Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word Stories, by Harold Jaffe
(Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2010)
Reviewed by Caleb Powell
Harold Jaffe’s literary vision may not be unleashed by psychotropic drugs, but his prose suggests a hypothetical “David Markson on LSD.” He challenges the reader to connect previously undiscovered synapses, reminiscent of Markson’s brilliant collage masterpieces, yet from a completely different aesthetic, one that documents cultures in chaos. The ramifications are unsettling. Jaffe is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, anthologized in Best American Short Stories, and the author of fifteen books, including Jesus Coyote and 15 Serial Killers: Docufictions. His latest, Anti-Twitter: 150 50-Word Stories, uses “Anti-Tweets” to blend the journalist’s talent for headline with the poet’s lyricism, conveying the violence, indifference, absurdity, narcissism, and pain inflicted by the machine of uncontrolled authority. The central trope asks: How can society find the horrific and bizarre so damned entertaining? When we are titillated we should be appalled, and this should cause discomfort.
He writes with irony: “Sotheby’s announced plans to auction the largest privately owned collection of torture devices on record…Proceeds will go to Amnesty International.” With eloquence: “Naked, she lies on her back in a mangrove swamp in the jungle denseness.” He highlights the neo-sexual: “Machines provide exactly what you need.” And comic: “A Polish politician has criticized a zoo for acquiring a ‘gay’ elephant.” Even the titles of the Anti-Tweets incite, as shown with “Cows & Republicans.” Jaffe touches the macabre, brutal, and tragic: “A man who beheaded a fellow bus passenger pleaded not guilty on the grounds that God had instructed him to kill.” And: “Family members confessed to the murder, accusing the boy of collaborating with Israel.” In “Anorexic” he confronts one of the most despicable advertisements ever: “The designer who portrayed AIDS sufferers and Death Row inmates to sell overpriced Benetton clothing is back…” And in a poignant musing, he hones in, with bold italics, on Walter Benjamin, who committed suicide in Portugal rather than be deported to the hands of Nazi authorities in occupied France: “(Benjamin)…Inhabited that place at which weakness and genius coincide.”
Anti-Twitter evokes emptiness or outrage with bombastic, unapologetic, and often subversive iconoclasm. Jaffe’s implied positions are not always congruent with my own nihilism and cynicism, his certainties and passions may seem reckless, but there lies underneath a controlling mechanism. He simultaneously illuminates and rails against the proverbial darkness, yet succeeds in presenting coherent arguments. A powerful and worthwhile read.