“With every exquisite sentence, The Steve Machine undertakes a stunning post-millennial inversion of Death in Venice, proposing video artist Steve Reinke as a latter-day Tadzio. Only this time, the plague bestows the gift of a talking cure. Wry, wise and hilarious, The Steve Machine is an utterly audacious plague journal, transposing the shimmering brilliance of Hoolboom’s filmmaking onto the printed page.” John Greyson
Dr. Phil is a large professional man with a voice like children whispering in the dark. He’s been a regular on Oprah so I see him pretty often. There are some weeks, when the guests are threatening to crack under the weight of parental neglect, erectile dysfunction or high school bullying, that I might see him every day. Much more than my friends at any rate. Dr. Phil says that while you might meet hundreds of people in your life, there are no more than half a dozen on the A list. If your life was a movie these names would appear before the title. There’s something else he said that quickened the pulse. Dr. Phil insists that accompanying the six (more or less) guest stars, there are just eight significant events. The first is birth. Don’t ask me how he knows, but when I look into that kind, smiling face I know it must be true. The eyes of Dr. Phil have seen the end of our days and come back to tell the story, and not only am I grateful to him, I’ve started counting. Eight moments, that’s how long it takes to get to the raw, beating heart of a life.
Set in the art world, this comic novel about AIDS tells the story of a young man’s adventures in the Toronto underground. There he meets his mentor, the mysterious television artist Steve Reinke, who creates videotapes which cure insomnia and uncover secret patterns in the stock exchange. But can Steve’s art save his dying friends?
The most complicated machines are made only with words.
Auden is the book’s narrator, and after arriving in Toronto he sets out to create a life his new illness won’t stick to, he tries to become a stranger so that his illness won’t recognize him any more. He makes friends with people he doesn’t like, visits bars he has no interest in, wears clothes he wouldn’t wear even if that was his full time job. In the midst of his personality make-over he meets Steve, who has been fortunate in everything but love, and together they set out on an adventure of love, loss and laughter.
“His skin is a kind of camouflage, allowing him to meet the same person over and over, enjoy the same conversation and best of all, recount the same jokes. I was never sure how he did this exactly, and he was reluctant to demonstrate, telling me finally, “It’s not something you can turn on or off Auden.” I don’t move in the chair as he runs a hand over my shoulders, down my back to the small pinched nerves at the base. He never looks at me, he stares, as if distracted, into some dim corner of the room, though this doesn’t upset me. Not at all. Only I can’t stop my face from asking, never tiring of the question: who will love me?”
In a double twist this book is also a machine, like one of Steve’s tapes. And there’s no need to ask the bookseller for an extra switch, pulley or button, this book machine can be operated simply by reading it. Exactly what does this machine produce? That is the real mystery that lies between the covers of The Steve Machine.
‘I love this book, though I prefer the original title, Steve Reinke, The Greatest Video Artist in the World.’ — The real-life Steve Reinke
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The cover of The Steve Machine was made by media artist Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay (www.nemerofsky.ca). I was in Montreal showing something that would never be seen again at the Mois de la Photo and we were ghosting through artist spaces together. Every few minutes he would stop and make another casually perfect picture. Oh that. And then again, and again. Every time he lifts his camera-eye the world re-arranges itself into something precious and beautiful. The home page of this site is also by him, but it was too low-res for the book cover, so on the next trip back we fulfilled my oldest fantasy and stage managed a déjà vu. Of course, picture after picture went by and none seemed quite as complete as the original. When it was over we had the same summery conversation we’d started months back. Heaven.