New York

Paul Zelevansky

Paul Zelevansky’s The Case for the Burial of Ancestors: Book 1 is the first of three books that will chronicle the history of a fictional people called the Hegemonians (who resemble the Hebrews of the Old Testament). This is not their first appearance in Zelevansky’s work; over the past few years he has recorded their culture in performances, installation works, artifacts, and in an earlier volume entitled The Book of Takes. The Case books are his attempt to pare his mythic civilization down to its essentials—to contain it within “a portable case . . . which travels easily,” and which will allow him to symbolically bury his ancestors by lightening the weight of his Orthodox Jewish past.

In the words of the artist, Book 1—which corresponds roughly to the Book of Genesis—“contains all significant myths, tales, accumulations, interventions and moments of generation that combined to form the Geography and Space of the known world, according to the Hegemonians.” This cosmic drama is produced and directed by The Puppeteer (who plays with his Forty Shards in the four hours before lunch) and acted out by 12 Co-Creators (who include The Artist, The Narrator Scholar, The Shaman, The Hatmaker, The Jericho Mapmaker, and The Projectionist).

The narrative develops episodically through a sequence of graphically designed pages that function as geographical grounds for texts, pictograms, diagrams, symbols, and maps framed in constantly shifting relationships. This format makes it possible for Zelevansky to explore his subject from a number of different perspectives and to adopt different viewpoints on the historical processes he describes. The main events chronicled in the book are the creation of the Four Edges of the known world: the Bindery Wall (the boundary between the old and the new worlds), the Waters of Separation (which serve as an arena for exploration and dispersal), the Ground (the physical plane of existence), and the Hill (the place to which the Hegemonians may ascend). These edges serve simultaneously as physical, formal, and spiritual guideposts, for Zelevansky records not only the literal and metaphorical structures of these markers but also their metamorphoses in time—the “layers of understanding” that are uncovered as these sacred locations become mythic rather than functional, and are transmuted into legends, rituals, books, parables, pictures, songs, and such.

So the whole history of these Four Edges (and, by extension, of the Hegemonian geography) is contained within the story of their creation; as the artist says, “past, present and potential exist at once” in this book. Zelevansky has telescoped both time and space into a nonlinear narrative that is complex, profound, and also, at times, quite funny. The serious business of creation is enlivened by dispersals, disavowals, guilt trips, games, and even a participatory ritual, and these bits of local color keep the story moving, making for a good read.

Shelley Rice