Reading David Hoenigman’s novel, Burn Your Belongings, one is struck almost instantly by its unusual, though not altogether unfamiliar, style; one is instantly made to recall the work of Samuel Beckett, and even Pierre Guyotat’s anti-novel, Eden Eden Eden, sharing that book’s relentlessness, its obsessiveness, its disregard for the niceties of orthodox storytelling. Burn Your Belongings is an ultra-minimalist work: each page is a paragraph and each paragraph is devoid of proper names, commas, colons, semi-colons, question marks, dialogue and standard capitalization – apart of course from the all important first-person pronoun.
The narrator’s mnemonic journey, recounting a tale of love, jealousy and betrayal, is told in lean, declarative sentences. But perhaps the real journey is one of extrication, as we watch the narrator attempting to pull himself free from the reminiscences that consume him and from which he is barely distinguishable, such are the coils and bonds that have been forged.
He presents love as nothing less than complete consumption of the other, so that the narrator is doomed not so much by the reality of the situation he finds himself in, but by the very attempt to assimilate another person so completely. There is a battle being played out as we oscillate between the glories of such a union and the dangers faced should one need to survive alone. Hoenigman writes:
I like saying goodbye to people I know I’ll never see again. it reaffirms what I’ve come to believe. that I was a ghost. that I’ll continue to dream and speak far beyond where there’s nothing more to see. places only I could inhabit. my face blurred. my eyes a different color. my name forgotten.
And later on the same page:
I can piece the rest together. my life is the same as hers.
At times it is like watching an operation to separate Siamese twins from the inside. A torching of possessions, or rather the very possibility of possession itself, is it seems the only way to facilitate such a split. The hope of a more complete coming together and the hazards that such a condition poses underscore every page, as the narrator remakes his lover and unmakes her at every turn, remaking and unmaking himself in the process.
The absence of names, proper nouns and dialogue not only serves to blur the distinction between mind and world, self and other, but also allows the reader an at times uneasy sense of access. For by stripping everything back to its introspective underpinnings, Hoenigman manages to construct a space that is both universal and perversely personal – the sad generalities of intimacy laid out for inspection – so that when the narrator states ‘I don’t belong here. I don’t belong anywhere’ the reader can at once understand and sympathise.
Reading this book I was reminded of the philosopher David Hume’s bundle theory of self, and then rather more recent narrative accounts of the self (such as Daniel Dennett’s) sprung to mind, as did Galen Strawson’s comment on such notions in his paper, ‘The Self’, where he states that
There is an important respect in which James Joyce’s use of punctuation in his ‘stream of consciousness’ novel em>Ulysses makes his depiction of the character of the process of consciousness more accurate in the case of the heavily punctuated Stephen Daedalus than in the case of the unpunctuated Molly Bloom.
Hoenigman’s terse, staccato prose is the language of consciousness, and his book not so much anti-narrative as true to the realities of one’s inner sense-making, true to the convoluted and seemingly disparate tales we tell ourselves. This is definitely one of those instances where a bare and experimental prose style is necessitated, being precisely what is needed to capture the inexorable meanderings of a person’s mind as he confronts his past and the possibility of a future without it.
In short, Burn Your Belongings is a well-crafted and adventurous book from what is undoubtedly a writer of great promise.
About the author:
Gary J. Shipley is a writer and philosopher based in the UK.