Ben Brooks and The Kasahara School of Nihilism – Youth for youth’s sake. (book review)
How is it possible to read the work of the unashamedly young when you have left that club and are happy to have done so?
When reading Ben Brooks I had the sense that another young man was calling for attention. Not mine. Not the attention of the generations that have gone before – except for a select group of writers (obviously Murukami is among them) – Brook’s mighty Yawp is aimed at that arbitrary enemy of youth, the heaving mass “out there” that “don’t understand” – or rather that “don’t get it”.
Or worse, do understand and don’t seem to care.
When I was in my early twenties, shocked by my own beauty and intelligence, it seemed impossible that I was treated with condescension by the older generations I witnessed live out choices like suburbia over art, money over noble poverty, career over antiestablishmentarianism, comfort over political fervor and stagnant relationship over sex. I heard rumors that these folk had been young once, and I was careful to avoid placing myself in a situation that called forth their condescension however I couldn’t shake the feeling they had caused their “age” by their own “giving up”. There is something about worrying about paying the gas bill that reeks of a trade made at some point.
It’s not till the late twenties that the trade is made, and is deliberate. Having the gas cut off becomes as tiresome as talking revolution into the night over cheap red wine. I couldn’t imagine feeling this way when I loved the pleasures of early adulthood, but then I had no notion of the cost of “revolution” either. Once that transition is made, its difficult to look at the literature of the young, the celebration of sex and carelessness as anything other than a precursor to the development of the real human being.
This is my experience reading Ben Brooks’ novella The Kasahara School of Nihilism. I found it difficult to shirk the mantle of “older / wiser” which I have no desire to take up, so the experience was sort of unpleasant from that respect. Perhaps it is the naive self reverence of the book that made me move to that position, but I found myself fighting it all the way through. There is an incoherence in the novella that has already been spoken of in many reviews as well, that is pretty annoying. But outside of the overwhelming desire I resisted for Ben Brooks to grow up, I found some truly beautiful moments of writing that made the book come alive for me.
Despite the need for Murukami referencing (again, a bit white college school boy for me) there is a beautiful core here, which I can see (or rather guess) is what Fugue were impressed with. I have isolated a few splices below that I enjoyed. In fact, I assume that is how this was written, splices plastered together, probably literally with tape, written while the author was undergoing some “extreme” experience that we’ve all been through.
Two policemen enter. They move slowly. Everyone moves slowly. They get married and then die. The Jesuit Priest is on the floor. Soiled underwear around his ankles spitting blood onto schoolroom tiles and laughing. Still laughing. Laughing at himself and the absurd policemen. Laughing at us. Laughing at the woman holding out a fistful of boiled sweets to his younger self.
Its as if the words are signs, pointers. They don’t tell a story, they reveal a story you already know that you unveil in the message that surrounds it. The policemen are simply men who will be born will marry and will die. Like all of us. And it is this that the Jesuit will laugh at. He laughs at all of us, and he laughs at is own ugliness – choice and not choice. He is spitting blood and he laughs at us, we who will be born, marry and die. He is abhorrent to us. We spend our lives keeping all he is at bay. He is laughing and he is always laughing and we wish we could, but we can’t really laugh back. Taken as a vignette, passages like this carry a profound grasp of life that seemed beyond Brook’s age. He will keep dragging us back to this youth he won’t forsake, but he can’t help these moments of lucidity that shine like gems.
His hands are up over his eyes and he is there.
When I was growing, there was this man next door who was barely there.
He would do nothing.
He wouldn’t move.
He just sat and existed.
Mother would go round and feed him.
She would prod food beneath his teeth and hold his nose until he swallowed.
Sometimes I would sit cross legged on the floor before him and wave my hand in front of his face.
When we went on Holiday he died
And then I think he was happy.”
“I want not to move.”
“my mother is dead.”
“You will feed me.”
“She died one week after him.”
“You will love me.”
“She died because she had let him die.”
“our wedding will be a solemn blitzkrieg of purple and pink.”
“Her face swelled and blistered.”
“Everyone knows we will be there.”
“And she melted away.”
Stories within stories, lines bereft of endings. No start and no end in the circular motion of narrative and what constrains and envelopes this thing called story. It takes great courage to read something offered the way Ben Brooks offers us his words. We have to suspend our needs for closure and initiations. We have do do away with “once upon a time” and “happily ever after.” We don’t have t do it, but we are asked to do it on behalf of a deeper part of ourselves Ben Brooks wants to find. He asks if we can just listen, just hear, just sit, just be. He asks if we can wear the mantle of reader and take his hand and trust. He gives us words encased in image, and images encased in words.
Its a strange thing about the trans formative pain of the human creature, it is so much more attractive when it is wrapped in art than when we are forced to confront us in an other we have near by. Its the completion of the narrative, the knowing too much. I can stand the others experience when I share it in the shadows. But I will kill it with my desire to know more and to get close. Demystification is acceptable in a corporation, not in a human creature Knowing too much brings us too close to ourselves and then we are creatures filled with abhorrence. Ben Brooks wants to give us the slightest detail, the smallest nuance, the narrative that teeters on the precipice of understanding and desire. He offers us the human creature in all its frailty and allows us to be one of them without judgement for the briefest of moments.
And it is a brief moment. The Kasahara School of Nihilism is only 110 half pages long; short even for a novella. I hesitate to describe it as a prose poem because of the baggage that phrase has managed to attract even before the prose poem has properly made its impact on history. This is a novella, a book with all the mystery and the partial object offering of a poem, but all the flesh and fat of fully blown narrative.
But this is also a novel about betrayal and lonliness and how many betrayals human creatures have to endure in their lives and how many failures and the endless optimism of love, the unshakable belief that in this new others lives, I finally have found the self that will make me satisfied. Happy. Content.
Skin is worn to flesh is worn to bone is worn to
A young boy picks up his trousers and cries.
Two riot police take his arms and lead him away.
“please” he says