Their Biography: an organism of relationships
By Kevin Mcpherson Eckhoff
Book Thug, 2015
103 pages, $18.00
Reviewed by Pat Siebel
Their Biography: an organism of relationships: It’s thin, orange. The author kevin mcpherson eckhoff, not to be confused with Kevin Mcpherson Eckhoff, who you’ll soon come to know, appears as a sort of abstraction on the cover. This will soon make sense.
“Would it be possible to compose a book that appears to be ‘about’ its author,” Their Biography asks, “but is actually about something else, like identity or relationships or language?”
The question is lovely because you’ve been wondering the same thing—in every disconnect with passive listeners, every case of misinterpretation, every time your friend recalls a “that time,” but “that time,” as you remember, happened nothing like your friend described. Author Kevin Mcpherson Eckhoff provides an accurate (auto)biography of subject kevin mcpherson eckhoff, not written by author Kevin Mcpherson Eckhoff at all—but as “a collaborative memoir that collages together word-portraits from friends, family, co-workers, strangers, robots, and even adversaries.”
His goal: to “create a silhouette of not a single person, but of the manacles that connect people to one another.”
Eckhoff’s “organism of relationships” is visually defamiliarizing, playful, laugh-out-loud funny. The most effective lesson in association since Saul Steinberg’s 16 October 1969 New Yorker cover. Admirably irreverent in its execution, Their Biography fittingly begins, as relationships often do, in complete abstraction. Chapter One, an introduction to eckhoff, ends, and you know less than when you began:
Kevin, a Macpherson, is one of two large and fit right and left anecdotes that collect and expel Eckhoff’s received from the past towards the peripheral bed within the language and voice. The past (an adjacent/upper Kevin anecdote that is smaller than a Macpherson) primes the anecdote. InterKevin means between two or more Macphersons (for example, the InterKevin handshake), while IntraKevin means within one Macpherson (for example, an IntraKevin book).
It’s misleading in the way first impressions often are, but the next page, like a subsequent meeting, begins to provide context. First, a sort of Joycean portrait of the infantile artist acting out in a grocery store, followed by an elemental composition chart, then, from the perspective of “Buried Child”—author: Sheila Lewis, whose named I Google-searched along with kme/KME (and found 0 connections)—a brief, digressive autobiography followed by a note that Kevin had asked—requested—that [I] share with him who he is. Buried Child proceeds to discuss how the community shapes the self, how Kevin is acutely aware that he is not himself without us. She then asks if you even know who Kevin is.
You don’t—and so you continue, hoping, eventually, that you will. You pass portraits, poems, stories, lists, all concerning him; you pass narratives written by his angry and dejected toaster, his likening to a vulture. You discover he is the author of numerous how-to books on the art of unmitigated gall and begin to suspect he has a strong affinity for dogs. This suspicion is continually affirmed.
Page 79 presents a seemingly unintimidating crossword puzzle. Ten riddles across, eleven down, but if you’re anything like me, hours later, it’s replete with chicken scratch—and incomplete. At the top of the page is another small puzzle: select letters from the completed crossword that, when extracted, create a hidden message:
_ _ _ _ _
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
It could be KEVIN ECKHOFF MCPHERSON—or just about anything else. You won’t be the one to figure it out, but you recall a couple pages earlier when what seemed to be his former student conveniently dropped his email/telephone number in the text (“Wanted”), and decide the puzzle problem’s worth inquiry. You discover Riley was unaware his contact information would be published, and he hasn’t read the book yet so he can’t help much with the crossword, but he offers a few words on K/kevin, which you take since you’re reading his biography and have, in 79 somewhat-esoteric pages, become intrigued by the guy.
“I believe the book started from Kevin’s desire to do something collaborative on a grand scale,” Riley explains. “I.e. something that would weigh 75 elephants instead of 33 ostriches.”
You learn, if you hadn’t already assumed, that Kevin’s the kind of guy who knows how to extract language from people; he’s someone who’s “always inventing his own sounds.” Someone who, when describing the aim of his book, explains “Like if you wanted to ear chicken so you had rabbit instead because it tastes like chicken. But then put beef sauce on the rabbit.”
And this is how you learn about Kevin Mcpherson Eckhoff. Through anomalous narrative, metaphor, a screenshot of a Gmail account where messages from him are abundant and playful; through poetry, former students who leave their contact information; through friends and family and adversaries, all with something to add to his narrative while KME gets no say at all. But if you know KME, and you will, you know that’s fine. What do words mean? Depends who you ask. For him—“the perfect not-quite-you plus not-quite-me.” It’s page 99. You know this by now.