Alfred Kubin’s The Other Side is a deeply unsettling novel from 1909 about a city, Pearl, constructed in isolation somewhere in Central Asia by Claus Patera, the richest man in the world. Patera wishes to bring time to a standstill: in a remote location, behind walls and fortifications, he has had Pearl made entirely from elements of other cities – everything ancient, decrepit, and out of time (in both senses). A city of old buildings, old silverware, old clothes, obsolete money, justly forgotten books; new imports are forbidden. In this zone of stilled time, the sky is permanently overcast, the streets filled with a sullen grey-green light. The stasis of history gives actions and gestures a meaninglessness that implies their control by some other, alien force. (It’s a city of the dead that just hasn’t stopped moving yet.) As a novel of the fantastic – more or less the story of building a house to be haunted, laying out the pre-made ruins to summon the catastrophe that produced them – it’s claustrophobic, upsetting, bizarre (Kafka was an admirer); it’s also a guided walking tour of the experience of deep depression, rendered on a metropolitan scale, numb and jittery. Kubin’s disturbing and disturbed art gives a pretty good summary of the spirit of the thing.
It’s also startlingly funny – especially in the petty jealousies and struggles of the artists of Pearl. The main character is, like Kubin, a professional printmaker and illustrator, and he and the rest curry favor, struggle for gallery recognition, bicker in cafés, and invent new styles and schools while insects infest the city, domestic pets turn feral, and heat lightning flickers over the plague-swept buildings. Kubin gives the titles of many of their works, just as fucked-up as the city in which they live – and many of them would be perfect names for metal bands or albums. If you’ve been waiting to start your brutal doom-drone/technical death/stoner metal act, begin here:
“The Seven Deadly Sins Eating the Lamb of God”
“Here I Stand Before Thee”
“He, She, Us, It!”
“Mad Pope Innocence Dancing the Cardinals’ Quadrille”
“The Lascivious Orchid Inseminating the Embryo”
“The White-Striped Whip”
“The Albino Leper Killing the Proto-Brain”
“only sick music makes money these days”
Fatou Seidi Ghali and Alamnou Akrouni (and Niger crickets and distant birds) playing Inigradan. Loping, looping, gorgeous music for the long golden light of an arid desert evening, when shadows stretch east all the way to the edge of the earth.