My Shadow Book by Maawaam, edited by Jordan A. Rothacker. Denver, Colorado: Spaceboy Books, October 2017. 248 pages. $13.95, paper.
The purpose of a book can be something different from one person to the next. A fellow writer once told me that for him, a book can be a temporary escape from the drudgery of the real world. That was more important to him than delivering a message; provide diversion for one person and you can eventually better the world. For me, a book can often be a reflection of the circumstances and society that compelled its creation, with the hope of potentially improving these conditions by commenting on their causes and effects. A good book can be both, and so much more.
My Shadow Book by Maawaam, edited by Jordan Rothacker, does indeed do both. At times it is a manifesto, a scattered genealogy of the cabal of Shadow Women and Men, a personal struggle between one’s proposed destiny and a proposition of love. In the preface, Mr. Rothacker details how he discovered Maawaam through a cache of writings, photos and drawings hidden in a box. Spending six years with these materials, the editor distills the essence of the mysterious Shadow Man into a provoking read and Maawaam’s message is more prescient now than ever before. The mission of this collection of pioneering prophets has been the same throughout history: to enlighten mankind and defeat the People of the Sun, whose purpose is to keep the human race ignorant and incapable of fulfilling their potential. Given the current domestic political climate, as well as that of the world at large, Mr. Rothacker could not have curated and presented this Shadow Book from Maawaam without sensing the urgency of publishing this compilation. These lessons are presented in the form of quotations, illustrations, prose poems and fiction excerpts, reading like a non-linear call to action and a confession. Littered throughout Maawaam’s musings are quotes from past Shadow Men and Women to both support their legitimacy within the order and to also urge the uninformed toward greater ways of thinking in the hopes of changing their view of the world. Dating as far back as Heraclitus of Ephesus, the Greek philosopher pre-dating Socrates, and according to him, “people dull their wits with gibberish, and cannot use their ears and eyes.” This is regrettably still a common affliction: terrible celebrities and “fake news” are still more highly rated and easier to digest than what is really happening around the world. The People of the Sun seem to always have had the upper hand. In the very next passage, Maawaam encouragingly responds: “The eye, the ear, the mind in action; these I value.” Anna Kavan decried, “Real life is a hateful and tiresome dream.” As a Shadow Woman, she attempted through her work in various media to explore unknown factors and maladies of the mind while also bringing attention to the current state of psychiatric treatment and care. In spite of her own addiction and madness, her commitment to her duty was as absolute as her detrimental self-sacrifice. “They never understand us,” Maawaam says, “but we don’t do it for the recognition.” It is martyrdom for their responsibility to the order of Shadow Men and Women.
A common thread uniting these clandestine workers is the need to work in secret, which can naturally lead to extreme loneliness, depression and oftentimes the early implosion and extinction of their life-giving black stars. Their furtive personalities can be viewed as tremendously bleak. Heraclitus, impressively living to be around sixty during a time when the average life expectancy was considerably less than six decades, was nicknamed “the Obscure,” and also, “the weeping philosopher.” The vocation can be taxing, as we have seen, so the need to work in private is logical. But can the love of all mankind be supplanted or lessened if a love for a single person fosters and grows? Maawaam explains: “We are alone, that is how we work. In a crowd of thousands. In a bed of two, we are always alone. We listen, watch, smell, taste, record it all from each our own moving stone citadel. Alone.” Maawaam throughout the book seems to transcend time, being spoken of in both past and present. A more present incarnation chronicles an emerging sentiment that eventually becomes love for a woman who initially was taken on as part of his normal, worldly disguise. From the first entry detailing a morning after spending the night together until the last account where he is wanting her to love him and know his true self, we see a more intimate side and wonder whether love and duty can coincide uninhibited by each other. Maawaam finally yearns for her to be his ally. Early on, in the middle of the burgeoning relationship, Maawaam states that “Every Shadow Man is a double agent. Every operation is a false flag. Sometimes I just want to break down and cry.” To advance from mechanically answering “I love you” when the woman says it first and wondering how she could possibly love him without really knowing who he is to then proclaim the possible notion of a wife, maybe, is profound. This path is not unique; most of us have struggled with whether we should sacrifice some sort of obligation or purpose for the love of a single person. What is eventually more important? And again, how successfully can the two coexist?
In the preface, Mr. Rothacker wonders where his culpability lies since he has exposed Maawaam and the objectives of the Shadow Men and Women. Since Maawaam named names, we can be grateful that the lineage has been uncovered. I share in the editor’s belief that the world needs to know these long-kept secrets. Living in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area for the past decade and a half has opened my eyes to just how persuasive and charismatic the People of the Sun can be and why Maawaam, the self-proclaimed inventor of the political horror genre, deserves to be read. Eileen Myles, a present-day Shadow Woman, said, “the secret of the modern world is that we are all alone.” Now the Shadow Men and Women have been revealed and it is promptly our undertaking to work alongside these lonely combatants for the betterment of humanity, compassion and civilization.
Jarrod Campbell is a writer living in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Mostly a writer of short stories, he has recently published his first novel, Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You. Often using current events to inform the situations and characters he writes about, Mr. Campbell tackles subjects such as racism, marriage, homophobia and various other forms of urban malaise.