:: Article

From A to X

By Anna Aslanyan.

Love Dog, Masha Tupitsyn, Penny-Ante Press, 2013

In Love Dog we meet an author (A., to start from the start) for whom time is the measure of all things. The book is compiled of diary entries written between 11/22/11 and 12/04/12, the dates setting the tone for a symmetry of sorts that can be traced throughout the text. This is one of the games A. invites the reader to play, hoping for a response, for this is not so much a book as a performance act, audience participation being its vital element.

Some books are, or purport to be, self-sufficient, others require a lot of research from the reader. Love Dog is firmly in the latter category; ideally you will have done your homework before picking it up, but there are still bound to be things to discover outside of the book as you read it. Its main thread — A. ruminates on love, trying this notion on X., who is found to be “out of joint”, like time and everyone else — is held together by numerous visual, audio and verbal props, scattered around with a seeming air of randomness. What if they really were chosen at random? That would be rather avant-garde, no?

Quotes from Slavoj Žižek and John Berger appear on the first page, followed by various others, until it becomes impossible not to take up this guess-what-next challenge. One, where Victor Shklovsky calls love “a play with short acts and long intermissions”, caught me unawares, as did another, from a 1982 song by The Clash, “Long Time Jerk”, the B-side on the EP “Rock the Casbah”. Listening to it for the first time, A. concludes that “B is A’s well-kept secret” — one of the many aphoristic sentences that often make you smile with appreciation, even if they appear to be too generously sprinkled over the text.

As A. examines the nature of love, set pieces based on others’ works are constantly being inserted into the narrative, not all of them easy to predict. If excerpts from Stendhal’s De L’Amour and Barthes’ Lover’s Discourse don’t come fully unexpected, most band appearances are rather surprising. Whatever your level of perception and knowledge, music, film, literature and drama references all make this book a comprehensive thesaurus of contemporary culture, which you browse through, occasionally exchanging knowing glances with the erudite A. The multimedia format is not without its demands: the book may be slim at 280 pages split into 216 parts — some of them mere snippets — but it comes with the instruction that it “should be read, listened to, and watched”. To watch every clip and listen to every song mentioned here you would need to go on sabbatical, but it would be time well spent.

And time, let’s not forget, is the main dimension of the book. Here are A. and X., exchanging their watches: “All we could do was wear each other’s time”. “Time all scrambled up” is the key motif, the state when “[t]ime is suspended, left hanging” being the norm rather than the exception to the book’s continuity rules. The anisotropic nature of time echoes the lack of symmetry which A. is trying to mend. If “coming face to face with the Other is a non-symmetrical relationship,” then symmetry can be restored by imposing some order on the Other. When a situation doesn’t allow for a neat solution it can be twisted around: “You aren’t my happiness, but maybe I was yours?”

W., an ex immediately preceding the imperfect X., seems to fit better into A.’s desired universal symmetry. We are shown a clip of a road movie: a coast-to-coast trip, “Fevered” by The Stills playing in the car, the two lovers fevered by their night drive. Everything falls into place, which may be a trick played by A.’s memory or a premeditated arrangement. Things are more chaotic with X.: “We are not in the same place. Not in the same time either”. Once we are told that A.’s first adult love was called P., it’s tempting to start intra- and extrapolating the rest of Love Dog‘s timeline. Is a Y. going to turn up further down the line, followed by a Z., perhaps a point in a new coordinate system altogether? No, they are not cast in this performance.

Meanwhile, A.’s stage directions become more and more demanding and involved: “Here are three different versions of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ by Joy Division. For the full effect, for a complete chorus, play all three versions at the same time”. Occasionally they smack of self-promotion: “If you read the piece, you’ll know what I mean by that” urges us to turn to an earlier essay inspired by David Lynch’s Lost Highway. A. explains this tendency by confessing: “Sometimes I don’t know what people read when they read my work. Judging by what they say, or don’t say, it seems like they mostly don’t know how to read it”. This line makes the drawing skewed, so is swiftly counterbalanced: “Maybe writers always feel this way. Unread and misread. And maybe they should”. Indeed, nothing wrong with that.

Art criticism being A.’s forte, the book focuses on related subjects. I was glad to find no politics discussed — until the Twin Towers loomed on the page, but that turned out to be a false alarm. What follows is a discussion of 9/11 from an architectural viewpoint, with speculations about the symbolic nature of the event thrown in: “It is worth noting, too, that the number 11 in September 11 is a numerical double of the two towers”. Symmetry, we are reminded again, is not to be ignored.

Some thoughts A. shares with the reader are less profound than others: for example, speculations on who needs love more — those who lacked it in their childhood or those who were much loved — sound somewhat feeble next to, say, Kierkegaard’s writing. In a journal entry made by A. at 21, a friend exclaims: “Masha, I can feel you thinking”. So did I, every now and again, when reading the book, although not to the extent of being compelled to remark on it, or use italics.

Towards the end of the book, Berger’s words quoted at the beginning come to mind again: “In the minute that’s still left we have to do everything”. Could the epistolary conversations with X. be a wink at Berger’s novel From A to X? What’s refreshing about Love Dog is that you can play the guessing games it offers till the end, and carry on afterwards, not necessarily expecting to get your answers right. For, like any product of poetic imagination, this book is never an A to Z.

Anna Aslanyan is a translator and journalist living in London. She regularly contributes to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and writes for the TLS and a number of online publications. Anna’s translations into Russian include works of fiction by Tom McCarthy, Martin Amis, Peter Ackroyd, Mavis Gallant and Zadie Smith.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, September 12th, 2013.