McSweeney’s Books is very happy to announce that we’ve recently been given the privilege of publishing William T. Vollmann’s long-awaited and absolutely riveting treatise on violence, Rising Up and Rising Down.
Rising Up and Rising Down, a labor of seventeen years, is a gravely urgent invitation to look back at the world’s long, bloody path and find some threads of meaning, wisdom, and guidance to plot a moral course. Vollmann brings to this subject not only his mesmerizing imagery and compelling logic but here writes with authority born of astounding research and experience of incredible scope.
All of the works that make up Vollmann’s prolific body of work address violence in one form or another; from the street violence of the prostitutes and junkies who populate his acclaimed fiction such as Whores for Gloria and Rainbow Stories to the centuries-long bloody battles between the native Americans and European colonists who are the subject of his ambitious Seven Dream series. Vollmann’s research is legendary. He immerses himself in the hazardous worlds he covers. He’s been burned by skinheads, nearly froze to death on the Arctic tundra, and was almost blown to pieces by a mine in Bosnia which did kill his companions. Now, in his first book of non-fiction since 1992’s An Afghanistan Picture Show, Vollmann confronts the subject of violence directly, with his characteristic thoroughness and brilliance.
At once journalistic and literary, Rising Up and Rising Down is divided into three parts. Part One is historical-theoretical, addressing a long list of topics connected with violence, illustrated by moral portraits of historical figures such as Caesar, Napoleon, the Heike and Genji warriors of ancient Japan, Lieutenant William Calley, and Pancho Villa. A series of chapters present the innumerable justifications, or lack thereof, for violence in all their tragic categories and complexities.
Placed in between Parts One and Three is Vollmann’s Moral Calculus, the most important part of Rising Up and Rising Down — a sort of rules of conduct distilled from the lessons and points made in Part One.
Part Three of Rising Up and Rising Down is experiential, based on the author’s travels to a number of war zones. This section recounts the author’s encounters with such figures as Khun Sa, the so-called “Opium King,” anti-Semitic survival cult leaders, Khmer Rouge cadres, Japanese untouchables, and voodoo practitioners, among others. Though roughly one half of these passages have appeared in magazines, here they are placed in a specific context, including a series of interviews, photographs, United Nations “situation maps,” illustrations, pamphlets, and newspaper clippings, all of which provide necessary context to Vollmann’s writing.
The book, approximately 2,500 pages long, will be published in six volumes and released simultaneously in the fall of 2002. A portion of the Rising Up and Rising Down, called “The Old Man” and concerning Muslim extremists in Thailand, was published in McSweeney’s No. 7. Additional excerpts will appear in future issues of the journal.