I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized The Biggest Question

The Biggest Question

Scott Beauchamp
No Immediate Danger: Volume One of Carbon Ideologies, by William Vollmann, Viking, 624 pp, $40, ISBN: 978-0525558491 No Good Alternative: Volume Two of Carbon Ideologies, by William Vollmann, Viking, 688 pp, $40, ISBN: 978-0525558491 As large as the subjects of American author William Vollmann’s work might be, he has never before taken on something that isn’t able to fit snugly inside the experiences of the individual human heart. This was especially true at the beginning of his career. Books such as 1991’s Whores for Gloria or 1992’s An Afghanistan Picture Show, a novel and nonfiction work respectively, take up the immense subjects of war, prostitution, colonialism and desire, without ever straying too far from the ambit of the anodyne. Even Vollmann’s ambitious “Seven Dreams Cycle”, a series of novels about the settlement of North America by European colonists, is rendered in the most tangible language possible despite the broad chronological sweep of the project. You might say that what Vollmann does best is take large and abstract concepts and atomise them into concrete particulars. All this is a prologue to saying that his most recent project, Carbon Ideologies Vol. 1 & 2, is a subtle derivation from his typical mode. It’s almost the inverse, in fact. Climate change itself being such a complex event forces Vollmann to compose a pointillist rendering, using concrete data points and character sketches to suggest the contours of an incomprehensibly vast reality. These books might be the apogee of his career. Vollmann is best known for his fiction. And rightfully so. His 2005 novel Europe Central, which won the United States National Book Award, is the mesmerising account of a panoply of characters forced to make dramatic moral decisions during the Second World War. This slice of life style of storytelling, of letting the narrative accumulate through a series of discrete and individual character perspectives, has become Vollmann’s calling card. With Europe Central it achieved formal perfection in his fiction. But it’s also a technique which has been present in his nonfiction for years, and the case could be made that Vollmann’s energies have oscillated back and forth between fiction and nonfiction for his entire career. It seemed around the time of the 2003 publication of Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means, a seven-volume treatise nearly twenty years in the making, that some tectonic shift was beginning and his energies were coming to rest predominantly with…



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