Sunday, July 26, 2009


If America needs, as is often said A WRITER that one writer is: WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN.

At the moment he is the only writer in America whose death I would mourn.

Vollmann is the only writer who might and might already be a genuine world writer to whom it would not be necessary to attach mention of his nationality.

No living writer in America can equal his accomplishments and of course you can go to Wikipedia or any of the other sources for all the back ground.
But I stake out my claim by listing:

RISING UP AND RISING DOWN: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means

(and I would also mention that there are 12, yes, 12 other books that flesh out… and do not clutter…





And its companion book IMPERIAL Photograpy by William T Vollmann

((((and I well know that eventually there is always a qualification so I will put it up front but the very qualification indicates the seriousness with which I take Vollmann.

As I read Vollmann I am reminded of :

Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Ernst Junger.

Vollmann, Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, Junger: the same mixture of riveting objectivity, the same urge to document, the same unashamed emotional identification with whatever they are writing about, the same acidic intellect, the same access to a language unafraid of a genuine apprehension of an always very real possibility of a crippling silence just ahead

And now the distinctions: Solzhenitsyn was actually a prisoner in the Gulag.

Dostoevsky was stood up against a wall and fully expected to be shot for his political beliefs.

Junger fought for five years in World War One in the trenches (receiving the pour le Merite) and was again in the army in World War Two, he actually did drop LSD with Albert Hoffmann, he did do real science as a ……..

And that is the vital difference.

Vollmann has been looking and always there is that distance… things have happened to him but they are a consequence of his looking… and this leads at time to a nagging sense of self-hatred that introduces a tiny thread of distrust into this reader’s consideration of his work…

BUT that is it… so as we move to why he is so central to my understanding of his importance. He is not part of the academy, he is not off in some drearily famous college teaching creative writing or literature, he is no darling of the academy, no one looks up to him, he is not cited as a good role model… he is discovered by word of mouth by readers passing on his books.

Sadly, he does have a literary prize but I am sure he knows just how worthless that is and is appropriately embarrassed by it: the only thing you get from having any sort of literary prize is that it guarantees an obit in the NY Times…


1306 pages about that part of California centered upon the Imperial Valley… you know where: south of Palm Springs, north of the Mexican border, west of the Colorado River, out there east of LA… a pendant to THE ROYAL FAMILY which was located up there around SF…

You open the book: grey pages black type… white squiggly maps… WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN. IMPERIAL.
A reproduction of a death certificate for a John Doe, Unknown Mexican issued by the County of Imperial, dated 7/29/24 but the copy was issued on Oct 22, 2002.
In Memory of SERAFIN RAMIREZ HERNANDZ unknown, missing, illegal, Mexican. CONTENTS
10 pages worth. More maps drawn by WTV.

Part One


A photograph of a huge cross on a hillside in Slab City.


I think we all feel sorry for ‘em
---Border Patrol Officer Gloria I. Chavez, on the subject of illegal aliens.


The All-American Canal was now dark black with phosphorescent streaks where the border’s eyes stained it with yellow tears. --- These lights have been up for about two years. Officer Dan Murray said. Before that, it was generators. Before that, it was pitch black.

He was an older man, getting big in the waist, whose face had been hardened by knowledge into something legendary. For years he’d played his part in the work first begun by Eden’s angel with the flaming sword…

It is RIGHT THERE with the “flaming sword” with “Eden’s angel” that my case rests for the genius of William T. Vollmann and if you do not get it, I probably cannot convince you of it though I will try in future posts … but you should get yourself to a bookstore to get a copy of IMPERIAL. I don’t think Viking is printing up a whole lot of this book and I am sure the book of photographs by Vollmann published by Power House books will also disappear very quickly…

I well know that a new Thomas Pynchon novel is coming out next week but I do know Pynchon is reading Vollmann’s book. Pynchon is self aware enough to regret the poor timing of these two books coming out at the same time. Just one of those things.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"A photograph of a huge cross on a hillside in Slab City."

It's Salvation Mountain.