A few emails before, my friend was telling me an anecdote about the French author, Michel Houellebecq, who is a regular visitor to a bar where his friend works. We speculated about Houellebecq’s tastes as evinced in his writing — which, like Dyer’s, is often autofictional — for “fancy French reds.” We wanted to know more about Houellebecq, about Dyer, and we combed their texts for clues, as though knowing were the point. Reading this way made us feel cool. It also made us feel a bit fake.
In 1967, the French theorist Roland Barthes said the author was dead, shifting the burden of textual meaning to the reader. “To give a text an author,” he wrote, “is to impose a limit on the text.” In What Is An Author (1969), often considered a response to Barthes’s work, the French theorist, Michel Foucault wrote: “The author is therefore the ideological figure by which one marks the manner in which we fear the proliferation of meaning.” It was around that time that my parents, who loved books, bought vast numbers of cheap paperbacks, which were cheaper than they had ever been. My parents rarely saw even a jacket photo of these books’ authors who, until they died and their biographies were written, gave little or no account of their lives outside what could be deduced from within the limits of the texts they produced. Just as the idea of the author provided limits for the textual meaning, the texts provided limits within which these limiting author-figures could be constructed.
The rubber stamp is the official weapon of officialdom. Anyone who’s used one knows why: it feels great to smash a carved piece of wood and rubber onto a piece of paper, leaving an imperious mark where once there was empty space. Properly applied, a stamp is almost onomatopoeic, and its satisfying thump is the bureaucrat’s easiest pleasure. It’s a tactile expression of power: with a few fluid motions, you make a neat, loud sound, and maybe, depending on what the stamp says, you’ve just ruined the life of a total stranger.
Vincent Sardon, a French artist with a small shop in Paris’s 11th arrondissement, sees the rubber stamp as a kind of talisman of the bureaucratic West. A stamp, he argues, is never an impartial object.
The 20 stories in this debut collection from David Hayden are strange, uncomfortable fables of memory, metamorphosis, time, disassociation and death: hard to fathom, but impossible to ignore; twisty and riddling, yet with a blunt impact that reverberates long after the final page. They are dreamlike, but they feel like one’s own dreams, with the ability to change you from the inside out. A kind of primal violence runs through all of them, as though they are taking place in some collective unconscious. People come apart or are chopped into pieces, change from one thing into another, move through scenes that shift by the sentence yet are as starkly delineated as a child’s drawing.
Fry is an exuberant enthusiast and he invites us to share his enthusiasm; it’s an invitation easily accepted. Mythos combines authority and accessibility. Most readers will learn something, many a great deal; and all will find the experience enjoyable.