Friday, March 20, 2009

Leon, Jon. Hit Wave. New York, NY: Kitchen Press, 2008.

Primarily composed of two long sections of prose, Jon Leon’s chapbook Hit Wave employs an absurdist-satire that recalls Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. “1982,” the first major section of the collection, documents the artistic and careerist pursuits of an unnamed speaker as he attempts to reconcile himself to the fact “that poetry was now industry.” The piece’s narrator saturates the reader with a continuous stream of events, book titles, sexual exploits, alcohol-drug consumption, and faux-artistic revolutions that unwittingly imbricate him in the system he claims to oppose “during a political awakening that would remain with [him] as [he] attempted an avant coup in 2004.” Take, for instance, the following paragraph, which functions as a microcosm of the work as a whole:
While writing Long Hot Summer in Atlanta I went through a string of glossy women a la Eva Herzigova. Though I lived like a wretch my charisma was irresistible. I remember sitting in a restaurant in the East Village thinking about a plot error and how Carre sitting across from me looked like Noelle, a girl I’d met on the terrace at Zane’s and who’d said she modeled for Wayne Maser.
Throughout “1982,” book titles, such as “Long Hot Summer,” operate as signifiers emptied of specificity, vis-à-vis the writing therein, and instead act as contextual markers for the speaker’s extracurricular exploits: in this case, “a string of glossy women a la Eva Herzigova.” Of course, since the creation and publication of these books are detached from particular dates, readers are left without any sense of how the events before or after the current description relate. The one constant that does relate each event to one another is the speaker’s self-aggrandizing narcissism; the writing and “artistic” endeavors become window-dressing for caricature. In fact, the sheer volume of titles the speaker references (32 that he either writes, creates, publishes, reads, or watches) transforms the egalitarian Whitmanian catalogue into a solipsistic undertaking in which he falls prey to “the pleasure that only international prestige can offer.” Furthermore, the interchangeability of female names (i.e. “Carrie sitting across from me looked like Noelle”) evidences the rampant misogyny that pervades the text, wherein “a string of glossy women” serve as fulfillment for the narrator’s “sexual deviousness.”

All of these actions and attitudes are rationalized by the speaker through the lens of the misunderstood genius:
A lot of people didn’t like me. Most of them were poets. They called me names like proletarian, idealist, romantic, handsome. Fools I thought. Why would people sell themselves short and not just live the life of pure creative glamour. It is easy for me, to others it was a mirage. The real geniuses of history were the ones brave enough to be it. I couldn’t understand their criticisms to be anything but jealousy.
And this, it would seem, encapsulates Hit Wave’s conceptual focus: the manner in which misguided identity formation can so easily, especially in today’s cultural-environment of hyper-self-promotion, devolve into a carte blanche justification for dismissal of the other in order to foster megalomania; or stated in Leon’s words, extolling “the life of pure creative glamour” at the expense of “poets” and “fools.” In many regards, then, “1982” functions as a cautionary or moralistic tale. Yet unlike a Horatio Alger story in which the main character’s ambition results in an unassuming assimilation into bourgeois existence, the main character in Jon Leon’s story does not seek assimilation, but a recklessly autonomous existence that revels in inflicting “severe sickness and humiliation” upon “those people who ignored me.” To this extent, Leon does not provide a (much needed) model with which to combat Alger’s capitalist propaganda, but through caricature, unwittingly provides a nihilistic counterpoint that confirms the worst fears of those who resist that which resides outside of the hegemonic order.


  1. Jon Leon, I think, is the author of Hit Wave. and Justin Marks does Kitchen Press (maybe you consolidated their names?). Regardless, I'm glad I found your blog with all these sweet reviews!

  2. who are you and how do i send you more books?