June 2007

Blake Butler


The Revisionist by Miranda Mellis

The first time I finished reading Miranda Mellis’s The Revisionist, I started to turn the book back to the beginning and read immediately again. The book is only 82 pages, many of which only house a paragraph or depict ornate black and white collagist imagery, and the overall effect, as I felt it, is to feel in want of more. The nugget at the heart of this bizarre and wicked fever-dream of a book is a depiction of a world both on the verge of collapse and in midst of mutation -- some absurd realm where men explode as car-crashes and the threat of apocalypse hinges on one lazy girl’s duty to seal envelopes. But I stopped myself from rereading The Revisionist immediately. Instead I lay back on the bed and let it jar around in my mind. I found myself still thinking about it hours later, and beyond that, days, unable to shake the bizarre dreamlike imagery that'd so quickly been uploaded.

The frame on which this cracked riff of Kafka seems to ride is based around the observations of a woman, assumedly The Revisionist herself, who is assigned by an unnamed private institution to, “conduct surveillance of the weather and report that everything was fine.” The narrator watches from her observation tower, not so much recording physical weather as the weathered human ruin of a strange and unraveling world. She sees a man so confused that he turns into a conch shell by forcing himself into the ground. She sees people tearing off their own heads and running around with them. The world is made of flux. Even the forms of destruction aren’t fully palpable, or even natural. She says, “Buildings were curdling. The very air had faded, was pixilated.”

Mellis’s fresh portrayal of such a relevant-seeming kind of downward whirl of everything is not, however, the basis of a linear projection. Instead of an arc, we’re plopped in the middle. We’re made a witness to things left unexplained. The narrative weaves between a wide cast of helpless characters -- dissolving fathers, daughters who wear their father’s head. As well, the illustrations provided by Derek White evoke a jarring swarm of information. Through most of the depictions, text and collage, I couldn’t help but think of an idea from Deleuze and Guattari’s text A Thousand Plateaus: "There are only multiplicities of multiplicities forming a single assemblage, operating in the same assemblage: packs in masses and masses in packs.” Indeed, The Revisionist seems not only to be an assemblage of ruin, but an assemblage of assemblages, each one weird and volatile in its own way, each slurping up and off the page and nesting in the brain like some wicked colony of dervished birds.

Indeed, in Mellis’s evocation, things come together and split apart, only to reform again another way, to burn and blip and blunder. Even the narrator herself doesn’t quite seem to know which way she’s heading. She leaves her position early on in the novel to join the masses fleeing to “Start Over Island,” a “dream getaway” sold by a get-rich-quick con-man as a solution, where, “One came to the island seeking a new identity, but found things the same as before.” Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of multiplicities becomes more and more apparent as we find that nothing in this ruined world is ever resolved, just reported over and over, reflecting itself to death: “For every event, there were multiple documents and artifacts, until there were more documents and artifacts than events.”

In the end, The Revisionist leaves the reader reeling, the brain glutted with wicked imagery expressed in looping, well-aimed prose. It seems less a story than a document itself, a transmission from not too far ahead. Perhaps a warning without answer, a photograph clipped from the center of some damaged splay. I have absorbed this document several times now, and will again, again, again.

The Revisionist by Miranda Mellis
Calamari Press
ISBN: 0977072371
82 Pages