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Reviews Fri Nov 04 2011

Review: A Brief History of Authoterrorism, Edited by Gabriel Levinson


If I judged A Brief History of Autho-terrorism by its cover, my immediate impression would be of something well-crafted, attractive, and somewhat confusing. A 1920s-style golden title winds gracefully around an equally golden man throwing a flaming book, entitled Read This! I did, and the stories inside were not unlike the front: slightly disjointed, occasionally beautiful, and overall a well-executed if not always cohesive collection of stories on the nature of autho-terrorism, which editor and Columbia graduate Gabriel Levinson defines as "the seemingly illimitable, sometimes violent lengths to which authors will go to promote their work." Pulling from the past and present, A Brief History is a collection of tales illustrating this idea to varied, sometimes powerful, generally interesting effect.

The author-terrorists of A Brief History loom large. Sometimes literally, as in Jeffrey Dorchen's "She Could Have Been Immortal", the story of a superwoman poet (Zatoichi) who is six feet tall, incredibly strong, and as familiar with kindness as she is with violence. She realizes "the authenticity of her relationships with fear and death and the inauthenticity of the money-manipulating class,", and goes on an epic killing rampage, shooting a former vice president in the kneecaps (this may not be far from a few reader's hearts), dismembering oil magnates, and killing those of a certain annual income. In death, her book of poems reaches publication, and "the death Zato the superhero samurai feared and fought off with her dreams of a literary proclamation of existence was...death, actual and mortal," leaks out into the world in a quiet, indirect literary legacy.

This is possibly the most extreme example of autho-terrorism. Other stories are less bloody but nonetheless legendary: art-terrorist DK and friend Lori take an exhilarating, illegal ride on the new Chunnel, their meticulously planned actions a mere blip on the cameras, but the first actions of an underground revolution. Some acts are even smaller in scale, such as "The Grip of Love", an intense, anxious love story that culminates in near-absurd violence for the sake of a literary inspiration. Not all autho-terrorism is selfless or even ethically motivated -- one of the shortest stories (barely 10 pages) details the manipulative promotion of a book of poems gone horribly wrong.

A Brief History packs a scattered punch, exploring the many aspects behind doing anything to make your literary work seen, heard, and read. Sometimes, the thread running through these stories feels frayed -- it's less of a collection and more of a sampler. It needs something to bring them together, a reordering or addition that takes the disparate parts and makes them feel like a true history, a chronicle instead of a collage. The stories are varying degrees of strong and interesting in their own right, but the purpose behind their pairing feels vague and somewhat forced, diminishing their power. It's a compelling read nonetheless, showing the twists and turns a concept can take in different hands and times. In terms of catching and keeping attention, A Brief History of Authoterrorism succeeds, achieving the audience its protagonists' so greatly desire.

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