Man’s Wars & Wickedness: A Book of Proposed Remedies and Extreme Formulations for Curing Hostility, Rivalry, and Ill-Will by Amanda Ackerman & Harold Abramowitz
Bon Aire Projects, 2017
218 pages / Bon Aire
“It begins with the way things often begin,” begins the mystic, oral tale-like voice. Indeed, lines such as this seem to resonate as though spoken aloud from some eerie, indefinite space.
I wanted to locate that voice.
So, I read lines to my husband: “Either something is in the process of staying or in the process of leaving, or evaporating.” He nodded like, “hm, interesting,” and went back to his work.
So, I turned to my dog, and read: “Even that which is not disposable. Like a good solid table.” My dog cocked his head, then looked back at the toy he was chewing, which probably seemed a good enough, solid enough substance in his mind.
So, I went to my neighbor’s apartment, where I was watching his cat in his absence, and read: “Either you want something to stay, and keep on staying, or begin its process of dissent.” The cat made a small, trilling sound, and crawled down into a crinkly parachute tube, and batted at the shadow of my hand.
I then read the rest of the book aloud to her, that way. This felt like the ideal reading situation.
Insomuch as Man’s Wars & Wickedness…narrates a singular story, it relates many episodes in the mythical landscape of Swabia, the “healthiest region in all of Europe” filled with rejuvenating springs, great cultural monuments, and a regional obsession with gooseberries. Everyone—from Samantha (love interest to the haughty Lord Burlington, writer of a manifesto, and companion of the mysterious Blue Ox ) to Tom Terrific, The Acting Mayor of All Swabia— appears to be consumed by their own quests to make sense of the world. The philosophical observations of these characters—who behave comically, stiffly, yet realistically, like human hand puppets—commingle with the “scientific” discoveries of humanized abstractions such as “The Dynamic Notion,” “The Dependable End,” and the exotic “Rose at the Back of the House”. In its tone, structure, and design—with a minimalist, textbook style cover, sectioned into fabulist case studies such as “The Process of Digestion Decided to Study Counterculture Scientifically” and “The Articulation of Suffering Sought Out to Study The Man Who Turned into a Store Scientifically”—Man’s Wars & Wickedness…reads like a poetically polemic, polyvocal treatise of pseudoscience.
If this description sounds incredibly broad, ambitious, and absurd, that’s because the book is: it contains so much delightfully messy, gleefully sprawling strangeness. Strains of eco-philosophy scribble around with musings on mortality, decay, and fashion (gooseberry coats abound and everyone must have one), and the whole book is draped in gauzy, yet prickling reflections, simultaneously precise and universal in their application. To provide one of my favorite examples: “Therefore, today, in the case of human disease and discontentment, one must practice the art of counterculture. Of making it exist. That way you’re having the right reaction to an intolerable world.”
Numerous moments bespeaking shortsighted consumption, climate change, and fumbling leadership certainly evoke the world we currently occupy; however, between the book’s anachronistic titled-chapter structure and formal tone, it reads as a truly timeless work. Coupled with the holistic sensation of two authors working together, the book’s multiplicity of voices—subsumed into one, singular, tale-lake narrator voice—allows it to contain multitudes. With its capacity for burlesque, Man’s Wars & Wickedness…reflects the ironic wit of Voltaire. With its observations of strange customs and rules of social engagement, it reminds me of Renee Gladman’s Ravicka series. With its atmospheric fragmentation—wherein each individual section functions effectively as its own descriptive world—Man’s Wickedness… reminds me of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.
This is all to say, Man’s Wars & Wickedness…deliberately generates an echo chamber of blurred reflections, a cacophony of conflicting ideas which cannot coalesce into one narrative, but nevertheless resounds through one book, one strange unified storyteller voice. This is all to say, perhaps this voice—in all of its uncanniness—reveals the futility of our most ambitious “scientific” studies of nature.
Perhaps these stories were meant to be read as lullabies to a cat cradled in a parachute crinkle tube, batting at a shadow. “Perhaps,” as the book hauntingly suggests near the final pages, “you like it this way. Perhaps you like things to stay the same.”