Wednesday 20 March 2013

CBe 2013 4/ Todd McEwen, The Five Simple Machines

The epigraph page of The Five Simple Machines offers a definition (‘Machine: any device or apparatus for the application or modification of force to a specific purpose’) and (for anyone who wasn't paying attention in class) a helpful piece of information: ‘The term “simple machines” is applied to the six so-called mechanical powers – the lever, wedge, wheel and axle, pulley, screw and inclined plane.’ Thus far, it could be an physics textbook (except I doubt many of those are dedicated ‘To the Champagne Girls’). Then comes the opening sentence: ‘As in Archimedes’ case, there was nowhere to stand – I was like those wooden statuettes you get in Africa, the little guys with the big diks. They’re always rearing back, the dik jutting out, waving their arms as if they’re thanking the moon for giving them such a braying donkey of a hard-on.’

So: it’s about sex. But I publish books for their writing, not for their subject matter, don’t I?, and here is the same headlong exuberance and wit with an undertow of time passing that won me in Todd McEwen’s Who Sleeps with Katz (2003), a storm of a book, both elegaic and celebratory, about New York. If anyone had told me, when I first read Katz, that I’d sometime be publishing this man myself, I’d have said sure, and pigs can fly and bankers will surrender their bonuses. I’m privileged. If it was by Todd McEwen, I’d publish a book on mechanical engineering. This is not that book.

The cover is miminalist, as per usual, but the picture below, Parade amoureuse (1917) by Picabia, is included as the book’s frontispiece.

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