Michael J. Seidlinger is the author of The Day We Delay, In Great Company, and The Artist in Question. When he isn’t consumed with language, he’s transforming into a graphic artist, musician, and professional boxer.
"The Sky Conducting is elegant, disturbing, and important."
"This is the obscure voice-over for the back-alley director’s cut of our lives as American actors. And the cameras are still rolling."
I was sitting at a bar with a friend and when I went out to smoke he looked at my copy of The Sky Conducting.
After I came back in he said, "There are a lot of good lines in this."
I agreed. The book is formed from one-sentence paragraphs that pile on top of each other, much like you might see in Nietszche, Wittgenstein, Markson, Noah Cicero, or Sam Pink.
It begins with instructions regarding how to read the book, like you would get for a piece of modern technology. Seidlinger seems to be saying that that novel can be “modern” too — it can be complex and advanced enough to require instructions. After reading this book, I couldn't agree more.
The instructions discuss breathing while reading the text. This reminded me of the art piece "Body Pressure" by Bruce Nauman. Are the instructions to be followed, or broken, or both?
At first, I found some of the messages to be not very subtle. The premise of this book is that America "dies" . . . literally, like its collective heart stops beating. But then I realized there was a lot of playing around with the semantics of the abstract, ideological words that pervade our culture.
Similarly, I initially wondered about the "good" aspects of American culture that were being overlooked in the text, but this passed as well, because as the book progresses we get less abstraction and more humanity from the main characters, who are mostly all American (no pun intended).
The novel allowed me to reflect on how we are part of a stationary mimesis. The post-apocalyptic premise serves as a sort of metaphor for the nihilism/pessimism/stasis of the recession. Our dreams are equally hope and fiction, inspiration and irreality.
One of my favorite lines: "After all the talk about the end of the world the grand irony was that it actually happened."
There is a lot of confronting the reader. Everything about this novel is confrontational.
A lot of times post-apocalyptic shit can be bleak as fuck, but Seidlinger balances both humor and humanity.
Sometimes technology has agency in this novel, and that gave me headaches. Of course, another one of my favorite lines was, "Headaches are good because they mean the mind is still working."
There is a lot of black market trade in this book, and yet somehow it all seemed calmer and more humane the everyday American market we know. It seemed people related to people as people more, and that they were more direct in their relationships, in this book, whereas in the “real-life” marketplace people relate to cashiers and salesman and producers and consumers and customers and managers and middlemen. In today's legal, and increasingly digital, markets we seem to relate more to abstractions than to humans.
By the end of the book the past tense takes over, there is no more present tense. This is how America is becoming. We can't talk about the future, because we don't know if we can believe in it.