The book and beyond

Keith Gallasch enters The Kamikaze Mind

Poet, choreographer and filmmaker Richard James Allen’s new book, The Kamikaze Mind, is an alphabet of lateral definitions, home-made and re-vamped aphorisms, mini-poems and micro-narrative fragments that add up to what the writer calls “a dictionary of a floating mind.” Whether encountered on a sustained reading or casually dipped into, the entries are fleeting glimpses of the mind of an astronaut who has “launched himself into a black hole” where everything is in flux, everything relative, where truths crash into their opposites and, if you’re lucky, something transcendent flies out of their fusion.

The entries comprise quips, absurdities, plain silliness, jokes good and bad, short-lived profundities and (to use poet Richard Tipping’s term) “zen bombs”, unnerving koans to linger over in a litany of uncertainty. As in an adroit musical composition, theme and variation deliver readers from the maelstrom into a quasi-Buddhist calm. However, falling into the black hole of this literary astronaut’s mind can at times be distressing. Where does the relativising stop? How can the astronaut be so irritatingly quaint, cute and obvious when he’s also so smart, witty and wise? It’s that kind of trip, the kind of challenge that Allen offers. And, dancing in and around the entries, are photos of the writer tumbling through page space.

In her launch speech, poet Judith Beveridge applauded the publishers, Brandl & Schlesinger, as innovative and courageous for taking on a unique work: “The Kamikaze Mind occupies that ground where a lot of good, enchanting and powerful writing resides—in the chinks and spaces between established genres. …This is a dictionary that prides itself not on a defensible construction of meanings, but on eccentric, almost capricious, floating, unbounded explanations, definitions that are filtered through experiences and feelings rather than explanations imposed from a literary or intellectual distance.”

The ‘kamikaze’ (Japanese for ‘divine wind’) of the title is perhaps a worry with its connotations of suicidal wartime murder. The astronaut may be in free-fall but unless you take exception to the book, he’s no killer. However, Beveridge suggested the title “could be interpreted metaphorically as explosives come to disarm us, shake us up—then, perhaps, simply to disintegrate, go back into the void once they’ve been expressed…What is Richard proposing—a militaristic Buddhism perhaps, or Buddhist militarism? This book is constantly playing with definitions, even as early as the title.”

The Kamikaze Mind is Allen’s ninth book and received the 2006 UTS Chancellor’s Award for Best PhD Thesis. Next for Allen is the premiere of the film adaptation of his last book, Thursday’s Fictions.

In the era of the emergent e-book, many publications have lives beyond the printed page. The Kamikaze Mind comes as the complete digital package with downloadable animations, wallpapers and ring tones. The images are by Karen Pearlman and the excellent, gamelanish ring tones by composer Michael Yezerski. The Kamikaze Online Mind Project is “conceived as an ongoing interactive digital arts event…a multiplatform meeting of creative minds” and promises updates, new ring tones, animations and “wearable quotes” as well as reader responses (www.thekamikazemind.com.)

Richard James Allen, The Kamikaze Mind, Brandl & Schlesinger, 2006, launched at Gleebooks, Sydney, May 11. Cover and book design Andras Berkes-Brandl. www.thekamikazemind.com

RealTime issue #74 Aug-Sept 2006 pg. 28

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2006