"The earth is all conceivable pain compacted into a single point."
This was, at least, a fast read. I had really wanted
to like this book, being as it is the first of the "Early Reviewers" program releases from LibraryThing
that I've managed to snag. But, frankly, my #1 take-away from reading Christopher Spranger's The Comedy of Agony: A Book of Poisonous Contemplations
was wondering how it managed to get published at all! I at first went to check to see if Leaping Dog Press was a "vanity press" through which Spranger had put out this book, but it appears that this is not the case ... they define themselves, however, thusly: "Leaping Dog Press and Asylum Arts Press publish accessible, edgy, witty, and challenging contemporary poetry, fiction, and works in translation, with Asylum Arts Press having an additional focus on surrealism and the avant garde."
... now, back when I was in the small publishing biz, I was certainly guilty of putting out works that perhaps appealed more to me, personally, than to any particular audience (and our sales showed this), so it is possible that Spranger is a friend of the editors, or a "favorite flavor" that they decided to go to press with that I, at least, do not find appealing at all.
Now, those who know me, or have read much of my own writing, would rather expect that I would connect with Spranger's brand of nihilism. This book is, if nothing else, unredeemed negativity cover-to-cover, and I've certainly "been there" myself. However, my reaction to the prose here is somewhat akin to being harangued by a smelly bum (oddly enough, the very subject of one of his stories) ranting on about some paranoid theory that just happens to come close to some secretly-held political view of one's own. You recognize the congruent theme, but do wish it wasn't in such a crazy and malodorous package!
As to the package ... the book is mercifully brief at 140 pages, with the first half being three sections of assorted "aphorisms" and the second a couple of dozen "commentaries" running from a half to five pages. There are some high points, some arch barbs that strike their targets dead on, but also material that seems "unedited" and somewhat flat, passages which could have been easily made better
with some basic effort. I believe the author has the skills
necessary for this (as there were many quite well-crafted phrases through the book), but not the intent.
These thoughts led me to my second "Hmmmmm..."
moment of the book, as the failings, both literary and philosophical, were so blatant that it made me wonder if the entire exercise wasn't some "Discordian working". After all, there is a rather detailed bit of text (appearing on the back cover, as well in the promotional materials for the book) which pretty much sets up the book's original intents with some lofty goal of re-visioning Dante yet admitting going nowhere close to where that would have been. Thus this being the book which isn't the book that would have been the book had this book been the book that was initially intended to be the book ... sounds mighty Erisian to me!
As far as what's on the pages, it's all about pain, and horror, and fear, and loss, and sadness, and God and the Devil, and the Reality of Being ... none of which is pretty. I'll share some choicer bits with you here, these from the first part of the book:
"There is no scream of horror that could not be mistaken for an exact description of the universe."
"Only in our most violent fits of self-loathing do we get a glimpse of what it must feel like to be God."
"History is a catastrophe in progress."
"Life is a question of intensity, not of time. A tortured poet lives more in twenty seconds than the rest of us do in twenty years."
"Supposing this life to be some kind of undisclosed intelligence test, I doubt any but suicides are getting passing grades."
And these from the later section:
(from Stoicism's Mistake) " ... Aware that man does not desire to escape pain but to stuff himself full of it, the Christians took a more sensible approach. ... Going to any lengths to gratify our weakness for the Worst, they made masochism into a virtue and martyrdom into a goal. And for the grand finale, they decided to represent their god as crucified: a brilliant marketing strategy ..."
(from The Unconquerable?) "... A manmade catastrophe could wipe out every creature on the face of the earth, effectively putting an end to the scourge of reproduction, but it doubtful if even then life would admit defeat. In fact she'd probably scarcely take notice. Who cannot envision her, one hundred years after this supreme devastation, creeping through some crack and comporting herself as if nothing at all had occurred?"
As you can see, there is a wry tone operating here which, combined with the stated (and notably unapproached) aims of the book, place the entire project into a realm more in the Discordian or Sub-Genius type than the Hell that Spranger nominally sees all existence being.
If there were any one thing to recommend this book, it would be the piece entitled The Unenlightened
which should be required reading for anybody who has ever studied Eastern religion/philosophy/metaphysics! Positing that those of us still extant are simply the dullest of the dull, relating to the author's own bothersome embodiment, it would be well worth quoting in its entirety here, but I won't for length, as well as to give you a reason to at least pick up a copy to page through (91) when you're next at a bookstore.
Being that this is a new book, it will likely be at the bigger brick-and-mortar stores. If you feel like thrashing about in some oddly-framed nihilist goo, you could get this on-line as well, it's 22% off cover via Amazon, and is already available at a considerable discount from their new/used vendors. I really can't recommend this, but if being stuck in a car with a bitter, suicidal, yet still-funny friend sounds like a swell way of spending a couple of hours, this might be something you'd enjoy.