A Moment of Doubt on Spinetingler

Chris Estey
Maximum Rocknroll

April 2014

A Moment of Doubt by Jim Nisbet – quick take
By Russel D McLean
Spinetingler Magazine
January 5, 2011

[Ed note: Yesterday I noticed that Russel had posted a series of tweets about A Moment of Doubt by Jim Nisbet that formed a mini-review. With his permission I’ve collected them here in the form of a quick take. He also has reserved the right to dig deeper into some of these thoughts. I for one hope he does.]

A Moment of Doubt
by Jim Nisbet is one of the most insane things I’ve read in a long time. But very interesting in its “attack” on detective clichés, even if I think that inherent argument is maybe a little limited in scope. I’m not sure that the genre limitations are as frustrating as Nisbet makes out unless one deliberately makes them that way. Although of course there are times I do understand the points he makes. But besides the contentious stuff about the genre, A Moment of Doubt is still a messed up literary fever-dream of a book & worth a look.


A Moment of Doubt is at turns hilarious, thrilling and obscene. Jim Nisbet’s novella is ripped from the zeitgeist of the 80s, and set in a sex-drenched San Francisco, where the computer becomes the protagonist’s co-conspirator and both writer and machine seem to threaten the written word itself.

The City as whore provides a backdrop oozing with drugs, poets and danger. Nisbet has written a mad-cap meditation on the angst of a writer caught in a world where the rent is due, new technology offers up illicit ways to produce the latest bestseller, and the detective and other characters of the imagination might just sidle up to the bar and buy you a drink in real life. The world of A Moment of Doubt is the world of phone sex, bars and bordellos, AIDS and the lure of hacking. Coming up against the rules of the game–the detective genre itself, has never been such a nasty and gender defying challenge.

Russel D. McLean is a part of the Do Some Damage blogging crew and is the author of The Good Son and The Lost Sister.

The San Francisco poet and novelist Jim Nisbet’s new book is an old book, reportedly conceived in the mid-1980s as he was making a name for himself with crime novels while also feeling disgusted by the marauding prosaicism of detective fiction. From necessity, he came up with a different kind of noir-pulp novella: literarily neurotic, self-deconstructing, hardboiled private-dick lit. Perhaps to cover his tracks, Nisbet also took the trouble of rendering the thing obscenely hilarious.

Aptly, he called it A Moment of Doubt — a short moment at just over 100 pages, yet long enough to have stayed timely until its publication this month in a joint effort by the East Bay’s PM Press and San Francisco’s Green Arcade. It qualifies as a local-publishing event, if this town nowadays can accept as much from a writer who’s inclined to make his protagonist another writer who’s inclined to liken his penis to Coit Tower at Christmastime. (Yes, as A Moment of Doubt hotfoots its course, from anticipated junk-needle jab to a breakthrough of consensual sodomy, pricks will abound.)

This increasingly anguished narrator, toiling away in the ’80s himself, is one Jas Jameson, “detective writer, a name that bears the onus of years of fictional violence, of sexual outrage, and lately of fraudulent endeavors.” Habits include contorted, toilet-rattling sex with his landlady, skulking around vestigial Cow Hollow sleaze pockets in a bleary-eyed fog of depressive paranoia, and confusing familiar barflies with his own fictional creations. As regards the fraudulence, that refers both to the whole of Jameson’s literary oeuvre — which contains some conspicuously familiar titles from Nisbet’s own backlist, plus a few other invented doozies such as So Long, Pockface — and to the dubious means of his recent bestselling eminence. Jas has just discovered “the marvelous labor-saving capacities of modern word processing,” through which the hack becomes a hacker, tinkering with his publisher’s mainframe and turning its business operations to his own advantage.

“I’ll even give you a hint, dear reader,” he warns early on, “right now, right this very moment, as you’re buying, holding, reading, thinking about this text, you’re deep, deep within a SUBMIT routine, conceived, written, and implemented a long, long time ago, by me. Your dear chickenshit author. And as of now, because you found out about all this too late, you’re lucky I’m benevolent. Consider.”

Only gradually does the irony dawn that A Moment of Doubt isn’t just about genre fatigue in general; it actually anticipates the Kindle-tested, microblogger-approved technological horror that’s palpably underway in the book business now — with deep reading ditched for mobile-upload synopsis skimming, author confidence shot and the whole organism of literature apparently sickened nearly to death. Or as Jas Jameson put it more succinctly some 20-odd years ago: “A pre-ulcerous condition loomed. Automation became imminent.”

Under the circumstances, Nisbet seems remarkably magnanimous. One might almost weep with gratitude for the vigor he puts into even the most quotidian descriptions, the way of mocking writerly indulgence while also delighting with it. He’s like a more hetero Burroughs, or a more companionable Mailer, or both at once. His avidity is touching, and rewarding.

This has been a productive year for Nisbet, with the publication of his novel Windward Passage and reissues of The Damned Don’t Die (known originally as The Gourmet) and Lethal Injection. Maybe it’ll even be productive enough to release him from the qualification that although many Americans still don’t know his work, he’s huge in Europe. If anything, A Moment of Doubt reminds us that he’s been doing right by the reader from moment one.

Never has there been a better time for a lucid, lean, inclusive primer-history about anarchism. We’re blessed that it’s from Faculty of Social Sciences professor Ziga Vodovnik, someone deeply knowledgeable and personally passionate about those who are linked officially and ontologically by a “suspicion of authority.” A previous work of his, Ya Basta! Ten Years of the Zapatista Uprising (AK Press, 2004) cohesively detailed how regional revolutionary acts in 1994 would eventually lead to the rising of the anti-globalist movement internationally at the turn of the century. In a similar, more sweeping way, Vodovnik here superbly elucidates how many levels and layers of anarchism have fed into each other or synchronistically arrived at the same roots of rebellion.

An anarchist can be defined as someone “suspicious of authority.” It is someone who doesn’t necessarily think that authority can solve disorder and injustice; in fact, its arguable that the government and marketplace might be their primal cause. This book happily comes out at a time when popular mainstream writers often fear and mock sloppily suggest that anyone wanting to use force to overthrow authority or endorsing a lack of civil commitment to others is an ‘anarchist’ (misunderstanding the majority of beliefs and behaviors). Vodovnik shows that anarchists were often the only ones left in society concerned with all-encompassing oppression, exclusion, and economic exploitation, and not willing to “trade revolution for a dictator.” Vodovnik weaves theories from anarchist argued “classics” into concise reporting on anarchy’s greatest peaks and certain valleys, succeeding in constructing a nimble narrative of ideas, actions, personalities, struggles, and even successes (Orwell’s Catalonia; May 1968 in Paris and what that spawned, for example).

It’s refreshing to have this book’s clear-headed analysis on a way of life that somehow bizarrely connects Cartesian philosophers; Taoists and Buddhists; the arrival of Proudhon’s political definition of the term; pacifistic New England Transcendentalists; the arrival of German immigrants who wanted to extrapolate the freedom of the human spirit at the end of the 19th century; the evolution of ideological traditionalists; the Dadaist usurpers of the spectacle; the pop-up inspiration of Temporary Autonomous Zones; and the phenomenon of transglobal citizens. Listed are individualized and collectivized protests against the horrors that have been done in the name of obedience throughout recent regime and market-driven civilization.

A Living Spirit of Revolt is not a bloated text of controversies, contradictions, and mystifications; it doesn’t strive to take down every internal conflict and dogmatic detail of clans and cliques throughout anarchism’s official existence since Proudhon. As Vodovnik has quoted Zinn in the press, the work of anarchy is often done by people not professing the ideology by name. Sometimes anarchy is that one person standing against something that seems reasonable, such as democratic rule. Sometimes it is a group with altruistic motives which came together for the sake of social justice (but its organizational aspects and altruism may not seem ‘anarchist’ on the surface). What are their basic histories and how may they all fit in with each other? Most importantly, what do they all really have in common, if much at all? Vodovnik finds what worked best for each, but doesn’t leave out the mistakes or possible problem areas. He does openly favor the non-violent and stresses unity, but A Living Spirit of Revolt makes a solid argument that only true freedom could be the living mother of real (human, non-oppressive) order.

Back to Jim Nisbit’s Author Page