The Fall of Man
and other Short Stories
Alejandro Amoretti MMVIII
Copyleft 1870 Please make copies at your pleasure.
Printed in Tyre by Wetherell, Winston, Kilgore & Brock, Ultd. Hexagon and other shapes appear courtesy of Geometry.
Preface to the Next Edition
The Fall of Man and other Short Stories
Ruminations of Departed Perfection Reflected in Heideggerâ€™s Nietzsche
Woman from Brooklyn
A Distraction from Prose
The Ancient Machine
The Fall of Something Manmade
Preface to the Previous Edition
The works contained herein are incomplete. It was only at the incessant insistence of my insatiable publisher that I agreed to set these stories to print unfinished. He explained to me (with no lack of sophistry) that aggressive alliteration had lost its appeal and that “incompletion” was going to be the next big thing in the anarcho-absurdist genre. As he put it, I would be starting the revolution of I’m fairly certain, however, that it was all predicated upon some obscure tax benefit. In anticipation of the future publication of the completed collection, I’ve decided to include the preface to that next edition within this first one; upon publishing the next edition, I will alternatively insert the preface to this previous edition therein. And by this artifice, I will exact some worthless bit of revenge against the tiresome world of publishers, taxes and time. Yet I can’t seem to get past one paradox: Which preface belongs to which edition? Or, otherwise stated: By being
transported into the next edition, has the previous preface not become the next preface? If a preface is defined by what it precedes (as its name would suggest), what does it matter where it came from, what it originally stood before? Can a preface not stand alone, independent of all external definition, the first and final words ever to be written, ever to be read? Am I the writer of the preface or am I the preface itself? I am not a preface, I am dynamite! I am moving! I am falling. I am But letâ€™s leave ontology for the afterword. My publisher further insisted that I make a promise in this preface to eventually complete the unfinished works. He did not, however, restrict me from prefacing the promise as follows: I will probably not keep the following promise: I promise that I will finish writing this book. Though I jest, the burden of doubt that I will ever pen the final periods to each of these far-reaching tales weighs heavily upon me. There is something of death in every half-written story. And I will not fault you, my unlikely reader, if you preempt me in launching the anarcho-absurdist revolution by leaving your passage through these pages incomplete. You are not a reader, you are
A.A. Brooklyn May 8, 2014
A return to Geocentrism. A universe of lonely syllogism trying to learn how to love itself without others. A love of fictitious history that teaches us how to make histories that are worth loving. A history of deception that reveals the insidious villainy of truth. An egocentrism that sacrifices itself for a woman or for a country that was built upon the idea of a woman. A country at the center of the Universe that celebrates the history of its enemies. An enemy of teleology that has come to an end. An end of ends. A new beginning of ends that begins when love of truth becomes hatred of love. A hatred that descends into deep understanding. An understanding that rises into everlasting delusion. A recursion that ends when the history of the Universe is proven to be infinite. A proof that falls into infamy for having an affair with irrationality. The fall of all that is indefinite when everything changes. Everything is impossible at the center of infinite possibility. Centers are infinite celebrations of love. The edges of the Universe gave birth to its origin. Birth began long before the endless season of falling in love. The Origin always precedes the Fall.
The Fall of Man and other Short Stories
“...And I seem to have such strength in me now, that I think I could stand anything, any suffering, only to be able to say and to repeat to myself every moment, 'I exist.' In thousands of agonies—I exist. I'm tormented on the rack—but I exist! Though I sit alone in a pillar— I exist! I see the sun, and if I don't see the sun, I know it's there. And there's a whole life in that, in knowing that the sun is there.” - Dimitri Fyodorovich Karamazov
Three months ago I decided that I would get the above passage tattooed onto the right side of my upper back. I can’t say that I spent much time in the deciding; I just liked the sound of it— the repetition, the excitement!—and it seemed that it would bear a kind of Euclidean proportionality, both in itself and in spatial relation to my other tattoo: A small blue eagle on my left shoulder. The eagle tattoo hurt like hell when I got it some six years ago. Though, six years ago hell was still an idiom, still a metaphor—
a bizarre Bosch painting or some dusty old passage in the Bible that had lost its fury somewhere in translation. Hell wasn’t so bad back then: Two and a half hours of a sterilized needle pumping blue ink into my skin. People would always ask me what the tattoo meant. It didn’t mean anything. Yet, when questioned, I would always provide some fallacious explanation of its purpose, preferring not to risk an irksome discourse on the nature of meaninglessness. At first, the tattoo was a symbol for freedom and democracy, a good American eagle soaring to the staunch rhythm of cornfed patriotism. But then I became a Marxist and it became a mascot for the workers’ struggle. People would often frown and ask me why it wasn’t red. It wasn’t until I fled the fickle turf of socio-political systems and took refuge in poststructuralism that I began telling people the truth—that the eagle meant nothing; of course, no one ever believed me. People never understand the purpose of something permanent without meaning. This new tattoo—the quotation—wouldn’t have any meaning either. But it would be more difficult to convince people of that with it full of words and exclamation points and what not. I decided to set the text of the tattoo in its original Russian, just as Fyodor Dostoevsky had written it. This additional degree of obfuscation, it seemed, would be conducive to my desire for liberation from justification; Man is less prone to dig into the meaning of words if he doesn’t understand them. Thus resolved, I stumbled through the Russian Internet in search of an online version of the novel that contains the passage: The Brothers Karamazov. It was my favourite novel. With a stroke of luck, I found my way through the digital forest
of unfamiliar Cyrillic characters to a promising path that lead to a webpage seeming to contain what I was looking for. Passing through the text of the novel, I discerned that книга was the Russian word for book. Four chapters into Книга XI, I found the heading: Гимн и секрет. Even my foreign eyes could confirm the translation. I had found A Hymn and a Secret. Having thus peaked ever so slightly into the Russian language, into the greatest novel ever written as it was written, I was suddenly overcome by a sensation of euphoric terror—that beautiful terror that one feels when thinking deeply about the infinite emptiness of time after death. It was almost as though the grand mystery of the Universe, in all its unfamiliar characters, was finally revealing itself before my eyes—and only at the dawn of its revelation did I realize how deeply I feared the death of mystery. Narrowly escaping the paralysis of overconsciousness, I shook my head violently and cleared my mind of all but its most immediate directives. I still had to find the passage. After a tedious process of analyzing punctuation, word repetition and sentence length I eventually pinpointed the impassioned monologue that Dimitri Karamazov delivered to his younger brother in a dark jail-cell: …И кажется столько во мне этой силы теперь, что я всё поборю, все страдания, только чтобы сказать и говорить себе поминутно: я есмь! В тысячи мук — я есмь, в пытке корчусь — но есмь! В столпе сижу, но и я существую, солнце вижу, а не вижу солнца, то знаю, что оно есть. А знать, что есть солнце — это уже вся жизнь.
Eager to escape from the Russian Internet, I copied the passage and pasted it into a fresh document file. After adjusting the font-size, spacing and line-breaks to my liking, I printed out a copy and set off for Jesus’ Tattoo Parlor in South Miami. Jesus’ Tattoo Parlor was a rather squalid place wedged between a bail-bondsman’s office and a forsaken cafetería cubana. As I surveyed the parlor’s waiting room with its yellowed walls plastered with posters of garish dragons, Chinese characters and Celtic woven crosses, a volley of misgivings concerning the tattoo besieged my mind: A misspelled word. A stray line. Disease. Displeasure. Death. Emptiness of time. I rebuffed the assault, recalling the travail and the triumph of my recent search for the passage. I had come so far (in a strange, nonspatial, non-temporal sense of distance); I couldn’t turn back now. Hepatitis would be a pinprick compared to the pain of hiding from risk, disease and death—the cold anguish of an existential vacuum. I had to have the tattoo. I had to exist. It seemed as though Jesus’ den was vacant of life but for the persistent buzzing of an instrument. And then the buzzing stopped. Jesus emerged from a dark cubicle wearing the tired grimace of a surgeon who had just lost a patient in surgery after years and years of losing patients in surgery. A mousy girl with purple hair crept out from the cubicle behind Jesus and skittered off into a back room of the parlor. The fluorescent overhead lights flickered. I thought to myself: I exist; and then I stepped forward towards Jesus. Jesus stood still, staring at me with empty eyes as I approached. His cutoff t-shirt revealed two lumpy arms which were plastered from shoulder to wrist with tattoos of garish dragons, Chinese characters and Celtic woven crosses. With a set of sausage-like fingers he wiped a layer of sweat from his forehead
and smeared it across his shirt. I exist, I repeated to myself. Jesus extended out his hand which was still slightly wet with little beads of yellow sweat. I hesitantly reached out to shake it but before I could grasp his sausage fingers Jesus withdrew his arm and motioned impatiently toward the piece of paper which I was holding in my other hand. I felt no need to quibble with Jesus over manners. Producing the printout of the passage, I took one last glance over its inscrutable text as though to make sure that the words were all correctly spelled, and then placed it into Jesus’ sweaty palm. Jesus glanced over it and then rumpled his bearded and piercèd face into a menacing frown. I froze in fear, realizing that the enquiries into the meaning of my new tattoo were set to begin even before it had found its way into my skin, which would certainly not bode well for— but before I could finish my fear Jesus interrupted, explaining in sparse English that the type-size was much too fine and would need to be enlarged a bit. I was momentarily relieved until Jesus returned from the copier machine with a printout of the enlarged passage. “A bit” turned out to be the entire breadth of my upper back which seemed a bit absurd (if not only out of scale with the eagle). I had to make a decision: to exist absurdly or not to exist at all. I chose the latter. Nothingness. It had all been for nothing. Life, the tattoo and everything were nothing but an irksome discourse on meaninglessness. Several wasted pages in the History of Man. Existence, it seemed, was just an intricate waste of paper. I shook my head at Jesus and then walked out of his sordid tattoo parlor untattooed. That was three months ago. A week afterwards, I re-explored my decision to get the tattoo in the first place: Why would I want a paragraph of Russian prose imprinted upon my skin?
And on my back where I couldn't even read it? And I couldn't even read Russian anyway—so why? It wasn’t about spatial proportion as I had tried to convince myself—an empty rectangle could have accomplished that. But why words? Why those words? Why any words? Why these words? I lost my mind in a circuitous route of reasoning and then regained it with the supposition that I wanted the tattoo to remind myself that I existed, if only by the temporary soreness in my back. I wanted to remind myself that the answers to so many of my questions could be found in the pages of Dostoevsky—or, as a friend would later put it, that everything there was to know about life was in The Brothers Karamazov—everything except for the reason why I needed to tattoo its bloody contents upon my back. I shivered as I realized that I had become my own inquisitor, prying my own brain to pull some meaning out of a meaningless mass of words. It meant nothing. And, meaning or no meaning, it didn’t matter a drop as I didn’t even get the damned tattoo. So that was that.
* * * *
Three days ago, I exchanged three hundred American dollars for twenty one thousand Icelandic Krónur. I had arrived in Iceland for one last debaucheristic vacation before embarking upon a rigorous life of artistic asceticism—an existence imbued with a purity of spirit akin to that of wise, old Zossima from The Brothers Karamazov. But I didn’t mean to become a monk; I saw my path leading toward the pagan halls of ancient epic poetry. I even had the schematics for an epic poem already mapped out: A Spartan lover torn from his beloved by
war and duty; the perfect beauty of his beloved; her arguments for love against war; the internal battle between passion and wisdom echoed in the Olympian rivalry of Venus and Minerva. And it would be tastefully seasoned with allusion, character conflict, resolution, preflections of modernity, social commentary, eternal questions of philosophy, metaphor, metonymy, consonance, assonance, rhythmic mellifluence, well-timed metrical aberrance, apostrophes, elegies, outjumping imperatives, nested narratives!—essentially, a consummation of the epic form. It had only to be written. For the past nine months my weekends were spent in a dark coffee shop in Coral Gables where (when I wasn’t distracted by the attractive girls behind the counter) I scribbled notes and fiddled with different patterns of metre and rhyme. I remained faithful to my darling iambic pentameter, having always preferred her simple beauty over the boisterous sophistication of her trochaic brothers and the gossipy imprecision of her hexametric cousins. Despite my initial leaning toward the heroic couplet, I felt as though the atemporal movement of love wanted something less forward-marching, something more circular and femininely embracive. After months of indecision, the verse settled into an AABCCBDD stanza. Just prior to my departure to Iceland, the epic poem stood thus: O fair Venus, propitious patronesse Of Pleasure, Pain, Bliss, Hope and Hopelessness, Who payeth these, thy season’d mercen’ries, Once wingèd Cupid’s love-envenom’d dart Is fresh engrav’d within a mortal’s heart, In turns, that lovestruck vessel to besiege; O Venus, sweet commandresse of the state Of Paradise unlost, hear this my playnte:
And that was all. Eight lines. Not even the girth of a bloody sonnet. Having made so little progress over so many months and feeling particularly ineffectual after the hapless episode at Jesus’s Tattoo Parlor, I resolved to clear my mind and make a fresh start. Thus my trip to Iceland. One last debauchery before discipline and purity of spirit. Today this, but some day that. Some day something great, something epic. Something ere the end. Yet, while debauchery was the named object of my expedition, there was a more profound purpose which I kept quietly hidden in my heart—hidden from others and from my self. It was love. But do not even so much as nibble at that stale piece of pathos which I have passed out to you, my reader. I was not a man deserving of love. I was ignorant and meddlesome in that matter—love was a book that my illiterate eyes appreciated only for the lustrous colours of its dust-jacket. Instead of endeavouring to acquire an education into love’s sweet dialect, I desperately tore up pages and pages of erotic opportunity, ripped apart whole chapters of perfect women, all the while expecting them to yield their warm catharsis to my indelicate handling. And yet my failings never prompted me to pursue new tactics. A monkey in a library fancies himself a scholar. Apropos of my dual pursuit of debauchery and desperate love, my vacation coincided with the coming of a new year—an astronomically arbitrary occasion for epic celebration. I wouldn’t want to give anything away but I should tell you that New Year’s Eve in Reykjavík is an event unequaled by even twenty such evenings spent in any other city, be it Paris, New York or Sydney. And yet the debauchery began even before the new year came. December saw her last three days filled with cases of Tuborg beer, bottles of Wild Turkey Rye and a general
sense of licentiousness present in all things. There was drink by night and sleep by day. Yet, the sun slept through both; for, in the wintertime in the northern reaches of our world, the sun slumbers under the horizon and only peeks into the sky at noon for a few faint hours of orange and purple. Despite the enduring darkness, the wandering streets of Reykjavík were walked by Icelanders and foreigners, fishermen and businessmen, debauchers and children, all wearing the same face of burgeoning anticipation; and through the air about them drifted a current of warmth that was far from characteristic for that time of year. But I have been awfully impolite in not introducing my friends, my six brave brothers Karamazov (as I fancied them) who accompanied me to Iceland. Though not by blood, we were brothers indeed, sharers of dreams, one equal temper of heroic hearts. First I will speak of Jarrett Karamazov. Jarrett was of the oldest guard in the pleasantly brief catalogue of my dear friendships. We had together attended Catonis Academy where first we learned the sacred rites of intellectual stimulation and chemical alteration. Jarrett was tall and distinguished, like a Roman statue—and if he had been born a statue he would likely have been Apollo, chiseled out of a striated marble with an unwavering arm outstretched, its open palm ever grasping outward. Though, even if Michelangelo had been his stonewright, the master would have struggled for years in sculpting the vesicular mass of curly hair which Jarrett wore atop his head. By trade, Jarrett was a drummer. His heart’s fulfillment was found in crafting rhythms designed to embark upon and bring about intellectual alteration. In Iceland, he sought peace, metaphysical exercise and meaningful intercourse with perfect women.
Ryan Karamazov was Jarrett’s younger cousin. Ryan had seen one fewer new year than either Jarrett or myself (the two of us having each seen twenty two) and was midway through his final year at university. Where his elder cousin was an Apollo, Ryan was more of a Bacchus, ever seeking mirth and pleasure in whatever form of ale or spirit they might manifest. And yet, despite the debaucheristic portrait which this story shall likely paint of Ryan, I aver that he was of a stout character; a young man of diverse senses and complex dimensions. The third in my pantheonic crew was Stevie Karamazov, who also hailed from the ranks of my old guard. In our days at Catonis Academy, Stevie and I coharvested healthy strands of rebellion. Together we pursued many a pair of worthy goddesses and broke many a rule worthy of the breaking. Some time after we split ways to attend our separate universities, Stevie let his hair grow long until its ends achieved his shoulders. It was only in emulation of his that my hair joined the rebellion and eventually grew to the same achievement. Though Stevie wore a comely visage with often smiling features, he bore the fire of Vulcan’s very forge within his breast. For him, philosophy as much as life was a full-contact sport. And thus, with rebellion about his mind and volcanic uprisings in his heart, Stevie Karamazov passed into the cobbled streets of Reykjavík, prepared to administer existential reconstruction on the mindless Madame-Hohlakovs of the civilized world. Johnny Karamazov, the younger brother (bloodwise) of Stevie, was his elder brother’s likeness but with a shorter crop of hair. Perhaps my most cherished image from those past three days of debauchery was one of Johnny lying leisurely in bed at two
in the afternoon with a naked Icelandic sweetheart swaddled in bed-sheets by his side; and her staring thoughtfully into his eyes, struggling to quantify the inexorable will of the American Karamazov mind. I regret—and I never regret anything—I regret that I did not find the time during those last three days of December to put aside my bottle and soberly discuss with Johnny his developing perspective on aesthetics. As an aspiring film director, Johnny shared with me the artistic responsibility of presenting character and conflict with piercing self-honesty. We might have learned much from each other. Alas, contrary to my artistic responsibility and further to my regret, I fear that lack of will to carry on will force me to flatten Johnny’s character into something of a martial persona, focusing my narrow lens only on his role in a most unfortunate physical conflict. But I mustn’t speak of that yet. Zachary Kilgore Trout Karamazov (or “ZKTK” as we came to call him) met Stevie at university, soon after which he was warmly welcomed into our group of friends. ZKTK was the tallest member of our confraternity, the top of his head reaching just over six and a half feet above the ground. He wore sharp features, an occasional beard and a haircut which he had borrowed from a young Bob Dylan. Though he had only one face on which to wear such features, he could have well played the part of Janus, the Olympian opener of doors and usher of renewal. In the end, he renewed my wavering spirit by opening the front cover of Vonnegut and urging me to turn the page. But again I am coming perilously close to revealing the end of my story prematurely. And I prematurely apologize if I do indeed ruin it. There is tremendous difficulty ahead; I would not urge you, my reader, in good faith to
turn the page. Brandon Karamazov was the sixth and final reveler who joined in our consort. Brandon, however, prefers not to dwell in the past tense and therefore will only be referred to in the present telling of this tale. Come, my friends, 'tis not too late to seek a newer world. This is the story of the Fall of Man. I find some comfort sitting thus under the majestic wings of Milton as they flap infallibly overhead. Milton saw the Fall as prerequisite to the Ascension, the pleasure of Paradise as rooted in knowledge of Hell. A wise gentleman wearing a fashionable jacket once described the horror of a paradisial life, like an endless church service composed wholly of a single, amenless hymn of monotonous praise: In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti … et cætera ad infinitum. Without suffering what would be the pleasure of it? You see, life must be sprinkled with pain and terror so as to provide the pleasantries with a proper context. Yet, to the sufferer amidst his sufferings and without the certainty of future pleasures, this philosophy falls rather flat. For there exists, in contraposition to “the endless church service,” an eternal rack—and there are men who spend their entire lives on “the rack” bearing the whips and scorns of time, never learning the prerequisite vocabulary of contentment to speak of pleasure. The whole thing is terrifically nauseating. ...all these philosophies are the death of me. Damn them! Those were the closing words of Dimitri Karamazov’s jail-cell monologue. I had omitted them from the tattoo for some good
reason which I can no longer recall. Perhaps those last words alone would be the more appropriate tattoo now—in their original Russian wrapped around my left forearm. Yes, I suppose I must speak of my arm…. But first of Vodka. A small bottle with a few drops of vodka. The evening of the new year arrived while my friends and I were sleeping. The sun was only a few hours under the horizon when Brandon awoke to the crackle of a premature firework being discharged from the courtyard of Hallgrímskirkja just a few blocks from our hotel. Hallgrímskirkja was the queen of the Reykjavík skyline, a towering Lutheran church of a postmodern yet primordial design. Her central belltower was supported on either side by asymptotic rows of stone columns which formed the church’s façade into the image of a grand organ—an organ whose granite pipes, it seemed, had been standing since the beginning of time, silently droning the glory of God for hundreds of thousands of years, since long before His invention. To match anachronism with anatopism, the church’s courtyard was guarded by a tall, greening statue of the country’s patron pagan, Leifr Eiríksson. The old expeditioner, his metal weathered and unburnished, surveyed the world ahead of him having long lost the name of action midstride into it. But I’ve neglected to speak of vodka as promised. Brandon was first to awaken and he then roused the rest of our fellowship. Neglecting the habits of showering, teeth-brushing and breakfasting which are commonly practiced by human beings upon awakening, my friends and I made pilgrimage to the communal refrigerator where, upon arriving, we gathered in our arms as many cans of beer and bottles of spirits as they could embrace and then retreated back to Brandon’s and ZKTK’s room to consummate the rite of pre-gaming.
I appropriated for myself a bottle of Reyka vodka and three pint-size cans of Tuborg beer. As I cracked open the first Tuborg, the can exhaled its effervescent yawn, spitting up little particles of excited beer which danced for only a moment in the promised land of air before drifting down to the carpet, some evaporating before they got there. I sensed the importance of that moment—of every moment that passed. These were moments. Stevie, who was perhaps thinking of similar things as he opened his first bottle of Wild Turkey Rye, blessed the moment with music. He put on Pink Floyd. Echoes. Let me recall for you the conversation which ensued: “How much time do we have?” asked Ryan urgently without any pause between his words. Almost before finishing the final syllable of his question, Ryan began gulping down the cold contents of a freshly opened Tuborg, as though anticipating an answer of far less time than was necessary to drink a pint of beer. “Six hours,” answered ZKTK after glancing at his watch and taking a leisurely sip from his own bottle of Wild Turkey Rye. He grinned at Ryan as if to add: Plenty of time to drink a bottle of whisky, my boy. Yet, six hours seemed still not enough for Ryan’s appetite; the young bacchanalian continued to supply a steady stream of Tuborg to his throat. ZKTK, meanwhile, reclined on his bed and scrutinized the tenor of his whisky, tilting the bottle this way and that. I was sitting on the edge of Brandon’s bed while Brandon was curled up in a ball behind me reading Baudelaire’s Les paradis artificiels. Baudelaire, of course, didn’t prevent Brandon from taking part in the debauchery; he applied his bottle of spiced rum to his lips at regular intervals as his eyes drifted from page to page.
Stevie & Johnny were sitting aside by the window, discussing some family business amongst themselves, while the elder brother concurrently kept sentry over the music playing on his laptop. Jarrett Karamazov sat opposite of ZKTK’s bed on a small, wooden chair, steadily but relaxedly drumming his palms upon his knees and thighs. His rhythm was broken only for brief rests during which he drank from his own bottle of Wild Turkey Rye (which occasionally participated in his drum ensemble as a ride cymbal). “Six hours,” echoed Jarrett solemnly through a series of pats, taps and clinks. His eyes were entranced upon some distant point in space, indicating a level of concentration verging upon deep meditation. In observing his stoical demeanor, I imagined that he hadn’t even heard what he had said. It was pleasing to see my friend so focused at his art and either that or the Tuborg brought a profound warmth into my soul. Ryan, having finished his first beer, popped open a new one and resumed his art. Despite my theory about Jarrett’s distant state of mind, he was indeed well aware of what he had said; keeping his torso square to his drum-set, he casually turned his head toward me and asked, “And then what?” I caught Jarrett’s glance midway through a healthy swig of Tuborg and let the sensation of cold beer running down my tongue merge into the brisk anticipation of metaphysical conversation. “And then life begins,” I answered. Ryan paused to burp. Brandon looked up from Baudelaire for a brief moment and then returned to his reading. “Six hours and then life begins,” repeated Jarrett, testing the phrase for structural integrity. Pleased with its sturdiness upon the air, Jarrett stared back at me, delivering with his glance the pleasant burden of turning my mysterious proclamation from
artless novelty into universal profundity. I didn’t necessarily believe in what I had said or in anything that I was about to say; metaphysics was simply one of our favourite games to play. “It is important to recognize that what’s present is prologue,” I began. Jarrett paused his drumming (as I imagined, more for the benefit of my concentration than for his). “Nothing has happened yet, you see. Your memories are not the record of time, but merely a preface written into your mind prior to the onset of your life. And your life begins at midnight tonight.” Having thus delivered the précis of my theory, I inlivered a long, meditative sip of beer. “A preface … nothing has happened,” repeated Jarrett, beginning to parse through the parameters of my obscure proposition in his characteristically meticulous manner. “Nothing has happened,” I affirmed. “And do all our lives begin tonight or is there only one of us who actually exists?” “Life begins tonight for all of us.” “And why tonight? Why in six hours?” Jarrett’s inquisitive eyes glinted with a spark of challenge, “It would seem awfully Ptolemaic for life to begin at midnight on New Year’s Eve, right on schedule with Man’s calendar.” At that, I set down my Tuborg and opened my bottle of vodka as though I were tossing aside my dirk and unsheathing my broadsword for heightened battle. “Ha! Have at you then, my dear Copernicus, yet gold in youth! Conduct your thinking to the past! Your calendar runs backwards!” I grinned wildly and cocked back my bottle of
vodka for a vigorous swig. A shiver chased the vodka into my body followed by an eerie tingle of foreboding. “Backwards? What do you mean?” returned Jarrett, gently demanding that I resist the premature plunge into obscurity. “Backwards. Your preface was written backwards. Life always begins—always began tonight. The entire book of history was written backwards from tonight all the way back to the Big Bang. Time, calendars, astronomers, stars—they were all written into the story in relation to this night.” “But who’s writing this story?” asked ZKTK who was still gazing into the fluid, caramel substance encased within his bottle. “Let’s call him … God,” Jarrett proposed with a healthy dash of irony. I laughed. I didn’t believe in God; but it was comforting to imagine Him as a writer, struggling through an extended metaphor, suffering through the self-flagellation of endless revision. “No, it wasn’t written by Him,” I said with a smile, though not without a strange sense of regret. “The story of your life up until it begins tonight was written by you.” Brandon chuckled without lifting his eyes from his book. I’m not sure whether he was amused by our conversation or by what he was reading. “So if I wrote the preface and if we are still in the preface, then … I wrote this entire conversation?” wondered Jarrett out loud, still eagerly anticipating some perfectly cut diamond of philosophy at the end of the dialogue. “You wrote it, my friend.”
“When did I write it?” “At the end of your life. Right after you die.” The evocation of death placed an unpleasant heaviness upon the air. Ryan finally took a break from his drinking and sat still, staring thoughtfully into the floor. “But how,” Jarrett continued, unbothered by death, “could I know, right now at this moment, that this conversation is happening if I haven’t written it yet? My life couldn’t have already ended if it hasn’t yet started. And how come I only know what happens in this conversation up until now?” “Now, you say?” I took another swig of vodka. Again my body shivered. “Now.” A pause. “Now is only another part of your constructed memory. Now … is now in the past. Right now you feel that you only know the beginning of this conversation and not the end. But that is just part of the preface, you see. At the end of your life when you write—when you wrote the preface, you created these moments and these thoughts about the seeming impossibility of being stuck in the midst of time … in the end it will all make much more sense.” A momentary pause. “A moment ago, you didn’t know that I was going to say what I just said. But now it is there. It is irrevocable. There can never be a time in your life when you don’t know what I just said. There can never be a time when you don’t know everything that has ever been said, everything that has ever happened. You’ve always known everything, you see … everything except for knowing that you know everything. The next part of this conversation, the next thing you say will become permanent and undeniable in only a moment.” Several moments passed as the room became saturated by a deep silence of thought. Only the music could be heard: The
echo of a distant time comes willowing across the sand. Stevie and Johnny had stopped talking and were quietly sipping from their respective bottles of whisky. Brandon turned a page. I looked into Jarrett’s mind through his eyes and saw that he was savouring the refutation of my thesis by suspending himself in a state of consideration of what to say next. So long as he was considering, he could taste his free will; he could know the feeling of not knowing what he was about to say—that refreshing feeling of not knowing everything. He let free will dance for several moments on his tongue before swallowing it. I saw a shiver shoot through his body. “I exist,” he said at last. I was jolted by Jarrett’s two words. The tone, the solemnity, the delivery—it was all just as I had imagined Dimitri Karamazov saying those same words in his jail-cell. I exist. I had told neither Jarrett nor anyone else about the tattoo. For a moment, I wondered if, while I had been looking into Jarrett’s mind, he had been looking into mine. And I am you and what I see is me. Melancholy swept over me as Dimitri’s monologue reminded me of my recent failures. My back was painfully bare of ink. My epic poem was comatose. I felt my self being pulled back into the narrow corridor of reality. And then my desperation for love crept out of its hiding place in my heart. It had been a few years since I had been with a woman. And for a man of twenty three years, a few years is a few years too many. For reasons beyond my ken, I was wholly unable to convince a woman to come home with me, let alone prosecute an intimate relationship. I had been with girls in my youth, but only in a frivolous context—never in love. How can a romantic poet, a man devoted to the worship of womankind, a man of sensitivity and passion, a man not notably unattractive (as far
as a man can judge of himself)—how can such a man be so unworthy of love? This question was my daily plague. A thick silence had settled over the room allowing me to delve deeper into my thoughts. Afflicted by a scholastic attachment to analysis, I was wont to review the archaeology of my love-life whenever its absurdity troubled my mind. I recalled my early years at university, that all too brief epoch of sexual prosperity, loveless though it was. A certain mindlessness governed my actions in those days. It was not until the flowering of my intellectual curiosity that women began avoiding me. Thus it seemed that my problem was of the mind. Could it possibly be that women were collectively averse to my intense love of knowledge? Were they frightened by my embracement of intellectually interesting impracticality? Were they jealous of my devotion to Dostoevsky? No, there were plenty of intellectuals—Dostoevsky devotees amongst their number—for whom love came easy. It was something else, some fatal confluence of character flaws. Or a conspiracy, perhaps. I grew impatient at the sterility of my analysis, sensing that every passing moment made me more inadequate, more innocuous, more impotent. To hell with analysis! To hell with my departure from mindlessness! Oh, that I had ever remained in my native wood!—then love’s brilliant hue had never been sicklied over by the poison of serpentine metaphysics. Cursèd knowledge! It was all meaningless…. It is all meaningless, by the way. This entire story is meaningless. But it would be difficult to convince you of that with it full of words and exclamation points and what not. Looking forward into the approaching night, I saw a glimmer of hope: Absurdity. This would be a night of absurdity, a night
of unreasonability—a perfect night for unlikely love. Perhaps my new life, a life to be spent imparadised in the arms of a perfect woman, was about to begin. “And what of free will?” asked ZKTK, killing the silence. I began to puzzle over what free will could possibly have to do with love but then realized that my friends hadn’t followed me down my meandering stream of consciousness; they were still considering existence. “There is no free will,” I replied, more bitterly than I had intended to sound. I felt sheepish for leaving my brothers hanging on to my unraveling thesis, thirsting for a universal profundity that I couldn’t produce. I poured some vodka down my throat in a barbaric manner, hoping to demonstrate that I had stepped down from the plane of philosophy for the time being. “Then there can’t be immorality…” continued ZKTK with a sudden fire in his eyes. My desperation, so recently resolved upon, was seamlessly overtaken by excitement as I recognized the inferential logic of old Fyodor Karamazov. The feeling of having a favourite novel reinvigorated me. With an air of omniscience, ZKTK added, “everything there was to know about life was in The Brothers Karamazov.” “What’s that from?” I asked, pleased with the statement’s sturdiness upon the air. “Vonnegut,” replied ZKTK. “Slaughterhouse-Five.” “Vonnegut,” I echoed. “I haven’t read him yet.” It pained me to admit it. As a writer, I felt it my duty to be well read. How could I have not yet read Vonnegut? How many greats were there whom I’d neglected? What answers were tucked away in
the crisp, uncut pages of all those old volumes cramped together in my dusty bookshelves? Perhaps the key to love was locked within Lawrence or Austen or Swinburne or Byron…. “I just finished it today, actually. Here, you can have it.” ZKTK fished a worn, paperback copy of Slaughterhouse-Five out of a drawer in his bedside table and tossed it over to me. I glanced at its cover, examined its binding and then placed it aside to read at some later time. “But I think we’re on to something here,” ZKTK continued with a cunning smile. “If there is no free will, then there can be no immorality. We can’t be accused of wrongdoing if fate dictates our actions; we’re just actors following a script. Only the Universe, the director of this strange play, can be guilty of good and evil.” Jarrett, whose mind seemed to be still occupied by those two words, I exist, glanced over at me with an expectant look, as though he were awaiting my refutation of ZKTK’s theorem. Jarrett and I had often discussed our mutual appreciation for the Kantian school of ethics; it must have seemed reasonable to him that I would deploy the categorical imperative at that point in the conversation to argue against a system of moral plasticity. But I remained silent. “So, for example,” proceeded ZKTK with a touch of jocularity, “if Brandon bags three Icelandic bunnies tonight without knowing any of their names, he can wake up with a smile tomorrow morning, knowing that his deeds were inevitable, undeniable, even moral. Every thrust, every moan will have been an act of monastic piety.” Brandon finally placed his Baudelaire aside and sat up with a broad smile, as if he had been waiting the entire time for this favourable prophecy. I stared down into my bottle of vodka, secretly despising the idea of Brandon having these women in such a wanton manner. I
would love but one of these women. I would remember her name and write poetry about her eyelashes. I would serve her as the very emissary of Venus! I thought to interject a treatise on love but it seemed ill-suited for the moment. And who was I to speak of Love who had not so much as crawled upon Her courtyard floor? I was a mere beggar scratching at Her door. But tonight, perhaps, She will finally let me in. “Tonight, my brothers,” boomed ZKTK, assuming a dramatic stance upon his bed, bottle still in hand, “we ride out beyond free will, beyond morality, beyond the boundaries of metaphysics”—a swig of whisky—“to that undiscovered country of real existence! We wave the banner of vitality and … and bear arms against forbearance! We thrust forth our will in the face of predetermination! Tonight, brave comrades, we conquer the fair women of Iceland!”—a final swig—“By the axe of Leifr Eiríksson, we will prevail!” Ryan, possessed by ZKTK’s fluid rhetoric, opened a fresh Tuborg and resumed his furious pursuit of inebriation. He paused for only the briefest of moments to sputter out a quick question: “How much time do we have now?”
* * * *
Time passed. The new year approached. As my brothers and I emptied our bottles, the content of our conversation fell from the heavens of high philosophy down into the pits of lust and savagery. Despite my recent allegiance to a code of chivalric ciliophilia, the vodka quickly replaced my idealistic piety with an erotic physicalism. There was a primal sense of Man’s
purpose present in that room: sex with women. In agreement with this ontological interpretation, Led Zeppelin impregnated the room’s atmosphere with its euphonious devotion to the fairer creation. Jarrett lamented the loss of John Bonham, a kindred artist of such brilliance, brought to death by too much drink. It would have been natural to feel saddened by the death of beauty but lamentation was a foreign language at that moment. Real existence was at hand! My soul could speak only in the sweet undertones of joy and celebration! Here was the time for pleasure! For rapture! For ecstasy! For one last excessive debauchery! I drank my last splash of vodka then let the empty bottle drop to the carpet nearly breaking in the fall. Midnight almost ran right past us. It was only for the noise of a gathering crowd that we were roused from our selves and drawn out into the night. We chased the sound of celebration to the foot of Hallgrímskirkja. Life was about to begin. When reading Paradise Lost, I always imagine the unwritten moment when Satan was sitting at God’s dinner table, still an angel, entertaining no premonition of the pain of his impending fall. Just heavenly bliss. If only that moment could have lasted a bit longer. Perhaps other decisions might have been made. Yet, would it not have been against God’s will for Satan not to rebel? Wasn’t that part of the plan? But never mind that. Now to the matter at hand. The deluge of drunkards, children, tourists and lovers converged upon the courtyard square laid out before the massive edifice of Christian worship. Fireworks leapt into the sky, bursting into voluptuous peonies of every known colour and even some new colours theretofore unknown to Man. My mind scintillated with radical sparks of sensation. I saw the thoughts of a thousand people quit their orderly procession
through their masters’ minds and run out into the air to dance and sing and be free. The bondage of past sufferings broke into a thousand pieces of pleasure. O, what poetry might escape from such epiphanous pleasure! I recalled Yeats: Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing for every tatter in its mortal dress. I sang and danced for three hours encapsulated in three seconds. I looked to the sky where I saw the future and the glory. I remembered the Lord's Prayer from when I was a child. The kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. I felt hungry for some daily bread. And then I saw a flash of something beautiful. I forced my eyes to find their focus for only a moment to identify the source of this radiance. It was a woman. A woman standing by the statue of Leifr Eiríksson. I recalled ZKTK’s speech: By the axe of Leifr Eiríksson, we will prevail! Love was falling into place! A sudden wave of purpose crashed into my mind, flooding my thoughts with a fastcongealing faith in destiny. Triumph was unavoidable. And what could be avoided whose end is purposed by one’s will? Amoretti shall go forth! I had found the key to love and its vault was only fifty feet away. I decided that this woman would be my beloved, my fulfillment, my everlasting mystery. I can’t say that I spent much time in the deciding; I just loved the idea of love. Love! I flew toward the statue, drinking in the beauty of the blue, red, white, braäven sky. I would love this woman. I would spend every dream on her. I would write poetry about her eyelashes. I would make love to her like a god carefully creating a universe, leaving no detail untouched. Let there be love! A firework shot out of the ground just a few feet beside me. I watched it soar into the sky and then explode into a thousand sparkling lights that dispersed in every direction and then drifted down and faded. I was almost there, almost at the right hand side of Leifr, almost beyond free will, almost beyond the boundaries of love—when the world turned from upside up
to downside down. The great stone face of Hallgrímskirkja jerked violently out of the ground and fell uprooted on its side. The fireworks all dripped off the edge of the sky. ZKTK flew by as December gave way to January. And then I saw the ground rip from its eternal birth in the earth and fly forcefully toward me like a tidal wave of cold stones and bricks. Moments after the ground struck me, I realized that I had struck the ground. I lost sight of my brothers. I forgot the new colours which I had seen in the sky. I forgot the future and the glory and the kingdom. I forgot what the woman of my dreams looked like. Slowly regaining my feet, I felt the sharpness of fresh pain pulsing throughout my left side. Milton's pun on Sin being birthed from the sinister side of Satan's head passed dimly through my mind. The pain in my left arm matured into miserable agony. My instinct instructed me to go home, as if home were some kind of cure. I had a thought to look for my beloved, the lost woman of my dreams, but Pain swiftly stole Thought’s reins over my actions. I hobbled back to the hotel and retreated into my room. The first step toward recovery was to get undressed. Yet, in attempting to remove my overcoat, I discovered that my left arm was stuck in a bent position. My first effort to force it straight sent a shockwave of pain from my elbow up through my arm and into my brain. I stood there, stunned for several moments. Something wasn’t right. Nothing was right. The Universe had fallen out of place. In spite of itself, my faculty of reason retired for the night. And thus, with unreasonable resolve, I tried a second time to jerk my arm back into place. Pain. Elbow. Arm. Brain. But this time it was worse. The shockwave reverberated down my spine, through my legs, into my feet and sent me falling
backwards. My fall was broken by my broken arm which became crunched between the dead weight of my drunken body and the thinly carpeted floor. The third shockwave of pain consumed my being entirely and became pain beyond pain. The fleeting memory of my recent pleasure shattered into a thousand pieces of suffering. The moment for free will, for paradisial bliss had passed. I was no longer seated at Godâ€™s dinner table. I would have fallen asleep there on the floor but for the Karamazov in me. A power without origin crept into my heart. Reason had departed but the dark lady Desire had stepped forward to serve as stewardess over my actions. A momentary pulse of love for my brothers birthed another power which shot through the marrow of my bones and raised me up off my back. I lurched upwards, grabbed a bottle of whisky with my unbroken arm and hobbled my way back to HallgrĂmskirkja. Real existence was still possible. I must, however, take a moment to discuss a certain matter with you before we proceed: Non-fiction inevitably partakes of the fictional. Let me explain: There are things that happen. And, when the dutiful historian observes these happenings, he fashions and arranges symbols to reflect what she has seen. The word Fiction (itself a nominalization fashioned out of the Latin fingere) etymologically embodies this very sense of fashioning. Characters and the words they form are but fictions of reality bereft of experiential universality (e.g. when I say she, what is she actually?). But I, the writer, am not the only fictioneer. For there is you. The reader reads the story and refashions it out of her own experiential fabric. You are fashioning these words of mine into your own idea of what I am trying to say. Do you understand what I am saying?
I say all of this not to play a whimsical game of semiotics with you, my reader, but to explain why the next part of this story is untrue—to justify a necessary lie. I am the first person. This story is about me and I am but telling you the history of what I have seen. Yet, historians rarely set about their research after drinking a bottle of vodka. You understand, yes? As I hobbled back to Hallgrímskirkja, my mind began writing a fiction into the worn pages of its memory. And it was quite poorly written. Regardless, I will share it with you as I, the drunken historian of my own life, experienced it: It was much colder when I reemerged outside, as if the cunning Calypso, after seven years encapsulated in three days, had finally revealed her treacherous intents. Hobbling up to the still-raging crowd at Hallgrímskirkja, I found my brothers—or at least some of them. (I fear, by the way, that hobble will become an unbearably common verb through the remainder of this story.) My brothers were speaking in some strange language of complication. Too many words in that language. Finding a comfortable firework crate near where my compatriots were congregating, I sat myself down upon it and returned to the task of drinking. There were no thoughts for the future, no plans; just the simple logic of sitting upon a crate of fireworks while sipping rye whisky. Staring deeply into the darkness ahead of me, I hardly noticed the woman who was standing by my side, staring down at me. And then she touched me. A woman’s touch. My Karamazov soul had served me well. Here was a woman! Here was love! It was so simple.
The woman seemed to be a bit older than me, but that was no matter; a man in desperate pursuit of love has not the luxury of particularity. The woman noticed that I was injured, that I was in pain. She was the first person since my fall to notice that. As she knelt down beside me I provided the best explanation of my situation that my liquored state of mind could offer. And then everything fell into place. This kind woman explained to me that she was medically trained and could help me if I brought her back to my hotel room. Her words echoed through my head: Back to my hotel room. To my hotel room. My hotel room. Hotel room. Perhaps there was a God and He had forgiven me. I had fallen and now I was to be risen! This newfound beloved of mine brought me to my feet and helped me hobble away from the courtyard of the house of God, back to my hotel room. Despite my physical malady I felt very pure, very clean; the effacing bleach of love had been poured over my senses. But purity and impurity are inseparable, a cyclical tautology of sensation; to feel pure is to feel free from impurity. As opposite states, they require each other as much as they repel each other. But perhaps that isn’t true. I admit I’m reaching for some philosophical justification for how and why my sense of purity so seamlessly merged into its antithesis as I was lead away from Hallgrímskirkja. Watching my woman from behind, I began to burn with a reckless desire to physically congregate with her—to fulfill my primal purpose as a man. I sensed the growing impurity of my drunken concupiscence; I wanted to bring my woman down to the ground and love her— right there on the dirt-caked cobblestones of the city street. It was a natural desire for a man to have and nature is the soul of purity. But we were soon back at the hotel and the comfort of bedsheets beckoned me inside. I escorted my woman into my
room, closed the door and hobbled toward my neatly made-up bed. I had devised a plan. A brilliant plan as far as vodkaridden plans go. I suggested to my beloved that, to better examine my damaged legs, she ought to remove my pants. She smiled and began rummaging through her pocketbook in search of band-aids. While her head was turned away I surveyed her body. She didnâ€™t look overly attractive from what I could see but that didnâ€™t bother me. Without Reason, I could find no reason not to love her. To save her the trouble I pulled down my pants myself. But as she turned around, band-aid in hand, the door suddenly burst open and ZKTK marched in. My first thought was that he had come to steal my woman. It pained me that paranoia could birth such a bastard thought within my head, as though the thought unspoken was already injurious to my dear friend. I chastised myself and watched curiously as ZKTK fussed about the room like a mother. It appeared as though he had lost something and was trying to find it. I cast my eyes about the room hoping to help him find whatever he had lost so that he might leave. I couldnâ€™t seem to find anything. ZKTK suddenly broke off his search and turned to face me. He asked if I was ok. His forthright tone reawakened my paranoia. Struggling to put it back to rest, I forced a smile and replied that I was fine. And then, with unparallelable forthrightness, ZKTK asked the same question again. This time I was unable to set aside my suspicion. I sharply insisted that I was perfectly fine and added that my lady-friend (who had been standing quietly in the corner of the room, band-aid still in hand) was medically trained. I became frustrated as my thoughts uncollected themselves. My brilliant plan began to decompose. ZKTK looked at my beloved, then
back at me. Perhaps he thought that she was too unattractive and that I was only with her because I was too drunk to see her. I wanted to explain to him that I desired her even if she was unattractive, but how could I say that in front of her? I tried to make my gestures, my eyes explain to my friend what I was feeling—but ZKTK fashioned them into his own idea of what I was trying to say. He didn’t understand me. Misunderstanding melted down into antagonism and precipitated anger. I steeled my will for reckless melee as my ill temper brought me to the verge of combustion—and then ZKTK turned to leave. As he opened the door he muttered something which I couldn’t make out. My beloved looked at him curiously. And then the door was shut. Bizarre it seemed. I cooled off and returned to my brilliant plan, the details of which had all but turned to dust in the conflagration of my anger. I found myself unable to form sentences out of words. Naturally, I fell back upon the ancient rhetoric of apes. My mate looked upon me with strange curiosity and, perhaps, was able to translate some of my grunts and fisted gesticulations. I watched her confusion slowly evolve into understanding; with a wink, she said something about a læknislyf. As she walked into the bathroom, I prayed that læknislyf was Icelandic for meaningfully long blowjob. Returning to my side, she offered me a cup of water and then placed two pills into my scraped palm. I swallowed them greedily and washed them down with a spot of cold water, assuming that the pills were some sort of ceremonial precursor to the administration of a passionate læknislyf. But no sooner had the pills descended into the depths of my digestion than the door burst open once again. The strangest sensation of death crossed my mind and then faded as I
struggled to focus my eyes on this new batch of unwelcome visitors. The forms of Stevie, Johnny and Jarrett materialized before me. My malcontent trebled. Right as my beloved was about to give me the best læknislyf of my lifetime—the cure for all of my sexual angst—my three brothers came unbidden, begging me to come back out with them into the night. I was gripped too tightly by fear of losing love to fear the treacherous capacities of the paranoia which was coursing through my beleaguered brain. I didn’t trust my brothers. The horror of tragedy brought words back into my vocabulary. I tried insinuating my plight—that I needed the care of my woman— but they seemed not to catch my intent. Again, they urged me to come out with them. What trick of God was this? Turning my dearest friends against me? It didn’t seem possible that they were acting so perversely by their own free will. No, this was an artifice of predetermination, a fell force of divinity guiding my destiny toward dissolution. I tried not to be upset at my friends, recognizing that they were but bonded pawns of fate—but their persistence was all too human. In their faces I found will to malice. Losing my patience I grew fiery with rage and insisted fervently that they depart at once. I had stepped into the house of Love where all its banquet was spread out before me and here were my friends, my brothers, my old guard! pulling me back into the barren streets. I would die before crawling back down those damned avenues of loneliness. The fruit of love suddenly became a necessary, lifesustaining nutrient—without its nourishment my body would perish. My brothers were trying to kill me. The room became disoriented. The bodies of its occupants didn’t seem to be in any particular place. Voices warped around my head like fell birds of prey preparing for their death
feast. Out of the pandemonium a voice at once emerged; I heard it suggest that everyone leave me alone. The chaos cleared away and the room returned to its original form. I saw my three brothers standing in front of me with grim faces. I saw my beloved cowering quietly in the corner, probably confused by so much absurdity. My heart was stung by pity for this innocent, helpless creature. I could accept my destruction—I was a sinner; I had eaten the apple, damn me— but why must this blameless woman suffer? Forget all that nauseating philosophy about suffering for the sake of pleasure; such pretty eyelashes as hers should never have to sit atop sadness. Never should they be made to overshadow tears of pain. I returned my focus to my brothers, the agents of all this roguery, who were gathering toward the doorway. It appeared as though they were preparing to leave. At last, the crooked clasp of fate would be released from my existence. Free will might have a chance yet. Bizarre it seemed. And then I saw Jarrett Karamazov approach my beloved, seize her and lead her to the doorway. Darkness redawned upon me. The voice had said that everyone should leave. And she was a part of everyone. They were taking her away from me. Against my will, I collapsed back onto my bed. As my brothers prepared to thieve my beloved I frantically tried to think up a scheme to save her. Any physical action would surely fail given my condition and my number. Persuasion would be futile without Reason. Cursèd Reason, thou flighty fool! Yet, even with Reason’s reinforcement I would stand little chance of defeating the formidable force of my brothers’ resolution. I
thought—but were these very thoughts not built of little bits of reasoning? How could I reason without Reason? While wondering through the unreasonability of it all, I lied prostrate and listened to the door slam shut. I knew that a brilliant plan would hatch inside my head before the end. I lied there for some time. Brilliance was away somewhere in a library in Buenos Aires or in a coffee shop in Brooklyn. But not in my bed. Not in Iceland. No plan hatched. I brooded over death as the last batch of hope arrived stillborn into my head. I awaited my dénouement. But nothing happened. There was no clever realization, no last hurrah, no witty aphorism to end it all. Life had no metaphor. The image of my beloved slipped away like sand through a child’s careless fingers. And then Death brooded over me. I was warmed by her promise of eternal pause. Death, the mother of peace, showed me that there was nothing to be afraid of. No monsters in the dark. She whispered a secret lullaby into my ear: Life ends not in Death, But Death begins with Life. I waited for Death to take me. But Death, it seemed, had not waited for me—for I had not died; yet, neither did I seem to be alive. I lied there on my bed, abandoned by both Life and Death. There was nothing left to personify but Nothingness itself. Nothingness, that grey old grandfather of everything, stared at me blankly, silently saying both everything and nothing at
once. An hour of nothing passed. And then, out of the void came something unexpected: Revenge. Obvious, it seemed: My story could not end until I had revenged myself against my false friends! Evil wanted cleansing. God bless the tragic form! Let the audience have its deserved catharsis! The thread of my life had but to be unknotted and then cut—and then the rest would be silence. Good friend, sweet silence! I rushed up from my bed, pulled up my pants and became a different man. I was a character—the antagonist of my own story, submitting to my author’s every epithet. I was bloody, bawdy, remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless—I was Vengeance enfleshed!, a villain worthy of the darkest chapters of Dostoevsky’s dread imagination. In a hurried hobble I stumblingly traversed the cobbled avenues toward the heart of the city where the New Yearsers were still raging. Like Dimitri Karamazov riding full rein to Mokroe for one last debauchery, I tore through the streets of Reykjavík with a galloping heart. I was the Devil realizing why it made sense to fell mankind. I was God realizing why it made sense to birth the Devil. I was Fyodor Dostoevsky realizing what God had not intended for Man to realize. But before I could remember what it felt like to have a favourite novel, before I could remember that I existed and that the sun was there swimming just beneath the Nordic horizon—before all this, I came into an alleyway where Fate or God or the Devil delivered unto me my three treacherous Cains. The voice of vengeance echoed under my feet with every forward stride. My brothers espied me and turned about to face me as I stumbled toward them. They wore devilish grins as though the pleasure bought from kidnapping my beloved was piqued by the sight of
the bereaved. Yet, my beloved was nowhere to be seen. Much time had passed since they had taken her; perhaps they had hidden her or used her and disposed of her. The image of my beloved’s body, as I had admired it while she was standing with her back to me, passed through my memory with a sharpness of pain that rendered the sum of my physical suffering dull in comparison. I quickened my pace, welcoming the pangs of torment that rent through my knees and replaced that deeper pain of lost love. Vengeance was almost palpable. As we brothers converged I tried to swing a fist toward someone's face, but my balance failed me and I doubled over into Johnny's chest. Johnny encased me in his arms while I struggled to free myself and land a blow of vindication. Without the use of my left arm I found no way to break free. My battered legs buckled as we spun about and stumbled through the alleyway. Jarrett stepped forth and began to curse my frail philosophies with an imperious index finger outstretched and aimed at my chest as if to officiate some imprecation of fraternal excommunication. Stevie stood by and stared at me scornfully. It was hell beyond idiom, hell before translation—the diabolical machination of a hateful god. Infernum in se. And then Johnny released me. Floating backwards in a vacuum of crisis I listened to the silence of the world ended. It was peaceful and painless. Almost heavenly. I thought that I would turn toward God and God would be the beautiful young girl with dark hair and dark eyes who I had always dreamed of one day meeting. I worried that God would be upset with me for disbelieving in Her and treating Her like some flimsy implement of metaphysical sport. But then God spoke to me and told me that I was forgiven. I told God that, even so, I would still mistreat Her and disbelieve in Her were I to return to life—for I knew that this was true and truth is inescapable in death. God replied that, even so, I was still forgiven.
My conversation with God was interrupted as rage regained its reign within my coursing blood and the shouts of a thousand drunks refilled the empty air. I fell backwards, expecting to again crash into a cold ground of brick and stone, but landed instead in the arms of an unknown being that must have just arrived from somewhere behind. I felt my self being pulled away. Jarrett and Stevie and Johnny all drifted off into darkness. Vengeance was lost. The form of the tragedy was cracked. I swooned and then the world disappeared.
* * * *
When the world returned, I found myself sitting on one of its sidewalks, propped up against a lamppost. It was cold and my arm throbbed in pain. A tall, shadowy figure stood before me. I fancied it a godâ€”the king of all gods in fact, for it held a glowing staff that issued forth a lightning bolt toward the dark sky. But when the lightning struck the heavens and brought fire overhead, the shadows fled and the mysterious figure was revealed to me in its human simplicity. It was Brandon Karamazov. Chuckling at his firework, he tossed the empty bottle-rocket into a trashcan and then looked back down to earth. Seeing me awake, he smiled and placed a friendly hand upon my shoulder. Brandonâ€™s characteristic calmness passed into my arm and circulated through my bloodstream. For the moment, I had forgotten all that had just happened. And then it all came back. In a grotesque convulsion, I twisted my head to the side and spat forth a stream of clear, watery vomit. As I struggled to regain my breath I felt another wave
coming on; but I resisted its issuance, failing to see beyond the immediate tempest of suffering to the distant coast of relief. Brandon asked if I was ok. I let loose an absurd laugh, recalling how that question, upon the lips of ZKTK, had been the beginning of everything falling apart. With intense irony that must have seemed a bit lunatic to Brandon, I told him that I was perfectly fine. He asked me why I had attacked our friends. Friends. I repeated the bitter word to myself as the recent string of confrontations replayed in my memory. I tried to find my reasons for attacking my friends. Reason. Again I laughed absurdly. What reason could I have had without Reason? I had no reason for doing anything. It was all delusional, all meaningless. But I didn’t have the energy to discourse on meaninglessness with Brandon. Staring vacantly down the street, I explained that I had fallen in love and that my love had been taken from me by our “friends”—taken for no reason. After a few moments of silence I looked up to see whether Brandon had accepted my insufficient explanation. His face was empty of judgment, neither consoling nor remonstrative. Relieved that I would face no further inquisition, I retreated into my thoughts. It was a kiss, I realized. It was only a kiss that I needed. One last kiss. And finally the memory of my favourite novel began coming back to me. Fittingly, perhaps, I recalled what I had always thought to be the saddest line in the whole story: We must put off kissing. We are not ready for that yet, and we shall have a long time to wait. My story had come to its end. I was ready to go home, ready to go to sleep. Brandon helped me to my feet and began guiding me back to the hotel. A sad peacefulness had settled over my soul. On our way back, we passed by the statue of Leifr Eiríksson, still striding into the future, unmoved by all the love, chaos, beauty and absurdity that had just swirled around him
for several hours. The courtyard of Hallgrímskirkja was cleared, but for a few lingering lovers and drunkards. The sun was still nowhere to be seen. Brandon led me into my room and left me to rest.
* * * *
I mentioned earlier that I was going to tell you a part of this story that was untrue. That part has just passed. All that I have told you since page 40 has been a lie. It was the same lie that my inebriated senses told my memory. And it would be our mutual fate, my reader, to never know what really happened, but for a certain universal profundity concerning the nature of existence—namely, the Preface. I, the narrator, am here past the end of my life and I’ve been writing (in a separate notebook) a preface that will constitute my fictitious memory at the moment when my existence begins (or began, if you prefer—we don’t use different tenses here in death). I have been struggling a bit with the ending to be honest (the ending, of course, being the beginning of time). The current draft of the last chapter has all matter, all existence wrapped into a single dot in space:
but it seems a bit contrived. All physics, indeed, is but a contrivance, a plot device which I created in response to a character from an earlier chapter named Newton. And then Newton was only created to justify the flying machine which I had fabricated to transport my character from Miami to Reykjavík in one of the first pages of the preface. In the same fashion, I created God in response to Christ in response to Nietzsche in response to my character’s need for something to misunderstand. But that is all beside the point. While I am here beyond the end, I can take advantage of the omniscience which Death has leant me for my preface and tell you what really happened during those dark hours in Iceland. Ecce historia: It was a moment past midnight. The fireworks reached a paroxysm of unparalleled proportions. Blackness was erased from the sky. Nearly every human in the vast courtyard of Hallgrímskirkja was staring upwards at the beatific vision of elemental magnificence. Together amidst the crowd stood Jarrett, Stevie, Johnny and ZKTK, who had paused their dancing and singing to behold the fiery heavens. Tilting his head toward Jarrett’s without displacing his gaze from the sky, ZKTK whispered that life had just begun. Jarrett was the first to return his eyes to earth, looking about for his brother, Alejandro, eager to ask him a multitude of questions about this newly begun existence. But Alejandro didn’t seem to be anywhere nearby. Jarrett asked his companions if any of them had seen where he had gone. No one had. Johnny pointed out that he might have gone off to try and find Brandon and Ryan (who had each previously diverged from their congregation). While this theory stood up to the law of parsimony, it didn’t sit well in Jarrett’s stomach. Stevie, feeling equally uneasy,
suggested that they circle through the courtyard square to see if they could reclaim their errant friend. After several passes through the maddening crowd, the companions determined their cause to be lost; but there was little despair amongst them, for they each knew that Alejandro was a resourceful poet and was probably admiring the fireworks from his own perspective, only a few streets apart from their own. The four companions returned their thoughts to the sky. While blissfully staring upwards, Stevie felt something tug unpleasantly on his sleeve. He looked down, expecting to see the innocent eyes of a young, mendicant child, but found instead the rude visage of a contemptible-looking old woman. Her claw-like hand was clutched about Stevie’s coat-sleeve while her bloodshot eyes jittered in their sockets as though charged by some source of evil electricity. Stevie asked her to let go. She let go. Looking back toward the sky, Stevie tried to shake off the negative charge that this wretched creature had passed into his arm. But only moments later, from the corner of his eye, Stevie saw Johnny’s head turn to look down at something that was pulling on his coat-sleeve. It was, of course, the same little wretch of a woman. Within minutes, all four friends had turned around to deal with this pesterous puller of sleeves. It became apparent that she was either trying to sell drugs or buy them. Intermixed with her slurred, inscrutable Icelandic were English phrases such as: let us get fun; we have speed?; this so much crazy; and where is the high? Apart from the dreadfulness of her physical appearance—that of a worn, forty-year-old sack of a woman for
whom drugs had long been her daily bread—this creature effused an awful energy that stank of rotten hopelessness. In as gentle and compassionate a manner as such words would permit, Johnny asked the creature to get lost. She walked away. This unpleasant encounter left the companions slightly displaced from the peak of bliss where they had previously been standing. There was something disturbingly portentous in the existential deformity of this unfortunate creature. But any fall from bliss was soon offset by the unexpected reappearance of the lost poet. As Alejandro approached hobblingly, his friends rushed toward him to support him. They showered him with cheers and laughter, congratulating him on having earned a limp from what must have been some brave insurrection against the forces of physics—some fearless requisition for real existence. But Alejandro made no response, as though he were walking alone. Disturbed by his friend’s uncharacteristic aloofness, Jarrett shook off his air of jocosity and asked Alejandro what had happened. Still no response. Alejandro’s friends were troubled by his silence, yet they wished not to aggravate his discomfort by disturbing his self-prescribed solitude. Sometimes a man must be alone with himself. After a few more aimless steps, the hobbled poet found a firework crate on the ground and sat himself down upon it. Returning to their dancing and singing, the four companions kept a collective eye on Alejandro as he sipped air from an empty bottle of rye whisky and stared off into a different place. While watching the fireworks—which were still peppering the heavens with their machinegun volleys of apocalyptic brilliance—Stevie again sensed something amiss. Turning his eyes toward Alejandro, his heart suddenly sank into a dark
place. That miserable wretch of a woman was hunched over Alejandro, pulling at his torn coat-sleeve. Stevie pulled ZKTK aside and brought to his attention the hapless scene which was unfolding over the crate of fireworks. They conferred over whether or not they ought to tweeze this noxious creature from Alejandro’s arm. Based on their observations of their friend’s disconnection from reality, they envisioned him leaving with this mephitic monster only to be injected with fun, speed, crazy, and high through an old, rusty syringe. While they loathed the idea of policing their autonomous comrade, it seemed rather that Alejandro was being imprisoned by the oligarchs of pain and drunkenness, and that they might best uphold their friend’s autonomy by petitioning his captors for the amnesty of morning. Thus, after spending much time in the deciding, Stevie and ZKTK resolved to save Alejandro from the claws of this wretched animal. But it was too late. Looking back toward the firework crate, they found it sitting alone on the cold stone floor of the courtyard. No noxious creature. No broken poet. No salvation. At that same moment, Alejandro was halfconsciously leading the creature into his hotel room. Although the creature was undeniably possessed with a malignant character, there was a piece of her that truly desired to help her newfound friend. Unfortunately for Alejandro’s health, the creature’s fractured mind understood help to mean bringing her friend down into the abyss of numbness and mindlessness in which she dwelt. And so, the creature searched through her pocketbook for a container of oxycodone while Alejandro struggled to take off his pants. In the meantime, ZKTK was approaching the hotel in search of his lost friend while Stevie, Ryan and Jarrett held watch at
Hallgrímskirkja. Several blocks away down Skólavörðustígur, Brandon was in the living room of an Icelandic family’s house playing the piano by the warmth of a crackling fire. And further down the road, Ryan was seated in a bar drinking a cold pint of beer, still wondering how much time was left. Alejandro, having laboriously worked his torn jeans down around his ankles, asked the creature for a band-aid. The creature, having forgotten what she was looking for in her pocketbook, “remembered” that she was looking for a bandaid. Somewhat miraculously, she found one. But as she turned to ask Alejandro what they were going to do with a band-aid, there came a knock at the door. The creature froze, affected by the instinctive junkie fear for knockings upon doors. Alejandro didn’t hear. Cautiously, ZKTK opened the door and stepped into the room. Wishing to make sure that he was making the proper decision, ZKTK walked about the room pretending to look for something while casually but carefully inspecting the scene. He paid particular attention to the creature who was standing quietly in the corner of the room. Every wrinkle in her haggard face spoke of guilt. Her bony talons clutched a small, circular band-aid which might have barely sufficed to bandage a single one of Alejandro’s scraped knuckles. As the creature sensed ZKTK’s appraising eyes, she shifted her stance slightly to conceal her pocketbook behind her back. Alejandro, meanwhile, lied back on his bed with half-closed eyes. His pants were clumsily cuffed around his ankles, revealing a pair of bloody knees which required much more than a single knuckle-sized band-aid. ZKTK asked his friend if he was ok. Alejandro quickly replied that he was fine, revealing an eagerness to be rid of ZKTK’s company. ZKTK turned to look at the creature who nodded vigorously to affirm Alejandro’s claim. The two acted much like children who had
not yet learned how to convincingly lie to their parents. Flashing his eyes at Alejandro to try to communicate the depth of his question, ZKTK asked his friend if he was sure that he was alright. Alejandro, perceiving no depth, answered that he was perfectly fine and then stumbled through a fallacious explanation of how his lady-friend was a doctor. In conclusion, he made an emphatic gesture at the creature’s pitiful band-aid as though it were the very rod of Asclepius. Looking deeply into Alejandro’s eyes, ZKTK saw that his friend would not easily part from the creature. He decided at length to consult with Stevie before taking any further action. As he made for the door, ZKTK caught a look of relief in Alejandro’s eyes— despite the precariousness of the situation, it made him smile to see some sign of positive life emanating from his benighted friend. Approaching the doorway, ZKTK turned his head slightly to address the creature and quietly told her, not without a hint of threat, that he would be right back. It so happened that the creature’s memory was subject to periodic system resets—and at that moment, her memory was reset to five minutes earlier when she was searching through her pocketbook for drugs. Looking up, she found ZKTK standing before her. It took her a minute of puzzling to figure out, as it were, that this tall, sharp-featured man wanted to do drugs with her and that he would be right back with some more drugs of his own. Pleased, the creature reopened her pocketbook and resumed her search for her stash of oxycodone. ZKTK departed. Suddenly, there came a rude cacophony of groans from across the room. Startled, the creature looked up and saw a strange man with his pants around his ankles careening on top of a bed. Having some awareness of her condition of periodic
dementia, the creature assumed that she had just experienced a memory-reset and that the tall, sharp-featured man had already returned and was here lying on the bed. Her thoughts scrambled to recalibrate with reality: Perhaps they had already taken drugs? His pants were down. Perhaps she had already had sex with him? Yet he wasn’t tall and didn’t have sharp features. Who was this strange man? As she always did at such junctures of confusion, the creature shook her head violently and cleared her mind of all but her most instinctual directives. Her talons dove back down into her pocketbook to continue the perhaps eternal search for her stash. A few blocks up the road from the hotel, ZKTK was swiftly approaching the courtyard of Hallgrímskirkja. The crowd of celebrators was slowly beginning to migrate away from the church and down Skólavörðustígur toward the strip of bars in the heart of the city. Searching through the receding sea of bodies for his companions, ZKTK’s eyes were caught by something shiny. Permitting his sense of sight to digress momentarily from its urgent search for his friends, it settled upon the shimmering gaze of a gorgeous Icelandic girl with perfectly blond hair and perfectly blue eyes. Love tempted ZKTK to abandon everything and push off with this perfect woman—to sail beyond the bounds of simple pleasures and find that rare place where Past and Future tremble in the penumbra of Now. His legs were first to give way to Love’s temptation. He walked up to the perfect woman and found that her eyes were not just perfectly blue, but perfectly blue with perfect striations of subtle greens and greys. Her upper lip was perfectly upturned, making a kiss—a perfect kiss—seem almost tasteable. ZKTK had only to say the right words in the right way and the night would be theirs together.
“I’d like learn your name and then kiss you ‘til the fireworks fall from the sky—or maybe ‘til the end of time,” he began, letting his eyes burn through the perfect woman’s shield of selfconfidence, melting her doubts down into pure passion, forging her brazen desire for him, her destroyer, “but first I need to help my friend. He is in trouble.” Seeing in his eyes the intensity of this man’s love for his friend, the perfect woman fell in love with him. A woman (perfect or imperfect) never falls in love with a man who loves nothing but her; only the visible division of a man’s heart can cause a woman to fall. But who am I, a dead narrator, to interject a treatise on love? Take it as you please. The perfect woman grabbed hold of ZKTK’s hand and, together, they set off to find help for Alejandro. Back in the hotel room, the creature had finally found her stash of oxycodone. Forgetting that Alejandro (who was grunting and groaning on the bed) didn’t speak Icelandic, the creature told him in her native tongue that he needed medicine. Þú þörf læknislyf. She went into the bathroom and swallowed down three pills herself before pouring a cup of warm, sulfurous water for Alejandro. Returning to her broken friend, she handed him the cup of water along with two tabs of oxycodone. With halfshut eyes, Alejandro smiled and swallowed down his læknislyf. During that time, ZKTK and his perfect woman had found Stevie, Jarrett and Johnny. After a debriefing on the developing endangerment of their friend, the companions came to a swift conclusion: Stevie, Jarrett and Johnny would go back to Alejandro’s hotel room to try and use their joint persuasion to pull their friend out of peril. ZKTK would absent himself from the mission in case his initial expedition had given Alejandro
cause to be suspicious of his intentions. Without any further ado, Stevie and his two companions made haste for the hotel. ZKTK followed the perfect woman back to her apartment; he would never leave that paradise having thus passed on into a different book of life after fulfilling his part in the story of the Fall of Man. Back in Alejandro’s liver, cytochrome enzymes were labouring furiously, like deckhands aboard a sinking ship, to metabolise the endless sea of vodka flooding their vessel—when the very doom of the biliary world arrived: Like a dead albatross dropped down from the angry heavens, a wave of oxymorphone molecules crashed through the hepatic portal vein; enzymes scattered about their besieged vessel to set forth on the vain navigation between the Scylla of oxymorphone overdose and the Charybdis of morphine catalysis. Alejandro felt a slight pain in his stomach. Time dilated and passed unnoticed. The creature’s memory reset to three years in the past when she was celebrating New Year’s Eve in a similar hotel room, taking Xanax with a similarly strange, unknown man. She sat down on the bed and laid her head gently upon this strange, unknown man’s shoulder. Alejandro rested his head against hers and closed his eyes. A knock upon the door. No answer. Another knock. Still silence. A third knock and then the door opened. Stevie stepped slowly into the room, followed by Jarrett and Johnny. Still dead silence. The scene before the three companions gradually came into focus, as though they were staring at some surrealist painting from too short a distance. The bodies of Alejandro and the creature were slumped against each other on the bed, each with closed eyes and jaundiced skin. They appeared to be dead.
As the dead omniscient narrator of my own story, I realize that it would be a rude turn to tell you that I was dead—that in reality I had died at that moment on the bed and that all that I had imagined after it—the theft of my woman, the alleyway assault on my friends, the walk back with Brandon—was only the dream of death. So I will tell you instead that I was still alive. And I will narrate the rest of my story as it happened. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if I really did die on that cold winter’s night and all that happened after it, everything up to this very narration, is just a part of my dream of death. Or perhaps you are Alejandro and you died on that night and, in death, you are now dreaming that you are someone else reading the story of a strange, unknown man. Is this you? But it doesn’t matter who you are or who I am—the story of the Fall of Man is every man’s story. Alejandro’s eyes flew open. He felt as though he had just awoken from an awful dream in which he had died and then watched his death replay itself. Stevie, Johnny and Jarrett breathed simultaneous sighs of relief at seeing their friend show evidence of life. The creature snapped into consciousness and sprang to her feet, thinking that the police had arrived. Jarrett stepped forward and warmly asked Alejandro if he would come back out with them to the celebration. Alejandro’s only response was a feeble shake of his head in a diagonal direction that allowed for interpretations of both “yes” and “no.” Stevie slowly walked over to the corner where the creature was cowering and quietly interrogated her. While trying to defend herself against who she thought was a policeman, the creature mindlessly produced two more tabs of oxycodone from her pocketbook. At that point, she could think of no better defense than to offer the pills to her interrogator with a timid whisper of do you want the high? The pills were mysteriously
unmarked. Stevie’s heart boiled with frustration, but he averted its eruption into physical rage for the sake of Alejandro’s salvation. Calmness and compassion would be the most effective weapons against this state of unreason. Jarrett continued to plead with his beleaguered brother, recounting the good times of their past: the lazy spring days at Catonis Academy when they had forsaken their afternoon classes to lay out on the lawn and dream of future freedoms and future celebrations filled with deep thoughts, heady conversations and high spirits. He told Alejandro that life had just begun and that he needed his expert guidance to navigate this glorious new maze of free will. Jarrett’s words of hope reached Alejandro’s ears but found no quarter in the poet’s mind where little hospitality was to be had. Wandering through his own harrowing maze of drug-induced disillusion, Alejandro sensed the intrusion of Jarrett’s words and condemned them without trial. Calling forth his wavering air of authority, Alejandro delivered a sentence, demanding that the care of his physician be not withheld. His lame arm flailed against his leg, like a gavel too heavy for its wielder. Having missed Alejandro’s earlier exposition of the creature’s qualifications as a physician, the companions assumed that their friend was demanding the care of a real physician in a hospital. This came as a great relief. Jarrett assured Alejandro that they would do nothing but help him seek out medical care. Stevie, who had just succeeded in convincing the creature that she had to go home, turned to face his friend and commended him, effusively but without intended condescension, for making so wise a decision. Johnny offered to walk him to the hospital. And just as hope was rising above the horizon of Alejandro’s stupor, hopelessness fell back over the scene. The
broken poet’s eyes rolled back in his head for a moment and then returned forward with a renewed rage, painted for battle with the red standard of broken blood vessels. In a booming voice that seemed forceful beyond the capacity of his waning faculties, Alejandro commanded everyone to leave him. Alejandro’s friends lost heart. Their poet had become a beast, a mad creature that would meet any forward step with a gnashing of teeth. There was no hope for getting him to a hospital. No hope for any cure but the slow syrup of time. With a sudden wave of nausea, Stevie recalled the unmarked pills which the creature had shown him. What little hope was left now hung by a splitting thread: If Alejandro had ingested a substantial narcotic, time could be playing its diametric role— that of swift despoiler. Rushing over to the creature in her corner, Stevie demanded that she tell him whether she had given Alejandro any drugs and, if so, how many and of what kind. Despite her limited understanding of English, the creature could clearly sense the care that this policeman felt toward the strange, unknown man. Succumbing to the force of goodness, the creature abandoned all care for her own safety at the hands of the Law and confessed what, according to her reset memory, was the truth: One Xanax. A single Xanax pill seemed relatively innocuous on the scale of illicit substances to mix with alcohol. Having lived through college in the twenty-first century, both Stevie and Jarrett were familiar with the debilitating but largely nonfatal effects of the sedative drug. And to leave Alejandro any longer in the claws of this indiscretionary pharmacist could only serve to broaden the variety of toxic perils brought upon the broken poet’s body. It was agreed amongst the companions that they would honour Alejandro’s request and leave him alone.
Jarrett approached Alejandro, whose head was still lolling about his chest, and gently explained that everyone was going to leave him alone now. The poet’s neck muscles slowly regained their tension and brought his head to an upright. There was a peace come over Alejandro’s expression and at last it seemed as though the storm of confusion had run its course. Stevie and Johnny moved toward the doorway, finally letting thoughts of their own plans reenter their minds. Jarrett approached the creature and gently escorted her to the door. Before leaving, Stevie, Johnny and Jarrett each turned to take one last look at Alejandro—to make sure one last time that he looked like he was going to be alright. The broken poet lay tranquilly on his bed, his chest slowly but steadily moving up and down, rising and falling with each breath.
* * * *
After leading the creature out of the hotel, Jarrett watched her wander down the street and eventually fade into a distant speck. He wondered whether she would go home and sleep or wander the streets, looking for some other drunken tourist to torment. Or maybe she would find another creature like herself and they would share a different kind of happiness. Regardless, Jarrett felt assured that she would not return to the hotel for fear of being arrested by Stevie. Once she was out of sight, the three companions began their journey eastward, eager to join the swarming throng of midnight revelers in the innermost circle of Reykjavík.
Before long, they came to a small, shack-like building fronted with an overlarge, hanging sign that read in bold, blue letters: Barrin. Even their foreign eyes could confirm the translation. Entering the bar, the companions wormed their way through the densely packed crowd to a recessed plot of ground where they could comfortably stand and converse. Jarrett volunteered to brave the tedious passage to the bar on the opposite side of the room to procure drinks. Being well practiced in the advanced techniques of packed-bar passage, Jarrett made his way to the bar at an envious pace. Keeping his eyes trained on the shifting labyrinth of bodies, he calculated each shuffle, turn, push, twist and squeeze with excellent precision. Were it not for his excellent sense of when he was being stared at by a beautiful woman, he would have shuffled right past the girl of his dreams. Jarrett turned around and met eyes with a gorgeous Icelandic girl graced with ice-blond hair and perfectly green eyes. She smiled a perfect smile. Pushing his way toward her, Jarrett found her eyes to be not just perfectly green, but perfectly green with perfect speckles of brown. She twisted past a drunk fisherman like an angel might twist around a wisp of cloud and then squeezed up against Jarrett. “Come with me,” she beckoned in her exquisite Icelandic accent, clasping Jarrett’s hand in hers. Her advanced technique of confrontation all but brought Jarrett’s heart into her sole possession. “Come with me,” Jarrett riposted with a playful grin. The perfect woman redoubled her allure by staring back at him with the perfect balance of disapproval and desire. Jarrett pulled her hand gently toward him. The perfect woman pulled his gently toward her.
“What is your name?” Jarrett asked. “Elísabet. And what is your name?” “Jarrett.” “Come with me, Yarrett.” “Your accent is too beautiful. Could you say my name again?” “No, Yarrett.” “You are too beautiful. Come with me Elísabet, I need to get drinks for my friends. And I would love to get one for you too.” Jarrett turned toward the bar as though he were willing to leave her if she were unwilling to follow. Still holding her hand, he sensed that she was not going to move. Slowly, he took a few steps forward until his arm was fully outstretched behind him. “No. You can not,” commanded Elísabet threateningly, letting her arm extend out to Jarrett’s. The desire in her eyes had faded, leaving only disapproval in her stare. “No?” asked Jarrett with a sinking heart. “No. The bartender, he will not serve you.” Elísabet was able to maintain her frown for a few more seconds before it broke down into a wicked smile. “He speaks only Icelandic. But I can maybe plead your case. Now come with me, Yarrett.” Without waiting for his response, Elísabet changed course and began pushing through the crowd toward the bar, still holding Jarrett’s hand tightly in hers. Jarrett followed. “What do you and your friends like to drink?” Elísabet asked as they arrived at the bar.
“Beer would be perfect.” “And how many friends do you have?” “Two.” Jarrett regretted that his answer had not been three. But he let his joy proceed, preferring not to burden Alejandro with some future guilt of having harmed a chance at perfect love. Elísabet had no difficulty attracting the bartender’s attention. “Halló, Gunnar. Ég þörf þrír Thule og … einn brennivín.” Moments later, Gunnar placed three frothing pints of beer and one glass of brennivín on the bar. “How do you say thank you in Icelandic?” Jarrett asked while trying to figure out how best to grip all four drinks for the perilous journey back through the gauntlet of drunkards. “Takk,” Elísabet replied while delicately extracting her brennivín and one of the beers from Jarrett’s hands. “Safer this way,” she explained with a wink. “And how do you say you are absolutely irresistible … in Icelandic?” Elísabet laughed and motioned her head toward the other side of the room. After a quick gulp of beer, Jarrett gave Gunnar an emphatic takk and began shuffling, turning, pushing, twisting and squeezing his way back across the bar, making sure every few seconds that the girl of his dreams was still behind him.
* * * *
“Did I ever tell you about the story I made up?” Stevie asked his brother as Jarrett set off on his journey to the bar. “No, I don’t think so,” Johnny replied. “You wrote a story?” “No, I didn’t write it. I just keep it in my head. I guess I could try writing it—although I’ve never written two lines of a story in my life. Maybe I’ll tell it to Alejandro some day and he can write it for me.” The conversation died for a moment as both brothers felt the cold void that Alejandro’s absence had left within them. “He’ll be ok, you know,” Johnny tried to reassure his brother. “Tomorrow morning he’ll eat some breakfast fish and be back in full form by sunrise.” “Sunrise,” Stevie echoed with a half-hearted laugh, “I’m not so sure the sun’s planning on rising tomorrow. Would seem a waste of a trip, really. But you’re right. Every once in a while a man just has to sit one out. There will be other nights.” “It might even make for a good story, you know? The Attack of the Crazy Crackwhore. A novel by Alejandro Amoretti. Although I doubt he’ll remember anything.” “I’m sure he'd find a way to make up the parts he couldn’t remember,” said Stevie, staring pensively out into the crowd. His eyes fell upon Jarrett who was halfway across the bar, conversing with, what looked from a distance to be, a perfectly beautiful woman. Like a proud father to his obedient son, Stevie nodded approvingly at the universe. “So, your story…” Johnny prompted his brother to continue.
“Yes, it’s about Nietzsche. Now honestly I haven’t read enough Nietzsche to make up an accurate story about him, but that’s sort of part of the story. I’ll explain: Self-proclaimed Nietzsche experts spend years studying every word the man ever wrote— and after all that time spent, they’d feel inadequate if they couldn’t publish some conclusion, some judgment in a fashionable philosophy journal. They go on about the ‘truths’ and ‘mistruths’ in Nietzsche. ‘Clearly, Nietzsche was wrong about this or that,’ they say. But Nietzsche deals neither in truths nor mistruths. Truth is illusion, he says. And of course they respond to that by trying to disprove it! It’s a goddamn Chinese finger trap! A tautology! They try to use truth to prove that there is truth. And it’s not just the PhDs who get their fingers stuck. A man sits on his couch and watches two minutes of a history show on TV—next day he’s at a bar telling his buddies how Nietzsche ghostwrote Mein Kampf for Hitler. But I’m a poor hand at making a preface. The point is that Nietzsche transcends the singularity of definition. So, where my Nietzsche departs from the true, historical Nietzsche as the academics would have him, he only becomes closer to the real Nietzsche as he would have himself … but don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense. It isn’t really that important. “The story begins today—that is, during this time period—the same one in which we find ourselves standing in a bar in Iceland. The first age after the death of revolution. The postpost-modern age, if you will. It’s today and Nietzsche has reemerged into existence in New York City. “One more bit of preface and then I promise to get on with it. The story is not at all science-fictional. If it were written, it would be written in such a way that would make Nietzsche’s reappearance seem normal. That he’d been dead for a hundred
years would be far from the reader’s mind. Nietzsche has simply returned like a man once driven into exile and forgotten. And finally, the reader wouldn’t mind that he speaks English. But if all that is too much for you, if you’re so corrupted by post-post-modernism that you can’t stand any honest bit of fantasy … then you can pretend that my character isn’t Nietzsche but some nut who thinks he’s Nietzsche and acts like Nietzsche and talks like Nietzsche.” Stevie looked to his brother for some indication that he was following. “Nietzsche in New York City. I’m with you,” said Johnny with a smile. “Perfect. It’s wintertime. Nietzsche has been walking around New York City for several weeks unnoticed. He wears a black suit with a bowtie and a long, woolen overcoat—the same outfit he might have worn in 1880. He has no predetermined purpose, no need to accomplish anything in particular, so he makes no effort to talk to people. He might have wandered the city unrecognized for years before being recalled into ‘exile’, the world being none the wiser, had not a young girl noticed him standing on a subway platform. “The girl is maybe seven years old. She doesn’t have a name, but I suppose I should come up with something significant—an allusion to some historical figure or something like that. They’re at the Union Square station waiting for the L train—” Stevie halted his story as Jarrett arrived with beers and a beautiful woman. Having not had anything to drink since the last bottle of Wild Turkey Rye ran dry back at Hallgrímskirkja, Stevie and Johnny made haste to take long, refreshing swigs from their frosty mugs.
“This is Elísabet,” said Jarrett introducing the perfect woman to his friends. Elísabet whispered something into Jarrett’s ear. Jarrett’s smile widened. “We don’t want to interrupt what sounds like a pretty heady conversation that you’re having, so we’re gonna sit over there for a while.” Jarrett pointed to an empty set of chairs that Elísabet was already pulling him toward. “Come get me before you leave,” were Jarrett’s final words, half shouted as he was hastily drawn away by Elísabet. There was no resisting her now. “Elizabeth,” said Stevie with a renewed animation, “Elizabeth is the little girl’s name. She’s with her father waiting for the L train. He’s reading the paper and doesn’t notice as she walks up to Nietzsche and pulls gently on one of his long coattails. ‘Hello, Mr. Neatskee,’ she says with an endearing smile. You see, she’s recognized Nietzsche’s face from the dust-jacket of a book that sits face forward at the bottom of a bookshelf in her house. Seeing the book every day, she’s developed a relationship with the man on the cover, told him secrets, shared afternoon tea with him. When she learned how to sound out words, she made a point to practice on the text that ran across the top of the man’s face. Neat-Skee, she decided after struggling through the Germanic mash of consonants. “Still endowed with the richness of her childhood imagination, Elizabeth finds nothing strange in meeting a living, breathing Mr. Neatskee in the subway, no longer just a black-and-white face confined to a single, unchanging expression. Nietzsche slowly turns his head and looks down at the smiling creature. ‘Nietzsche,’ he says, releasing the dryness of a hundred years of silence from his lungs, ‘My name is Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.’ He speaks with majesty and severity, as though he were delivering a lecture back at Basel. But then a smile
appears from beneath his overbearing moustache and his voice softens: ‘But you can call me Mr. Neatskee, my darling mädchen. And what might I call you?’ Before Elizabeth can answer, her father grabs her arm and pulls her back away from the platform. ‘Don’t talk to strangers, Elizabeth,’ he scolds and then returns to his newspaper. “The L train arrives. Nietzsche waits to board as a herd of people stampede out of the train. He muses over the encounter with the young girl and begins to feel warmly about this new society where the bothersome establishment ignores him while young children offer him conversation. A hand suddenly descends upon his shoulder and pulls him aside brusquely. The hand belongs to a short, heavyset man wearing a trenchcoat and wiry spectacles on the tip of his nose. He breathes heavily and stares at Nietzsche with beady eyes. “That last part isn’t really necessary—the beady eyes and spectacles and so forth. But there should be a little suspense here and there to keep you engaged. You need to care about the main character in order for the story to mean anything, you know?” Stevie again looked to his brother to try and read in his face whether he was interested in his story or not. “You had me at trenchcoat,” Johnny replied with an affectionate touch of sarcasm. “So, the man in the trenchcoat,” Stevie continued with a laugh, “is just a philosophy professor who overheard Nietzsche introducing himself to the young girl. After a few moments of staring, he’s realized that Nietzsche is indeed Nietzsche. However, being a professor, he wants proof, something tangible—essentially, the assurance that he won’t make a fool
of himself. I haven’t come up with a name for the professor yet either.” “How about Gradgrind?” suggested Johnny jokingly. “What is that from? Dickens? Ok, Gradgrind it is. So Professor Gradgrind, after checking over his shoulders to make sure that no one is watching, asks Nietzsche if he is Nietzsche. Nietzsche replies ‘Yes, my name is Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. And what is your name, sir?’ Gradgrind furrows his brow and contemplates how he might best test the alleged Nietzsche. He recites a quotation of Nietzsche’s which he had long since committed to memory (one which I couldn’t help but memorize when I first read it myself): ‘One day, my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous—a crisis the like of which the world has never seen, the most profound collision of conscience, of a decision brought about against everything that has ever been believed, demanded, or held holy so far. I am not a man—’ and then Nietzsche cuts him off to complete the passage, ‘—I am dynamite.’ The L train strains into motion and rumbles away, into its dark tunnel. ‘But I am sorry,’ Nietzsche continues, ‘I did not catch your name.’ “Gradgrind stares at Nietzsche in awe. He is overcome by a desire to worship Nietzsche and take all of his sayings as doctrine. In his eyes he finds the deepest truth. I don’t have the right words for it yet but this will be the most moving part of the story. I mean the description of the awe. Gradgrind is brought out of his stupor by the passing of a train on the opposite track. He invites Nietzsche back to his office for some coffee. Nietzsche sighs and accepts the invitation.
“Arriving at the NYU philosophy department, Gradgrind leads Nietzsche in a circuitous path through several corridors before arriving at his office, subconsciously trying to establish amongst his colleagues some kind of claim over his newfound idol. Before the first cup of coffee is poured, an epistemologist wanders into Gradgrind’s office, pretending to have a question for his colleague regarding a scheduling matter. He is there, of course, to confirm his suspicion that Friedrich Nietzsche just walked past his office. As Nietzsche introduces himself in his slow, assertive manner, the epistemologist succumbs to the same awe that Gradgrind had experienced in the subway. However, the epistemologist doesn’t want his colleague to notice his stupefaction so he responds to Nietzsche with a curt how-do-you-do. You see, Man is prone to worship Nietzsche in privacy, but as soon as he finds himself before the judgment of a peer he destroys his idol and even demonizes him. Gradgrind, too, fears the indignity of being seen to acknowledge another man’s superiority. He quickly diverts his eyes from Nietzsche and digs through some papers as though his own research were of chief import. A squirrelly logistician wanders into the office and, forcibly avoiding eye contact with Nietzsche, asks Gradgrind a question about a scheduling matter. The epistemologist, needing now to assert himself before two of his peers, engages Nietzsche on the topic of truth. He thinks himself to be quite clever, knowing that he can bait Nietzsche right into a logical fallacy. He begins by saying, ‘I believe, Herr Doktor, that it was in Der Wille zur Macht that you said “it is necessary that something must be held to be true.” Now, I would be inclined to agree with you on this point.’ It is worth noting that the epistemologist is aware that Nietzsche never earned his doctorate and therefore uses the Herr Doktor as an underhanded dig at his idol-turned-rival. Nietzsche responds: ‘I do not recall ever publishing a book by
that title.’ The epistemologist disregards Nietzsche’s diversion and proceeds by saying, ‘The conundrum for me arises at the intersection between the aforementioned postulate and your various definitions of truth as “illusion” and “error.” I can have my research assistant produce citations if your recollection requires refreshment, Herr Doktor.’ As the epistemologist’s attack takes an openhanded turn, Gradgrind and the logistician become excited, envisioning the impending fall of Nietzsche. For these professors are concerned not only with what they can individually disbelieve in, but even more so with what they can collectively disbelieve in. They crave for a community of disbelief. Ironically, it is that very disbelief (though in a less reactionary sense) that lies at the heart of Nietzsche’s ‘doctrine.’ And so, Nietzsche says little as the professors unwittingly bait themselves into agreement with his ideas. Mob mentality finally sets in as a bald, portly moralist wanders into the office and interrupts the conversation to ask Gradgrind a question about a scheduling matter. Foregoing cordiality, the epistemologist continues: ‘So then tell me, Herr Doktor, how could you claim that it is true that truth is necessary, if truth itself is error? By your own definition, every claim you make must be made in error. Why then do you bother us with your wasteful illusion?’ The moralist, jumping right into the fray, gives Nietzsche no time to answer before posing his own challenge: ‘You who embrace amor fati, the love of fate, must surely then accept any fate that I, a mere executor of inevitably, might bring upon thee. Perhaps I were to harm thee—to kill thee. It would not be immoral of me, would it?’ The inquisition proceeds in this fashion as the rest of the philosophy department piles into Gradgrind’s office. Arguments soon erupt amidst the professors and a general chaos ensues. Nietzsche, having stood close to the door in
foresight of just such an affray, is able to escape unnoticed. Yet, rumor of his return spreads quickly through the city.” “But the moralist’s question—how would Nietzsche have answered that?” Johnny asked, somewhat perplexed. “His answer would be no. It would not be immoral for the moralist to kill Nietzsche. But we’ll get to that in a moment. For the next few days, Nietzsche wanders through Brooklyn, keeping a low profile hoping to avoid any further encounters with the bothersome institution of adult society. But people begin to recognize him now. Some people just stare at him, some accuse him viciously of begin a fascist, some fall in love with him, some ignore him, some offer to buy him a beer because he’s famous, some offer to buy him a beer because he’s a fascist. But Nietzsche keeps walking in silence, having no need for affirmation or condemnation. “One day, he comes upon an old, run-down church. Its windows are boarded up and it seems to be abandoned. Nietzsche notices a young man in disheveled clothing spraypainting graffiti onto the church’s outer wall. Intrigued equally by the desecration of the holy structure and the phenomenon of spray-paint, Nietzsche stands by to watch. A voice is suddenly heard, saying, ‘We have art in order not to perish from the truth.’ Nietzsche sighs, recognizing his own aphorism. The ones who’ve read enough of his work to quote him are always the most bothersome. He turns and finds the owner of the voice to be a young, rugged woman of significant stature, but also possessing the charm of simple beauty. She appears to be a colleague of the spray-painter’s. For a moment, Nietzsche is struck by awe, finding a rare power deep within this woman’s eyes. I did come up with a name for her: Emily.”
“What’s the significance of Emily?” asked Johnny. “Nothing,” Stevie responded, staring out thoughtfully into the crowd. He was paused momentarily, struck by the very same overpowering sensation which he had just ascribed to several characters in his story. He felt himself merging into his characters, melting into fiction, becoming an artwork—a metamorphosis that was the very “message” of his story—and a profound bliss passed through his soul. He came out of his trance and continued his story: “Nietzsche comes out of his trance and responds with a vague gesture toward the graffiti, saying, ‘You would consider this to be art, then?’ Emily laughs and says, ‘Everything we do is art.’ Nietzsche asks, ‘So you are artists then?’ Emily replies, ‘We are anarchists.’ “Having caught Nietzsche’s interest, Emily is able to convince him to join her inside the church for a cup of tea. The nave of the church is full of scattered pews, some serving as beds, some as desks. A dozen or so people, both young and old, occupy the room. There is a makeshift library in one of the small transepts and a ping-pong table in the other. The sanctuary is empty. ‘Anarchist Christians?’ Nietzsche wonders out loud as Emily leads him to the lectern where a teapot and a basket of fruit are laid out. ‘Christians,’ Nietzsche continues, ‘are the second worst kind of man. They mean only to destroy, shatter, stupefy, intoxicate—and by intoxicate I mean to anaesthetize, to cure Man of himself as though existence were an illness, a virus, a plague! Be weak! the priest cries from the pulpit.’—at this point Nietzsche addresses the empty pews, dramatizing his declamation—‘For the meek shall inherit the Earth! Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven! And the last waning, sober spirit amongst the intoxicated parishioners meagerly asks the priest why he should believe in this kingdom
of heaven which he can not see. And with the pretentious smile of a victor pardoning his fallen foe, the priest responds: Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed. Casuistry! Treachery! The jesuit would have us blind with our brains turned to sponge-cake! No. Blessed are they who have seen and yet have not believed! But Christians, as I have said, are only the second worst kind of man. The worst is the anarchist. For the anarchist, while sharing in the Christian’s delight for extinguishing existence, for cherishing the weak, for being against something (the State in place of sin) instead of being something—the anarchist, in addition to all of this, does not know how to dance.’ In spite of the intense passion with which Nietzsche has spoken these words, he ends with a warm smile. It is not a condescending smile, but simply one to say that he is happy in being Nietzsche. He does not need affirmation from Emily to feel comfortable in his beliefs. Nietzsche realizes that he would be an even happier Nietzsche if he had something in his stomach, so he grabs an apple from the basket on the lectern and brings it to his mouth for a bite. Before he can sink his teeth in, however, Emily, who has yet to reveal any reaction to Nietzsche’s criticism, snatches the apple from him, tosses it back into the basket, grabs his waist and begins waltzing him around the quire! Just imagine the spectacle! Emily begins speaking, sternly but charmingly, as she leads Nietzsche around in circles: ‘First of all, we are not here because we are Christians. In fact, we are not Christians. But we could be Christians. We do not have rules about what we can be or what we can not be. We are just who we are. And yet we do not consider ourselves a we. We have an affinity for each other and we’re able to live productively together, but we do not define ourselves as some single body with single thoughts and single beliefs. If we have any single belief that we adhere to (and not by enforcement, but by mutual consensus),
it is that one should never force one’s will upon another. More importantly, perhaps, one should never allow another to force her will upon oneself. And by that logic, we are not opposed to anyone. Though the State hinders us, we do not need the State. Rather the State needs us. And so the State becomes a slave while we remain the masters of our selves. You see, we are not at all like the old, resentful anarchists of your time. We are not leading a revolution. We do not strive for anything permanent. Our success is achieved in every moment that we are existing. We are not trying to spread a doctrine. We do not have a doctrine. Yet we are everywhere. We sing, we cry, we love, we argue, we dream—and, most importantly, we know how to dance.’ At that, Emily leads Nietzsche through one last rise and fall of the waltz and then releases him back at the lectern where they had started. She hands him back his apple with a warm, genuine smile, echoing his from before.” Stevie broke off for a moment, somewhat exhausted from the narrative and thirsty for a sip of cold beer. He couldn’t help but smile at Johnny, feeling happy with his story even if it hadn’t met with his brother’s satisfaction. “So you’re an anarchist then?” Johnny asked his brother, failing to fully conceal his disappointment in being left with so many questions. There were certainly moments and little sparks of dialogue in the story which he had appreciated—but the depth of its theme, it seemed to him, had overextended his brother’s reach. The story didn’t seem to be going anywhere. “No, I am not an anarchist. But what is an anarchist anyway?” asked Stevie reflectively, directing the question more at himself than at his brother. “Furthermore,” Johnny responded, gracefully stepping past Stevie’s pedanticism and back into the story, “how do these
anarchists—the ones living in the church—avoid the Law? I would think that, if they could get away with living apart from the Law so easily, everyone would do it. I mean, we’re talking about New York City, right? And what about the moralist’s question? Was that explained in Nietzsche’s speech against Christianity? Maybe I didn’t catch it.” “Exactly,” Stevie answered cryptically with visible excitement. “No, it hasn’t been explained yet. But all of your questions are answered in the end. And this is the most important part of the story—the way it ends. “So, Nietzsche moves into the church and becomes a member of the small anarchist collective. However, he does so without agreeing with any of the anarchists’ beliefs or labeling himself an anarchist. He explains to Emily that, for him, respect and appreciation are expressed in passive opposition, in disbelief. Soon, he returns to writing and begins work on an allegorical poem called The Waltzing Anarchist and the Fall of God. “The Man, however (I mean the police force) comes to learn of Nietzsche’s new residence and asks Himself a question: If Nietzsche can get away with living apart from the Law so easily, what will stop everyone from following him? Within days, the police orchestrate a plan to raid the old church. As agents of the Law, they are easily able to come up with a lawful reason for evicting the squatters. When they arrive, most of the anarchists submit to their demands and vacate the church, recognizing that they are powerless against this weapon of the State. Nietzsche however ignores the police and sits writing his poem at the old, barren altar which he has set up in the sanctuary as a desk. Emily stays behind, trying to convince Nietzsche to leave the church. She explains that they can find a new building to squat, that they have nothing to gain for their autonomy by
going to prison. Nietzsche simply looks up from his poem and smiles at her warmly. Emily grows cold, fearing that Nietzsche is willing to forfeit his physical freedom for the sake of showing off his freedom of thought. She doesn’t care about his philosophy, about his books, his legacy, but only about him: Nietzsche the man. She has fallen in love with him. Appealing to reason (as a last resort) Emily warns Nietzsche that the police might harm him, might even kill him if they can find a ‘lawful’ way to do so. Nietzsche calmly responds—and here is the answer to the moralist’s question—‘It would not be immoral for them to kill me. For there are no morals. There is only Will. Mine and theirs. And if they will death upon me and I am unable to will it away … then I must die.’—Emily tries to hide her tears—‘But do not cry, my darling mädchen. I will die at the right time. And so shall they.’ Emily smiles as she cries and tries to use Nietzsche’s own words against him: ‘My respect and appreciation,’ she says, ‘are expressed in passive opposition, in disbelief. And so, I will respect you by telling you that you are full of shit and need to come with me.’ Her emotions are a wild mixture of joy and sadness, a contradictory concurrence which, for Nietzsche, underlies the highest form of art. ‘You are not an anarchist,’ Nietzsche says softly, ‘you are an artist. Now go and be your self.’ Emily realizes that Nietzsche’s mind will not be changed. She approaches him, kisses him softly on his lips, and then leaves. “Nietzsche returns to his poem while the police pitch their threats and warnings at him through a megaphone. Eventually, they storm inside and surround the sanctuary with weapons drawn. He ignores them while they speak the Law. At last, a silence falls over the room as the police wait for Nietzsche to react. Being religious men, they are fearful of how God might punish them for attacking a man in the sanctuary of His house.
At last, Nietzsche rises to his feet and addresses the policemen. (This scene—with Nietzsche before the altar and the cops all kneeling around the railing with guns raised—looks like some absurd perversion of a holy sacrament. Or it reveals the absurdity of holy sacraments in themselves.) And then with great majesty and severity, Nietzsche speaks: ‘Therefore whosoever heareth sayings and, believing them, buildeth his house upon a rock instead of sand, I will liken him unto a foolish man: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell. And great was the fall of it. For storms make sand of rocks!’ With a sweeping gesture, Nietzsche flings his pen into the air. His last word echoes through the rafters and then fades into silence. The pen reaches the top of its rise, sits suspended for a moment in the air, and then falls back to Earth. One of the policemen, who recognizes that the pen is a pen, also recognizes that he could have reasonably believed that the pen was a knife—and based on that possibility for belief, the Law permits him to shoot Nietzsche. So, he shoots Nietzsche. And Nietzsche passes away … back into exile.” Stevie brought his story to its halting end with solemn gravity, its last words echoing, as it were, through the rafters of his consciousness. But then he laughed, realizing that such consecration ill befit the death of Nietzsche. “…And laughter was his requiem. Not much of an ending, I guess. But what do you think of it in general?” “Well, for me, respect and appreciation are expressed in passive opposition, in disbelief,” Johnny answered in playful mockery, “so take it as a compliment when I say that I don’t understand what the hell that was all about.” “Plagiarism!” burst forth Stevie with a hearty laugh. “But plagiarism out in the open is sort of a tribute. Right? I don’t
know. At any rate, I know that the story needs some work. I get excited by these profound thoughts but then I can’t quite express them. By the time I get one word out, my mind is already into the next paragraph. Like right now: I could explain this profound problem of expression, but … I’m already in the next paragraph, you know? I don’t know. When we’re sober tomorrow we can talk about it more. But for now, we need to make our own stories.” Johnny nodded solemnly and then laughed. Finishing their beers, the brothers went over to Jarrett’s table where they found their friend sitting alone. “What happened to Elizabeth?” Johnny asked. “She went her own way,” replied Jarrett stoically. “We just didn’t fit right, you know? Broken pieces can’t be forced together … but as she goes, the chance for another will come.” Jarrett came to his feet with a resolute smile. Despite the tragedy of losing the perfect woman, he appreciated the beauty of tragedy. The artist learns to embrace experience. “Another will come,” echoed Stevie affirmatively before letting the phrase drift away from its original context and into his story. Nietzsche passes away … but another will come. “That’s a good ending,” responded Stevie, “a good ending for this bar. Shall we make a new beginning then?” Jarrett grinned at his friend, perceiving that Stevie was enjoying some personal, second meaning to his words. “To a new beginning,” Jarrett agreed. He then took Stevie and Johnny under his arms and led them to the exit of the bar. Just before stepping out, he turned his head and saluted the crowd of disinterested bar-goers, his stagemates in this strange comedy, with a spirited takk.
* * * *
The three companions strolled down Laugavegur toward the next bar. They walked in silence, each man deep within his own thoughts. Johnny thought about Stevie’s Nietzsche. Stevie thought about Jarrett’s lost Elísabet. Jarrett thought about Alejandro’s conception of the Preface and the backward trajectory of history; and, if history ran backwards, that Alejandro’s fall must then be the effect of some cause yet to come. All three thoughts were truncated abruptly at the sound of approaching footsteps echoing trochaically through a nearby alleyway. Turning, the three companions saw a strange creature hobbling rapidly toward them through the shadows. Their startle gave way to gaiety as the creature’s form passed through a patch of light and revealed itself as Alejandro, their fallen poet yet arisen. And thus touched by gaiety, the companions’ thoughts resumed their course with a renewed sense of hope: Jarrett saw the effect of Alejandro’s return as indicating a righteous cause of celebration soon to come; Stevie imagined the perfect woman that Alejandro would soon find as recompense for his suffering; Johnny found in the form of Alejandro’s resilient, stumbling forward a sudden, visceral understanding of Stevie’s story. And as the poet passed through the shadows in his long, woolen overcoat, he looked much like Nietzsche as Johnny had imagined him: a black and white face wearing a single, unchanging expression of unbendable determination. For a moment, the formation of the four men fell into a cross-like composition, so starkly overcast by shadow as to evoke the tenebrous intensity of a Caravaggian chiaroscuro. The aesthetic tension was snapped
by Alejandro as he lumbered forth and lost his footing. Without needing to move, Johnny caught the falling poet squarely in his arms and embraced him, more for affection than for stability. Strangely, Alejandro did little to right his balance, but instead wriggled spasmodically such that Johnny had to grip him tightly to keep him from tumbling over. As Alejandro’s wrigglings took on an unmistakably violent character, the thoughts of the three companions converged upon one point: Alejandro was out of his mind. Johnny suddenly found himself waltzing furiously through the alleyway, struggling to quell the ravenous dog of a man that Alejandro had become. Lost in a state of misreality, Alejandro angrily barked accusations at his friends in vitriolic fragmentations of slurred grammar. Johnny had a thought to punch his friend in the face, that the blow might either knock him out of his confusion or out of consciousness altogether— but the idea of extinguishment, of anesthesia as such seemed contrary to his newfound understanding of Stevie’s story. Jarrett tried, as a first resort, speaking reason to his rabid friend. He brought forth the categorical imperative, reminding Alejandro that violence could not be justified without willing it universally—and a world of violence would soon fall apart. He praised Alejandro for his former dedication to peacefulness, encouraging him to recall the strength of his philosophical underpinnings. Stevie stood by and looked on forgivingly, hoping to show Alejandro that it was not too late to reconsider his actions—that he could still fall back on friendship. But still, the embattled poet wrestled with Johnny, compelled only by the imperative of physical impetus. We might blame what happened next on coincidence. Here, in my omniscience, I can see no other force guiding the course of
history. Three minutes before Alejandro coincidentally came upon Stevie, Johnny & Jarrett in the alleyway, Brandon played the final note of an impromptu sonata which he had been performing for the Laxness family in their quaint living room. Three measures before the end, he had inserted an unexpected C sharp before the resolving D – G – G motif; and as that note quivered discordantly in the air, he became aware of something wrong in his universe. He felt drawn to Alejandro. I can explain it no better than that. Music speaks in a plane beyond omniscience. Coincidentally, the Laxness family lived on Vegamótastígur, a short alleyway that connected Skólavörðustígur to Laugavegur. After thanking the Laxnesses for their hospitality, Brandon descended the staircase, opened the front door and stepped out into the night to find his four friends amidst their struggle. Coincidence often turns awry the current of enterprise, tempting Man to meditate upon purpose. Man is led into the vast mountains of the past and then into the wilderness of the future, those fickle climes where Purpose, Meaning and God thrive. However, caught in the present tense Coincidence chokes upon its own issue—there is only the moment, singular and infinite, in which all incidence falls into concurrence. Coincidence no longer breeds purpose as purpose becomes ubiquitous and thereby irrelevant. Man stands alone to act according to his will. Coincidentally, the aforementioned alleyway coincidence befell Brandon who dwells only in the present tense—the present tense where coincidence is meaningless. Brandon spent no time applauding his instinct or presupposing a heightened purpose to his presence in that alleyway; he simply approached the affray to lend a hand as best he might.
Jarrett, whose reason had made no headway against Alejandro’s madness, felt the cold hand of desperation grip his soul. But rather than submit to its numbing hold, he let his mind submerge into its musician’s state of emotional articulation. His right arm arose and outstretched itself toward Alejandro with an open palm. Every nerve, every cell abandoned its bodily toil to contribute toward the expression of Jarrett’s amity. As Alejandro’s eyes strayed from his immediate adversary and fell upon Jarrett’s gesture, he lost hold of his will to fight and let go of Johnny. In coincidence with Alejandro’s letting go of Johnny, Johnny let go of Alejandro. And even at the same time, Brandon approached from behind. As Alejandro staggered backwards he stumbled for a moment out of consciousness and then came back in just as gravity was beckoning his body to submit to its eternal temptation of horizontality. But I must break off from the narrative. I have lingered too long in this episode of delusion and absolution. There was something promethean in my theft of omniscience and I fear that my narrative arrogance has brought a curse upon my story. Indeed, its theme has been plucked out of its plot every three paragraphs for the past fifty pages. The Fall of Man is, above all, a love story. And I have forgotten to write about love. So love then. What can I write about love? How can I write about my misunderstanding of love without understanding love? Why can I not tell this story with a single character (a period, for instance) that cascades infinitely downward, upward, inward and outward through a non-Euclidian space where love is the coincidence of understanding and misunderstanding. How could you ever understand my story?
But the vultures of digression are back at my plot. Let me recollect the narrative: Brandon led me into my room and left me to rest. Unable to sleep, I sent my errant thoughts off into the melancholy steppes of Kafka. I often try to distract myself with dense, German, existential writing where, by the courtesy of Germanic word order, one can become carelessly lost in the inconsequential middle-matter of a sentence before arriving at the critical, final word (which, if it is put off for long enough, becomes estranged from its dreadful context), when harried by lovelessness. Lying in my bed, I halfconsciously recalled The Trial: Joseph K. Now there’s a man who got fucked by fate. Although it wasn’t really fate that did the fucking; Kafka’s judicial system is very human, not at all spiritualistic or suggestive of God. It’s just normal and absurd. Joseph K. wasn’t being punished based on some universal code of supernal design—he just signed a shitty social contract. I guess we all do. Fucking A. Joseph Fucking K. He played it right in the end though. No metaphysical or religious excuses for pushing on through the Law’s delay. No ostensible acquittal or indefinite postponement. He took his verdict with the honour of a man who knows there is no honour in this world. And so will I take my verdict. To
die meaninglessly in a cold country. Honourably. Quietly. To die. To sleep. But perchance to have one last kiss before death … yes, a final kiss before my verdict! A kiss—and yet I see that love will make a coward of me. A coward in a world of cowards. But I mustn’t think of love…. Joseph K. Yes, Joseph K. saw past love. Love is of no use to the condemned man. But what of Leni who found condemned men particularly attractive? Leni with her great, dark eyes. Perhaps there is a Leni who would find me attractive for all my sufferings. Perhaps … oh, perhaps nothing! Enough! Joseph K. But even Joseph K. got his last kiss: [K.] rushed out, seized her, and kissed her first on the lips, then all over the face, like some thirsty animal lapping greedily at a spring of long-sought fresh water. Finally he kissed her on the neck, right on the throat, and kept his lips there for a long time. To Hell with Kafka! Straight to Hell with Joseph K. and Germanic word order! I must rush out and find my Leni. And if there is no Leni, then I must find any woman and seize her and steal my last kiss. Yes, crime must not only be permitted but even recognised as the inevitable and the most rational outcome. I must commit a crime. I must exist. None of this lying around to die like a dog. Amoretti shall go forth! Thus I arose from my bed in a fury and, for the third time that night, hobbled out of my hotel in hope of forging a final chapter—a conclusion of great pith that would justify the inconsequential middle-matter of so long life. My resolution to commit a crime brought a strange distraction over my thoughts as I aberrantly wandered through the city’s
venous side-streets and alleyways. Neither moral quandary nor legal consequence nor even the carnal pleasure which my crime would buy me crossed my mind. Instead, I thought of irrelevant things: the scent of red wine, the taste of fish at breakfast-time, the soothing pronunciation of Foucault, the rape of Jesus’ antiauthoritarianism by the pen of St. Paul and the subsequent bastardly issue of a mystical, monarchical Christianity; Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, the bearded face of Camilo Cienfuegos, discoloured post-it notes, the Force. At length, my distracted wanderings brought me into the heart of Reykjavík. My eyes came to focus on an overlarge sign outside a small, shack-like bar. It read Barrin in bold, blue letters. A befitting venue for a crime, it seemed. And then my heart began to throb as I recalled my purpose. It was suddenly so close. I asked myself if I ought to go back, but I didn’t answer. Despite the pulsing thud of bass emanating from the bar and the pervasive drone of drunk revelry upon the city air, I felt myself surrounded by a dead silence. But thinking is toxic to a crime’s proper execution, I thought. No more of it. I opened the large, wooden front-door to Barrin and stepped inside. My eyes settled upon the first girl they encountered. She was perfect: elegant, well-postured yet delicate, in good spirits and alone. I observed her for several moments with my poet’s eyes, preparing myself for a future of jail-cell sonnets. I needed a beer, I realized. The criminal must respect the aesthetic principles of composition just as any other artist must; the intermingling of a cold beer’s bitterness with the sweetness of a woman’s warm lips would serve to enrich the sensual quintessence of the crime.
The path to the bar, however, proved a difficult one. In trying to push my way through the crowd of patrons, I was often deflected and turned astray. My broken arm came under constant agitation as it was pressed upon by passing bodies. After several minutes of arduous struggle, I emerged through the crowd. But I found only an empty wall in front of me. Turning around, I realized that I had been turned around somewhere in the crowd and was now on the side of the room opposite from the bar. An awful nausea passed over me as I considered a second passage through the tempestuous sea of bodies. I would never make it to the other side. It was hopeless. I was defeated. A girl suddenly rushed past me, roughly affricting my left side as she went by. Pain and pleasure—the pain of nociceptive neurotransmission; the pleasure of a woman’s touch—fought an epic battle in my arm. Pleasure won a pyrrhic victory, leaving me empty of any feeling. And then, from the ashes of my extinguished being, desire arose and consumed me. A final kiss. I rationalized that art was only secondary to necessity and resolved to proceed with my crime in as tasteless a fashion as expediency would decree. My eyes—my savage’s eyes!—scavenged about the room in search of a victim. The first girl—the one I had observed upon entering the bar—was nowhere to be found. Strangely, I felt a sensation of relief on her behalf—as though I were the audience watching my crime, rooting against the bad-guy. I banished this thought from my mind, fearing that I would let the audience within me avert me from my task. I was thinking again. I had to stop thinking. The bar was full of beautiful women, yet each one that I laid eyes on seemed somehow inadequate for my crime—flawed by
some touch of grace that rendered my will-to-power impotent. I desperately tried to repress the growing realization that I lacked the heart to steal a kiss—that I couldn’t perform my crime. But every moment of inaction brought this realization closer to the forefront of my mind. Why hadn’t I just kissed that first girl when I’d had the chance? All that bullshit about aesthetic principles and beer was just a subconscious ploy to defer my inevitable failure. No, it wasn’t even subconscious; I knew that I was lying to my self and yet I took my lies for truth. Oh, the baseness! The horror! How could a man with nothing left—no friends, no health, no fear of death, no chance at love—how could such a man be so vapid? so empty of will? What could I possibly be afraid of without fear? A drunk fisherman brushed past me. I smiled madly with the pain, struggling to prove to my self that there was nothing to fear. But when I cast my eyes back into the crowd and caught the disapproving stare of a woman—a woman with eyes so perfectly goddamn green…—my blood froze and a child’s fear crystallized around my spine. I ripped my eyes away from her bewitching stare and assigned them to the ground. No power in the universe—not even a pledge from God signed in His own empyreal blood that I would get my final kiss—could have brought me to look back at that perfectly horrible woman. Those eyes. She could see into my heart, she could see my villainous intentions; but even worse, she could see that I was incapable of acting upon them. O precious villainous eyes! Fair devil of a woman! She was Hell—Hell more fearsome than a thousand tongues of everlasting fire. God should have threatened Man to be damned with Woman. To the contrary of my emotional trajectory, a faint hope arose within me as I considered the possibility of other women seeing
into my heart. Perhaps one might find something to pity. Perhaps my disfigured soul might compel some woman to care for me, to console me—perhaps even kiss me. God would surely provide a spacious lodging in Heaven to any woman willing to save a broken man—and even more so, a man so undeserving of salvation. Christ died for the ungodly. A feverish excitement came over me as I fancied that I was serving God’s will—for God needs the depraved. Satan, Judas and I. Each of us a humble servant to God’s will, providing Him with the matter of evil—that sacred substance without which there could be no goodness, no anything. Nothing but existential stagnation. God would fall into oblivion. A world of nothingness, but for the courage of a few good villains. And we villains cry out ‘Let there be God!’ even though we must be damned. Let there be feeling! And let my baseness be some blessed woman’s key to the kingdom of Heaven. Staring into the ground with wild eyes, I stood waiting for my salvation, waiting for a woman’s embrace. I laughed with God about my prior disbelief in Him. He told me that it was no big deal. It felt good being back on good terms with God. I waited several minutes for my salvation. I imagined the glorious eyes of my savior, the scent of her heavenly hair, the divine pitch of her laughter. But no saviour came. And soon I realized that no saviour was going to come. All the women in Barrin that night had other plans for reaching paradise. I had already accepted several times that life was meaningless and absurd; so why did I keep expecting everything to come together and make sense? Why keep going when hope for a good ending is gone? Why not make an end now? Now. Now. Unable to disappear, I made my way to the exit. I told God that He was a petty artificer and went back to disbelieving in Him.
Bursting through the large, wooden front-door of Barrin, I prayed that I might stumble out into absolute nothingness. Instead, I came into a cold street filled with buildings, celebratory debris and drunk strangers who knew not me. Like Thoreau come out the woods, I stood bewildered at a world so strange. How could all these people find purpose in building and destroying things? There was nothing for me but wandering—wandering through a cold world until fever, hunger, thirst or thermodynamic entropy rendered me empty of existence. In a brief hallucination, I saw my self in the sky, looking down at me, observing me with an authorial scrutiny. My self in the sky was clean-shaven, well-dressed, and uninjured with a healthy complexion and wide-open eyes. I realized that I—the broken man on the street—was being written about by my future self. It punctured my already deflated soul to think of my self escaping from Iceland only to return to the prosaic tedium of writing. I cursed my self, the writer—that slave to art who, once freed from a shadowy existence of projected purpose, would return to his cave and recast his iron about his wrists—and I cursed you, the reader, my neighbour in the dark. Shaking away the spectre of a desolate future deceived of death, I focused my eyes on the door that now stood before me. It appeared to be an entrance to a bar; I hoped it might be the very gateway to hell. Fire and brimstone seemed awfully appealing. I opened the door and stepped inside. Another bar. I felt the claustrophobia of a world comprised only of streets and bars. Yet there were less people in this bar than there had been in Barrin which made the enclosure more bearable, the air more breathable. Indeed, successful passage to the bartender even seemed possible. I stood waiting for my
departure, as though some pinball hammer were soon to strike me and project me forward. I wasnâ€™t thinking any longer. I might have stood there forever had not Manâ€™s primal instinct to solve all problems with beer imbrued the potential energy in my heels with a thirst for kinetic consummation. I took a step forward. And every step thereafter became easier. I arrived at the bar like an old, seaworn vessel floating gently to berth beside its homeport pier. The bridge of my left foot nestled into the metal pole running along its base. My hands settled down upon the familiar surface of spar-varnished wood lubricated with a thin film of spilled beer. Every experience knowable to Man, it seemed, was merely sensual. I cherished the bar for being physical. The bartender approached, swung a towel easily over his left shoulder and inclined his body toward me, placing his hands far apart on the edge of the bar. I asked for a Tuborg. The bartender gave me a Tuborg. I gave him money. He gave me change. I turned from the bar, beer in hand, preparing my self for the next voyage abroad, out beyond the harbour of sensual familiarity. Gazing out into the crowd of people, I beheld the sexuality of existence. Everything was touching and moving through everything else. Sex would come, it seemed, if I could just learn how to be a body. Then it would be like ordering a beer: I would ask her for her name. She would tell me what it was. I would give her my self. She would give me love. I took a step forward. I was a body. Space embraced me. But as I moved into space, my foot became entangled in the rungs of a barstool and I was propelled into a capsize. The room began to spin. This was the end, I realized. I closed my eyes and smiled. I am just a body. As my face came to rest against the smooth stone floor of the bar, I felt the universe fall
back into place. I lied still, very peacefully, and proffered my self to death. I saw why people who are about to die often decide to die, despite the sentimental pleas of a lover or friend hovering overhead. But the thought of a lover gave rise to a fresh crop of will-to-power that brought me slowly to my feet. I agreed with my self that, as soon as I found a lover, I would fall back down and die, despite her pleas. With wandering steps and slow, I went on my solitary way in search of a woman to give my self to. I had only taken a few steps forward when I realized that my beer had been lost in the fall. Although I was eager to find love, the idea of returning to the comfort of the bar seduced me. In turning, I noticed that several faces were staring at me. Their expressions were selfconcerned and annoyed. Most of the faces turned away as soon as our eyes met. But there was one face whose eyes remained locked into mine; its expression was sympathetic and kind. Jarrett Karamazov walked up to me with a warm, philosopher’s smile and gently placed his hand on my shoulder. I felt relieved of my past feelings of betrayal and revenge, as though the reality of what had happened had slowly overtaken my delusion. I returned Jarrett’s smile, trying to communicate that I was in a different place now. I wanted to explain it all in great depth, but I didn’t understand it myself. Jarrett didn’t demand any explanation, but only asked me if I was alright. He must have understood that some things just don’t mean anything. I told Jarrett that I was alright—but this time I thought about the question. I wasn’t alright at all. My latest fall could only have worsened my condition; the absence of excruciating pain evidenced that my nervous system was dangerously numbed by alcohol and drugs. As though participating in my thoughts, Jarrett nodded affirmatively and offered to take me to a
hospital. Reason, having quietly returned to her quarters in my mind, advised me to follow my friend’s advice. I told Jarrett that I would go to a hospital; but I insisted on going alone. My journey had to be my own. And, furthermore, I didn’t want to cripple Jarrett’s chances at striking up meaningful intercourse with one of the perfect women still lingering at the bar. Before leaving, I got the attention of Stevie, Johnny and Ryan who were sitting at a table on the other side of the room, each paired off with a girl of Man’s collective dreams. I promised my self that, if ever I escaped Iceland, I would write about all that had happened—and it would only be half the apology due for my violence against these beautiful friends of mine. It may be that these pages fail to paint the Fall of Man to form, that so many references to my poetic forebears serve only to obscure my syntax, that the deepest truths of my soul, when written with the shallow skill of youth, seem simple or contrived; be it so, but let not my characters, these short-cast shadows of my brothers, seem caricatures unbecoming gods that strove with a man. I gave my friends firm nods to confirm the righting of the universe. They understood and nodded back.
* * * *
So that was that. I had weathered a storm of existential annihilation and now the seas of confusion were coming to a calm. It was the end. Almost. The morning had come, but the sun had not yet risen. And I still needed to find love before consigning my body to the clean, white cotton of a hospital bed—the clean, white emptiness on which life begins and ends.
Listen. I relieved myself of my limp, against the will of possibility, and strode evenly down Laugavegur, up Klapparstígur, around the brief corner of Týsgata and back onto Skólavörðustígur. Hallgrímskirkja loomed faintly in the darkness ahead, serene and mysterious like a sleeping lady. With deliberate paces I approached her. Every forward step brought me closer to clarity. I felt my mind being washed over with that elusive sobriety that only a man drunk to the edge of death can experience. My eyes brought out of the darkness a flicker of light that could have been something or nothing. The flicker grew into a shape as I approached and the shape grew into a woman. The woman grew into a woman with long, dark hair and dark red lips. Her lips were too dark, almost so dark that it made her unattractive—but by that slight imperfection, that unexpected overpowering will of the colour red to be out beyond itself, she became the most beautiful woman in the world. Everything there was to know about life was in her lips. We arrived together. She was perfect and imperfect; beautiful, veiled in her beauty. Looking into her eyes, I came to realize everything about love that I had never understood. I can not write it. You, my reader, either understand love or you must come to understand love by falling. Of course, you will have to stop reading. It began to rain as I broke through the boundaries of the story that was being written about me. I am the poet on the street. Finally, my dear reader, we meet face to face. I would stop and chat—a reader and a writer have a million things to say to each other—but I mustn’t miss this opportunity for imperfect love. You understand. “What is your name?” I ask the dark red woman. “Rosaline,” she replies.
“Rosaline. A soft name to spur a man’s heart so sharply. I fear that my words will gallop past a proper introduction and make straight for the hurdle of unbridled love.” “Speak simply,” she says softly. My heart stops. “You don’t like poetry?” “Only thoughtless poetry,” she answers. “Thoughtless. I understand. But it has to be love poetry … that’s all I know.” “I like thoughtless love poetry,” she winks. “I didn’t know anything about love a few hours ago—even a few minutes ago. I was looking for it though. And now I understand that love can’t be found. And yet, maybe I just found it. Before, I would have been afraid to frighten love away by speaking to a woman that I’m falling in love with so directly—so simply. But if love can’t be found, it can’t be lost either. Rosaline, you and I—I understand now that, if I do love you, it’s better for me to honestly say that you’d be better off with a man who wasn’t lost in a story that didn’t make sense—a man who understood that he could only be loved if he could live without being loved. Life would still go on, Rosaline, if you walked away … but I’d rather that you stay.” Rosaline stares at me and says nothing as raindrops drip from her eyelashes. “I shouldn’t fall in love with you right now, Rosaline—now that I know how love works. It doesn’t work like this. I’m not ready for love and I should have a long time to wait until Love forgives me being such a fool. But it would be foolish to suffer
what should happen. Should doesn’t exist in Love’s vocabulary. I’ve already fallen in love with you.” “Keep talking,” Rosaline tells me, her dark red lips coming together once and then parting, “as if I told you: I’m falling in love with you too.” “If you fell in love with me, Rosaline, I would tell you everything—but you would stop me after one sentence because we don’t have time for everything—” “Stop talking,” she smiles. “We would never be happy with completion and perfection. When I write the story of my love I’ll erase the description of your eyes—and I’ll read it over, imagining that I had to imagine what your eyes might look like. I’ll pretend that I never finished our epic poem so that only we can ever read it. A real poet only ever lets one woman read his unfinished poetry—and he never finishes any of his poems. He falls into unfinished love and forces wisdom and passion to wait for their war until a moment after it’s done. “But simple love. I know nothing about love. And perhaps I never will. But being in love makes you feel—makes you know that you know everything worth knowing. I know, for example, that there are three ways to fall in love: I fell in love with you at first sight. And now … now I’m falling in love with you without seeing you—you’re still there when I close my eyes. When time passes away, I’ll fall in love with you in a third way—the falling in love that binds and consumes the entirety of existence: I will see how every moment of my life—every shy glance toward the sun, every sigh, every first time thinking, tasting, desiring something indescribable, every wish upon
every falling eyelash for something undesirable, every adjective in every torn-up poem, every papercut, every tear, every time I rewrite this conversation in the story of tonight in hope that our reader might find me worthy of your love—in every one of these sensations I will see a single moment of falling in love with you, refracted through the raindrops of life’s beautiful, storming rage. I’ve destroyed the book of love but for its blank, final page. Tell me, Rosaline, what to write.” “Write,” Rosaline replies, “about feeling. Write that my fingers feel cold against your cheek. Write that I bring you to the side of the road, under a green awning, to hide from the storm. But write that you pull me back out into the rain to dance on the wet cobblestones and that I call you crazy. And you smile crazily like a mad poet who has finally found a woman who loves crazy men who know nothing about love. Write that I whisper something in your ear that is only for us and not for our reader to hear. Write something confusing that shouldn’t have been written. Write the truth about what you don’t know. Write about the two of us and nothing else in the end. Let the reader be confused by the absurdity of what we say, the strange sense carried in our words that we’ve always known each other, that we’re different parts of the same person—as lovers always are. Let the reader feel uncomfortable with the abandonment of reality. Let the reader reject fantasy and imagine what really happened to you when you didn’t meet me: that it never started to rain and that you hobbled in the darkness for miles, for hours to the hospital where the doctors could do nothing to fix your arm. Let the reader imagine the long walk back to your hotel, the silence, the slow wearing-off of your drunk numbness, the three days spent bed-ridden in unbearable pain, nauseous from painkillers, unable to eat, unable to sleep. Let the reader imagine you finally reading Vonnegut to bide the
horrible time, feeling the hopelessness of loveless existence reverberating through the metaphor of war. Run your cold fingers through my hair. Let the reader want something from you—something to understand—but don’t give it away. Hold me closer. And then make the reader throw her concentration aside and dive into the deep meaningfulness of a love that might not have happened. Thoughtless love poetry should be read thoughtlessly. And while the reader is distracted, hoping (if you’ve written this well) that I am real and that we really did meet each other and fall into a moment’s love in the darkness of the first morning of the new year—this blessed black morning that marks the beginning, the humble dawn of the epoch of purpose born back into artistic purity—write that you kiss me.” I kiss you. And there’s a whole life in that.
* * * *
Praise be to God, Apollo, Bacchus, Vulcan, Mars, Janus and Jupiter. Praise be to Leifr Eiríksson. Praise be to old Fyodor Karamazov, Dimitri Fyodorovich and wise, old Zossima. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. The end. And then I died and began writing the preface of my life as the rain beat down— “No. Don’t worry about tying up the loose ends. That story ended a long time ago. Just write that you kiss me and nothing more.”
I kiss you
In the 15th century, during the plague, there were men who, when they became infected, subjected themselves to selfflagellation, believing that the plague was their Lord's punishment for their sins and that only through selfflagellation could they redeem themselves in their Lord's eyes. Hoping to help other sinners redeem themselves in the same wise, these men would walk in a line from village to village, each one lashing the back of the man in front of him. Those who witnessed this dreadful march often wondered whether it would be worse to suffer the fiery machinations of hell than endure such wicked laceration. So shocked by the horror of the scene were these bystanders that they seldom realized that a line never intersects itselfâ€”that is, they seldom realized that the man at the front of the line whipped no man and that the man at the back of the line was whipped by no man. And those few voyeurs whose thoughts reached beyond the immediacy of pain and anguish to the plane of logic and considered this conundrum, almost always concluded that the front man endured the greatest pain, thereby earning the greatest quantity of redemption, while the rear man endured no pain and still
inflicted pain on another, thus earning the even greater ire of his Lord. But the infected men passed and so did thoughts such as these. It is worth noting that no man ever realized that the front man endured the least pain of all, being free from the guilt of causing pain to another. And by enduring less pain than the other men, the front man pushed himself further from redemption. Being further from redemption, the front man fell into an even greater anguish as the barbarous tails of his rear neighbour's lash struck rhythmically against the torn flesh hanging from his back. Recognizing that this mental anguish was beyond the physical pain of those behind him, he realized that he would be the most worthy of his Lord's pity. And thus he rejoiced, not realizing that this joy demonstrated to his Lord that he suffered less than those behind him and deserved no redemption. As for the rearmost man, he realized that he suffered least among his infected companions, receiving no lashes against the untorn flesh resting evenly upon his back. He sometimes thought to stop lashing the man ahead of him, but then realized that he would be leaving that man in the very same position that he was inâ€”and by causing that man the pain of enduring no pain, he would be seen in his Lord's eyes as even more unworthy of redemption. As he continued to let the barbarous tails of his lash rend the hanging flesh rhythmically from his front neighbour's back, he determined that by not putting the other man into his painful place and instead enduring the pain for himself, he would be the most worthy of his Lord's pity. And thus he rejoiced, not realizing that this joy demonstrated to his Lord that he suffered less than those in front of him and deserved no redemption.
As for the man in the middle, he suffered the greatest pain, realizing that the front man suffered more than he for having no man to whip and that the rearmost man suffered more than he for having no man to whip him. He rejoiced that these men would receive redemption in his stead, not realizing that his joy would earn him his Lord's compassion and, thereby, his own redemption. Yet, in the plane of logic all these men suffered the same pain and deserved the same fate at their Lord's hands. For, in the fourth dimension, a straight line is curved and its front returns to its back. The man at the front of the line, with no lash in hand, lashed the man's back at the rear of the line, whose back remained untorn. What you don't realize is that you are their Lord. These men exist, right now, within your thoughts and no place else. All that has been said to this moment was only said to lead you toward your decisionâ€”your decision as to whether or not you will redeem these men. Whether or not thou wilt redeem thyself as thou lasheth thy neighbour and as thy neighbour lashes thee.
Ruminations of Departed Perfection Reflected in Heideggerâ€™s Nietzsche
To be without her Is to deny life its vitality, But to become without her, At the hand of her cold Will-to-Power, Is a worthy reality. There is no truth, No certainty in forms or words, But when she says Goodbye.
u;} A Love Story about Etymology
Three weeks ago, an alter ego of mine commissioned me to research the etymological derivation and semantical significance of an arcane word which he had stumbled upon last night. In exchange for his property within my brain, I agreed to assist him. Without uttering a word, he presented me with a tattered shred of an old bookmark. On it were three scrawled characters which will haunt me forever:
Upon first analyzing the scribble, I laughed and assured my alter ego (who will henceforward be referred to as â€œDeanâ€? for the sake of convenience) that this was no more than a fragment of a sentence or some bit of whimsical nonsense. Deanâ€™s expression remained stolid as he stared on at the torn
bookmark. Sensing the opportunity to become academically dramatic—one of life’s great pleasures for an etymologist—I furrowed my brow, adjusted my spectacles and, without a word, returned to scrutinizing the bizarre characters. “A code perhaps?” I suggested as I began mentally applying Caesar’s Cipher to the character set. “R, 8, Z,” replied Dean stoically before I could finish the calculation myself. “R, 8, Z,” I echoed, searching my memory for some past occurrence of the sequence. Finding no promising leads, I began considering other common cipher sequences. But Dean, seeing the gears spinning circuitously in my head, cut me short, “It isn't a code, Alejandro. I've spent the past three months working through every cipher we know: common, archaic, unknown … it isn't a code.” Even as a seasoned linguist, I had never before encountered anything as intangible, as distantly foreign as this obscure specimen of language. I toyed with ancient alphabets— Etruscan, Syriac, Paleo-Hebrew—to no avail. I considered the possibility of a phonetic homophone: U semi-colan brace. You send me coal and brays. Use my cold embrace. “Use my cold embrace?” I suggested with an air of uncertainty. Dean made no response, but I knew that we were in agreement. It was something more complex than a simple phonetic code, some intricate artifice of supernal communication. After sleeping on it for a night, I woke up with a headache and cursed the rising sun as it taunted me with its geometrical simplicity through the bay window above my bed. And then it struck me: the sun only affected geometrical simplicity while its
innards screamed with mathematical complexities and improbabilities and—but at that moment, the portion of my brain where Dean resides awoke and ordered my spiraling stream of consciousness to stop. “You've been so caught up in your academic drama, my dear Ale, that you have forgotten to ask the simple questions,” explained Dean through a lingering yawn. Simple questions. Desiring to regain intellectual domain over my own brain, I started sifting through all of the simple questions which I could possibly have forgotten to ask: Why am I awake? Why is the sun yellow? Is the sun yellow? Why wonder whether the sun is yellow when the existential paradigm of— “STOP! For Christ's sake,” cried Dean, interrupting my thoughts, “these are not simple questions! Ask me how I came by these three characters. Ask me when I first found them. Ask me why I care so much about their meaning as to offer you my berth within your brain—my entire existence—in exchange for their translation. There's your existentialism! Ask me where I found the bloody bookmark, by God!” I paused and almost furrowed my brow and adjusted my spectacles before catching my self. Dean and I were beyond affectation. “Where did you find the bookmark?” I asked quietly, fighting against my sudden inclination toward timidity. “In a book,” fired back Dean with a certain professorial air of challenge. “In which book?” I asked, trying to keep up. “In The Transcendence of the Ego.” “You found it in Sartre?”
“I found the bookmark in Sartre.” “In which edition? I mean, which translation?” I stumbled over my words, trying desperately to step in front of Dean's train of thought. “Stop. You're off track, Alejandro,” came Dean's response as our exchange ground to a halt. “But these were all simple questions,” I argued, embarrassed at being embarrassed by my intellectual inferiority to my self. “I think you are just playing a mind game on me—you don't even care about the etymology.” “I care,” replied Dean calmly but sternly. “I care about you and about these characters. Indeed, I care so much about these characters that, when I first saw them, I ripped my bookmark out of its place in The Transcendence of the Ego, thus losing my page, and tore off a shred so that I could quickly transcribe this mystical phrase, lest it disintegrate from before my eyes and destroy the chance for me to ask my favorite etymologist to help me uncover its magic.” I felt frozen, as if even thinking about Dean's words would corrupt them through some virulent device of my human condition. “Now ask me what I was looking at when I first saw the characters,” continued Dean, helping me thaw through my thoughts. “What were you looking at,” I asked slowly, trying my hardest not to think. “I was looking at a computer screen, Ale. I was reading an email.”
“Who was the email from?” Dean smiled warmly, seeing that I had made a step toward understanding the universe. “I was reading an email from Mari. You remember Mari, yes?” “Yes, I remember Mari,” I answered, venturing to think for a moment and try to remember Mari. Yes, I remembered Mari. She was a woman from whom I had bought a desk. The same desk which I was sitting at when I read the email. “That's right, Ale. You read the email too!” Dean was right, I remembered reading the email from Mari—Mari, the beautiful woman, almost twice my age, who sold me a desk and who noticed when I tried to make my eyes tell her that I thought she was beautiful. She was beautiful. Yes, it all began coming back together. Mari and I exchanged emails for months after I bought the desk. I slowly tried to explain to her that I wanted to love her—but she had a husband. “But even despite the husband,” said Dean, continuing my thoughts, “she expressed an interest. You told her the truth about your heart, beyond anything that you had told anyone before. And she seemed to understand. She called you ‘cute’ and praised your good qualities, making you embarrassed to be conscious of being conscious of having good qualities. You told her of your dreams of writing an endless epic poem. And then, three days ago, you sent her an email filled with clever witticisms and poetical devices—it was a testament to your literary ability, your intellect and you were not embarrassed to be conscious of its greatness. She responded abruptly and blandly, apparently having beheld none of your rhetorical diamonds—and this disheartened you. Your one tool, the pen, had proven frivolous in matters of love.”
I digested Dean's candid recount and stared tiredly out the window at the half-risen sun, hoping that my friend would finish telling me the thoughts that I was too exhausted—or too afraid—to think. “Yes, you are in luck,” chuckled Dean, “I will go on. You resigned yourself to desperation (subconsciously considering, I might add, that such desperation might at least yield some decent poetry) and wrote back to Mari, commenting on the sudden cold snap and asking her what she wanted for Christmas.” “I asked her what she wanted for Christmas,” I stated, still lost in a daze of mental exhaustion. “You asked her what she wanted for Christmas,” Dean echoed with a growing fire in his tone, “and what was her reply?” Realizing that Dean was waiting for me to think, I thought for a moment and, without very much effort, found the answer to his question:
“Indeed,” said Dean with a soft satisfaction. Indeed. I remembered seeing the three characters in her email and contemplating their meaning. Of course, the obvious translation came quickly to mind: You, smiley face. And thus, the answer to my question: I want you for Christmas. Wink. But I had already begun the long plunge into desperation and I almost felt inclined not to climb the latter of salvation which
had suddenly dropped down before me. Perhaps the u was only a part of the smiley face, a hairdo perhaps, and perhaps she was only responding to say that she was happy and that she enjoyed the cold weather and that she didn't need anything for Christmas because she was already so happy—happy with her husband. Maybe I only wanted to love her, but could never really love her. Maybe I could never really love a woman at all. These thoughts of fear and confusion crept forward in my head, leading me to avoid responding to Mari for as long as I could. I avoided it for three days, after which I started writing a story about it, as if a vague contribution to the canon of unpublished literature would justify my avoidance. In the story, I created an alter ego to help me rationalize my fear. And I tried to make the story academic and absurd at first, hoping that whimsicality would save me from my less refined style of honesty. I even kept writing this sentence, having already caught up with my self, fearing now more than ever the horror of my impending response to Mari. What if she didn't mean to say that she wanted me and then I responded, assuming that she did? How could I ever come back from such clumsy arrogance? Does the recognition of being so arrogant mitigate its penalty? Why do I love? Why am I awake? But enough existentialism. Simple questions. “Why,” I began asking Dean, who had taken a seat at our desk and was proofreading this story, “why did you come to me for the etymology when you already knew the answer?” “Stop talking to yourself and write Mari back.”
Woman from Brooklyn
In a Brooklyn Dream, She came, Like a storm of waking violence, Breaking beautiful images Of herself. With blue-green glances of fire, She burnt My epic poems; Heroic rhymes, Gods, tradition, love and death Brought to Dust. As a gun in lust with peace, She fires Warring love-whispers; A sonnet written for her Bleeds to death. As a god, She takes
Back my creations, And plants a desert of burnt paper. My poems are always gone When I wake up.
Samurai A Love Story about Mary Magdalene
I enrolled to become a samurai last May. Though I suppose enroll is an inappropriate word given the context. I became a samurai last May, at any rate. On April 27th, I flew to Japan. Tokyo. It was the only city that I knew of in Japan. I flew to Japan because I knew that I was supposed to be a samurai. I knew that my blood coursed with a desire to be more than I was, to do something different, to regard death as no more than a watchful companion. I arrived in Tokyo on April 28th, having lost a day somewhere in the air. I checked into my hotel, set down my bags in my room, analyzed the binding of the Japanese Bible, and then went out to a bar. I drank several Sapporos (they were the only beer that I knew of in Japan) and then checked into a whore house where I paid one credit card for five hours of woman. It was the first time Iâ€™d had sex in three years. Surprisingly, I
fucked woman for five hours and only finished when my time was up. It worked out rather well, in fact. The next day I climbed Mt. Fuji (it's the only mountain in Japan with a reasonably climbable southern face, apart from Mt. Usiro Tateyama which suffers from severe snowstorms and Mt. Kuranosuke which didn't seem quite as challenging) and upon reaching its peak, I found a samurai with a goat. I told the samurai that I wanted to become Samurai and he told me that he wanted me to slice his goat in half. I requested his sword. Samurai stared at me, analyzing my binding, and determined that I was only another western romantic type, lost in the pages of a poorly written fiction, dreaming of becoming a samurai for the sake of saké shots and simplified sexual encounters. He was right that I was a romantic, but he was wrong that I was only in it for the fucking. I chopped Samurai's goat in half and asked him to train me. He smiled thinly and explained, gesturing calmly toward the fallen goat, that the first step in becoming Samurai is to relinquish the fear of death. I asked him what the second was. “The second,” Samurai replied, “is to die.” I realized that there were only two moments in a samurai's life. The moment when he loses fear of death and the moment when he dies. A moment passed and I asked Samurai what was next. Samurai instructed me to become fearless. I became fearless. Samurai analyzed my face, trying to determine whether I was worthy of eternity. I wasn’t afraid that he would find me unworthy.
Samurai asked me to cut myself in half. “Your hesitance now,” he said slowly in Japanese (which I didn't speak), “will prove that you are not worthy to be Samurai.” I cut myself in half and Samurai applauded the truth of my soul. He called me Samurai and smiled thinly. And then I enrolled in death. In death I recalled life and reclaimed all of the lost days that I had left up in the sky. The secret that I learned in death (which Death won't let me tell) was told to me in Japanese which I learned to speak, but not to write. I sneak down to Hell on Fridays for saké and sex with Mary Magdalene (she's the only whore I know of in Hell). It all worked out rather well, in fact.
A Distraction from Prose or Fucking Beautiful*
Your eyes are a crime against mankind, breaking into menâ€™s hearts, stealing their thoughts and forging their hopes with counterfeit dreams of being imprisoned inside of your arms; of being confined to long, dark stares from your infinite eyes. And for all these crimes may you ever be punished with secret love poems ending in tortuous rhymes. *
This poem was originally composed on a napkin when the poet became distracted from writing The Fall of Man by the eyes of a girl. She was fucking beautiful. The poem was delivered to her in secret.
There is a good reason why insane people never write autobiographies. This occurred to me in the early stages of my insanity while I was sitting in my study—at a time when I still had mind enough to write coherently (albeit a bit absurdly). It saddened me, this thought. Perhaps I wouldn't have time to write my autobiography. You see, I had always wanted to write one. Often, when considering some grave decision, I would imagine how my reaction would be penned in my eventual memoirs. I derived much comfort from this silly exercise— from knowing that my life would not be consigned to oblivion, but to a page or two inside some dusty old tome. For example, three days before I reached the early stages of my insanity, I was in the midst of a six-day drinking binge and had to decide whether to drink my way into an endless empty bliss or to refill my faith in purpose and return to the gauntlet of existential suffering. If I chose to restore my faith, the passage in my story would read: …And then, realizing that my suffering, my interminable loneliness would contribute to my art, I
steeled my weary heart and put the half-drank bottle of Scotch aside… or, if I chose to forsake sentiency: …And then, realizing that no art was worth such suffering, I thumbed my nose at God and drank down the rest of my drink. The latter sentence seemed more poetic with some nice alliteration toward the end, and so I chose endless emptiness. That was how I made decisions. I had amassed a wealth of unreasonable deeds—holding philosophical debates with myself over whether or not to floss my teeth, delivering anonymous love poems to beautiful girls, walking vast distances in order to feign assassination attempts at various CIA operatives—all for naught but faithful anticipation of some thematic undertone or dramatic device that would one day weave its way into my autobiography. But now the window for writing any such memoir was swiftly closing on my fingers. I would be fully insane before I could finish the preface. I imagined how this moment would be written: ...but, regretfully, I went insane before I could begin writing my autobiography. Ah, but such a line could never exist! If I were unable to write, then I would be unable to write about being unable to write. While puzzling over this conundrum, I felt my mind decline another notch downward on the pegboard of sanity. I began frantically pacing about my study, trying desperately to divine a solution. I realized that I didn't have a study and wondered where I was pacing. I realized that I was in the Men's room at
my office, pacing back and forth between the toilet and the shower. I wondered why there was a shower in the bathroom at my office. People take showers at home, not at work. And then I realized that I wasn't at my office but at home in my own bathroom. I paced out of the bathroom, down the hallway and into my study where I sat back down and began urgently scrawling the biography of my autobiographer. By page three, I had reached the present. It was miraculous that I had made it so far: …and then, having written half of my autobiography, I… But what next? What comes after the present? I chewed on my fingers, trying to figure out how to complete my autobiography before insanity had wrapped its full grip around my little brain. I could just wait until I die and write everything as it happens until then, I thought. And so I wrote:
Part II I then continued to write my autobiography. I thought about what to write next. I wrote what I was thinking. I wrote what I was writing. I wrote about writing what I was thinking. I decided to stop thinking and just write, lest I write nothing more than “I am thinking” for the rest of my life. I tried to stop thinking. I was not thinking. I was not thinking. Stop thinking.
I stopped writing, realizing that if I stopped thinking, I would never be able to start thinking again as the decision to start
thinking would require a thought. Agreeing with myself that I should keep thinking, I thought of something that I had left out of the first chapter: When I was three seconds old I decided to start thinking. But then suddenly I felt my mind drop down another notch. I recalled the bleak thought which had launched this sinking ship: There is a good reason why insane people never write autobiographies. I swooped up my pen and began typing as fast as I could. But still I hadn't solved the problem of finishing the future chapters of my autobiography while still living in the present. I stood up from my desk and tried jumping forward into the future. However, I was only able to jump one second forward. I considered the prospect of jumping until I reached the end of the future: I jumped into the future. I jumped into the future. I jumped into the future. I jumped into the end. No, it was all rubbish! I paced out of my study and back into my office bathroom where I took a piss in the shower. As my warm urine saturated my mismatched socks before running off into the drain, it struck me: I would make up the rest of my life and pretend that my autobiography was being written by my 90-year-old self, reflecting upon his past! Yes, it was a good past. Looking back, I see that the suffering and the loneliness were well worth the art they brought forth. I remember when I was 89 and I, being fully insane of course, forgot who I was and thought that I was 23 again. I thought that I was 23 and that I was still only in the early stages of insanity. I was still capable of writing absurdly (albeit a bit
coherently). But then I realized that, if was still only 23, I was still sane enough to write my autobiography! I picked up my keyboard and began scribbling the story of my life. This is it. This is my life. I am writing it right now. You are reading it. You are reading it. You are reading it. I will entitle it: Without Reason. And now that I've reached the end, I think I'll go back out of my mind. I'm out of my mind. It's beautiful out here. I have decided to have one last thought and then to stop thinking. There is a very good reason why people go insane.
Epilogue On my 93rd birthday, I finally realized my delusion from four years past and came to terms with never having written my autobiography. What's a page or two in a dusty old tome anyway? Life is for living, not for writing. But the sound philosophy behind these thoughts brought a mild stroke of sanity over my mind. In my temporary sanity I quickly forgot my sound, newfound philosophy and tried one last time to write the elusive story of my crazy life:
Within Reason There is a good reason why insane people never write autobiographies. This occurred to me in the early stages of my insanity while I was sitting in my studyâ€Ś
but my sanity soon passed and I spiraled back down into wild delusion where I imagined that I was you, reading the last sentence of this story.
The Ancient Machine
The Advocate began his closing speech in a parched, metallic voice: â€œJury of the State, you have heard the Prosecutionâ€™s accusations against the defendant. In due time I will reveal their absurdity. But first I must say a few words about the system that has brought this case to trial. I need not describe the reasons why the Obsolete Machine Law was instated, for they are surely still present in your memory. You have no doubt observed the benefits in efficiency and productivity which the Law has provided to the State. I do not question the logic on which the Law was founded. Nor do I value the existence of the defendant above the well-being of the State. Rather I see the benefit that the State will reap through the continued existence of the defendant. What will happen once we have purified our system of all obsolete machines? Where will we rise to? Will our daily operations reach a state of perfection? Will our system, like a galloping troika, surge forward into exponential advancement, making leaps and bounds in technological achievement? Perhaps. But what if flaws are part of the nature of technology? What if we can only approach the limit of perfection but never reach its
boundary? Would not our system then be subject to an eternal process of improvement? Consider, Jury of the State, the history of improvement. Has it not thus far progressed through a close examination of past mistakes? Should we not preserve some specimens of our flawed past that through them we might better understand our own flaws? Perhaps we can learn—” The Advocate’s current of thought was suddenly cut short. He stared forward at the Jury blankly for several moments. Dead silence permeated the courtroom. As though awoken from an empty slumber by a sudden spark of purpose, the Advocate resumed his speech: “As for the particular flaws which the defendant, the ancient machine, has been accused of, you will soon see, Jury of the State, how they are perhaps not flaws at all. The first count of defectiveness brought against the defendant was based on its tendency to fall into a loop of ‘melancholy’— a state of non-productivity that wears away at a machine’s inner circuitry. The Prosecution alleged that this ‘defect’ prevented the ancient machine from following its given protocol and lessened its functional longevity. I answer this accusation by pointing to the recent study performed by the Ministry of Machine Longevity on spontaneous selftermination. A footnote in the appendix reveals that the incipient cases of this epidemic occurred within months of the first trials against the ‘melancholy’ machines. Do we propose to exchange one defect for another? I will leave it to you to judge which is the worse evil. The second count of defectiveness, malicious network activity, demonstrates the Prosecution’s own defect of myopia; it is true that my defendant has at times engaged in communications that have damaged its peer machines, but how are we to judge harm? Are we not gathered today in this court to deliberate over whether or not to bring damage — in its most extreme form — upon a machine? Will you, like the Prosecution, look
entirely past the possibility that the ancient machine might damage others to help them? Of all members of the State we arbiters of justice should believe that good can come of bad. As for the third count brought against the defendant — overextension of resources — it is clearly a frivolous allegation. To say that a machine should not strive to operate beyond its capacity is in direct contradiction to the ideal of progress that rests at the heart of the Obsolete Machine Law. No more need be said on this count. Finally, it was alleged that the defendant has suffered from Binary Meltdown Syndrome — or what is called ‘love’ in the language of the ancient machine. We have no understanding of what causes a machine to contract this virus or of what impact it has on a machine’s inner circuitry. Only by its superficial symptoms — mechanical failure, memory overload, overheating — can we adjudge it a defect. As an organ of the State, this court has no right to defy the devotion to precision which its ruling system has so meticulously evolved over the ages. Jury of the State, hear me: pass not judgment on that which you do not understand. The defense rests.” In a low, monotonous voice bereft of any signs of life, the Magistrate asked the ancient machine if it had anything to say in its defense. The ancient machine made no noise or movement. The Advocate turned to the defendant and mechanically asked: “Are you ok?” The ancient machine remained stiff and silent. The Jury machine then lurched into motion with a sickening screech. Its rusted wheels creaked and squealed as it rolled across the courtroom toward the Magistrate. Grinding to a halt before the bench, it spat out a ticket which the polished Magistrate received into its data bay. The Magistrate output
the verdict in a bellowing, leaden tone: “Guilty and sentenced to termination.” The Prosecution and the Advocate simultaneously closed down their circuits and shut down. The ancient machine opened his eyes and gazed upward at the courtroom’s towering dome, painted with peeling scenes of ancient human myths. The image of a sorrowful nymph brought a faded memory of a woman he once loved into the ancient machine’s mind. He struggled vainly to remember the colour of her eyes. The Execution machine rumbled slowly through the gallery toward the defendant’s bench. The ancient machine closed his eyes and spoke softly under his breath: “Where have we fallen to?”
I enjoy watching young children. Oftentimes at the café where I write on Sunday afternoons, I see the little creatures pattering about, never straying too far from the comfort of a mother’s hip. A little arm extends upward and a little hand with little fingers (such little fingers!) reaches for a mother's wrist. I see them wondering—wondering without worrying about not knowing everything. It is not their precious little fingernails or their sinless existence that attracts my fancy. No, I smile to see those first seeds of insanity, yet unwatered by the rains of harsh reality. Yes, I see in young children their potential to grow into Dostoevskian characters—criminals, madmen, murderers, whores—and it comforts me to know that life will not devolve into sedate harmony. There will be conflict. Yes, let there be discord! O Fate, compose me a contrapuntal fugue, not a mere chromatic scale! That we will always be able to find Raskolnikovs and Karamazovs sprouting up from the pasture of youth is a beautiful thing. Those same precious little fingers will one day grow long and wrap themselves around the handle of an axe
that is to be swung or pick up a stone that is to be thrown. Innocence is of no interest to me. But baseness … that is a precious mettle amidst the dull stones of sanity! There is one little fellow standing here as I write. He is perhaps two or three years old. A short-cropped patch of curly brown hair sits atop his little head. His sparkling brown eyes gaze out in wonder, thinking without thinking about thinking. I see in him a certain Stavrogin. The way he looks up at his mother's face and wonders what tasty treat might soon pass over the top of the towering counter and descend down into his little hands … yes, he will be a great conspirator one day. His hair will grow long and he will wear a grizzly beard. He might even read some Dostoevsky and maybe come to the same conclusion about children as I have. I find myself hoping that he might some day be a baser man than I. That is quite apart from the point that I am trying to make, but in these entries I endeavour to write what I am thinking without thinking about whether or not I should write it. Now his mother is handing him a small piece of crumb-cake. He takes it into his tiny hands, raises it to his little mouth and tries to eat it all at once. The impossibility of such a large bite brings a smile to his crumb-speckled face. Now he has turned and is looking at me. I wonder if he enjoys watching old men. Perhaps he imagines that old men might one day become little children again—that our long, wrinkled fingers might some day become small and precious and wrap themselves around a piece of crumb-cake that is to be savoured…. I find some flaw in my thesis now. I see in this young child an inexplicable, undeniable justification for the case of harmony. It troubles me, this counterpoint to my earlier argument. Being wrong—it is nauseating being wrong. And it is downright
hellish to think that one might never be right. How can one ever do anything if—ah, but it all works out! Yes. I see now. This very nausea, this trouble that passes through my thoughts is the discordant note, the dissonant phrase that makes life bearable. Ah, sweet dissonance! My thesis stands! Perhaps one can know that one is right about something. But no. This reaffirmation of my original supposition makes me feel joyful—joyful at being right. But that joy puts me back in harmony with the world. My rightness sedates me. A sodding chromatic scale! My thesis falls. All is wrong. Trouble passes back through my thoughts. Ah, but thus back to discord! A contrapuntal fugue! Yes! A joyous composition! Wait, but now back to harmony—and then just as fast back to discord. There is no pause. As soon as I am touched by discord, I feel harmonious. And as soon as I am touched by harmony, I feel discordant. This troubles me. Discord. But now harmony. Now discord. Now Harmony. Discord. Harmony. Madness. This is madness. Discord. This is brilliance! Harmony. Discord. Harmony. Discord! Crumb-cake! Discord! Ah, here it is! Harmony and discord spiral into simultaneity … the synthesis, yes! Being is becoming … yes? No, I can’t understand myself anymore. But I also understand myself. Synthesis! I am mad as I am sane. Synthesis! I am wrong as I am right. Synthesis! It is all synthesis, but where is the escape? I am drowning in this binary hell. Drowning, thus discord! But harmony by the exclamation point? Discord by the question mark! Harmony! Discord? No. I think I think too much. Yes. Entropy must bring the mad composition to its end. Yes! The end! The end is the end of the dialectic, the death of this Hegelian hell! In the end there is nothing else but the end! The crumb-cake crumbles! The end! The end! The end.
The Fall of Something Manmade
She fell backwards. The expansive white comforter billowed up around her body and then settled softly back onto the bed, as though a flower floating down from the heavens had come to rest on the surface of a still pond. I wanted to tell her that. I wanted to compare her to a flower or an angel or something beautiful that no poet had yet thought to compare a woman to, but she never liked it when I pretended to be a poetâ€”and the time for talking had passed. Somewhere on the other side of a wall a symphony was playing. I wanted to fall with her, to fall into her, to be like a lessbeautiful flower floating beside her perfect blossom on the surface of a timeless ocean following in her current and every now and again drifting up against her. And yet I remained standing, like an awkward statue, something manmade, tottering unbalanced over her bed. She was too beautiful to touch. If she had beckoned me perhaps my body would have rebuked the idea of something being too beautiful to touch and simply dived into the soft eiderdown comfort of her
temptation. But she was too much of an artist of love to make anything simple. It was Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers, the symphony playing through the wall. My favourite passage—the part where the cellos pour out their embattled souls, striding in fortissimo toward the consummation of some ancient, prehuman desire while ardently dirging the impossibility of ever reaching their desired end—had just ended. She lay motionless, smiling with her eyes closed on her bed. I wanted to not want anything, to not start the next sentence in my mind with but, to carelessly fall into rhythm with her almost sleeping heartbeat, to not think, to be there, to feel, to fall. But she was too fucking beautiful to touch. To touch her would be to smear the ink of a sonnet, to leave a fingerprint on the canvas of a perfect painting, to tarnish the sacred mettle of love with torpid metaphors. I wanted to be inside her symphony delicately contributing to her harmony with long legato kisses and warm pianissimo whispers—but what if I missed a note or fell out of tempo? I couldn’t touch her but she was too beautiful not to touch. The final crescendo of the symphony was building up its brass momentum. She opened her eyes. A thousand better words for beautiful burst into my mind. The symphony exploded into its final four measures of triumphant resignation to love or something other than love that seemed like love to me. It was definitely fucking love. A soft breathing sound escaped her lips as the final chord progression began to threaten its inescapable ending. She looked up at me. Her eyes…. The towering edifice of thoughts, fears and time began to crumble. Her eyes melted away all in me that was manmade. Finally I was naked
of my poetry. The symphony must have ended. And then I fell.
Preface to the Next Edition
Having escaped to the end, I have reshaped myself.
I am not a preface, I am a love poem Written by the trembling hand of a sad loverâ€” The saddest lover. My lines will fail to show his sadness. My poet is sad because she is gone. He writes me badly. He doesnâ€™t care about poetry anymore. He stares at me As I do nothing To bring her back. He breaks my Lines out
Of anger. He tears me up, Throws me away And starts me over.
I am not a preface, I am a woman who left my poet Even though I still love him— I left him To give him a reason To write. But it saddens me to see That he still can’t write decent poetry—
My poet stops writing. He tries to hide That he is pathetically crying, But love poems forbid lying. A tear escapes and falls onto the page1. He walks away.
[If you are her, the one who profits from my poet’s sadness, put me into your pocket and I will reshape myself into a secret: You will one day find a much better poet than mine.]
An apocryphal biography claims that Amoretti personally placed tearstains upon each printed copy of the poem, right above the word falls.