3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Richard Hell continues to startle, shock, and energize the art world with his juicy creative spins, traits which initiated the Punk music era in the 1970s and have continued to challenge stagnations in music, poetry and literature with his naughty and knotty publications.
GODLIKE is Hell's homage to similar minds of the 19th century. Written as a memoir + essay from his hospital bed in 1997, his narrator (who sounds very like Hell himself) is the old poet Paul Vaughn writing about his obsessive love affair with a young lad, fellow poet "T." (Randell Terence Wode), a lad who migrated from the sticks of Kentucky to the wilds of beatnik New York and began a torrid sexual liaison with Paul, a bizarre symbiotic tryst that carried them across the Eastern seaboard in a drug and alcohol induced stupor. And if the story sounds familiar then that is part of Hell's success. The story updates and parallels the infamous gay relation ship between poet Paul Verlaine and the disturbingly brilliant youth Arthur Rimbaud, two of France's most influential poets who changed their medium dramatically.
Others have used the Verlaine/Rimbaud biography to fine ends in film ('Total Eclipse' with Leonardo DiCaprio as Rimbaud and David Twelis as the older Verlaine) and in contemporary opera ('Season in Hell' by Harold Blumenfeld), but her Richard Hell not only pays homage to these great poets, he gives them contemporary words and poems and adventures that result in the most viscerally accurate vision of that duos' influence on poetry.
Hell writes pithy, tart, smarmy prose, describing the physical meanderings of sexual liaisons while keeping his eye clearly focused on the poetic geneses those encounters initiated. While not all of the short novel is successful (there is a portion when Paul and T. are not the focus when the writing becomes a bit too self-indulgent - aimless writing for words' sakes), when Hell is on target the story is captivating.
It helps considerably to have some background on Verlaine and Rimbaud's lives and works to appreciate the grit of this tale and taking the time to read some of the two poets' poetry will serve the reader well. But Hell's philosophical musings are excellent: "Those who die young don't know what they're missing! It's all worked out. The older one gets, the more one's drawn to the sky. And of course that's where one is heading. The sky of anti-admonition: a premonition. Not a threat but a promise. Heaven to flow in disintegration that way."
Richard Hell may not be in the realm of great authors, but is assuredly in the ranks of the challenging disrupters! He is worth paying attention to if you have questions as to the boundaries of literature! Grady Harp, October 05
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2006
Amidst our contemporary fog not only of war, but of idiocracy, theocracy, presidential flubbings of language and ethics, and hipster lit lite that's about as innovative as patented Starbucks coffee drinks, Richard Hell's Godlike shines as a transcendent, devastating work of art. If you're not reading this novel, you're just not engaging with the great literature of our time.
The novel performs the ecstatic, sublime, obscene, and unspeakable undifferentiation that is the place where art, death, and jouissance exchange body fluids. Its protagonist Paul, a twenty-seven year old married writer who becomes passionately entangled with the brilliant, teenaged upstart poet T., freshly arrived in New York from Kentucky, spins his tale from a rehab center as a series of flashbacks. These vertiginous low-rent Proustian recherches, woven from post-nervous breakdown, prescription drug zonedness, "like that confused half-awake state, that half-wit death twin" function as the fragile scaffolding or birdie depot from which past, present, and future take flight. Careening between a past already hazy with the sensory derangements of 70s downtown New York flâneur-dom and an equally precarious present, Paul's narration shuffles between impossible knowledge of T.'s and others' inner landscapes, and an uncanny verisimilitude. This is, of course, a beautiful, bruised rendition of the infamous Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, and Mme. Verlaine triangle. Through Paul's narrative the novel asks urgent questions: Where to begin or end, in art and in life? Whose egress, entrance, exi(s)t wounds, innards, poetry, mud, rubies, godliness are at stake when we fall in love and lust, try to create art, compose a life? Are windows/bodily potholes portals toward illumination or annihilation, do they gesture in or out, up or down?
The morning after T. first approaches Paul at a poetry reading, the two fall into the kind of dangerous, messy thralldom that our puritanical culture is so fond of policing precisely because it secretly yearns for and fetishizes it. Hell renders this incendiary desire, which contains the seeds of its own self-combustion, with a searing artistry that weds the epiphanies of passion to the rawness of unpalatable corporeal materialities and a 70's New York bohemia before the artists were edged out by corporate Reaganspawn and their yuppie heirs. No cleanliness as godliness around here; smears, smudges, suspect stickiness are ciphers for god, light, transcendence. T., the vomit-spattered, strung-out teen, becomes Him.
Unflinching, Hell finger-paints the morass of oedipal, bodily, and existential undifferentiation, the blindness and insight, that both fuels, and renders dangerous, untrammeled desire. Paul wonders whether he's T.'s clone, as a being and a poet; or T.'s father and survivor, since T. is presumed dead for much of the narrative. Frankensteinian anxieties for our time surface in this aperçu about the unknowability and unsustainability of boundaries between self and other, self and self, self's artistic creation and other's, each monstrous progeny's whose. Where do I begin and you end, which/whose/what came first, where do the loneliness of individuation and ecstatic terror of psychosexual contours' dissolution--what French philosopher Georges Bataille called continuité--liaise and/or pitch Molotov cocktails? T.'s schizoid, sometime lover Catherine, inhabiting a "spectacular hell" of a world bereft of hierarchies, can't discern whose arm is whose or whats, conflates insects and chairs, and after a drunken spell, inscribes his name with a razor onto her belly. Bodily engagements, incursions, leave marks, marring flesh, as words smear "eraseable typing-pages," and drugs burn starburst perceptions onto mental topographies, inducing "a warm overflow, a nice sound, like a mother's voice, or the happy baby, like sex, wetting your pants" ; the permeability of all these membrane passageways is abject and also godlike. Paris is a "gutter drain slobbering mud and rubies," as per French Symbolist poet Mallarmé's channeling of Charles Baudelaire channeled by Paul. And the macho, frontier America of manifest destiny, still flaunted in most mainstream cultural artifacts, here becomes "a big pretty she-male," a polymorphously perverse space traversed by the star-crossed couple on an anti-buddy-road trip.
T., the scruffy teenaged "scumbag", ragged-haired, is nonetheless godly, his poetry "gorgeous castles in the air...tethered by thick bloody ropes of guts (in the dawn)." Mundanity and innards are infused with transcendence, pimply imperfection with light. In one of many glosses on poetry and poets tracing phantom patterns through this narration, Paul shoots T., is jailed, and returns to him once; at twenty-one, T. has stopped writing, like Rimbaud. (Warning - spoiler here!) The final time, Paul finds him in his own hospital, but funereally arrayed, returned from whatever voyage he's taken, from Paul, America, himself, the world, forever. He's a relic or futile metonym, "like a statue heroically, pathetically attempting to represent something beyond its means...like a sign pointing at everything I myself can't reach, that I don't understand." Against the possibilities foreclosed on by death, by the inability of signs to mesh with or convey the godliness they gesture toward, to recuperate a whole that was only ever imagined to begin with, there is nonetheless this: "I know that love is real."