This review, the one you’re reading now, is 900 words long, give or take a few lopped off by a sensible editor. Read it 1,100 times — once a day, say, for the next three years — and you’ll get an idea of the girth of William T. Vollmann’s new seven-volume treatise, “Rising Up and Rising Down.” It’s impossible to do justice in this space to the 3,299 pages of philosophic declaration, autobiography, journalism and intellectual exhibitionism in machete-sharp prose and photography. “Rising” is a literary accomplishment in the tradition of Edward Gibbons’ “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” which is an acknowledged influence on the author.
In an interview, Vollmann says of his book:
“I didn’t ever think it would become this long …. It started out as a political manifesto, an essay on finding a moral calculus for assessing violence. Is there a simple moral compass for all violence? Sometimes it’s justified, although most of the excuses I’ve heard for violence are not good ones.”
At a recent reading Vollman reportedly rejected a story request from a Zoetrope senior editor, saying, “Thanks, I appreciate it — but I don’t think you can pay me what my going rate is.”
Later, he explained, “I love literary magazines, but they don’t pay what the big ones do.”