Nights with Giordano Bruno (2000)

Cover illustration: Max Ernst / Cover design: Andrew Forsberg

The R.E.M. [Random Excess Memory] Trilogy, 1:

Nights with Giordano Bruno. A Novel by Jack Ross. ISBN 0-9582225-0-9. Wellington: Bumper Books, 2000. [xii] + 224 pp.



1 - Grafton Amours
2 - God-Botherers
3 - Clubbing
4 - G.D. [God?]
5 - Going East
6 - His Girl Friday
7 - Gris-Gris
8 - The Great Hunger
9 - Government Issue
10 - G.K.'s Weekly [Ghost / Gutter King]
11 - I Gather the Limbs of Osiris
12 - Magus


The Open Boat

Act I: Wreck
Act II: Setting Sail
Act III: Sabotage
Act IV: Drifting
Act V: The Ship

Kings of Infinite Space

The Archer
The Ram
[Extracts from Julie's Diary]
The Lion
[Extracts from Julie's Diary]

Scenes from an Antarctic Journal

The Heart of the Snow
Dark Depths

The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole

Valentine's Day
Glasgow's Miles Better
Trampled Grapes
The Necklace
The Gateway

Game for One Player (8-page insert by Jack Ross & Gabriel White)

The untitled cover of this book opens to horrors akin to those of Pandora. Not all the contents are evil but the spirit of darkness certainly prevails.
- Laurence Jenkins

Nights with Giordano Bruno, published by Alan Brunton’s Bumper Books in late 2000, is made up of a set of interlocking stories set in extreme environments.

The book is arranged as a series of out-of-sequence pages, so that the continuation of any particular story has to be hunted for (though I do have to confess that there are certain gaps in the continuity).

The point of the novel as a whole is to contrast the vivid fantasy worlds of my protagonist – self-identified with the Renaissance scientific (or was it black magical?) martyr Giordano Bruno – and set (respectively) on a space station in the outer solar system, a raft in the mid-Atlantic, an archaeological dig in the Jordanian desert, and an Antarctic expedition, with the strangeness of his actual surroundings in late 1990s Auckland.

Online Text:

Nights with Giordano Bruno: A Novel


Crywolf Books

Titus Books


Crywolf Books

Titus Books
PO Box 102
West Auckland
New Zealand

RRP: $NZ24.00 (+ $2 postage & packing)

[Game for One Player]

Reviews & Comments:

  1. Richard Taylor. brief 19 (2001): 14-17.

    Unpaginated, chaotic – yet controlled in form, with an intense and brutal content, Nights With Giordano Bruno is transpierced throughout with sex, suffering, and a burning joy and queerness. Its multiplex of intersecting themes and symbolic resonances … adventure, death, no-death, mystère, echo down enigmatic “thought corridors” that entice, torment, and constantly intrigue the reader.

  2. Laurence Jenkins. JAAM 16 (2001): 185-86.

    The untitled cover of this book opens to horrors akin to those of Pandora. Not all the contents are evil but the spirit of darkness certainly prevails.

  3. Mark Pirie. “‘Alan Brunton gets Jammed’: An Interview with Alan Brunton.” JAAM 16 (2001): 66-76 [67:]

    … Jack Ross showed me his manuscript and I was knocked away; this crazy, obsessively sexual novel, Nights with Giordano Bruno, an echo in Auckland of Eco.

  4. Will Joy Christie. "why do i change the “subject”? what am i avoiding?”(November 14, 2002).

    ... something i really like about g.b. is the way that it lifts off its own narrative, off the page, or maybe the sense that the book itself exists like a music of the spheres that runs along the top of the pages, available only to a concentrated sense of hearing, but as real as fuck.

  5. Tracey Slaughter. Poetry NZ (26): 100-07.

    ‘Game for One Player,’ a poem enticingly sealed at the back of Ross’s novel Nights with Giordano Bruno ... takes the form of a fragmented dialogue between Ross and co-author Gabriel White, the two writers dissecting Ross’s novel, opening its complex anatomy of system and chaos. It is an examination of the infrastructure of thought which animates Ross’s text, a novel intercut from a sequence of strange anti-narratives, the disjunct stories further interrupted by vision-like tables collected from obsolete but beautiful ancient theorems. Ross’s discontinuous stories confound all the rules of conventional fiction, suspending action in ‘impenetrable screens’ of signs, bursting violently from the referential; diagrams of dead sciences encrust the page with the algebraic mystery of cells: the effect of both is to unbalance the linear reader, to collapse metaphysics into pornography, graph into anarchy, systems of knowledge into subjective codes of the unconscious.

[Giordano Bruno (Campo dei Fiori, Rome)]

Complete Review:
[reprinted by permission]

Richard Taylor, “Review of Nights with Giordano Bruno.” brief 19 (2001): 14-17.

Unpaginated, chaotic – yet controlled in form, with an intense and brutal content, Nights With Giordano Bruno is transpierced throughout with sex, suffering, and a burning joy and queerness. Its multiplex of intersecting themes and symbolic resonances … adventure, death, no-death, mystère, echo down enigmatic “thought corridors” that entice, torment, and constantly intrigue the reader.

This is a book born in the twentieth century that constantly recalls to us the recent (in human historical terms) events and changes of the last two millennia. Giordano Bruno, a wild, heretical man (at least according to legend), was burnt at an auto-da-fé in 1600 for challenging the Church with a set of blasphemous views which amounted (possibly) to a total rejection of Christianity, and (definitely) to severe doubts – but not necessarily to the abandonment of faith. He claimed that Christ was not God’s son, but had made grave errors and therefore deserved to die; also, that there were an infinite number of worlds. (Ross’s protagonist, a robot-human, can be seen “scanning” these innumerable stars by one of the young women he has just been fucking and eating out – in his disinterested yet pleasure-maximizing manner! – in one of the narratives which interlock to make up the novel.)

Bruno’s challenge came at a time when astronomer-scientists such as Galileo and Kepler were also disputing the oppressive views of the Church. But (just as now) these challenges were offset with a belief in astrology and the mysterious powers of the zodiac. Ross – perhaps ironically – posits these dubious creeds as a counter to hard positivism or atheism, and as a real possibility for order. Chaos is thus set against design. Kepler, a deeply religious man, was also a great scientist who first described the elliptical orbits of the planets. Believing that there was a supreme order and a “music of the spheres,” he tried to reconcile his heliocentric view of the universe with the calculations (included by Ross from his Harmonica Mundi) that equate the angular rotation of the planets with musical intervals (generally based on powers of 2.)

Kepler, like Galileo, Newton and many other philosophers, artists, writers, musicians, and thinkers of that time, helped to inaugurate what we now think of as the “modern age” of technology and science. But, like Bruno, he was at a dividing point (a “division” if you will): he had to enquire, but that enquiry risked the venom of the authorities (or “authors”) – also the horror of the knowledge of death. (It was no accident that Bruno was put to death close to the midpoint of the last millennium). Jack Ross’s novel – or text, or texts, or poem – has much to do with death. In fact, the first narration begins in a graveyard, where Bruno (or the author/protagonist) is buggering a young man on a tombstone whilst ruminating on Les Onze Mille Verges [The Eleven Thousand Pricks] by Apollinaire.

But while it is “about” death, Ross’s book is also concerned with the mystery of human existence, and hence that of consciousness. For Nabokov, this was the greatest mystery – and I would concur. Outside our very important and joyful daily experiences, there is no greater question: for me it overrides, sub specie aeternitatis, contingent political concerns. Thus, as in Eliot’s beautiful and paradoxical opening to Burnt Norton, the book is caught up in St Augustine’s agonizing doubts about the ephemeral nature of the human mind (for him, the soul). But this enigma is also the predicament of love, which leads to Eros and the physical, mental, and spiritual continuum which is realised or “worked upon” in Nights With Giordano Bruno. Its various narratives take us into regions or psychic realms of intense suffering and intense eroticism – which is also intellection. The physical and the mental are weirdly (impossibly?) juxtaposed in this brilliant work. (I use the term “brilliant” advisedly, as I’ve only seen its equal in John Mulgan’s Man Alone, or Vincent O’Sullivan’s Let the River Stand. Maybe we need to look to – or beyond – Faulkner.)

But let’s not muck about: Ross’s book is stylistically very different from the majority of “conventional” novels (if novel it be). In fact, the difficulty of readily assigning it to any set category is a part of its puzzling power. There are, of course, many great and relatively normative works around. But it equals even the best of these (very excellent) works in at least one vital respect: in the intensity of its representation of human consciousness and Being’s peacock scream for and against existence. There is a justifiable darkness and seriousness in this fractured dream-real document of journeys into the desert, space, the sea, or the vastness and cold of the Antarctic – into the inner mind. The questions posed here, like all scientific and religious questions, like the great musician Charles Ives’ “Unanswered Question”, are simultaneously totally urgent and totally unanswerable.

Which brings us to how Ross’s book is structured. Nights With Giordano Bruno is not only without page numbers, but has as its main “device” a series of narratives confined to the right-hand side of each spread. These are more or less continuous, but interleaved, so that the first page begins on Auckland’s K Road, the second gives us a ship-wreck at sea, then there are a couple more departures before we return to the original story. This is not as irritating as one might imagine: I found myself intrigued and drawn into the various stories. New stories begin, but there is a thematic interaction between the texts so that one has the sense of reading a single work.

I realise the contradiction in what I have just said. Of course it is a single work: but I was also aware of an effect of fragmentation and multi-complexity. On the left-hand pages of each spread the author has strewn references to medieval texts, numerological tables, emblemata, the music of the spheres, a letter about piobaireachd from his brother, musical scores, quotes from various books (including the Gospel of St John in English, Greek and other languages), many old Latin, French and Italian texts. The left-hand side is active and busy and diagrammatic, while the right hand side is as word-filled as a “normal” novel might be. It would be simplistic to denounce Ross as thus moving away from realism (however one interprets that term), since life is indeed multi-narrational. This kind of leap-frogging through narrative levels has occurred previously in many experimental and so-called normative novels (or texts), but Ross’s originality lies in the total effect of his methodology. It is a truism that in life and in our minds there are many “narratives” or processes occurring. As Joyce changes stylistically from chapter to chapter in Ulysses, working by parodying and reworking older writer’s styles, so does Ross. But he works in a more “parallel” manner. Nights With Giordano Bruno is structured and chaotic, resistive of interpretation, and “writerly”, but it can also be read (I feel) as a kind of poem without going into its potential complexities.

One might well ask why the book has been constructed in this way. I would say that it was dictated by the writer’s need. There are (for me, in any case), too many Forsterian “beginning, middle and end” novels that fail to challenge the reader or even attempt to convey intensities and complexities. But what Ross has written transgresses our expectations as readers, conventional Christian notions of morality and sexuality, fundamental ontological certainties, and the question of human love or its absence. The planetary configurations and strange numerical tables, the references to Earth, Air, Fire and Water, all react in the reader’s mind to create an effect like a great carnival or a sprawling, multicoloured, postmodern edifice partaking of physical shape, music, words and shades that scrawl uncertainties.

This very strangeness, this abîme that Ross is presenting, can be seen (it should be said) even in Forster – despite (because of?) his Aspects of the Novel – in the Marabar caves which lie at the centre of A Passage to India. Remember that we are dealing here with sexuality: lesbianism, homosexuality, bisexuality, buggery, sadism, cunnilingus, a gang-bang rape … even heterosexuality. As I have said, the book begins in a graveyard. And for much of the “novel” we seem to be in Hell (as Professor Don Smith suggested in his speech at the launch), but delighting in it. There is a Dantesque sense of near nightmare about it – a waking nightmare where it is always night. And Bruno is there, in the graveyard, having survived even death by fire, buggering a young man on a grave slab. Simultaneously, there is another parallel but related narrative in the protagonist’s mind that runs on in French as he “replays” a story from Apollinaire that mixes sexual savagery and extreme beauty of language. The next narrative is from an imagined or reconstructed movie “script” (with Bruno Laurence as the main actor!) describing torpedoed sailors climbing into life rafts. Then we find Bruno in a “wheel” in space where he sets up house with two young bisexual women. This Bruno is searching for something. He is an android who has been programmed (by The Great One?) to seek, he knows not what.

Of course there’s a comic aspect to all this, yet there is also a strangeness, an unrelenting and unceasing self-awareness: an awareness which is coextensive with consciousness. In another guise Bruno questions some young evangelicals, including an attractive young woman who is charmed by the narrator/Ross (we are never certain which is which in this book) about what he really wants to know: what God said. The old trope of the quest is invoked. The “real” Bruno postulated infinite numbers of worlds and questioned whether Jesus Christ was the Son of God. He seems, in fact, to have questioned everything. But unlike St Augustine, another great philosophic questioner, Bruno moved away from faith. Ross’s Bruno is sleepless. He cannot sleep because of the questions he must ceaselessly ask.

The narratives resume and new ones intrude as Bruno is “discovered” in the desert (again seeking: this time for some ancient archaeological or philosophical treasure). But although these narrations have certain common themes – seeking, sexuality – nothing is sure in Jack Ross’s world or worlds. Like Tiresias in Eliot’s Waste Land, the sexuality of everyone and everything (echoing the gender constraints of inflected, non-analytical languages) is called into question. As Giordano Bruno challenged the authority and “normality” of the tenets of the Church of his time so the “rightness” or certainty of heterosexuality is challenged here. The Church thrives on the negative power of sexual guilt. Buggery is considered to be evil (though it was perhaps not always so – even in Christianity), and a man and a woman should have only sex in decent marriage. Yet such one-to-one relationships are (or can be) a kind of unchanging death. Unlike sin or adultery, they contain no risk. Uncertainty, sleeplessness (evoking either the horror or the wonder of eternal life), and the mystery inherent in life, love and sex, are themes that are echoed and “remembered” on the left-hand pages, with their many illustrations from medieval and renaissance incunabula. The Music of the Spheres and the science of Astrology combine to challenge the orthodoxies both of the Church of God and the new Church of Science.

But this too is paradoxical. The search for mystical or scientific knowledge or certainty in sex or love are constantly (necessarily?) undercut in life and literature. Hence the dislocations, doubts, and intertextualities of Ross’s Nights With Giordano Bruno, where Romanticism, Modernism and Postmodernism intersect.

The significations and semiotic potential of Nights are endless. The manner of its layout and construction can therefore be seen to be important both to understanding this doubting, questing work, and the way in which Ross has felt compelled to communicate his unique vision. That vision, after all, has allowed us entry to a reader-writer conspiracy of noise and beauty: a carnival (in all connotations of that word) and a feast – indeed a fest – of sensuality, sexuality, mystery, poetic prose, energy, savagery, structural stochastic semantic clashes (à la Xenakis perhaps?), and a sense of urgent being. It contains in its land and language the sheer joy of constant copulations and creations and recreations: dream and desire, while tragedy or comedy and transcendence intersect or violently veer away from each other in vertiginous sheerness.

One might persist: where, in all this, is love? Love and beauty, all the universals are there. Love is there: implied, or “hidden” in the leaves. But I will leave those leaves, and any further complexities or subtle interpretations for others. The book is both challenging and inviting. Potential readers can work with it on whatever level they find most satisfying, decide for themselves how it all works together. I found Nights With Giordano Bruno fascinating. For me it is a work of major significance to NZ literature.

Obtain it somehow: beg, buy, steal, or borrow it, but at least read it. See what you think. But I’m sure that the wits among you will enjoy it. For that is its other “purpose”: jouissance, and plaisir.

Richard Taylor
25 3 2001

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