literature

dfw

UPDATE: The folks at The Howling Fantods were kind enough link to this post as part of the general remembrance-of-Wallace phenomenon. The site appears to be swamped at the moment, but in that brief window between Wallace's death and the excession of bandwidth, a number of people came by. Only one Fantod visitor commented, and it was basically a confused mishmash of insults that stemmed from a misreading of my thoughts in this entry (perhaps in honour of Wallace I should have fashioned this update as a series of footnotes?). Even though the commenter seemed more interested in flinging shit than leveling actual criticisms, I freely acknowledge that, since my entry was written pretty much off-the-cuff, it's probably not as clear as it could have been. Commment threads are a bit like retail complaints; for every person who voices a problem, there are a dozen people who just aren't shopping there anymore. So in the interests of providing clarity, I have come up with a few points for guidance:

1) I don't enjoy Wallace's fiction. I find it pretty much unreadable, and of all his (fiction) output, I've only finished Oblivion. If you're here from The Howling Fantods, there's a good chance that you do enjoy his fiction. This is a matter of taste, and I'm in no way impugning Wallace himself or his talent, which was formidable. Also, I love his essays. If you love David Foster Wallace so much that you can't stand to hear a single negative thing about his work or his bandanna, this post may displease you some. Perhaps you'd like an espresso instead?

2) The language he deployed in his fiction, I think, is part-and-parcel with his depression and his suicide. The fertility of his imagination seemed to be an anxious response to the inadequacy of imagination in general, and the deliberate ugliness of his language was part of a project that was, in the end, so difficult as to be impossible (or as they say in French, impossible).

3) Because I haven't read all of Wallace's work, what I write here is provisional. If I argue for X, there may be a thousand Y's to counter. Please point me to a Y. I'm interested in replies that further the conversation. If you just drop a bunch of insults, I will delete your comment or make fun of you, or both. Whichever is funnier.

4) At the end of this entry, I write a couple of paragraphs on my experience of surgical anaesthesia. It was an immediate personal response to the news of Wallace's suicide, and it served as a seed for my ideas about his work and his death. It feels ridiculous to point this out, but I am not comparing my writing to Wallace's or holding up two short paragraphs of prose as a standard to which Wallace should have aspired or adhered. That would be insane. Just in case you were curious, I am not insane.

5) I've also gone through this entry, cleaned it up and taken some care to clarify my theme. I don't usually revise my stuff on this site, because hey, it's a blog, but with a number of readers coming here who have some investment in the subject matter, clarity is the least I can offer. The most I can offer is my entire life savings, which will buy you a PS3 and a decent espresso machine. All I ask is that you think of me, here in poverty, while you steam your milk and run over prostitutes.

6) I do not like lists of six.

7) Okay, let's do this thing.

***

From the book How Fiction Works, here is James Wood's assessment of David Foster Wallace's writing. It is not exactly flattering, but I think he pinpoints something essential about Wallace's preoccupations that renders his suicide a little less surprising. In response to a passage from Wallace's story "The Suffering Channel," he says:

The risky tautology inherent in the contemporary writing project has begun: in order to evoke a debased language (the debased language your character might use), you must be willing to represent that mangled language in your text, and perhaps thoroughly debase your own language. Pynchon, DeLillo, and David Foster Wallace are to some extent [Sinclair] Lewis's heirs (probably in this respect only), and Wallace pushes to parodic extremes his full-immersion method: he does not flinch at narrating twenty or thirty pages in the style quoted above. His fiction prosecutes an intense argument about the decomposition of language, and he is not afraid to decompose - and discompose - his own style in the interests of making us live through this linguistic America with him. "This is America, you live in it, you let it happen. Let it unfurl," as Pynchon has it in The Crying of Lot 49. Whitman calls America "the greatest poem," but if this is the case then America may represent a mimetic danger to the writer, the bloating of one's own poem with that rival poem, America. Auden frames the general problem well in his poem "The Novelist": the poet can dash forward like a hussar, he writes, but the novelist must slow down, learn how to be "plain and awkward," and must "become the whole of boredom." In other words, the novelist's job is to become, to impersonate what he describes, even when the subject itself is debased, vulgar, boring. David Foster Wallace is very good at becoming the whole of boredom.

I encountered Wallace first not through his work but through a mid-‘90s cult of English majors at my university, mostly women, some of them ex-girlfriends, who had fallen head over heels for Wallace’s endless teletype of prose. I was asked if I’d read Infinite Jest yet, and assured that I would love it, and that I had to read it, because he was the best writer of our time. Someone even photocopied passages and handed them to me as if they were samizdat and not Viking Press. If they’d been Pynchon fans, they would have told me that Infinite Jest was a Gravity’s Rainbow for Generation X, or Y, or whatever generation we were.

I tried Infinite Jest, I really did. And I gave Broom of the System and Girl With Curious Hair an honest shot. But I think I came to DFW a hair too late, and I couldn’t take the endless, slightly desperate inventiveness, the pervasive sapping check of self-consciousness that spawned those pages and pages of footnotes. It felt as if Wallace, in his mimicry of adspeak and corporate America jargon, was engaged in a manic auction of his own subconscious – Everything! Must! Go! It was all-amusing, all-clever, all-entertaining, and I couldn’t take more than a few pages at a time.

Some years ago my old friend and roommate Tony described the process of overhyping a book or a film as 'Sandmanning'. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics had been so relentlessly praised by his friends that he was unable to enjoy it. David Foster Wallace had been Sandmanned for me, and no amount of footnotes and winking references to the authorial presence could haul me up from those depths to the pure air of innocence.

About a year ago, I found Wallace's essay on David Lynch’s Lost Highway, and it was a genuine pleasure to read. Wallace was thinking seriously and originally about Lynch. Plus he made Balthazar Getty sound like a complete asshole, which was as I suspected. After I finished that piece, I took out his book of essays, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, and found a sharp, inquisitive, curious and prolific mind at play. His fiction always bent in particular directions, as if his imagination were afflicted with a congenital deformity – all that verdancy of prose concealing a twisted trunk. His non-fiction, splinted into shape by real events, felt stronger and more serene (and a lot funnier). But I've never been able to finish one of Wallace's fictions, except for Oblivion, so I may be completely wrong about all this.

***

This is not the first thing I wrote when I heard that Wallace had killed himself. I sat down with the intention of writing something about his work, but instead I came up with my experience of general anaesthesia when I went for back surgery in November of 2007. I felt that I had little to say about Wallace's fiction, so I started thinking about his death, and what he must have been feeling - not emotionally (at the point of suicide I doubt there are any emotions left, besides an empty, mechanical certainty), but physically:

I remember a gentle reeling, a sensation of falling backwards – vertigo – before the anaesthesia placed a hand on my shoulder and shepherded me down into the narrow chasm of death. In that place I may have been falling, falling forever, in a space of infinite depth but a width to fit a thumbnail. This is what the dead must experience, a lightless timeless drop.

Maybe I’m mistaken, and there is something more feature-laden and timely on the other side of death – in which case, bring it on. But if death is anything like anaesthesia’s utter eclipse of consciousness, then I have no great objections to that either. Time, encompassing the whole of being, is a bother; to be outside of it is to not-be, past all opinion on the matter.


So that's my sunny take on the whole thing. General anaesthetic may be nothing like death, but you get a taste of what the suicidal are craving. No time, no thought, no self, no words - I thought of that state when I heard about Wallace. When you wake up you know that you've been completely gone. You can't experience it, but you have the strangest memory of nothingness, a memory so slight that it probably doesn't exist. There's a crack in your life, so thin that you can't even feel it with a fingertip, but you know it's there. Hard to explain.

***

David Foster Wallace writes about his time on the set of Lost Highway

David Foster Wallace considers the lobster (pdf! O pdf!)

how Ulysses got its name

Thanks to Schmutzie for suggesting this scenario.

Afternoon in Paris, 1922. Harriet Shaw Weaver is reading a manuscript of Ulysses. James Joyce looks on expectantly. She puts down the last page and wipes a tear from her eye.

Harriet Shaw Weaver: That was wonderful, James.

James Joyce: It was years of work.

Harriet Shaw Weaver: This is a brilliant novel. It will tear literature open and sew a glorious, crooked seam into its flank.

James Joyce: That’s high and incomprehensible praise.

Weaver: Have you thought of a title?

Joyce: A title?

Weaver: Yes. You need an appropriate title to sum the book up with a combination of grace and grandeur.

Joyce: You may have something there, Harriet.

Weaver: I was thinking of Odysseus, or Ulysses.

Joyce: Really? That's shooting a bit high, isn't it? After all, it's just some fellow having a day around the city. I had thought of Mr. Bloom’s Grand Day Out.

Weaver: That seems … frivolous.

Joyce: Frivolous? I think it will pull in the right kind of readers.

Weaver: I think people will feel a bit misled. Especially during the brothel scenes.

Joyce: How about Stephen and Leo’s Cracking Dublin Adventure?

Weaver: I really think that Ulysses is preferable.

Joyce: Why would I name my book after some old Greek fellow?

Weaver: I think there are some parallels between the peripatetic Leo Bloom and the long, wandering voyage of Ulysses as he makes his way home to Penelope.

Joyce: I guess so. That never struck me. I think of my novel as a corker of a tale for the young lads. What do you think of Leo’s Annual?

Weaver: You envision this as an annual?

Joyce: Oh yes. I’m planning a follow-up in which our young adventurers go to Berlin and enjoy an afternoon with the Kaiser. From there they travel to ancient Africa to face down the Hottentot and the Zulu, but not before taking a detour over the Antipodes with their zeppelin-piloting medic friend Buck Mulligan. What scamps they are!

Weaver: You’re having me on, aren’t you?

Joyce: And for the young women, a serialized adventure showing that the joys of adventure are not limited to the rougher sex! I’ve already written 700 pages of Molly Bloom and the Guttersnipes of the Hollow Earth.

Weaver: Something to keep Lucia entertained?

Joyce: I've been writing down Lucia's funny expressions in a notebook lately. One day I'll publish them as A Little Treasury of Schizophrenic Ranting, or perhaps Finnegan's Wake.

top 6 novels about work

How do you summarize six novels in under 350 words? Like this, apparently.

Modern-day troubadour Beck once said “I ain’t gonna work for no soul-sucking jerk”. Bemoan your office-drone fate with the following fine reads.

Don Quixote (1499) – The first acknowledged novel in the English language is about a dreamer who lands his dream job – literally. Having overdosed on a diet of cheap romances, the Don decides to become a knight errant. He spends five hundred pages getting beaten up.

North and South (1855) – Elizabeth Gaskell tells the story of Margaret Hale, a young middle-class woman who finds herself sympathizing with the plight of mill workers in northern England. Impoverished and uprooted, the workers’ lives are ruled by infernal machines that occasionally strip stray limbs from the careless.

Bartleby the Scrivener (1856) – Herman Melville captured the alienation of urban office life with this novella about the forlorn Bartleby, who deflects all requests for work with the evasive reply “I would prefer not to”.

The Jungle (1906) – Do you worry that your lean ground beef may contain a small percentage of factory worker? The Jungle is a stirring story of Lithuanian immigrants who come to Chicago looking for a better life. At the risk of spoiling the plot, a better life is not what they find. Upton Sinclair’s exposé pushed reforms that led to the regulation of the meatpacking industry.

Work Is Hell (2004) – Pardon me. Are you suggesting that a collection of Matt Groening comic strips about white collar wage slavery is any less worthy of inclusion on this list than a novel? Well fie on you, sir. I’ll give you a good glove-slapping in the town square.

Then We Came to the End (2007) – Set in a Chicago ad agency at the crest of the late ‘90s tech boom, Joshua Ferris’ novel is narrated by a collective “we” of office drones. As the recession sets in and layoffs tear away at the corporate body, the “we” shrinks to an anxious, paranoid core. One of my favourite new novels of the last few years.

a blockbuster of proust

Every summer I vanish into the depths of a movie watching binge, a hazy period full of dim memories of lineups, neon accents, the burble of arcade machines and a half-panicked stumble through dark theatres. Throughout this last week I’ve managed to temper the movies with my ongoing Proust-reading project, which has forced me involuntarily to compare everything else I read, see or hear with In Search of Lost Time. How does a seven-volume novel about life in France at the close of the nineteenth century compare to today’s hottest blockbusters? I have no idea. But that hasn’t stopped me from writing about it. Or has it?

Live Free or Die Hard: Bruce Willis stops sheriff-turned-cybergenius Seth Bullock from bringing America to its knees.

If you’ve watched HBO’s Deadwood, you can see the rage constantly being stoked in the furnace of Sheriff Seth Bullock’s eyes. It’s no surprise that he finally traveled in time to the twenty-first century and launched a computerized attack on the infrastructure of the USA. It’s the revenge of the wild past on the complacent village of the present. Fortunately, aging movie star Bruce Willis is wise to Bullock’s ways, teaming up with the I’m A Mac guy to outcool Bullock’s old-timey mannerisms. Against vast odds they triumph, although they lose the obscenity-spewing contest.

Resemblance to Proust Past: Tenacity. Marcel Proust spent the final years of his life in his cork-lined bedroom, patiently writing his 3,500 page opus that would eventually become the towering work of literary modernity. Not even The Great War could stop him. In LFoDH, Willis takes down a Harrier plane, at least one helicopter, scores of cars, several French bad guys, and one Asian kickmaster chick.

Transformers: In every adult’s worst nightmare, the toys that they grudgingly bought for their screaming spawn turn out to be gigantic sentient robots. They speechify, they fight, they die, they turn into eighteen wheelers.

There are always multiple considerations in the adaptation of a line of toys to a screen franchise, but the chief one must be How do we make not this not achingly stupid? For example, why would a bunch of alien robots from outer space look like Camaros and Mack trucks? In the highly plastic imaginative landscape of children, this poses no problem. But in a live-action movie, some of the plastic elements have to settle into a fixed shape. In the explanation, or explanations, provided – there seem to be at least three reasons given for the Transformer’s resemblance to Earth technology – Bay ends up exploring the affinity that we have for machines and the way in which we build anthropomorphic elements into the technology that we use every day. The Transformers movie is ridiculous – would you take aliens with names like Bumblebee and Jazz seriously? – but part of the reason for its success stems from the fact that we envision autonomous forms in our machines and long for their emergence.

Resemblance to Proust Past: Like Michael Bay, Marcel Proust understood the complex relationship between humans and their artifacts, and the process by which we imbue our art and architecture with human qualities, and how those qualities in turn influence and shape subsequent generations. As far as I know, Proust did not mention gigantic transforming robots in any of his finished manuscripts, but early drafts of Swann’s Way refer repeatedly to the narrator’s friendship with Optimus Prime.

Ratatouille: Ratatouille is a movie about a rat who wants to be a chef, who, through a series of unlikely circumstances, gets his shot. Ratatouille and Transformers pretty much prove that computer animation is folding the live-action film and the cartoon into one form. Transformers is a live-action film featuring characters and scenes executed almost entirely on a computer; Ratatouille is a cartoon with surfaces and textures so realistic that you sometimes forget, despite the presence of talking rats, that you’re watching animation. Similarly, Ratatouille’s preoccupations, about artistic production versus consumption and the function of criticism, shoot miles higher than the airy speeches about Freedom in Transformers.

Resemblance to Proust Past: Bodies of art tend to reduce to a small collection of images and lines, and usually not very representative or accurate ones. Our memory of Casablanca is chiefly anchored to an image of two men walking into the night on a Moroccan airfield and the mangled line “Play it again, Sam”. Leonardo da Vinci’s monster corpus is now a small dark painting of a woman with an ambiguous smile.

In the case of Proust, the entirety of ISOLT is remembered for a single scene at the close of the first chapter, in which the taste of a madeleine cookie dunked in tea brings on a spasm of involuntary memory, which is Proust’s term for a specific kind of memory that recollects and resurrects a place and time long gone, bringing it so forcefully into being that it slams aside the present, if only briefly. Behold:

And once I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me… immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theatre to attach itself to the little pavilion, opening on to the garden, which had been built out behind it for my parents… and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I was sent before luncheon, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And just as the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little crumbs of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch themselves and bend, take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, permanent and recognisable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and of its surroundings, taking their proper shapes and growing solid, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.

It’s a longie but a goodie. You read the whole passage because we’re such good friends, you and I.

To discuss the madeleine moment in Ratatouille would spoil much of the fun that the viewer experiences in getting there, but suffice it to say that taste and memory intersect at the climax of the film. And besides, the movie's set in France. That's all Proustian and stuff.

Palinode's big 5 Harry Potter predictions

There are only two days to go to the release of the latest and last Harry Potter book, and speculation on the contents is still a’brewing. The problem with all the feverish Harry Potter predictions is that the fans are too close to the material. They’ve studied the books, scoured the movies, memorized the characters’ names and generally gotten all crunked over the series. I do not have this problem. I’ve read maybe a page or two from one of the books. I’ve seen the movies but refused to remember anything of what I saw, except for the fact that Ralph Fiennes is made up to look like a big penis. In short, I have no emotional connection to any of the delightful characters at Hog-something academy, which leaves me free to get at the beating, throbbing heart of Harry Potter and the Something-something.

1. It was all a dream.

Harry wakes up in his bed, having dreamed the entire septology after a heated night with a Horcrux. He discovers his wallet has been stolen by the Horcrux and goes to the police station to report the theft. The policeman at the desk asks him to take a seat. Harry gets a Snickers bar from the vending machine and waits around for a while, but after an hour of waiting he gives up and goes in to the office. He doesn’t do much work and ends up thinking about the incredibly involved dream he had the night before. Then he buys some golf clubs online.

This may surprise some readers, but Rowling has cunningly laid a number of clues in the previous books, the chief one being that magic does not exist in the real world.

2. It was all a crazy dream.

Harry wakes up in an insane asylum. The reader finds out that the death of his parents caused a psychotic break from reality, and Harry’s been spending the last seven years calling the psych nurse Dumbledore, screaming in Latin and waving a stick he found in the yard at the orderlies. After a daring attempt to escape from Hogwarts Mental Hospital, he undergoes shock treatment and a lobotomy. Ron smothers him with a pillow, breaks a window and runs away.

3. Harry Potter is Voldemort.

I gather that Harry’s nemesis is some fellow named Voldemort. Time for Boffo Storytelling Rule #5: whenever a protagonist has a mysterious antagonist, they are the same person. At the end of the seventh book, Harry will lead Hermione, Ron and whoever else is important into a dungeon somewhere. Then he will remove his nose and say, “Ah hah! I’m Voldemort after all! Mwahahaha!” Readers are going to love it.

4. Voldemort is the hero.

Boffo Storytelling Rule #7: The antagonist is really the good guy. After Harry tracks down all the Horcruxes and is set to destroy Voldemort, the villain suddenly says, “You don’t understand a thing, do you?” Then he retells the entire story in terms that reverse all the relationships and turn the entire story inside-out. As Harry comes to grips with the realization that he’s been the evil one all along, Dumbledore shows up and starts kicking the crap out of Harry. Hermione and Ron and Draco and the others join in. Then they party with the Death Eaters. They all eat some Death Crepes, some Death Hors d'Oeuvres and big heaping plates of Death Cake a la mode. Those Death Eaters, they know how to put out a spread.

5. Harry goes to the dark side.

Harry has a vision of Ginny or somebody dying in childbirth. Voldemort appears and tells Harry that he can prevent it if he learns the dark side of magic. Based on that brief vision and some hazy promises from a man who murdered his family, Harry becomes a disciple of evil. When Voldemort unleashes his Death Eaters in a coordinated attack on the Ministry of Magic, Harry slaughters the entire student body. In a final battle between Harry and Ron, Harry is horribly burned but ends up starring in a series of inspirational TV movies.

UPDATE: I started reading the latest HP novel and am now up to page 250 or so. So far, all of my predictions have come true. Also, JK Rowling appears to have built in a secret code that, when deciphered, reveals that the entire Harry Potter corpus is a love letter addressed to me. JK, you minx - I'm a happily married man.

Dear Proust: I beat your ass

Actually, I have now officially beaten slightly more than 1/7 of Marcel Proust’s ass, or 14.55%. Proust’s ass is a monumental 3500 pages wide, and it is an ass of such density that a thorough beating must progress inch by contemplative inch. Today at 1 pm, I reached the last word of Swann’s Way, the first volume of In Search of Lost Time, or Remembrance of Things Past, if you prefer the earlier translation. The first word of Swann’s Way is “for” and the last is “years,” which is how long it feels to read the whole thing. In fact, “for years” would serve as a fine précis of this exhausting, endlessly digressive and conversational work about love, memory, jealousy, loss, time, music, art and language.

There is no subject in the world, apparently, that does not remind Proust of something else, no tangent that can’t be pursued, no grain of human emotion too fine to be cut. It doesn’t provide instructions on how to replace the alternator in your ’82 Malibu or give you a step-by-step guide on antiquing your end tables, but after you read the “Swann In Love” chapter, you will come away with the most exhaustive possible picture of the awful pleasures of love. That is, if you’re the jealous type. And your lover turns out to be a promiscuous bisexual courtesan. And you manage to delude yourself about it for years. I know: holy quotidian, Fledermausman.

Sooner or later, you and everyone you know pop up in ISOLT, even though you’ll be sporting 19th century French drag. The bedridden and paranoiac Aunt Léonie will remind you of someone in your own family, and the blunt but attractive de Fourcheville is immediately recognizable to anyone who’s ever had a sexual rival. There’s no cliché about literature more overused than the idea of locating the universal in the particular, but in Proust you may see how far that cliché goes, as he digs deeper and deeper into consciousness and experience. Tiny moments, gestures, carelessly thrown out lines or imprecations are mined for the greatest possible significance.

The book doesn’t really have plot twists – instead, everything turns on details: the line of a path along the river, a smile or an encouraging remark from a woman, a passage from an obscure sonata. At times the details seem to take on such importance that they assume a greater and more intense life than the characters. It is in his treatment of secondary characters, in fact, that we see Proust’s talent for economy, the ability to capture a personality in a paragraph, which suggests that the digressive nature of ISOLT is strategic instead of habitual. That is, I think Proust is trying to duplicate the process of consciousness in the language and structure of his work.

I know that the English majors who read me are now thinking, “Yeah? So? He’s a modernist author, right? Wasn’t that what modernist authors did? Wasn’t that, like, their specialty, reproducing consciousness, taking the subterranean path to the objective correlative?” And they would be right. But it’s one thing to have Professor Englischer explain it to you in a classroom as the fluorescent lights buzz overhead and the asbestos particles float through the air, and another to experience it day after day as you corkscrew like a solitary botfly into the text. And lay eggs, like a botfly. And then do a series of botfly-related activities. Botfly party!

friday ledger

The ASS truck - On my way to work today, a van pulled up next to me with the logo “Affordable Sewer Service” on its flank. I thought I’d misread it, but no, I looked them up in the yellow pages and discovered that Affordable Sewer Service is all too real. Has no one ever pointed out that their company has ASS for an acronym?

I really want to phone them up and ask about it.

"Hello, Affordable Sewer Services? Yes... no, it's not an emergency. It's just... yes, I know it's two in the morning... I just thought you should know you've got ASS. That's right. ASS. See ya".

The food court – Today the food court was full of children, middle schoolers and up. I have no idea what they were doing there or why they wanted to ruin my lunch, with their braying chit-chat, their downy moustaches, their misshapen faces, but they weren’t successful. They tried to block my way no matter where I went, loose little knots of them tangling up traffic and putting out that goaty subsmell. Most of the kids had just hit that age when their bodies were shooting upward and outward in all directions, all uncoordinated growth that made them look like animated specimens from the Mutter museum. A few of the older children had cleared that Elephant Man hurdle and looked like normal human beings, but already you could see that they were calcifying into adult forms. There were the plain girls trying too hard for a style who would eventually give up altogether and collapse into dowdiness; jocko homos with artfully mussed hair who would end up running a Hyundai dealership or getting a business admin degree; and here and there, a young boy or girl who looked just a little bit stupefied or thoughtful, signifying the off-chance that they would grow up and do something interesting. It was to them that I raised my glass of green tea and took some muscle relaxants.

The locked door on American Idol – Cruelty has never been tempered to such a fine tone. On the opening episode of American Idol, the entrance to the audition is a set of double doors – one of which is bolted in place. Nothing gives you that blast of Schadenfreude like watching a humiliated contestant (who has already made it through two filters to stand before the celebrity judges) stumble out of the room, lost in a private agony of dashed dreams, only to propel themselves into a locked door. “Other door, honey,” Simon drawls. If the game weren’t already given away by the camera’s lingering takes of hapless wannabees finally figuring out that they’ve been strung along, that unmoving door tells you everything you need to know about the desperate need for fame. As yet, nobody has screamed (as far as I know) “Why’d you lock the door, you fucking sadists?” Instead, they back up, thoroughly beaten, and shuffle shoulder-first out of the room.

As always, it’s best to bear in mind that reality shows are edited carefully to portray everyone and everything to conform with the show’s creative mandate. Maybe the locked door provoked an outburst or two. But I’m always astounded at the losing contestants’ inability to perceive the joke - they’re the punch line, after all. I’ve noticed the same tendency on almost all reality shows: the strange willingness of participants to accept the rules of the highly artificial universe into which they’ve been plunged. Cover yourself in ground beef, say the producers, and jump into that hornet-filled tank. Okay, says the participant. And how do they express their misgivings to the camera? That’s the rules of the game, they say. No matter what the scenario, them’s the rules. So that’s the way we do it.

In most reality shows, the game is played for money and a brief bit of television exposure, a way for non-celebrities to get a little taste of the televised life, but in American Idol, celebrity is the prize. What boggles the mind is that so many kids, lining up in malls across the country, being herded into groups by weary production assistants brandishing megaphones and clipboards, seem to think that the Idol franchise is their best road to fame. Never mind building up your talent, courting other musicians, recording demos, or even getting on Myspace and selling your homebrew CD on Lulu – these kids seem to think that it only takes discovery. As if their own personality and (maybe) talent were reason enough to make them adored of millions.

Even in this age of manufactured singing stars (although what were the Monkees, the Sex Pistols and a thousand other bands if not manufactured?), there’s often a bit of history behind the act. Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera had been plugging away since childhood; Jennifer Lopez started out as a dancer. But the masses of Idol contestants, the brace-faced girls and mirror-trained boys, in the hormonal fug of desire, hope that all that grunt work is unnecessary. Some people even claim that Idol is their only chance, their last chance at fame. How is that eighteen year olds from Sudbury or Fort Wayne or Tallahassee have run out of chances so tragically early?

The truth is that these people have even less of a chance than they think. Over the last few seasons, Idol finalists have displayed a professionalism and a maturity that the hopeful masses can only grow into over the years. Taylor Hicks has grey hair and a Joe Cocker shtick that seems decades out of date. Far from a democratic free-for-all, a dramatization of American mobility, Idol seems increasingly like an alternate route to fame for people who were likely going to get there anyway. Those people know instinctively which door to choose on their way out of the room.

My one-act play – I’ve had something approaching a breakthrough with my play. At first I feared that I hadn’t developed the characters thoroughly enough to give them enough dialogue to get through 30 minutes of stage time. But I don’t need to develop their characters – I just need to give the characters something to react to, an object that will frustrate or fulfill their goals. Their reactions will give me the nuances of character.

The object is a time machine that can get the doctors and their daughter Charlton back to civilization. Dr. Wilder wants to get back, but Dr. Savage has grown accustomed to the place. He enjoys living out the twilight years of humanity in their jungle lab as he pursues his projects as a gentleman scientist. Dr. Wilder, on the other hand, wants desperately to return. He particularly wants to get Charlton back to civilization, as he is a) a sort of scientific breakthrough himself, the product of same-sex reproduction; and b) like any parent, Wilder wants something better for Charleton. Better than composing horrible poetry and cavorting with the genetically degraded valley dwellers. And on this point, even Dr. Savage is willing to concede, although he’s more interested in Charlton’s happiness than having him accomplish something by the standards of civilizations past. Living at humanity’s end has given Savage a certain disdain for the notion of civilization, since he can see its ultimate product unraveling before him every day. Wilder entertains a notion that he can prevent this horrible fate by going back in time and taking steps to keep humanity on track.

The issue is that the time machine is not a passive instrument that will whisk them back to the past; it’s a thermodynamic propulsion device that bends the continuum to achieve its ends. If used, it will destroy everything within a sizeable radius. Which means, of course, that humanity will certainly cease to exist, and that the two scientists will definitely be responsible for the ultimate genocide. Wilder maintains that a trip to the past will ensure that humanity never has to suffer such a horrible fate. Savage isn’t sure that he’s right, and anyway, he’s not sure that humanity’s worth saving. It’s certainly not worth destroying utterly on the chance that it can be saved.

To Charlton, the notion of using the time machine is frightful and repulsive. He’s stuffed absolutely full of notions about the primeval innocence of humanity (which is odd, since primeval humanity is a thing of the distant past) and celebrates the lives of the valley dwellers in really, really bad blank verse. He’s also in love with Beckham, a young woman from the valley who speaks a crabbed English, bites the heads off fish and treats Charlton like an indentured servant.

Beckham functions more or less as the audience stand-in, the one who perceives the characters far better than they perceive themselves. She also takes full advantage of the others to achieve her own ends - which, in the interests of keeping some interest in the play alive, I'm not going to reveal.

great drama

Update on the one-act play challenge to which I challenged you all, and challenged you good: to which you responded equally good: I mean well: I mean, I mean ‘well’: I mean, never mind.

For those who aren’t familiar with the one-act play challenge, it went as follows: give me ideas for a one-act play. Wherever possible, I will use the ideas and present all y’all with a play based on the astounding creative alchemy that happens when your brains and my brain get together. I figured it would be fun and easy.

It has not been easy, although fun poured forth aplenty from the fun pitcher in multiple gallon lots. For some reason I looked at all the ideas, all of which were great ideas, and I thought: I don’t know how to make a play out of this stuff. I discovered that I didn’t want to write an extended joke or a series of absurd vignettes mocking the conventions of theatre. I wanted to write a genuine play, with memorable, affecting characters, strong emotional arcs and a powderkeg of a finish. Wha-boom. Most of the suggestions were jokes themselves, or complete vignettes on their own. I wanted verbal objects that I could place on a stage and weave some characters around.

I realized that I couldn’t just sit down and do something satisfying right away. The whole thing had to ferment a bit in my mental carboy. Then, when I realized that my mental carboy was defective (stopper problems), I sat down last Sunday and wrote a bunch of stuff. I was sitting in a coffee shop so crappy and depressing that I needed something to divert my attention from the horrendous murals and the "no table games allowed" signs.

If this challenge can be said to have a winner, then the spoils go to Deron, who provided the framework of a time-travelling incestuous odyssey about a scientist who goes back into the past to have sex with as many people (ladypeople, that is) as possible in order to streamline the modern gene pool. Because the scientist has an incest fetish. And this is the best way he’s found to make everyone in the present more genetically similar to him, and therefore more appealing. Or sexx-aaay, as Deron put it.

I doubt this pitch would pass muster even in a roomful of Rocky Horror freaks, but this one presented the most material, and it was, perversely, the closest to my sensibilities. I've also included Miss A's desire for a woman with an affinity for salmon cream cheese, Ehme's hankering for Godot-esque dialogue, Sven's suggestion of cats named Jorge and Jack Splat, Sexeteria's request for a deus ex machina, an anonymous call for doppelgangers, and a few other bits and pieces. I've tried to leave no one out entirely, except for the Tragical History of the Life and Death of Cloudesley, which may feature as a prop. So here’s a summary of what I’ve got so far:

In an overgrown lab in a jungle at the end of time – at least, the end of humanity’s time, its last sad vestiges having reached a destiny as dead-ended as Eloi and Morlocks – live the tidy Dr. Wilder, the bearded Dr. Savage, and their daughter Charlton. Wilder and Savage are clones of the original doctor, an absent progenitor whom they discuss every now and then – is he out there somewhere in the jungle? Somewhere in the past? Wilder is intent on cracking the lost secret of time travel in order to escape from the jungle and find something approaching civilization. Savage is a bit more introspective, dedicating his time to taming lions (Jorge and Jack Splat) and genetically engineering the local flora into producing passable coffee. Their daughter Charlton is a strapping young man and a poet without a literary tradition, which leaves him free to experiment. He’s fallen in love with one of the sports who live in the nearby valley. The name of Charton’s love interest is Beckham, a young woman in a loincloth getup who speaks a crabbed language reminiscent of my cruller interview post.

Over the course of the play the characters learn a lot about each other, a little about themselves, and everyone gets to share a few laughs (except for Beckham, who bites the head off a fish and mutters “marine, marine” as she chews). Along the way, certain questions are dealt with – will they ever get back to the past? Will the original scientist, that absent referent, show his face? How about the lion taming and the coffee thing? The bold experimental poetry and ripped abs of Charlton? And what’s with a wild woman named after a male soccer player eating a fish raw? I don’t get it.

It sounds gross.

pynchon wrote my lover

Thomas Pynchon’s novel Against the Day is my new girlfriend.

True, she’s big and clunky, and you can’t take her out, but she’s sexy, self-absorbed and gregarious, which pretty much sums up what I look for in a partner. When I’m at work I itch with the urge to get back to her, lying open on the coffee table or tucked into the bedsheets. I hope she’s resting comfortably, that the cats aren’t chewing at her corners, and that she doesn’t mind me coming home and quietly sliding off her dust jacket before I run a finger down the seams of her pages and, um, is this getting creepy yet? Because I’m running with a conceit here but I’m starting to feel arrestworthy. But then, Pynchon’s books may be among the only ones that inspire a devotion verging on criminality.

Those who love Pynchon’s work love it like a plumb line loves the earth’s core – an unwavering affection, a fixed line from which to build a great mansion of loving Pynchon and all his goofy and arcane predilections. Those who don’t love Pynchon’s work will never venture into that mansion past the foyer, because they don’t have the time, no one will show them to the bathroom, and even in the foyer there’s some crazy shit going on with three dancing girls, an octopus, and a man dressed only in a tophat and spats, all of whom appear to be performing a sex act that’s also a lecture on non-Euclidean geometry.

At this point I expect someone to say, so what’s it all about, this book, hey? and I’m reluctant to say. Most reviewers go for the stuff that looks the most like plot, because it makes AtD resemble a regular novel, and at least it’s something to talk about. Set between the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and the eve of WWI, it’s the story (kinda) of Reef, Frank, Lake and Kit Traverse, the children of assassinated anarchist miner Webb Traverse.

After Webb is killed by the assassin duo of Deuce Kindred and Sloat Fresno, the children pursue their revenges against the man who masterminded the murder, arch-plutocrat Scarsdale Vibe. Then there’s Yashmeen Halfcourt, Cyprian Latewood, Heino Vanderjuice, and dozens more. And my favourite character, the accidental detective Lew Basnight, who is abandoned by his community and family for a crime whose commission he cannot recall and whose nature he is never told.

Mind you, that doesn’t take up a whole lot of the 1000+ pages of the book. Dropped in to the framework of a plot you’ll find an airship piloted by a group called the Chums of Chance, a submarine that sails through sand, a weapon that destroys everything, the 1908 Tunguska Blast, a whole lotta sex and violence, travelers from the future, and a shipload of other people and things and events. You can’t trust Pynchon to stay on tack; a brief mention may expand into a discourse, a detail becomes a subplot, and so on. If your attention lapses for half a page, you may suddenly realize find yourself in the midst of a completely different story with no recollection of how you got there or when the wheel spun around. Throw in a wash of styles, voices, alternate realities and registers and you start getting a litte seasick.

Nonetheless, this book is still my swingin’ new girlfriend. I didn’t expect to be enjoying Against the Day so much. I thought I would find it fascinating, then irritating, then screamingly boring, then fascinating again. Much of Mason & Dixon, with its vaudeville mockery of eighteenth century prose, left me churning around in that cycle, even as I got a kick out of its inventiveness. Great swaths of Gravity’s Rainbow annoyed the piss out of me. After a few hundred pages of GR I began to envision a little man with a shovel in my brain, hefting great spadesful of words into a black pit of oblivion as I read. I trusted the man with the shovel to rake through the pile (it was kind of a shovel with rake-like tines, like a spork) and leave the worthwhile stuff. Of course, you discard parts of Pynchon at your peril.

If I had to make a stand and say what Against the Day is about, I’d guess that it’s about the little guys who dream and the big guys who seek to control those dreams. The explosive force of dynamite can be used for anarchism or capitalism, to liberate or enslave, and it all depends on who gets their hands on the plunger. The book also offers good tips on what to do when a stick of lit dynamite lands on your head.

I haven’t gotten into the heavy mathematics that hit around page 600. I don’t expect to understand them. I don’t understand my RRSPs. But no one goes into Pychonland expecting a tidy and comprehensible tour (comprehensive, though).

Links to Pynchon things:

For a super-duper thorough going-over of Pynchon, visit Spermatikos Logos, a great online resource for all the things of Pynchon.

One day, artist Zak Smith, moved by the spirit of Bob or something, decided to illustrate every page of Gravity’s Rainbow. Obsoive and be amaz-ed.

Some critics have shit all over Against the Day. They’re joyless assholes with rusted-out imaginations. Luc Sante gives the book a thoughtful review in the New York Review of Books.

big hairy one-act play challenge

I have the next two weeks off work, from Monday Dec 18 all the way to January 1st. During that time I'd like to write a one-act play, but I have no idea as to setting, premise, characters, anything. My only rule is that they have to be able to speak - otherwise the possibilities for dialogue start evaporating. Scratch that - a bunch of mute characters might be interesting as well.

What I need from you folk is suggestions - give me the rules for the play I'm going to write. Starting Monday, I have two weeks to come up with a rough draft. I'll take the most workable and wacky ideas you've got and grind them all into a paste of high art.

I have some faithful commenters on this site and a whole lotta lurkers. De-lurk for me this one time for a collaborative effort at playwrightness. Remember that I am very fond of certain themes - time travel, zombies, robots, the Irish, the Aral Sea, and post-apocalyptic wastelands - but don't let that limit you. I look forward to your suggestions, from the idle to the inspired.

Go!

great ideas for stories

The Mustard Shirt

Against the advice of his wife, a man buys a mustard-coloured shirt. The shirt drains the colour from his face and leaves him looking like a jaundiced ghoul. On the plus side, it gives him superpowers, which he uses to fight crime. Unfortunately, his terrible sallow complexion makes him so unphotogenic that he is more or less ignored. He loses his job and his family.

The First Girl To Cry in 1,000 Years

In a perfect society on the moon, everything is regulated and no one ever cries. People ride conveyor belts and wear smart silver jumpsuits. A young girl, Anoo, is certain that there's something more to life than the sterile perfection of Moon Base 5. She steals a spacesuit and sneaks out to explore the surface of the moon, where no one has ventured for a millennium. The moon turns out to have breathable atmosphere and look a lot like Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park in California. Anoo wanders, confused and thirsty. On her second day a van full of itinerant labourers picks her up and takes her home for supper, where she eats potato chips and oranges for the first time in her young life. She discovers that she knows enough English and Spanish to thank her hosts for their kindness. When she goes to sleep that night in a sleeping bag in the backyard, mosquito netting swaying gently in the slight breeze, she feels warm and loved and excited at the changes that her life has brought her.

The next morning she's woken up by the rude honking of the pickup truck. She and her hosts pile on and are dropped off for the day at a farming compound. She is given a bag and sent out into the fields. She tries her hardest to pick as much produce as possible, but by mid-afternoon her back is aching, her hands are bleeding, and she can't believe that humans could possibly exist in such servitude and misery. The foreman hits her, which makes her cry.

A Slip of the Tongue

A handsome young man meets a woman in a professional capacity and wonders aloud to everyone he knows whether her carpet matches her drapes. Some of his friends laugh at this, other people fall quiet or choose to ignore him. Over the Thanksgiving weekend he mentions his obsession to his girlfriend's family. To his surprise they kick him out of the house and forbid him from seeing his girlfriend again. Eventually he asks the woman outright, and it turns out that the carpet does match the drapes, but she's been thinking about redecorating the living room, which is why she'd hired his interior decorating firm. He does an outstanding job and finds love once more.

But not with the woman. He kills her and eats the body. That's the twist you just didn't see coming.

The King of the Bracelets

In a land far away, a runty loser discovers that he's actually the saviour of the land. He goes on a journey, makes certain discoveries about himself, saves everyone, and comes home again.

The Reality Code

In a world suspiciously like our own, a computer geek discovers that he's actually the most important person in the world. He goes on a journey, makes certain discoveries about himself, saves everyone, and comes home again dies after beating the tar out of a guy in virtual reality. Yeah, that's an ending worth waiting for.

Galaxy Conflict

In a world vaguely like our own, a bored adolescent discovers that he's actually an heir to a vanished mystical order that makes him the most important person in the universe. He goes on a journey, makes certain discoveries about himself, and gets his dad killed through sheer incompetence and buck-passing. He develops a coke habit and runs the family business into the ground.

ask palinode #11: clash of the tired hooers

Oooookay. Time for another installment of that, whatchacallit, thing, where people want to know stuff and I tell them. I forget what it's called. Hold on, I'm going to go stare at the cat until I remember.

Okay, got it now. Thanks, cat.

Palinode,

I have finger puppets of Sigmund Freud, Virginia Woolf, William Shakespeare and Charles Darwin, but they're not talking to each other right now. And they look kind of pissed off. I think they may have had a fight while I was gone. What do you think happened?

Savia

Saviabella, without a doubt those are the most miserable world-weary finger puppets I've ever seen - and you haven't even taken the tags off yet. I should report you for this, Ms. Savia. The cops will come and then, as Adrian Mole likes to say, you'll get done for sure. How'd you like them apples, Savia? To get done by a bunch of cops showing up at your door?

Don't answer that.

It's well-known that finger puppets, just like the rest of us, enjoy prog rock. Your puppets have slipped into a state of gloom because their prog rock needs are not being addresssed, which has resulted in a state of underprogment. Initial symptoms manifest as listlessness, which progresses to neuralgia, fraying, and a matted look, as if a cat had got ahold of them and dragged them under the chaise longue.

Just as different basement-dwelling teens from the seventies and eighties preferred different prog rock bands, so do different finger puppets. The trick is matching the puppet to the correct gang of long-haired coke-snorting four-chord-loving rock snobs that have made life so miserable for most of us.

Puppet #1: Charles Darwin

Capsule bio: A gentleman scientist from nineteenth century England. Sailed on a boat called the Beagle. Looked at big birds and scary lizards on rocky wastelands in the Pacific. Discovered that the path to atheism ran through the ovipositor of a wasp.

Best match: Mike Oldfield, Tubular Bells. This is the classiest piece of progressive rock out there, and to judge by by Darwin's white beard, kindly expression and elegant but well-worn coat, he likes his prog as a background air to the motions of his mind.

2nd choice: Yes, The Yes Album. Charles Darwin enjoys the complex harmonies, even if he finds Jon Anderson's high-pitched vocals a little disturbing. He also draws quiet inspiration from the first part of "Starship Trooper".

Puppet #2: William Shakespeare

Capsule bio: Led a life of wretched disappointment. Married a woman many years his senior who may have been his father's mistress. Son Hamnet died young, probably from silly name. Ground out an existence in the theatre, died respectably well-off and left his secondbest bed to his wife. Wrote some plays concerning kings, magicians, and a guy with a donkey's head.

Best match: Jethro Tull, Minstrel in the Gallery. Shakespeare likes his prog rock fried in the fat of folk, and Tull's folk influences and flutework glisten on Minstrel. Jethro Tull kind of seem like they come out of the sixteenth century. From under a pile of horse shit.

2nd choice: Rush, A Farewell to Kings. One word: madrigal.

Puppet #3: Virginia Woolf.

Capsule bio: Miserable depressed writer from the twentieth century who wrote a number of books, each one less accessible than the last. Despised the world and everyone in it, herself included. Had a fatal passion for collecting river rocks.

Best match: Emerson Lake & Palmer, Brain Salad Surgery. OMG. Any way you cut it, "Karn Evil 9" is a thirty-minute masterpiece of rock so prog that you'll need a medic afterwards. When Keith Emerson sings "Soon the gypsy queen in a glaze of vaseline/ Will perform on guillotine/ What a scene! what a scene!" halfway through "Karn Evil 9 (First Impressions)," you know you're in the presence of sheer. Genius. This is what Septimus Smith was singing when he leaped to his death.

2nd choice: King Crimson, In The Court of the Crimson King. No particular reason, but if Virginia Woolf were going to get into 1970s art-rock, she should start here.

Puppet #4: Sigmund Freud.

Capsule bio: Born Sigismund Schlomo Freud. Enjoyed cigars, maids, talking about sex with Viennese housewives. Thought about infant sexuality and personality formation for years until he realized that the human race carried within itself a deathward impulse. Smoked his jaw off.

Best match: Pink Floyd, The Wall. Don't tell me you didn't see this one a mile away. I think Freud contributed backup vocals on "Young Lust". His campaign against dark sarcasm in the classroom does not need to be explored here. He did, however, feel that children needed some education, even it amounted to thought control.

2nd choice: Kraftwerk, The Man-Machine. Although Freud was not interested in the cyborgian themes of the album, dismissing it as yet another example of the death drive in action, he loved the vocoder. Because at the end of his life, Freud's musical career was cut short by cancer in his jaw. He could have cut a few singles with a vocoder and some session musicians. I'm not saying it would have been an epic body of work, but it would have found its niche.

all alone

I don't generally post a person's work in its entirety, but I found a Stevie Smith poem on wood s lot today and it's too damn angry and gorgeous to leave alone.

Alone in the Woods

Alone in the woods I felt
The bitter hostility of the sky and the trees
Nature has taught her creatures to hate
Man that fusses and fumes
Unquiet man
As the sap rises in the trees
As the sap paints the trees a violent green
So rises the wrath of Nature’s creatures
At man
So paints the face of Nature a violent green.
Nature is sick at man
Sick at his fuss and fume
Sick at his agonies
Sick at his gaudy mind
That drives his body
Ever more quickly
More and more
In the wrong direction.

I love the idea of a 'gaudy mind'. I also recommend what is probably her best known poem, Not Waving But Drowning. Oh no no no, it was too cold always.

the lost riddles of proust

In 1906, a young Marcel Proust, still in grief over the death of his mother and uncertain about his literary prospects, approached Le Journal (and possibly several other Parisian newspapers) with the notion of writing a humour column featuring Proust's own jokes and riddles. Primarily Proust saw this as a means of offsetting the sensationalist and gruesome (and wildly popular) faits divers, which featured lurid tales of murder and suicide.

It has generally been assumed that nothing came of his discussions with the various publishers, but a recent discovery has shown that Proust wrote and submitted a number of his jokes. None of them made it to print. Despite the damage inflicted on the papers by the owner, who fed much of the material to his pet goat Sylvain, there is still more than enough extant text to reveal a writer approaching the height of his powers. We present his manuscripts here in serial form.

Q: For a long time I had trouble crossing the road. The lane that ran from our house in Combray like a thread laid carefully along the lap of our housemaid Clothilde, winding its way to the town centre, where at the hook of the cathedral it wove itself into the great hub of streets and alleyways that radiated outwards, carrying all the members of my family and the citizens of the town back and forth on their myriad duties, also ran from Combray out into the countryside, and from there to meet with greater roads yet, highways of ancient Rome that still bore the impress of foot and hoof from classical times, roads that ran to Paris and beyond. To stand on one side of that unassuming road, with its low ditch on one side and its border on the far side marked by a yet greater ditch, an incubator of bulrushes and long waving grasses, which in their willowy grace called to mind the women that would visit me in my sleep and in my waking dalliances with the imagination, trading light and shadow in a graceful economy of exchange, producing a serrated beauty that seemed to inflame a dormant sense of touch transmitted through the eyes, seemed to drain me of resolve and produce a sensual reverie that would have held me in its spell throughout the afternoon had not my mother, with her soft questioning voice, called me back for the afternoon meal. I would turn and rush back to the house, elated at the sound of her voice, my heart full and my cheeks burning with the prospect of her attentions. In truth I would often wander down to the roadside for the sole purpose of waiting there for her call, to force her to raise her eyes from her business and search for me. As the angle of light would pivot gently in the sky, the shadows in the bulrushes deepen and the waving grasses take on depth as they transmitted a golden light, the anticipation of her call would play up and down my thin young limbs, tugging at my heels and shoulders. Finally the moment would come when she would call, and I would turn and sprint, a hound released after fowl, into her arms.

On one such afternoon I spied a chicken standing across the road, pecking at something unseen among the sedge. It reminded me, in its distracted air, of an old friend who visited regularly when

[Here five hundred pages are missing]

be that in crossing a road to retrieve a chicken pecking at errant grains, only to find that the chicken, as you step out into the road, rights itself with purpose, and as it fixes you with an inimitable stare, struts also into the road, meeting you as you were set to meet it, that it is yourself you meet, as the chicken likewise meets itself at the centre, thereby passing over to the opposite side, whereby both you and the chicken turn to face your counterpart, and it is only yourselves that you truly face?

A: I lost track of what I was saying around 20 000 words in. Let's say that the chicken was looking to get to the other side of the road, and we'll leave it at that, okay? Tell you what, you want to monkey with this a little, shave it down a bit, I don't mind. You could say that the chicken was throwing itself into the road, under the wheels of a rampaging bicyclette or the heel of l'homme des chaussures cruelles. Whatever. Just - just do it. Do this for me, would you?

for a song

I found it. I found it on Ebay. On Amazon, on Overstock dot com. I found it in a bin. A barrel. Somewhere in all the excess packaging. In plastic, in paper. In a bag. In a stall in the open-air market in Las Pinas. I found it etched on a shell, in the juncture of thorax and abdomen. Tarsal and metatarsal, I found it. Stretched across the sky. I found it on my Visa bill, in printer ink, in a toppling pine, a pair of contrails, a kerosene fire, a panicked clamber of steps in the stairwell. I found it at Best Buy for even less. At Wal-Mart. I found it surprisingly tart, but refreshing. I found it clutched between the teeth a department store floor manager forcibly deceased and dumped off the turnpike. I found it a bargain at nothing at all, at no money down, at no easy payments until 2007. I found the instructions difficult to read. I found a crack in the housing, a rider in the warranty, a clause in the small print and a handful of small screws that didn't go anywhere. I found it to be a sadomasochistic fantasy starring Demi Moore. A corruption of the text. I found a variorum edition. A lovingly handcrafted limited run that my family would treasure for generations. I found the first season of Firefly for twenty-five bucks? Man. I found it a bit tight in the seat, if you follow me. I found you smoking Number Sevens in the comfy chairs by the front window at Emily's, which I found charming. I found grey hairs replacing the blond at my temple and the red of my beard. I found another crease crazing the corner of my eye. I found a mole of uncanny symmetry blooming on my left shoulderblade. I found it by stretching my neck a bit. I discovered an unfamiliar sexual position in a copy of Cosmo at the optician's. I found it more pleasurable in theory than in practise. I found a line I liked in a book of Tennyson. I found it inspiring, but I couldn't say what it inspired. I found it waiting for me, patient and abiding, when I turned off the highway and followed the leaf-covered dirt road to the house where I dressed up as Gene Simmons for Halloween at the age of four. I found it disappointing.

alone

A snip from John Berger's essay "The Wall and the Bulldozer":

The End of History, which is the Corporate global slogan, is not a prophecy, but an order to wipe out the past and what it has bequeathed everywhere. The market requires every consumer and employee to be massively alone in the present.

Well, duh.

ruskins

I keep on meaning to read John Ruskin's The Stones of Venice, but every time I pick up the book my brain starts going "ruskinruskinruskinruskin" and I want to dance around like a gorilla. Or in the manner that I imagine a gorilla dancing. You know, hopping to one side and another from one foot to the other with your arms held out on either side. All the gorillas of the jungle danced that way when the explorers introduced 19th century aesthetics to them, right?



Ruskinruskinruskinruskin.

synchronicity, prescience, or incontinence?

Today at work, The Lotus received the new Random House catalogue and found that the entry for the Emmanuelle Carrère reproduced the quotation that I used below, which, since I cribbed it from John Leonard, hardly comes as a surprise (it does lower my estimation of John Leonard a tad, but any guy who's willing to criticize Bob Dylan for being cruel to Joan Baez deserves a break now and then).



What I found creepy was that the catalogue copy promptly followed that up by talking about Dick's potassium tablet and Scotch diet.

that's not funny

In the latest issue of Harper's John Leonard quotes from Emmanuel Carrère's new book I Am Alive And You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick: "What [Dick] asked of culture, psychoanalysis, and even religion, was not that they educate him but that they hand over the password that would permit him to escape from the cave wherein we are shown not the real world but only its shadows". That pretty much sums up Dick's attitude toward the cosmos.



Bear in mind, though, that Dick was admitted to a hospital after completing his novel The Transmigration of Timothy Archer because, he claimed in an interview, the pain of leaving his characters behind incurred physical illness. Then he mentioned that he lived on nothing but potassium tablets and Scotch while he was writing. Then he died.