Throne of Blood
By Cassandra Troyan
Reviewed by Christopher Higgs
Cassandra Troyan's Throne of Blood deterritorializes genre in the most beautifully messy manner imaginable. It simultaneously behaves like fiction, nonfiction, poetry, sci-fi, splatter punk, gorecore, sixth wave, blinker freak, and unapologetic porn. It mutates, squirms, quivers, convulses, never settles down, never behaves, and never offers respite for the reader.
The lusciously disgusting opening passage, which modulates between prose and numbered poetic lines,
He's sucking the marrow out of a girl's femur so there's enough space to fuck it. It's really too hot for it to be spring.
2. I'm a little dry
evokes a very Bluebeard-esque scenario of chopped up girls dangling from meat hooks. By the fourth page, the text opens up or rather sinks itself in mud as words begin to come unglued from their sentences:
The mud gets so
on my chest
pushing it to explosion
my nose filling
with the sandy
Words then begin to trickle like blood droplets across five pages, visually conveying the sensation of falling to the point where one page houses only the word "down," before coagulating again into prosaic imagery of fucking, choking, gargling, howling, and the suggestion of immanent death.
And this is merely the PREAMBLE.
Pages later we read, "To be a real person is to not be alive." And I whisper that line into the laundry room when nobody is home so I can hear it echo and reverberate against the machines. I wish I was closer to the Grand Canyon. I wish I could be atop a roller coaster in Denver Colorado so I might shout that line as I plummet. "To be a real person is to not be alive!" The speaker might be one of the monster's victims. Or, the speaker might be the monster. Perhaps the speaker is both? Many monsters accumulate trophies. Many victims report moments during their experience where they desired death. To be alive is the briefest of moments in the cosmic scheme of things. And from the perspective of the artist producing challenging work, as Troyan most certainly is, the gratification of the present provides little comfort. This speaks to one of the many commonalities shared by monsters, victims, and artists.
Reports and interviews and scientific studies indicate few monsters find pleasure in the acts they perform. Instead, the pleasure comes from the anticipation and the reflection. The before and after. Similarly, the moment of trespass marks a threshold for the victim, which demarcates the before and after of the unthinkable event. For the artist, too, these observations apply. Most importantly, the before and after are what matters according to Throne of Blood. In the present, we the living are not only worthless, we are not real. We are fakes, phonies, pretenders pretending, performing, acting, mimicking as unauthentically as any horror film.
A quizzical predicament, which only becomes more beautifully confusing as our reading progresses. "If you love someone," page forty stares back at me, "fuck the world. / I don't believe in love because it is real / And I am tethered to the hope through spit." So, in this complicated calculus Troyan creates the idea of aliveness equating with fakeness, and deadness equating with realness. Love is real, and therefore dead. Ergo, loving someone is akin to worshiping death. Indeed, the seething lava of Hades seems to beckon us from every page of this book. The drunken Dionysian jubilee Troyan parades before us entices us to succumb to the forever middle, the before and after that tricks us into believing in the existence of a now: the uncertain, unstable, violent thrashing of existence from moment to moment, alone, afraid, in the dark, surrounded by wolves snarling and snapping at our frail bodies like they are merely juicy slices of meat.
"The real," she tells us, "must be fictionalized in order to be thought." This is the title running along the left-hand margin of page seventy. The question Throne of Blood seems interested in provoking is not the basic ontological question, "what does it mean to be," but rather a more rabidly black and potently nihilistic question: who gives a fuck about being? Or, put in the form of a statement rather than a question: to be is not to be, forget the question.
"IF I COULD JUST NOT BE A HUMAN, LIFE WOULD BE GREAT," says page seventy, nuancing the earlier preoccupation with death, shifting our attention toward becoming other rather than becoming nothing. Of all the moments in the book, this moment seems the most intriguing cri de coeur. Radical alterity: transforming the desire for non-being into the desire to be something other than human. It is hard not to hear theorist Donna Haraway mumbling posthumanist incantations behind this text's meat curtains. To become other, to blur the boundaries between human and machine, human and animal, material and immaterial is what Haraway famously calls becoming cyborg. Troyan's cyborg, however, is a sex machine with a broken pleasure button. Too much pleasure, not enough pleasure. All pleasure and no pleasure. Wet, gyrating, flustered and contorted. Where ejaculation and blood mix with spit and shit to form a greasy, smelly lubrication for ontological transformation. Where resolution is no resolution. Where the truth of falsity and the falsity of truth shine brightly in the face of sheer brutality and gore.
As the end approaches, I can't help but notice how the book acts like what happened never happened, "…to roll over in such / luscious sludge / … / to leave us as sacks / of skin side by side. / so empty and so full." Or, perhaps I am mistaken: maybe it has happened, again and again, so many times we have no choice but to think of ourselves as little more than lost climbers on Corpse Mountain. The swollen bloated flesh of that revelation unsettles me. We are all loosely collated yet chaotic meat sacks with appetites, I know. Objects interacting with other objects. What this book does better than most other books is engage with this experience we call living in a way that never reduces or summarizes, but instead makes more complex, elaborate, and intense. So, while I am reading it in the cold, shallow bathtub after a lightning storm, as I am typing these words in my florescent-lit office cubicle amidst the rousing conversation of medievalist scholars debating the relative merits of Henry VI's attack strategy during The War of the Roses, I feel compelled to go outside and dig a hole the size of a lunchbox in the front yard of the nearest sorority—the Chi Omega house, where in the early morning hours of January 15, 1978, Ted Bundy entered the bedroom of 20-year-old Lisa Levy and beat her unconscious, strangled her, tore one of her nipples, bit deeply into her left buttock, and sexually assaulted her with a hair mist bottle—in order to bury Throne of Blood without watering it. There will be vomit and urine, I am sure of it, someday placed upon its topsoil, for the space assigned to sorority front lawns seems amenable to those fluids, so it holds that someday this book will find another audience as it transforms into the earth and grows like a weed for the killing. Because then, and only then, will it become real.