Arts & Culture Features

Mark Katzman’s Psychedelic, Literary-Forward Novel M7

Centuries of legendary, obscure and even mundane books are housed within the fantastical Library, seemingly at your fingertips—if you can find them. Stacks disappear deep into the earth; landings hover and shift several stories high; the Dewey Decimal System is merely a faint suggestion. This is the cryptic, mind-bending world you enter with the nameless protagonist of the novel M7, who is often no steps further ahead than the reader in understanding his new home and place of employment.

Written by local creative Mark Katzman, M7 is a decade-long project recently published by Spaceboy Books and nominated for the National Book Award, Hugo Award and Nebula Award. Katzman heavily leans toward the experimental and existential in his works, placing a particular emphasis on the psychedelic within this novel. Although the world and resulting society in M7 is outlandish and often comical, a true product of Katzman’s imagination that might not be intuitive to others, there’s an ease in navigating and accepting this new landscape. Katzman’s world-building is extraordinary.

“Slowly and carefully—that’s how it’s built. And not pushing things, just following your muse. I discover it as I’m doing it. And that’s what I hope the reader also experiences,” says Katzman. “It’s exciting because I don’t know where that world is going. I do not outline, but I do research certain things.”

The Library in M7 is located in U-City, a location outside of time or place. Somehow it feels both futuristic and archaic yet also both otherworldly and familiar. Katzman explains he modeled the sense of place after his experiences in Europe traveling to Paris, Amsterdam and Greece. London also has a strong influence, and Katzman says he unintentionally created what appears to be a very English novel.

One of the initial inspirations behind M7 came from Franz Kafka’s novel The Castle. In this novel the protagonist K arrives in a village overseen by mysterious authorities who govern from a castle, and ultimately K is never able to reach the highest authorities. After a re-reading, Katzman began asking what if K reached the castle and what would that experience be like? This idea combined with Katzman’s time spent inside of libraries, leisurely and professionally, set the framework for M7.

“I’ve gone to life school and reading great writers school, but never to writing school in an institution,” says Katzman. He later remarks, “Beckett and Kafka are truly my big brothers. I’m the little brother. I really do feel that because I absorbed everything from them. I read everything, every biography, that’s who I gravitated to.”

Regardless of how absurd or fictional, everything within the novel is a reflection of real life. Katzman has worked at a multitude of libraries and bookstores, including the Lamont Library at Harvard and the Film Archive Library at the American Museum of Natural History. At the latter, there was a special elevator with a key that went to a restricted floor full of specimens and rare books, and another scientific floor he says “smelled like 150 years ago.” His work as a serial records assistant largely informed the day-to-day work of M7’s protagonist. In another position he worked under a supervisor who predominantly communicated through memos. Each of these experiences plays a significant role in the Library’s creation.

Then there are aspects like the living quarters’ psychedelic light clusters that provide solace and a calming effect through their trippy patterns. Or the special drops for sale in town that mentally transport their consumer to other themed locations to role play or relax. Katzman says that he is pro-psychedelic and believes in the therapeutic use of such substances. The cultural shift towards exploring the benefits of psychedelic psychotherapy makes this novel even more timely and relevant.

“All I want is for someone to just have fun. Maybe you’ll think about some things, but you’ll laugh, hopefully a lot,” says Katzman.

Elizabeth Clay Mark Katzman

Over the years Katzman has published many novels, plays, zines and more, but it all started with two artist books he created in 1990: Along the Way (Pequeno Press) and INoN (Nexus Press). Along the Way is in the format of a very small miniature book with a run of 50 copies, and INoN is a scroll with a run of 350 copies. However both books have made their way to numerous museums and special collections libraries, like MoMA, Brooklyn Museum of Fine Arts, Emory College, Chicago Art Institute, University of Georgia Hargrett Special Collections and more.

Along the Way will be showcased as part of the second annual Athens Art Book Fair during AthFest. Hosted at The Athenaeum on June 22 from 11 a.m.–4 p.m., a variety of paper-based works will be on display. Katzman says he was supposed to participate last year, but he received an opportunity through JOKERJOKERtv to record the AthFest performances. This summer he’ll be doing the same through his own platform, Athens Uncharted.

Athens Uncharted is a website with active social media channels dedicated to sharing unique creative projects and music. It was established in 2016 by Katzman and Bowen Craig, both established writers and journalists, with a community first approach. Initially it was solely Athens-centric, but the success and reach of Athens Uncharted’s Instagram has opened up coverage, selectively, to the world. While Katzman says he has a particular interest in experimental music, he’s also “open to anything good.”

The platform is still very much active and growing, says Katzman, and his new emphasis is on recording performances around Athens to share on Instagram. Being physically present within the community meeting new artists and musicians in addition to virtually expanding his network around the world has brought a renewed inspiration to Katzman. The names of a few local musicians, like Marcel Sletten, even appear within the story of M7, with many more appearing in a long list of acknowledgements.

“These are very talented people that are hard workers and can have great trajectories in their art. My allegiance is just to art with a capital A,” says Katzman.

Locally M7 is available through Neighborhood Books at the Athens Farmers Market held atBishop Park, or through online retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Katzman will be a guest on JOKERJOKERtv’s YouTube channel on May 23 at 6:30 p.m. with an interview and reading from M7 hosted by Bryant Perez.