"Belle Catastrophe" by Carl Watson
Review by U. Okehi
The truly catastrophic thing about Carl Watson's Belle Catastrophe, like most literary dissections of our society lapsing into the abstract, is that it appears to make perfect sense, quite often through the most muddled sections of pseudo-philosophy. Watson achieves his miracles through rhythm and density, much more through voice than the logic of the words themselves. As always, a warning to us all, jerking us awake and supposedly to a world on the brink. The all too familiar and nightmarish inner landscape with the hobgoblins of civilization unmasked and running loose ...
"What we call resistance is really passive. The involutions only bring about continual pain. The kaleidoscope collapses, and the vast planes of the free world fold up, the prison folds up, the grey meat of the brain wrinkles up in deep convolutions, and all thought, all light grows condensed in a nut in a hard skull that rattles like a steel bead all night ... " (p.42)
To put it catastrophically ... A voice thick with gravel and casually profane. A sweeping, stinging momentum, snatching us all up into the choke hold and more to the author's credit. A landscape both riveting and amusingly pessimistic but which still can't quite disguise the impression of botched artifice, of the entire book as a puree of the better bits from better and more focused tracts. The intent seems to have been for the individual pages to be miniature essays, each with it's own pictorial score provided by the inexplicably apocalyptic Shalom. The result though, falls a little on the side of mishmash with too-visible seams. With each page an Obvious excerpt that would seem to be better served with more space to breathe on it's own.
Confounding this is the ensuing subtext of the author sweating things out through implication, or more precisely, using a patchwork technique to arrive at a mood rather than any finite conclusions.
Which is where, I suppose the final judgment falls upon an age-old academic debate. The question, whether it's simply enough to tuck us in as readers under the quilt of chaos. As many so-called revolutions seem to do in this day and age, to simply evoke tragedy. To illuminate grief, melancholy and inevitable human suffering without any attempt at actualization. Even to put forth hope, the ubiquitous hallmark card, without nerve to fortify it with an organized system of thought ... It is, in fact, a question approached tentative in Belle Catastrophe. Approached but then shied away from, dissolving back to thunder and lightening and the more crowd- pleasing antics of artistic disaffection.
It is perhaps a misinterpretation, though to completely pigeonhole Belle Catastrophe in such muted, academic terms. To characterize it beyond the more likely intent of a 48 page, blistering pyrotechnic escapade. Considering that thematic mitigations may or may not make the work more satisfying in it's entirety. They may not make the bright parts brighter, the prose hitting that effortless stride. They may not be able to curb the oversights of the rhetoric, every so often overstepping it's bounds, slipping into the worst gutters aesthetic bellyaching ... And no organized system of thought in the world could make Shalom's pictures any less than thoroughly laughable; each one depicting someone screaming in agony or devouring something; buildings, bodies, civilization, etc ... But with a mind to honestly fulfil the role of reviewer and as a sound word of advice to whomever out there might be able to find a copy of Belle Catastrophe, I find in these instances that it's much more worthwhile to put one's feet up and revel in the momentum.