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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Readings for the 12 Days of Christmas: Sébastien Doubinsky


This is the reading for the sixth day of Christmas. However, do not expect It’s a Wonderful Life because The Babylonian Trilogy is not located in your literary and movie atlas anywhere near It’s a Wonderful Life.


I’m current reading French author Sébastien Doubinsky’s first book in English, The Babylonian Trilogy (P. S. Publishing.) I don’t know whether to say that it has been translated into English or whether Seb has re-formed the book from the original French book. Is it a translation when a multi-lingual author makes his own new book?


Mr. Doubinsky himself informs me that it was written in English! Couldn't that make a writer jealous?

He also has two more books coming out from P. S. Publishing (UK), and both of these were written in English: Absinth (2011) and The Song of Synth (2012).

CONTENTS, The Babylonian Trilogy

Introduction by Michael Moorcock

The Birth of Television According to Buddha
Yellow Bull
The Gardens of Babylon

My comments below are based on The Birth of Television According to Buddha.


Sébastien Doubinsky was born in Paris in 1963. Having spent a part of his early childhood in America, he is completely bilingual and writes both in English and in French. An established writer in France, Sébastien Doubinsky has published a more than 10 novels, covering different genres, from classical literature to crime fiction. The Babylonian Trilogy is his first novel published in English. He currently lives in Århus, Denmark, with his wife and his two children, where he teaches French literature at the university.


THE BABYLONIAN TRILOGY is comprised of three lengthy shorts set in the fictional city of Babylon. The chapters within each story are broken down into many individual threads that, as the story progresses, begin to bind. The structure of each story is fascinating and requires time for the reader to orient themselves. Doubinsky doesn’t allow you to linger on one moment too long before plucking you away and dropping you into another. Peppered throughout each story are aphoristic meditations about life that lend a distinct gravitas to the proceedings.

Rather than a story as such, I’d label THE BABYLONIAN TRILOGY a book about themes. The setting of Babylon is used to dissect issues that are so firmly embedded in our world that it’s hard to read it as fantasy. In the first story, an ever present, unending war is occurring far away from Babylon, yet, the tendrils of the war affect everything. From the soldiers themselves, we’re taken into the mind of a bloodthirsty journalist who just wants to exploit the devastation and capture the grandeur of death on camera for the distanced, pacified television audience to consume. We are introduced to a struggling author, with ALL the typical pretenses, who exploits the war in order to find elusive success. The second story concerns a detective on the hunt for a serial killer and smears on a thick topping of noir to invigorate it. The third story concerns the nature of Babylon itself and reinforces the previous two stories as three protagonists try and escape the city.


and this is rather rude because I have only read one of the three books in the trilogy so far. Not that I didn’t like Clockwork Father’s review: I did. But I had some quibbles. Since he is Antipodean, I shall try to see how far I can go in being upside down from him, just for the fun of it.

Causality is rather bigger in this book than “themes” suggests. Actions (infidelity, say) have costs and lead to results and ensuing actions in many of what Clockwork Father calls threads. And causality suggests p-l-o-t, even if it is plot that doesn’t lead to tidy resolution.

(Side note: I don’t really think this way of handling a book is—while rather odd-looking on the page, perhaps, since some of the chapters are so short and sometimes playful in form—all that many miles off from the way somebody like Dickens weaves many threads into one fabric. It’s just that the world Seb Doubinsky has made makes considerably less sense than the one Dickens creates. That means that the threads can’t be neatly tied together. We can’t arrive at a happy comedy ending for the characters because there is no original happy world to return to—no happy state that preceded events and to which the story can be restored.)

Clockwork Father says that the issues (journalism as sensationalism, the hunt for fame, the inability to clarify the meaning of war, the writer’s temptation to “sell out,” etc.) are so true of our world that it’s “hard to read it as fantasy.” Some of what he says there is easy to argue against: a sequence like man becomes dog, dog flies, dog perches on the Buddha is fairly distant from our world and the chocolate lab I see by the door, pressing her nose against the glass to leave a cloud of nose prints and barking for a walk. But I see what Clockwork Father means, as the thematic concerns are familiar and strongly stated. While the place is “Babylon,” it is no long-gone city-state of Mesopotamia but a kind of version of the West, with some of its soldiers fighting in a foreign land; the concerns resemble the concerns of the contemporary Western world.

This is, nevertheless, a world with its own mythology and creation story that differs in fundamental ways from those that have governed the West. In this version, God kills Lilith, and Lilith’s lover “the Other” kills God. The narrator watches. God’s blood streams upward into the sky, an image rather like the blood of Christ that Marlowe’s hopeless Faust sees streaming in the firmament. But in this world there is not much salvation for anyone. The narrator (who is eternal witness, moving from tale to tale, only his name changing) knows that the ruler of this world is the Other and that the Other is insane. Insane rule means insane events and people who are not, as it is said, “adjusted” to life. The closest thing to a redeemer in a world like this one is the narrator who is all around the reader and characters and who moves through time and space, a narrator who can destroy and save.

The fantastic world view here stems from the idea that an insane spirit holds sway over the world. Essentially there is a kind of dualist religion: first God and the Other are at odds, but God is destroyed. With God absent, the world shifts to a second kind of dualism where the insane Other is balanced by the Narrator, who in himself is dualist and contains opposites.



“Watch out! Somebody screamed, as hell’s fireworks began to fall in a deadly shower, suddenly turning the jungle into a tragic Chinese New Year’s party. The soldiers began to run in very direction, except the right one. The captain fell on the ground, holding his belly Steve bent over to help him, but a violent shock on his back threw him to the ground. The wet earth felt sweet under his cheek Little by little, chaos began to fade, and the world whirled slowly out of sight. Everything was peaceful and turning black. So black he couldn’t even see his hands. So black he couldn’t remember his own name. So black he had forgotten to count.



“You’re a dog!” she said, and suddenly Waldo realized it was true. He fell on his four legs and began to chase her out of the apartment, barking, drooling and growling. When she was gone, he curled up on the carpet and got ready for a nap. Right before falling asleep, he wearily looked up and saw that the world was much better when you looked at it from underneath.



Waldo is dreaming now, sleeping on his favorite carpet. He is in a street, trotting along and sniffing his way through the city. The smells tell him beautiful stories that make him long and ache inside, wonderfully. The sidewalk is full of clues. No more riddles. No more labyrinths. No more fears of getting lost. Waldo is a good dog now, attached to his master—that is, to himself. Waldo smiles in his sleep and grunts with pleasure. He is holding his leash in his mouth.



You are wondering who I am, perhaps.

Haven’t you understood yet? I am the colors in this text, the mysterious chapters and the thread between the words. I am the sound of the turning of the page, and the silence of your reading. I am with you and within you. I am above and under. I am the song of the trees and the satellites’ radio waves, the laughter of Lilith and the wind on the sea. I am the witness and the actor, the culprit and the innocent. I am the last face you see when you fall asleep, and the first one you meet in the morning. In the paper theatre of your existence, I am the candle which sets everything on fire, and watches you crumple and turn to ashes. But I am also the one who takes you by the hand and leads you out of impossible situations. I am the ink in the pen and the bullet in the chamber, the sigh of relief and the cry of despair. I have no name, but many nicknames, of all of which my favorite is, of course, the narrator.

* * *
Dear Seb,

I think it is entirely unfair to all the English-speaking readers of the world that you have only translated--re-made? re-written?--one of your books into our language. What are you doing in all that spare time when you're not lecturing or attending to family or writing new books or working with students? You're not too busy, are you? You've got those nice dark Danish winters with nothing much to do!

And now you will have to excuse me because I have a book to finish.

XD Marly
* * *

Also: Merry Sixth Day of Christmas!

Just a little message from my world, where no snow fell today, nobody quarreled, the tree is lit, and it's a wonderful life.


  1. I think the book is not up my alley, but that cover is fun to look at ! Happy new year, dear Marly. Unlike Marley, who was dead, dead as a doornail.

  2. Ah, yes, please do not spell my name wrong! I do not want to be a doornail.

    He has plenty more, Laura, and many in French for you...

  3. Very interesting dip into the book.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.