Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & Beyond by Denis Johnson

Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & Beyond

byDenis Johnson

Kobo ebook | March 3, 2009

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Part political disquisition, part travel journal, part self-exploration, Seek is a collection of essays and articles in which Denis Johnson essentially takes on the world.And not an obliging, easygoing world either; but rather one in which horror and beauty exist in such proximity that they might well be interchangeable. Where violence and poverty and moral transgression go unchecked, even unnoticed. A world of such wild, rocketing energy that, grasping it, anything at all is possible.

Whether traveling through war-ravaged Liberia, mingling with the crowds at a Christian Biker rally, exploring his own authority issues through the lens of this nation's militia groups, or attempting to unearth his inner resources while mining for gold in the wilds of Alaska, Johnson writes with a mixture of humility and humorous candor that is everywhere present.

With the breathtaking and often haunting lyricism for which his work is renowned, Johnson considers in these pieces our need for transcendence. And, as readers of his previous work know, Johnson's path to consecration frequently requires a limning of the darkest abyss. If the path to knowledge lies in experience, Seek is a fascinating record of Johnson's profoundly moving pilgrimage.

Title:Seek: Reports from the Edges of America & BeyondFormat:Kobo ebookPublished:March 3, 2009Publisher:HarperCollinsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0061869465

ISBN - 13:9780061869464


Rated 5 out of 5 by from ... this old stuff rolling over us ...: A review of Seek by Denis Johnson Over the past year or so I’ve read some really incredible short stories, novels, and works of journalism: Joan Didion, Amy Hempel, Mark Richard, Junot Diaz, Joy Williams, Nora Ephron, Tom Wolfe… the list goes on and on. It has been a year of some really terrific literature and truly fine writing (and yes, Stephen King would object to the advert “truly” qualifying the word fine there). As part of research I am doing on Chuck Palahniuk and the New Journalism I came across Denis Johnson’s Seek: Reports from the Edges of American and Beyond. Johnson is perhaps best known for his collection of short stories Jesus’ Son, named after song lyrics written by Lou Reed. After Seek, I must admit, I’m having a difficult time getting over some of these essays. I keep talking about them with friends. He’s such a powerful writer that the images remain with you long after you’ve finished. He’s observing and bearing witness to the ruins of the millennium (and beyond). There are bits that will amuse but more often than not you’ll find yourself stunned and occasionally horrified. The 1990s marked the end of the Cold War, true. But the war persisted. Johnson may not disagree that the 1990s simply became WWIII, even if no one had the heart to say it out loud. I was left wondering how Johnson survived some of his encounters; so is he I suspect. These essays are astonishing. And the thing is . . . I spend a lot of time teaching and reading about these topics: genocide, torture, violence, but these essays still managed to decentre my world a bit. As was remarked a long time ago, time is out of joint. But with Johnson it isn’t just time, but space too. Twisted wreckages of geography with lives cut adrift from any sense of safety or home. Crashed lives. “The Civil War in Hell” is about the Liberian civil war. Johnson recounts the contents of a videotape of an “interrogation” that was shown to awaiting journalists. The interrogation (torture) had taken place in the very room where the most recent press conference has been conducted. “Hippies” is more about being lost and nicely documents the ideals and illusions of a community that tried to live and experience things differently. It also has a good description of what happens if you ingest the hallucinogen psilocybin. “Down Hard Six Times” was the most amusing. A good yarn about a couple who fly to Alaska to find gold to forge their wedding rings from. Johnson wryly observes at the beginning of the piece that a ninety pound portable generator isn’t that portable. I loved the essay “Bikers for Jesus” which follows and further documents my interest in male-oriented religious movements of the 90s. The essay “Three Deserts” is a tour de force, offering scattered remarks on observations from around the world. “The Militia in Me” comes across as a brutally honest essay about our own antagonistic relation with the government, although I can’t help but suspect this tension is experienced the same in parts of Canada as in parts of the US. It is a remarkably sympathetic essay that gives us a glimpse into the margins… without falling into the really dark place he describes. “Run, Rudolph, Run follows a similar theme. “The Lowest Bar in Montana” is – in comparison to some of the essays – a bit more down home, nostalgic perhaps. “An Anarchist’s Guide to Somalia” and “The Small Boys’ Unit” finish off the collection. These two essays in particular are worth the price of purchase alone, but they will haunt you. Johnson’s sympathy for humanity and his own fears, doubts, and desire all come together in this anthology of essays. It is a rare collection. New Journalism has been faulted for many things. Johnson’s essays are not of the usual sort, littered with maps and details and numbers. He’s trying – trying his very best – to tell the story. And he survives and we have to now live with what we know. What does it mean to us?
Date published: 2008-09-30