Reasonably hot off the heels of her magnificent, dreamlike Recollection, breathtaking comics poetry auteur Alyssa Berg returns with another self-published collection, Soft Fascinations, once again riso-printed with a varied and deeply sympathetic color palette that accentuates her themes of memory, fluidity, sensory consciousness, and transcendence with a kind of remarkably naturalistic aplomb, while at the same time bathing the book’s expressive illustrations with a soft, ephemeral glow. Calling it “beautiful” doesn’t do it nearly enough justice — trust me.
At just 20 pages, this is a shorter work than Berg’s last, justly-celebrated release, and yet it feels more conceptually “tight” and focused, as if each short “strip” (a term we’ll employ, by dint of sheer necessity, in as broad and expansive a fashion as possible) builds upon the one before it to present, in the end, a holistic journey within that is grounded not so much — okay, maybe even not at all — in a consensus view of “reality,” but rather in an artistic philosophy that eternally searches for human connection in all ways, at all times, between all people.
What would not be wise is to mistake this comic’s inherent universality for an eschewing of the individual, the singular, the idiosyncratic. Berg speaks a visual language all her own and communicates in it fluently, presenting readers with something wholly unique and new, yet instantly and intensely familiar — not necessarily in the way comics are, but in the way dreams are. The internal and the external are not so much linked herein as they are co-dependent on each other for their very survival, and engaged in a perpetual cycle of co-creation that even the most dense and impenetrable “New Age” texts would be at a loss to adequately explain and/or delineate — one births the other, flows from it, complements it, before returning the favor and and starting the cycle all over again, the circle this time running in the opposite direction.
It sounds like fairly standard-issue “Ying/Yang” stuff, I’m sure, but in point of fact it’s anything but.
I’m more than happy to entertain the notion that a sort of “oblique universality” was nowhere near Beg’s mind as she wrote and drew this comic, but no matter — results are what counts, and any artist worth their salt can tell you that once a work is completed, its method of absorption, as well as what it is that’s even absorbed by audiences in the first place, takes the form of a conversation held between reader and book, with the artist as more facilitator than dictator.
What’s especially remarkable (among other things, of course), though, at least to my mind, is how utterly un-pretentious Berg’s work is, despite operating within the confines of a milieu that lends itself to pretense more easily than it does to polemic — not that this bears any hallmarks either, Berg displays an almost allergic avoidance to laying all her cards on the table in too obvious or heavy-handed a fashion, instead placing the pleasurable onus of interpretation on audiences, and likely taking a sort of distinct pleasure in knowing her loosely-constructed “story” will be seen differently by each and every person who does, in fact, see it.
Which is something you absolutely need to do, in case there was any doubt — to see it, to read it, to experience it, to feel it entirely for yourself, and on your own terms. It’s best done in a quiet space at a time when you’re not likely to be interrupted, the better to facilitate the process of absorption, but even if all you can spare in your reading schedule is a brief, 10-minute skim, you’d still be doing yourself a disservice not to at least start a dialogue with this book. It has a tremendous amount to say, but you’ll hear and see it in a way no one else has before, nor will again. Whether or not it means as much to you as it does to me is a wide-open question that only you can answer, but if you go in expecting to develop complex, sometimes even contradictory, reactions to it in the fullness of time, you’ll be in the right “head space” regardless of outside circumstances beyond your control. As long as your mind and heart are open, you’ll get something from this book.
Hell, you’ll get a lot of “somethings” from it. And they’ll be entirely unique to you, each and every one of them. There’s magic afoot in the lush, soul-stirring pages of Soft Fascinations. I urge you to fall under its powerfully understated spell immediately.
If you’re a regular reader of this site, chances are you’ll probably already know where you can get a copy of this remarkable work. You guessed it, Domino Books, where it retails for $10. Here’s a direct link to its page in the Domino store :http://dominobooks.org/softfascinations.html
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