In the same fashion as other M Kitchell titles (some of which have excerpts reprinted in this book), Experimental Men is difficult to classify. To a certain extent, it is a novel-in-stories, with a scattering of short narrative routes assembling together into a larger tableau. But this label falls short. The narrative routes are intentionally non-narrative. The larger tableau is enigmatic and obscured. It is a novel-in-stories only inasmuch as these scenes feel connected. Like they are built from the same materials. They occupy the same desert–disparate buildings across an empty plain. Over fifteen segments, images and routes begin to accumulate. The desert setting grows larger and more enigmatic. The text expands into a labyrinthine collage of occult landscapes.
Experimental Men classifies itself as a work of “gay experimental horror porn.” Distinguishing between, the text, the body, and the body as it appears in the text. Examining how the subject is afflicted by their occupation of certain unknown spaces. The uncanny experience of performing in a textual facsimile—in which the novel attempts to replicate reality. “I WANT MY OWN LIFE TO EXIST OUTSIDE OF THIS TEXT.” While the haptic nature of the text is not always in focus, it infects the surrounding fantasies. Characters feel as if they are performing. As if they know that they are extensions of the author and their will. Each page taking on theatrical qualities. Becoming the physical space of the actor.
Kitchell opens half-healed wounds. “Let me describe the blood.” He lays his arms across the séance-table. “I will bleed my body and see what images follow.” The creation of the text appears occult. A ritual enacted with the hopes that it will vacate this vessel of certain unwanted desires. Hoping that after this there will be no more fictions / no more narratives. Kitchell assembles the final novel: Experimental Men. Essence extracted until the body is emptied.
“Let me describe the blood.” The text feels as if it is not made from the same material as other books, but instead only made to appear as if it was made from those materials. It parades itself as the book you thought it was, but cracks begin to show. The mimic forgets its posture. The text mentions itself. Pages change orientation or color. Type shift from traditional to scattered / digital to print-scans. In the Desert of Mute Squares (Kitchell’s last release) the reader was never allowed to forget that they were reading a book, that they were holding this physical object. Collaged imagery forced the reader to adjust and acclimate with each new page. In Experimental Men, the book’s physical presence is more elusive. The reader follows expected / projected narrative routes, they forget briefly what they are holding, then the page changes–the page turns black or the text changes layout or an enigmatic photograph appears—and they are reminded. A certain flow begins to take shape. As if entering and exiting dreams. Lulling into that hypnagogic state and then coming awake again.
“As I walk towards the minotaur he opens his arms and soon my relatively small frame is contained within him.” Across the fifteen sequences, Kitchell maps a desert of obscured structures. Where buildings lay in scattered isolation. Each with their own potential narrative routes. Floating in the space between dreams and reality. Unnamed subjects slowly explore their surroundings. One wanders through hidden hallways watching as others sleep in tanks. Another searches dilapidated factories for undead men. In these corporealized zones, the erotic elements of the text reveal themselves. Kitchell’s subjects ache for persona and body separately. There is a tactile desire for meat—to touch and fuck another living thing (man or minotaur). Then there is the obsessive desire to encounter another thinking creature—another person(a) that will speak with them, that will read the author’s script alongside them. The ‘porn’ of the ‘gay experimental horror porn’ tagline is accentuated in the emptiness of each sexual act. Always coming and never climaxing. There are no excitations in the wave. Sex is never the end of an encounter. It is another moment in time, another possible confrontation with the unknown. The minotaur is not a violent and deadly creature, it is another man to be embraced / seduced. “All of this to say, the two men fuck.”
Experimental Men was released alongside a companion short film titled, FROM SUN TO NIGHT which engages with a lot of the same motifs / images / ideas. Black and white footage maps the subject’s occupation of various enigmatic locales. Desert caves where the body pulsates until it is smothered. Stages where the body is traced by dueling spotlights. There is the sense that each new scene introduces another potential narrative route. One that will not be followed, but instead whose entrance we will linger around. Looking at the make of the door. Admiring the arches and thinking about what it could grow to look like. There is no guarantee that a story will be more fruitful than its entrance. FROM SUN TO NIGHT embodies this. It is the refusal of a certain kind of labor—the puritan work ethic / achievement through progression. It is disparate images forming the larger tableau. An ode to portals and wandering. Looking at their ethereal architecture.
As you engage with this final leg of the text, certain images begin to return. The last hundred pages titled, “Hotel” are built from repurposed materials. Motifs from earlier scenes are spoken in passing—someone we know of is mentioned by name, another mouth shares an earlier sentiment about the desert, the sun is worshipped, labyrinths are discovered, their inhabitants step out of obscurity. “Hotel” consumes its predecessors. It feeds on the imagery of the sporadic scenes that came before it. This repurposing resembles the behavior of my own dreams, in which the microscopic details of the past are used to inform an eccentric fiction—feeding the unknown with familiar imagery. Language approaches the uncanny. Sitting in the vague space between memories. The details that you would hope you could fill in. Scenes that you can’t remember whether they’ve come from your past or something you once read / watched. “Hotel” engenders the final step of a possession, giving you a vessel ready for occupation. The narrator, with weak memory and textual presence, welcomes your participation. The static speaks to you.
Experimental Men ends slowly, crawling into the pitch-colored night of the desert. With pages flickering between white and black. Time dilates. Pages fluctuate between full and empty. “a hallway that doesn’t end / the infinite white of the page.” The reader slowly treads behind, afflicted by the manipulations of the text. Kitchell speaks from a distance. Carrying you into the void. Over the horizon line of the desert.