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#4770 - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - Editor: Jerry Katz

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  • Jerry Katz
    #4770 - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - Editor: Jerry Katz The Nonduality Highlights http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NDhighlights/ ... ...it is as though [Berit
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      #4770 - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - Editor: Jerry Katz
       
       
       

       
       
      "...it is as though [Berit Ellingsen] is inventing a new narrative space all her own, where her deadpan, controlled language meets her concern with identity, metamorphosis, and non-duality. At its best her work attains the spiritual, but in a way that is unexpected and rare." -David Hodges
      This issue features a freshly published review by David Hodges of Berit Ellingsen's new fictional work, Beneath the Liquid Skin.
       
       
       
       
       
      There are some odd, alien, repulsive, nightmarish, sly, funny, fabulous, fairytale-ilike images in Berit Ellingsen's new collection of stories, "Beneath the Liquid Skin". This book sets up and detonates little depth-charges of meaning. You can't resist being pulled into Ellingsen's unique and vital imagination.

      Ellingsen doesn't practice the art of the short story, she explodes the accepted state of the short story and mines its shards. Each of these stories, some no more than brief vignettes or prose poems, is so different from the others that you feel that Ellingsen is re-inventing the story genre with each with each and every outing. Like her artistic forbears Kafka and Borges, she is exploring new possibilities in fiction writing and showing more conventional authors the way it can be. She doesn't keep coming back and re-ploughing the same earth the way some writers do, nor is she forcing each piece into the kind of shape that a New Yorker editor would love. Rather, she is letting each story stand on its own as a work of art and as an expression that was the result of a successful quest to find a new form.

      And yet, as different as each story is, the constant behind them all is her narrative voice. It is controlled, vivid, accurately descriptive, and packed with surprising images. Her imagery comes from the biological world, cityscapes, Cold War defections and online games, nightmares and dreams. Her voice gets in your head and you want more of it. This is especially true in "A June Defection", which could have become a full-length novel. "A June Defection" is as close as she comes to New Yorker short stories with their little epiphanies. But it carries her own special twist, as the ending is prepared like a trap that is sprung in the last sentences.

      In other stories, like "The Glory of Glormosel" or "The Love Decay has for the Living", the authorial voice is very tongue in cheek. There is a sly humor that easily conveys the bizarre logic of dreams. On the other hand, the stories "The Astronomer and the King" and "The Tale that Wrote Itself" read like fables, and the narrator is the tale-spinner, who delights in entertaining and confounding the reader. And "Autumn Story" is a sad evocation of loss, told by a somewhat removed narrator who follows the character in the story who, much like the one in Ellingsen's novel "The Empty City", gradually empties out and seems to be fading away into nothingness.

      If there is a theme that unites many of these stories, it is that of Identity. It is as if, after the collapse of the post-modern ironic consciousness in the wake of 9/11, a new kind of identity arose, which she explores in this book. This new kind of identity is more fluid, less rigid, quite apt to metamorphosize. Everything is mutable, including the self of an Antarctic researcher, the body of a Chef's lover, and the man whose lover turns into a shark. In "Sexual Dimorphism - A Nightmare Transcribed From the Sanskrit", a "female self" decides to change into a "male self", with strange results, but with a haunting refrain that reminds us of the mutability of the gods themselves. Again, as in "The Empty City", she treats notions of the Self and Identity not as fixed structures to be explored, but as notions that are liquid, flowing, ephemeral, and made to be deconstructed, melted down, re-formed into something bigger, wilder, more open to crazy possibilities.

      It is impossible to pigeonhole Ellingsen's work into a genre or an influence.

      You find modernism, sci-fi, fantasy, surrealism, magic realism, and straight short story art. At times it seems that she is verging on post-modernist meta-fiction, but her sensibility is too close to the bone to undercut her own narratives in that way. Yet it is as though she is inventing a new narrative space all her own, where her deadpan, controlled language meets her concern with identity, metamorphosis, and non-duality. At its best her work is attains the spiritual, but in a way that is unexpected and rare.

      This is nowhere more evident than in her final story, "Anthropocene", and another story, "A Catalog of Planets". The latter story starts with the statement, "this planet reminds your atoms and molecules that they are mostly empty space". In very brief paragraphs, she presents the various ways that people are in prisons of their own making, and ends with a vision of true freedom.

      The story "Anthropocene" takes a similar planetary perspective, but starts from the viewpoint of geology. I didn't really understand this story until I looked up the meaning of the title word. The Anthropocene is a scientific neologism for the human epoch on earth and its effect on the planet's ecology. This story is ostensibly about geology and a possible future if humankind continues down its current path. The constant refrain, as the narrator moves through time past to time future, is about a poison ore at the heart of the earth. The final lines jump to a statement that both sums up the entire book, and explains what the poison ore is:

      "'You' and 'I' denote no one and no thing. They are simply chalk marks on the blackboard or letters on the page."

      Ellingsen takes us on quite a journey through the stories in this book. Open it at any page and start reading and you will be enthralled. And wanting more.
       
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