Johnny Payne reviews The Sugar Book

by on Apr.17, 2015

Over at Cleaver Magazine, Johnny Payne has written a very thoughtful review of The Sugar Book. In particular, I appreciate the way he – like Carleen Tibbetts in her review in American Microreviews- thinks through the kind of “barrage” that gave Publisher’s Weekly such issues with Haute Surveillance. Payne acknowledges that he felt the urge to cut out some of the stuff from the book but instead of this leading him to knee-jerk attack/dismiss the way Publisher’s Weekly did, he actually thinks about his reaction.

Here’s an excerpt:

This is exactly what Kant meant when he described the sublime as a rapid alternation between the fear of the overwhelming and the peculiar pleasure of seeing that overwhelming overwhelmed: a raging storm that “takes our breath away.” This book is full of a genetic hybrid of Billie Holiday’s strange fruit—as a song that became an ekphrastic poem—the ugly philosophical object of contemplation transmuted, by its very violence, into something lyrical.

Pablo Neruda played with this idea back in 1925, with feismo, the art of the ugly:

el perfume de las ciruelas que rodando a tierra
se pudren en el tiempo, infinitamente verdes.

the perfume of plums that rolling to the ground
rot in time, infinitely green.

The Sugar Book is a full-on assault on the senses, the sharp point of a blunt instrument. I don’t think anyone would accuse this book of subtlety. Its virtue is precisely its overkill. Excess, at its best, becomes a form of complexity. The outrage, while often smirking, runs deep, forcing a core of sincerity into what might easily have become a flippant, cynical take on urban ennui, as I feared when facing such crackling ironic titles as “At the Shrine for the Dead Starlet,” or “ The Heart of Glamour.”

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