The Rifles

The Rifles

by William T. Vollmann

The latest installment of Vollmann's seven-part epic chronicling the clash of Europeans and Native Americans in the New World. Volume six focuses on the white explorers of the mid-1800s, desperately dreaming of forging a Northwest passage.

  • Series: Seven Dreams
  • Language: English
  • Category: Fiction
  • Rating: 4.05
  • Pages: 432
  • Publish Date: April 1st 1995 by Penguin Books
  • Isbn10: 0140176233
  • Isbn13: 9780140176230

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Ice. Cold. A place so cold that I have not been; and I'm guessing you have not been either. Sir John Franklin went there four times, trying to find the Northwest Passage. The Author went there, I guess, for the existential experience. Franklin, long dead, listens to King Crimson and drinks Seven-Up. The author, pretentiously re-invented as Captain Subzero, impregnates 19th century Inuits. I wished he hadn't called himself Captain Subzero, but that's Vollmann. ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- The point is the cold. Because we don't know how cold it is. Because we don't know how cold it is. Because we don't know how cold it is.

Suppose you draw a straight line. Suppose that line breaks. Suppose that line is time. Suppose that time is a man-made object. The whole time I was reading, all I could think of was the straight line as I describe above, where time doesn't go forward, but takes a hiatus; humanity pushes that button, on or off and I am you, you are me, I am who I want to be.

...The basic theme of my book is one that you might disagree with as being too gloomy: that non-Inuit are rapidly and irrevocably destroying most Inuit lifeways, leaving in their wake welfare dependency, alcoholism, violence, gasoline sniffing, and an unbridgeable gap between older and younger people, and that within the next 20 years the Canadian Arctic will become so ecologically damaged (by, say, oil spills in Lancaster Sound, mining, bulldozing, etc.) as to finish the job. I go to the Arctic whenever I can, and want nothing better than that it be preserved for itself and for your use Yours sincerely, William T.

But this also means that these different worlds are also equally unreal, so I cant take anything too seriously. None of them take precedence over any others." "Later on, I began to realize that its pretty hard to know yourself, harder still harder to know the other, and whats hardest of all to know something that is really foreign." "People would be better off if they realized that their own particular world is not privileged. To have as many worlds as possible that are invested with interest or meaning is a way of making that point. You exclude all these people in all these different worlds. And, because it is his permeable self sleeping on the page, his past, his present and his fluid personality saturate the text. When one finds reviews of this novel that reference Bill's relationship with Reepah, and his child left up there, we know that the Reader lost his way. The prose is not always perfect, and he falls foul of a rather naïve Romanticism at times, slipping into evocations of the Woman and of sex which would not be out of place in a (rather experimental, I must admit) Mills&Boon novel.

So it is with an entire face-full of snowpack and sans eyebrows that I report back from the magnetic north pole that, hot shit damn, The Rifles was amazing. Considering that its page-count is at the very least the equal of all the historical jazz which, to me, interstitially pops up to remind us that we're aboard a ghost ship in the pack-ice and going nowhere but to cook up a First Mate and not much morethat means you took issue with more or less half of the book. The centerpiece here, undoubtedly, is Bill famously almost freezing to death at the pole; misguided, under-prepared, and just fucked a half-dozen ways to the day after Saturday. The whole section is in the clutch of his most bracing work and puts an asshole like Bear Grylls to shame. *** SOME THING'S NEED TO BE SAID A GR friend commented to me yesterday that "Vollmann can't write." Whatever. And it's not as if my friend is alone in this or not a fan of WTV. I get it: x has the biggest ____ because they have read ____ in the original ____ while studying at ____ with _____ as their _____. The more friends I meet on here, the more I recognize the correlation between our similar reading habits and mental disorders. Which is to say, don't be an asshole solely because you think your pain is original. Plus, I'm right there with you, as are likely more than half of your friend's list; in the trenches of pharmacopeia, chemical imbalance, anxiety, depression, phobia, hoodoo, and all-around bad mumbo jumbo.

Writing with No Distance From Your Subject In the last couple of years I've read a fair number of arctic and antarctic stories, including Christoph Ransmayr's well-reviewed 'Terrors of Ice and Darkness.' My wager is that when enough time has passed, many will fade away.

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