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Magical Miserablism:
Robert Stark’s Myths of the Near Future

3,584 words

Robert Stark
Journey to Vapor Island
Lulu.com, 2017

“The fact that he wears lipstick and long gloves is not calculated to endear him to the stuffy . . . In fact, more of our young novelists should wear lipstick and even nail varnish. It might brighten up their prose styles . . . The fact that his work is concerned with sex on a most serious level is also not calculated to recommend him to the sort of people who organise these literary jamborees.” — J. G. Ballard[1] 

Robert Stark has achieved something remarkable here. He’s taken the basic elements of a common kind of alt-Right narrative — basically, the youth who, because of his intelligence and sensitivity, becomes a murderous outcast from a degenerate society — and managed to avoid these miserablist results by infusing them with his own private, even idiosyncratic, obsessions.

Precisely by their personal nature, they communicate a brilliant energy to the narrative, lifting it out of the realm of a necessarily pessimistic Present Year realism and into a kind of magic realism whose conclusion — here is the key to the achievement — never feels tacked on like a Hollywood ending but rather seems a satisfyingly integral part of the work.[2]

Noam Metzenbaum is our protagonist. Though Jewish, family circumstances have landed him, like Howard Stern, in the multi-culti hell of a typical public school. Another anomaly is that Noam’s uncle Saul was acquainted with Alistair Blackstone, a Mosely-ish British aristo and political activist, and “author of a secret manifesto titled ‘Why the True Aristocrat Must Rule,’ which had given Noam the will to power to rise up from being just a meek pathetic loser.”

Of course, Noam “rises up” only in his own journals, otherwise he remains a pathetic loser and likely lifelong virgin.

Then, he meets, or at least sees, Natalie Bloom, a rich, blonde Jewess who will serve from now on as his muse, or, as he refers to her, his Crush.[3] To pursue her, he wins a scholarship to her school, Chadsworth Academy in Greenwich, CT [4] — with results easily predicted by those familiar with ’80s or ’90s snobs v. slobs teen movies; at least, if they were directed by Ron Jeremy or the Mitchell Brothers.[5]

Noam thinks, “But now at this utmost elite institution, where the movers and shakers of American society send their offspring, not only do they lack the true aristocratic credentials to rule; to add insult to injury . . . they do not even afford me the most basic decencies. And on top of it all, all these hot rich blonde popular girls, perhaps the daughters of billionaires throw themselves at these vile disgusting creatures, the Chads.”

Noam looks back at them; their golden blond hair, perfect bodies, and cocky arrogant smiles as they joke about which girl they are going to deflower next.

He fantasizes, “If I can’t win them over with my intellect, charm, and charisma, I have to kill them first! No one is better than me!”

Note the “fantasizes,” we’ll discuss that later. So far, so alt-right. It’s a characteristic literary trope among the alt-right, from a Nowicki to a Stertzinger to a Perdue, and indeed might be said to be the essential alt-right genre. It’s the picaresque novel stripped of any kind of transcendence, resolution, or even happy ending, no matter how comic or ambiguous; to which is added great lashings, as it were,[6] of sex and violence.

Compared to these wised-up punks, an “Angry Young Man” like Kingsley Amis is an old fogey —  Lucky Jim merely a record of the boredom of provincial academia, with only a set of bedsheets singed by a cigarette and a single punch landed; the big finale a drunken public lecture, not a mass murder. And he gets a new job in London, and the girl!

Even their closest literary avatar, Ignatius Reilly, merely waves his cardboard scimitar around a bit — though what passes for his sex life seems closer to the alt-right model — and even he gets the girl, though she is a working-class, brunette New York Jewess.

At first Stark seems to be beating the same dead horse, just upping the ante with lots more — and more perverse — sex, and lots more violence — the scimitar takes several heads! And fire, of course; Fire! Fire![7]

But after trial and imprisonment (mercifully abbreviated for the reader), things take a new turn. Alistair’s son, Roger Blackstone — a real estate mogul and Trumpian politician — has achieved power, and things are not quite the same:

Noam walks down 42nd street in Times Square. All the Broadway Shows and tacky tourist shops are gone, replaced by adult entertainment, pornographic holograms, and the magic glow of neon illuminating the street.

He walked inside underneath the neon marquee to find out what the place was all about. The interior of the lobby resembles an old New York art deco hotel with as Asian touch. The carpeting is crimson red and gold inspired by ancient Chinese patterns, and black marble walls with gilded Chinese patterns.

Noam remembers that Blackstone had collaborated with his grandfather Saul who was an architect. He gets a massive erection thinking about all the grand architectural visions that are being implemented.

This seems a callback to a dream of Noam’s from back in his Chadsworth days:

Noam falls asleep and finds himself in a city. He looks around. It resembles New York but in the future or some alternate universe. All the skyscrapers are covered in giant neon Swastikas, while Stormtroopers march to Synthwave.

Then he sees Blackstone as a hologram on an electronic billboard in a military uniform giving the Nazi salute.

Then all the soldiers approach Noam. . . . They face him and salute “Heil Herr Metzenbaum! Heil our fuhrer! Israeli Aryan Imperium![8] Then Noam sees Jewish bankers being executed by the soldiers, while their pregnant blonde teen daughters are being taken as wives by the soldiers.

But there’s more: Noam’s rampage has made him into another mass-murdering folk hero, like Manson or the Columbine kids; and his writings have been published to great popularity, generating wide-spread memes.

The Chinese man realizes who Noam is and says, “I very sorry sir, please forgive me. I no idea who you are. Chinese men love Noam. We support you. You have admirers worldwide. Can I get selfie with Noam?”

Noam is impressed that he has so many admirers but is disgusted that most of these men are unattractive, overweight pigs who sit around all day eating junk food and jerking off to porn with no purpose in life, nor grand aesthetic visions other than massive bukkake orgies.

And more: Blackstone’s real estate activities include the creation of Vapor Island, which Noam discovers in this Bladerunner-ish manner:

Noam looks up and sees a giant electronic screen. On top of it is the massive lettering “Vapor INC” in flashing neon like the signs in Blackstone’s book from Japan in the 80’s. A hologram appears out of the screen. It is a beautiful blonde Jewess in a Japanese Kimono advertising Vapor Island, which Noam remembers Roger Blackstone working on as a kid when he was running for president.

The images of Vapor Island portray a tropical paradise with skyscrapers covered in pink, purple, and turquoise neon, ancient monuments, and magnificent palaces, while 80’s synthwave with calypso steel drums plays in the background. It is that magical world where the past meets the future that Noam had always dreamed about. Than he sees a beach with holograms of beautiful teen girls in pink and turquoise 80’s style bikinis that revealed their buttocks and bikini lines.

Then for a split second he realizes that one of the girls is his crush, the girl he had dedicated his life to finding is there lounging on the beach waiting for him. He has to find a way to journey to Vapor Island.

Again, there is a callback; back in high school, he had fallen asleep playing the ’80s video game Leisure Suit Larry:

He falls asleep, becoming in his dream, one with the game. He is Larry. Larry is a man of action. Noam finds himself in a tropical paradise; girls lounging in bikinis, girls topless, but why won’t they talk to him?

Vapor Island turns out to be a spa/amusement park/casino hotel/whorehouse/Lolita Express kind of place, in which all the torments — mainly sexual — of Noam’s life and fantasies — again, mainly sexual — of Noam’s journals are now concretely available for his fans to experience.

Even worse, it will serve as the set for a movie, a big-budget sex epic, based on his manifesto and to be directed by the Weinstein-ish producer Ari Meschel.

Ultimately one realizes that the plot points of Noam’s manifesto being appropriated by internet losers, the real estate mogul Blackstone and the Jewish producer Meschel serve as a metaphor for the power of imagination to transform reality, not only in literature but in reality.[9]

Noam knows the island was created for his greatness ever since he was a young boy and had visions of it in his dreams.

Noam wonders if all his bizarre experiences on the Island; Meschel’s film about his manifesto, The Blackstone Tower, The Palace, the Erotic Emporium, the strange experience with the teen boys, and the cunnilingus party with Sarah Meschel and her friends were all just figments of his imagination. Things he had fantasized or wrote about but that did not exist . . . but then he thinks about how those events all led up to the moment of reunification with his crush, and she is real.

Here we see how Stark’s book steps around, or shall we say, leap-frogs over, the usual alt-right literature of nihilistic despair. We always have access to a power, the imagination, which can transform our reality — assuming we can wrest it back from the Meschel/Weinsteins who have colonized it.

That said, it must also be said that the book suffers from several large, though correctable faults.

The whole first half, Noam’s public and private school travails, is far too long and, inevitably, repetitive. As I said, we’ve seen all this before, and Stark has no need to beat the others at their own game, purely quantitatively — I imagine him typing away, muttering “Wait til they get a load of me.” He has already stepped over them with his adoption of magic realist techniques.

Then there’s the other element: sex. There’s a lot of it, real and fantasized; likely on every page, if not every paragraph, and by my hesitant count exactly one coupling that might be considered “normal” to the average reader, even on the alt-right. There’s teenage girls, preferably of the blonde Jewess type, and MILFs, but also studly Chads that intrude, usually to Noam’s increasingly feigned annoyance, and ultimately a race of Kek-worshiping frogmen.

I get that these, along with midcentury architecture, anime, synthwave, etc., are the author’s obsessions, which I’ve said play a role in lifting this above the usual miserablism, but I would say that the proportions of “dirty bits” to “redeeming social value” is about the reverse of Ulysses.[10]

Stark ignores the warning Gore Vidal, of all people, gave to Burroughs: the audience for homosexual sodomy with dead teenagers is vanishingly small. Even if one shares the author’s preoccupations the sheer amount and repetition leads to boredom and disgust.

Speaking of Burroughs . . . Despite Stark’s visionary aims, his prose style is consistently low-key, more attuned to Noam’s journal ramblings than the need to keep the reader interested in the storyline, to say nothing of realizing Vapor Island; more Junkie than The Wild Boys. If that’s a deliberate choice, it’s a shame, as Stark is capable of some excellent snark when he lets go, as in this passage that could easily be mistaken for an outtake from Naked Lunch:

The judge slams his gavel and continues with a smirk, “Look. I’d like to go easy on the kid for having to put up with the likes of you. Honestly, I don’t blame the young man for his actions but unfortunately under mandatory minimum laws I have to sentence Noam Metzenbaum on behalf of the state of Connecticut to 16 years in the State Psychiatric Hospital. He never got the help he needed, and sadly our system is not in shape to provide it. He will probably come out even more deranged, but that is how our system works. Watch out in 16 years, but I’ll be in my grave by then.”

The judge smirks and addresses the crowd, “I’m ready to retire so I can speak my mind. I grew up in this town, and you assholes ruined it. My family has been here since colonial times, old New England stock, and you trash come up from the city and ruin it with your mega mansions, replacing all the old stores with your chain brands, and you’ve turned the forest I grew up in into a golf course. You can all rot in hell as far as I’m concerned!”

The prosecutor, who is allowed back in for sentencing, shouts to Noam, “Don’t expect a walk in the park. You will face justice for your horrific crimes against our peaceful compassionate community.”

The judge rolls his eyes.

The prosecutor continues, “If you manage to survive prison, all the survivors of your cowardly act will hunt you down and make sure your entire life will be a living hell. Even if you manage to leave prison with your rectum intact you will remain a virgin for the rest of your life!”

The judge tells the prosecutor to “Calm down” and says, “Many mass murderers get plenty of female admirers from behind bars, and I’m quite sure our state allows conjugal visits.”

The prosecutor explodes in rage and tries to assault the judge, but the bailiffs restrain him. The judge says, “Feel free to join Noam in prison.”

And here, Noam’s interaction with his mother captures the true tone of Ignatius and his mother, out for a ride:

Noam meets up with his mom by her car. He gets hungry and asks her to take him to The Brasserie for dinner. “I want champagne and Escargot, Dammit!” he demands.

“Noam come on, be sensible! We are on a tight budget, and besides you’re way too young to drink, and escargot isn’t Kosher. I have a TV dinner I can heat up at home.”

“Kosher?” Noam replies. “First of all, I’m not a Jew and 2nd of all, I saw you eating week old frozen pork chops the other night. You are just too cheap. We need to prove that we are worthy if we want to be respected in this town.”[11]

Noam’s high school also receives several visits from male and female perverts in the guise of deadpan Greek history or anthropology lectures that provide some chuckles as well.

In his normal register, Stark is still able to convey the faux calm of intense obsessions kept barely under wraps and resulting in small masterpieces of miniature observation; this passage is worthy of Jeremy Reed, master of the pop fanatic style:

As Noam and his mom are watching TV together, a commercial for Roger Blackstone comes on. He is an eccentric billionaire who Noam has been enamored by ever since reading his father Alistair’s manifesto and looking at his book of futuristic cities from the 1980’s.

Blackstone is a tall slender man with wavy blonde hair, round glasses, and a pointy nose; very aristocratic in a futuristic sense. He is dressed in a black shirt and an 80’s style gray blazer, vest, and slacks. He looks as if he just stepped off a space ship from a more advanced and civilized planet; an alien here to bring civilization to the lowly human race.

The intro music comes on, and it’s 80’s synthwave. In the background, there are images of futuristic cities. They are much more clean and sterile than that of the noir aesthetics from his book from the 80’s, but Noam understands that Blackstone has to present a more palatable message to the masses.

Blackstone speaks as if he were a god.

Compare this passage from Reed’s somewhat similar science-fiction novel Diamond Nebula (1994), set in the 23rd century, featuring a film-director character obsessed by Bowie, Ballard and Warhol:

Her eye was arrested by an open photograph album . . . David Bowie at the Rainbow Theatre, 1972; at the LA Forum in 1976; Hiroshima, 1973; LA Amphitheatre, 1974; Wembley, 1976: the images seeming to have been chosen for their visual diversity and metamorphoses. Over the page were weirdly angled shots of Ballard getting into his car at Shepperton after the publication of Crash; and then the publicity photographs of him that had appeared on the jackets of High-Rise and Myths of the Near Future, together with a series of solarized images in the manner of Man Ray, in which the writer’s head was superimposed on Brancusi sculptures. Cindy flicked through the obsessive preoccupations: Warhol screened by black glasses on a couch at the Factory, and then seen filming Edie Sedgwick and Gino Persicho in Beauty 2; and a few pages on, isolated, filming Chelsea Girls.

Discussing this passage, Simon Sellars observes that

These aren’t the ordinary images of Ballard (let alone Bowie) that get bandied about. They are cult snapshots, taken by a writer with a fan’s eye for obscure detail surrounding the object of worship.[12]

You will note above that this is basically a self-published book. I would not be surprised to learn, if it has been submitted to commercial publishers, that it was turned down by all of them.[13]After all, the same thing happened to Confederacy of Dunces. I predict a version 2.0 along the lines I’ve noted here would get some big-time attention.

As it is, it’s recommended for those — with strong stomachs — who want to see what the future of alt-right writing could be, once it has the courage and the imagination to lift itself out of its own misery.

Notes

[1] Ballard, complaining about the neglect of British poet and novelist Jeremy Reed among the “20 best young British novelists” list publicized by Granta magazine; quoted in “Londoner’s Diary: Reed All About It” in Evening Standard (April 19, 1993) p. 8.

[2] One thinks of the last episode of The Prisoner, which, though utterly surrealistic, feels entirely right; how else could it end? Jeremy Reed, whom we’ll encounter again, is a modern master of this style, which takes the pop “fan” back to its original meaning, “fanatic,” and uses the fan’s obsession with pop ephemera to generate the obsessive concentration and energy to fuel the poetic imagination’s reconstruction of so-called reality.

[3] Perhaps, The Crush: “Noam thought Scarlet was hot growing up but had more of a thing for Alicia Silverstone. Watching her in Clueless and jerking off to her in The Crush as a boy reminded him that he had to find his own crush, and he also thought that Nick Eliot was the biggest imbecile for turning down Alicia Silverstone.”

[4] Watch blonde Jewess Paris Gellar (a Starkian name if you think about it) torment a Noam at Chilton Academy in Greenwich, CT, courtesy of The Gilmore Girls, here. Chilton, come to think of it, is the name of the psychiatrist who torments Hannibal Lecter, whom we’ll meet soon.

[5] Actually, more like Michael Zinn or the Dark Brothers, but that might suggest more familiarity with the genre of 90s video porn than one ought to have.

[6] Basil Fawlty is “pissed-off, demanding, and in a mood to make someone’s life miserable—is there any place for him in this world? Yes, there is, and it’s being a guest at Fawlty Towers, asking for service that includes a Waldorf salad and lashings of hot screwdriver.” Fawlty Towers, “Waldorf Salad” (Series 2, Episode 3), reviewed here.

Original airdate: March 5, 1979

[7] “[Beavis] is shown to be a pyromaniac, as evidenced by his chant of “Fire! Fire!” During the original series run Beavis was no longer allowed to say “fire” after some woman in Ohio claimed an episode where Beavis did his fire thing caused her son to burn her trailer and kill his sister in the blaze. Therefore, Beavis was reduced to saying things like “Fryer!” (when he’s at Burger World) or “Liar! LIAR! Liar, liar, pants on… whoa!” (Liar! Liar!). It wasn’t until season eight that Beavis was let off the hook and given a clean slate (otherwise he would not have said “Fire!” while reviewing MGMT’s “Kids”).” Beavis and Butthead Wiki, here.

[8] Not to be confused with my own Aryan Imperium: The Worldview and Geopolitics of the Alt-Right (Kindle, 2017).

[9] His manifesto creating future reality is cleverly foreshadowed when Noam submits excerpts from his journals for a scholarship contest and wins — the judges think they are a brilliant parody of racial fanaticism.

[10] Another smutty book about a Jew who wanders around battling brutish goyim and looking for his lost love — his son, in this case, not Alicia Silverstone — and ultimately finding a simulacrum of him in a whorehouse rendered surrealistically; hmm.

[11] Unlike Ignatius, he has more practical uses for theology and geometry; he daydreams “about using geometry to create the ultimate Chad killing machine.”

[12] Simon Sellars, “Review: Jeremy Reed’s West End Survival Kit,” The Ballardian, Feb. 8, 2010, here.

[13] Lecter: “There are three centres for transsexual surgery: Johns Hopkins, the University of Minnesota and Columbus Medical Centre. I wouldn’t be surprised if Billy had applied for sex reassignment at all of them and been rejected.” Starling: “On what basis would they reject him?” Lecter: “Look for severe childhood disturbances associated with violence. Our Billy wasn’t born a criminal, Clarice. He was made one through years of systematic abuse.” Silence of the Lambs (Demme, 1991).

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