For I do not exist: there exist but thousands of mirrors that reflect me. With every acquaintance I make, the population of phantoms reflecting me increases.
— Vladimir Nabokov, The Eye
This is flat out one of my books of the year. Ian Penman sat down to write a book about the director/writer Rainer Werner Fassbinder, couldn’t get going, and decided to blast the book out in four weeks the way Fassbinder used to blast out everything.
How to recapture him in all his stubborn, unyielding, messy glory? How to proceed in the spirit of? I decided to try and write the way Fassbinder himself worked: get straight to it and get going right away. The very opposite of what Robert Musil called an aesthetic of postponement.
In something like four hundred numbered pieces, some no more than a few lines long, Penman creates a kaleidoscopic view of Fassbinder and that which surrounds him. Perhaps you, like me, only have a glancing familiarity with his work. Doesn’t matter a bit. Because it’s the story of a creative life and creative acts. And the cost of those acts:
Everything in excess: food, sex, drinks, drugs, cigarettes; but also work. Fassbinder gives the lie to the idea that productivity is in itself a ‘healthy’ thing. There is nothing necessarily ‘healthy’ about the pursuit of any demanding or difficult or very personal art. There may be cruelty involved, to self and others. It throws into question what we might consider a ‘healthy’ productive life at all. The line between self-medication and lethal dose become increasingly thin. The same thing that cures you of one malady exacerbates another.
Life lived at a hurtling rate: beyond a certain point impossible to tell whether it’s speeding up or skidding down or whether finally these now amount to the same thing.
It’s an insanely quotable book – “such palm-smoothed coin-words.” It’s an absolutely thrilling consideration of edge culture and edge creativity, time and place, damage and achievement, art and life.
Yet again, another winner from Fitzcarraldo Books. What an amazing house they are.
FASSBINDER THOUSANDS OF MIRRORS, Ian Penman (shop)