BOOK REVIEW: ‘Spiritual Instrument’ by M Kitchell

Spiritual Instrument
Spiritual Instruments Artwork
Artwork from Civil Coping Mechanisms website

M Kitchell’s Spiritual Instrument is a collection of poetry, prose, and various kinds of experimental texts. All of the sections are connected by Kitchell’s “obsessions” which include mysticism, rocks, lust (especially in a homosexual context), and space.

All of the pieces had previously been published elsewhere, but many here are reworked to be apart of Spiritual Instrument. It reminds me of William S. Burroughs plundering his own previous works to create new ones. The design of the book suggests a concern with treating the book as an artistic object in itself as well as a medium for the text.

“I am always interested in dialog that leads to understanding. The problem is that the knowledge is never granted to me, rather my answers illuminate the reality for the idea of someone else. This is nothing new.”

My own favorite piece in the book is “Cable TV,” a narrative piece. It tells a story about a insomniac who catches a very strange film on late night TV while the radio plays in the background. The piece reads like a highbrow “creepypasta” that focuses more on a dreamlike mood than specifically trying to creep out the reader. As the story goes on, a transcript of the radio playing runs along the side. It requires the reader to either jump back and forth between the two, or to read each part of this section twice. The comparison to House of Leaves seems too obvious.

Shutting my eyes, I had no desire but that of warmth. I’m still flesh. The image was gone. Inside of my head I could hear a hum, a melody that I immediately assigned to what I had seen. And finally, I could sleep.”

Another section I enjoyed was a poem entitled “[room].” Kitchell makes his experimentation work by having a commanding use of language. This poem is like a surrealist still life made into text.

in the middle of the room, of every room, this room that is every room, a bed. the bed, calling, the furs. i will warm your body. i once pulsed flesh and now i will keep you warm.”

“Weak” is another piece that stood out to me. While unusually arranged, it’s closer to a traditional short story than most of the prose pieces in Spiritual Instrument. The story is about a man who finds himself lost inside of a building with unusual properties. Inside, he meets another man called N. whom he falls in love with, or perhaps simply lusts after.

Lust at a personal level is pathetic, useless and desperate in a way that undermines any sort of literary value. I always attempt to maintain a distance by minor abstraction, pushing towards object-hood instead of creating a real person. It’s only about a body or else it becomes sad. Leave the self out.”

A fascinating mixture of self-analysis and narrative. As alienating as many of the techniques can be in some of this book, more “traditional” pieces like this show that Kitchell isn’t all style with little to no substance. The man can just plain write.

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