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Friday, June 15, 2007

Severance by Robert Olen Butler

To preface his anthology of acephalia, Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Olen Butler gives us two quotes:

After careful study and due deliberation it is my opinion the head remains conscious for one minute and a half after decapitation. - Dr. Dassy D’Estaing, 1883

In a heightened state of emotion, we speak at the rate of 160 words per minute. - Dr. Emily Reasoner, A Sourcebook of Speech, 1975

What follows are a set of ‘stories,’ each 240 words long, presumably the last thoughts of the person who has recently had their capital sacked as it were. Far from being a macabre bit of kitsch, each piece reads more like a prose poem due to the rapidity at which the words are entering the consciousness of each speaker and the language used to place us inside that consciousness. Notable players in this linguistic adventure include: a prehistoric man, the dragon slain by Saint George, Jayne Mansfield, a chicken, and one of the most memorable (and moving/disturbing) from a Chinese woman in the nineteenth century, who, having had her feet bound and then accused of adultery by her husband, exclaims, at the moment of her death, “please before my head cut off my feet.” - Charles Mock