Dear Ra: A Story in Flinches by Johannes Göransson. Starcherone Books, $16.
Reviewed by Katie Toussaint
Johannes Göransson’s Dear Ra: A Story in Flinches tears open the epistolary crypt of conscious outpouring belonging to a man who holds modern society in utter contempt. His willing descent into a disordered existence apart from the organized world is carved out in three chapters throughout which he asserts that “[t]his language doesn’t mean anything” to him. With the touch of an ultra-modern Romantic, he warps the conventional presentation of language, spinning the reader into the fast-paced confusion that becomes the cognitive whirlpool.
The initial chapter sparks into focus with “Seattle,” contemplations addressed to Ra in prose form. Göransson dabbles in varying planes of existence, as Ra, the Egyptian god of the sun, presides over the underworld, the earth, and the heavens. Through the narrator’s letters, the three levels are synthesized; the reader follows his appeal as that to a divinity, only to find that what is being unfolded is “a bitter letter to [his] ex-girlfriend, an Egyptian girl named Ra who’s got the head of a hawk.” The narrator sinks to another depth, writing that he “fed hell.” Göransson overturns the traditional view of spirituality as a separation of human and divinity, of human and devil. To Ra he says, “[y]ou plucked me out of a mayhem,” hinting at the idea that an individual has the power to liberate another from chaos, as well as to stir it into being.
Göransson’s connection with the disarray of the human interior is pricked with the Romantic perception that sacrifice is necessary to the discovery of truth by the self. The narrator rips the societal filter from his musings, “revealing things about . . . private life and genitals, . . . making life seem tacky as a ghost in a parking lot.” With his frequent vulgarities, the narrator exposes the raw essences of the human presence, and so lays bare the unhindered mind. Surrounding society opposes his ways, thinks he is “blind like love, but [he is] actually blind as a highway.” The narrator, who has “always belonged to another congregation,” epitomizes the unabashed assertion of individuality, boundless despite the necessity of “hanging with hysteria and . . . not wearing any band-aids.”
Through Göransson’s narrator, the poet figure graced with both humor and insight in the midst of typicality is embodied. The narrator’s “poem” celebrates self-ridicule in a world that works too hard to conform; he admits that “[i]f forced to decipher my handwriting, you might think this was a scientific tract on the migrant patterns of birds. I’m an expert on beaks, not escape routes.” His thread of thought is thus a tangle of impulse and wondering, of questions unanswered yet glorified by the very fact that they were printed onto a page. The poet is the individual transformed into basics, into unfamiliarity, “learning how to bleach . . . hair . . . [h]ow to rain . . . [h]ow to sneak into a thrust . . . [h]ow to blare.” The everyday becomes an experiment in the unknown.
Within the second and third chapters of the book, “Found Poem” and “Spanish Harlem,” the narrator’s self-established sense of purpose streaks into awareness. He manifests the ability to create the self and, in doing so, to redefine the external world through perception. He declares, “I’ve invented a new brand of surgery—I don’t try to keep things together that should fall apart; I pluck them, I shuck them, I ship them to opposite sides of the house. I’m trying to cut the connection between ladies who crouch in my garage, knitting their lives together using nails as needles and a blue thread that looks like a vein.” Göransson reveres disharmony as the nature of things, as that which need not fall prey to the structured interference of society. His stylistic effusion of conscious thought reveals that a life is not meant to be cohesive and fully understood, but simply to be considered and lived. He defines “beauty” as a “brilliant nonsense” founded upon subjectivity. In doing so, the narrator’s torrent of perception becomes a personal triumph, a “self-inflicted mosaic” of past and present, lucidity and confusion; in this way, the internal complexities of the individual existence are conveyed in their purest sense.
The world is “searching for a concept that will rupture.” As the pages of his book flutter past, Göransson unveils the life quivering behind all things. Every letter is a burst, a flinch, an overturning of the senses and of common understanding that progresses towards a quickening state of disorder to ultimately shift and curl into a poetic sequence of introspection. Dear Ra turns madness into clarity, and back again, in a limitless riddle of what has happened, or perhaps what never did. With every flicker of thought, “[l]aughter will sound like books burning in junior high parking lots, but the bang won’t whisper and the world won’t end. It never does.”