New Linear Perspectives (Subversion Edition, April 2011)

-Reviewed by Ian Chung

New Linear Perspectives (NLP) is a Scotland-based literary arts and culture journal, edited by Andrew F. Giles and Claudia Massie. The site clearly intends to be comprehensive in its coverage of different aspects of culture, with a growing archive that already features art and film reviews, photography, as well as a variety of new writing that ranges from poetry to travel writing, short stories to mini-essays. April’s Subversion edition draws from the diversity of the journal, bringing together a review of Chengdu-based artists by Allan Harkness, two parts of an ongoing graphic tale by Chris Pritchett, and two short stories by Andrew McCallum Crawford.

Harkness’s piece on the artists at Blue House Studios is a follow-up to his earlier post at NLP, which is a compilation of the artists’ interview responses in which they explain the motivations that lie behind their creations. In this edition of NLP, Harkness proceeds to place the individual Chengdu artists in the wider context of a ‘Chinese painting faced with the end of modernity, with rampant technological rationalism and with the further prospect of postmodern epistemologies (phenomenology, deconstruction and multi-perspectivalism) rather than simply the issue of construction of an artworld infrastructure and market (currently so dominant in Beijing and Shanghai)’. While this is an interesting discussion, I suspect it may not necessarily appeal to readers who do not themselves already possess an interest in contemporary Chinese art. That said, the samples of artwork featured by NLP can be appreciated in their own right, especially the two works from Zhou Chunya’s Green Dog series, which are disturbing in the way they are simultaneously familiar (because they are dogs) and alienating (because they are so vividly green).

Described as ‘approach[ing] architecture from a dark-tinted viewpoint and evok[ing] a brand new, exciting netherworld for this discipline’, Pritchett’s The Keystone is an unconventional tale about Sisyphus, an architect who wants to tear down the Pumphuset in Uppsala, Sweden, and erect a new monument in its place. All for the city’s benefit, of course. In this edition of NLP, Part III lays out Sisyphus’s rationale for his grand project, while Part IV hints at further mysteries to come in connection with secrets the Chancellor is hiding and the gravestone that Sisyphus kneels at as he says, ‘I miss you. I miss you so much.’ The black-and-white artwork of the series is moderately stylised and its attention to detail stunning. One minor complaint I have is that the dialogue occasionally sounds forced, and a number of spelling errors have crept into the text too.

NLP calls Crawford’s two stories ‘short, sharp snapshots of relationships and macabre goings-on that are at once menacing and human’. This is accurate, although I would qualify the description by noting the stories pull it off with different degrees of success. In ‘Mac & Wills’, the central question initially appears to be whether the titular characters are a couple or not. Yet by the end of the story, the unnamed narrator confesses, ‘We never did work out if he and Mac were a couple. Nobody cared. Not really.’ Those last two statements are instructive, since there seems to me a danger of them not becoming fully developed characters, being described in reductive terms like ‘He hated lots of things’ (Mac) or ‘He was usually pissed, in a Brideshead Revisited sort of way’ (Wills). This makes it somewhat difficult to truly care about what goes down in the Astoria that makes Wills punch Mac with a sound ‘like a large cabbage hitting a wet floor’.

Finally, ‘Yin Eyes’ presents a writer living in a dilapidated basement flat with no heating, drinking weak tea made from reused tea bags and water ‘free of live bacteria’ (a small comic moment in an otherwise bleak story). This story is effective because rather than trying to compress whole lives into a single pivotal moment like ‘Mac & Wills’ does, what we get is a comparatively narrow slice in time, which opens up into a wider picture of the anonymous writer’s life. While he does not get up to much apart from making tea, listening to his next-door neighbour cry, and clearing away a dead cat, incidental details dropped in (‘The bags were a gift from the previous tenant’, ‘She sounded inconsolable, as she did every night’) hint at the possibility of human connection amidst (or in spite of) the seeming mundanity of his life. Even the closing line offers a gracefully understated moment of hope: ‘He felt himself smiling, although he was trying hard not to climb into hopes of a thaw.’