Liber Exuvia
Elytron Frass

gnOme books, 2018
Paperback, 148 pages


Elytron Frass’ Liber Exuvia is a work that can suffer multiple partitions. On a level of bare structure, the book falls into two parts: an opening portion of texts, followed by images. The author himself divides it up into three, Abdomen, Thorax, and Head, in keeping with the work’s focus on the insect. Thorax is further divided into Cum-Coated, Piss-Coated, and Blood-Coated. However, I see it as most illuminating to approach Liber Exuvia as fundamentally an interweaving of five separate mediums, a joining of technologies to produce a remarkable overwhelming of the senses. It is a binding of media under the sign of the mantis to instantiate the cannibalism of the head, a ritual for auto-decapitation and regrowth, a production of what is seemingly negation. The media are as follows.


First Medium: The Bureaucratic Survey

The entrance to the work is carried out a through a series of surveys, each titled as “Synopsis of Statements Indicative of a Shared Past Life Regression.” These forms offer a list of statements which can be answered with Y to indicate affirmation or N to indicate divergence. Anyone who has experienced the questions of the state or medical apparatus (or their funhouse mirror equivalent, the magazine personality quiz) will find this familiar. Frass has already filled out his answers and there is room for yours. The forms seem to adapt to N’s, reformulating themselves until the desired Y is achieved.


Second Medium: The Weird Tale

The bureaucratic form exists in tension with the Past Life Regressions it describes, radiantly grotesque and profanely erotic narratives that catch human and inhuman history in their net. The production of unreality achieved here, stripped of all else, would make this book worth it. There is a moment, a simple, impossible movement from a freakshow stage to a holy river, that matches Ligotti at his best. But further, in the deformation of the narrative by the numbered list, in the staccato beat of the separated lines, in the blank space left for your answers, something new is made. Something at once sterile and roiling with unknown disease, a white ceramic bowl with bile streaming from its cracks, a bare room with a steaming pit at its center; a poetics of the sheer horror of the repetition of unrepeatable life.


Third Medium: The Grimoire

Past the synopses you are directed to drawings, tables, and diagrams containing runes compiled from UFO sites, an elaborately constructed occult system offering traces of “the madness of arthropodomancy.” Magic seals, shaped Romanian incantations, and instructions for the manipulation of the shed skin of the mantis all confront the you. The flood of metempsychosis has initiated you into the acephalic disorder of the arthropod.


Fourth Medium: The Art Book

The works of art that form, and are interlaced with, the workings of arthropodomancy function not only as vessels for esoteric knowledge but convey and depend upon a sense of visual pleasure. Fundamentally these are images worth looking at. Despite the promise of mystery they hold, you are pushed back to luxuriate in their surface, to consider a way of looking before or beyond reading. Even the text is drawn into this mode by its centripetal force, the ink becomes smooth and uniform, the body turns chitinous. Something moves underneath the gleaming exoskeleton.


Fifth Medium: Elytron Frass

Below the cruelty of rebirth and the invocation of the mantis as alien force lies something further; the persona that, if unable to possess it, initiated the work and whose traces are left on every page. Elytron Frass has sent this to you in hopes you will complete him, that the surveys you filled out will confirm you spilled out from the same past life ootheca he did. The self is a medium for the expression of an absence beyond loneliness, one that binds and animates all the others in its search. The horizon of the search is ultimately not acephalic, but rather cephalopagic.


Maxime Berclaz is a first year candidate for an M.F.A. in Poetry at the University of Notre Dame and an Editorial Intern at Action Books. He has been published in Poems for Freedom, an anthology of poems put together in support of the anarchist bookstore Freedom after its firebombing, and has also had a review in Pank.