Sein und Werden: “Momento Mori” online issue – a zine review


Let us begin, then, with Thanatos, personification of Mortality and Death.  A common concern of art and literature for as far back as any of us can imagine (and then even farther back yet…).  How many an author—or painter, e.g. Goya, Bacon, Munch, etc.—has been obsessed with it as a subject, even placed it front and center in the title of his or her work!  Think: Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice.  Think: Edgar Allen Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.”  Think: Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych.  And how many other literary and artistic works, both famous and semi-obscure, exist which grapple in some way with this eternally-relevant subject!  If you, who are reading this review, can name a worthwhile author who did not write at some point in her career about Death (or even “death”), or an interesting painter who did not try to portray it visually in some way, I will be quite impressed, for I cannot.

Sein und Werden’s “Memento Mori” issue (the pleasantly alliterative term means, literally, “a reminder of one’s mortality,” while Sein und Werden translates as “Being and Becoming”) devotes itself to writing and artwork that is thematically concerned with…yes, that’s right.  Many of the pieces in this issue—both written works and works of visual art—deal as well, to some degree, with Thanatos’s Freudian cousin, Eros.  Though space will not permit me to comment on or even to mention all 37 fictions, poems, drawings, photographs, book reviews, and manifestos in “Memento Mori” (and that’s just in the online version alone!), I advise the reader of this too-brief review—in advance of the review proper, which begins in the next full paragraph—to:

1. check out all of “Memento Mori,” for every work of art housed within its freely-spun web of wickedness is worthwhile, and

2. to check out the other (totally free) online issues of Sein und Werden, as well as its print incarnation, if you have not already caught the highly contagious “Werdenism” bug (cf. Editor Rachel Kendall’s Manifesto on the website @

“Memento Mori” opens, appropriately enough, with a tastefully executed black and white image of a dead animal—“Toothsayer,” by Laura Forgie, whose drawing “Let’s Become Like Birds” is also included later in the issue—which segues not-so-sweetly into Jonathan Woods’s fiction “Ideas of Murder in Southern Vermont.”  “Murder” is an erotically-laced, character-driven piece that follows its protagonist, Ray, to a bar (where the bartender’s name, notably, is Rex), where he shoots someone five times and then “opens his eyes” to find himself lounged out on an “Adirondack chair,” strangely uncertain whether he has in fact committed murder.  Phil Doran’s “Gypsy with Child” is a somewhat compressed flash fiction involving a drugged out, once-masochistic I-narrator whose baby, she claims, is “a rag doll.  Not like a rag doll.  But an actual rag doll.”  The main dialog is interspersed with internal dialog presented in italics (replete with drug-addled sniffles) that suggests the planned murder of a “Korean guy with a noodle pot” who “went too close to her again.”  You’ll have to read it yourself to experience its ironic punchline.  John Brewer’s haunting photograph “Doll #1,” developed via a process dating back to 1851 (as explained at the site), provides us just a taste of his “doll series,” more of which appears in the print issue.

Yarrow Paisley’s “The Thirty Days of Bellesgrant and Zerxaquarius” is perhaps the issue’s most intricate, attention-grabbing work of prose fiction.  In it, an unnamed, energy-depleted individual who is perhaps a schizophrenic (the text reads that his confusion is of a “bipolar nature”) literally splits into the two eponymous persons of the tale’s title.  These two halves of the nameless protagonist (the tale is told in third person) wander about—in epic, dystopic fashion—a world that, by the end of the piece, is described as “depopulated” save the two mythic half-men and God Himself (though would God, I ask you, dine at a deli?).  Both Bellesgrant and Zerxaquarius seem to have a propensity for debauchery and evil, much like Lautréamont’s Maldoror.  The former at one point, for instance, in a gleefully grotesque vignette, gouges out the “bright eyes [of a petite woman] with the twin brass wires he kept coiled in his belt” and, later, devours her brain and plays with her breasts almost as an afterthought.  He also, in another vignette, makes splints out of sticks for a boy’s lame legs (the boy, along with nearly everyone else in the tale, is disturbingly described as “it”), which at least implies the glimmer of a conscience.  His darker half Zerxaquarius, on the other hand, seems the epitome of pure evil.  He, for example, is “careful to effect a lasting and utterly permanent damage” when he has sex with a woman he loves, so that she can “never be happy with another man.”  Death seems to follow him everywhere: his servant is murdered by a “troupe which followed Zerxaquarius” simply because his (the servant’s) addition makes them thirteen in number, and when three people on a mountain-climbing expedition die, Zerxaquarius goes so far as to demand a refund.

Colette Jonopulos’s prose poem “beyond first taste” is a lovely portrait of desire and despair.  “This isn’t love; I could kill.  My need an addiction like morphine after amputation, like a tongue finding the socket almost closed…”  This is a must-read, if not for the imagery alone then certainly for the language (though I suggest that you read it for both, and then some).  Of note also is Sherry Musick’s accompanying image, a somewhat disturbed, somewhat silly drawing of a hanged heart-person, entitled “Asystole,” which might give some viewers mild chest pains.  Another “hanged” image is Pablo Vision’s “The Hanging.”  This one is a dark affair (literally and figuratively) picturing a naked woman dangling from a rope: nothing symbolic here, just Death served up plain and simple.  Philip Clark’s from-beyond epistle “The Devoid” also takes Death quite literally; it is an attempt not only to explain what it feels like to die, but also to limn what the afterlife might be like:  “The panoramic of the beyond is nothing to write home about,” its ghostly narrator writes, “just an infinite lunar landscape of unmaintained stainless steel and a relentless void of smeared and filthy metal with no shape, no texture, no beauty and no end.”  Although an interesting concept, the piece unfortunately falls a bit flat in its final breaths.  Musick’s (see “Asystole,” above) photograph “DeadMeatDeadWoodLiveFlies”—a rather literal title—also deserves a brief mention here for being (and this is a compliment!) wonderfully nausea-inducing eye candy.  What is elided from the title is perhaps essential to why it works so well as a whole: the decapitated doll’s head watching blankly over the wood and the fly-infested meat.  Yum.

In Solo Hawkins’s “Himself Rustic Breath,” we are treated to a psychotic’s description of a world imagined through the lens of his (or her) psychosis.  “They tell me I am sick and in need of assistance,” the piece begins, warning us that what is to follow will probably not be an episode from “Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood.”  The first, most “schizo,” paragraph is filled with such offbeat phrases as:  “Listen through your eyes…and then again…here we are off to the shit races.  With windmill hats blowing in the sand and saggy tits.  Tails between our legs.  Screwing the earth.”  (I’m afraid we aren’t in Kansas anymore, my little bitch.)  In the second paragraph things become a bit more linear, albeit just as strange, our brains and bodies readjusting to the changed atmospheric pressure; we now find ourselves “ripped out of context” and placed in “some kind of cabaret aristocrat theater.” In the third, penultimate paragraph, we are taken to a performance wherein a scientist is deemed guilty of “extremely outlandish crimes” and brutally tortured for the pleasure of a live studio audience, which grows bored at the end.  Makes for lovely before-bedtime reading, preferably with a glass of absinthe.   The issue concludes with a lengthy manifesto by V. Ulea—whose photograph “Window to Life” also appears earlier in the issue—on what she has christened a new genre: “Quantum Genre,” or QG, which, in its simplest definition, is equated to “weird-weird.”  A handful of examples of QG-like work are cited in the manifesto for reference, including Nadja by André Breton, work by two OuLiPians (Perec and Queneau), and Jorge Luis Borges’s short fiction “The Garden of Forking Paths.”

As apologetically implied at the beginning of this essay-cum-review, I have not been able to cover much of the fabulously strange and beautiful work included in this issue—most conspicuously missing is previous mention of its stunning poetry by Juliet Cook, David McLean, Adele C. Geraghty and others—and I so I bid you (beg you, actually) to read it—all of it—for yourself and see if you don’t agree that Sein und Werden is one of the coolest, edgiest, out-and-and weirdest ‘zines in existence on the web or anywhere else.  Kudos to Editor Rachel Kendall for keeping this deliciously (and deliriously) decadent journal afloat for so long; I know that I always look forward to reading new issues every three months, and you should too.

by Marc Lowe

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