7 thoughts on “Dark Arts by Eric Stener Carlson


    “The pendulum of the large grandfather clock in the corner of the room wobbled from side to side. The hands were almost at one o’clock, but they didn’t advance, and the clock didn’t make a sound, not even a ticking noise.”

    Until the tick become a tuk-tuk? A Zeno’s Paradox of a ‘living ghost’ talking to a little girl in Bangkok, with elements of Japan and Ancient Egypt. A most captivating work, a conversation ostensibly from a lady, about her life, her friendship with Janet, her counted deaths, her frozen ability of everlasting Zenoist time for knowledge alongside a counterpointed disability when breaking through the ice of such freedom, this conversation being in a room paradoxically with slow fans, while the girl’s father was at the British Club. A gifted maths book now becoming the golden book that will teach us to count, as I later counted more deaths for the lady than she thought possible! The infinite vanishing-point of a well’s measured eternity?


    “…reasonable suspicion that somethin’ hinky’s goin’ on.”

    I’m like the police officer arresting Rodrigo the ‘Latin American literature’ teacher at the end of the story, with me thinking there is something, well, hinky about this story and its historical conspiratorial rebellious backstory (was it Mexico?) and now somewhere else foreign on exchange, with the chewing gum under the coffee shop table, its suspect waitress and the telephone flex she made into a shadow or silhouette, I recall, and the school janitor Michael who was a bit ‘strange’ with his eye, and Rodrigo making himself responsible for clearing out the janitor’s basement after, well, after what? I know, but you won’t if you don’t read it. We are, meanwhile, allowed to read some of the book the janitor left in the basement with the staccato poems he had written in it. They mean more than the suspect poetry inside this story itself of moral turpitude. And that’s not me conspiring to be simply hinky. Most ‘literature’ is hinky, I guess. But was that his sister whom Rodrigo was talking to in the title?

  3. 3B75AF19-CE4D-4F64-A281-8AF9CFE24670

    “She never took pictures of whole things, just fragments of objects or moments that caught her eye.”

There’s something about the dark arts of this book that are themselves hinky. Well, you can’t have one without the other. And although I recognised the intentional pretension or artificiality of this story, I relished its preternaturally divining dark arts, too. The same as my gestalt real-time reviewing, I hope, whereby I take photos, too, photos of ready-mades, found art, like the art installation in this story of clothes hangers doubling as divining-rods toward gestalt; I actually sometimes include them in the manipulation of the book review itself, this story being of a woman who takes photos and then makes them into a story: three pictures, hem, racist, apples, small breasts, doe, truck. A woman on a bus fancying the conductor, a woman who also thinks of MoMa and ends up seeing her Momma, her Mother of Stones who is almost a rival in Art’s gestalt-game, her own MoMA at the family home, a house falling down in slow Zeno motion amidst the wilds where nobody goes,…
    “But she liked this wall, because she could read it like a script. ”
    “Just keep telling the story, until you run out of words. Then go in­side.”
    Images of Rosetti’s Mnemosyne (one of those rare words containing ‘nemo’), Romeo and Juliet, the war in Sarajevo, Odysseus, an ever-living cricket as lodestone, ‘interactive art’ becoming a co-vivid dream, death by virus, her father’s ‘apple tobacco’ …

    “Things got mixed up like that,…”

  4. Pingback: Eric Stener Carlson’s DIVINING ROD | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books


    “I know what hooky means.”

    And there is a photo showing a man with straw hat and cane, his arm ‘hooked’ around his wife’s waist. Just one item of this story’s minutiae, a story here about two characters, one a woman with a dubious husband as backstory, another a young man she hardly knew, in their tedious life in Geneva, and they dared platonically to ‘play hooky’, if not hinky, together, so that their lives did not turn as grey as the day, her job dubious, too, as empty as the field where the woman’s eponymous scarf had been spiked on its barbed wire fence. Why empty in rich propertied Geneva? And two stories with different plots but a definite synergy, both preternaturally reviewed today by chance, (the other story here: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/2022/09/25/the-red-haired-girl-penelope-fitzgerald/) and they need co-assonant reviews, and the woman finds herself, finds the missing young girl whom she once was, the girl now in that empty barbed-wired field. And she clambers over to tell her that she loved her. Not forgetting the roundabout of pretend horses they gate-crashed and then dropped off against the grain of spinning ground, against the gravity of migraine, and her old scar unaccountably bleeding red, if not another of the many scarves or scars she owned, as given to her by her husband! Impossible to summarise all the fascinatingly meaningful tantalisation of minutiae in this story. Much is missing in this review, but I managed to touch its scarf as well as the other story’s shawl.


    “It sounds like, ‘Duh, duh, duh, da-aah, duh da-aah, da-aah, dah, dah, dah, daa-aah’ and here it goes up, ‘daa-aah, duu-uuh . . .’”

    A blindfolded Evensong. A powerfully compelling script of a dialogue as a supposed duologue, full of a man’s memories of his life as if told to another, and that other who replies to keep the dialogue moving as if towards some suspenseful culmination or cut-off point as the sounds of their lethal fate approaches them down a corridor of captivity, and I will not spoil by telling you some of the details of the spoken memories of obsessiveness for completeness and an ultimate sought happiness, some of such events cut off by self-harming tantrums. This story is in instinctive kinship with a story as which it seems to be just as powerful (an enormous compliment), a famous story with a quite different plot and meaning that I happened by remarkable chance to review (here: https://etepsed.wordpress.com/2022/09/27/the-lottery-shirley-jackson/) only an hour or so before I read this Carlson. That glimpse of truth as an attritional tontine within a single self.

  7. Now I’ve whetted your appetite for this book, I am going to relish the rest of it in private.
    This is part of my recent decision, in my closing year or two, to significantly reduce my public reviews of books by living authors in preference for reviewing books by dead ones.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s