Book Review: The Well-Dressed Wound

BOOKS_well-dressed-woundThe Well-Dressed Wound
Derek McCormack, 72 pages, Semiotext(e)/MIT Press, mitpress.mit.edu, $12.95

I’m here for experimental, in-your-face, transgressive literature. I’ll read you Kathy Acker before bed and wake you up in the morning with Severo Sarduy. And I really did want to know what Derek McCormack is going for in his new play script The Well-Dressed Wound. Like, it’s meant to be shocking, but not just for shock’s sake; abrasive, but not just because it can be. But it’s a bit suffocating to try and move around in the highly charged language and scenarios McCormack creates.

Though the book takes the loose and very de-centered form of a playbook séance for Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln’s dead gay son, there’s also the story of a caustic, spastic rendering of fashion designer Martin Margiela as the devil himself. Margiela gleefully extolls the wasting away and impending doom of untreated AIDS as “the future of fashion,” and screams sickeningly about “faggots” shitting, pissing, and cumming in various orifices all while loving to die.

All of this is punctuated by whole pages marked “Cum:” and “Margiela’s confetti,” great heaps of dialogue composed of spaces and exclamation points, list descriptions of outfits and fashion lines and ungrounded references to the Civil War.

It’s fun and really disturbing at the same time. I know McCormack is queer, and always writes tersely about dark shit, but I think this is his wildest piece yet. I really did get drained and upset reading about “faggots dying from AIDS,” to the point where I lost the understanding of who this was for or why he was writing this. It’s pretty desolate.

The format of this as a play makes the chorus of voices and shrieks all the more cacophonous. It feels like a practice in some dense theory, and the fact that it’s put out by purveyors of the radical queer intellectual vanguard Semiotext(e) confirms this. So maybe I’m missing something. Yet the deconstructed prose and form (and I guess I do mean this in the Derridean sense?) is at least a fun challenge, and I do like feeling a bit dizzy or confused in the middle of a book. If you do too, go for a ride with Martin Margiela. I can’t tell you for sure where you’ll end up. (Jonathan Valelly)

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