about the author

Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.

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Gary Oldman Is a Building You Must Walk Through
A Review of Gary Oldman Is a
Building You Must Walk Through

by Forrest Roth

Spencer Dew

About its own architecture—in the sense of both visible pieces and invisible demands, engineering for necessity as well as aesthetics, with certain pillars and shifting panels recurring in formulation after formulation, like a sketch for a Futurist painting or a draft of a typed letter or a maquette of carefully folded paper that will serve as the model of a Frank Gehry building—this is a book that swiftly lures you into a labyrinthine experiment in narrative, in writing. Central here is the act of walking through a plate-glass door, or one act of such walking through a plate-glass door, repeated as its own unique event: Sid Vicious walks through a door, Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious in the film Sid and Nancy walks through a door. Central, too, is the act of acting, one self simulating another, and Gary Oldman’s acts of acting in particular, and Sid Vicious in relation to performances of Sid Vicious as well as to Gary Oldman’s performances as Sid Vicious, and, yes, a specific “you” to whom the narrator speaks and who has a sister who is a famous film star who might have almost starred alongside Gary Oldman in Sid and Nancy and also might have walked through the same—though, of course, distinct—plate-glass door of Los Angeles’s Gehry museum, if such a museum existed (or if a museum were identical with the signature of its architect).

Into this mix, add Maurice Blanchot, in a role somewhat like a film noir private eye, though also a writer (what is writing but engaging in and making order out of mystery?) and, throughout, resolutely Maurice Blanchot (that unique self, which is known to us as a way of writing). Blanchot at the Hotel Chelsea, and a dead girl in a body bag, and variations of the above, over the course of a single day, rewritten and rewritten as these characters languish in the city which is two cities which, like language, like the text—any text, from a signature to a letter to a screenplay to a novel—is here also “the impossible caesura of waiting and not-waiting”: we’re moving forward, but as if through a hallway, a hallway which stretches on and on, seemingly repeating, each section distinct.

Our narrator is “an I who is forever someone else to everyone else . . . an I who is a day occurring to me as I sit and read,” perhaps about how Maurice Blanchot “opens his balcony window. He unpacks and sets up his manual typewriter on the desk, waits for the first admirer to knock on his door and recognize the scent of a Maurice Blanchot fresh out of a Hotel Chelsea shower. Resting on the bed while doing so draws his thoughts into delicate, light sketches of an anonymous Futurist painting of the Brooklyn Bridge he had appreciated in the lobby while checking in, the image slowly decomposing in his evaluations, his room included.” The day we are given here is like a “sequence of dreams, nonsequentially arranged . . . variations upon the letter,” or, again, like a “dream in the night of a name which will not sign itself, the voice which speaks not of you when you and I descend but when a building is entered in the manner of Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious walking through a plate-glass door thinking not of Nancy Spungen but the idea of Nancy Spungen...”

Beyond such formal play, a series of gestures toward or around an argument link the act of walking through the plate-glass door to the project of the book, to the refraction of subjectivity and narrative, the constant critical referentiality to and about language itself, writing and the written, reading and the read. Such gestures revolve around the idea of etiquette. It is etiquette that led to Sid Vicious’s decline; etiquette, also, or lack thereof, was what he revolted against by walking through the plate-glass door. Etiquette here is an invisible constraint, a formal experiment of which we, its subjects, remain largely unaware. Etiquette is the essential rules, the true limits of subjectivity, a phenomenology that has been ignored in favor of pretense, plate-glass panels. To call attention to such etiquette is left to those exceptional few, like Sid Vicious and Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious and maybe your famous film star sister when she did her own turn as Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious, walking through a plate-glass door, doing violence to herself and violence to pretense in order to draw attention to that which is invisible, like well-polished glass, like the posh, spotlessly clean stuff the society set cages themselves up in to be always on display, where their shock is displayed when a door, rather than being opened, is walked through, shattered to pieces and thus named.

“But I am not Sid Vicious,” our narrator says, “nor am I Gary Oldman playing Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy. I am someone who holds and has held open plate-glass doors for countless number of gentle strangers who I never see again as they disappear into etiquette, into the vast, unknowable building of Gary Oldman’s America.” Yet this book is a hallway leading to such a door, with the possibility of leading through it.

Official Forrest Roth Web Site
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