Review of Chinese Letter by Svetislav Basara

Hear me out.
I realize Dalkey publishes challenging, subversive, and often experimental titles. I collect them. But I will be donating this one. I am sure many others will get more out of it than I.

I’ve listed some observations for your deeper consideration:

Basara’s existential experiment may appeal to some. The amount of assumptions a reader could draw from the text might take up more pages than the text itself. Unearthing authorial intent is not the only way enjoyment is gained from reading though. In summation, Beckett and Gombrowicz engaged in more engaging experiments, wrote with far more lucidity on similar subjects, and constructed more artful expressions of their solitudinous mental wanderings.

A few pluses and minuses for your consideration:

The author, narrator, character or whoever says: “I could write about my trousers for hours.” The existence of this book proves that fact. At least once he says “I don’t know what I’m writing.” There are many versions of: “I don’t know what to write. I have to write, I am writing [this], [that], and [the other].” Repetition, static tone, absurd humor, signs of automatic writing, directionless wandering, etc. all visit and linger upon the page, staking claims, but ultimately, floundering amid drivel and quick, cryptic pseudo-scenes.

In a sense, Fritz’s writing is a pathetic attempt to ward off death. A ghost hovers over him. It plagues him. The self-referential text is purposely structured and detailed in a sloppy, unaesthetic way. He writes like a man stumbling through the darkness of his own mind. The central conceit institutes a challenge to the narrator, to utilize 100 pages to free associate. The motivating factors are so random that one can only apply dream-logic to justify their propulsive force.

Though occasionally amusing results are yielded, it appears to me to be a fairly purposeless experiment, an incantation against emptiness.

The absence of narrative, plot, realistic characters, common sense, the subtraction of purpose, outline, moral. That’s what it comes down to. The writer is writing to validate his own existence. The consciousness is in a state of constant existential crisis. The suicidal thoughts are not comical in my opinion, though there are many attempts at quirky humor. Much of which elicited a distasteful frown from me.

His life reflects the randomness of his thoughts, and absurdist paranoia. Also notice an obnoxious tendency to disregard what he has just written, to dismiss it at every turn, shirking responsibility for writing it, claiming he was forced to produce it.

At one point he is paranoid that he is only dreaming he is writing, and not in actuality fulfilling his commitment to fill 100 pages. There is no real explanation for his behavior except for a panicky writing compulsion, which most serious writers should probably feel at some point.

While endlessly fretting about what he should write he invents his own false backstory, progressing in reverse chronological order till he reaches the stage of a spermatozoa and encounters a previous reincarnation. Nice touch, but too little, too late.

Many other things happen, or threaten to occur at various stages of this metaphysical struggle. I am at a loss to explain most of them, except from a Dadaist perspective. If you are a fan of David Markson or Beckett’s drier stuff, I’m sure your rating will differ from mine.

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