave
me mute. When one personality is not good enough on
its own, I learned to throw all of them at you hoping that
would make up for my dullness. It didn't. You saw me.
I always rode the edges of failure, never quite succeeding.
Like the boxers in Paul Pfeiffer's video, I danced alone.
Fighting in the ring with my own fallacies. I make this
offering to my dead. I do not feel as if I have the energy
to fight. I am seduced by the sweet tyranny of stasis.
Like the Grecian Io, my people are banished. Maybe
someone else will do the work?
They ask me...How did you do it? How could you stand
all that pain? I would just die...no, you wouldn't die. You
would learn to lay still. You would learn to hold secrets.
You would learn to scream silently through your smiles.
You would survive. You don't know how to kill yourself
at the age of eight.
But this isn't about my survival. This is about a country
that is soft. That has never been bombed on the daily.
That has never had to flee to another country to find
work. That has never had to endure another regime
through a cycle of sons, who beget more sons, who
beget more sons, who beget more sons. How will we
do it? I no longer know how to lay still. I will not keep
your secrets. And screaming is not enough.
I saw granddaddy today...well, actually I saw
granddaddy's mustache. One of those thin lines above
the top lip. He whispered, Don't worry child, God will
soon come. No, granddaddy. God is not coming. God
will not bring down salvation. God will not save us.
We are the Gods.
The ancient Greeks believed the Universe created the
Gods and I believe America created us. I make this
offering to my dead. And with it bring back their fury.
Heather Lynn Johnson is a writer, photographer, performance artist and poet, living in New York. Her work is characterized by its lyricism and cultural critique. Through the use of imagery and the written word, Johnson explores being other-ed in a consumerist society by mining the history of gender, sexuality, and the racialized body. Her formal approach to the narrative, whether visual or poetic, is distinguished by her willingness to lay bare her own existence. Johnson received an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and her BA from Columbia College Chicago both in Photography. Her work has been exhibited internationally and most notably at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture's exhibition of Ntozake Shange's choreopoem i found god in myself. Johnson is currently the 2016 literary fellow for the Queer|Art|Mentorship program.
Connor Messinger is a poet, writer and translator. Her book "The Land Was V There" was published by 89+/LUMA Foundation in 2014. Her poems, writing and projects have appeared in HTML Giant, Molossus, Powderkeg Magazine, Packet-Biweekly, Sensation Feelings Journal, RamonaWeb, and Imperial Matters.
In honor of its one year anniversary of physical incarnation, TROLL is now free to read online
Theadora Walsh's written work has been published in Kaleidoscope, Kitsch Magazine, SleepPrint, 11.33”, the Cornell Literary Review, and elsewhere. She was awarded the Wood/Tarrow grant to study Hungarian fiction in Budapest and an Andrew W. Mellon fellowship to create text-based digital art.
A strange flickering bespeaks—what? Some distant megastructure, perhaps a Dyson sphere? Clickbait fodder. Idle speculation of the wonder-junkie. Yet the thing, whatever it may be, is not spherical, which is the whole point. Unless it be the remnant of some collision, a chunk of planet imperfectly strobing the starlight. Which is it, then—accident or design?
Must a taxonomy take the form of great chain of being, the God at the top, toward which all energy flows?
I remember learning about the kingdoms in biology, about the archaebacteria, who in their lately discovered existence had come to crash the party. Now I see, via the most cursory online research, that the once definitively demarcated territories of life have become only more contested, more embattled.
I remember the question of the virus.
A taxonomy is a living encyclopedia. Like all encyclopedias, it is a work of the imagination, a spell that requires constant attention, or it will break. An imposition on reality. A taxonomy is like a map, a political map, and it makes enemies of these disparate kingdoms: like all maps, it is an act of violence.
Borges: “If we explain (or judge) a fact, we connect it with another; such linking, in Tlön, is a later state of the subject which cannot affect or illuminate the previous state. Every mental state is irreducible: the mere fact of naming it—i.e., of classifying it—implies a falsification.”
Bear in mind that Tlön does not exist, but is part of a hoax, a fictional construct within a fictional construct.
Le Guin: “Many a mage of great power . . . has spent his whole life to find out the name of one single thing—one single lost or hidden name. And still the lists are not finished. Nor will they be, til world’s end.”
Bear in mind that magic is not real.
“Proliferating difference.” The universe as difference-generating engine. As a medium, a canvas, a page, on which mutations are to be written in nucleic acid. But what then is the quill, and whose hand holds it?
Taxonomy is the grammar of life, and like all grammars, it confounds itself. The language of Pirahã seems relevant here, the tongue of a very small indigenous Amazonian population, heavily intonated, such that entire statements can be whistled, requiring no further phonemic elaboration. As I remember, the problem of Pirahã was that it invalidated some previously unimpeachable Chomskian universal linguistic principal, therefore requiring that particular taxonomy to be revised.
A taxonomy is always under construction, like a body, like cybersecurity measures, like New Jersey.
If we discover life on other planets . . .
When we discover life on other planets . . .
If/when we discover life on other planets, will we become part of their taxonomy, or they ours? To what extent is technological sophistication relevant to this question? To what extent, moral, psychological, spiritual development? To what extent apparent physical ferocity, i.e., horns, tentacles, auxiliary protruding jaws, what have you?
Too many questions? How they proliferate, like horny paramecia!
The mind’s taxonomical impulse far outstrips the varieties of real life, however inexhaustible they may in fact be. Cue an explosion of mythological bestiaries. Sea serpents, dragons, unicorns, yetis. Enter speculative fiction and cinema. Aliens of all sorts, humanoid, reptilian, fuzzy, slimy, physically present, or abstract like viruses, concepts, informational processes. This is the representation and categorizing of life as it exists in the dream state. Even there, in that obscure country, we must articulate our taxonomies.
I watch as my metaphors bleed into each other and do nothing to stop it, because this is not a taxonomy.
What, then, am I doing here?
Two peculiarities. The first: these section breaks I use, Ψ, the Greek letter psi. I’ve chosen the character because it is the penultimate, that mark directly preceding the omega, which concludes the alphabet. I have chosen psi because it reminds me of the unfinished quality of the taxonomy, how it is never concluded, never truly complete. Always another beast comes crawling from the denuded forest, demanding to be accounted for, converted to use-value.
The second: these questions that keep popping up. Reading back, I see I have anticipated this sentiment. “I remember the question of the virus,” I wrote, and perhaps in that remembering I was also imagining the question itself as virus. The question marks seem to reproduce themselves across the page; the more questions I ask, the more curious I become.
The question of the virus, of course, is: is a virus alive? Does it deserve inclusion in our taxonomies?
I imagine an alien world with its alien ecosystem. Perhaps I go to the work of representing it in all its interdependent complexity, my own attempt at a Codex Serafinianus. How easy, then, it might become to lose oneself in such an obsession, to give oneself over to the schizogenetic act of naming.
Let’s get down to it. A “taxonomy” is an arrangement of names. To name is to attach a word to an object. A word, in the spoken iteration, is an arbitrary sound vibration. A taxonomy, then, is a reduction of the complexity of animal life into progressively encompassing sounds. What, then, is the most encompassing sound, the over-sound?
Answer: the one name to which all the names of the taxonomy belong is, in English, the word “life.” But the word “life” is not included in any taxonomy. It is the absence that endows the other words with meaning. It is the silence that gives meaning to the sound.
Le Guin: “For a word to be spoken, there must be silence. Before, and after.”
I see now that my etymology of “taxonomy” was false. It is not an arrangement of names at all: nomia means distribution. An arrangement of distributions, a distribution of arrangements. Something of a tautological ring, if you ask me.
A list. A list of lists. A list of lists of lists.
Sam Stoeltje is a writer and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up in Texas, and is studying the tarot and other forms of divination. His favorite fictional hero is Jesus Christ.
Michael Frazer currently researches and teaches at Auburn University. His writings tend towards the absurd and experimental. Because words are are a game to play. His writing has appeared previously in Neon as well as in Used Gravitrons, Parable Press, Kudzu Review, and Bellow Literary Review. For updates, follow him on twitter: @micfrazer
Emmalea Russo is a Brooklyn-based artist, writer, and member of the Ugly Duckling Presse editorial collective.
Alina Gregorian is the author of *Flying Bark* (Coconut Books, 2016) and the chapbooks *Navigational Clouds* (Monk Books, 2015) and *Flags for Adjectives* (DIEZ, 2015). She curates Triptych Readings, runs a video poetry series on the Huffington Post, teaches at Rutgers University, and lives in Brooklyn.
odam alaki is the pseudonym of a poet and playwright from Tehran who currently lives in Isfahan, Iran. Navid Sinaki is an artist and writer. Though born in Tehran, Sinaki currently lives in Los Angeles.
Christopher Rey Pérez is the author of the chapbook "On the Heels of Our Enemies", which was published by 98Editions in Beirut. Other writing appears in Better: Culture & Lit, The Brooklyn Rail, PARAGRAPHITI, Shoppinghour, and more magazines. He’s the recent recipient of the 2015 Madeleine P. Plonsker Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize for his manuscript, “LOVE PANT ALIEN.” Currently, he lives in Palestine. He’s originally from el Valle del Río Grande de Texas.
r.lew is a complete genetic mutation, boasting the label of "red-headed, left-handed, identical-twinned homosexual artist".In addition to writing, r.lew works as a performance artist, theatre-maker/actor/director, dancer, and solo saxophonist in Providence, RI.
Joshua Kleinberg lives in New York. He is an MFA candidate in Poetry & Translation at Columbia.