Saturday, April 24, 2021

ELADATL- East Los Angeles Dirgible Air Transport Lines by Sesshu Foster and Arturo Romo


“It all starts on Bunker HIll. Some people say we emerged from the 22nd Street tunnel to the stairs, ascending Angel’s Flight to the top of the hill, a bunch of us with Elote Girl with cornsilk in her long dusty hair and her sack of corn that she sells steaming with mayonnaise on the street corner. That’s not really true... not in the literal sense (what is?), that’s pure reductionism, but that’s what I’m going with because, because- anyway, yeah- we need a simple gesture at the beginning- especially for things that seem to have no beginning or end.” 

Most who have read his previous novel, Atomik Aztex, would probably agree that its author, Sesshu Foster, an inter-culturalist if there ever was one, must surely rank amongst the more adventurous, some might say outlandish, novelists at work today. As narratively elusive as he is  geographically centered, Foster's writing is hard to pin down, though what one can definitely say he’s as invested in the present as he is in the past and future. His sentences, like pesky promiscuous electrons, jump from  subject to subject, era to era, and, when it comes to montage, scene to scene. At the same time,  he remains focused,  in spirit if not in actuality, on his home turf of East Los Angeles. In ELADATL, published by City Lights, it’s Alhambra accompanied by forays into Lincoln Heights and points beyond.  At the same time,  Foster treats his particular locale pretty much as the center of the universe, like a macrocosmic version of the way S. Dalí thinks about Perpignan train station. Though Foster’s title might stand for East Los Angeles Dirgirble Air Transport Line, the  phonetic implication is that the company  has connections Nahuatl in origin, perhaps to the extent that it even now is creating enough oxygen to enable hot-air lift-off. What emerges is an alternative history dancing from the distant past, to the present, with its images derived from  popular culture, into the future; in other words,  a radical revision of the world, based upon, but no crazier than, the world we presently inhabit. 

Foster's collaborator here is Arturo Romo, an artist whose enfolding imagination is the perfect foil for Foster.  From different generations they join forces here to convert the underlying wasteland that comprises industrial SoCal into a wonderland,  splitting the difference between utopia, dystopia and apocalyptica. Their shared  notion of a lighter-than-air movement, undetectable and insurrectionist,  pits zeppelinist against dirgiblist, embedded in a  narrative rooted in the grassroots of  technological angst and political marginalisation.  Lighter-than-air might also be a metaphor for Foster’s writing and Romo’s art work, not to mention their political perspective,  which, to misquote Lenin, aspires to be as radical as reality (I was about to write sur-reality, but that would land me in the same soup as eurosplainer Dr Barnswallow in ELADATL’s opening chapter). They accomplish this by avoiding any Tinseltown ideology and representations, from which point they can work to undermine what amounts to the historical burden long facing various communities. As with Aztex, ELADATL  is  an act of recovery, an updraft of  lost memories, as humorous as it is serious. Moreover, one can  read the book as an homage to the absent and misrepresented, most predominant of which is the influential writer Oscar Zeta Acosta, around whose ghost dances a cast of strangers and malcontents, whether living or reincarnated, from Elmer Fudd to Lee Harvey Oswald. The result is an artifact that, despite the presence of various malignant forces, can’t help but offer more than a glimmer of hope. That is, if you can “attune your cellular vibrations to the frequency of Star Beings” and “the merciless winds of the human heart,” in which case you’ll be elevated  in more ways than one. 

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