a review of “the dictionary of coincidences, volume i (hi)”

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I want to thank Ermine Flagstaff for reviewing my book. Thanks Ermine. If anyone else wants to review my book let me know.  (SB)

das review: a review of “the dictionary of coincidences, volume i (hi)” by sean brijbasi
reviewed by Ermine Flagstaff

In the early 70s, a review like this might be found behind the Colonel Clinique aftershave insert in Rowdy AM magazine, adjacent to the article about the European brand of satyriasis creeping across America via the lyrics of British, French, and Swedish music artists (mostly Swedish). The list of Top 40 songs for the week could be found on page forty and in the back of the magazine you’d find advertisements about life enhancement and model train products.

That’s the type of review this is but please don’t blame the reviewer because this is a review about the book “the dictionary of coincidences, volume i (hi)” written by Sean Brijbasi and the reviewer is inevitably drawn into the nine circles of literary hell by a mediocre Virgil (compliment) where the ninth circle most likely punishes the sin of never switching out your vacuum cleaner bags.

There are ostensibly (adverb) two books in this book. The first “book” is an attempt at a self-criticism—similar to Nietzsche’s (not similar at all) but much worse. Where Nietzsche succeeded in creating a work of art from the intellectual devastation of his previous work, Brijbasi scurries into self-defense mode and attempts to preempt any current criticism or future self-criticism of the blunders found in his “dictionary”. The second book…well, I can’t find the words.

Brijbasi gets us started with an interview about his book in the book itself. I’ve never actually come across a book in which the author incudes an interview about the book in the book itself but I initially found the interview distracting from whatever else I wanted to do at the time. You might say I wanted to read the book at the time and was distracted by the interview. You might be wrong because the interview made me want to do something that did not involve reading. The interview expresses anger—mostly by the interviewer (although a subtle passive-aggressive tone emanates from Brijbasi’s answers)—about the state of modern literature. I found that I couldn’t disagree with the interviewer and whispered ‘bravo’ at least three times while I was reading. Brijbasi’s limp answers, however, squander the creative tension generated by the questions which were far more captivating and apparently written by someone else. So someone else 1, Brijbasi 0.

“The Foreword Incident” appears to be a copy and paste job of an e-mail thread between Brijbasi and a real writer (Sir Desmond Mott). I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Sir Desmond and reviewing his work—Death Milks the Cow is a tour de force of neo-magical post-realism—and found his contribution to the email thread far more erudite than Brijbasi’s. As Sir Desmond tries to extricate himself from the embarrassment of being associated with the “dictionary”, Brijbasi employs one clumsy persuasive technique after another to assure Sir Desmond that—hmm…actually I’m not sure what. But as Sir Desmond is someone else, it’s someone else 2, Brijbasi 0. And we’re only ten pages in.

In the pages that follow we get a police report, a poem, a screenplay (wtf?), and something about graffiti I didn’t quite understand before finally arriving at Brijbasi’s semi-autobiographical something about his collection of large nurses.

Note: I found Brijbasi’s desecration of sacred landmarks with his “tag” and the middle finger appalling. If I weren’t assigned this gig I would have stopped reading right there.

The police report includes a photograph of Brijbasi, confirming once and for all the narcissism that is ever-present in this book. The poem cynically titled “das book” expresses an atavistic desire for the primitive “me-writer, you-reader” interplay of middle-Beat generation pabulum. This isn’t literature as a transaction, however—the current state of literature between writer and reader today—but not in a good way. And the screenplay is an unbridled cry for help from someone who needs real help but—spiting himself (poor baby)—would rather “request assistance”.

In writing about his collection of large nurses, it becomes clear that Brijbasi’s instincts lean toward poetry. Only a poet could chew up his feelings and experiences without regard for himself or others and leave us to pick through the detritus to find anything (anything) that might just make our Sunday a little more meaningful. But there is nothing here. Brijbasi makes clear that to the poet nothing is sacred. Anything that could provide meaning is crushed and devalued. Bad manners, bad taste, and just overall badness are veiled by writerly words and so-called philosophical reflection.

This brings us to what I consider the second book in this book—what Brijbasi is really referring to with his clumsy title “the dictionary of coincidences, volume i (hi)”. It is laid out sequentially from A to Z. For each coincidence (?), there is a title (?), a brief snippet about something (?), and then a main passage about something (?). The question marks along with the confusion are mine. The writing leads one to surmise that the coincidences related in this book occurred in-vitro—that is, in some kind of artificial existence disconnected from experience. But we are allowing ourselves to be led astray if we surmise so hastily. Brijbasi tries to distract us from the fact that his—I would call it a compulsion—compulsion for poetry is formed from within and like every other writer part of his own experience.

This book also includes a correspondence between the author and a mystery woman named e{m}ma+. That’s right e{m}ma+. Is she a robot? An artificial life form of some sort? It’s not clear. But what is clear is that her letters to Brijbasi (one presumes) represent the most nimble writing found throughout the pages of this book. If you were keeping score with me, that’s someone else 6, Brijbasi 0.

And yet, despite all of my complaints and criticisms, it’s a book worth reading if you have absolutely nothing else to do.

–Ermine Flagstaff

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