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On Joyelle McSweeney’s Flet

Joyelle McSweeney’s Flet, a baroque, cerebral novel, whose dystopic vision collides with those imagined by Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, William Gibson, Ben Marcus, and George Orwell, imagines a tech-drecked future still reeling from a cataclysmic air attack, which might never have actually happened. Its percolating sentential surface, kin to texts by Will Alexander and Andrew Joron (not to mention Hart Crane and Marianne Moore), might be considered a “cyber-punctum” text, playing off Barthes’ formulation of the punctum as an “accident which pricks, bruises,” while registering this text’s “accident” as being highly-machined, calibrated for critique, for textual/textural pleasure.

Ever-attentive to the sonorities, the materialities of language, to the possibilities of aural and phonemic play, McSweeney seemingly remakes language, offering a great deal of “roughened” language, as Shklovsky would put it, viz., cognitive “noise” which succeeds in slowing down perception, thereby increasing pleasure in the text. The various lexical interpolations and anarchic metaphorizing, the rarefied lexicon of unusual and specialized words, of archaisms and neologisms, found in Flet, make for a dense surface, conjuring up worlds within worlds, a wordy-world that serves as one possible answer to the novel’s querying how “one thing” could “at once be three: / container, contained            and accessorie.” As container, Flet is plastic, that is, a form that forms and deforms. What it contains: consciousnesses; identities and other obscurities; and dreams, of invisible and visible cities. Its language, whose beauty, obscurity, and intensity abets and disrupts its narrative, suggests that it might also be considered an accessory, though not merely an embellishment but a knowing accomplice to a “crime,” that is, necessary transgressions against received language, the so-called real, and other mundanities.

  • John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

2 thoughts on “On Joyelle McSweeney’s Flet

  1. Compliments, John, on such an incisor-sharp mastication of so rare a piece of prose meat. Let me recommend, by way of sharing plates, another recent, brilliant poet’s novel, RECORD PALACE, by Susan Wheeler.

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