Pin It
Favorite

Book Review 

by Marty Demarest


A good encyclopedia should do two things: feed our needs for both information and imagination. We should be able to lose ourselves in something that we didn't know before we picked up that book. And we should start to connect what we know with what we've read.


William Vollmann, the contemporary novelist, has decided to give us an encyclopedia of violence. He's called the seven-volume work -- decades in the making -- Rising Up and Rising Down. It's been published, against probability, by McSweeney's Press, in a hardcover boxed set that is torn apart by the weight of the books. Clearly, we're dealing with an obsessive project.


His first volume begins with "Three Meditations on Death." Here, Vollmann details his own confrontation with violence, and the light that illuminates it: mortality. He then goes on to offer a frank personal introduction to the work. "Putting aside any notion that the world is becoming a better place was neither easy nor pleasant for me," he writes.


The world, as he goes on to detail it, is pretty bad. Vollmann has assembled a good record of our crimes. The seven volumes use sources as diverse as Jesus Christ, the Marquis de Sade, and Animal Liberation Front member "Virginia" to give us stories that Vollmann examines for the clues and qualities of violence.


From this, Vollmann derives his "Moral Calculus," which is the part of the book that may go on to have lasting impact. The topics of this guide include things like "What Factors Need To Be Considered in Judging Any Violent Act?" and "Maxims for Murderers." That last category contains this piece of wisdom: "The Klansman's Maxim: If I believe your race or culture threatens mine, I have the right first to threaten you back, then to remove your threat by violence." Contemporary American politicians couldn't have said it better.


Yet despite indulging in the temptation to judge his subjects, Vollmann remains a reliable guide. We certainly can't ask for an encyclopedist of a topic as dark as violence to be absolutely objective. But most of his editorializing comes from evocative and compelling descriptions of what historical events must have been like, because, as he writes, "I figured that if my theorizing were wrong or unpalatable, the reader might at least have some moments of pleasure." Pleasure, certainly, in reading something this audacious and chilling.





Publication date: 02/19/04

  • Pin It

Latest in News

  • Crash > Click > Cash
  • Crash > Click > Cash

    Lawyers and chiropractors already have your name, your address and the police report from your car accident — and they want you to hire them
    • Jul 21, 2016
  • Starting Small
  • Starting Small

    A village of tiny houses in Spokane Valley could serve as a model for fighting homelessness in the region
    • Jul 21, 2016
  • Drastic Action
  • Drastic Action

    Spokane among seven school districts sued by State Superintendent of Public Instruction; plus, trio of police-chief finalists are in town
    • Jul 21, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Wed | Thu | Fri | Sat | Sun | Mon
Spokane Artist Trading Card Swap

Spokane Artist Trading Card Swap @ Boots Bakery & Lounge

Last Wednesday of every month

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Marty Demarest

  • The Cowboy's Cowboy
  • The Cowboy's Cowboy

    A Canadian sings about the life —  not just the lifestyle — of the new West
    • May 15, 2013
  • Completing the Trilogy
  • Completing the Trilogy

    Mass Effect has finally arrived
    • May 23, 2012
  • Minecraft
  • Minecraft

    Adventure and survival too often give way to mindless crafts in this building-block simulator.
    • Feb 8, 2012
  • More »

Most Commented On

  • Lane Ends Ahead

    Spokane wants to improve a mile-long section of Monroe — but that means taking away two lanes
    • Jul 7, 2016
  • Too Smart for School

    What happens when a 12-year-old prodigy tries to go to college in Spokane?
    • Jun 30, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

green zone


marijuana


Briefs


election 2016


trail mix


Readers also liked…

  • Patrolling While Black
  • Patrolling While Black

    Gordon Grant's nearly 30 years as a Spokane cop have been affected by race, but that's not the whole story
    • Jul 8, 2015
  • Shake Down
  • Shake Down

    When an earthquake rocks Western WA, what will happen in the Inland Northwest?
    • Jul 22, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation