vampyr film is a composite of the times it has lived through. Or hasn’t lived through, precisely. But almost. Or that it wld have lived through. Had it in fact lived.”
Published by Alienist Manifesto in 2020, Vampyr is certainly one of the most unique (anti-)novels to come out of the pandemic era, as punctual as it is fang-punctured, considering it was released a mere 6 months after the CDC declared COVID-19 had reached the level of a pandemic, released on All Hallows’ Eve, to be exact, and when it comes to pandemic literature, particularly during the Drumpf regime, it won’t likely be topped anytime soon, especially when we try and fail to enumerate the dull deluge of essays, poems, anthologies, and other works that rehash the same tired thoughts and feelings about this era. Let’s not forget that Camus wrote the quintessential pandemic novel over 70 years ago with his La Peste. Armand certainly did not forget this, rather he built upon it while also tearing it down.
After soliciting a copy from Mr. Armand himself, I confess it took me over a year to start reading it, daunted by its small margins, 500-plus pages, etc., but more so too fatigued from living the pandemic to read the pandemic, surviving the physical and mental claustrophobia, cloistered foibles, the teeth-gnashing nightmares of being hounded by the sneezing mask-less masses, the coughing coffin crowds confined, leaving even the introverts like myself feeling intubated water-boarded brained, despite the character Papa Walt declaring that “isolation is society for inverts!” in a brief section titled CONVERSION THERAPY. Nota bene: although etymologically related, an invert is not an introvert, rather it’s sometimes used as a shortened form of invertebrate and also as an outdated term for homosexuals.
So what’s in Armand’s plague-riddled, riddle-plagued La Pasta anyway? Not something so simple as a pulsing narrative (undead if alive at all)…better to allow the book to interrogate itself: “How many more Babel=rousers yet to come, their still=born cunning linguas still unborn? Still to extenuate, extemporise, extinguish?” The voice forms born in Vampyr—or deborn, deboned, cryogenically unfrozen—include text speak and Tweet speak (a fictional Herr Drumpf posting via @realpresidentchloroqueen), scientific and philosophical mumbo jumbo that puts me in mind of Miklós Szentkuthy’s Prae (another anti-novel except one that’s mostly monophonic and soporific), song lyrics (“QUARANTINE BLUES”), collage poems, emoticons, communiqués of resistance, upside-down news articles, quotes, koans, the components of blood, and a corny-copia of other coping mechanisms all lathered with Rabelaisian malaise (“Oh tabula rasa! Oh taboo thereafters! Oh tattoo their arses!”):
“THE ONLY KIND OF BOOK WORTH WRITING IS ONE THAT NO=ONE WILL EVER READ
Silence like the sound of all the world’s loose ends being cut simultaneously.”
There’s a whole section with a chorus indicated by a familiar tag:
Silence isn’t a happy ending! they said.
So rare, the artist assured of the future! they said.
It’s eight o’clock, the curfew’s already started! they said.
Life has shrunk to the dimensions of an eclipse! they said.
The streets are empty! How can you lead a revolution in an empty street? they said.
It’s less a use of Greek narration than it is a breed of meme, and why not let a Reddit user named EdgeOfDreams explain: “the ‘they said, they said’ meme is a way of making a joke about something unpleasant or horrible happening after being told it wouldn’t be so bad or that it would be good.”
Other than some instances of meme-ese, there’s the consistent invocation of G.O.D.’s vain name in IBM computer font, among a fount of other funky fonts throughout. And let’s not forget the long lists in that grand literary tradition, including a list of blood diseases and a few Therouvian flourishes like this freaky roster: “the monkey troop trespassed through the underworld, in desperate combat w/ steroidal rats, giant roaches, blind caimans, feral koi, pentecostal chuds, vegan troglodytes, conceptual zombies, vivisectionists, toxic avengers, undocumented fellaheen, rogue sanitation drones, child=snatchers, pathological fatbergs, Brent crude, radioactive dungbeetles, Nazi bunker moles, resurrected abortions, gulag wraiths, septic golems, nests of brainshocked vampyr bats, the lost proletariat.”
Did I say there wasn’t a plot, or not a lot of plot, well, the not-plot thickens, hypercoagulates into a funhouse-mirrored adaption outlined in movie reel descriptions, titled The Precognitions in a nod to Gaddis’ debut novel The Recognitions and—why not?—Armand’s own The Combinations too:
In a carelessly wrought & gravely=woven series of vacuous plots containing a legion of characters across four dimensions, we follow the adventures of Offensia – daughterson of notorious testosteryte, Edward Van Helsing, & the hapless Armandine, granddaughter of Armand=the=Apocryphal, great=grand=daughter of the ill=fated Comtesse – who, at a certain point in her unhappy life, decisively rejects the phallus in favour of the pen & achieves hard=won obscurity. Her pyrrhic quest is to make sense of contemporast reality, the poor idiot; to find significance & some form of order in the World=As=Such. Through the pursuit of Literature she hopes to find Truth. Her initial “failure” as a writer leads her not to copy but to composite in the style of the past mistresses, those who had found in their own time & in their own style the kind of order & beauty for which Offensia is searching. Her talent for forgery is exploited by a group of unscrupulous literary critics & businessmen who hope to profit by passing her works off as original old gold.
This not-plot is not the plot of the anti-novel proper—or should I say improper?—but those same anti-characters anti-play similar anti-roles. Allow me to copy the copy of that anti-plot and give you the gist: “Vampyr is the novel of the end times, that is to say, the epic/demic “new normal” of 2020. Set in the heart of Mittle-Europa’s Golemgrad under the spell of the deadly CORVID-69 virus, this multi-genre technicolour tale tells of the revenge of one OFFENSIA, an orphaned leader of the WILD GRRLS gang, who in tandem with the Š.V.Ǝ.J.K. insurgents take on the Corp[orate] $[tate].”
And maybe the director can explain the structure of the book itself via the way he “prepared a number of different scenes shot on different days w/ different backgrounds in advance but had no idea how they cld be organised into a sequence. Instead the Director left them that way w/out regard to the order of events / the story was simply what unfolded as the camera rolled / cut=together blindly on the editing desk.”
The anti-novel is subtitled “A Chronicle of Revenge” but revenge on part of the protagonist is beside the point—A Corona-cle of Re-veg is more like it. A book that possibly requires more attention even as it requires less, like enduring if not enjoying (or learning to enjoy) the drawn-out scenes of Tarkovsky’s Stalker (or dare I mention Panos Cosmatos’ Beyond the Black Rainbow?). Still, there’s plenty for the right reader to sink their fangs into among this Plague City that could be a play on Armand’s beloved-bedeviled Prague city, but the fragments this book is made of become variations of the same, the same with variations, variating sameness. Perhaps it would do to borrow this passage about the futility of writing no less, writing in a desolate place: “All one vast senseless map of sameness. As if the Earth had blown up in this sky & now only uniform spread of grey dust fog vagueness. No explanations. No apologies. But it’s not normal is it?” Certainly not normal…the new normal, and Armand at times reflects the fatigued feeling of that abnormal normal or vice versa virus. Vampyr is certainly a literary vaccine against thrombocytopenia, aka thin-blooded minimalism, as well as the whoreds of noxious MFA novels, but it could cause myocarditis in some impatient and inexperienced readers.
“Even if the plot’s going nowhere, there’s bound to be someone left when the lights go out, determined to watch to the very end.”
I interviewed Louis Armand here.
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George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, House of Zolo, Three Crows Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.