Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski

Thursday, October 3, 2013 § 1

An Innovative Double Narrative: Typ(o)graphic
Poetic Monologues in Only Revolutions 

A Review by 
David Detrich

Only Revolutions (2006) by Mark Z. Danielewski is an innovative novel published by Pantheon Booksa division of Random House, New Yorkwritten with typographical design in two columns which represent poetic monologues by the characters Sam and Hailey. Each narrative can be read by turning the book over to find a different beginning: one for Sam and one for Hailey. The narrative includes historical notes in smaller type in the margins, while the innovative typographic design enhances the esthetic pleasure of the text making the poetic monologues easier to appreciate as a work of literary art: with the use of historical language from the settlers who used variations in spelling, the abstraction of individual words and letters, even using colored type for the letter o throughout the novel. Hiking through the mountains the narrator Hailey mentions plants and herbs from an informed perspective with occasional short phrases of dialogue in poetic portraits. Only Revolutions 
shows the influence of Susan Howe, Nouveau Roman novelist Michel Butor, and James Joyce. For those who seek a more poetic approach Mark Z. Danielewski has written a novel that is comparable to the literary classics of the 20th Century with a sophisticated typographic design that heightens the appreciation for the individual words and coined phrases.

In the first pages of the novel Hailey describes her hiking experience with descriptions of flowers and herbs from a naturalistic mountainscape, while her thoughts appear as an interior monologue with short phrases of intimate dialogue.

                    I will sacrifice nothing.
                    For there are no conflicts.
                    Except me. And there's only
                    one transgression. Me.
                           Of course Daisies & Saxifrage.
                                          chear:—Race on Ruler.
                             This my Charlock Mustard
                          Bend by bend I lead every curve
                                                       Only Revolutions
                                                       Mark Z. Danielewski

She is the leader of her social network, and her thoughts appear in the omniscience of the narrator who reveals insight into her interaction with other characters, who are introduced in capital letters. Hailey is known as a good hearted woman who represents the future, and her poetic portrait is highlighted with contrasting medium and bold typography.

                                            I'm The World which
                                 the mountain descends from
                                and I laugh because it tickles.
                    Tansy & Tarragon sway. 
                             and though by a flick I could stop it all,
                                                                         I'm curious.
                      Stave Oaks thrush:
                                          —Never get stung.
                                                         Only Revolutions
                                                         Mark Z. Danielewski

Only Revolutions is reminiscent of the writing techniques of James Joyce in Ulysses (1922), where poetic naturalism is blended with the inner thoughts of the characters. Here is a quotation from the chapter Bronze By Gold in Ulysses which has poetic writing that is similar in style and introspective in mood.

A husky fifenote blew.
Blew. Blue bloom is on the
Gold pinnacled hair.
A jumping rose on satiny breasts of satin, rose of Castille.
                                                              James Joyce

Characters are introduced with capital letters in a style that is similar to the Nighttown section of Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce, where the poetic prose becomes dramatic with the introduction of the five soda girls.

                                                         Even if Five Soda Girls 
                                                       blouses & bangs,
                                                    weepingly implore:
                                           Bounce for some jacks
                                                            Only Revolutions
                                                            Mark Z. Danielewski

Only Revolutions has developed the interior monologue style of Ulysses with the poetic use of words to create an introspective voice: the mind perceiving itself in the act of perceiving, which creates the dramatic self-conscious mind that we have come to admire in the works of the philosophers. Irish literature has been influenced by this self-reflexive trend, and Mark Z. Danielewski has specialized in the lyrical qualities of poetic prose from the perspective of American innovative fiction.

                               Giggles then dribble from my lips.
                                    Bubbles to breeze. Thousands.
                              Not one popping. Bubbles forever.
                                                    Just floating forever.
                                                          Popping forever.
                                                    Only Revolutions
                                                    Mark Z. Danielewski

This mini-portrait from the beginning of Only Revolutions reveals a changing attitude by a narrator who is gradually being won over by the readers, among whom will be found myself. This mutual appreciation is found in the design of Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a novel-in-progress which exemplifies the typographical revolution of the early 21st Century: where the American innovative novel becomes a work of visuality, of art conscious page design, of added color to the text, and of a heightened sense of creativity fulfilling the dream of the new generation.

Oxygenation of theoretical blue ocean surface encircles the deep hued yellow metaphysical clock harmonics reading the angles of the Cubist book written in branches of celestial novelistic prose forming liquid syllables of poetic tweed which trace the sequential reader of vertical optical phenomenon comprising the ephemera of love 
                                       Dream the Presence of the Circular 
                                                   Breast Starfish Topography
                                                                      David Detrich 

There are two new books of critical essays, one is called Mark Z. Danielewski (2011) edited by Joel Bray and Alison Gibbons, and published by the Manchester University Press which features essays on The House of Leaves, The Fifty Year Sword, and Only Revolutions. Plus the new book Revolutionary Leaves: The Fiction of Mark Z. Danielewski (2012) edited by Sascha Pohlmann, and published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing looks interesting, both with well designed cover art.

Mark Danielewski's publisher recommends you read his new book, Only Revolutions… in incremental bursts. The idea is that, if you turn the book upside down and swing it around every eight pages, you can alternate the monologues of its two narrators, Sam and Hailey, so as to spin them together.
                                                                  New York Times
                                                                  Troy Patterson

The innovative novel Only Revolutions can be read in a number of ways, with the marginal notes suggesting the double narrative: the book has two front covers each with a narrative for Hailey or Sam.

Danielewski seems to be working in the same terrain where words in various font and print patterns as well as layouts vacillate between legibility and illegibility, perceptibility and imperceptibility. Of course, in the present instance, legibility and perceptibility relate to patterns of reading, ways of seeing or even ways of looking at the text, since Sam's and Hailey's textual streams which the book contains seem to be diminishing or increasing in size as the narrative develops, being simultaneously accompanied by long strips of historical data.                                         
                                                          'Print Novels and the 
                                                           Mark of the Digital':
                                                           Mark Z. Danielewski’s 
                                                           Only Revolutions (2006) 
                                                           and Media Convergence
                                                           Tatiani G. Rapatzikou

Only Revolutions is designed with ribbon place markers which make this a scriptural work written by a true believer which is symbolized by the two symbol on the spine of the book. I like the typographical design with the use of an individual color for the letter o. Only Revolutions by Mark Z. Danielewski is a modern innovative classic that uses both marginal notes and typographic design to convey a double narrative, each of which gradually reveals a minimal plot, yet more important is the esthetic appreciation the reader may have for the poetic nuances of the naturalistic text. The cool poetic dialogue makes this novel/artist's book an intellectually satisfying reading experience, and a direction in innovative fiction that integrates poetic writing with typographical design to produce an avant garde reading experience that is still intelligible and esthetically futuristic: the ratio of abstraction/intelligibility that makes Only Revolutions a foreshadowing of success.

David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. This year he is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He is the editor of Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations. 

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