Joseph Clayton Mills
Zyxt (EP3; 2010/2012)
A5 paperback; 32 pages
An anthology of alienation from A to Z, Zyxt consists of 24 brief
and darkly comic tales of idealism and despair; friendship and self-
loathing; murder and madness. An unnamed narrator recounts
a series of anecdotes about his dearest friends — a collection of
misanthropic academics, misfortunate composers, and melancholy
astronomers — that together form a mosaic of parables, fables,
and paradoxes for the bitter and disaffected.
Joseph Clayton Mills is Chicago-based artist, writer and musician.
His text-based paintings, assemblages and installations have been
exhibited in Chicago and New York, and his work has appeared in
numerous publications, including The New Yorker. His fiction and
criticism have been published both in the US and abroad, most
recently in the magazine Joyland and the architectural journal Log.
He is also an active participant in the improvised and experimental
music community in Chicago, where he has performed and collabo-
rated with such notable musicians as Adam Sonderberg and Steven
Hess (as a member of the band Haptic), Tony Buck, Mark Solotroff,
Sylvain Chaveau, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Olivia Block. His record-
ings have appeared on numerous labels, including Entr’acte, FSS
I have a friend who, as a lifelong devotee of Bizet,
harbors great hopes that his young daughter might
one day make a grand success upon the operatic
Although she is still a mere toddler and is thus far
incapable of forming with any facility even the
simplest words in English (to say nothing of Italian),
my friend insists that, even from the moment of
her first postnatal cry, he has been able to detect
in her voice the sure traces of a divine instrument.
In order to encourage in his daughter a proper love
for all things sonorous, my friend installed in her
bedroom a beautiful nightingale in a gilded cage.
Its melodic trills, he hoped, would serve as a suit-
able influence upon his daughter’s as yet inchoate
When, some days later, my friend discovered that
his young daughter had smothered the nightingale
with a silken pillow, he was, much to my surprise,
neither horrified nor discouraged. On the contrary,
he was transported with delight, and his face
beamed as he related the story.
“After all, is not the foremost ingredient in the
soul of any artist,” he asked rhetorically, and with
an expression of perhaps justifiable pride, “an in-
satiable lust for the blood of one’s rival?”
First edition of 100 copies [out of print]
Second edition, 2012
The stories, which are all quite brief, most of them
running to less than a page, are reminiscent of
Borges in their playfulness, Calvino in their precision
and concision, and, most important, Bernhard in
their wry misanthropy.
The book fairly runs over with the under-appreciated
joys of misanthropy mixed with a fundamental love
of human strangeness. The Randall Jarrell of Pictures
from an Institution would have loved this book.
The back cover of Zyxt is taken up by an index. If I
haven’t yet convinced you to order a copy, perhaps
the index's four subdivisions of ‘Suicide’ or its nine
subdivisions of ‘Murder’ will. Or its entries for Spinoza
and Preston Sturges — if those twin brilliants of the
pantheon, wild opposites even at the same time as
they are both utterly indispensable, don’t do it,
then perhaps the misanthropists have the right idea
Levi Stahl at Ivebeenreadinglately